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STOCKTON, Calif. -- Walk through the entrance gates of Banner Island Ballpark and one of the first things that will catch your eye as you look out into left field is a white and red No. 50 Dallas Braden jersey adorning the forest green outfield wall.
A few rows behind home plate, youll see a portrait of Bradens face painted onto a white wall just underneath the stadiums press box.
Now, look at the mound in the center of the diamond. That short hill of dirt is where the greatest moment of Bradens baseball career took place. Yes, even greater than tossing the 19th perfect game in MLB history and second in As history. This moment took place on April 30, 2005, when Braden, a Stockton, Calif., native, first took the mound for the Stockton Ports, the As Class A Advanced affiliate.
The proudest moment of my baseball career was being able to wear the city of Stockton across my chest, Braden said. That city built me. That city built my family. It gave my grandmother and mother the strength that eventually was given to me to be able to face this world and whatever hurdles that came my way.
Braden quickly developed a special love for the Oakland Coliseum faithful over his five big league seasons, one he combined with his eternal love for the city 70 miles east of the Coliseum where he was born and raised and even commuted from for all of his home games with the As. That love was reciprocated by both cities, whose residents know a little something about being an underdog.
He had a really outgoing personality, and I think the fact he was from the area, he had a great story -- he could have gone off the right track into the dark side -- there was a great personal story there of perseverance, As radio broadcaster Ken Korach said. Not only the injuries, but going through tough times in life. He had a lot of brashness to him as well. He stood out for the right reasons.
Stockton doesnt exactly fit the stereotypical mold placed on California cities. Its a city that has long had a high crime rate, one which increased severely at the start of the 2000s, largely the result of an economic recession. To put it simply, there werent many role models for Braden to look up to when he was young.
Braden was not dealt the best hand to succeed in life. He was not supposed to make it out. But in a way, that unsafe environment he grew up in helped shape the underdog, chip-on-the-shoulder mentality that made him a beloved pitcher in Oakland. It helped him find a way out and eventually find success in the big leagues, where he always made sure to carry a piece of Stockton with him.
A promise to Mom
Braden recalled his old neighborhood in Stockton, which was devoid of sidewalks, and not by design.
Thats not because its a beautiful rural area, there just arent any sidewalks, Braden said. The pizza man is [too scared] to come through there. The taco trucks arent driving in there. Youre forced to grow up very early. Your reality kind of hits you in the face very early on.
With gangs and drugs prevalent in the area, Braden could have easily gone down the wrong path. Luckily, there was also baseball, which Braden quickly fell in love with. His mother, Jodie Atwood, and grandmother, Peggy Lindsey, knew this was an avenue to keep him on track. They never allowed Braden to sway from his dream of playing professional baseball, a dream he said swirled in his mind as soon as he was able to formulate words while watching both As and Giants games as a child.
Atwood was Bradens top supporter, sacrificing whatever she could in order to get her son into the top Little Leagues in the area. Bradens baseball dream was looking more and more like a reality as he got into high school, but an unexpected life obstacle presented itself around that same time as Atwood was diagnosed with skin cancer. In 2001, during Bradens senior year of high school, Atwood passed away at the age of 39.
The loss sent Braden out of control as he found himself getting into the troubles his mother worked so hard to keep him away from. The path to his baseball dream took a wrong turn. But with the help of his grandmother, Braden got things back on track and graduated from Stagg High School, fulfilling his mothers dying wish.
We were faced with some hurdles very early on in life, and I learned that hurdles were meant to be attacked. Theyre meant to be jumped over. Thats what theyre there for, Braden said. Theyre not meant to stall you or prevent you from anything. You are forced to figure out a way to get over them. Thats how I had to approach everything.
Fulfilling the dream
Braden elected to stay in school after getting drafted by the Braves in the 46th round of the 2001 MLB Draft. The left-hander played two seasons at American River College in nearby Sacramento, then went to Texas Tech University for one year. The As drafted him in 2004.
The odds of reaching the Majors were still unfavorable -- Oakland selected Braden in the 24th round -- but he was determined to make it. This was just another hurdle to jump over.
He didnt possess any flashy stuff. His fastball was hardly blazing as it seldom touched 90 mph, but he forced his way onto the big league radar with success at each level in the coming years, even overcoming a shortened 2006 due to shoulder surgery.
On a late April night in 2007, after building up a 2.84 ERA over a combined 13 starts at Double-A Midland and Triple-A Sacramento, Braden got the call from the As. He would make his big league debut in Baltimore on April 24.
The biggest thing I will remember is being able to call my grandmother and tell her, Im not gonna be in Sacramento anymore, I have to meet the team on the East Coast, Braden said. I could hear her put it together, and she starts losing it, and Im losing it.
From that point on, everything about the entire experience -- being handed the scouting report and going over the big league scouting reports with the coaches and [catcher] Jason Kendall -- I couldnt feel anything. It was very surreal. But to be able to look up in the stands and see my grandmother there watching me on a day that, quite frankly, we sold out for, was incredible. There was no Plan B. Our Plan B was not having a Plan B. Im not discovering the next most grandest planet in our solar system. Im not that guy. Im not curing cancer for anybody. Thats what I remember. That entire dream came to a head on the mound in Camden Yards.
Braden pitched well that day in Baltimore, allowing one run over six innings. Mission accomplished, right? Theres no way this could get any better, is there? Well, a few years later, it did.
The perfect game
Braden stuck in the Majors and, just like in the Minors, kept getting better as each year passed. The 2010 season started out with a 10-strikeout performance in Oakland's win over the Mariners. He then made national headlines during an April 22 game against the Yankees in which he yelled at Alex Rodriguez after taking offense to Rodriguezs path back to the dugout following a groundout. Bradens words took the spotlight that day, but about two weeks later, the spotlight was on him for another reason.
May 9, 2010. Mothers Day. The Rays sent 27 batters to the plate, and Braden retired all of them. Perfection.
The final out came on a 3-1 fastball that Gabe Kapler grounded to shortstop Cliff Pennington, who then fired the ball over to Daric Barton at first base to complete the historic feat. Braden received the customary dogpile on the mound from his teammates, then emerged from the bunch and pointed out to section 209 of the Coliseum, which naturally had become a special fan club of sorts for the left-hander. Its the same numbers of Stocktons area code.
As he made his way back to the As dugout, there was Lindsey standing on top of the dugout. Braden spotted her and signaled to the security guard to allow her onto the field. The two ran to each other and embraced with a tear-filled hug.
They got her down on the field, and thats all I cared about. Getting her in my arms, Braden said. Obviously, then I started to appreciate what this meant.
Korach, who also lost his mother at a young age, did his best to hold back tears as he called the final out of Bradens perfect day.
That top of the ninth inning was the most emotional inning of baseball Ive ever broadcast. No question, Korach said. After they celebrated on the field and brought his grandmother out of the stands, as I was describing that, I was in tears. That was the hardest Ive ever tried to hold it together on the air. Everybody knows his story.
The 2010 season continued to bring good fortunes for Braden. He won a career-high 11 games and appeared to be evolving into a front-end starter for the As in his prime at 26 years old. But injuries soon began to take a toll.
The left-hander made just three starts in 2011 before he required season-ending shoulder surgery. Another surgery, this time to repair a torn rotator cuff, caused Braden to miss all of 2012 and half of 2013 before he was released by Oakland. Figuring a full recovery was not in the cards, Braden officially retired the next year at the age of 30, ending a five-year big league career in which he went 26-36 with a 4.16 ERA over 94 games.
But this is no sob story. Braden accomplished more than he could have ever imagined as that kid growing up in Stockton. Plus, its not like hes any less popular these days.
Bradens relationship with Oakland has only grown as hes elevated himself to color analyst for As television broadcasts on NBC Sports California. He gets a chance to follow the club on the road and once again work at the Coliseum on a regular basis.
I cant even begin to express how fortunate I am for the organization to have reached out with this opportunity. They have brought me in as an ambassador to be able to be in the community and represent the organization. Im so appreciative of that, and so is my family, Braden said. Ive got folks that want to hang out with my two daughters. That means the world to me that I get to show up every day and hang out with my friends in Oakland at the Coliseum. Theres really no better gig going.
The gig also gives him more opportunities to head back to Stockton, where he still owns a home. It gives the people of Stockton more reason to celebrate one of their own, like last year when the Ports gave away a bobblehead of Braden wearing a black suit and a headset while holding a baseball in his left hand.
I wasnt supposed to graduate high school. I completed a bucket list with that, and from then on felt like I was playing with house money, Braden said. To be able to stare in the mirror years later wearing Stockton across my chest and getting a paycheck for it, thats a dream come true.
Martin Gallegos covers the A's for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @MartinJGallegos.
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Stockton at heart of Braden's immortality with A's - MLB.com
Five burning questions for the Dallas Fuel as the season approaches: How will they fare in stacked division? – The Dallas Morning News
The Dallas Fuel have moved into their new downtown office, meaning the 2020 Overwatch League is just around the corner.
As the first Fuel matches -- Feb. 8-9 in Arlington get closer -- here are five questions the Fuel will need to answer in the early part of the season:
Dallas was unsatisfied with its performance in the second season of the Overwatch League. There was promise in the first two stages in 2019. The Fuel even went 5-2 in the second stage, setting them up for a potential playoff spot. But Stage 3 and Stage 4 amounted to one victory and 13 losses. Thats not going to fly for a team posted up in one of the strongest esports hubs in the country.
A head coach fresh off a strong offseason, as well as a handful of new players, could be the remedy.
It needs to be for the Fuel. Atkins led the United States to a World Cup victory, knocking off the defending champion South Korea. The Fuel could use a hot start in the opening stage. Atkins has some fresh faces, including tank Gamsu and damage-dealer Decay, that might help re-introduce the Fuel to the world and snap that losing streak.
Theres still time for a meta shift before the start of the season, but there are heroes that remain strong despite some nerfs by the Blizzard development team. Theres always hope to achieve balance.
But that doesnt always happen.
Orisa and Sigma remain powerful tanks, but Wrecking Ball is squeaking into more compositions too.
Baptiste will probably be the go-to for healing. His mobility and burst healing are strong and as long as hes got an immortality field, even if its less effective than its launch state. Benjamin uNKOE Chevasson may end up on Baptiste often.
Damage may be just as limited. Reaper, Mei, Hanzo and McCree are all viable. Pharah may get played on some maps but the days of Tracer and Genji may still be in the distance.
Zachary Lombardo, Dong-ha Kim, Dylan Bignet and Gui-un Jang make up the Dallas damage roster, and its a strong one. Bignet, or aKm will probably be tossed in when the Fuel needs a Widowmaker or possibly a Reaper. Hes the go-to for hit-scan heroes.
Lombardo, aka ZachaREEE," and Jang as Decay might get the most starts but this damage group is pretty flexible in what it can do. Theres also a scenario where a damage player hops on Zarya if the Fuel want to run a Reinhardt. That might be a job for aKm.
The addition of Kim, or DoHa, brought versatility to the damage roster. Hes got Doomfist and Sombra capability while being flexible to the meta damage heroes.
The Fuel have five homestands this season taking place in at least three different locations -- thats until a solid home is finished. Until then, the three planned venues are Esports Stadium Arlington, Allen Event Center and Toyota Music Factory in Irving.
Envy Gaming may treat the events like festivals with booths and live music to attract every type of esports fan and bring in those who dont know as much but have interest. If the attendance is strong no matter the venue, that could signal to Envy that the electric fan base is solid.
If theres variance in how many people show up depending on vacation that would be helpful in knowing where the audience is and where it can improve.
The Overwatch League went for four divisions to the prior two, splitting the Atlantic and Pacific divisions in half.
The Fuel had perhaps the toughest pull of any division, winding up in the Pacific West with the Los Angeles Valiant, Los Angeles Gladiators, San Francisco Shock and Vancouver Titans. The two best teams in the entire league in the Shock and Titans headline the division and the LA squads have already shown success in the first two seasons.
Dallas has its hands full, but if it is able to take care of business against middle-of-the-pack teams and the bottom feeders then, then a playoff opportunity could be in the mix.
On Twitter: @seanzcollins
CLEVELAND, Ohio Omar Vizquel took a big step toward baseball immortality Tuesday when the results of voting for the National Baseball Hall of Fame were revealed for the class of 2020.
Derek Jeter and Larry Walker were the only two players selected by the Baseball Writers Association of America for this years class, but Vizquels vote total jumped nearly 10% over last years results. He was named on 52.6% of the 397 ballots cast after receiving 42.8% in 2019.
Vizquel totaled 37.0% of the vote in his first year of eligibility in 2018.
Several prominent national baseball writers went public with their support of Vizquels Hall of Fame credentials just prior to Tuesdays announcement, including Jayson Stark, who was selected to the Hall himself in 2019 as the J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner. Ken Rosenthal and Bob Nightengale also revealed ballots in favor of Vizquel.
Players must be named on 75% of ballots to gain entry to the Hall of Fame. If Vizquel continues to trend upward in the next few years, it might not be long before he joins Indians teammate Jim Thome in Cooperstown.
But predicting when Vizquel could get in is tricky. Voters are notoriously fickle and the ballot changes from year to year with high-profile players becoming newly-eligible and others reaching the end of their eligibility and therefore garnering a closer look. Vizquels total could plateau or regress next year when Mark Buehrle, Torii Hunter and Barry Zito compete for votes, among others.
So, when will the Hall call for Omar? Will it be next year? Some point before his eligibility runs out? Or not at all? Take the poll below and defend your response in the comments.
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Will the National Baseball Hall of Fame welcome Omar Vizquel in 2021? (Poll) - cleveland.com
AGEING Australians make up a large percentage of the population, with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reporting that 3.8 million of Australians were over the age of 65 in 2017, comprising of 15 per cent of the total population.
Sadly, ageing Australians are often forgotten, resulting in poor treatment and living conditions, which is evident in the lack of resources afforded to the sector.
On a human level I believe the ageing and dying are uncomfortable reminders of our immortality and its a lot easier to look away from those whose minds and bodies are failing them placing them in the care of institutions who treat them as a job rather than valuable members of society.
Society generally has a negative view of ageing. How often do you hear someone say if I even get that bad just take me out to a paddock and shoot me?
We need to re-evaluate how we think about ageing there is quality of life to be had.
The elderly form an important part of our countrys identity, shaping the fabric of our society the least we could do is care for them adequately, let alone to the degree that they deserve.
The care of elderly isnt just at risk in rural Queensland (even though issues are exasperated by staffing problems), but aged care facilities across Australia, as the Royal Commission continues to uncover cases of serious neglect across the country.
The Royal Commission into Age Care Quality and Safety will complete their report on November 12, 2020.
An interim report by the ACRC found that our aged care system fails to meet the needs of its older, vulnerable, citizens. It does not deliver uniformly safe and quality care, is unkind and uncaring towards older people and, in too many instances, it neglects them. We need to do better.
Like any other exciting new technology, Artificial Intelligence has its fair share of hype, and in many cases, this rubs professionals and industry experts the wrong way. The recently concluded CES also showcased this- both hype and the real thing. Many industry experts have expressed their irritation on this- fabricated and over the blown display of AI abilities. They feel this discredits the society that is gullible to such hyped displays.
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While there is always a fair mix of legitimate and well, suspicious claims for the magic of AI and what it can do, there are always some irritants that claim much more than they deliver. In many cases, the products and tools are larger than life, or even completely unbelievable. CES, by all accounts, displayed very fake AI, artificial humans as assistants and robots that were very much removed from reality.
This was not only about products but also tools like the AI Photo Animator, which came across as a slow, controlled giant animator, in a world of very fast pocket-sized smart animation tools that the millennials use per minute! One wonders, how that is an impressive application of AI!
In fact, there were some extremely cutting edge, high tech applications of AI, which were impressive enough to offset the ones that were not.
The question here, however, is not about the abilities of AI that were displayed. It is about the trust that humanity can or should build with AI. The robots that were displayed at CES were not about the capabilities of robotics, but the moot question was, with so many fakes, can we trust the real? An AI-based robot doing human tasks efficiently is still a bit of an anomaly, and there is a long way to go for the unidentifiable humanoids that popular culture displays. Robots still look like robots and move like machines, apparently, humanity has not reached the level of perfection yet.
AI Changing the Society to Make World a Better Place
But the thought-provoking thing is, are we going to be enamored by the hyped awe of what AI can do, or look more into the can dos and the cannot-dos of the display of AI apps. To date, largely the only industry that has actually used AI and robotics in perfect applications in the automotive industry. That seems to be the only vertical where AI has added huge value. But even there, experts observed that the supposedly autonomous vehicle was not completely driven by AI, but a large fraction of the controls were controlled and monitored by a human driver! This would apply to all industries, across all enterprise.
Clearly, a system of hyped abilities and enamored audiences completely sold out to the idea of a much superior AI may not be practical as of now. We need to be very clear that while AI will certainly come to mean many more things in the coming years, for now, it is largely about a healthy mix of machine and human. And till it proves its ability to run our lives smoothly, its better it stays hybrid- for the safety of everyone involved! What we need is less hype and more of the real thing! While the verdict is still out on whether companies should bandy about the term AI for their product releases, it is certainly important that the claims of immortality be taken with a pinch of salt!
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Artificial Intelligence Hype and Reality - EnterpriseTalk
Side chasing third All-Ireland in a row are relentless on and off pitch
In the autumn of 2017, Michael Donnellan had Mountbellew-Moylough in the Galway football final feeling good about themselves, and plenty others feeling even better about them. Corofin were the familiar face greeting them in the final, like the house band on a TV chat show. But people were asking questions whether Corofin could still hold a tune, the sort of questions that seem inconceivable now.
Corofin had scraped their semi-final against Annaghdown by a point while Mountbellew destroyed Monivea-Abbey. Corofin were already in full control of the wheel in Galway with ambitions well beyond that, but recent results suggested a weakening.
Mountbellew trusted the progressive, fast-paced football that swept them to the final. Corofin took a handful of steps backwards, strung a line of players
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Corofin on brink of immortality | Irish Sport - The Times