The Week That Was In Pittsburgh Sports...Week Of 6/8

Highlighting 5 stories in Pittsburgh this week

Matt Koll
June 12, 2020 - 11:26 am

Here are five things that happened in Pittsburgh sports despite it being Week...I don't even want to know the number...without live team sports action. 

​5. Pat Narduzzi Addresses "Thug" Controversy 

STORY: Late last week, some disturbing reports surfaced from former members of the Pitt football program about Pat Narduzzi and his use of the word "thugs" to his players. Elias Reynolds said he would refer to opponents using that word and would also call his players that when they wore a hood. Justin Morgan also said Narduzzi told him to cut his dreads. Narduzzi responded by releasing a statement.

 

SPIN: Also part of what Narduzzi said was this...“I want to address the word ‘thug’ and its use in our program. Simply put, it’s not allowed. Last season, I learned how that word, and what it suggests, has changed. Through our regular discussions in our weekly players’ leadership council, our players shared their feelings on that word. Our program understands it will not be part of our vocabulary." 

Obviously the initial events are disheartening but I commend Narduzzi for his handling of this issue. He didn't respond immediately when those former players first came forward on Twitter. He wasn't too reactionary. Instead, he took these conversations in-house and talked with his players about it. He also stated that he didn't lead the discussion but made sure to listen and learn instead. He realized his mistake and condemned it. 

Isn't that the point of what we should be doing during these times? To have these conversations, to learn from others and understand what's appropriate and what isn't? Narduzzi seems to have done this and hopefully things are better within the program and within each person's life as a result.

4. Derek Shelton In Pittsburgh, Rob Manfred Guarantees Baseball

STORY: In his weekly appearance on the Cook and Joe Show (Wednesdays at noon), Pirates manager Derek Shelton told the guys he was doing the hit for the first time from PNC Park. He had reported to Pittsburgh in preparations for what we could only assume would be a Spring Training 2.0 at the ballpark. 

SPIN: You can look into this as far as you want to, I guess. The one thing I've learned from listening to Shelton's hits with Cook and Joe is that he is an eternal optimist. So him being at PNC Park in anticipation for a season doesn't really surprise me. 

Rob Manfred made a rather bold statement to both ESPN and MLB Network when he said that we will have baseball in 2020. What it means is that he is willing to enact a mandate to have the season start without an agreement being in place between MLB and the MLBPA. What that season would look like, who knows. As of this writing, a counter offer from the league has not been sent back the players' way but my guess is that it won't include the 100% prorated salaries that the players are demanding. I'm now even more convinced that Manfred will have to force a season, which means angsty players, mostly like a shorter season than we'd all like to see and fiery CBA negotiations after the season because the two sides never got along during these negotiations before it. Pretty picture to paint, isn't it?     

3. Steelers Preparing For Training Camp At Heinz Field 

STORY: Roger Goodell handed down a memo to NFL teams laying out the COVID-19 protocols and guidelines for training camp. There is includes a mandate of having lockers 6 feet apart, which takes the team's South Side facility out of the equation as it doesn't have the capabilities for that. 

SPIN: This is such an ironic story and concept. Here we are, practicing the game of football. A game that features man barreling into each other. A game that forces bodily contact on every play. Yet we are mandating lockers be six feet apart. Huh? 

If you get past that aspect, holding training camp at Heinz Field seems feasible in a few ways. There's four spacious locker rooms, so the social distancing there wouldn't be an issue even with 90 or so players around. There are plenty of suite and club levels to hold meetings. There's no risk of running into Pitt players and staff as well, like they normally would on the South Side. The one hang-up I see is only having one field. Is there really going to be enough room? I don't think so. Which means some players may be bussed back and forth between Heinz Field and the South Side facility. It seems like a hassle and probably won't be a whole lot of fun for the players, but it looks like the intricate system that may need to be put in place. 

2. Jake Guentzel Back, Penguins Skating Again 

STORY: We've reached Phase 2 of the NHL's Return To Play plan where teams can have their players gather in small groups, as many as six at a time, to skate and train for the season. Among those to return was Jake Guentzel, who we hadn't seen or heard from since he left mid-game back in December while leading the team in goals scored at 20 on the year. On Thursday, the league announced that Phase 3 aka official training camps are set to begin July 10th. 

SPIN: It was fantastic to see the players back together and on the ice again. Signs of normalcy. Even greater still to see Jake Guentzel back in action, a man who in my mind, represents the Penguins legitimate chance at winning a Stanley Cup when the league does return to play. Guentzel has turned into an elite scorer and that added weapon will be needed for what will be a grueling 19 wins instead of 16 wins to a championship if they win it. 

Related: Pittsburgh Has Good Chance To Be NHL Hub City For Playoffs

There is still no set timeline for when play will actually begin nor are there definite "hub cities" to play games in. It looks to me that if training camps are only starting on July 10th, the season most likely wouldn't start until very late July/early August which means this season could run all the way into October. I think it would be a mistake to rush back into another regular season, so maybe a December start to the 2021 campaign is in the cards? Or a January 1st, bring in the new year start makes sense as well.  

1. Pirates Take Shortstop Followed By Band Of Right-Handed  Pitchers

STORY: The Pirates held the 7th overall pick in the first round of the MLB Draft Wednesday and chose former walk-on shortstop from New Mexico State Nick Gonzales. They followed that up with five right-handed pitchers in the next five rounds, including Carmen Mlodzinski 31st overall as a compensatory pick. 

SPIN: GM Ben Cherington said the spate of right-handers after Gonzales was not intentional. What was most likely intentional, though, was the selections of mostly college players outside of Jared Jones, the 2nd rounder out of La Mirada HS in California. Many analysts speculated that taking college players was a result of the draft being cut down to only five rounds, so teams were passing up high school players because they figure they can offer them less money to be added into the organization later as free agents, if not draft them next season. 

The Gonzales pick at #7 overall intrigues me. It's another shortstop added into the mix in an organization that already features Cole Tucker, Kevin Newman, Liover Peguero and Oneil Cruz at that position currently. The reports on Gonzales already are that he can be moved to second base and may do so eventually. I don't think Cruz remains a shortstop much longer. He has corner outfielder or first baseman written all over him at 6'6". The middle infield will be interesting to watch play out over the years, maybe one of Tucker or Newman gets dealt to make room for Gonzales or Peguero. How about a 1B Cruz (assuming Josh Bell is not re-signed), a middle infield with some combination of Tucker, Newman, Gonzales, Peguero and Ke'Bryan Hayes at 3B? 

Now that's a start of something. 

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