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By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Sports Writer

DENVER (AP) — Colorado Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich says he supports Ian Desmond’s decision to sit out the 2020 season to focus on his young family and help rejuvenate youth baseball in his hometown in Florida.

Bridich says he had a pair of recent conversations with the 34-year-old outfielder who announced his decision in a lengthy and heartfelt Instagram post Monday night.

Desmond wrote that the “COVID-19 pandemic has made this baseball season one that is a risk I am not comfortable taking.” The biracial slugger also mentioned a myriad of issues within baseball, including sexism, homophobia and socioeconomic concerns, as well as the racial reckoning that emerged after George Floyd’s death while in police custody in Minneapolis sparked protests around the world.

“The conversations with Ian felt the exact same that his written words feel to me,” Bridich said, “which is from the heart and honest. ... I did not know that he was going to write something as thoughtful and as comprehensive as (he did) but I’m not surprised.”

Desmond, who hit .255 with 20 homers in 140 games last season, had been due $5,555,556 for the prorated share of his $15 million salary, part of a $70 million, five-year contract. He is owed $8 million next year, and his deal includes a $15 million team option for 2022 with a $2 million buyout.

Opting out this summer doesn’t affect his 2021 status, nor does it affect his relationship with Bridich.

“Ian is extremely thoughtful in what he does, he’s thoughtful in how he prepares as a professional athlete, he’s thoughtful as a husband and a father ... he’s thoughtful about things that are bigger than him,” Bridich said. “And to this point, the reference has been the team or the clubhouse or the locker room, or things that affect the organization, his charity work, passion projects of his outside of the game of baseball.

“He’s willing to devote a lot of time and energy and thought to all of the things that he does. And so when you have somebody like that who is a professional athlete who is in the thick of it every day and trying to do the very best that he can to hold up his end of the bargain as an athlete, a teammate, a performer and then he’s always willing to think about other people on the team, in the organization and outside the organization, it’s easy to gravitate to people like that.”

Desmond complained about a lack of diversity in baseball and criticized the clubhouse atmosphere, saying it includes racism, sexism and homophobia. Bridich said Desmond didn’t complain specifically about the Rockies’ clubhouse, but Bridich did acknowledge the organization could be more diverse.

In his Instagram post, Desmond said he has been sharing more of his thoughts and experiences as a biracial man since Floyd’s death on May 25. Floyd, a Black man in handcuffs, died after a white police officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes.

Desmond said his mind started racing during a recent visit to the Sarasota baseball fields that he played on as a kid. He wrote how they looked run down and neglected, and how important youth baseball was for him growing up.

Desmond said he wants to help Sarasota Youth Baseball get back on track.

Although Desmond’s decision is a big loss for Colorado, the Rockies on Tuesday agreed to a minor league deal with veteran Matt Kemp, who owns a .327 batting average with 21 home runs and 77 RBIs over 86 career games at Denver’s downtown ballpark.

“Yeah, we’re well aware of the damage that he’s done against us,” Bridich said.

Kemp, who is expected in Denver by Thursday, will have to earn his way onto the roster, and he’ll benefit from the National League using the designated hitter when pro baseball attempts to start the coronavirus-delayed season in late July.

“The DH is an obvious benefit in terms of his potential place on our major league roster,” Bridich said. “That was going to be the case whether Ian opted in or opted out, and so again, it’s a right-handed power bat. He’s got a sense of the strike zone, we’ve seen it for how many years? And he’s very motivated to get back on the field and continue his career and play well. Whether that’s in the outfield or only at DH, we have to let some weeks pass before we can make any decisions like that.”

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Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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Famous Mets rallying cry started with a ‘pissed off’ boss

You’ve built a time machine (nice work!), and you’ve informed me that I can pick one on-the-field baseball moment to witness in real time. I struggle to choose: Babe Ruth’s called shot? Jackie Robinson’s debut with the Dodgers? Bobby Thomson’s shot heard ‘round the world? Willie Mays’ basket catch? Don Larsen’s World Series perfect game? I can keep going for a while.

Then, upon my return from that journey, you tender me another trip, this one to a baseball team meeting of my choosing. I don’t hesitate: Set that sucker for July 9, 1973 at Shea Stadium.

Happy anniversary to what sounds like one of the oddest, most entertaining events to ever occur in a major-league clubhouse, one that set the course — spiritually, if not technically — for one of the most unlikely pennant-winning tales in the game’s history. One of the stories for the ages that makes the Mets the Mets.

You gotta believe in that meeting’s correlation to the ‘73 Mets’ National League crown.

“It was a rallying cry. It was something that everybody got behind a little bit,” lefty pitcher Jon Matlack said this past week in a telephone interview — referring, naturally, to the “You gotta believe!” mantra that Tug McGraw introduced to his Mets teammates 47 years ago Thursday.

“Tug obviously was a big part of that ballclub. He was not bashful about letting out those yells. Any time he happened to be in the dugout, earlier in the game, he would fire everybody up with that. I think it had a positive impact, no question.”

The backstory makes it even better and more Mets-ian. The ‘73 Mets reported for work on July 9 as the owners of a 34-46 record, occupying the NL East basement, 12 ½ games behind the leading Cubs. Prior to the game, their chairman M. Donald Grant took the unusual step of addressing the players to let them know they still had the front office’s support.

As Grant wound down his speech, the effervescent McGraw, a lefty reliever, began proclaiming, at a rather high volume, “You gotta believe!”

“I think he was trying to show M. Donald that he was at least taking this attitude adjustment seriously,” Matlack said. “Maybe he took it up a notch.”

“When (Grant) was looking across the locker room at Tug, he was a little pissed,” utility man Ed Kranepool said. “He thought he was mimicking him, ridiculing him, making fun of him.”

What no one besides McGraw apparently knew, as reported by the late Marty Noble for MLB.com in 2015, was that earlier that day, McGraw had met with a pal named Joe Badamo who happened to be a motivational speaker. Badamo came up with “You gotta believe,” Noble wrote, so McGraw already had this on his mind before Grant entered the clubhouse.

Kranepool, McGraw’s roommate at the time, urged McGraw to clear the air with the stuffy Grant, whose defining moment arrived four years later with the trade of Tom Seaver to the Reds. Once McGraw assured Grant that he wasn’t mocking him in any way but rather attempting to rally his guys, peace was achieved. Success eventually followed. You need only look at the Mets’ game log that year to see that they didn’t magically turn it around right then and there; they went under .500 for another five and a half weeks, bottoming out at 53-66 on Aug. 17. Nevertheless, McGraw kept at it — a number of key players like Jerry Grote, Bud Harrelson and Cleon Jones also had returned from injury absences, Kranepool noted — and the team closed with a 29-13 run that, at an underwhelming 82-79, granted them the division title.

“It was a very interesting year, one fraught with all difficulties initially,” Matlack said. “Fortunately, no one in that division ran off. (Nearly) everybody was in first place at some point. We just happened to be there when it counted.”

McGraw, who died in 2004, finished with 25 saves. From the moment of the legendary meeting through the end of the regular season, he posted a 2.21 ERA in 28 games totaling 69 ⅓ innings (yes, closers were deployed differently then). Then he threw another 18 ⅔ innings in the playoffs, compiling a 1.93 ERA, to help the Mets defeat the highly superior (on paper) Reds in the NL Championship Series and take the highly superior (on paper) A’s to a seventh game in the World Series.

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“Anything could happen with him, and he would say anything,” Kranepool said of McGraw. “I think all that encouraged us.”

And it gave us a fun, unusual story for the annals. Rev up the time machine.

— This week’s Pop Quiz question came from Steve Kantor of Marietta, Ga.: The Oscar-winning actor William Holden once shared an apartment, while serving in the military, with a future Hall of Fame baseball player. Name the player.

— “The Top of His Game,” edited by Bill Littlefield, features a collection of work by legendary sportswriter W.C. Heinz. Among the baseball people featured are Joe DiMaggio, Charlie Keller, Pete Reiser and none other than Babe Ruth. There’s plenty of great stuff on other sports, particularly boxing, as well.

— Your Pop Quiz answer is Hank Greenberg.

If you have a tidbit that connects baseball with popular culture, please send it to me at [email protected]

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