Monthly Archives: January 2021

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Jackson Bo Jensen is far too young to remember watching Bo Jackson, the professional athlete, perform his superhuman feats in the 1980s and 1990s. But he’s seen videos.

Running up walls, throwing baseballs a ridiculous distance and hitting baseballs even farther were just some of the things Bo Jackson was known for on the diamond. Don’t forget snapping bats over his knee or, even wilder, over his head.

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On the football field, Bo Jackson outran smaller men and ran over bigger men as if it were child’s play. His ability, combined with his versatility, inspired Nike’s “Bo Knows” ad campaign.

Topekan Jackson Bo Jensen is just shy of 10 years old, but he’s seen videos of the legendary professional, and is proud to bear his name when he performs his own feats of speed and strength.

On Jan. 30, Jensen will attempt to set some strength records that his namesake would be proud of. Believe it or not, there are powerlifting records for children his age, and Jackson appears likely to break many of those existing records when he competes in the USA Powerlifting Star City Showdown in Lincoln, Neb.

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Until recently, baseball was Jackson’s specialty. After bashing 26 home runs in his summer league, he was nominated to play on the USSSA All-American team in Florida. At that showcase, he recorded the fastest 60-yard dash of any of the 9-year-olds there.

Bo Jackson was so fast, he could be here and then gone in an instant.

Unfortunately, for Raider Nation and the rest of the sports world, that was the story of Jackson’s professional football and baseball careers, which were cut far too short by a hip injury.

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Tom Flores was the Los Angeles Raiders coach when Managing General Partner Al Davis signed Jackson in 1987, and Flores already had the great Marcus Allen in the backfield.

“What am I going to do with him and Marcus both?” Flores recalled thinking when Jackson joined the team. “But the very moment he stepped on the practice field and showed what he had, the entire team just went, ‘Whoa!’

“He was awesome. There was nobody on that whole field who didn’t feel his presence. He was without a doubt an instant star. No question. He would not say much, but he would just smile as he ran over you … 230 pounds that ran like lightning.”

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The 6-foot-1, 227-pound Jackson was selected winner of the 1985 Heisman Trophy while playing for Auburn, and also was Sporting News Player of the Year, UPI Player of the Year in addition to winning the Walter Camp Award that season.

Jackson was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the first pick of the 1986 NFL Draft but refused to play for them because team officials didn’t tell him that visiting their facility it would cost him his remaining baseball eligibility as an outfielder at Auburn that spring.

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When the Buccaneers wouldn’t trade his rights, Jackson turned down their $7.6 million, five-year contract in favor of a $1.07 million, three-year deal to play baseball for the Kansas City Royals.

During eight seasons in the major leagues, Jackson batted .250 with the Royals, Chicago White Sox, and California Angels, and hit 141 home runs, many of the tape-measure variety.

In his only All-Star Game appearance in 1989, he hit a 448-foot home run off Rick Reuschel of the San Francisco Giants while leading off the bottom of the first inning.

When the Buccaneers forfeited their rights to Jackson before the 1987 NFL Draft, the Raiders selected him in the seventh round and signed him to a five-year, $7.4-million contract.

Davis told Jackson he could play the entire baseball season before joining the Raiders, so he played only 38 games in four seasons with the Silver and Black, but they were memorable.

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Jackson Bo Jensen practices with what most people would consider a hefty amount of 130 pounds as a warmup for his deadlift competition last Saturday in his family’s garage gym. Jensen is going for the world record of 230 pounds for deadlift in his age group this Saturday at the USA Powerlifting Star City Showdown in Lincoln, Neb.
So weightlifting came as an afterthought this fall. In August, Jackson was hanging around while his older brother trained in the family’s gym. He shocked everyone in the room when, without permission, he walked over and performed the same deadlift that his high-school age brother had just completed.

“I was like ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa…OK,’ ” Jackson’s father, Joe, recalled. “He took to it like a fish to water. He’s been around it all his life, and it just came naturally.”

“I wanted to see if I could lift it,” Jackson said simply.

Starting his warmup before any lifting last Saturday, Jackson Bo Jensen utilizes his father, Joe, home gym at their Topeka house to practice for the upcoming USA Powerlifting Star City Showdown in Lincoln, Neb., this weekend.
When asked which exercise he enjoys most, Jackson stated without hesitation: “Lifting rocks.” He’s not kidding, for among their training equipment, the Jensens have a few round stones of various sizes, which look like they are straight out of a medieval strong-man exhibition.

Jackson began working out with his family, and quickly progressed enough to enter into the state powerlifting meet in Wichita last November. At that meet, Jackson made lifts that obliterated any existing Kansas records. But because there was only one judge at the meet, the lifts were not considered national marks.

With the watchful eye of his father, Joe Jensen, Jackson Bo Jensen begins to warm up with squats at his family’s garage gym Saturday evening.
This Saturday in Nebraska, the requisite judges will be on hand to make it possible for Jackson to set the U.S. records. Those lifts will also qualify Jackson to compete in the national meet in Florida in June. Although there will not be an international meet this year, lifters will compete virtually later in the summer.

Jackson said he likes the individual challenge that comes by nature of the “man versus weight” sport. But he did acknowledge that it was intimidating to have to lift before onlookers at the Wichita meet.

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Royals agreed to one-year deals with outfielders Jorge Soler and Franchy Cordero, first baseman Hunter Dozier and right-handers Jesse Hahn and Jakob Junis on Wednesday as they brought arbitration-eligible players under contract during a busy week of roster management.

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The Royals also cut third baseman Maikel Franco, failing to offer a contract to a player who would have been due a substantial salary increase after hitting .278 with eight homers and 38 RBIs while playing on a $2.95 million deal last season.

The only remaining arbitration-eligible players are two big ones: shortstop Adalberto Mondesi, their defensive linchpin and best all-around athlete, and No. 1 starter Brad Keller, who was 5-3 with a 2.47 ERA in nine starts last season.

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Soler, 28, agreed to an $8.05 million contract that includes up to $250,000 in incentives, a big bump from prorated pay of $2,703,704 from his $7.3 million base salary last season. It came after the slugging outfielder, who shattered the club record with 48 homers in 2019, hit .228 with eight homers and 24 RBIs in 43 games during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

Jorge Soler hit a three-run homer in the first inning, and the Kansas City Royals beat the Minnesota Twins 7-2 on Friday night to open the third straight weekend series between AL Central rivals.

Hunter Dozier added a two-run shot and finished with three RBIs as Kansas City won for the sixth time in its last seven games at Kauffman Stadium. Whit Merrifield had two hits and drove in a run.

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Royals left-hander Danny Duffy (2-2) needed 81 pitches to get through five innings, but he permitted just four hits and a pair of walks while striking out six. The only run he allowed came when Ehire Adrianza grounded out with a runner on third.

Twins starter Jake Odorizzi (0-1) allowed five runs and seven hits before he was literally knocked from the game. Alex Gordon drilled him with a liner in the ribs, and the right-hander who began his career in the Kansas City organization went to the ground immediately. It took several minutes before Odorizzi could walk gingerly to the dugout.

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X-rays taken at the ballpark were negative, and the Twins called his injury a bruised right abdomen.

The Royals, who have struggled to give Duffy much run support, staked him to a big lead right out of the gate.

Merrifield opened the game with a crisp double and, after Nicky Lopez put runners on the corners with a base hit, Hunter Dozier followed with an RBI single. That merely set the table for the power-hitting Soler, who boosted a hanging 1-2 pitch from Odorizzi well over the left-field bullpen for his sixth homer of the season.

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The Twins scratched out a run in the second on a walk, single and groundout but kept squandering chances. They left a runner in scoring position when Max Kepler struck out, then left runners stranded on the corners in the third.

The Royals answered with a run in the fourth. They tacked on two more on Dozier’s homer in the seventh.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Twins: They were playing their first game without either OF Byron Buxton (shoulder), 2B Luis Arraez (knee), 3B Josh Donaldson (calf) and C Mitch Garver (ribs) in the starting lineup. There is a chance Arraez returns during the series.

Royals: C Salvador Perez was placed on the injured list after dealing with blurred vision since Sunday. He saw an eye specialist Monday and the condition is not considered serious. “We want to take as much time as we can and make a wise decision for him and us,” manager Mike Matheny said. “He’s trying to push everything as hard as he can to help that eye heal, but it’s just going to take time.”

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Soler would get $50,000 for 350 plate appearances and each additional 50 through 550.

He fits a crucial role in the Royals lineup by providing a big bat in an otherwise hit-and-run offense.

Dozier, who agreed to a $2.72 million deal plus incentives, is the other big bat in the lineup. The 29-year-old hit just .228 with six homers and 12 RBIs in 44 games last season, but the Royals believe his offense — and power — can bounce back to their previous levels. Dozier hit .278 with 26 homers and 84 RBIs during the 2019 season.

His defensive versatility is also important. Dozier can play both corner outfield spots along with first base and third base, and the likely departure of Franco means he could be headed to a more permanent role in the infield.

“He played a lot more infield the last two years than he has outfield, so we understand that,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said, “but we’re not going to close the door on his potential to play the outfield as well.”

Dozier was eligible for arbitration for the first time after earning $226,111 in prorated pay from a $610,500 salary.

Hahn, who allowed one earned run in 17 1/3 innings last season, will make $1.75 million with up to $350,000 in bonuses – $50,000 each for 25 games and each additional five up to 50. Junis will earn $1.7 million after making six starts and eight appearances while finishing with a 6.39 ERA last season.

Both of them have the ability to start or pitch out of the bullpen, the same kind of versatility that led the Royals to bring back right-hander Mike Minor on an $18 million, two-year deal earlier this week. Minor spent parts of four seasons in Kansas City before spending parts of the past three seasons with Texas and Oakland.

“Mike is committed to a big workload,” Moore said. “He threw over 200 innings in 2019 with 200 strikeouts, I believe. We just feel really good about how he blends in with the young starters we have on the horizon.”

Hahn earned $222,222 prorated from $600,000 and Junis $225,185 from $608,000.

Cordero will earn $800,000 after he was limited to just 16 games because of injuries last season, when he took home $211,519 from $571,100.

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KANSAS CITY — Newly signed Royals outfielder Michael A. Taylor will get every shot at being the everyday center fielder, general manager Dayton Moore said in a Zoom call Monday.

Taylor, 29, signed a one-year deal for $1.75 million, a source confirmed to MLB.com. He became a free agent in October after seven seasons with the Nationals.

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“I think there is still some untapped potential there [with Taylor],” Moore said. “I think he’d be the first to tell you he hasn’t been as consistent as he’d like. But he’s been a part of championship teams. He has speed and power.”

Taylor, part of the Nationals’ World Series championship team in 2019, has not been the same offensive player since his breakout season in ’17 during which he collected 19 home runs, 53 RBIs, an .806 OPS and 17 steals. He hit .227 with six home runs in 134 games in ’18, and in ’20, he hit a career-low .196 in 38 games.

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More concerning is Taylor’s high strikeout percentage (31.4), well above the MLB average of 21.6.

“He understands the importance of improving his swing and miss,” Moore said. “But he’s a terrific athlete and very intelligent. He’s a guy that [manager] Mike Matheny and [bench coach] Pedro Grifol and all of our scouts recommended … and we wanted to add to our outfield depth, get more starting pitching and add an impact bat or two for the middle of the lineup.

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Since their World Series glory in 2015, the Royals have not finished higher than third place in the American League Central. They finished fourth in 2020. They have a very strong farm system but not one expected to change the fortunes of the big league ballclub overnight.

The Royals were very good in 2015, but the division was definitely in the dumps that year. Since then, it’s been getting better and all five teams are trending upwards, which only makes it tougher for the small-ball Royals to make moves and win games this year.

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So, no, the Royals were not expected to be one of the more aggressive acquirers of talent this offseason. To date, though, they have been. All things are relative, and Kansas City won’t be a player for the top-end free agents.

Castrovince did note that while they’re not going to land the big names in free agency, the Royals have landed names like Mike Minor and Carlos Santana, which, as he says, “brings credibility to the clubhouse”. He also liked the signing of Michael A. Taylor, which gives KC another dependable outfielder to patrol the spacious outfield at Kauffman Stadium.

Whether these moves will help speed up the Royals’ timetable remains to be seen. But give credit to Kansas City for not taking the path of least resistance here.

The closing statement from Castrovince is a good one. He gives credit to the organization for trying to bring in talent and keep up with their divisional foes but as he says, we don’t know if these signings will pay off or not. The Royals are going to have an incredibly difficult time in their division and had they just stood pat and not brought anyone in, it’d have been understandable, but they’re choosing to battle to be relevant.

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The other teams on this list are the Padres, Mets, Rays, Rangers, and Braves (in that order with the Royals sandwiched between the Rays and Rangers). The Padres have definitely put in the work to improve this offseason, but they have to, as they have the reigning World Series champion Dodgers in their division.

“Mike makes out the lineup. But we’re going to give Michael Taylor a lot of opportunity to play every day. We expect Michael Taylor to get the first crack at that.”

Taylor said in a Zoom call that cutting down on his strikeouts was priority No. 1. He said he was working on a swing change, as well as altering his approach at the plate.

“Putting the ball in play earlier in the count is one way,” he said. “I get to too many two-strike counts. Shortening up my swing, and not trying to hit the long ball on every at-bat. Cutting down on strikeouts is a huge thing.”

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Taylor is a career .237 hitter with 53 home runs, 77 stolen bases and a .686 OPS in 574 games, playing primarily center field.

Taylor’s impressive performance
Sep 9, 2017 · 0:59
Taylor’s impressive performance
He said he was sold on the Royals very quickly in the process.

“I talked to a few teams,” he said. “But after I talked to Dayton on the phone and Mike on the phone, I knew this is the place I’d like to be.

“I think just after the phone calls, the culture they have over there is special, and as a player, you want to be where a team wants you.”

And Moore covets defense first in his center fielders. The Royals have Edward Olivares, Nick Heath, Bubba Starling, Franchy Cordero and Whit Merrifield as possible center fielders as well.

“Physically, it’s a big outfield [at Kauffman Stadium],” Taylor said, “and I love playing defense, and I think I can help out on the field.”

To make room for Taylor, the Royals designated left-hander Foster Griffin for assignment. The 25-year-old Griffin made his Major League debut for Kansas City on July 27 and pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings in his only appearance of the season.

Griffin had Tommy John surgery in 2019, and his DFA was somewhat expected.

The Royals will have to clear more space on the 40-man roster, which is full, as they prepare for the upcoming Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 10. Kansas City also needs room for left-hander Mike Minor, who isn’t officially signed but has agreed to a two-year deal, sources told MLB.com.

Moore hinted more moves are on the way.

“It’s likely that we move on from certain players because their financial expectation doesn’t align with what we can do in other areas based on this market,” Moore said. “So we’re looking at that. I don’t know how it will unfold, but we’re looking at different things.”