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Saturday sports: AL East can't lose; Rachel Robinson is 100; Serena Williams is back

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Major League Baseball's All-Star week is upon us, a wild, wild AL East, and the great Rachel Robinson with her own milestone. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media joins us. Good morning, Howard.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: Fine. Thank you. So Major League Baseball approaching the midway point, the All-Star break. My gosh, the American League Eastern division is hot. Not a single losing record in the bunch - Yankees, Rays, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Orioles. And, of course, a great Yankees-Red Sox series has just begun. BoSox won last night, 5-4.

BRYANT: Yeah, it's incredible. And last year - we come off the American League East last year when four teams win 90 games. This year, every team is .500. You've got the Orioles, who are .500. They've lost at least 108 games three times since 2018, so things are looking up in Baltimore. You've got - around the rest of the league, Scott, it's really fun. It's - you know, it's been an interesting year considering that you had a season that started out with a lockout, but the Mariners have won 12 games in a row. And the Yankees - everyone was talking about them like they were the greatest team since the '98 Yankees, and recordwise, they kind of have been, but...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...They're only two games ahead of the Dodgers - I'm sorry - and they're only three games ahead of Houston in the American League, so it's going to be great. There's going to be - the second half of the season is going to have a lot of things happening.

SIMON: Right. I want to note - the great, great Rachel Robinson - professor, nurse, philanthropist, and, of course, the late Jackie Robinson's partner in all ways - turns 100 years old in a few days.

BRYANT: Incredible. And just in time for the opening of the Jackie Robinson Museum, which was Rachel's just passion project after Jackie died in 1972. It's a half-century in the making in a lot of ways. And finally, next week, it looks like the doors are going to open. Rachel Robinson is just a signature figure, Scott. It's one of the things that has been such a joy to be a part of in this business. Meeting her twice has been - it's been just such an honor. And we think about Jackie, and we talk about Jackie's legacy, but Rachel is behind the whole thing. After Jackie passed in 1972, it wasn't as though baseball was really flipping over itself, going - bending over backwards to remember Jackie's legacy. It was really Rachel who, behind the scenes, used her influence with the O'Malley family, used her influence with Major League Baseball to make sure people didn't forget Jackie, to make sure that his place was secured in the history of Major League Baseball. That's Rachel's doing, and we are all so much the better for it.

SIMON: She is at once, if I may, graceful and determined.

BRYANT: Absolutely. No question. And the thing that I love most about Rachel is that in addition to everything that she has done in terms of making sure we remember Jackie, she is incredibly accomplished in her own right and made it a point, when Jackie was at his peak, that she had her own career and that she had her own accomplishments. Even though at times her husband was not necessarily on board with that, she made sure that she stood on her own merits, as well.

SIMON: Serena Williams said this week she's going to play at the National Bank Open in Toronto next month. Sounds like she's preparing to play in the U.S. Open, maybe.

BRYANT: Yeah, that's big. If you're going to play in the tuneups leading up to the U.S. Open, that is a signal that you're here, you know, that you're planning on being in New York in the second - sorry, the last week of August. That's big news. She lost at Wimbledon in the first round to Harmony Tan. People are constantly wondering if Serena is going to come back. But signing on for Toronto, for Rogers Cup means that she's in, and when Serena is in, that means she's in it to win it. So that's good news for Serena Williams fans.

SIMON: It'll certainly lift up a great tournament under any circumstance. So thanks very much for being with us, Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media. Thanks so much, my friend. Talk to you soon.

BRYANT: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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