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Saturday Sports: Baseball Ramps Up, And The U.S. Open May Be Facing The End Of An Era

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Ruth, Satch (ph), Gibson, Gehrig, DiMagg (ph), Aaron, but no one like Ohtani. The U.S. Open approaches, only this time without two marquee names. Justin Fields is the story at Soldier Field. And a gorilla helps public health.

Joining us now from Soldier Field in Chicago is ESPN's Michele Steele. Good morning, Michele.

MICHELE STEELE: Good morning, Scott. I apologize for any background noise, but it's a bustling stadium today, I got to tell you.

SIMON: Well, that's wonderful. And that's why we're talking to you. You're going to be reporting the Bears and Buffalo Bills preseason game. But the drama is mostly round two Bears, Justin Fields and Andy Dalton. Let just me put it this way. As a lifelong Bears fan, there's not a quarterback controversy in Chicago. There's no controversy. The Bears...

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: ...Don't excel at drafting quarterbacks. God, you know, bless Jim McMahon. But in any event, tell us what's going on there.

STEELE: Scott, you know it as well as I do. Chicago has waited about 75 years, you know, give or take, for a truly game-changing quarterback. That's why this is so interesting. It's good that Chicago has been all those years on the defensive side of things. That's why they're the Monsters of the Midway, after all.

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: They've been pretty hapless, you know, on the other side of the ball. And finally, they get a guy - they draft a guy, Justin Fields out of Ohio State, who's living up to the hype, had a great game last week. But the Bears promised the starting job to another fellow, 10-year vet Andy Dalton. They're both playing today. From what I hear, Dalton kind of wants to let people know this is his job, at least for now. There's a reason that they named him the starter. But if Fields keeps playing the way he's playing, Scott, the Bears are going to have some decisions to make.

SIMON: Shohei Ohtani.

STEELE: Oh, yeah.

SIMON: Oh, my God. He hit - Shohei Ohtani - he hit his 40th home run of the season for the Angels this week. Of course, he has eight wins, one loss as a pitcher for the Angels. Anybody ever had a season like this in baseball?

STEELE: Certainly not in my lifetime. I mean, this guy is a living baseball unicorn, right? I haven't seen anything like it.

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: Sometimes guys hit really well. Sometimes guys pitch really well. Ohtani, he's doing it all.

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: You know, you just mentioned it. He was the first to reach 40 home runs on the season Wednesday night. Oh, by the way, that was the night he pitched. Oh, by the way, he has a sub-3.00 ERA.

SIMON: Yeah.

STEELE: I'm talking to everybody in the audience right now, baseball fan or not. Baseball is a sport of statistics and history. It's so impossible to compare what Ohtani is doing to anybody you're thinking about offensively. Even beyond that, if he stops playing today, he's going to be MVP this year. There's no question. Joe Maddon, his manager, said he's in the middle of every conversation for every award, including the AL Cy Young.

SIMON: Yeah, yup.

STEELE: So I don't know about you, but I checked the Angels' schedule to see next time they're in town.

SIMON: Cy Young winner could also be the home run leader.

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer won't be at the U.S. Open, a moment to mark in tennis history.

STEELE: It's sad, isn't it? You know, you don't want to believe that it might be possible, the Big Three broken up. But out of 64 Grand Slam finals since 2005, Federer, Nadal or Djokovic - one of those guys has been in the finals of 61 of them, and they're all tied at 20 Slams apiece. This week, Nadal announcing that he's withdrawing from the U.S. Open because of a nagging foot injury. Fed won't be there either. He's got knee surgery. So maybe an end of an era here.

SIMON: And finally, quickly, you interviewed a gorilla this week who said, get vaccinated.

STEELE: (Laughter) A gorilla who's a rabid Raiders fan. There's Raiders fans who dress up for games, as they're wont to do. He's been in a gorilla outfit every home game since '95. He wasn't going to get vaccinated until he heard the team is mandating them, requiring them for all fans. So he told me he's going to make the sacrifice to get a free, lifesaving vaccine so that he can watch the Raiders play football. And he's not the only fan. Sports reaches people in ways that other institutions can't.

SIMON: Yeah. ESPN's Michele Steele, thanks so much.

STEELE: Sure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.