Former World Series champion Dennis Cook named manager of Baseball United’s Falcons franchise

Nick Swisher, left, Dennis Cook, center, and Kash Shaikh. (Baseball United)
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Updated 02 October 2023
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Former World Series champion Dennis Cook named manager of Baseball United’s Falcons franchise

  • Former MLB pitcher Dennis Cook to team with ex-New York Yankees slugger and Baseball United co-owner Nick Swisher, who will serve as the franchise’s honorary general manager
  • Swisher, who was recently in Dubai for the launch of the Falcons franchise, will also play a role as a color analyst for Baseball United’s television broadcasts

DUBAI: Baseball United, the first-ever professional baseball league focused on the Middle East and Indian subcontinent, has announced that former Major League Baseball World Series champion Dennis Cook will lead the Abu Dhabi-based Falcons franchise as their first-ever manager.

Cook embarks on this journey armed with 15 years of experience at the MLB level, as well as recent coaching experience at Northwestern University. Cook pitched for several MLB teams, including the San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago White Sox, and New York Mets. He won a World Series title with the Florida (Miami) Marlins in 1997.

Cook will team with Baseball United co-owner and former New York Yankees All-Star Nick Swisher, who will serve as the team’s honorary general manager. Swisher also won a World Series title in 2009. The two former MLB stars will work to create a winning culture at one of the Middle East’s first-ever professional baseball franchises.

“Dennis is an amazing addition to our Baseball United team,” said Kash Shaikh, CEO, chairman, and majority owner of Baseball United. “He’s a proven winner, with meaningful contributions to a lot of winning ball clubs for a decade and a half during his MLB career. Since then, he’s stayed wired into the game at the amateur, professional, and international levels. You can feel his passion in every conversation, and he will be an amazing ambassador for the game here in the UAE. I can’t wait to see him on the field leading the Falcons.”

Cook pitched over 1,000 innings at the MLB level, amassing more than 60 wins and over 700 strikeouts, shifting from starter to relief pitcher for the majority of his career. Cook was also a good hitter and is No. 2 on the list of Major League All-Time Best Hitting Pitchers between 1973 and 2003 (with 100 or more at-bats).

On the international stage, Cook served as Team Sweden’s head coach in 2010.

“I’m honored to be named the manager of the Falcons,” said Cook. “It’s been so exciting watching Baseball United develop, and it’s a blessing to now be a central part of this journey. I’m truly grateful to Kash, John Miedreich (executive vice president of baseball operations), and the entire team for giving me the opportunity to be part of something incredibly special. The credentials of this ownership group are outstanding, and we have the right people to execute this remarkable vision. I can’t wait to work alongside Nick to help make the UAE proud.”

Swisher, who was recently in Dubai for the launch of the Falcons franchise, will also play a role as a color analyst for Baseball United’s television broadcasts.

“I continue to be grateful for the opportunities that Baseball United has awarded me,” said Swisher. “As an investor and co-owner, my goal was to be an active participant in the creation and growth of this league. Now, not only will I be able to call the games from the broadcast booth, but I’ll be able to help shape the roster of one of our flagship franchises. The best part — I get to partner with Dennis to make it all happen.”

The Falcons will start play during Baseball United’s first season, slated to begin in November of 2024.


Jordan, Nepal to contest WAFF Women’s Championship final in Jeddah

Updated 28 February 2024
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Jordan, Nepal to contest WAFF Women’s Championship final in Jeddah

  • Match will take place at Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Stadium on Thursday

JEDDAH: Jordan and Nepal will face off in the final of the West Asian Football Federation Women’s Championship after completing victories in their respective semi-finals on Tuesday evening in Jeddah.

Jordan booked their place in Thursday’s final at Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Stadium in Jeddah after beating Palestine 5-0, with goals coming from Maysa Jbarah (on 27 and 83 minutes), Lana Feras (34), Sarah Abu Sabbah (59), and Enas Al-Jamaeen (86).

In the other semi, Lebanon took the lead in the 37th minute through an own goal by Puja Rana, but Nepal equalized 15 minutes from the end through star striker Sabitra Bhandari before Preeti Rai snatched victory with a goal in stoppage time.


Saudi boxer Ziyad Almaayouf ready to become ‘superhero’ for his people

Updated 28 February 2024
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Saudi boxer Ziyad Almaayouf ready to become ‘superhero’ for his people

  • 23-year-old will fight on undercard of Knockout Chaos in Riyadh on March 8

RIYADH: The eyes of the boxing world will once again turn to Riyadh on March 8, when Knockout Chaos sees the highly anticipated bout between Anthony Joshua and Francis Ngannou.

No less significant a narrative for the sport in the Kingdom will be that of Ziyad Almaayouf, the rising star of Saudi boxing, gracing the undercard with the biggest fight of his career so far.

For Almaayouf, 23, Knockout Chaos at Kingdom Arena will provide a platform to extend his so far perfect record of 4-0.

The super-lightweight fighter said: “I feel like being the Saudi fighter and fighting in Saudi, the map is already there for me to do that. All I need to do is walk on that yellow brick road, you know what I mean?

“When you’re a fighter at my stage and you’re approaching such a big stage, your number one thought is to just make the right statement, which is to get the win. That’s all that matters.”

Almaayouf, who fights out of California, made history in August 2022 on the Joshua versus Oleksandr Usyk card in Jeddah as the first Saudi boxer to win a professional fight, against Mexican Jose Alfredo Alatorre.

Despite the intense attention Knockout Chaos has been receiving, Almaayouf was confident of remaining calm going into the fight.

“Once I’m in that ring, I can control all of that. But before that, all I can control is visualizing my performance, getting the win; not how I perform while winning.

“It’s a very fine line between them, but it’s a fine line that could make or break you,” he added.

Dubbed Zizo by his admirers, Almaayouf considered himself as more than just a boxer; he was a symbol of hope and inspiration for a nation rallying behind him.

He said: “I always say that I feel like a superhero when I do it. Gotham City has Batman, Metropolis has Superman, and Saudi has Zizo. When I fight in Saudi, so many people, boxing fans or not, they put their hopes and dreams, bragging rights, and everything on me. They feel like ‘if he could win his boxing fight, I could get my promotion and my job.’

“So many different audiences get inspired by something you are doing on a global stage. And that’s why I feel like a superhero.

“They need to have that confidence that if Zizo could do it, we could do it, and we could do it better,” Almaayouf added.

With his own podcast, “The Inner Guidebook,” and features in fashion magazines such as Vogue Arabia, Almaayouf has emerged as something of a Renaissance man with a wide variety of pursuits.

“It’s what I always try to follow in my life. Life peaks when you stop caring about what other people think you know. I feel like your purpose in life is your passion. These are all things that I am passionate about.

“First you become the boxer, then you become the athlete, then you become the figure. Everyone wants to reach the point of the figure, but very few make it to there.

“How you reach the point of that figure is to break into audiences that have nothing to do with your sport and your original field,” he said.

Almaayouf noted that many people had come across his name outside of boxing, from his fashion work, for example.

“It’s important to change the perceptions and the conceptions that people have on Saudi Arabia and the Saudi Arabian people or the Arab people in general.

“Yes, we do speak English. Yes, we do have that enthusiasm, the charisma. Yes, we can fight. All that stuff is very important. And the only way to do that is to touch as many audiences as possible,” he added.

Despite a whirlwind start to 2024, Almaayouf has set his sights on a singular goal — winning inside the ring.

He said: “I want to be as active as possible, but to be as smartly active as possible. It’s not about getting the most amount of fights that I can get. It’s about getting the right fights at the right time and the right number of fights at the right time, depending on the year.

“If I’m not fighting, I’m a big believer of out of sight, out of mind.

“I always want to grow my brand, keep showing the athletes and the fighters coming up, that blueprint of how to just do it.

“To be a figure more than just the athlete and the boxer. To be around the podcasting, the fashion scene, and whatever passion I could touch lives with. That’s what I want to do.

“But eventually, at the end of the day, I am the boxer. I am the professional boxer for Saudi Arabia right now,” he added.

As Almaayouf continued to chase titles in the ring, he also wanted to pave the way for future generations of Saudi boxers to dream bigger.

He said: “I want to represent Saudi on all the big cards; represent Vision 2030, represent The Quality of Life Program, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of course.

“The trust and the empowerment that they have given me to carry that torch is just a big privilege and it comes with as much pressure, but it’s privilege first, then pressure, you know.

“Of course, it’s my dream to be the first world champion for Saudi; the first unified, undisputed, the first multi-weight.

“But what’s more important is to be the first of many. That’s why I say that this story is a larger-than-life story.

“I need to keep being that flag-bearer for Saudi Arabia until I get to that world title, God willing,” Almaayouf added.


Rory McIlroy reminisces about Dubai’s Majlis course, ‘where everything started’

Updated 28 February 2024
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Rory McIlroy reminisces about Dubai’s Majlis course, ‘where everything started’

  • Irishman has won record 4 Dubai Desert Classic titles at Emirates Golf Club

DUBAI: Following his latest triumph in the UAE, world No. 2 Rory McIlroy had nothing but praise for the region’s longest-standing golf event, the Hero Dubai Desert Classic, a tournament he said allowed him to “reminisce” about his career.

The Northern Irishman etched his name in Dubai history after he became the first four-time champion at Emirates Golf Club to cap off the event’s milestone 35th anniversary celebrations in January.

McIlroy, who added to his previous victory tally on the Majlis course in 2009, 2015, and 2023, provided a thrilling weekend for fans as the reigning champion pulled back a 10-shot lead held by Cameron Young to secure his fourth Dallah trophy.

On his personal journey, alongside the city’s growth on the world stage, the 34-year-old player said: “The arc of my career and Dubai as a city have tracked each other pretty consistently along the way.

“I remember my first Dubai Desert Classic as an amateur back in 2006, when we were staying 10 minutes away in what was almost like being out in the desert, and it’s so built up now compared to then.”

In his first visit as a golfing enthusiast, McIlroy would follow his heroes around the Majlis course, with the Emirates Golf Club providing a unique full-circle moment in his career.

“For my first year at the event, I took a media pass and walked inside the ropes to follow Tiger (Woods), Ernie Els, and Thomas Bjorn and then I think about even the arc of that. Thomas is my Ryder Cup captain, I ended up buying Ernie Els’ house, and I’ve become really good friends with Tiger.

“To think about my first visit 18 years ago, and what it’s meant to come here and play in this event, having now won it four times, it’s always been a place I come back to and reminisce about my career as it’s where everything really started,” he added.

The 2024 tournament saw thousands of spectators in attendance with unique moments being enjoyed on and off the greens with the addition of a new-look fan experience.

Several major international certifications also added to the tournament’s legacy for advancing the sport in the region, having become the first golf event in the Middle East and first DP World Tour Rolex Series to achieve Golf Environmental Organization-certified tournament status in recent years.

The 36th edition of the Hero Dubai Desert Classic is set to return in January with a strong line-up again expected to take to the Majlis course as part of the season-opening event on the DP World Tour Rolex Series calendar.

Simon Corkill, executive tournament director of the Hero Dubai Desert Classic, said: “The historic 2024 edition which just concluded, drew huge crowds across the four days of the tournament.

“Our preparations have already begun to make next year’s event even bigger and better. We are determined to raise the bar even higher for 2025 by not only attracting a stellar field of golf stars but also to ensure there’s a wider range of entertainment and activities for all ages.”


Hamdallah proves irreplaceable for Al-Ittihad despite influx of stars

Updated 28 February 2024
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Hamdallah proves irreplaceable for Al-Ittihad despite influx of stars

  • The Moroccan international was expected to exit the reigning SPL champions but has ended up being their most consistent forward this season

Al-Ittihad’s defense of the Saudi Pro League title has largely been one to forget.

Despite some early season promise that had them top for the first month, the wheels quickly fell off culminating in a disappointing showing in December’s FIFA Club World Cup and speculation that star signing Karim Benzema wanted out.

As recently as round seven they were still top of the table, but just 14 matches later they are now fifth and a whopping 22 points behind league leaders Al-Hilal. Any notion of going back-to-back has long since disappeared.

Their mission now is to simply try to close the gap on third-placed Al-Ahli, their crosstown Jeddah rivals, in the hope of securing what is still an unlikely spot in next season’s reformed AFC Champions League Elite competition.

Whereas last season they had one of the best defenses in the league — and one of the best on record in Saudi Pro League history — this season they have the equal worst of the top six.

Nuno Espirito Santo, meanwhile, who spearheaded that drought-breaking title triumph, has been moved on for hotshot Argentine manager Marcelo Gallardo.

But as bad as it has been, it could have been so much worse were it not for the goals of Moroccan international Abderrazak Hamdallah, who has 15 from 17 games this season.

The veteran striker has made a name for himself in the Kingdom since joining Al-Nassr after an equally fruitful stint in Qatar with El-Jaish and Al-Rayyan.

Scoring a league record 34 goals in his debut season with Al-Nassr, and 29 in his second season, he transferred to Al-Ittihad during the 2021-2022 season and has registered double digits in each of his five SPL seasons before the current campaign, making him one of the SPL’s all-time leading scorers.

It has also won him the hearts of Ittihad’s large and fervently faithful fanbase.

But after Al-Ittihad’s stunning capture of Benzema, regarded as one of the best strikers of the modern era, questions were naturally asked as to what the future held for the 33-year-old Hamdallah.

It seems inconceivable that the title-winning team would move on their leading striker who had just won the league’s golden boot, but that is what almost eventuated.

It is understood that the plan inside the walls of Al-Ittihad was to move the striker on — after all, they had Benzema now — only relenting after growing fan pressure against the move, giving the Moroccan a reprieve.

While running your recruitment based on the wishes of the fans is perhaps not the smartest strategy, it could be argued it was their best management decision of the summer.

Still only 33 and with plenty of years ahead of him, Hamdallah is what every team craves — a natural and reliable goalscorer. And as Al-Ittihad’s title defense has faltered, it is largely the goals from Hamdallah that is keeping their campaign alive.

His brace in their come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Al-Wehda on the weekend was further proof of his importance to Gallardo’s side.

Looking back, it seems incredulous that he could have been moved on. He will know how close he was and you get the sense he is playing with that chip on his shoulder, that every time he steps foot on the pitch, he has a point to prove.

And boy is he proving it.

His form this season also serves as a timely reminder that the SPL did not begin with the influx of headline signings in the most recent off-season.

Before the arrival of Benzema, Riyad Mahrez, Neymar and even before Cristiano Ronaldo, the SPL still attracted elite talent.

While Hamdallah may not possess the profile of those recent arrivals, his quality cannot be questioned. The same can be said for Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr teammate, Anderson Talisca.

After Ronaldo’s arrival in Riyadh there was speculation that the Brazilian would be moved on; deemed surplus to requirements at a club that had to shed a foreign player to make way for Ronaldo.

Talisca remained and this season he and Ronaldo have combined for 35 of Al-Nassr’s 60 goals.

Write these guys off at your peril.

As Al-Ittihad prepare for a season-defining fortnight, which will feature three Saudi Clasico’s against the high-flying Al-Hilal — one in the league and home-and-away ties in the AFC Champions League — they will do so grateful to have the Moroccan leading the line.

Having scored in eight consecutive league matches dating back to November, his form is imperious. His five goals in three games since the league resumed from its winter break make him the league’s most in-form striker.

While their title defense may be over, that does not mean they cannot impact where the silverware goes this season. Not to mention there is still silverware of their own to play for in the form of the AFC Champions League, where he has registered a further four goals.

Staring down this Al-Hilal side is a daunting prospect — their winning streak currently stands at 24 across all competitions (26 if you include friendly wins over Inter Miami and Al-Nassr). Their undefeated streak is now at 34 games.

And as good as his scoring record is, Hamdallah has only scored once against Al-Hilal since joining Al-Ittihad two years ago; that coming in their 4-3 loss earlier this season. It is a wrong he will be determined to right over the next fortnight.

In a season to forget for Al-Ittihad, Hamdallah could still deliver moments to remember and that starts with this week’s trip to Riyadh’s Kingdom Arena.


Eddie Howe reveals Newcastle shootout hero almost missed FA Cup win as Magpies eye Wembley return

Updated 28 February 2024
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Eddie Howe reveals Newcastle shootout hero almost missed FA Cup win as Magpies eye Wembley return

  • Keeper Martin Dubravka was ‘playing slightly ill,’ deserves ‘huge credit’
  • Coach is hoping tide is turning for the team as injured players return

BLACKBURN: Eddie Howe has revealed Newcastle United penalty shootout hero Martin Dubravka almost missed the Magpies’ FA Cup win through illness.

The Slovak keeper was Newcastle’s matchwinner, not only keeping the Magpies in the fifth-round encounter with some goal-saving stops in the 1-1 draw stretched across 120 minutes, but also with two spot-kick saves in the deciding shootout, which the visitors won 4-3.

Anthony Gordon had given Newcastle the lead in the second half before Sammie Szmodics popped up with a late equalizer to take the match to extra time, then eventually penalties. Fabian Schar, Bruno Guimaraes, Elliot Anderson and Gordon all netted in the shootout, with only Harvey Barnes seeing one saved. Dubravka pulled off two remarkable stops, from Szmodics and Blackburn Rovers’ skipper Dominic Hyam to seal a place in the last eight.

Dubravka missed the 4-1 loss at Arsenal at the weekend, with stand-in Loris Karius coming into the side — and Howe says his goalie was not 100 percent fit for the encounter, which makes his performance even more remarkable.

“It was (touch and go), it wasn’t clear. He was nowhere near fit for the weekend against Arsenal so he hasn’t been 100 percent for quite a long period of time and has been playing slightly ill and he deserves huge credit for doing that,” said Howe.

“The two penalty saves were huge for us. In open play he (Dubravka) really performed well today and (we) needed him to because they had a few big moments.

“I thought the best save he probably made was in the build-up to their goal which I thought was a magnificent save to tip it onto the bar but unfortunately he scored the rebound.

“That was probably the most disappointing thing on the night because we worked so hard to lead but to let them back into the game was a kick at that time.”

Newcastle might have got back to winning ways but this was far from vintage for Howe’s men. The Magpies labored to beat a team that have won just one of their last 13 encounters in the championship, the second tier of English football.

“We got better as we got on. I don’t think the first half was particularly good, the second half was better and extra time was our best spell of the game by a long way and we shouldn’t have allowed it to go to penalties with the chances we had in extra time,” said Howe.

“I thought generally our attitude was much better. We were fighting, we were giving everything. We weren’t perfect in our performance but our spirit was there and our spirit has been there, since I’ve been here, bar two games and it has to be there in every game.

“We spoke honestly after the Arsenal game and our performance probably, there was a hangover (from the Arsenal game) whether that be a little dent in our confidence but hopefully that will be back for the next game.

“I can’t overanalyze things. I’m doing the job to the best of my ability, I’ll always do that for every second I’m here. As for the season, I don’t know what the future hold but what it does is keep us in a competition we’re desperate to do well in with the carrot of Wembley.”

One thing which has plagued the Magpies’ campaign to date has been the lack of squad options created by a lengthy injury list. Every time one player gets back fit, it seems another drops out injured. At times, Howe has been able to call on just 12 senior outfield players.

However, that tide appears to be turning now, with options off the bench to freshen things up, something which proved crucial in this encounter, with Tino Livramento and Miguel Almiron making significant contributions off the bench in open play, before Anderson struck one of the crucial spot-kicks.

“You need the tools to win games and without our bench today and without Elliot, he was a late decision today to take him with us and if we need to use him we can use him but I didn’t want to use him for more than 10 minutes,” said the head coach.

“Even having him available and I was always going to trust him with a penalty and, who knows, the importance of having him available and that’s through the squad. I was able to take Joe Willock off early because I had quality players to bring on and having to look after him and Alex (Isak) is crucial because we need them both to stay fit. They’re both getting their fitness and their sharpness in games which isn’t ideal but that’s where we’ve been all season.”