(HOUSTON) -- Faith Mata threw Sunday's first pitch at the Houston Astros game in honor of her sister, Tess, 10, who was killed in the devastating shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde in May. The fourth grader had been saving money to take her family to a game at Minute Maid Park to see her favorite player, Jose Altuve.
With tears in her eyes, the girls' mom said the family never had the opportunity to bring Tess to a game, but she would be "so excited... She'd be jumping up and down right now," she told ABC News.
"We wanted them to be treated like royalty," Astros Foundation Executive Director Paula Harris told ABC News when describing what the team has dubbed "Uvalde Strong Day." The foundation gave away thousands of tickets and sent buses to pick up 500 Uvalde residents, who either were directly affected by or responded to the tragedy, to shuttle them to Houston. When entering the city limits, the Houston Police Department escorted the buses directly to Minute Maid Park.
Jose Altuve posed for selfies with young fans, and the crowd of community members got to ask players questions and interact with them on the field. Dusty Baker, the team's manager, said to the crowd of Uvaldeans that his hope for the day was that it would help with the healing process.
Attending with his family, Javier Cazares, the father of shooting victim Jackie Cazares, said he felt Houston's support, was happy to be at Minute Maid and hoped for a good game. His shirt, bearing Jackie's image with added wings and the words "Forever in our hearts," was a stark reminder of the painful event that brought this still-healing community to Houston.
Harris told ABC News the event is the Astros saying to the Uvalde community, "You're family. You're neighbors. We want to do whatever we can to help you get through this process. And if it's just a smile on a Sunday for our game, that's what we want to do."
When asked how Tess would be reacting to the day, her dad said, "She's looking down on us right now, and I'm pretty sure she has a big ol' smile."
(DYERSVILLE, Iowa) -- The Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds will take to the cornfields of Iowa for a game fit for dreams on Thursday night in the second edition of the MLB’s homage to the 1989 classic film starring Kevin Costner.
The "Field of Dreams" game will feature players wearing uniforms modeled after the ones each club wore a century ago, and walking out of the cornfields onto a baseball field adjacent to the original movie’s location.
The Reds will be the designated home team for the regular season game. The showdown will take place in a specially built field that holds 8,000 fans.
Last year, the league started the tradition with a game between the Chicago White Sox, the team featured in the iconic film, and the New York Yankees, with Costner himself on the sidelines. The game was a rousing success, with White Sox star Tim Anderson hitting a walk-off two-run home run after Aaron Judge's three-run blast deep into the corn in the top of the ninth had appeared to set up a New York win.
Cubs first baseman Frank Schwindel told MLB.com he wasn’t sure if it was possible to top the first installment of the tradition.
"I don't know if we can," Schwindel said. "It's going to be tough to beat, but we're going to show up like it's any other day, play hard and hope we put on a show for the fans."
Special care has been given to the player’s vintage uniforms.
According to MLB, the Reds will wear uniforms designed in 1919, when they won their controversial World Series title tainted by the Black Sox scandal. Shoeless Joe Jackson, one of those players thrown out of baseball for the alleged bribery scandal, was featured prominently in the movie.
For their side, the Cubs will have cream-colored uniforms styled after the franchise’s 1929 uniforms that include the old-school logo of a bear holding a bat inside a large red and navy "C."
"Watching homers go out into the corn, it's just something special," Schwindel told MLB.com. "It's going to be a lot of fun. We're very spoiled to play at Wrigley every day -- a lot of history, obviously. I think we're going to try to soak it all in when we get to that field. We'll walk through the corn, sit on the iconic bench out front."
Reds shortstop Kyle Farmer is also excited to play in such an iconic spot. Farmer told MLB.com he did a project in high school on Shoeless Joe Jackson and the 1919 White Sox.
To celebrate the special night, country music star Walker Hayes will perform after the game as fireworks illuminate the cornfields.
"I have never liked the word retirement," Williams wrote. "It doesn't feel like a modern word to me. Maybe the best word to describe what I'm up to is evolution. I'm here to tell you that I'm evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me."
The article appeared to hint the upcoming U.S. Open tournament will be her last grand slam, fueling ticket sales.
Following her announcement, approximately 13,000 U.S. Open tickets were sold on Tuesday, tournament organizers told ABC News.
Of those tickets sold, nearly 4,500 were for the tournament's opening night, according to the United States Tennis Association, despite Williams not being guaranteed to play in that slot.
Williams has played tennis professionally since 1995 and is one of the most decorated tennis players of all time. She has taken home 23 grand slams -- one short of the record -- and four Olympic gold medals in her career and spent 319 weeks ranked No. 1 in the world.
While her next chapter is on the horizon, in her Vogue essay, Williams said she's still enjoying her sport.
"This sport has given me so much. I love to win. I love the battle. I love to entertain. I'm not sure every player sees it that way, but I love the performance aspect of it -- to be able to entertain people week after week ... Night matches in Arthur Ashe Stadium at Flushing Meadows. Hitting an ace on set point."
As she shifts to focus on motherhood and investing in a new part of herself, Williams wrote on Instagram: "My goodness do I enjoy tennis. But now, the countdown has begun ... I'm gonna relish these next few weeks."
(LOS ANGELES) — Jury selection and opening arguments in Vanessa Bryant's case against Los Angeles County began Wednesday.
Bryant filed a lawsuit in September 2020, alleging that first responders took and shared photos of her husband’s and daughter’s remains on Jan. 26, 2020. Bryant's husband, basketball superstar Kobe Bryant, and daughter Gianna were killed in a helicopter crash. Everyone on board, including the pilot, was killed.
"Mrs. Bryant feels ill at the thought that sheriff's deputies, firefighters, and members of the public have gawked at gratuitous images of her deceased husband and child," her lawsuit states. "She lives in fear that she or her children will one day confront horrific images of their loved ones online."
Orange County financial adviser Chris Chester also filed a lawsuit against the county for photos taken of his wife and daughter killed in the same crash. In July, U.S. District Judge John Walter decided to consolidate Bryant's and Chester's trials.
Both Bryant and Chester claim they suffered emotional distress because of the alleged sharing of photos.
On Wednesday, Bryant's attorneys said they wanted to call a witness from the county coroner’s office, adding that the witness should bring "all photographs" of the victims from the crash, according to court documents.
The L.A. County’s legal team opposed the request, with attorney Mira Hashmall saying they "are highly sensitive, gruesome images that have no place in this courtroom."
Hashmall said the plaintiffs are trying to "inflame the jury’s emotions" by including the coroner's photos.
"If the plaintiffs really wanted to keep the tragic details of what happened to their loved ones out of the public domain, they would not put these photos into the case," Hashmall said.
L.A. County maintains that first responders did not share any photos from the scene of the crash.
While the county "sympathizes with the losses suffered by the Bryant and Chester families," the case is about whether the county publicly disseminated crash site photos in violation of the plaintiffs' constitutional rights, Hashmall told City News Services. "From the time of the crash to now, the county has worked tirelessly to prevent its crash site photos from getting into the public domain. Over two and a half years later, no county photos have appeared in the media, none can be found online, and the plaintiffs admit they've never seen them."
The county also attests that an investigation by the Internal Affairs Bureau of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department confirmed that all of the photos were destroyed.
Both Bryant's and Chester’s lawsuits argue that the photos were shared before being deleted by first responders.
"At least 11 [sheriff's] personnel and a dozen firefighters shared the photos within 24 hours of the crash," Bryant’s lawsuit said. "In the following weeks, one [sheriff's] deputy flaunted photos of remains at a bar, another texted photos to a group of video game buddies, and [county fire] personnel displayed photos at an awards gala."
According to the lawsuits, the images taken of the wreckage and remains at the Calabasas crash site are graphic. Bryant’s lawsuit states that Sheriff Alex Villanueva told Bryant he was securing the scene and ordered all responders to delete any photos taken, but that responders did not do so and Villanueva attempted to "cover it up."
Villanueva and L.A. County have denied that any photos were shared under their supervision, according to court documents. ABC News reached out for comment and did not receive a response.
Since Bryant filed her lawsuit, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an invasion-of-privacy bill, named after Kobe Bryant, in September 2020 to make it illegal for first responders to share photos of a dead person at a crime scene "for any purpose other than an official law enforcement purpose." The misdemeanor crime is punishable by up to $1,000 per violation.
"If I were a guy, I wouldn't be writing this because I'd be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labor of expanding our family," she said in the essay. "Maybe I'd be more of a Tom Brady if I had that opportunity. Don't get me wrong: I love being a woman, and I loved every second of being pregnant with Olympia. ...But I'm turning 41 this month, and something's got to give."
Williams achieved her last Grand Slam title at the 2017 Australian Open, while pregnant with her daughter Olympia, who turns 5 next month, according to ESPN.
Securing her first match win in 14 months on Monday, Williams is currently competing at the Canadian Open. She has suggested she will taper off her tournament play with the Western & Southern Open next week and the US Open later this month.
The 23-Grand Slam title winner says she doesn't like the word "retirement" and prefers to think of this as an "evolution" away from tennis toward other projects that are important to her.
(KHIMKI, Russia) -- WNBA star Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia for over five months, was found guilty on drug charges in a Moscow-area court Thursday. She was then sentenced to nine years in prison.
The judge found that Griner had criminal intent and said she was guilty of smuggling and storing illegal drugs.
Griner, a 31-year-old Houston native who plays professional basketball for the Phoenix Mercury, was detained on Feb. 17 at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Khimki as she returned to Russia to play during the WNBA's offseason after she was accused of having vape cartridges containing hashish oil, which is illegal in the country.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist, who appeared in court Thursday for the final hearing in her trial, was facing up to 10 years in prison although 9 1/2 years was the maximum sentence with time served. Griner has a right to appeal.
U.S. President Joe Biden slammed Russia in a statement on Thursday morning following Griner's sentencing and called on Russia to "release her immediately."
"Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney," Biden said.
Calls to free Griner escalated following the release of U.S. Marine veteran Trevor Reed in April, who was freed from a Russian prison as part of a prisoner exchange. Former Marine Paul Whelan has also been detained in Russia since 2019.
"It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates," Biden wrote in the statement. "My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible."
Griner shared an emotional statement in court ahead of the verdict on Thursday morning.
She apologized to her loved ones for the hurt that her detention has caused and said that her parents instilled hard work in her and this value is what brought her to Russia.
Griner’s trip to Russia to play in the offseason has underscored the issue of pay inequality in professional basketball
Many WNBA players have traveled around the world to play in the offseason because they don’t make enough money during the season -- an issue that is not as prevalent for NBA players. The top WNBA salary is $228,000 per season, whereas star NBA players make over $20 million a year.
The Phoenix Mercury star held up a photo of her Russian teammates on Thursday and said that she made "an honest mistake" by packing the vape cartridges in her bag.
The prosecutor argued that Griner's guilt has been proven and also asked that Griner pay a $16,500 fine, which is about 1 million Russian roubles.
"This is a miscarriage of justice," Elizabeth Rood, Charge d'Affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Russia, who has attended each hearing, told reporters outside the court. "The U.S. Department of State has determined that Ms. Griner was wrongfully detained. Nothing in today's decision changes that determination."
Griner pleaded guilty to drug charges in court last month, saying that the vape cartridges containing hashish oil were in her luggage mistakenly and that she had no "intention" of breaking Russian law.
Her legal team told ABC News in a statement last month that her "guilty" plea was recommended by her Russian attorneys.
"Brittney sets an example of being brave. She decided to take full responsibility for her actions as she knows that she is a role model for many people," the lawyers said in the statement. "Considering the nature of her case, the insignificant amount of the substance and BG's personality and history of positive contributions to global and Russian sport, the defense hopes that the plea will be considered by the court as a mitigating factor and there will be no severe sentence."
Griner testified last week that she did not mean to leave the cartridges in her bag, but that she was in a hurry and was stressed after recovering from COVID-19 that month. The WNBA star said she was aware that the U.S. had warned Americans about traveling to Russia, but she didn't want to let her team down in the playoffs.
She also testified that she has permission to use medical cannabis and used a certificate to buy it in the U.S. Earlier this month, one of Griner's attorneys presented a letter from an American doctor in court, giving her permission to use cannabis to reduce chronic pain.
The American basketball star said she was pulled aside after inspectors at the airport found the vape cartridges in her luggage and that when she was detained, she was not offered an explanation of her rights or access to an attorney. Griner said that while there was a translator present, she was not offered a complete translation and even tried to use her phone to translate.
Russia's invasion of neighboring Ukraine began one week after Griner was detained, and some officials have expressed concern that Americans jailed in Russia could be used as leverage in the ongoing war.
The U.S. Department of State has classified both Whelan and Griner as "wrongfully detained."
Last week, in a sharp reversal, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that he will hold a call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov "in the coming days" to discuss securing the freedom of Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who has been detained in Russia since late 2018.
"[They] have been wrongly detained and must be allowed to come home," Blinken told reporters in Washington, D.C, on July 27. "We put a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release. Our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal, and I'll use the conversation to follow up personally and I hope [to] move us toward a resolution."
Two days later, Blinken told reporters that he had a "frank and direct conversation" with Lavrov about a U.S. proposal to exchange convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout in return for Griner and Whelan's freedom.
"I pressed the Kremlin to accept the substantial proposal that we put forth on the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner," Blinken said. "I'm not going to characterize his responses and I can't give you an assessment of whether I think things are more or less likely, but it was important that [he] hear directly from me on that."
During a press conference in Moscow on July 28, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Vladimirovna Zakharova confirmed that "the issue of mutual exchange of Russian and American citizens, staying in places of detention on the territory of the two countries, was discussed at one time by the presidents of Russia and the United States," but "a concrete result has not yet been achieved."
ABC News' Max Karmen, Shannon Crawford, Joseph Simonetti and Tanya Stukalova contributed to this report.
(NEW YORK) -- The NFL on Wednesday announced it has appealed the six-game suspension Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was served earlier this week for violating the league's personal conduct policy.
In a statement, the league said the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) affords either party the "right to appeal the discipline imposed by the Disciplinary Officer. Such an appeal must be filed within three days and would be heard by the Commissioner or his designee."
"The NFL notified the NFLPA that it will appeal Judge [Sue L. ] Robinson's disciplinary decision and filed its brief this afternoon," the league said in its statement Wednesday. "Commissioner Roger Goodell will determine who will hear the appeal."
Judge Sue L. Robinson, the disciplinary officer appointed by the NFL and NFLPA, issued Watson's six-game suspension on Monday.
In her 16-page report, Robinson wrote that the NFL "carried its burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Mr. Watson engaged in sexual assault (as defined by the NFL) against the four therapists identified in the Report. Mr. Watson violated the Policy in this regard."
She also wrote that Watson violated the league's personal conduct policy by engaging in "conduct that poses a genuine danger to the safety and well-being of another person" and "conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity of the NFL."
Multiple women have filed lawsuits against Watson, accusing the 26-year-old quarterback of sexual assault and other inappropriate conduct.
ESPN reports, citing a source, that the NFL is seeking to suspend Watson for at least a year, along with hitting him with a fine and requiring that he undergo treatment.
(NEW YORK) -- Here are the scores from Wednesday's sports events:
MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL
Cleveland 7, Arizona 4
Tampa Bay 3, Toronto 2
Minnesota 4, Detroit 1
Seattle 7, NY Yankees 3
Chi White Sox 4, Kansas City 1
Houston 6, Boston 1
Baltimore 6, Texas 3
Oakland 3, LA Angels 1
Philadelphia 3, Atlanta 1
NY Mets 9, Washington 5
Miami 3, Cincinnati 0
Pittsburgh 8, Milwaukee 7
San Diego 9, Colorado 1
LA Dodgers 3, San Francisco 0
Chi Cubs at St. Louis (Postponed)
WOMEN'S NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION
Atlanta 91, Indiana 81
New York 64, Los Angeles 61
Seattle 89, Minnesota 77
MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER
Charlotte FC 3, D.C. United 0
CF Montreal 2, Columbus 1
Nashville 1, Portland 1 (TIE)
Miami 1, San Jose 0