2020 was rough. I’m just starting off with a shocker of a sentiment there, aren’t I? I’m really going bold and doubtlessly making everyone wonder why I could possibly have said that. Sigh. The COVID-19 pandemic continues on into 2021 for countless people and throughout a year that’s been sad for so many, I wanted to share some of the sports moments that made me laugh, smile, or watch in awe. I hope you all are staying safe and that 2021 brings bright days for as many as possible. Before I get into the list, I want to touch on a couple of topics that are incredibly important but that I didn’t feel comfortable putting on a traditional top 10 list.
End Racism Movements, Black Lives Matter, and Anti-Racism Cultural Shifts: It was so important to see the continuing cultural shift around racism awareness and being actively anti-racist. Most of what happened in 2020 is a set of stories that I am not qualified to tell, though I will continue to amplify important voices in the future with no hesitation. If you don’t understand why it’s important, I strongly advise further reading on the subject from authors who know what it’s like to deal with racism on a daily basis. Anti-Racism is not just a trend. Both systemic and day-to-day bigotry based on race are incredibly real. “Please don’t sit in silence, no matter the colour of your skin.” – Lewis Hamilton
Romain Grosjean is Okay: I’d feel weird about putting this on the actual top 10 list since the crash was incredibly scary to watch, but Formula One’s safety measures worked tremendously in Bahrain this year when Romain Grosjean escaped his terrifying accident with only small injuries. I’m so incredibly happy to see that he’s doing well with family now. I’m happy that the halo has proven its worth yet again.
One More Note, Before We Begin: This is simply my list. It’s biased to what I spent the most time watching in 2020, and I can absolutely guarantee you it’s missing some amazing moments from sports I simply don’t watch that much. (Basically, and I won’t pretend otherwise, there’s a lot of baseball and F1 here), I would love to hear your favourite moments in the comments below.
#10: KBO is finally broadcast in English on ESPN
The KBO wasn’t the first baseball league to start play in 2020, but as one of the top leagues talent-wise in the world, 2020 Opening Day was significant for many fans of the sports both in and out of South Korea. ESPN covering the league with live broadcasts featuring MLB talent such as Karl Ravech, Jason Benetti, Eduardo Perez, and Kyle Peterson among others was huge for growing the popularity of teams that may have been unfamiliar to many North American fans before 2020.
I personally really enjoyed the presence of KBO Insider Daniel Kim on the playoff broadcasts, and I learnt a lot from him. Although English broadcasts are likely done (at least until ESPN or another company gives it another go), the KBO will hopefully have gained some lifelong fans from this deal. The Korean Series was broadcast in full by ESPN as well, giving high-stakes baseball to many fans well into November. In Canada, the Naver TV app was not geoblocked, so I was also able to watch some KBO games outside of the English broadcast lineup.
#9: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. plays really well in LIDOM
The 2020-21 baseball calendar isn’t yet over, by the way. LIDOM, the Dominican Republic’s winter league, is about to start up their playoffs – without Vladimir Guerrero Jr., but that’s not a problem for Jays fans – he played really well in his time for the Leones del Escogido.
His power showed up, the general offensive approach looked good, and he looked like he was having fun the whole time. It was all pretty fun to watch, but his defense was, yeah, not good. I remain entirely unconvinced that he’ll ever be an everyday MLB-level third baseman again. If you want to watch LIDOM’s playoffs, it’s over on DR Sports. I believe it’s under 20 dollars for the entire playoffs, and it’s really fun!
#8: That New F1 Calendar Ended Up Being Pretty Great
That 2020 F1 season was (mostly) a lot of fun! There were tracks that didn’t really do that well for generating excitement on the spectating side, to say the least about that, but the unexpected changes to the calendar meant tracks like Mugello, the Nurburgring, Algarve, Imola, and Istanbul Park all made appearances and really provided some excellent racing.
It’s almost a disappointment that the calendar is essentially returning to its status quo in 2021, but perhaps we’ll see some gradual changes to include more of these tracks in the future.
#7: Lewis Hamilton ties Michael Schumacher with his 7th World Championship
Lewis Hamilton’s career will go down as one of the greatest in the history of all of sports. As much as it’s a little frustrating to have one name usually at the top of the leaderboard during F1 races, I’m absolutely in awe by Lewis’ talent. I’m happy that I get to watch his legend grow and continue. Oh yeah, he also got knighted recently, so it’s Sir Lewis Hamilton now. What a year for him. It also has to be mentioned that he’s been a huge voice in the Black Lives Matter movement, including on his helmet for every race in 2020.
#6: The Blue Jays Briefly Make the Playoffs
Yeah, it was a bit anticlimactic to see the Rays sweep them in the Wild Card Series, but it was still a fun season for the Blue Jays. This year was never really supposed to be their big year, so from my view it seemed like a less stressful atmosphere around the playoff run from the fanbase in general. Everyone’s still waiting on the next chapter for the team in free agency as I write this, so who knows what the atmosphere will be around the team in a week’s time. It’s mostly positive at the moment. Once they sign some free agents, I’ll do an offseason team preview like I did last year.
#5: Racing Esports Becomes Extremely Mainstream
As you can probably recall in the days during the first lockdown period of the COVID-19 pandemic, sports leagues and networks were clearly scrambling to figure out what would be a good replacement for live sports. On the racing side, live sports continued digitally. Since the esports racing scene is already massive among enthusiasts, we got to see real life drivers competing on esports simulators. It created some wild, wild scenarios. Among them…
- McLaren F1’s Lando Norris took to IndyCar in iRacing events that looked and sounded virtually identically to NBC’s regular broadcasts, complete with commentary from Leigh Diffey and co.
- We also got to see Johnny Herbert vs Nico Hulkenberg vs F2 drivers in various Virtual Grand Prix, events that were less serious than the IndyCar races. Formula One Management ran these on the official F1 channels, and commentary came from a combination of BBC Radio F1 voice Jack Nicholls, F1 TV voice Alex Jacques, and WTF1 presenter Matt Gallagher depending on the races.
- Online racing journalism platform The Race held their own All Star Series of events that included Legends races. We got to see Fernando Alonso take on Jenson Button, Dario Franchitti, and Mario Andretti at Indianapolis, Jacques Villeneuve race on a laptop with an Xbox controller and not finish last, and Max Verstappen take on Felix Rosenqvist and Antonio Felix Da Costa among other scenarios. BBC Radio commentary duo Jack Nicholls and Jolyon Palmer commentated on these races, with appearances from Paul Page among others at times. It was a lot of fun.
- Veloce Esports did a series of “Not the … Grand Prix” races that also appeared to get a lot of attention. These were more aimed at fans who wanted a Twitch-style atmosphere rather than a broadcast feel, from what I can tell. I didn’t end up watching these personally, but I’m still glad they picked up steam.
- Similar to NBC’s IndyCar events, NASCAR ran a series of iRacing races with FOX as their television partner, and they were really well done as well. Mike Joy’s commentary crew did very well in replicating the authentic viewing experience.
The racing esports scene would revert to the status quo as the year went on and the various racing leagues got back to battling for position on real tracks, but one series kept my attention into the late months of the year. The F1 Esports Pro Series just completed their fourth season, and the racing was incredible. Jacques and Gallagher were on the mic as several action filled events filled the calendar – and I was happy to watch as much as I could. Jarno Opmeer ended up as the series champion this year.
#4: Sergio Perez wins a Grand Prix
It had been 190 race starts, and Sergio Perez finally won his Formula One race at the Sakhir Grand Prix. It was just a feel-good moment for a guy who’s entirely deserving of an F1 win. I’m happy for him. I hope he has success next year in that Red Bull seat.
#3: Lin Che-Hsuan Robs a Home Run, Somehow
This was just incredibly wild. Fubon Guardians centre fielder Lin Che-Hsuan caught a would-be home run off the bat of Pan Chieh-Kai – and he acted like he hadn’t. He watched Pan round the bases with a straight face, and then throws the ball back to the infield. It was fun, it made headlines everywhere, and it was, in my opinion, the greatest baseball moment of 2020.
#2: Richard Wang and Wayne McNeil Present You Live Baseball
Oh man, this moment was absolutely incredible (to the point where this is essentially tied for #1 rather than being a real #2). When all other sports were on hold in 2020, Taiwan’s CPBL was in a position where they could safely start their season. One of the league’s broadcast partners, Eleven Sports, opted to use the opportunity to test-run a series of games in English with commentators Richard Wang and Wayne McNeil, and it was a remarkable success. Not only were the games great, the commentary was amazing. Mixing in cultural (and food) facts with info on the league’s players turned out to be a great formula, and the entire first half of the season got the go-ahead to move forward with English-language broadcasts.
Eleven Sports continued their series of Rakuten Monkeys broadcasts with a rotation of commentators Wang, McNeil, Adam Wang, Jacky Lee, Keith Chiang, Jean An, Ryan Chen, and Clive Hsu. They also broadcast every Uni-President Lions home game with broadcasters Lee, (Adam) Wang, Jackie Yeh, Uni-Lions Tom, Jason Huang, Hsu, and Chiang on the mic depending on the game.
The Fubon Guardians quickly setup to do their own broadcasts in English with two of (Richard) Wang, McNeil, Chiang, An, and Aaron Yang depending on the game, and the Brothers setup their own in partnership with ELTA Sports. Their commentators included Phil Wu, Papa Juan, Jacinto Liu, Max Hung, Blue Wei, Nick Additon, and current Brothers pitcher Mitch Lively. The CPBL itself went with English highlights in 2020 on Twitter as well, with reporter Daniel Shih voicing them so it was easy to catch up on a game if I’d missed one.
The unprecedented English-language access was wonderful, and I kept up with the league all season long. On my TV/phone/laptop/etc., there was really no period of time I went without live baseball, and the English language broadcasts were a large part of that. Each team broadcast their games on Twitter in a continuation of what Eleven Sports did at the beginning of the year, and a special shoutout really does go to the amazing duo of Wang and McNeil. I hope I get to hear them call more games together in the future.
I know I sound super enthusiastic about this one, but it was a massive part of my year, and I’m so incredibly glad I got to witness the entirety of it – with the finale being the Uni-President Lions winning the Taiwan Series championship. If the English broadcasts are over now, then I’m thankful they happened. I do hope there’s a reality where at least a few can happen in 2021 though.
#1: Pierre Gasly Wins a Grand Prix
The 2020 Italian Grand Prix at Monza is the most excited/nervous/happy I’ve been watching a sporting event in a very long time. Gasly is one of my favourites on the 2020 Formula One grid because of many reasons. I think it’s incredible how he’s bounced back after having a year from hell on both a professional and personal level. I think he’s a great driver on-track, and I think he’s shown that repeatedly when he’s in a position to succeed. From everything I’ve heard and seen, he also seems to be a genuinely nice person.
So, when the unexpected happened and he won a Formula One Grand Prix less than a year after he was dropped from Red Bull, I was absolutely thrilled. It was an amazing accomplishment to watch live and an incredible race result in a year that, for me, absolutely needed a single moment like that.
On to 2021, then.