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How 13-22 Might Be More Hopeful Than 22-10 & Columbia Returns to Ivy League Baseball Playoffs (slightly revised)

On the first Saturday night of May on Star Wars Night at Camden Yards, struggling Dylan Bundy threw the best game of his career.  He pitched into the 8th inning to lead the Orioles to a 3-0 victory over the first place Tampa Bay Rays.

 
Last night (Mon May 6) rookie southpaw John Means contributed a similarly deep outing in a 4-1 victory over the Red Sox. Though my Birds seem consigned to permanent basement residence in  the AL East, they are now 13-22 and on a two-game winning streak.  Whoopee! and I am not being sarcastic.  

 
Two years ago harboring dreams of contention, the Orioles started 22-10 before reality set in.  They wound up 2017 under .500 setting the stage for the disastrous 47-115 of 2018.     

 
Allow me to note some cautiously hopeful signs for 2019.

 

**The overall defense is improved.

**Some decent offense has been provided (and good defense) by Blue Jays castoff outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. and young veteran Trey Mancini (gamely playing right field these days though better suited for first base). 

**Chris Davis is no longer an automatic out but certainly not yet a consistent threat.

**Rookie manager Brandon Hyde has the team playing hard if not always well or smart. 


Any solid hope will depend on the pitching staff.  Much has been expected of Dylan Bundy once a top pick in the draft.  His latest efforts have been encouraging.

 

Nothing was expected of John Means.  "I was never a prospect," he says, but he developed four pitches during his five-year minor league apprenticeship. So far he is rising to the occasion at the major league level.

 

A third starter veteran Andrew Cashner looks like he can provide five or six innings most of the time. Don't ask about where other starters will come from or what the bullpen will look like. Converted shortstop Mychal Givens has closer potential but hasn't shown consistency.

 

Repeat after me class - "If consistency were a place, it would be lightly populated." Don't know who coined the phrase but you can quote me.

 
One thing I've learned in nearly 70 years of intense baseball watching is that won-lost records don't mean much until at least Memorial Day weekend. In the 24/7/365 frenzied mass media world we live in today, it is a good point to remember. 

 
Good examples:  The once high-flying Seattle Mariners now limp towards .500 or worse.

The early promise of the Mets has sunk along with a record now below .500.


Turning to the much shorter season of college baseball, Columbia on Saturday May 4th earned its ticket into the Ivy League Championship Series with a 4-0 shutout in Philadelphia over perennial power Penn. 

 
Needing just one victory to make the playoffs, the Lions had lost four in a row. Gone was the hope of hosting the championship series that will now open at Harvard on Sa May 18.

 
The Lions faced elimination in Saturday's second game after a tough 5-2 loss in the first game when Penn got four runs in the bottom of the 8th. The Quakers had won a similar Winner Take All game two years ago. 

 
Short memories are so essential for baseball success. So senior righthander Ethan Abrams pitched shutout ball into the seventh inning and junior southpaw Leo Pollack earned the save in a 4-0 win. Junior catcher Liam McGill delivered two RBI, a single in the first and a huge insurance HR in the eighth.  

 

It's been quite a run for the Lions under coach Brett Boretti now in his 14th season.  A win over Harvard in two weeks will mean the fifth Ivy League title in the last seven seasons for the native of the North Shore of Boston. Though he still roots for all New England pro teams, there is no doubt that proud alums and all fans of the Columbia Light Blue and White feel that he is the answer to the question posed in the great school fight song, "Who owns New York?" 

 
Harvard will provide stiff competition for Columbia as they seek to repeat their thrilling series win two weeks ago. They have a deep pitching staff and a formidable one-two punch  in senior first baseman Patrick McColl, in the running for the Golden Spikes award as college player of year, and junior right fielder Jake Suddleson.

 
In case of a split on Saturday May 18, there will be a winner take all game on May 19. Games can be seen on the paying service ESPN+ but this is a matchup I must see in person.

You'll read about it and other college baseball matchups in this area in future posts. 

 

There are at least two college tourneys in the NYC area before Memorial Day: Fordham's Rose Hill campus in the Bronx will host the Atlantic 10 tournament May 22-25. On the same days the MAAC will have their tourney at the Yankees' Staten Island ballpark.

 

Coming up in early June will be the PSAL high school championship game. More info on these matchups in the next post.

 

The NYC PSAL has been using wooden bats for several years now. Colleges still use composite bats. I don't like their ping sound any more than baseball purists do, but if you want to see baseball with plenty of hustle and stress on fundamentals, check out the college game.  


That's all for now!  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it!

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"Amazing Grace," Mackenzie Melemed, and MLB Musings: Thoughts on Music and Movies and Baseball On The Cusp of May

Spring has come to the Big Apple with flowers blooming and increased daylight. The bummer is that temperatures are below normal - there have been more clouds and dampness than sun. Though I yearn to pack away my warm sweaters and mufflers. can't do it yet.  

 

I know you can't always get what you want.  But aha! the phrase is a nice lead-in to the wonderful church concert film "Amazing Grace" I saw the other day. You see, Mick Jagger is shown a couple of times looking awed at the renditions of Aretha Franklin who is backed by a gospel choir in the Rev. James Cleveland's LA Baptist church.

 

At 29 in January 1972, Aretha was at the peak of her powers. "Amazing Grace" was supposed to be released along with Aretha's album of the same name but technical problems prevented it.  Young director Sydney Pollack - years before his success with "Tootsie" - did not yet know how to coordinate spoken words with the sound of music.  

 

Thanks to 21st century technology we now can see as well as hear the precocious Queen of Soul. She is fascinating to watch, a picture of deep intensity and quiet confidence. One touching moment shows her father the famed Detroit Reverend C. L. Franklin wiping his daughter's brow after he delivers an impromptu sermon. 

 

I also enjoyed recently a sublime classical music experience. Young pianist Mackenzie Melemed gave a memorable recital at the Juilliard School in Lincoln Center where he has studied for the last six years. 

 

I first heard the 24-year-old from Worcester Mass. last fall in the Greene Space in Soho. He knocked me out with a rendition of one of my favorite pieces of classical music, Sergei Rachmaninoff's  haunting "Moments Musicaux." I was impressed when he told the WQXR audience that it took him eight years before he felt ready to perform that piece.

 

Last week at Juilliard he played the Rachmaninoff B-minor prelude Op. 32 #10 and an encore of "Moment Musicaux #5".  But the bulk of his ambitious program was devoted to brilliant and well-thought-out interpretations of varied masters of the classical repertoire. 

 

I was impressed by Melemed's choice of his opening piece, Beethoven's powerful and unusual two-movement Sonata in F major, op 54. It was followed by Scriabin's short but delicate Five Preludes. The Rachmaninoff prelude followed and the first half of program ended with the dissonant difficult Sonata #2 by the contemporary Israeli-American composer Avner Dorman. Though the piece was not as jazzy as Melemed claimed, the technical challenges were handled adroitly. 

 

After intermission Melemed performed the rarely heard "Trois Pieces" by Francis Poulenc (he said that maestro Vladimir Horowitz never played he last two). He concluded with Schumann's early masterpiece "Symphonic Etudes, Op 13. 

 

Do remember the mellifluous name of Mackenzie Melemed.  After performances in Finland and China, he'll appear again in Our Town on Thursday August 1 at the DiMenna Arts Center on West 37th Street (between 9th and 10th Avenue).  He'll make his Carnegie Hall debut at Weill Recital Hall on Fri night December 13.   

 

Before I end this blog, I must put in my two cents of evaluation of MLB a month into the 2019 season. There are no surprises that woeful teams are woeful and will never glimpse the good side of .500 in 2019.  I mean the Orioles, Royals, Marlins, and the Giants. 

 

I hate to say "never" about the wonderfully capricious sport of baseball but I fear a permanent underclass is emerging in MLB.   The lack of productive farm systems with Baltimore and San Francisco could mean years in the wilderness.

 

The Royals and Marlins have better farm systems but it says here they lack the veteran core and the financial resources to compete. Kansas City is a good baseball town and fans will return if the team improves.  I really have doubts that Miami will ever support that team.

 

 

On the plus side in baseball, Tampa Bay is already 10 games over .500 and they could be for real. Sadly, they will play before sparse crowds in indoor Tropicana Field whose upper deck was just closed for lack of fan interest. 

 

The San Diego Padres are another surprise team so far.  They are fighting the loaded heavily favored Dodgers for first place in the AL West. 

 

I saw newcomer Manny Machado on TV Sunday afternoon make one of his patented astounding defensive plays to keep San Diego in a close game they ultimately did lose in extra innings.  With reportedly one of the best farm systems in baseball the Padres could stay up there for a while.  Again too early to say for sure. 

 

On the college front, Columbia and Harvard just completed a three-game series for the ages that Harvard won Sunday afternoon in a 9-8 14 inning classic in Cambridge.  The Crimson  are becoming masters of the comeback, winning this battle after falling behind 6-0 early and 8-3 entering bottom of the 7th.  

 

The two teams are tied for first place with Columbia at Penn this coming weekend and Harvard traveling to Brown in Providence.  Harvard owns the tie-breaker because of their series win.  The best-of-three championship series will take place on Sat May 18 with a doubleheader.  If split, there will be a championship winner-take-all game on Sun May 19.

 

Back in New York, St. Johns in the Big East and Rutgers in the Big Ten still harbor hopes for post-season play.  More on those developments in the next blog.

 

 

That's all for now - always remember: take it easy but take it. 

 

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