June 12, 2017
For those who follow the Baltimore Orioles, things have gone south in a hurry. On May 10 we were 22-10 and it looked like a year of contention again. Since then the Birds have gone 9-20 and sunk to fourth place with improving Toronto ready to switch places with us in the cellar.
What we hope is the nadir happened this past weekend at Yankee Stadium. I went to the Friday night game with our best pitcher in 2017 on the mound, Dylan Bundy. He pitched creditably and left with the O’s trailing 3-2 after 6 innings.
Once oft-traveled Edwin Jackson came in, I expected the worst and wasn't disappointed. He immediately gave up two runs and I headed for the exits - something I don't like to do, but I did have to get up early to play tennis for the first time in 2017.
Sat. and Sun.games could have used mercy rules a la amateur baseball. Chris Tillman, whose aching shoulder may ultimately need surgery, gave up six in the first and 3 in the second before he was yanked.
The next day Kevin Gausman, the first number one draft pick of the Dan Duquette regime in 2012, was only slightly better, giving up 5 in the first before being knocked out in the 4th. He is presumably healthy physically, but mentally he must be hurting.
The jury is still out as to what Gausman's future competence might be. He must stay in the rotation because he still has great stuff and there are few other starting options. And Oriole brass must fear the specter of another Jake Arrieta being dealt away too hastily.
The absence of Manny Machado for the whole series - due to a freak wrist injury caused by Andrew McCutchen’s awkward slide earlier in the week - didn’t help matters. But Manny’s not having a good year and he needs to pick it up a lot for the Orioles to dream of contending in 2017.
I love JJ Hardy as one of the most underrated Orioles in my lifetime. But his home run power is gone and his assortment of injuries has slowed him in the field.
Though the Birds don’t have a replacement for Machado at third, maybe it is time to move him to his desired position at shortstop. And see how he likes being paired with his pal at second Jonathan Schoop who has really blossomed this year as a rare Oriole clutch hitter.
Some feel that Schoop with his great arm could be a successor to Hardy at short. Seemingly the Orioles have more options in-house at second than third.
The big problem remains starting pitching. And now that Darren O’Day has his own shoulder injury to deal with on the DL and closer Zach Britton is out until probably the All-Star Game, the relief corps is hurting, too.
So how does one cope when his team goes belly-up? If you love the game, there is consolation everywhere - watching high school and college ball and other major league teams without emotional involvement. (Dispassion can only go so far, I hasten to add.)
And reading and talking about the game always brings me pleasure. On Fri June 2, the last day of the 28th annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, I gave a talk at the Hall of Fame based on my trip to Cuba over New Year’s in 2016.
I called it: “If We Had Known He Wanted To Be A Dictator, We Would Have Made Him An Umpire: Reflections on Castro and Cuba’s Ardent Love of Baseball.” The great quotation comes from either Orestes “Minnie” Minoso, the first great post-World War II Cuban star in MLB, or pitcher Conrado “Connie” Marrero who pitched in MLB for five year in the 1950s before living the rest of his 100-plus years in Cuba.
There is no doubt that Fidel Castro genuinely loved the game though it is only a myth that he was really a pro prospect. He probably had more talent as a basketball player though again not of pro quality.
Fidel was a canny enough politician to realize that most Cubans of his generation shared his passion for baseball. After all, the game took off in Cuba as an act of rebellion against the Spanish colonialists during the 10 Years War in the 1870s. It has continued its popularity though the defections of Cuban stars since the early 1990s has gravely weakened Cuba’s impressive amateur baseball organization.
As always at these chock-filled-with-papers conferences, there was no way to hear everything. But many presentations left a lasting impact with me. I'll mention one in closing, the BasebALZ Reminiscence Program of Austin, Texas.
Scotland took the lead in 2009 by creating a program to use sports memories to help
Alzheimer's patients connect with the past and discuss their stories in the present.
There are now over 200 programs in Scotland dealing mainly with memories of soccer and cricket.
There are only three projects started so far in the U.S. but the one in central Texas has had some very rewarding success. Jim Kenton talked about one Alzheimer's patient in a wheelchair who had barely spoken for three months.
When prodded about his baseball memories, he suddenly remembered a game when Jack Kramer on the 1946 Browns, threw a ball out of Fenway Park after a bad call by the first base umpire. He also remembered that it was on an anniversary of D-Day and George Metkovich led off that day. SABR researchers later confirmed the accuracy of the reminiscence.
More on the Symposium next blog - That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it!
May 28, 2017
This phrase is used often in ads on Orioles broadcasts on its cable network MASNSports. I still find the sentiment true despite the current 7-game losing streak of the Birds.
What was a 22-10 record two weeks ago of my Birds has now plummeted to 25-23. Last place in the AL East is now closer than the soaring Yankees atop the division.
I try to console myself that the 1983 Orioles, their last World Series-winning team, lost 7 in a row TWICE that season. And this is just end of May, lots of baseball left to play.
But with a pitching rotation without a stopper (young Dylan Bundy is the closest to that needed position), Zach Britton star closer out indefinitely, and sluggers Manny Machado and Chris Davis in deep slumps, it is gloom time in Charm City.
Yet, ss I type away, I have the Dodgers-Cubs game on the MLB Extra Innings Package.
An expected pitchers’ duel between LA’s Clayton Kershaw and Chicago’s Jon Lester has turned into home run slugfest.
Both pitchers were knocked out early and six home runs have flown out of Chavez Ravine. Ain’t Baseball great indeed. Youneverknow, do you?
I leave Wednesday morning for the annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture. I will be talking at the Friday June 2 1p session on “Baseball Potpourri’.
My paper is “‘If We Had Known He Wanted To Be A Dictator, We Would Have Made Him An Umpire’: An Exploration into Cuba’s and Fidel Castro’s Love of Baseball.”
As I sign off this posting, Yasiel Puig, the mercurial very talented Cuban defector and right fielder for LA, has just made a brilliant running catch. Unmistakably rare and brilliant talent has defected from Cuba in recent years, but it is widely feared that the cream has been taken out of the country.
I hope to live to see a day when Cubans can play in the greatest leagues in this country without having to leave their homeland.
That’s all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it!
May 22, 2017
We are past the quarter pole of the baseball season. Unlike the NBA where it has seemed pre-ordained for months that the Durant-Curry-led Golden State juggernaut and LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers will meet in the finals, I am happy to report that there are no clear favorites for the 2017 World Series.
The old cliche remains true - you cannot win a pennant in the spring but you sure can lose one. The odds look very long for post-season play for supposed contenders Kansas City and Toronto in the AL and the Mets and San Francisco in the NL - all are mired well below .500.
Yet for fans of those teams, please remember there are more than a hundred games yet to play with summery weather ahead. AND YOU SEE SOMETHING NEW IN EVERY BASEBALL GAME. Trust me.
Houston was rolling along in the AL West until a sweep at home this weekend by defending AL champs Cleveland. The Astros still have the best record in baseball before games on May 22, but they must hope that the DL stints of ace southpaw Dallas Keuchel and veteran catcher Brian McCann are brief ones.
A pleasant NL surprise is the Colorado Rockies under new manager Bud Black. They have developed some starting pitching to go with the potent offense they've had for a while. Before games of May 22, they were leading NL West 11 games over .500.
I'm not surprised that Bud Black is having early and I think lasting success. In 2002 he was the pitching coach for the California Angels world champions that had three future managers on the staff to go with Mike Scioscia who remains the senior skipper in terms of active longevity in MLB. (Joe Maddon and Ron Roenicke were the others.)
Here in my home town of New York, the Yankees look poised to reclaim the mantle of Gotham’s best pro team. The huge young right fielder Aaron Judge leads MLB in HRs with 15. His circus catch against Tampa Bay on Sunday saved the game and more than made up for his 4 K’s at bat.
Meanwhile, the vaunted Mets pitching staff has been plagued with serious injuries. I don’t like saying, “I told you so,” but when I read that Noah “Thor" Syndergaard during the off-season had been building up muscles to throw even harder, I knew he would break down.
“Thor” is now out well into the summer (at least), Matt Harvey has been lit up regularly, Jacob DeGrom is continually plagued by throwing hand blisters, and Steven Matz and Seth Lugo have yet to throw regular season pitches.
It says here that the Mets don’t have a consistent enough offense or defense to make up for these injuries. The Washington Nats look poised to remain on top for the rest of the year in the AL East. Again, though, many many games left to play.
As for my Orioles, they returned from a disappointing 1-6 road trip to win 2 out of 3 at home from Toronto. Their starting pitching bounced back from a disastrous trip away from home, but it is hard to possess great expectations with ace closer Zach Britton out until early summer (at best).
The O's less-than-imposing starting staff is headed by Chris Tillman, free agent-to-be just returned from nagging shoulder discomfort; Dylan Bundy (the most consistent so far but prone to the gopher ball lately); the one lefty Wade Miley (who does work with blessedly fast tempo a la the retired Mark Buehrle); Ubaldo Jimenez (another free agent-to-be who cannot repeat his delivery), and Kevin Gausman who was counted on as a possible ace but has gotten off to a very shaky start..
The Orioles do play spectacular defense most of the time, but it is needed most every day. When normally steady Jonathan Schoop booted an easy grounder in the loss to Toronto yesterday, it led to the three unearned runs in a 3-1 defeat.
Before I sign off, here is an update on baseball at the grass roots.
Weather permitting, the PSAL high school championships start on Wednesday May 26 at 3:30p at various locales around NYC. I have my eye on #3 seed Beacon in midtown Manhattan that seemingly has a deeper pitching staff than usual in 2017.
They tangle with my alma mater Bronx Science at the #3 North Diamond in Central Park, northeast of the 97th Street entrance to Central Park. Updates on the entire
tournament can be found at the psal.org website.
Perennial powers George Washington and James Monroe are seeded #1 and #2 but defending champion Midwood of Brooklyn is a contender as is Staten Island powerhouse Tottenville, runners-up for the title in the last three seasons.
Finally, on Thursday May 25 from 9p-2p, there will be a Scout Day at City Park Stadium in New Rochelle, N.Y - You enter on City Park Road off 20 5th Avenue.
Highly regarded college and junior college players from the New York area and INNER CITY PLAYERS WHO HAVE BEEN RARELY SCOUTED are invited to display their baseball wares to scouts from many major league organizations.
The event is sponsored by the Cesar Presbott Foundation run by the longtime Yankees area scout who signed Dellin Betances among many others. The Presbott Foundation does wonderful charitable work. For years, it has distributed more than 1000 Thanksgiving turkeys to needy areas in the Bronx.
That’s all this time - always remember: Take It Easy But Take It!
May 13, 2017
The drama of the major league baseball season is enfolding before us in all its glory and agony. And the best advice for dealing with the inevitable peaks and valleys remains: "Tomorrow is your best friend." I heard the phrase first when Bobby Valentine managed the Mets at the turn of the 21st century.
Of course, it helps to get off to good starts as the Orioles and Yankees have done in the AL East and the Astros in the AL West. On the other hand, the road will be very difficult for those who have stumbled mightily in the early going, esp. the Giants in the NL West and the Blue Jays in the AL East.
Yet unlike football and even basketball, baseball plays by far the most games. There are still well over 120 to play. In a very impatient society, the best advice is to chip away day-by-day, inning-by-inning, pitch-by-pitch and perhaps the winning feeling will return.
Remembering the late relief pitcher Tug McGraw's mantra, "You Gotta Believe," never hurts. Yet for most of us I'm afraid the late great Oriole reserve outfielder and scout Curt Motton said it more realistically: "You're never as good as you look when you are winning, but you could be as bad as you look when you are losing."
Inclement weather continues to plague the Northeast. I don't recall a spring that feels more like fall and even winter. Impressive Houston's Saturday afternoon game against the Yankees was postponed early, and Derek Jeter Retirement of Number Day will now actually be part of a single-admission Sunday doubleheader.
Weather has impacted the Ivy League baseball playoff between defending Rolfe division champion Yale and Penn champions of the Gehrig division. These games won't be played until Tues May 16 and if necessary Wed May 17.
Penn eliminated Columbia, 6-3 in a single play-in game last Sunday May 7. Senior right-hander Jake Cousins pitched six solid innings and slugging senior outfielder Tim Graul did what all visiting teams must do on the road, contribute to a first-inning lead by slugging a two-run homer.
If forecasters are right, almost summery weather will finally bless us during the week of May 15 and I hope beyond. It is a very exciting time for baseball followers.
College and high school tournaments are starting in about a week. More on that in next installment of this blog.
Before I close, a special tip of the cap to Mark Melancon, the SF Giants new closer who really cares about the history of his team. On Monday May 8 before the start of the Giants' 3-game series against the Mets, Mark treated over 30 members of the New York Giants Preservation Society to a pizza lunch on Monday May 8.
We gathered at the foot of the John Brush steps below Edgecombe Ave. in Harlem just above where the Polo Grounds stood. Mark and his agent, John Fuller, listened with obvious sincerity to all of our stories about how we fell in love with the Giants as youngsters and how we sustained those memories even though the team left for San Francisco after the 1957 season.
For now, always remember: Take it easy but take it!
May 1, 2017
The Orioles' first visit to NYC in 2017 was certainly eventful. The Friday and Sunday games will be ones remembered forever.
The weekend could have been a total washout and a sweep by the insanely hot Yankees who rallied from 9-1 and 11-4 deficits on Friday night to win 14-11 in 10 innings. Facing another devastating late inning loss on Sunday, the O's managed to hold on and win in eleven innings, 7-4.
On Friday night Kevin Gausman pitched four shutout innings in his first sustained good outing of the year and the Birds roared to a 9-1 lead. Mark Trumbo, MLB"S home run leader last year, contributed a grand slam, his first HR since he won on Opening Day with an extra-inning blast.
Two homers by powerhouse Yankee rookie right fielder Aaron Judge brought the Bronx Bombers closer at 9-4. The Orioles quickly responded to make it 11-4 as the game entered the bottom of the 7th.
After a dinky infield single, Bird manager Buck Showalter lifted Gausman for journeyman lefty reliever and former Yankee Vidal Nuno. It says here that Gausman's pitch count wasn't enormous and I wouldn't have lifted him. Of course, then there wouldn't have such drama.
Nuno showed why he has bounced from many teams by giving up a grand slam to Jacoby Ellsbury - the first ever for the former Bosox center fielder and the 100th of his career. Ellsbury may have an untradeable bloated contract but he is off to a good start as a veteran presence on a team that trends young.
It was now 11-8. Reliable Oriole relievers Mychal Givens and Darren O'Day restored order until the bottom of the 9th. The Oriole farm system gets a lot of criticism for its failure to produce many major leaguers but Givens is a great success story and tribute to Oriole player developers.
A former high draft pick/shortstop who never mastered hitting, Givens was converted to a hard-throwing semi-sidearmer. He is extremely effective against righthanded hitters and getting better against lefty batters. He also fields his position with the aplomb of a former shortstop.
On Friday night temporary closer Brad Brach was not up to the occasion. A local boy from Freehold NJ and Monmouth University, Brach committed the cardinal sin of walking the leadoff batter. Before long Yankee second baseman and former Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro belted a long HR to tie the game at 11-11.
Once the Orioles went down 1-2-3 in the 10th against Yankee closer Aroldis Chapman, I knew the game was probably over.
Yet being a baseball addict, I watched on my TV as rookie Jayson Aquino (being groomed as a starter) walked two in a row. After a strikeout of Chase Headley, a new Yankee the veteran Matt Holliday homered deep into right center for the victory.
After the game, Nuno and Aquino were optioned to the minor leagues and might not be back for a while esp. Nuno. Aquino is still a possible fifth starter for an extremely thin Orioles starting staff.
Saturday's day game was the one I attended in person and it fulfilled my worst expectations. Amazingly inconsistent Ubaldo Jimenez gave up two HRs to Yankee leadoff hitter Brett Gardner in the first two innings and it was quickly 5-0.
The game then followed the pattern that imperious Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert loved. Score a bunch of runs in the first inning and pull slowly ahead. Final score was 12-4 and it was never really a contest.
To give you a sense of the bad omens for the Orioles on Saturday, Chase Headley pulled a Manny Machado on Machado. The Orioles hot corner master smoked a ball down the left field line with double written all over it. (A cliche but a nice one IMHO).
Headley dove to his right and speared it as Machado looked on in astonishment.
There was a brief moment of hope when it was only 7-2 in top of the sixth with two men in scoring position and two out. Birds backup catcher Caleb Joseph was facing Yankee reliever Adam Warren. A single could make it 7-4, so I dreamed.
It was a great competitive AB for Joseph who fouled off a couple of pitches while bringing the count to 3-2. Alas, he struck out. His quest for his first RBI since 2015 had to wait.
Once the Yankees immediately answered those runs with a two-run HR by Yankee backup catcher Austin Romine, it was time to beat the crowd and head home.
A tip of the cap to Romine. Like Joseph he is a longtime minor leaguer in the same organization for his whole career. He is performing wonderfully on both sides of the ball during starting catcher's Gary Sanchez stint on the DL.
And though I missed it, I was glad that the final two runs on this desultory day came on Joseph's HR in the 9th No longer must he answer questions about his RBI dearth.
I did not expect Sunday's 7-4 Oriole 11 inning win. Especially after they blew a two-run lead in the bottom of the 9th. It was a game that lasted over four and a half hours and featured an ejection of Showalter on a disputed 9th inning balk call.
When he brought in closer Chapman for the 10th inning, Yankee skipper Joe Girardi moved reliever Bryan Mitchell to first base from the mound. The strategy backfired when Mitchell returned to the mound to give up the 3 decisive 11th inning runs with Trumbo delivering the tie-breaking RBI.
How fitting that Logan Verrett in his first appearance as an Oriole won the game with two shutout innings of relief. The former Met reliever had just been called up from Triple A the night before.
By contrast with the bizarre weekend drama in the Bronx, the Columbia Lions put on almost a clinical display of baseball Saturday in Philadelphia. They needed to sweep the Quakers to force a playoff after splitting two games in New York on Friday.
Sweep they did, coming from behind in each game. There were heroes galore but special mention must be given to slugging senior second baseman Kyle Bartelman and sophomore righthander Ian Burns who earned the second game victory with nearly 5 innings of shutout relief.
The one-game playoff will be this Saturday May 6 at 1p at Robertson Field at Satow Stadium in the Baker Field complex west of Broadway on 218th Street. We'll see if the Lions can repeat their amazing success in elimination games.
Yale awaits the following weekend in New Haven in the best-of-three series that will determine the Ivy League participant in the NCAA baseball tournament beginning on May 30.
That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it.
“Giants Wise Not To Punish Underpaid Bumgarner” and Happier Stories + News of My Activities in Late April
April 24, 2017
I really want to focus on this blog about the late rush towards the top of my Columbia Lions in the Ivy League baseball race. And the Orioles’ fine start to their season.
But I have to get this off my chest first.
The headline of a Buster Olney story on espn.com this weekend read: “Giants Wise Not To Punish Underpaid Bumgarner”. If you haven’t heard, SF Giants’ star southpaw hurt his shoulder seriously in a dirt-bike accident incurred on the team’s day-off in Denver. He will be out until early summer.
Yet I am sick and tired of sportswriters and pundits referring to any millionaire ballplayer as “underpaid”. Bumgarner has the security of a long-term contract through 2019 even though his annual reported salary of $12 million is only a little more than one-third of the money than the Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw is reportedly making - $32=$33 million a year.
Even at a "paltry" $12 million a year Bumgarner is not going to the poor house any time soon.
Leaving aside the question of whether he should have been punished - it all depends on whether his contract prohibited such dangerous activity in season as well as out of season - Bumgarner’s action was dumb and reckless. It does not augur well for the Giants’ season to lose your ace until the early summer at best.
Now to happier baseball news. Let’s start with the late season surge of my Columbia Lions in the Gehrig Division of the Ivy League. They have won five league games in a row - six overall - including this past weekend’s two doubleheader sweep of defending Gehrig champion Princeton.
I had hoped to see a full doubleheader at Princeton’s sunken diamond Bill Clarke Field on Saturday, but unexpected rains limited the first game to only four innings plus one out in top of 5th. Columbia, behind solid pitching by junior co-captain Ty Wiest and surprising home run power from senior center fielder Shane Adams and sophomore shortstop Joe Engel, had a 8-2 lead when the day’s activities were suspended.
In much better weather on Sunday, Columbia was able to complete a sweep (without yours truly in attendance). They finished the first game with a resounding 15-2 victory and overcame an early 3-0 deficit to win the second game 21-5. Meanwhile in Ithaca, perennial contender Penn took three out of four from host Cornell.
With one weekend to go in regular season Penn leads Columbia by 2 games, Cornell by 3, and Princeton by 4. So the division title will be decided by two big doubleheaders between the Lions and the Quakers.
The first one starts Friday at 1pm at Columbia’s Satow Stadium just north of football’s Kraft Field in the Baker Field complex west of 218th Street and Broadway in Manhattan. The final two games of the regular season will start at 1pm Sat. at Penn’s Meiklejohn Field on the Philadelphia campus.
Those traveling to these games on New Jersey Transit or Amtrak should still expect delays. Train transit remains less than ideal on the north Jersey corridor.
Meanwhile, Yale took a giant step forward towards representing the Rolfe Division in the playoff by sweeping Dartmouth on Sunday and splitting on Monday. So the powerful Elis have clinched a tie for the half-pennant. They need only one victory over Brown or one Dartmouth loss to clinch their second straight Rolfe flag.
If there is no Penn-Columbia playoff, the best-of-three championship series will start at historic Yale Field the first weekend in May.
As a Columbia alum, it has been great to see my young Lions coalesce into a winning outfit at the right time of the season. Shortstop Joe Engel has become steady in the field and is showing surprising pop - he had never hit a homer in his college career until last week when he belted his first at Fordham and his second at Princeton.
Two of the Columbia co-captains have become potent sluggers in the middle of the lineup: junior third baseman Randell Kanemaru and second baseman Kyle Bartelman are delivering big hits. So are the emerging sophomore first baseman Chandler Bengtson and freshman phenom DH-LF-IBman Liam McGill.
Those Penn games should provide stirring competition because the Quakers are real hot, too. They pounded Princeton four times in a row with their big bats and used their good moundsmen and timely hitting to win the series at Cornell.
On the pro front, I am happy with the Orioles’ 13-5 start. Despite the loss of semi-ace Chris Tillman to shoulder discomfort - he may return to the rotation in early May - they are getting surprisingly good starting pitching with Dylan Bundy looking like the ace-in-waiting they have dreamed of for years.
Their other former number one draft choice, Opening Day starter Kevin Gausman has not stepped up as hoped but he tends to be a slow starter, this blogger says hopefully. And the Oriole bullpen has been outstanding even with star closer Zach Britton on the DL with forearm issues.
Brad Brach, from Freehold NJ and Monmouth University, has filled in admirably. His four straight saves (through the 6-3 come-from-behind home victory overTB on Mon Apr 24) were achieved by a TOTAL of 44 pitches. The Birds make their first trip to Yankee Stadium in 2017 this coming weekend and I’ll be sure to share some thoughts on that series next time.
Before I go, I have two appearances ahead, one in print and one in person, to share with you, dear readers.
**Starting Wed Apr 26, check out the National Pastime Museum website - tnpmuseum.com - for a piece I wrote on silent film legend Buster Keaton’s love of baseball.
**On Sunday afternoon Apr 30, I will be on a panel discussing Josh Gibson and Negro league baseball after a performance of Richard Jones’ play “Josh: The Black Babe Ruth.” The play starts at 3p and the panel starts immediately thereafter around 445pm. Location: Theater for the New City, 1st Avenue and E. 10th Street in Manhattan’s East Village.
Always remember: Take it easy but take it.
April 17, 2017
Being a secular Jew who does not observe most of his religion's holidays, I had no
guilt pangs about going to a college doubleheader on Easter Sunday yesterday.
My alma mater Columbia salvaged the last game of its four-game series against division rival Cornell thanks in large part to long balls by slugging junior (more…)
March 26, 2017
I haven't brought myself yet to watching a rerun of Wisconsin's heartbreaking buzzer-beating loss to Florida in a Sweet Sixteen classic not decided until the early hours of Sat morning March 25.
I was lucky to be in attendance at the sold-out Madison Square Garden. After watching an open-to-the-public practice of my Badgers Thursday afternoon, I went to the box office and picked up a suite ticket at the face value of "only" $175.
Maybe the ticket was still available because fans of Duke and Villanova, regional favorites knocked out a week ago by South Carolina and Wisconsin respectively, decided not to show up in New York.
Whatever the reason for my good fortune, I relished the great enthusiasm from the fans of teams that did make the regional. All four schools brought their bands and cheerleaders and mascots.
During one of the interminable built-in commercial breaks, there was early in each game a battle of the mascots. Cocky, South Carolina's gamecock, easily outperformed Baylor's Bear. It was an augury of the whipping that South Carolina put on Baylor in the uncompetitive first game.
When Bucky Badger outperformed Florida's Gator early in the second game, I hoped it was a good omen for my side. And for the first 15 minutes of the game, Wisconsin outplayed Florida, looking like the more composed and more defensively adept team.
Things changed when Nigel Hayes went to the bench with his second foul, a call he mildly disputed with the ref. Then DeVaughan Allen, Florida's sophomore guard who had slumped in earlier rounds of the tournament, took over.
Allen hit a wave of threes and even worse got fouled on two attempts. He calmly sank all 6 free throws, giving Florida a two-point halftime lead.
I've long felt that in basketball the two key parts of any game are the last minutes of the first half (when stamina after nearly 20 minutes of play is a big factor). And the first minutes of the second half when the best teams pick up their momentum despite resting and perhaps losing their intensity.
The second point is especially important in tournament games when the normal 15 minute intermission is increased to 20 minutes. Florida came out blazing and never let Wisconsin recapture their early dominance.
I didn't realize that Wisconsin's best shooter Bronson Koenig was ailing with hamstring issues. Yet suddenly he caught fire and after a couple of stops and a big shot by another senior leader Nigel Hayes the Badgers grasped a one-point lead.
It didn't last one possession as Florida quickly hit a three to reclaim the lead. They built it back to over 10 points and led by eight with under two minutes to go.
Then the Badgers showed their heart and will to win. Florida helped by not running their offense, just running out the clock and playing not to lose.
Still with just six seconds to go, the Gators held a 3-point lead. Koenig's cramps now kept him on the bench. It was up to another senior Zak Showalter to play hero, hitting an off-balance three to tie the game and force overtime.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was at the game sitting next to Andy North, former US Open champion. Showalter gave Rodgers the "double check" salute popularized in the State Farm insurance TV commercial.
Once the overtime started, Showalter got called for a controversial foul that the refs debated for a long time while being cascaded with boos from the crowd.
The call is something I want to see again - I guess they ruled Zak pushed the Gator defender out of bounds.
Still, Wisconsin took control in the overtime, leading by 5 points at one point. Nigel Hayes missed some key foul shots but it looked like the game would be cemented with a dunk by Ethan Iverson after catching a floor-length pass.
Iverson, an extremely athletic swing man, is another Badger spirited from the state of Ohio by savvy recruiters - Hayes, senior Vitto Brown, and freshman D'Mitrik Trice are there more.
Here is a painful irony - I've often wished that Iverson didn't dunk so much.
But in a play that I need to see again, Iverson took his time and elected to lay it up.
Out of nowhere sped Canyon Barry, Rick's underhanded-foul shot shooting son, to block Iverson's layup. Florida scored on the other end with reserve Chris Chiozza making a layup. Remember that name in infamy, Badger fans. Of course we will.
When Hayes hit two free throws (the ones I will remember as clutch forgetting the other misses), we led by two with four seconds to go and no time outs for Florida.
But Chiozza drove the floor tightly guarded by Hayes for some of the time. Yet he broke free enough near the top of the key to hit his off-balance shot to win the game at the buzzer.
He turned Showalter's shot into a footnote, but for me the memory of this game will be its all-out intensity and brilliant play. And eternal kudos to Florida coach Mike White who said that he was heartbroken for his rival coach Greg Gard. Indeed it was a game, he said, that no one should have lost.
That's all for now. Next time - baseball and more baseball.
Always remember, as both Wisconsin and Florida did this memorable March 24-25, 2017, take it easy but take it!
March 21, 2017
Wisconsin basketball has surprised the pundits and even many loyal fans like yours truly by making the Sweet 16 of the NCAA basketball tournament for the fourth year in a row. To make matters even sweeter, their chance to make a third Final Four in the last four seasons will take place at Madison Square Garden starting Friday March 24.
Funny how things work out in unpredictable sports. With four seniors in the starting lineup plus the gifted redshirt sophomore Ethan Happ (a guard in a forward's body), the Badgers were supposed to contend for both a Big Ten title and a deep run through March Madness.
Then calamity hit late in the regular season as Wisconsin lost five out of their six Big Ten games ceding the league title to Purdue and their player-of-year candidate Caleb Swanigan. The return to health of senior guard Bronson Koenig helped get Wisconsin out of their funk and they won their first two games in the Big Ten tournament.
They did lose the title game to Michigan that joins them in the Sweet 16 along with Purdue. Watch out for Michigan that survived a near-plane crash on the way to the Big Ten tournament to become a force to be reckoned with.
Bravos in order for a supposedly mediocre Big 10 while the ballyhooed Atlantic Coast Conference started the tourney with 9 teams and they are down to one, North Carolina who were lucky to beat Arkansas in the second round.
According to the website uwbadgers.com, there will be an open practice at MSG for the Badgers on Thursday at 1p. I intend to go and will report back after the games.
I say "games" because if Wisconsin beats Florida starting at 10p Fri on TBS, they play in the final against either Baylor or South Carolina on Sunday afternoon.
Meanwhile the World Baseball Classic winds up at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Wednesday night March 22. Puerto Rico nipped the Kingdom of Netherlands on Monday night taking advantage of the bizarre rule that starts the 11th inning with runners automatically on first and second base and no out.
Puerto Rico will face either USA or defending champion Japan. They are squaring off on Tuesday night March 21. Regardless of the result, Team USA has already experienced a great moment when Adam Jones robbed Manny Machado of a home run that kept the lead for USA and ultimately eliminated the DR team.
It was a special moment for at least two reasons. Jones and Machado are teammates on my Orioles but Manny decided to honor his mother's country of birth by playing for the DR team. Manny tipped his cap to Jones for his great catch as the USA avenged the DR's dramatic victory in Miami a week earlier.
From all I've heard and read, the atmosphere at Marlins Stadium was unlike anything ever experienced. A largely Dominican sold-out crowd were celebrating their heroes and the game of baseball from hours before the first pitch to hours afterward.
The DR team roared back from a 5-0 deficit to win 7-5, thanks in big part to a 3-run home run by Seattle Mariner Nelson Cruz over his former Oriole teammate Andrew Miller (now with Cleveland).
There are a lot of problems with the timing and the mechanisms of the WBC. But the great moments have made it worthwhile, especially when you consider the boredom and increasingly superficiality of most spring training games.
Well, that's all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
March 5, 2017
I have my rooting passions as readers of this blog well know. It's the Orioles big time in baseball and we'll see if they will confound the nouveau stat-crazed pundits (hereafter cited as NSCP) who always confine them to the nether regions of the AL East yet again in 2017.
Too early to tell with the season opening nearly a month away. Just hope the O's World Baseball Classic participants stay healthy as they depart to their national teams: Jonathan Schoop to Netherlands-Curacao team; Wellington Castillo and Manny Machado to Dominican Republic team; Adam Jones and Mychal Givens to Team USA.
My rooting chops have stayed fresh pulling for the Wisconsin Badgers and Columbia Lions in basketball. Wisconsin like the Orioles has always been a "less is more" kind of team - no superstars or "one and done" recruits heading to the pros, but a team of good players who are less than 5-star recruits who know the importance of defense and ball movement.
So it was maddening to see Wisconsin lose five out of six at a time when they should be getting fine-tuned for post-season play. So it was nice on Sunday March 5's Senior
Night sendoff that the Badgers played a solid second half to rout Minnesota, 66-49.
The Golden Gophers had been winners of eight in a row and led by two at intermission. But after being limited with foul trouble to five minutes in the first half, sharpshooting senior guard Bronson Koenig played a big role in the Badgers' second half surge. As did his three senior teammates Vitto Brown, Nigel Hayes, and Zak Showalter.
Coach Greg Gard gave credit to freshman backup D'Mitrik Trice for keeping the game close while Koenig was saddled with two early fouls . Gard praised Trice, a heralded high school quarterback, for having rare leadership skills in someone so young.
"I've always told him that if you can lead 10 men in a huddle, you can lead four men on a basketball court," Gard quipped.
But Gard still has no solution for the horrid foul shooting that has permeated the whole team, especially Hayes and key sophomore forward-center Ethan Happ. He has suggested that the woes might only be settled by incense burning and the incantations that were used in the baseball satire "Major League."
Sadly, on Saturday night March 4, Columbia lost its chance to squeeze into the fourth and last spot in the Ivy League's first-ever post-season tournament. They played Yale hard in New Haven, but the Bulldogs rallied from a 13-point first half deficit to win by four points.
Penn won the final spot by coming from behind to beat Harvard, 75-72, on their storied home court of the Palestra in Philadelphia. The Quakers will meet top seed Princeton, undefeated in league play, on Saturday and Harvard and Yale will play the other game with the winners meeting on Sunday. All games will be at the Palestra as will the women's tourney featuring favored Penn plus Princeton, Harvard, and Cornell.
I have problems with a 6-8 team like Penn making the men's playoff. It would be purer competition if Princeton were awarded with a bye for their sterling record. And let Yale and Harvard meet for the right to battle the Tigers with no fourth seed for a small eight-team league.
League officials will meet in May to see how the first tourney worked out.
My guess is that they'll keep it this way for both men's and women's tournament for another year or two. It would be nice though if people thought of rewarding the regular season winner with something special.
Well, that's all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!