First Summer Edition of the YIBF (Yours In Baseball Forever) Journal

June 24, 2014

Tags: Yankees-Orioles June 20-23 series, Ralph Kiner, Hiroki Kuroda, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Zach Britton, Bud Norris, Chris Tillman, T. J. McFarland, Tommy Hunter

I hadn’t decided to go to the opener of the June 20-22 Oriole-Yankee series at Yankee Stadium until Friday morning. Got myself through StubHub an upper deck seat on the aisle giving me plenty of room for my aching right knee to stretch out.

Didn’t realize that the seat would also provide me plenty of exercise because there was constant traffic of fans in my row coming back and forth back and forth from concession stands. Watching the game for them was obviously of secondary importance. They didn't even get involved in the wave that kept many of the crowd involved on this pleasant evening.

The late Mets broadcaster Ralph Kiner had the best line about what the wave is good for:
"straightening your shorts."

Though Yankee starter Hiroki Kuroda no-hit the O’s for five innings, I didn’t think that streak could last because his pitch count was elevated. And sure enough the Orioles rallied with two runs in the 6th. But they couldn’t add more runs - a persistent problem in 2014.

Once again Lowenfish’s Law – no four run lead is ever safe until the game is over – proved correct. Usuallly reliable O’s closer Zach Britton couldn’t get the third out in the bottom of the 9th though he had two strikes on Mark Teixeira with two out and a man on first.

Teixeira walked, was pinch-run for, the latest Big Buck Yankee free agent addition Brian McCann singled in a run, and on a 3-1 count another free agent Carlos Beltran blasted a long home run to left center to win the game.

The Orioles showed their resiliency by winning the next two games convincingly,
6-1 and 8-0. In the Sunday afternoon shutout they beat another big ticket Yankee signing Japanese phenom Masanori Tanaka. And to add to the O's recent surge the following night they limited White Sox star southpaw Chris Sale to six innings. And they came from behind to win on their own walkoff homer by Chris Davis.

Walkoff homers – a term likely coined by Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley – are quite rare. And the ones that turn defeat into victory in one swing of the bat are unforgettable.

I still remember nearly 40 years ago when Orioles second baseman Bobby Grich won a game in Baltimore by beating the Red Sox reliever Jim Willoughby. And while the memory won’t be as warm, I think I’ll always remember how Beltran spoiled my Friday night. But fortunately not the entire weekend.

Lots of baseball still to be played, of course. Question marks on the mound and in the lineup continue to perplex followers of the Orioles. Even though this seems like a year of parity or mediocrity, my LD (Lively Dinosaur) roots incline me not to get too enthusiastic until my team is at least 10 games above .500.

But I am certainly keeping the faith and if the starting pitcher-winners this weekend Bud Norris and Chris Tillman and bullpen arms T. J. McFarland and Tommy Hunter continue to pitch well, 2014 might be another fun summer in Baltimore.

I will be in attendance this weekend in Baltimore when on my 72nd birthday the Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays tangle in a June 27th day-night doubleheader. Impressions of that experience and more next time we meet.

In the meantime always remember: Take it easy but take it!

Another YIBF Journal, Father's Day Edition

June 15, 2014

Tags: Jim Bunning, Buck Showalter, Orel Hershiser, Delmon Young, JJ Hardy, Charlotte Knights BB&T Stadium, Jesus Aguilar, Tommy Hanson, Mitchell Boggs, Jared Mitchell, College World Series, Mike Gillespie, Augie Garrido

Happy Father's Day to Dads and their loved ones! 50 years ago - on June 21, 1964 to be exact - Jim Bunning threw a perfect game against the Mets at New York's brand-new Shea Stadium. I went with my father and it wasn't an exciting game because the Mets trailed early. But the drama built up, of course, and Bunning struck out John Stephenson to end the game. He then headed to be introduced on Ed Sulivan's CBS-TV Sunday night "really big shew".

And now let's turn to Quotations from Orioles manager Buck Showalter. The Baltimore skipper worked as an ESPN commentator in between his Texas Rangers and Orioles jobs. He has a gift for the terse insight that this sound bite-happy world of ours requires. As the O’s try to assert themselves in the AL East, here’s a sampling of the baseball-savvy bon mots of Baltimore’s baseball boss:

**“This game has a way of embracing you or spitting you out.”
Said by Buck after the Orioles nail-biting Flag Day June 14th 3-2 victory over the Jays.
Opportunistic base-running by Delmon Young and brilliant shortstop play by JJ Hardy prompted this comment. (Hardy mysteriously has lost his power at the plate, perhaps because of lingering back issues, but his defense is exquisite – I highly recommend turning one's eyes away from computer screens to watch it.)

**”If you have one good pitch, you can compete in the big leagues.
If you have two good pitches, you can win in the big leagues.
If you have three good pitches, you can dominate.”
--Buck quoting ace pitcher-turned-broadcaster Orel Hershiser.

“There are four ways you can leave the major leagues.
You can TALK your way out of it.
You can PARTY your way out of it.
You can EAT your way out of it.
You can PLAY your way out of it.”
Showalter wisely recommends the last.

AN HOMAGE TO BB&T STADIUM in Charlotte, North Carolina.
A week ago I paid a visit to the new home of the Charlotte Knights the White Sox affiliate in the International League. It’s located across the street from the Carolina Panthers’ NFL home.

I was quite amazed that despite torrential rains the game was played with only a 75 minute rain delay. The drainage system at BB&T Stadium is excellent, and I was impressed by the swift manner in which Knights’ personnel used modern suction equipment to remove wet spots and puddles from the outfield.

The game turned out to be a slugfest won by the division-leading Columbus Clippers, an Indians affiliate, over the tailend Knights. Charlotte starter Tommy Hanson, once a promising Braves righty, was lit up early by a home run by Indians prospect Jesus Aguilar. Neither Hanson nor his first reliever former Cardinal Mitchell Boggs gave evidence that they might be heading back soon to The Show.

The Knights fell behind early but they had some moments with a rally that knocked out Clippers starter Gabriel Arias before he could qualify for a win. Jared Mitchell, former star LSU football and baseball player, blasted a homer but his BA remained under the .200 mark so I think his development is still lagging.

But I was really glad I got to see BB&T Stadium with its spectacular view of downtown Charlotte. It was Bark in the Park day and many fans brought their pooches to parade around the rapidly drying grounds. Retired wrestling star George “The Animal” Steele also was on hand to throw out a first ball from nowhere near the pitching mound. And the concessions were quite good.

The eight-team double elimination competition began in Omaha yesterday with Cinderella UC-Irvine staging a late rally to beat Texas, 3-1. It was a matchup of septuagenarian coaches Mike Gillespie of Irvine versus Augie Garrido of Texas. Both have won the CWS with other schools – Gillespie with his alma mater USC and Garrido at Cal-Fullerton before his last title at Texas in 2005.

In the evening game Vanderbilt held on to beat Louisville, 5-3. The deadened bats have reduced the offense in the college game so games are usually low-scoring. So a premium is placed on pitching and defense and the sacrifice bunt and the bunt for a hit take on more importance.

I’m enough of a purist to miss the thwack of the bat - I still cringe at the ping from the metal bat. But the intensity of the games and the usually close competition have won me over.

Father’s Day matchups are another surprise team Texas Tech versus Big 12 rival TCU and Virginia versus Mississippi. All aired on ESPN2 with the final best-of-three series starting on Mon June 23.

More on the CWS next time as well as word on the upcoming inductions into the College Baseball Hall of Fame near the Texas Tech Lubbock campus.

In the meantime the YIBF (Yours In Baseball Forever) always advises:
Take it easy but take it!

Introducing Hyperb O'Lee and His YIBF Journal (Yours In Baseball Forever)

June 1, 2014

Tags: Robin Valetutto's "Inside the Game, " Maya Angelou, Minneapolis' Target Field, Tony Oliva, Kent Hrbek, Miami regional, Texas Tech, Eric Gutierrez, Bethune-Cookman, Columbia baseball: David Speer, George Thanopoulos, Aaron Silbar, Mike Fischer, Brett Boretti

It is the first morning of June and time to recount some of the highlights of my May baseball travels. I’ve been to so many games - from Minneapolis to Miami - that I’ve coined a new nom de plume Hyberb O’Lee and a new acronym YIBF – Yours In Baseball Forever.

Before I begin, I do want to give a shout-out to Dallas' Sports Angel Robin Valetutto whose Saturday noon show on KVCE 1160 radio I guested on yesterday. It was the morning after MLB's annual Civil Rights game in Houston. In a moving touch, Robin played a tape of Maya Angelou's reading "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings" as an intro to our interview.

Angelou was scheduled to be honored along with football great Jim Brown and Motown founder Berry Gordy in Houston but she died at age 86 earlier in the week. It was thrilling to have poetry and civil rights (which really should be called human rights) as a lead-in to a discussion of baseball.

And now! the first entry of HYBERB O'LEE'S YIBF BASEBALL JOURNAL!
My May journeys began on Kentucky Derby Saturday with a trip to Target Field new home of the Minnesota Twins. For many years my Baltimore buddies and I rented a van to travel for long weekends to the new ballparks in Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh as well as older major and minor league ballparks.

Now with age and family obligations piling up, our trips have been shorter and fewer. But the Minny trip was a huge success despite the Orioles – showing their unfortunate tendency towards .500-team status – losing both day games to the Twins and their hardly Hall of Fame-quality righties Kevin Correia and Phil Hughes. (Hughes, freed from the pressures of Yankeedom, has actually become Minnesota’s ace . . . so far.)

Target Field is a must-see on any baseball bucket list. It is in downtown Minneapolis not far from the Mary Tyler Moore statue in front of Macy’s. It is easily accessible by public transit. In fact, a Metro train station stop leaves you within a few feet of a statue of Tony Oliva at one of the entrances to the ballpark.

Rod Carew, Kent Hrbek, and former owner Calvin Griffith who moved the team from Washington DC are also immortalized around other ballpark entrances. In front of Hrbek’s statue is a plaque that reads: “I don’t want to win the World Series for me, but for all of the fans of Twins baseball.”

(It's a nice sentiment though the purist in me feels the raging Minnesota crowds inside the Metrodome provided an excessive home field advantage for their World Series-winning teams of 1987 and 1991.)

Sight lines inside Target Field are good. Despite the inevitable advertisements in the facility, a fan’s focus on the playing field can be maintained. Concessions are generally tasty but there are delays at the grills that made this impatient New Yorker somewhat irritated. (Somewhat? Ha!)

In a sign of the times, this sign was posted at several entrances to the ballpark:
“The Minnesota Twins ban weapons on these premises.” Terrorists and sociopaths reading this blog, Take notice!

Their record-setting 29-win season ended on the last day of May with a tough 6-5 loss to the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats in the Miami regional of the NCAA Division I college baseball playoffs. The culmination will be in Omaha and the 8-team College World Series starting on June 14.

Lion fans will never know if the outcome would have been different if ace lefty/tri-captain David Speer had been able to pitch. Alas, the Ivy League Pitcher of the Year underwent an emergency appendectomy a few days before the regional. He dressed, participated in light drills before the game, but could not toe the bump (a lovely phrase I picked up from baseball people about straddling the rubber and going to work on the mound).

His replacement, sophomore George Thanopoulos, held the Texas Tech Red Raiders scoreless in the opening game but after getting out of two bases-loaded jams he was removed after four innings.

Texas Tech wound up winning a taut thriller, 3-2. The winning run came in the bottom of the 9th on a double by first baseman Eric Gutierrez. If any team beat Columbia, I’m glad it was Tech from Lubbock, Texas where the College Baseball Hall of Fame is located and where the next inductions will be held on June 28.

Columbia’s season ended the next day with another tough one-run loss, this time to Bethune-Cookman, the historical black college from Daytona Beach, Florida. The Lions spotted the Wildcats a 6-0 lead but roared back into the game with a 4-run seventh inning.

Dreams of their dramatic comeback against New Mexico in last year’s Fullerton, CA regional were dancing in the heads of fans and players. But Bethune-Cookman reliever John Sever (pronounced Seaver) stifled the rally by getting Columbia’s star senior shortstop Aaron Silbar to pop out to short right field after a dramatic long at-bat.

Columbia narrowed the gap to 6-5 with a two-out 9th inning single by right fielder Gus Craig. But the season ended with cleanup hitter Robb Paller’s lineout to center field.

If coach Brett Boretti’s team had to lose, you couldn’t have had a more fitting last inning where the three outs were all hard-hit liners to the outfield. Though disappointed by the loss, I was consoled that Bethune-Cookman had earned its first regional victory after 16 prior appearances of two-and-out. (In 2013 Columbia won its first NCAA tourney ever with the win over New Mexico.)

Looking ahead, though the Lions have recruited well during Boretti’s nine seasons, Columbia’s three starting seniors and tri-captains will be hard to replace: Speer, Silbar, and iron man catcher Mike Fischer who caught virtually every inning.

Fischer, whose older brother David is a pitcher in the Washington Nationals system, is definitely on the radar of pro teams as a “catch and throw” receiver. After Speer’s last two superior seasons, he certainly could be drafted. Even if he doesn’t break 90 on the radar gun.

Silbar’s career on Wall Street will start shortly but he left a legacy as a timely hitter and as a defensive shortstop/veritable “coach on the field” the likes of which we may not see in Columbia Light Blue and White for a long time.

His parents shared a wonderful memory of 3-year-old Aaron watching intently behind the home plate screen his older brother’s practices. Even then he was a student of the game.

The annual Major League Draft of amateur talent begins next week. More on that and the upcoming inductions into Lubbock’s College Baseball Hall of Fame in the next installments of HYBERB O’LEE’S YIBF BASEBALL JOURNAL.

In the meantime, always remember: Take it easy but take it!

Featured Work

Story of baseball's reserve system and the men who fought to change it
“Lowenfish’s take is detailed and nuanced.... he doesn’t look for simple answers; despite his own abiding admiration, he never sugarcoats or presents Rickey in anything other than a three-dimensional light.”
–David Ulin, Los Angeles Times