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Let's Go Lions and Other Northeastern Teams in The Big Baseball Dance

May 26, 2015

Tags: Columbia baseball, Miami regional, St. John's-Stony Brook-Sacred Heart baseball, Mike Wright, Oliver Dark

I admit to a bias towards northeastern teams who play baseball in the direst of weather unlike the warm weather schools. But since baseball is a game of character as well as talent and technique, don't count out the northeastern teams when they hit their groove at tournament time.

For the second season in a row, Columbia earned a third seed in the Miami regional where they will face #2 East Carolina on Friday May 29 at 1p. ESPN3, available on your computers, will cover all regional games, and ESPNU will have look-ins at
most games.

Host Miami plays Florida International in the Fri night game. It is a double elimination tournament so it behooves teams to win the first game and go into a winner’s bracket.

Other assignments for northeastern teams are St. John’s taking on Oklahoma at the Sooners stadium in Norman, TCU taking on Sacred Heart, one of the few teams in the field with a losing record but does have Bobby Valentine as the school athletic director, and in the same regional, Stony Brook, which made the College World Series in 2012, plays always tough NC State.

It would be a major upset if any of these schools advanced to the super-regionals in the first weekend of June but in college baseball late May and early June are what dreams are made of. And three cheers to those who are still playing meaningful baseball at this time of year.

Meanwhile on the major league scene, Memorial Day has come and gone and there is little form taking shape in most of the races, especially in the American League where a once-dominant division could now be called the AL Least. My Orioles are still under .500 but before games of May 27th they were even in the All-Important-Loss-Column.

That is no longer true. The Orangemen of Baltimore are pretty punchless these days and just lost at home to surprising Houston 4-1 while the Yankees routed the Royals for the second day in a row after losing 10 of 11 games. It is going to be that kind of year, folks, so as the late Mets announcer Bob Murphy said wisely at the end of a close individual game, “Fasten your seat belts.”

As someone who loves it when people come through the farm system, I am heartened by rookie Oriole pitchers who recently made their MLB debuts: Mike Wright from East Carolina U – the same team Columbia will tangle with on Friday – has not allowed a run in his first two impressive starts.

And Oliver Drake has also given them a big boost in bullpen. A former 43rd round draft pick out of the U.S. Naval Academy, Oliver did not graduate from Annapolis because he wanted to pursue his baseball career immediately. He suffered through a shoulder operation and periods when he wasn’t even on the 40-man roster but now he has arrived and hopefully will stay.

When the Oriole bats will awake is now the big question and as the old saying goes, “That’s why they play the games.”

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

Teny Ymota’s Mid-May Musings: The Wright Stuff Arrives in Baltimore

May 18, 2015

Tags: Baltimore Orioles slow start, Mike Wright, Adam Jones, Mike Trout, Jimmy Paredes

The first few weeks of the season have been painful and disconcerting for Orioles fans. Results of spring training exhibition games don’t usually indicate the season ahead – the Tigers had a worse Florida record than the lackluster O’s and they are in a dogfight with defending American League champion Kansas City at the top of the AL Central division.

Sadly, the O’s spotty play in games that didn’t matter has been reflected in the regular season. The O’s have not yet put together a good winning streak and languish near the bottom of the AL East three games under .500 after 35 games.

With a 127 games left, no need to panic yet with the suddenly slumping Yankees only five games over .500 in first place. But signs of mediocrity do abound in Birdland. They get on an offensive roll and the arms fail them. Currently, the pitching has been stellar but the bats are in slumber. And the stellar defense has broken down too many times.

Historically, Orioles fans have not put up for long with bad play. As if fans of any kind can do anything about it except whine and wring hands to the point of injury.
So far attendance has held fairly well, a good sign given the loss of five home games because of the recent urban riots.

An unadulterated bright day occurred yesterday (Sunday May 18) when rookie right-hander Mike Wright made his major league debut and hurled 7 1/3 sparkling shutout innings in the O’s 3-0 victory over the Los Angeles Angels. It salvaged the final game of a three-game home series that the Angels won with earlier 3-1 and 6-1 victories.

Wright is a third round draft choice in 2011 out of East Carolina University in Greenville, NC, who has worked his way steadily up the minor league ladder. He was organizational Pitcher of Year in 2013, slumped badly at the beginning of 2014, but recovered by end of season and so far in 2015 he has combined quality stuff with growing maturity.

Wright was 3-0 at top Triple A-affiliate Norfolk, VA when called up for an emergency start because Chris Tillman, the team’s ostensible ace, had back stiffness and fellow starter Bud Norris has had a prolonged bout with bronchitis and ineffectiveness.

Garrett Richards was the Angels hard-luck loser on Sunday. He gave up the only run the O’s needed on a wild pitch in the fourth inning scoring Adam Jones from third.
Jones manufactured the only run Wright needed in the 4th inning with a swinging bunt down the third base line.

Jones then sped from first to third on Delmon Young’s single up the middle. Reigning AL MVP Mike Trout plays a very deep center field and though blessed with great speed and a good arm, Trout could not stop Jones from getting the extra base. Jones was thus positioned to score the run on Richards’ wild pitch.

The Birds’ vital insurance runs came in the 8th inning thanks to more hustle by Jimmy Paredes, the surprise member of the 2015 Birds, Baltimore’s only other .300 hitter right now along with Jones. Paredes beat out an infield hit to second and after an error raced home on Jones' two-run double.

No one knows for sure if Mike Wright stays up in Baltimore permanently. His mid- 90s fastball and command of off-speed pitches on Sunday certainly opened a lot of eyes in Baltimore. With supposed future ace Kevin Gausman now on DL and needing more innings at Norfolk, I for one want Wright to get another start or two to prove that yesterday was no fluke.

I give the Orioles credit for not over-reacting to the slow start to the season by making massive changes to the roster as Boston and Toronto have done. But time is growing short to see if the roster that came out of spring training is what will remain as the core and supporting cast for the rest of what is so far a disappointing 2015.

Meanwhile on the college front, it won’t be until Memorial Day Monday May 25 that the Columbia Lions, my other great rooting interest, find out what regional the NCAA will send them to. Stay tuned.

Always remember: Take it easy but take it!

Yours in Baseball Forever, Teny Ymota (The Earl of NY, Your Man on The Aisle)

OMAHA = Opportunity-Makeup-Attitude-Hustle-Always Put The Team First

May 10, 2015

Tags: Columbia-Dartmouth Ivy League baseball playoff., Columbia tennis

When I visited the University of Oregon campus in Eugene a few years ago to speak on the Branch Rickey-Jackie Robinson story, I made time to check out the baseball field of the Oregon Ducks coached by George Horton.

I noticed an acronym on the outfield wall for Omaha, the host city of the College World Series.
Opportunity
Makeup
Attitude
Hustle
Always Put The Team First

On Sunday May 10th, Columbia became the first team to qualify for the 64-team NCAA tournament by beating Dartmouth for the third straight year. As always in this exciting 2015 season, the Lions had to do it the hard way. Losing the first game of a Saturday home doubleheader 7-6 but rallying to win the nightcap 7-2.

It all came down to a Sunday single game on a beautiful summer-like day with the sun burning down on Robertson Field at Satow Stadium. The Lions took the early lead on a first inning two-run homer to left field by senior DH Joey Falcone who added a monster three-run homer to right in the second.

It was 6-1 entering the top of the third but the Big Green fought back valiantly.
Junior DH Joe Purritano homered and sophomore first baseman Michael Ketchmark delivered a two-run triple to cut the lead to 6-4.

Columbia junior catcher Logan Boyher immediately answered with a two-run homer, adding to his impressive output from the number 9 spot in the lineup.
Dartmouth responded with single runs in the 4th and 5th – it was the kind of elimination game in which both closers were in the game by the 5th inning.

Columbia freshman closer Harrisen Egly entered the game with one out in the fifth and went the rest of the way giving up only an unearned run in Columbia’s 10-7 victory.

Senior leadership is always a key to a college team’s success and Columbia’s five seniors provided that in spades - two of the tri-captains, centerfielder and leadoff hitter Jordan Serena and southpaw starter Mike Weisman; cleanup hitter and right fielder Gus Craig; third baseman Dave Vandercook; and dh Falcone.

Watching the freshmen emerge also provided me great pleasure during the Columbia season. Harrison Egly came up big on Sunday but also saved 5 earlier games holding batters to a batting average well under .200. Shortstop Randell Kanemaru capably stepped into the shoes of graduated Aaron Silbar.

And kudos to the freshmen who stepped up for Dartmouth: right fielder Kyle Holbrook who had seven hits in the three games; the string bean 6’ 5” 175 pound second baseman Dustin Shirley who made every at-bat a tough one; and closer Patrick Peterson who earned Dartmouth's one save and pitched capably in the elimination game.

I know that “first year” is the politically correct term these days but the perks of a blog enable me to use a term that I don’t find offensive. In fact, the measure of a successful program like Columbia’s under Brett Boretti is to watch the leadership develop from the first year player through each and every season and beyond.

It was a delight to see many former players and their parents coming to root on one of Columbia’s most successful programs. Kudos too to the men’s tennis team that has entered the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tennis tournament. They await a meeting against the highly ranked U. of Virginia Cavaliers next weekend.

On Monday May 25 Columbia will find out where it will play during the last weekend of May in the first round of four-team regional play. Last year without injured ace David Speer (the southpaw's now working his way up in the Cleveland organization), they lost two close one-run games at Miami. The year before at the Fullerton CA regional, the Lions beat New Mexico for the program's first post-season victory.

Why not dream of OMAHA as SUNY-Stony Brook in Long Island did successfully two years ago?

That’s all this time. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!

YIBF (Yours In Baseball Forever),
Lee Low’ aka Teny Ymota (The Earl of NY, Your Man On The Aisle)

Teny Ymota Says: Roar Lion Roar & Other Early May Baseball Musings

May 4, 2015

Tags: Columbia baseball, George Thanopoulos, Kevin Roy, Jordan Serena, Logan Bowyer, Dave Vandercook, Dario Pizzano, Joe Sclafani, Houston Astros, Dallas Keuchel, Jose Altuve, George Springer, New York Mets, Mike Trout, Taylor Featherston, Jordan Pacheco, J.P. Howell, Yasmani Grandal, Caleb Joseph, Rick Dempsey, Adam Jones

Before an enthusiastic home crowd at Robertson Field at Satow Stadium, Columbia on Saturday May 2nd won its third elimination game in seven days, beating Penn, 4-2 to earn the Gehrig Division title in the Ivy League. Seven solid innings from George Thanopoulos, two spotless relief innings from Kevin Roy, and solo home runs by Jordan Serena, Logan Bowyer, and Dave Vandercook provided the margin of victory.

Rested Rolfe Division-winner Dartmouth comes into Robertson/Satow on Saturday afternoon May 9 for a best-of-three championship series to determine the Ivy League winner and the automatic NCAA tournament bid. Columbia is trying for its third consecutive title and third straight playoff victory over Dartmouth. If the Saturday doubleheader is split, a single winner-take-all game will be played on Sunday.

The Ivy League college season in the Northeast is regrettably short so to witness bonus baseball in May is a real treat. There used to be an old saying that Ivy League players are “half-baked potatoes – not good enough to eat but too good to throw away.”

The level of play has definitely improved in recent years, and recent graduates of both division-winning programs are working their way through the minor leagues - notably Columbia outfielder Dario Pizzano with the Mariners affiliate at Double A Jackson, MS, and Dartmouth's second-third baseman Joe Sclafani with the Astros organization also in Double A.

Of course, for most Ivy League athletes the championship games will be the high point of their careers which makes for intense competition. I dislike the ping of the aluminum bat as much as anybody, but don't let that irritation keep you away from the action.

I highly recommend a visit this weekend to picturesque Satow Stadium on the banks of the Hudson River, a little bit up the hill northwest of the corner of 218th Street and Broadway in northern Manhattan.

Meanwhile, Major League Baseball has entered its crucial second month. The biggest surprise so far has to be the Houston Astros, riding a 10-game winning streak with an 18-7 record. The long-dormant Astros are the only team above .500 in what was once considered a strong AL West division.

Houston’s early emergence is not totally shocking. They have a budding mound ace in Dallas Keuchel and the defending AL batting champion in pepperpot second baseman Jose Altuve who is playing like a future MVP. They also have a star-in-the-making in right fielder George Springer from the University of Connecticut.

How I love it when players from the Northeast make their mark in their majors!
Cold weather prevents talent in this area from playing as many games as their counterparts in Florida and Texas and California. But since baseball is a game of character and adversity, tough conditions harden the players. It could well be that agile and powerful George Springer is on his way to join another great product of this region, southern Jersey’s Mike Trout of the Angels.

What the Astros have to watch out for is a bad streak once their long winning streak eventually ends. The Mets won 11 in a row and have since lost 7 out of 10 but still hold on to first place in the NL East.

With so many games to play, position in the standings is less important than consistent play and winning as many series as you can. Which is why two game and four game series are annoying to many in baseball. It is very hard to win a four game series against one team but inter-league play every day has necessitated this crazy-quilt unsatisfying scheduling.

A record must have been set on Saturday May 2 when TWO games ended with base runners being hit by batted balls. The victimized teams were the Angels who lost a 5-4 game to the Giants when pinch runner Taylor Featherston was hit by the ball, and the Diamondbacks who lost 6-4 to the Dodgers when Jordan Pacheco was similarly struck heading to second base.

It was a tough weekend for Pacheco. In the top of the 13th inning in a scoreless Sunday game against the Dodgers, Pacheco was tagged out at home plate trying to score on a wild pitch. After a throw from catcher Yasmani Grandal, reliever J.P. Howell made a remarkable behind-the-back tag to nip Pacheco by an eyelash. Moments later, Grandal homered to give the Dodgers a dramatic walkoff win.

Nothing matches, though, what the Orioles went through this past week. Rioting in Baltimore after the death in police custody of 25-year-old African-American Freddie Gray forced the Orioles to postpone two of three home games with White Sox and to transfer its entire weekend series to Tampa Bay.

On Wednesday afternoon one game was played with the White Sox before an entirely empty stadium at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It was a first in the long history of MLB – a game without fans. Kudos to Oriole catcher Caleb Joseph who mimicked signing autographs for invisible fans before the game.

Back in the Orioles glory years of the 1970s and early 1980s, another Oriole catcher Rick Dempsey entertained fans during rain delays by pantomiming Babe Ruth running the bases. It looks like the Birds have another appealing receiver on their roster.

And perhaps the Orioles as a team are beginning to catch fire. They won three out of the four games played in these unusual circumstances. They are heading to New York for a week – two inter-league games with the Mets followed by a four-game series with the red-hot Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Center fielder Adam Jones continues to sizzle with a batting average over .400 and sparkling play in center field.

T. S. Eliot famously said April is the cruelest month – I guess he didn’t like the coming of flowers and new blooms – but in baseball May is usually the most revealing month. We’ll see how the pennant races look by the end of the month. More than 60 per cent of the time, division leaders as June begins are in the playoffs come October.

That’s all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it.

YIBF (Yours In Baseball Forever), Teny Ymota (The Earl of New York, Your Man On The Aisle)

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