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"I Love Baseball and I Love Baseball Players": Highlights of the Mid-Atlantic Baseball Scouts Association Dinner

November 20, 2018

Tags: Al Bagnoli, Columbia v Cornell football, Steve Fleming, Murray Cook, Billy Swoope, Mike Siani, Nick Adenhart, Tim Adkins, Michael Roussos

The Saturday before Thanksgiving posed a dilemma for yours truly. It was the last game of the season for my Columbia football Lions, a home tussle with state rival the Cornell Big Red.

A win would mean a 6-4 overall record and a second straight winning season under coach Al Bagnoli in his fourth year at the helm. Already Columbia had earned a record number of 13 wins over two seasons, a testimony to good coaching, good recruiting, and good playing.

However, as I get deeply into working on my next book that will be about baseball scouts, a celebration of baseball’s unrecognized talent hunters trumped alma mater football. So I journeyed on Amtrak to Dempsey’s restaurant in Oriole Park at Camden Yards for the 28th annual banquet of the Middle Atlantic (Major League Baseball) Scouts Association (MASA).

The train was thankfully only a little late and I got to the ballpark in plenty of time for cocktail hour. It’s eerie to walk into a shuttered and empty stadium (no cracks please about how similarly it looked during the Orioles’ 115-loss 2018 season - there is a new management team in place and soon a new field manager and more on that before end of the year).

On this Saturday night Nov. 17, it was wonderful to see the restaurant come alive with the arrival of the scouting community and friends and families. Many generations of scouts were represented and I felt immediately the sense of camaraderie.

Scouts may work for many different organizations but for the most part scouts are collegial not just competitive. There were also many college and high school coaches in attendance, adding to the spirit of cooperation.

Steve Fleming of the Rockies, originally signed as a player by Murray Cook of the Pirates, and Billy Swoope of the Cubs were the 126th and 127th scouts to be inducted into MASA’s Hall of Fame - their names next season will be added to the plaque at Camden Yards.

Mike Siani, a left-handed outfielder from Philadelphia’s Penn Charter H.S., was given the Amateur Player of the Year award. He was a fourth round choice of the Reds in 2018 and will be moving up the team’s minor league ladder.
(MASA's amateur award is named for Nick Adenhart, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim pitcher who was killed in an automobile accident shortly after his MLB debut.)

Tim Adkins, now with the Cubs, delivered the line of the night when he accepted the Crosschecker of the Year award. “I love baseball and I love players,” said the bow-tied scout from West Virginia. Adkins was hailed for his role in signing for Chicago four picks from the Mid-Atlantic area in this past season’s draft.

There are still many cold and barren weeks ahead before the trucks start loading the equipment for the trip to blessed spring training. But nights like this one make me realize again what the continuity of baseball past, present and future is all about.

And before I forget, Columbia did beat Cornell in that game I couldn’t attend. Dramatically too with a 87-yard-kickoff return by first-year wide receiver Michael Roussos. And my graduate alma mater Wisconsin finally showed some winning form with their own come-from-behind triple-overtime victory at Purdue.

That’s all for now. Hope Thanksgiving starts a rewarding season for one and all.
And always remember: Take it easy but take it.

Coping With The No-Baseball Blues

November 11, 2018

Tags: Columbia football: Al Bagnoli, Kyle Castner; Wisconsin football: Jonathan Taylor, Alex Hornibrook, Jack Coan, Quintez Cephus, Yankee baseball: Brett Gardner, C.C. Sabathia, Patrick Corbin, Sonny Gray; Mets baseball: Brodie Van Wagenen, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob DeGrom, Yoenis Cespedes, Tim Tebow; Manny Machado, Andrelton Simmons, Didi Gregorius, Bryce Harper, Matt Carpenter

It is not easy these months without daily baseball games. The silly season of free agent and trade rumors don’t do it for me (though I put in my two cents at the end of this blog.) Though I admire most of the other major sports, they don’t generally command my visceral attention.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that Columbia football enters its last game of the season against Cornell at home this coming Saturday Nov 17 with at least a .500 record clinched. The Lions have already set a school record for most wins in a two-year
period - their current 5-4 added to last year’s 8-2 log and 2nd place Ivy League finish.

In the fourth season under former outstanding Penn coach Al Bagnoli, my Lions in 2018 have been battered by multiple injuries to key players on both sides of the ball. But they have persisted, to use a word in vogue by liberal women politicians who I generally support.

Coming-from-behind-ability is the key to any winning team. Columbia showed it on the road against tail-end Brown in Providence this past Saturday. Down early 14-0 on two long plays, it looked to the weak in heart like a repeat of the previous Saturday’s blowout loss at Harvard.

But Columbia came alive in the second half and won going away 42-20. Senior Kyle Castner, a former top HS quarterback in Indianapolis, ran for three touchdowns out of the “wildcat” formation and passed for two more. I’m always glad when a player ends his college career on a high point.

Fortunes for my graduate alma mater the University of Wisconsin Badgers have not been as kind. Except for one game-opening drive sparked by sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor’s 71-yard TD run, the Badgers were no match on Saturday in University Park against the Penn State Nittany Lions. The 22-10 loss was not as close as the score indicated.

The only blessing in disguise perhaps for me personally is that Wisconsin might be closer to a date in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Thursday Dec 27 at 515p.
Sure hope they salvage some pride with a win at Purdue next week and at home against Minnesota after Thanksgiving.

The concussion issues of starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook from West Chester, Penna. and the evident inexperience of his backup, redshirt freshman Jack Coan from Sayville, Long Island, means the Badgers will have to dig deep to end the season on a positive note.

I never bought into the ballyhoo that they were headed for the playoffs. Too much inexperience on defense and the departure of wide receiver Quintez Cephus on rape charges doomed them early.

I sure hope Badger basketball can recover some of its own lost glamor in the upcoming season. Their first Big Ten game is early this year against Iowa on Nov. 30.

On the local major league baseball front, the Yankees recently re-upped for one more year two of their aging core players and clubhouse leaders, left fielder Brett Gardner, 35, and erstwhile staff ace C. C. Sabathia, 38.

The Yankees still need more starting pitching. They are rumored to be targeting southpaw Patrick Corbin, who had a fine year with Arizona Diamondbacks and reportedly wants to play in New York.

For his sake and that of the Yankees, I hope his temperament is more suited to the demands of Gotham’s fandom than Sonny Gray showed during his season and a half in the Big Apple. It is likely that Gray will be traded to a team in a less pressurized city.

As for the Mets, it remains to be seen what the surprise hiring of former agent Brodie Van Wagenen as their new general manager will be mean for the hopes of the Flushing Faithful. Never in baseball has an agent risen to a top chair on management’s side.

Van Wagenen has given up his role as agent representing such key Met pitchers as Jacob DeGrom, who should but not necessarily win the Cy Young award, and Noah Syndergaard. He also represented oft-injured Yoenis Cespedes and Tim Tebow, the great college football quarterback, pro QB washout, and aspiring Mets minor league outfielder.

I don’t know any scout who thinks Tebow has a real chance to become a major leaguer. Yes, he is a very hard worker and big box office draw for his All-American boy image, enhanced even more because he reportedly was almost aborted as a fetus.

But I sure hope for the sake of the Mets and their fans that Brodie has more up his sleeve and in his evaluating brain than suggesting Tebow could play in Queens later in 2018.

Well, we’ll know more soon. The winter meetings are in Las Vegas from Dec. 9 to 13 - I'm going for the first time in over a quarter-century and will have impressions to share in a later blog.

Also about where the top free agents Manny Machado and Bryce Harper will wind up here are my thoughts.

Machado’s intermittent hustle was on display throughout the post-season. He remains a major talent who will get paid a lot. I just hope the contract isn’t for more than five years. I know he’s only 26 and loves to play the game but never forget the old adage: “It’s never easy getting up early in the morning when you are wearing silk pajamas.”

Possible destinations? Phillies with a lot of cash to spend? But they also have demanding blue collar fans without the large Hispanic population Machado supposedly craves.

The Yankees? Possibly with Didi Gregorius not due back from Tommy John surgery into late in 2019. The Angels if Manny is willing to play third base alongside the brilliant shortstop Andrelton Simmons?

His home town of Miami and its baseball-loving Hispanic population might be in his heart of hearts. But I don’t think the Bruce Sherman-Derek Jeter ownership have deep enough pockets and enough of a contending team.

As for Bryce Harper, he supposedly turned down a 10-year $300 million offer to stay with the Washington Nationals. Even as an outfielder with a great arm I don’t believe Harper is a better buy than Machado. He’s too surly and media-hungry for my taste. Despite his baggae, Harper will command a lot of dough.

Possible destinations? St. Louis needs a lefty bat to join Matt Carpenter who is too streaky for my taste. But maybe St. Louis not a big enough market for the media-lusting Harper who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16! Phillies and Yankees again?

OK I’ve said my piece on the subject of mega-money and mega-years. I wish the media wouldn’t rub dollars and money in my face the all the time. Turning off the tube, clicking exit on the computer, and throwing out the newspaper can be a liberating feeling. Which I am doing right now.

Still, always remember: Take it easy but take it!

Coping With No Baseball: Giamatti's Lyricism Always Helps + Farewell to Willie McCovey

November 4, 2018

Tags: Bart Giamatti, Boston Red Sox champions: Alex Cora, Nathan Eovaldi, J.D. Martinez, Steve Pearce, David Price; Max Muncy, Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Tim Corbin, Willie McCovey (corrected on debut day), Orlando Cepeda, Felipe Alou, Willie Mays, Les Keiter, Robin Roberts, Ralph Terry, Bobby Richardson, Ted Williams, Barney Greengrass

"You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops." So wrote the late Bart Giamatti, baseball commissioner and onetime Yale professor and university president, in his classic essay "The Green Fields of the Mind."

How consoling are these words as Daylight Savings Time has ended for most of the country and we are faced with increased darkness until the arrival of the winter solstice around December 21. I watch my share of basketball and football and hockey on TV but it is no substitute for the drama and excitement of baseball.

Of course, we have our baseball memories, near and far, to sustain us. There is no doubt that the Boston Red Sox are worthy World Series winners. They showed it was no fluke that they won the AL East with a team-record 108 victories.

They eliminated the Yankees and defending champion Astros to win the American League pennant, losing only one game in each series. They won a generally well-played often gripping World Series in five games over the Dodgers, a bridesmaid for the second year in a row.

Perhaps the mettle of this year's Bosox squad was best exemplified by its reaction to its only World Series loss, a record-breaking 18-inning seven-hour-plus 3-2 defeat on Max Muncy's home run off Nathan Eovaldi.

Immediately thereafter brilliant rookie manager Alex Cora called a rare team meeting in the clubhouse to congratulate the team's effort. The team applauded Eovaldi's great six-inning effort out of the bullpen when he was listed as the Game 4 starter.
Big run producer J.D. Martinez said it might have been a loss but it was a great experience to compete in such a historic game.

Journeyman outfielder/first baseman Steve Pearce was voted the Series MVP for his batting heroics in the last two games. His solo homer tied Game 4 in 8th inning and his bases-clearing double provided the insurance runs in the 9th.

Pearce's two-run blast in the first inning the next night set the tone for the clincher.
It was a huge blow off losing pitcher Clayton Kershaw because it is hard to overestimate what scoring first means in any game, especially after the Dodgers had lost a four-run late lead in the prior game.

David Price won the final game with seven solid innings. A case could be made for Price to have won a co-MVP award although there were only five voters to assure that there was only one winner.

It was nice to see Price get the post-season monkey off his back because he had failed repeatedly in recent years to come up big in the playoffs. But this year he also won Game 2 with six solid innings and relieved effectively in the extra-inning classic third game.

Vanderbilt University baseball coach Tim Corbin has to be especially proud of his progeny because in addition to developing Price in college, another Commodore rookie Walker Buehler also pitched outstanding ball for the Dodgers.

Before I close, I want to remember Willie McCovey who passed away late last month from multiple ailments at the age of 80. He was one of many players who came up too late to help my first team the New York Giants who left New York for San Francisco after the 1957 season.

Imagine how McCovey and his teammates Felipe Alou and Orlando Cepeda would have fared with the short left and right field fences at the Polo Grounds. Certainly Willie Mays would have broken Babe Ruth's 714 home run record if he hadn't been consigned to the winds of Candlestick Park. At least he experienced five seasons in New York.

McCovey's debut in San Francisco was memorable. I happened to be listening to Les Keiter's recreating of Giant games on WINS radio on July 30, 1959. All Willie did was belt two triples and two singles off another future Hall of Famer Phillies pitcher Robin Roberts.

McCovey may be most remembered for a ball that became an out, the scalding line drive off Yankee pitcher Ralph Terry at Bobby Richardson that ended the seventh game of the 1962 World Series with the tying and winning runs in scoring position.

I prefer he be remembered for the body of his work on his field, including 521 career home runs, tying him with Ted Williams. He was a class guy on and off the field. He was always was accessible to fans and became a revered ambassador for the Giants who wisely named the water area beyond the right field fence at San Francisco's ATT Park "McCovey Cove."

There is a famous 100-year-old deli on the Upper West Side of Manhattan called "Barney Greengrass The Sturgeon King." Though McCovey never ate there, he heard about the sturgeon and had it mail ordered to the West Coast.

There is a picture of Willie in Barney Greengrass's window. I think of Willie "Stretch" McCovey when I stop in at Barney's and always will.

That's all for now. Again remember to express your vote on November 6th if we want our democracy to recover its balance. And never forget: Take it easy but take it!





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