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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.

Dealing With Wisconsin's Bleak First Saturday in December & More Angst In The Life of an Ardent Fan

December 3, 2017

Tags: Wisconsin defeated by Ohio State, Alex Hornibrook, JK Dobbins, JT Barrett, Jonathan Taylor, Andrew von Ginkel, punters Drue Chrisman, Andrew Lotti, Cameron Nizialek, Matthew Nanton, Alabama's selection over Ohio State for playoff, Nick Saban, Badger basketball, Columbia basketball, Columbia football Pete Mangurian, Al Bagnoli, Anders Hill, Jim Schroer, Parker Home

The undefeated Wisconsin Badgers football team went down on Saturday night Dec 3 to an inspired Ohio State Buckeyes team, 27-21. It marked the third time in four years that the Badgers had lost the Big Ten championship game.

The odds-makers who favored the Buckeyes by 6 or 6.5 points had it right. Wisconsin had not played any team as tough and swift as Ohio State all season. The Buckeyes scored three touchdowns on plays over 50 yards in the first half, tying the number of big plays the vaunted Wisconsin defense had allowed in their 12 previous games.

Though the 21-10 halftime deficit proved too much to overcome, the second half was thrilling and almost classic - if only Wisconsin had mounted a serious threat late in the game to save their unblemished season.

But all game the stout Ohio State defense throttled Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin’s sensational freshman running back, holding him to just 41 yards in 15 carries, far below his season average. Ohio State's freshman star running back J.K.Dobbins was much more productive and was voted game MVP.

Badger sophomore southpaw quarterback Alex Hornibrook played nobly but didn’t have the arm strength or enough game-breaking receivers to pull off the comeback. His counterpart J.T. Barrett, one week removed from arthroscopic knee surgery, played a savvy game and did just enough with his arm and his challenged legs to lead his team to victory - despite two interceptions including a pick-6 by Badger linebacker Andrew van Ginkel that kept Wisconsin in the game during the first half..

Kudos to the outstanding punting on both sides. I’m a great believer in field position in football and Drue Chrisman of Ohio State boomed his punts deep into Badger territory and kept them high enough to prevent any return yardage. The Badgers' Anthony Lotti for Wisconsin also punted very effectively.

Despite the Buckeyes' victory to claim the Big Ten championship, it was left out of football's Final Four. One-loss Alabama got the fourth seed and will have a rematch with defending champion Clemson in the Sugar Bowl semi-final on New Year's Day. Oklahoma will meet Georgia in the Rose Bowl in the second semi-final.

Ohio State will meet USC in Dallas' Cotton Bowl and Wisconsin plays in Miami's Orange Bowl for the first time on Dec 30 against home team Miami which slumped badly at the end of the year after being undefeated.

Ohio State's 31-point loss to Iowa on the road was held against the Buckeyes and their 16-point loss at home to Oklahoma early in the season didn't help. But the bruising Big Ten plays nine conference games whereas Alabama's vaunted SEC only play eight and pad their schedule with cupcakes like Mercer.

(Alabama didn't even play for the SEC championship losing to Auburn on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. So they are a very dubious selection to the Final Four despite coach Nick Saban's protestations of their excellence.)

To add to the bad Saturday for the Badgers, earlier in the day the Big Ten opened its basketball season with Ohio State trouncing Wisconsin on the Badgers’ home court, 78-53. The Buckeyes led by 23 at the half and opened up a 35-point lead at one point in the second half. Wisconsin falls to 3-5 overall. The loss of four starters from last year's solid tournament team looks more and more ominous.

As if there weren’t enough sadness for an ardent fan of his alma maters, Columbia blew a 10-point lead in the second half and lost at Albany 86-82. The Lions fall to 1-6 on the season, all road games. They finally open their home season against Quinnipiac from New Haven CT this Monday Dec 4. Maybe home cooking will make the difference.

A final shout-out in 2017 is in order for Columbia’s football team that finished with its best record in 21 years, 8-2 overall and 5-2 in the Ivy League good for a second place tie with Dartmouth. Except for its 23-6 loss to eventual champion Yale in New Haven - the Elis’ first outright title since 1980 - the Lions proved they could play with anybody.

Great kudos to the 32 seniors who stuck it out after their winless freshman season under ousted coach Pete Mangurian. The arrival of proven Ivy League winner Al Bagnoli from Penn has made a great difference. Now as Bagnoli has said so wisely, the key will be to stay up there as a perennial contender every year.

Graduation losses will be significant - quarterback Anders Hill, running back Jim Schroer, and punter Parker Thome among them. (Thome BTW is a distant cousin of baseball's possible next Hall of Famer Jim Thome).

But Bagnoli and his recruiting staff seem to building what Earl Weaver and Yogi Berra used to call "deep depth." The prior punters for the Lions are taking advantage of a fourth year of eligibility by punting for top Division I schools - Cameron Nizialek's leg will be on display when Georgia plays Oklahoma and Matthew Nanton will be kicking for Kentucky in the Music City Bowl against Northwestern.

That’s all for now, dear blog readers. Next time there will be real Hot Stove League baseball news and hopefully more informed speculation to write about as baseball’s annual winter meetings convene in Orlando FLA in mid-December. Until then always remember: “Take it easy but take it!”


Playing Meaningful Games in November

November 13, 2017

Tags: Columbia football, Kevin Rafferty's film "Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29, " Anders Hill, Landon Baty, Bewley Wales, Lord Hyeamang, Al Bagnoli, Josh Wainwright, Odell Beckham, SNY coverage, Jerry Recco, Sal Licata, Wisconsin football, Iowa dominated, Alex Hornibrook, Jonathan Taylor, probable matchup against Ohio State Dec. 2

Playing meaningful games in September and October are the coveted goals for baseball fans. For college football fans, it's meaningful games in November that are the gold standard.

This season I'm blessed that Columbia has surprised the world with a breakthrough season. After dominating Cornell on Saturday November 11 in a game that was much more one-sided than the 18-8 final score, the Lions head into its home finale against Brown with a chance to tie Yale for the Ivy League title.

Yale will be favored to win at home against Harvard in The Game and claim the Ivy League title outright with a 6-1 record. But you never know what will happen in a rivalry game. (By the way, a DVD that should be in every historically-minded fan's collection is "Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29," Kevin Rafferty's labor of love about the 1968 matchup of two undefeated teams set in the context of anti-Vietnam war unrest and the election of President Richard Nixon.)

Regardless of what happens in New Haven, a Columbia win over Brown will mean that the Lions finish with a 5-2 league record and 8-2 overall, its best season since 1996 and one of the best in its history.

Hats off to the great senior leadership of quarterback Anders Hill, safety Landon Baty, offensive lineman Bewley Wales and defensive lineman Lord Hyeamang. And, of course, coach Al Bagnoli who has brought the organizational skill and the winning touch that made him such a success at Penn.

The only blemish on the Cornell victory was a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against star sophomore wide receiver Josh Wainwright. He was probably complaining too loudly and profanely to an official for an non-interference call in the end zone. It likely cost the Lions a touchdown because Cornell had been penalized on the play and would have meant a first down had not Wainwright lost control.

Wainwright is a great talent who wears #13 at home in honor of his hero Odell Beckham, the football Giants injured mega-talent. (For some reason Josh wears #86 on the road.) IMO the last thing the Lions need as they enter I hope the realm of permanent contention is a player who emulates the worst of Beckham, his mouthiness and overall narcissistic behavior.

Watching the TV feed from the SNY cable channel here in NYC, I noticed chippiness between Wainwright and Cornell defenders from early in the game. I just knew something bad would result from the trash talk even though announcers Jerry Recco and Sal Licata seemed to think his behavior was funny even admirable.

(BTW, the SNY feed was erratic - video was lost for several minutes and the graphics at times were so large that they interfered with full vision of the field. We couch potatoes are very spoiled you know.)

It is not that that surprising that my graduate alma mater Wisconsin gifted with a weak schedule is undefeated as it heads into a big home game against Michigan on Saturday. But the way they held down great rival Iowa to 66 yards TOTAL YARDAGE in a 38-14 win last weekend was very impressive. It was also the first time in seven years that the home team had won this rivalry game.

Badger fans are becoming inured to the almost weekly pick-6 interception thrown by southpaw QB Alex Hornibrook, a lad from West Chester, Pa. But he also made a couple of brilliant throws on Saturday so we'll have to accept the bad with the good.
The annoying fumbles of freshman sensation Jonathan Taylor from Salem in south New Jersey are another disturbing issue.

But if the defense continues to play well, Wisconsin will be formidable. They have already clinched the Big Ten West division and will probably face Ohio State in the Dec 2 playoff in Indianapolis for the league title.

Avenging the 59-0 shellacking delivered by the Buckeyes a few years ago will be on the minds of fans with long memories (like yours truly). Yet the impressive thing about this year's Badgers is that they are really taking it a game at time, a play at a time. So full speed ahead to the 2017 contingent.

Well that's all for now. Some thoughts on baseball's hot stove league next installment.
Always remember: Take it easy but take it.
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The Joys of Autumn in New York, Part I

October 18, 2017

Tags: Columbia and Wisconsin undefeated football (so far), Al Bagnoli, Anders Hill, Josh Wainwright, Michael Murphy, Jonathan Taylor, Ron Dayne, Orpheus, Mischa Maisky, New York City Ballet farewell to Robert Fairchild

It has been more like late summer or even mid-summer in Gotham the last few weeks.
I am not complaining except that there is a shocking lack of fall foliage so far.

As you know I am not a Yankees fan but they and the Dodgers are clearly the hottest teams left in the post-season. The Dodgers are undefeated after sweeping Arizona in three games in round one of the playoffs - NLDS. And now they have a seemingly impregnable lead of 3-0 in the NLCS over the soon ex-champion Cubs.

The sports highlight of my fall has been the undefeated Columbia Lions football team. They beat Penn in overtime on Saturday October 14 - An absolutely thrilling game before over 13,000 fans at Homecoming way north in Manhattan at the Baker Field complex west of 218th Street and Broadway.

It was the first win over Penn in 21 years and was very sweet for Columbia coach Al Bagnoli who coached the Quakers to most of those wins over Columbia and brought many Ivy League titles to the storied Philadelphia campus.

After the dramatic win, Bagnoli wisely and accurately credited the coming of age of the players who rallied from a 14-point deficit to score 3 TDs in the 4th quarter. In overtime, it was senior quarterback Anders Hill who threw a perfect 24-yard pass to sensational sophomore wide receiver Josh Wainwright for the winning points.

Wainwright spiked the ball with emphasis and the celebration began. Ecstatic fans almost tore down the goalposts until security and calmer heads arrived on the scene.

Columbia faces two tough road games with also-undefeated Dartmouth this Saturday Oct 21. Up next is a visit to Yale on Oct 28 before a home tussle with Harvard on Nov 4. The season ends with Cornell in Ithaca on Nov 11 and a home finale against Brown on Nov 18.

Columbia is a fun team to watch on offense and defense. Sophomore linebacker Michael Murphy was seemingly all over the field in the Penn win and won league accolades for his play.

In his third season Bagnoli clearly seems to have turned the program around.
There is more pride and less resignation in Columbia fandom, a truly welcome development. Expecting to win instead of fearing the worst is a wonderful feeling!
(But believe me, that feeling of dread doesn't die totally after decades of drought.)

My other alma mater Wisconsin is also undefeated but their offense has sputtered at times. They have a remarkable freshman running back in Jonathan Taylor from Salem NJ (not far from the home of former Heisman winner Ron Dayne). But it has been Badger defense that has excelled all year.

The schedule is admittedly weak in 2017 so the road to the playoff in Indianapolis against probably Ohio State or Penn State seems smooth. But it says here that the
offense has to become more consistent if the Badgers hope for a major bowl.

I personally doubt given the weak schedule that they will make the four-team playoff. But as a traditionalist, an appearance in the Rose Bowl would suit me fine.

On the arts and musical side, I've experienced some great performances lately.
I saw the opening of the Orpheus season at the 92nd Street Y. The conductor-less chamber orchestra featured special guest cellist Mischa Maisky.

Citizen of the world fits the intense and lyrical Maisky born in Latvia, educated in Russia, now residing in Israel. His renditions of Arensky and the Tchaikovsky "Andante Cantabile" as an encore connected deeply with my Russian roots.

I also caught the farewell performance of ballet star Robert Fairchild with the New York City Ballet this past Sunday Oct 15. Only 30, Fairchild is the youngest dancer ever to be honored with a "farewell".

He enjoyed several standing ovations at the end and graciously handed out roses to all of the company's principal dancers. Fairchild may be leaving ballet. but he is in line for many musical theatre and other opportunities.

He should be a delightful and rewarding presence on the arts scene for years to come. I loved him as the male lead in "An American In Paris" that ran recently for over a year at the Palace Theatre on Broadway.

I'll be back next time with final thoughts on the MLB baseball season and Orpheus's next performance on Oct 26 at Carnegie Hall with guest soloist pianist Andre Watts.

For now: Always remember: Take it easy but take it!

Proud To Be A Badger And A Lion

November 22, 2015

Tags: Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Shaka Smart, Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes, Josh Gasser, Traevon Jackson, Alex Erickson, Jazz Peavy's controversial non-catch, Connor Cook, Ezekiel Elliott, Cardale Jones, Urban Meyer, Alex Rosenberg, Grant Mullins, Maado Lo, Luke Petresek, Al Bagnoli, Al McGuire, Dick Howser

Wisconsin had a difficult weekend on the hard court and the gridiron but some respectability was salvaged by winning a 74-73 thriller over Virginia Commonwealth on Sunday afternoon November 22. It was part of the Madison Square Garden early season tournament that Duke won over Georgetown.

We all knew that Wisconsin would have growing pains this season after losing to the NBA 7-foot center Frank Kaminsky (who graduated and is logging effective minutes with the Charlotte Hornets) and forward Sam Dekker who left after his junior year. (Unfortunately Dekker recently underwent a back operation that will keep him out of the Houston Rockets lineup, or more likely their developmental team, for at least three months.)

Georgetown led the entire game on Friday night in a convincing conquering of the Badgers but Wisconsin responded nicely with its thrilling one-point victory over the VCU Rams. Charismatic Shaka Smart now coaches the Texas Longhorns but he left a squad for former assistant Will Wade that should be competitive.

And it looks like that in perhaps Bo Ryan’s last year the Badgers will also be a force to be reckoned with in a very loaded Big Ten. Junior guard Bronson Koenig and junior forward Nigel Hayes are learning what it is like to be marked men with all of last year’s final four team mainstays gone from Madison.

I shouldn’t fail to mention that the experience of guards Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson is also being missed.

Wisconsin’s football team lost its chance for a New Year’s Day bowl game on Saturday by falling in Madison on senior day to Northwestern’s Wildcats, 13-7.
It will long be remembered as a comedy of errors by the Badgers who committed five costly turnovers, most deep in their own territory.

It was a tribute to the stout defense that Wisconsin still had a chance to win the game in the last seconds. But video replay disallowed what would have been wide receiver Jazz Peavy’s first career touchdown. Though he caught the ball with one foot clearly in bounds in the end zone, replays revealed that he slightly juggled the ball falling out of bounds and thus “did not complete the process of the catch.”

What does that mean? The ball never hit the ground!

The nit-picking call was reminiscent of the replays in baseball where multiple viewings can show that a base runner left a base by a millimeter after successfully stealing it.

I don’t know how to stop replay once it gets entrenched. Maybe there should be a time limit on how long a replay can take. And the wording of the rules of replay be made more common sensical and less legalistic.

I was proud of how the Badgers reacted to the defeat in which a punt return for a touchdown was also called back because the official claimed receiver Alex Erickson had signaled for a fair catch. He had signaled with arms outstretched but not in the air that he didn’t want teammates to touch the ball. But when he didn’t hear a whistle he kept running and made a beautiful scamper to the end zone to no avail.

Erickson admitted that he thought the play would be called back. And his teammates generally felt that they hadn’t played well enough to win.

Consider the contrast in Columbus, Ohio when undermanned Michigan State, playing without their star quarterback Connor Cook, outplayed the Ohio State Buckeyes and ended their 23-game winning streak in a convincing 17-14 win.

Buckeye running back Ezekiel Elliott whined that he had only 12 carries and hinted he would turn pro after the season. So did backup quarterback Cardale Jones. Poor sports all. We will see how coach Urban Meyer, author of a recent book on leadership, responds to these comments.

Meanwhile my other alma mater on Sunday afternoon, the Columbia Lions evened its basketball record at 2-2 by trouncing Lehigh. Columbia lost an overtime heartbreaker at Northwestern on Friday night. They led the whole game but were held without a field goal for the last seven and a half minutes.

On Monday they didn’t seriously threaten Kansas State though played respectably and kept the game close. It is good that the pre-league season is providing some tough challenges for the Lions. Only false confidence can be bred by beating up on East Cupcake State, as the late great commentator Al McGuire used to call patsies.

Columbia is expected to do well in the Ivy League this year and with two seniors back from injuries, forward Alex Rosenberg and guard Grant Mullins, hopes are high on the Morningside campus. Senior guard Maado Lo is another force counted on.

It says here that the emergence of junior center-forward Luke Petresek will be a key to this year’s team. He has bulked up and has both a delicate outside touch and an improved rebounding presence.

So basketball has me hopeful and football is showing promise under new coach Al Bagnoli, the former Penn coach who led the Quakers to multiple Ivy League titles.
Though Columbia finished 2-8, four of their losses were by a combined 22 points.

Let me close with an old saying – I first heard credited to the late great Kansas City Royals manager Dick Howser: “Show me a team that plays close games and I’ll show you a winner one day.”

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and always remember: Take It Easy But Take It!

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