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MEMORIAL DAY MUSINGS + TOURNEY TIME IN NEW YORK AREA AMATEUR BASEBALL

For a fan and follower of all kinds of baseball as I am, the end of May brings unbridled joys. The Major League Baseball pennant races are heating up and traditionally Memorial Day has served as the one-third pole of the long season. Clearly the big surprise in the American League is Cleveland tho’ this past week the Indians lost series to Boston and Tampa Bay. After horrible starts, these two big boys in the AL East are right up there at the top with the Yankees and watch out for Toronto too.

The Orioles as usual have a lot of work to do. The offense and pitching remain inconsistent and they just sent Brad Bergesen to the minor leagues, his one great game against Tampa Bay noted here a few weeks ago the exception in this difficult year.In the National League the Arizona Diamondbacks have just pulled ahead of the Giants. Under intense manager Kirk Gibson now in his first full season they have won 14 out of 16 games and have soared to the top of a weak division.

San Francisco has lost their great young catcher Buster Posey to severe leg and ankle injuries incurred in a home plate collision with Marlins’ rookie Scott Cousins.
The horrid accident brought back to mind the career-shortening broken ankles of the Giants’ Monte Irvin and the Milwaukee Braves’ Bobby Thomson in the 1950s. (In the latter case Thomson’s mishap opened a spot for the future Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.) Let’s hope that modern medicine can hasten Posey’s return next year to something close to his rookie sensation form of the championship year 2010.

AND ON THE AMATEUR SIDE . . .
It is not just pro baseball that makes this time of year special. It is tournament
time in high school and college baseball. With the weather finally cooperating in the New York metropolitan area there was plenty of exciting action to see. This past Thursday and Saturday I caught the first and last rounds of the MAAC baseball tourney at the Yankees’ Double A minor league Trenton Waterfront Park. (MAAC stands for Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.)

The ballpark in Trenton is very picturesque and should be a destination for a baseball-loving fan later this season. Behind the right field fence flows the Delaware River only a little over 400 feet from home plate. None of the collegians came close to smashing a ball into the water because this season by NCAA decree, college baseball’s metal bats have been deadened.

Still, three cheers for the Manhattan College Jaspers who went undefeated in the double-elimination tournament. For the 2nd time in 54 years Manhattan will play in the NCAA tournament beginning June 3rd with the ultimate goal reaching Omaha for the College World Series starting two weeks later. Manhattan, which is actually located in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, proved that their 20-2 conference record was no fluke when they beat Canisius and then Siena twice to win the crown.

The highest drama of the tourney came on Friday night. With Siena leading by a run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, a routine ground ball to third base that would have ended the game was thrown into the dirt by the Saints third baseman Guinn. Inexperienced first baseman Cardona, who is more of a shortstop, didn’t provide a running lane for the batter and was knocked flat on his back by the lumbering Jasper first baseman Sheffield. By the time Cardona freed himself from the runner the tying run had scored and the winning run was heading to the plate. A poor throw home wasn’t even close and Manhattan won 8-7, a huge win in a double elimination tournament.

Siena did manage to beat Canisius Saturday afternoon, aided by a pickoff of the tying run at second base in the 9th inning. Righthander Justin Brantley, a Siena sophomore who is the cousin of Cleveland center fielder Michael Brantley, pitched eight strong innings to get the win. But on Saturday night Siena was no match for Manhattan’s Mike Giordano, the tourney MVP, who threw a two-hitter in an easy 5-1 victory.

Kudos to another New York metro area nine, Seton Hall of South Orange NJ who Sunday afternoon in Clearwater, Florida won the Big East baseball championship dethroning St. Johns of Queens. The Pirates will also be competing this coming weekend in a NCAA Sub-Regional. It is always a long shot for a northeastern team to make it to Omaha but winning the Big East over national powers Connecticut, Notre Dame and Louisville is a major accomplishment for the Pirates. Here’s to the dream still being alive for Manhattan and Seton Hall and Ivy League champion Princeton as well as St. John’s and Connecticut who received at-large bids.

Update: All the Northeastern teams were eliminated by Monday June 6 except for the Connecticut Huskies who will carry our area's pride into the super regionals the weekend of June 10th.

AND LET’S NOT FORGET THE HIGH SCHOOLERS!
On the high school scene New York City Public Schools Athletic League tournament is in full throttle. On a blisteringly hot Friday afternoon in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn I saw Grand Street Campus (the former Eastern District H.S.) shut out Stuyvesant, 2-0 to reach the quarter-finals this coming Tuesday May 31. It was a tight scoreless pitchers’ battle until highly favored Grand Street scratched out a run in the fifth inning and added an insurance run in the 6th.

Grand Street is the alma mater of Dellin Bettances, the highly touted Yankees righthander working his way towards the top at Trenton this year. And many scouts were in attendance looking at Williams Jerez, the team’s center fielder who is likely to be drafted by a major league team in next week’s amateur free agent draft. But Stuyvesant with no pro prospects played the big Brooklyn boys very well and should have felt very proud about their performance.

The PSAL quarter-finals match top-seed George Washington vs. W. C. Bryant at Grand Street field; Lehman vs. Taft at Clinton field in the Bronx; Grand Street vs. Telecommunications at Boys/Girls HS in Brooklyn; and perennial power from Staten Island Tottenville vs. South Bronx (conqueror of James Monroe) at Lafayette in Brooklyn. The best two-of-three semi-finals are the weekend of June 3 with the championship game Saturday June 11 at 4p at MCU Park, the former Keyspan Park home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets’ farm team in the New York Penn League.
Update: It will be a familiar final matchup – Tottenville of Staten Island versus
George Washington of Upper Manhattan.

I highly recommend that anyone remotely interested in baseball take an opportunity to enjoy the experience of amateur baseball. The PSAL mandates wooden bats and without commercials between half-innings, seven inning games are usually played in well under two hours. All in all, it is a wonderful pure baseball experience.

Remember: Take it easy but take it!

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