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Pre-Birthday Oriole Musings + Hail to the Virginia Cavaliers, Winners of Their First College Baseball Title

I turn 73 on June 27. For a good chunk of my birthdays since I became an Orioles fan nearly a half-century ago, I’ve spent them watching my team in person. Ah the steamy humidity in 1969 – Bethlehem Steel Night at old Memorial Stadium – when the Birds pounded Denny McLain, a year removed from his 30-win season and on the downslide of his career.

For my 40th in 1982, I saw future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer beat the Tigers 12-2 with Storm Davis finishing off the rout. The late Mike Flanagan, 1979 Cy Young award-winner for the Birds, dubbed Davis “Cy Clone” or “Cy Future” but it was not to be. Davis never developed and the Birds hit dark days for nearly 30 years after winning the 1983 World Series.

Undeterred, I was at Camden Yards in its first year in 1992 for birthday #50.
Kansas City’s Kevin Appier won a pitcher’s duel from Mike Mussina.
10 years later on birthday #60 the Yankees’ Jason Giambi spoiled my night by belting two homers off Scott Erickson in a one-run Yankee win.

Wising up in a way, I shied away from Baltimore for my 70th birthday in 2012.
Buck Showalter’s magical managerial touch had not yet convinced me.

So I went instead to an Indians-Yankees day game at Yankee Stadium, the one where a Cleveland line drive off Andy Pettitte’s leg would sideline him for weeks. But the Yankees won the game. Cleveland's Ubaldo Jimenez, now an improved but still shaky starter with the Orioles, got lit up in that one.

In 2015, partly because the O’s got off to such a mediocre start, I will not see baseball on my birthday. Am being treated by my sweetheart to a night of mellow sophisticated jazz led by the veteran accordionist Richard Galliano.

It will be at the lovely Dizzy’s Club with its great view of Central Park. It is run by Jazz at Lincoln Center but it is actually a few blocks south at Columbus Circle.

Of course, I’m still following the Birds avidly. And they are happily picking up the pace in a division race that is very tight.

“Playing meaningful games in September” – the title of my recent piece on their glory years 1960-1983 in NINE Magazine, vol. 22 #2 – is still possible in 2015. They have finally gone over .500 but just 4 games as the high point so far.

They have been winning recently without Adam Jones in the lineup – throwing shoulder soreness - and hardly any production from ostensible ace Chris Tillman – mysterious decline in effectiveness. These conditions cannot continue but there are signs of Earl Weaver’s blessed “deep depth” in the roster.

If the Orioles play airtight defense every night (they didn’t in the sixth inning on Wed June 24, and fell weakly, 5-1, to the last-place Bosox), they will be watchable and rootable-for. Return of shortstop JJ Hardy and catcher Matt Wieters to the regular lineup has meant so much.

And on both sides of the ball, Manny Machado, now the leadoff hitter, is playing like the man who inspired me two seasons ago to buy his jersey. the first and so far only time I
have paid such homage.

Before I close, let’s tip our caps to coach Brian O’Connor and the Virginia Cavaliers. They came from behind as they did for most of the season and dethroned the Vanderbilt Commodores in the College World Series. The brilliant defense, clutch pitching, and intensity of the college game at its best were all on display in Omaha.

I know baseball purists cringe at the ping of the metal bat instead of the thwack.
I don’t like it either but it shouldn’t stop real fans from enjoying the college game.
At a time where increasingly $$$$$ is the focus of baseball and not its beauty and
challenge, I highly recommend the college game.

One complaint though – the games were much too long. Virginia’s 9-inning clinching 4-2 victory over Vanderbilt approached midnight after an 8p start. I am not sure of the reasons but my guess? Too many conferences at the mound and too many ESPN half-inning commercials.

But kudos to the ESPN announcing team led by Karl Ravech with analysts Aaron Boone and Omaha native/former Stanford hurler Kyle Peterson.

Finally, here’s a salute to the nine Ivy Leaguers drafted by the major leagues earlier this month.

Three came from alma mater Columbia: right fielder Gus Craig (30th round, Mariners) and center fielder Jordan Serena (35th round, Angels).

Both are starting their careers in the Arizona summer league. Junior righthander George Thanopoulos (35th round Mets) has yet to choose between signing or returning for his senior year at Columbia.

The highest Ivy League draftee was Penn’s powerful catcher Austin Bossart (Phillies, 14th round). Teammate LHP Ronnie Glenn went to Angels (22nd round).

Harvard had two selected: RHP Tanner Anderson (Pirates, 20th round) and
CF Mike Martin (A’s, 33rd round).

Dartmouth dh Joe Purritano went to the Reds (30th round), and Princeton catcher Tyler Servais, son of former major leaguer/current top executive Scott Servais, went to Detroit Tigers (27th round). From one set of Tigers to another!

That’s all this time. Back early next month with reports on the annual College Baseball Hall of Fame inductions in Lubbock, Texas that will feature four names that fans will remember: Lance Berkman, Al Holland, Rich Reichardt, and Frank Viola.

This is Teny Ymota (The Earl of New York, Your Man On The Aisle), reminding you: Take it easy but take it!
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