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"You Can't Take The Wiffle Ball Out Of The Game" and Other Tips for Surviving This Season From A Beleaguered Orioles Fan

Tip #1  Always keep the TV clicker nearby. If Orioles fall behind early - as too often they do with that woeful pitching staff - there are other games to watch. And movies on TCM and loads of good reading. 

 
Here's one book recommendation:  David Maraniss, A GOOD AMERICAN FAMILY: THE RED SCARE AND MY FATHER (Simon and Schuster, 2019)  Maraniss is the biographer of Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Vince Lombardi as well as the author of THEY MARCHED INTO SUNLIGHT, the story of one month, October 1967, in the war in Vietnam and the anti-war demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin. 

 

His new book in understated effective prose tells the story of his father Elliott Maraniss's travails at the hands of the House UnAmerican Activities Commiteee (HUAC) after World War II.  Anyone who grew up in Brooklyn in the 1930s and is a University of Michigan Wolverine will want to read this book.

 

Maybe there is not enough about the happier, latter years of Elliott's career as an editor of Madison's insurgent newspaper the "Capital Times".  Or more detail on his love of sports, a man who ghost-wrote columns for Olympic sprinter Eddie Tolan (father of future major leaguer Bobby Tolan who incidentally almost tested the reserve clause before Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith did - see my book THE IMPERFECT DIAMOND). 

 

Or more on a baseball-loving father who took his young sons to the airport in Cleveland to welcome home the Indians after they won the 1954 American League pennant.  Yet I say that this recounting of how a "premature anti-fascist" and World War II army captain became victimized by Cold War hysteria offers absorbing and essential reading. 

 
Tip #2 - Take pleasure in little glimmers of hope your beleaguered team now and then provide.  Like the Saturday night August 17th debut of Hunter Harvey, a former Baltimore #1 draft pick who has been marred by injuries in the first years of his minor league career. 

Harvey threw a scoreless 8th inning with two strikeouts in a 4-0 loss to the Bosox.

 
Here's to a healthy and long career for the son of former Angels closer Bryan Harvey who drove through the night from North Carolina with Hunter's girl friend to be there for his son's MLB debut.

 
Tip #3: Enjoy the variety of stories that make every season interesting and different. 

For example, a long ESPN.com piece by Tim Kurkjian to commemorate the August 12, 1994 strike that led to cancellation of the World Series elicited some interesting comments from two first basemen who lived through it:   

 
Minnesota's Kent Hrbek was to retire at end of that season.  When the August 12 strike dragged on to the sad cancellation a month later by commissioner Bud Selig, Hrbek took the cup from his athletic supporter and nailed it to a wall in his house where it still stands.

(Speaking of Selig, his memoir FOR THE GOOD OF THE GAME is worth reading for the viewpoint of a small market owner who rose to be commissioner. More in the next blog.) 


Atlanta's Fred McGriff made this interesting observation to Kurkijian: the abuses of PEDs were caused by allowing players to bring their personal trainers into clubhouses.

 
For those of you who save your Sports Illustrateds, the double issue in late July/early August with Serena Williams on the cover contained some memorable baseball stories.  Emma Baccellieri's "Stuck in the Mud" about the Delaware River mud still used by umpires to rub the gloss off new baseballs is a keeper.

 
So is her piece "The Atlantic League" about the independent league that with the full backing of MLB is trying innovations to speed up the game and heighten offense. Last week I saw the Long Island Ducks rout the York Revolution at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip.

 
The cozy ballpark that seats over 7,000 does not show its nearly 18-year old age. (Although they need more screens to protect fans from foul balls.)  There were a few early glitches in the TrackMan electronic umpire giving info to the plate umpire.  (Don't dare call it a robot.)

 
My big problem with the technology is that there is no adjustment to the strike zone during an at-bat.  If you watch good hitters, they don't always take the same position at the plate even within an AB. 

 
Once again, common sense should dictate the encouragement of better umpiring not falling prey to blind belief in the Great God Technology.  If you see replays over and over again, I remain impressed at how good most of the umpires are at calling balls and strikes. Please let's remember the old age, "It's better to be vaguely right than precisely wrong."

 
Tom Verducci deserves a kudo for his story in the same SI double issue, "The Last of the .400 Hitters".  They were two minor leaguers, Aaron Pointer who did have a cup of coffee with the expansion Houston Colt 45's and is the brother of the famed rhythm and blues Pointer Sisters, and Darryl Brinkley who never was drafted or made The Show.

 
Yet New Yorker Darryl Brinkley who starred at Sacred Heart U. in Fairfield CT in the late 1980s persevered to become a productive minor leaguer and Caribbean League Hall of Famer.  Only the failure to obtain transportation in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 kept him from making the Orioles in Sept. 2011.

 
Let me close with some great words from coach Mike Roberts who earlier this month won the Cape Cod Baseball League championship for the third time in his storied career.   In the glow of the victory of his Cotuit Kettleers over the Wareham Gatemen, Roberts, the former North Carolina and South Carolina head coach and father of former Orioles All-Star second baseman Brian Roberts, told capecodbaseball.com: 

 

"You've got to love the backyard first and that's where it happens. . . . You can't the take the wiffle ball out of the game."   

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

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Pitchers and Catchers Have Reported, but I Must Admit College Basketball Still Grabs My Attention

The Northeast has been experiencing a record-breaking heat wave. Well, "heat" is a bit of an exaggeration - temps in lower 60s - but I've been parading around my Upper West Side NYC neighborhood in my Cape Cod Summer Baseball League sweatshirt without need for an overcoat.

(The CCBL, by the way, should be on any baseball fan's bucket list: Games at no cost from early June to early August with some of the best amateur players in competition - many of them are on the cusp of pro careers. More info: check out www.ccbl.org)

The main thing about spring training is to get and keep everyone healthy before the season begins. In the days of the reserve system when players had to work in the off-season, spring training was a time for getting into shape and losing weight.

Today, the six weeks or more in Florida or Arizona might seem excessive because smart players stay in shape all year round. But who wants to give up the relaxed environment of warm weather climates?

Just don't believe any spring training stats esp. during the first few weeks of exhibition games. Yes, exhibition games were what they used to be called and should still be called. "Pre-season" sounds more serious and it allows ticket prices to reach the ridiculous $40 and $50 range and even higher.

Turning to the hardwood game, the Wisconsin Badgers broke their two-game losing streak with a much-needed home win on Sunday Feb 19 over the Maryland Terps.
The two big Badger frontcourtmen sophomore Ethan Happ and senior Nigel Hayes led the way in scoring.

But it was the second half return to form of senior leader Bronson Koenig that triggered the Badger victory. A calf injury caused Koenig to miss the loss at Michigan earlier in the week, but after not scoring in limited first half action Sunday, Koenig hit a couple of jump shots that really triggered the comeback win.

As Koenig goes so goes the Badgers is the short story of the 2016-2017 squad. He has much on his plate as he is also an activist in the native American movement against the Dakota pipeline.

I noticed today huge tattoos on his chest honoring his Ho-Chunk heritage. The team has been supportive of his commitment because there is no doubt that he remains a court leader in the Badgers' quest to go deep into the post-season.

Yet winning the Big Ten title and hoisting another banner at the Kohl Center home court means a lot to the team and to me as a semi-fanatical alum. Wisconsin is tied with Purdue in the Big Ten title race with Maryland a game behind with four games to play.

The Big Ten may be down this year according to the pollsters and the tournament seeding mavens, but the competition level remains high. I only wish the refs would use more restraint in their dishing out technicals to benches.

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon got one in the Wisconsin game, and it was nice to see his assistants calming him down to keep him from being ejected. The T did not affect the final outcome because Wisconsin controlled the game from the middle of the second half.

The T on the Michigan bench in the tough struggle against Minnesota at Minneapolis Sunday night basically determined the outcome. Though Michigan gallantly fought back to force overtime, the Wolverines would have won except for the technical.

In the Ivy League, home of my other alma mater Columbia, the Lions have lost excruciatingly close games the last two weekends. After an 0-5 start Penn has roared back into playoff contention.

The Quakers jumped ahead of the Lions for the fourth and last spot in the first-ever Ivy League tournament. It is coming up the second weekend of March at Penn's legendary home court the Palestra.

Columbia meets the Killer P's, Princeton and Penn, at home this coming weekend.
Odds are long now against the Lions but they will compete and compete hard. Of that I am sure. How well and how smart is another question that will decided on the court.

On the women's side, Columbia broke a three-game losing streak Saturday night by thumping Dartmouth 69-48. Picked for last in the Ivy League, the Lions under new coach Megan Griffith has won 3 games in the league and lost some very close ones.
They need one more win in their last four games to be assured of an overall winning record for the season.

Junior Camille Zimmerman is a legitimate Player of the Year candidate as a consistent 20-point scorer who tries her hardest to work within the team framework.

Perhaps the most optimistic event of the weekend was the play of first year guards Janiya Clemmons and Maya Sampleton. Rushed into action because of injuries to upperclassmen, they both performed with poise.

Clemmons has a chance to be an electrifying player because she always keeps her head up and is eager and willing to drive to the hoop, not afraid of making mistakes.
As long as the Lions keep playing outstanding defense, they have a real chance in future seasons to crash the Ivy League women's cage elite.

That's all for now - until the next time, always remember: Take it easy but take it.
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