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How To Cope When Your Team Goes Belly-Up

For those who follow the Baltimore Orioles, things have gone south in a hurry. On May 10 we were 22-10 and it looked like a year of contention again. Since then the Birds have gone 9-20 and sunk to fourth place with improving Toronto ready to switch places with us in the cellar.

What we hope is the nadir happened this past weekend at Yankee Stadium. I went to the Friday night game with our best pitcher in 2017 on the mound, Dylan Bundy. He pitched creditably and left with the O’s trailing 3-2 after 6 innings.

Once oft-traveled Edwin Jackson came in, I expected the worst and wasn't disappointed. He immediately gave up two runs and I headed for the exits - something I don't like to do, but I did have to get up early to play tennis for the first time in 2017.

Sat. and Sun.games could have used mercy rules a la amateur baseball. Chris Tillman, whose aching shoulder may ultimately need surgery, gave up six in the first and 3 in the second before he was yanked.

The next day Kevin Gausman, the first number one draft pick of the Dan Duquette regime in 2012, was only slightly better, giving up 5 in the first before being knocked out in the 4th. He is presumably healthy physically, but mentally he must be hurting.

The jury is still out as to what Gausman's future competence might be. He must stay in the rotation because he still has great stuff and there are few other starting options. And Oriole brass must fear the specter of another Jake Arrieta being dealt away too hastily.

The absence of Manny Machado for the whole series - due to a freak wrist injury caused by Andrew McCutchen’s awkward slide earlier in the week - didn’t help matters. But Manny’s not having a good year and he needs to pick it up a lot for the Orioles to dream of contending in 2017.

I love JJ Hardy as one of the most underrated Orioles in my lifetime. But his home run power is gone and his assortment of injuries has slowed him in the field.

Though the Birds don’t have a replacement for Machado at third, maybe it is time to move him to his desired position at shortstop. And see how he likes being paired with his pal at second Jonathan Schoop who has really blossomed this year as a rare Oriole clutch hitter.

Some feel that Schoop with his great arm could be a successor to Hardy at short. Seemingly the Orioles have more options in-house at second than third.

The big problem remains starting pitching. And now that Darren O’Day has his own shoulder injury to deal with on the DL and closer Zach Britton is out until probably the All-Star Game, the relief corps is hurting, too.

So how does one cope when his team goes belly-up? If you love the game, there is consolation everywhere - watching high school and college ball and other major league teams without emotional involvement. (Dispassion can only go so far, I hasten to add.)

And reading and talking about the game always brings me pleasure. On Fri June 2, the last day of the 28th annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, I gave a talk at the Hall of Fame based on my trip to Cuba over New Year’s in 2016.

I called it: “If We Had Known He Wanted To Be A Dictator, We Would Have Made Him An Umpire: Reflections on Castro and Cuba’s Ardent Love of Baseball.” The great quotation comes from either Orestes “Minnie” Minoso, the first great post-World War II Cuban star in MLB, or pitcher Conrado “Connie” Marrero who pitched in MLB for five year in the 1950s before living the rest of his 100-plus years in Cuba.

There is no doubt that Fidel Castro genuinely loved the game though it is only a myth that he was really a pro prospect. He probably had more talent as a basketball player though again not of pro quality.

Fidel was a canny enough politician to realize that most Cubans of his generation shared his passion for baseball. After all, the game took off in Cuba as an act of rebellion against the Spanish colonialists during the 10 Years War in the 1870s. It has continued its popularity though the defections of Cuban stars since the early 1990s has gravely weakened Cuba’s impressive amateur baseball organization.

As always at these chock-filled-with-papers conferences, there was no way to hear everything. But many presentations left a lasting impact with me. I'll mention one in closing, the BasebALZ Reminiscence Program of Austin, Texas.

Scotland took the lead in 2009 by creating a program to use sports memories to help
Alzheimer's patients connect with the past and discuss their stories in the present.
There are now over 200 programs in Scotland dealing mainly with memories of soccer and cricket.

There are only three projects started so far in the U.S. but the one in central Texas has had some very rewarding success. Jim Kenton talked about one Alzheimer's patient in a wheelchair who had barely spoken for three months.

When prodded about his baseball memories, he suddenly remembered a game when Jack Kramer on the 1946 Browns, threw a ball out of Fenway Park after a bad call by the first base umpire. He also remembered that it was on an anniversary of D-Day and George Metkovich led off that day. SABR researchers later confirmed the accuracy of the reminiscence.

More on the Symposium next blog - That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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Ain't Baseball Great? Appreciating The Game Despite Orioles' Deep Funk

This phrase is used often in ads on Orioles broadcasts on its cable network MASNSports. I still find the sentiment true despite the current 7-game losing streak of the Birds.

What was a 22-10 record two weeks ago of my Birds has now plummeted to 25-23. Last place in the AL East is now closer than the soaring Yankees atop the division.

I try to console myself that the 1983 Orioles, their last World Series-winning team, lost 7 in a row TWICE that season. And this is just end of May, lots of baseball left to play.

But with a pitching rotation without a stopper (young Dylan Bundy is the closest to that needed position), Zach Britton star closer out indefinitely, and sluggers Manny Machado and Chris Davis in deep slumps, it is gloom time in Charm City.

Yet, ss I type away, I have the Dodgers-Cubs game on the MLB Extra Innings Package.
An expected pitchers’ duel between LA’s Clayton Kershaw and Chicago’s Jon Lester has turned into home run slugfest.

Both pitchers were knocked out early and six home runs have flown out of Chavez Ravine. Ain’t Baseball great indeed. Youneverknow, do you?

I leave Wednesday morning for the annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture. I will be talking at the Friday June 2 1p session on “Baseball Potpourri’.

My paper is “‘If We Had Known He Wanted To Be A Dictator, We Would Have Made Him An Umpire’: An Exploration into Cuba’s and Fidel Castro’s Love of Baseball.”

As I sign off this posting, Yasiel Puig, the mercurial very talented Cuban defector and right fielder for LA, has just made a brilliant running catch. Unmistakably rare and brilliant talent has defected from Cuba in recent years, but it is widely feared that the cream has been taken out of the country.

I hope to live to see a day when Cubans can play in the greatest leagues in this country without having to leave their homeland.

That’s all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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