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On Miracles in Football and Baseball (updated with report on 50th anniversary of Columbia's 1968 championship cagers)

Thanks to an excellent game story on the Super Bowl by New York Times sportswriter Ben Shpigel, I read this morning that victorious Eagles coach Doug Pederson put up a sign this season in the Philadelphia clubhouse:
“An individual can make a difference. A team can make a miracle.”

It was no miracle that the Eagles ruined the Patriots’ attempt at a repeat Super Bowl title. It was some great offensive football led by backup quarterback Nick Foles that did the trick. A huge sack and fumble then cemented the victory late in the fourth quarter. (I wonder if horses born in Philly today will be named Foles' Foals!)

As a U. of Wisconsin graduate, I was pleased that former Badger running back Corey Clement - from south Jersey so playing near home - was a key part of the offense. Glad also that James White, another back developed well at Wisconsin, did his part to almost bring the Patriots back to the winner’s circle.

Early Super Bowl Sunday I was involved with a real miracle by sitting in on a baseball clinic in Newburgh, New York sponsored by Chicago White Sox scout John Tumminia’s Baseball Miracles project. Newburgh is just 65 miles north of NYC with rolling Catskills foothills serving as a lovely backdrop to this Hudson River town.

Talk about giving back! Brooklyn native Tumminia has lived in Newburgh since the end of his playing days as a St. Francis College-Bklyn and minor league outfielder.
His project has sponsored baseball and softball clinics all over the world.

“We strive to reach out especially to the youth who have never the played the game,” the mission statement explains. “At no cost, we provide instruction, gloves, bats, hats, shirts, and memories.”

Baseball Miracles traveled to Argentina late last year and previously put on clinics in Honduras, Kenya, South Africa, and Ireland. Domestically, they have brought the joy of baseball to the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, to underprivileged areas in Kentucky and New Orleans.

An impressive array of baseball scouts and coaches from big league organizations was on hand Super Bowl Sunday morning. Among them was White Sox scout/assistant Bronx Monroe H.S.coach Jose Bautista Jr. whose father pitched in the big leagues and is no relation to the free agent slugger Jose Bautista.

There was a chorus of boos from the youngsters when they thought Jose Jr. was related to the swaggering former Blue Jay slugger. Our Jose is also an assistant coach for the Bronx Monroe H.S. powerhouse team.

Others serving as clinicians yesterday included Alex Agostino of the Phillies, Kyle Bamberger of the Orioles, John Ceprini of the Reds, Ray Fagnant of the Red Sox, Cesar Presbott and Kelly Rodman of the Yankees, and Dennis Sheehan of the Diamondbacks.

I hadn’t seen Fagnant since a high school all-star game at Yankee Stadium several summers ago. In a great show of collegiality Red Sox and Yankee organizations cooperate on bringing national players to a mid-summer clinic that ends with a game at Yankee Stadium.

I attended this game years ago when Arizona high schooler Cody Bellinger, now reigning NL Rookie-of-the-Year, homered into the right field Stadium stands.
Fagnant told me that no one had done that until last year when six were hit, including three by a northern Ohio slugger Northcott now attending Vanderbilt who should be a high draft pick by his junior year.

Before the clinic began, Toronto Blue Jays executive Ben Cherington gave an introductory talk. He reminded the youngsters of three basic facts:

1. Have fun while learning. Afer all, the first three letters in fundamental are fun.
2. Learn how to practice. He recommended going to You Tube and putting in “Derek Jeter Practicing” and “Steph Curry Practicing”.
3. Learn how to be a good teammate even if you have a bad day.

And then the clinic of over two hours began. I’ve been to the long-running winter BeTheBest clinic in Atlantic City and this Baseball Miracle Clinic was run with the same efficiency and elan as the older one for the big boys and college players.

A couple of nine-year-olds really impressed me with their quick bats on wiffle balls soft-tossed by coaches. They also showed good speed around the bases.

One was wearing an Aaron Judge #99 jersey but he said he wasn’t a fan of any team. He just loved to play. Something I love to see!

A huge tip of the cap goes to 91-year-old Newburgh native and philanthroplst Bill Kaplan. A few years ago he funded the conversion of the old Newburgh Armory Unity Center that had been used mainly for storage of antiquated military equipment.

It is now an impressive modern facility. Much of the clinic took place on a field turf playing service that is set up for soccer but can also be used for baseball. There is an adjoining gymnasium, and a dining room.

Every Saturday the Armory Unity Center hosts Enrichment Programs for academics and sports. For more information, call 845-245-4035 or e-mail info@newburgharmory.org

In early August, Baseball Miracles plans a clinic at Yankee Stadium. For more information on this and other Baseball Miracles projects, e-mail: baseballmiracles.org

Before I close, I want to add a word on a celebration the night before the Super Bowl of my undergraduate alma mater Columbia's 1968 Ivy League championship basketball team. They won their only Ivy League title (so far), were nationally ranked finishing 23-5 and playing deep into the NCAA tournament.

All-time great Columbia forward Jim McMillian passed away last year but his widow attended as did two McMillian children. Both played basketball for Wake Forest in the late 1990s, daughter Eron attending the Winston-Salem school at the time of Tim Duncan.

Jim McMillian went on to a solid pro career, He was a starting forward on the great LA Laker team in the early 1970s that won 33 games in the regular season and the NBA title.

Another star on the '68 champs Heyward Dotson attended the Saturday event, but the other bulwark on the '68 team, seven-foot center from Brooklyn Dave Newmark, couldn't make the trip from his home in the SF Bay area.

To make the evening even more celebratory, Columbia completed a weekend sweep by holding off Dartmouth in the second half en route to a 77-74 victory. On Friday night the Lions handed Harvard its first league loss with a stirring come-from-behind 85-78 victory.

In a league where there is now a post-season tournament of the top four teams, Columbia is now 3-3 with four more weekends ahead. The Ivy League is the only league that plays on Fri. and Sat., a grueling test of stamina and talent.

Penn is undefeated, Harvard has only the Columbia loss, Princeton has two losses, but it is wide open for the last spot among Brown, Columbia, Cornell, and Yale. Tough luck winless Dartmouth will not be easy pickings for any of the contenders. All hail a very competitive underrated league.

That’s all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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COMPETITORS AND COLLEAGUES: BASEBALL SCOUTING AT ITS BEST

The profile of John Tumminia that follows this introduction originally appeared on Johanna Wagner's lovemyteam.com website. I have been contributing monthly scout profiles to the site and veteran White Sox scout John Tumminia has a lot to say about his profession. Previously I profiled Billy Blitzer of the Cubs, Mel Didier currently with  Read More 
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