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"Collecting Lottery Tickets" - What Oriole Baseball Has Come To - Plus A Shout-Out to "Toni Stone"

 

I guess the trade this past weekend of the Orioles' most reliable pitcher Andrew Cashner to division rival Red Sox was not surprising. He will be a free agent at the end of the season, and conventional wisdom says that the Orioles couldn't expect much in value for him.

 
Baltimore got two 17-year-old Venezuelans playing in the Dominican summer leagues, outfielder Elio Prado and infielder Noelwarth Romero. Both are undoubtedly years away from making The Show if they ever come close to the majors.   

 

According to Dan Connolly, the diligent Oriole correspondent for "The Athletic" online subscription website, the Orioles are "collecting lottery tickets" as they go through the complete "rebuild" of their largely unproductive organization. 

 
My response to that explanation is:  Who is going to pitch for the rest of this season?

The once-heralded Dylan Bundy went on the injured list after he gave up seven runs in the first inning of his first post-All Star Game start.  His knee was hurting during his warmup, but he didn't tell anybody until after he got shelled. 

 
Rookie southpaw John Means, the Orioles' lone All-Star this season, got rocked by Tampa Bay in his first post-ASG start.  He can't be expected to carry a full load.

 
Couldn't the Orioles have gotten more for Cashner, 32, who is having a career year - 9-3 for a team that has only 28 wins?  I would hate to think that the hasty trade was made because they feared that he - like Bundy - could get injured before the July 31 trade deadline.

 
What pains me about the Cashner trade is that he wanted to stay in Baltimore. He was committed to the rebuild. The Orioles were his fifth major league organization and he was looking for a home, especially now with his wife expecting. 

 

He was a Cubs first round draft pick in 2008, signed out of TCU, the same program that produced former Oriole hurler now with Phllies Jake Arrieta and Cardinals corner infielder Matt Carpenter.  Ultimately Cashner was traded to the Padres in the Anthony Rizzo deal and later spent time with the Marlins and Rangers. 

 
Signed to a two-year contract before the 2018 season, Cashner became a leader of the Orioles, not just the pitchers. I think I'm a pretty good judge watching on TV of who is faking intensity and who isn't.  You could see that the bearded 6' 6" hurler cared about competing and winning. 

 
His passion reminded me a little of Pete Vuckovich, the Brewers right-hander who I vividly remember once competed so hard during a playoff game against the Yankees in the 1981 strike-marred season that he refused to leave the mound despite throwing up, evidently battling some kind of ailment.

 
There was another admirable aspect in Cashner's background.  Understanding his son's passion for baseball, Andrew's father built a diamond in the back yard of the family home in Texas for Andrew to practice on. 

 
Oriole manager Brandon Hyde was effusive in his praise of Cashner, wishing him well in Boston except when he pitched against the Orioles.  I enthusiastically second that sentiment as he makes his debut tonight (Tues July 16) at Fenway against the Blue Jays, another "rebuilding" team.

 
Oriole fans are now fearful that first baseman/right fielder Trey Mancini may be the next to go.  He is currently in the worst slump of his career, but he continues to play hard and welcomes the role of young veteran leader on an unproven team. The converted infielder Mychal Givens will probably be dealt to teams looking for bullpen help.

 
We lived through a wave of trades last year at this time: Manny Machado to the Dodgers (now doing fine with the Padres on his $300 million plus contract); Jonathan Schoop to the Brewers (now a regular contributor on the AL Central first-place Twins); Kevin Gausman and Brad Brach to the Braves (where Gausman has been injured and ineffective and Brach, now with the Cubs, is also struggling).   

 
There are glimmers of hope in improved Oriole minor league play at the Double A Bowie level and the lower minors at Delmarva (Low Class A) and Aberdeen (Short Season). But it will be maddening if the Orioles unload Mancini and Givens and other players and get so little in return as what they received for Cashner. 

 
The new regime can't be thinking that Hawaiian shirt and straw hat fedora giveaways will substitute for a real plan for the future, can they?  Don't want to answer that question!

 
At least, for fans of other teams, there is plenty of excitement and weeks of hope, however illusory, ahead.  By its very nature, baseball always surprises.  

 

For example, nothing was more astonishing than former Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud's three-homer game against the Yankees last night Monday July 15. His third dinger, a 9th inning blast off Aroldis Chapman, led the spunky Tampa Bay Rays to a 5-4 victory. It kept alive the Rays' flickering hopes of catching the Yankees in the AL East divisional race.

 

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING DIFFERENT! 
Before I close this latest post, I want to urge you in the New York City area to see "Toni Stone," playing through Sunday August 11 at the Laura Pels Theatre (115 W 46th Street just west of Fifth Avenue). The comfy Pels is one of the theaters that is part of the Roundabout Theater group.

  

Rarely does a solid piece of historical research, Martha Ackmann's "Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone" (Lawrence Hill Books/Chicago Review Press, 2010), get transformed into exciting theatre. Thanks to Lydia R. Diamond's adaptation, "Toni Stone" succeeds in viscerally bringing to life the remarkable story of the first woman to play in the Negro Leagues. 

 
There is a bravura performance by longtime Off-Broadway luminary April Matthis in the title role. She is aided by a supporting cast of eight talented male actors playing a variety of roles. Kudos must also be given to the crisp direction of Pam McKinnon and the brilliant choreography by Camille A. Brown.

 
I was enthralled from the opening of the first act when Toni Stone delivers a monologue in praise of the wonder and drama of baseball. (The writing reminded me of Roger Angell's elegiac essay, "On The Ball," from a 1976 New Yorker magazine, anthologized in "Five Seasons"). 

 
As a black tomboy in segregated America, Toni Stone had a hard time gaining acceptance.  "People weren't ready for me," she told Martha Ackmann when belatedly - she died in 1996 - she was rediscovered in the last years of her life, living for decades as a nurse in the SF Bay area.  "I wasn't classified. I was a menace to society."

 
But what an exciting achieving life she led - good enough to replace Hank Aaron as second baseman on the Indianapolis Clowns in 1952 when he went into the Braves organization. A versatile woman athlete better than the legendary Babe Didrikson.  Good enough to play semi-pro baseball into her 60s in the Bay area. (Many thanks to Minnesota's great baseball historian Stew Thornley for his help in providing some additional details.)

 
It is a credit to Lydia Diamond's script that she has streamlined a lot of the stories in Toni Stone's life. She establishes a good dramatic flow without overburdening us with facts that could overwhelm the non-sports fan. Blessedly, the script rarely gets preachy.

 
My only quibble is in the misleading treatment of Gabby Street, the former major league catcher and World Series-winning manager, who befriended teenaged Toni when she enrolled in 1935 in his St. Paul, Minnesota baseball school.

 
A baseball traditionalist from the Deep South, best known as a member of the Washington Senators who once caught a baseball thrown from the Washington Monument, Street at first wanted nothing to do with Toni's desire for baseball instruction. 

 
She wouldn't accept no for an answer and ultimately Street realized that Toni's passion and talent were genuine.  For her 15th birthday he even gave her a pair of baseball spikes, a gift she always treasured.  So I felt it was a rare cheap shot for Toni in the play to say that Street was a member of the Klan. 


Despite this one jarring note, I still heartily recommend seeing "Toni Stone" at the Laura Pels Theatre through Aug. 11. The play moves to the Arena Theatre in DC in the fall and early next year in San Francisco.

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

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Picking Up The Pieces As The Oriole Rebuild Starts

Don’t ever say there is no crying in baseball. When shortly before the trade deadline of July 31 the Orioles traded both pitcher Kevin Gausman (to Atlanta along with veteran reliever Darren O'Day) and second baseman Jonathan Schoop (to Milwaukee), many tears were shed by both young players.

The first time you are traded is always an emotional experience because you are literally being kicked out of the only baseball family you have known.

Baltimore infield instructor Bobby Dickerson, a baseball lifer, shed the normally stoic demeanor of a Buck Showalter staff member. As he tearfully explained to Roch Kubatko on the masnsports.com website, he had known Curacao native Schoop from the age of 16 - he had watched close hand the growing pains and emergence of the former Little League champion into a major league second baseman with a great arm and formidable power.

It wasn’t that Gausman and Schoop could walk as free agents after this season. (Which was why All-Stars Manny Machado, Zach Britton, and Brad Brach were all traded.) Their possibly big free agent bonanza won’t come until after 2019 for Schoop and after 2020 for Gausman.

Yet Gausman had never lived up to his billing as the number 4 player picked in the first round of the 2012 amateur draft. His stuff can be electric - a fastball clocked in mid-to-upper 90s and a considerably lower velocity for his split-finger sinking pitch.

But he never could develop a curve or slider to complement his two plus pitches. His pitch count invariably rose early in games and when he needed to make a big pitch, he often did not execute it.

Gausman has remained healthy and durable so he might become an innings eater for the Braves. He did lose his first start to Zack Wheeler and the Mets, 3-0 on Saturday night August 3, not getting out of the sixth inning. (As someone who roots for the Mets to be competitive in the NY market, I'm glad they held on to Wheeler at the trade deadline. He seems to be emerging as a very effective starting pitcher.)

Schoop has gotten off to a slow start with the Brewers, going 0 for 13 before he got his first hit on Saturday night. He will help them I am sure once he gets settled. He even has started one game at shortstop, his original position as little and minor leaguer.

I for one will miss one of the most genuine smiles that I have ever seen in an athlete.
It was a dream of Orioles fans that Schoop and his BFF Manny Machado might comprise a Baltimore double play combination for years and years. Now both are gone and no replacements are on the horizon.

(Interestingly, Machado, who only wanted to play short for the Orioles once JJ Hardy departed after last season, is now playing both third base and shortstop as LAD tries to win a 6th consecutive NL West title.)

So what does an Orioles fan do when his parent team is in disarray and there is no clear evidence yet that any of the minor leaguers received for our stars will really emerge? Try to find hope in the farm clubs, right?

I love the atmosphere and affordability of minor league baseball so I checked in on the Aberdeen Iron Birds' visit to the Brooklyn Cyclones this past Thursday August 2. It started off as a dream day with late breakfast on the boardwalk followed by nearly an hour floating around in the refreshingly mild and surprisingly clean Atlantic at Coney Island.

Alas, the New York-Penn League Short Season A game at MCU (formerly Keyspan) Park quickly spoiled a beautiful day. After taking a quick 1-0 lead on a single by center fielder Austin Hays (last year's Orioles Minor League Player of the Year) and a triple by first baseman JC Escarra, the Iron Birds quickly fell apart.

Southpaw Willie Rios never looked comfortable on the mound, kicking at the ground trying to find a good landing spot I guess. There has been a lot of rain around here lately and the pitching area must have been a little muddy. But nobody on the Iron Bird coaching staff talked to Rios about the problem.

After getting the first out, he walked two and then the defense fell apart. At-'em balls at infielders were misplayed and thanks to a bases clearing double by Cyclones DH Walter Rasquin it was soon 6-1. Then 9-1 after 2, and 12-1 after 3.

Four errors of commission in the first three innings and many more of omission, eg. not covering bases or throwing to wrong bases. Final score of 13-6 was deceptive - it was not a competitive game.

But it was fun to see Austin Hays collect a couple of hits and display his Pete Rose-style enthusiasm for the game. He was halfway to second on a foul ball he hit that the first baseman corralled near the stands.

It was Irish Night and thank God I wasn't raised a Brooklyn Dodger fan because the
entertainment of the evening was provided by a group of dancers called the O'Malleys!
I know that perfidy of moving the Brooklyn Dodgers to LA by Walter O'Malley happened 61 years ago but it remains a wound deep in the heart of old Brooklyn and those in the diaspora.

Well, that's all for now. Plenty of baseball left to muse and moan about. So in the meantime always remember: Take it easy but take it.  Read More 
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