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Chautauqua A Wonderful Way of Dealing With The Dog Days

A little googling has turned up the origin of the phrase “dog days”. It comes from the ancient Greeks who coined the term for the period from early July to mid-August when Sirius, the so-called dog star, rose just before the sun.

Dog days in baseball are obvious because players are dragging from the effects of the long long season. My Orioles are a vivid example. They are stumbling along looking like no more than a .500 team. Now they will have to do without key reliever Darren O'Day for the rest of the month, his second trip to the DL this year, this time with an ominous shoulder issue.

Yet except for probably the Cubs there are no super-teams out there so the last weeks of the season should be "fun" to watch, if one calls it fun to agonize with every pitch and possible pitfall.

Hall of Fame first baseman Jim Bottomley, the first great product of Branch Rickey's St. Louis Cardinals farm system, once offered this sage advice on how to deal with baseball’s inevitable ups-and-downs: "Win three, lose one, win three, lose one," etc etc. That way, he argued, there is no pressure from streaks, losing or winning." Of course, that is too rational a view. Fans live by passion and hopefully they are rewarded now and then.

My solution to the dog days this year was taking my first journey to the Chautauqua Institution in far western New York State 70 miles from Buffalo and just 15 miles from Erie, Pennsylvania. I co-taught Baseball and American Culture with veteran American Studies/Amer. Literature professor Mark Altschuler during the first week of August to an impressive group of 20 adult students.

They came from as far away as Mississippi and northern California, Ohio and Texas, Maryland and Kentucky. They learned a lot about Branch Rickey's long career from me and something about the importance of comedian Joe E. Brown's remarkable baseball passion.

Mark Altschuler had the brilliant idea of discussing the great interview with Wahoo Sam Crawford in Larry Ritter's classic oral history "The Glory of Their Times." He also led an exciting class on Jim Shepard's 1996 short story, "Batting Against Castro," set in pre-revolutionary Cuba (before Castro formed his guerrilla band in the mountains.)

Never missing a chance to see a minor league baseball game, my adventure actually started the previous Saturday night at Coca-Cola Field, home to the Buffalo Bisons, the Blue Jays’ Triple A affiliate in the International League. The Syracuse Chiefs, the Washington Nats’ top farm club, provided the opposition.

As always in minor league games, there was an interesting mixture of old and new, vets trying to hang on and prospects looking to make or return to The Show, the vivid term players use to describe the Majors.

Rehabbing infielder Ryan Goins showed some flash for Buffalo and soon he was back in Toronto--though he clearly is a sub now as talented Devon Travis has cemented his hold on the second base job.

Chiefs outfielder Brian Goodwin showed off the speedy tools that has left him for years on the cusp of a callup. And sure enough the Nats brought him up just last week for the first time.

There is always a poignant moment or two at a minor league game, a flash of yesteryear that comes along when you least expect it. Tonight it was seeing a Bisons pitching coach trudging off to the bullpen before the game. He had a little paunch and a fringe of longish gray hair framing the bottom of a largely bald head.

It was Bob Stanley, the longtime Red Sox reliever, who threw the pitch in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series that catcher Rich Gedman couldn’t handle before the infamous Mookie Wilson-Bill Buckner ground ball. Gedman’s passed ball tied the game but people only remember Buckner’s error that won it for the Mets who won the Series in Game 7.

I also saw stretching on the field before the game Chris Colabello, the disgraced ped user who was suspended for 80 games earlier this season. The first baseman-outfielder had been a feel-good story for last year's Blue Jays - rising from the independent leagues to become a productive major leaguer. But his success was tainted by the drug disclosure.
Toronto evidently has no plans to call him back to the majors.

On the Sunday before my classes began at Chautauqua, I paid a visit to the impressive Robert H. Jackson Center in nearby Jamestown, NY (home town of Lucille Ball where a Lucy and Desi museum stands - didn't have time to see it).

The Jackson Center is devoted to the life and work of the Supreme Court Justice appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt who served as chief prosecutor at the post-World War II Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals. Center director Greg Peterson was gracious enough to tape an interview with me about my love of baseball and my work on Branch Rickey. It can be accessed at YouTube.

It is remarkable that Rickey, one of the leading Methodist lay preachers, never spoke at Chautauqua, an institution founded by Methodists after the Civil War as a retreat for Sunday school teachers. It quickly evolved into a center for all kinds of inquiry into culture and the arts.

"Cultivate Curiosity and Wonder" reads the sign on the wall of the giant Amphitheater that can seat 5000 people (though you must walk carefully going down the ramps to your seat.)
How true that statement is! I got to hear David Simon, creator of the classic HBO series "The Wire," talk about the futile war on drugs in his home town of Baltimore.

Most of all, I got to sense the special feeling of community that Chautauqua engenders. Once you get your gate pass that allows you in and out of the little town, you feel like you are in Brigadoon, the fantastic creation of the 1940s Broadway musical. I compare it to Cooperstown and Key West with water nearby and quaint houses everywhere and flowers and flowers galore.

Just two example of Chautauquan community - I told some ardent softball players who are intense fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates that I was an Oriole fan. The next day one of them gifted me with two 1965 Topps cards, one of Brooks Robinson and one of "Boog Powell outfielder"!

Second item - after indulging my metrosexual tastes with a massage and pedi-manicure,
the owners of the St. Elmo's Spa gave me some cherry tomatoes and organic corn on the cob from their garden. How tasty they were after my return to NYC.

For information of the nine weeks of Chautauqua in 2017, check out www.ciweb.org
Am making plans that some form of "Baseball and American Culture" returns.

That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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Mets, Royals Take Commanding Leads in Baseball Playoffs

I don’t have a real emotional interest in this year’s playoffs though as a New Yorker in the ABY club – Anybody But the Yankees – I am happy for the Mets and their always-agonizing fans. Every win for the Mets in the post-season brings them closer to retaking the city from the Yankees who always claim it as their birthright.

Cubs righty Kyle Hendricks, formerly of Dartmouth College and the Texas Rangers, has the tall task Tuesday night of stopping the rolling Mets and bring the Cubs to a workable 2-1 deficit. No doubt the passionate Wrigley Field fans will be out in force but the Cubs will have to stop red-hot Daniel Murphy.

Murphy is proving the old adage yet again: When you're hot, you're hot. Sunday night his first-inning home run just made it inside the right field foul pole to give the Mets a 3-0 lead that was all they needed in a 4-1 victory.

Murphy has homered off four great pitchers in these playoffs - Kershaw, Greinke, Lester, Arrieta. He has also gone from first-to-third on a walk when the Dodgers failed to cover third base because of an infield shift. It led to a game-tying run in the deciding fifth game of the Mets victory over the Dodgers. His homer won it two innings later.

Everything is going right for the Mets now. Curtis Granderson stole a home run away from Chris Coghlan with a leaping catch at the right-center field wall. Sunday night plate ump Tim Timmons gave rookie righty Noah Syndergaard the extra inch or two on the outside corner all night and the promising pitcher took full advantage.

Perhaps most pleasing to longtime Mets fans is the return of third baseman David Wright. Though he only has two hits so far in the playoffs, they have driven in three runs. And he did not look like a sufferer from spinal stenosis when he made a nice grab and whirling throw for a 5-3 putout Sunday night.

Closer Jeurys Familia has answered every one of manager Terry Collins’ calls. To me Familia is an "efforts" pitcher, who puts maximum exertion into every pitch. I hope Collins doesn’t go to the well too often with Familia but so far so good.

Over in the American League, the Kansas City Royals are on a similar roll. They are unbeaten since facing elimination in Game 4 of the ALDS. They scored 5 runs in the 8th inning at Houston to tie the series, won it the next day, and then the first two games of the ALCS against Toronto.

The Jays will hope that their boisterous crowd at the Rogers Centre – formerly known as the Skydome – bring them back into contention. After being shut out in the first game in Kansas City, Toronto's late season acquisition David Price was working on a one-hit shutout into the 7th inning in Saturday’s Game 2.

Miscommunication on a high pop fly between second baseman Ryan Goins and right fielder Jose Bautista opened the doors. And like against Houston, Kansas City seized the opportunity with a 5-run rally en route to a 6-3 victory.

Kansas City is the one repeat team in this year’s version of baseball’s Final Four.
I look for the defending American League champion to get back into the World Series.

With starting pitching that has been more effective than I thought – notably Edison Volquez and Johnny Cueto – and Wade Davis a rock at the back of the bullpen, the Royals look very formidable. Yet as a fan who hates to see the season end, I do hope that the Blue Jays and Cubs make these series closer.

Once the World Series does end, the parlor game of free agency begins. And this year many playoff stars are eligible for new employment of their choice. Current teams have five days to sign them before they are free to negotiate with any team.

The rather impressive list includes:
Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler
Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes
Royals left fielder Alex Gordon and second baseman Ben Zobrist
Blue Jays left-hander David Price

That’s all for now – Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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