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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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Columbia-Penn Baseball Rivalry Resumes + More Thoughts on MLB So Far

“History never repeats itself exactly,” noted American historian Charles A. Beard once opined. Don’t tell that to fans of Ivy League baseball.

As the final weekend of the regular season nears, the Penn Quakers and the Columbia Lions are tied with stellar records of 14-2 atop the Gehrig Division. Just like last year. And this Saturday and Sunday, they will meet four times to determine who will qualify to meet Dartmouth, the perennial Rolfe Division winner, in a best-of-three championship series the following weekend. The survivor gets an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament beginning at the end of May.

And just like last year, it may take an extra winner-take-all game to decide the Penn-Columbia winner. Both teams feature plenty of hitting and solid pitching.

Penn features six regulars hitting over .300 with Matt McKinnon an all-Philadelphia area selection. Starter Mike Reitcheck also made the all-Philly team and the Quakers also possess lefty Ronnie Glenn who was effective last year against the Lions.

Columbia has some thunderous left-handed sluggers in seniors Gus Craig, Joe Falcone - the Iraqi-Afghan war veteran, the oldest player in Division I who blasted three home runs last weekend in the four game sweep of Cornell - and Dave Vandercook. Another lefty powerful slick-fielding first baseman, junior Nick McGuire, bats eighth in this lineup.
Last year's Ivy League batting champion Will Savage may bat seventh ahead of McGuire.

After a slow start in tough non-league games, Columbia pitching has come around led by junior righthanders George Thanopoulos and Kevin Roy. Ivy League rules mandate that the first game of each doubleheader is seven innings followed by a regular nine-inning nightcap. So it is imperative that a strong pitcher starts the first game and goes as deep as he can.

There is no attendance charge for Ivy League regular season games though there is usually a nominal charge for the championship series. Though the sound of the aluminum bat does make many a baseball purist cringe, I have become a big fan of the college game. Without interminable TV commercials between half-innings, the games move swiftly and the curious fan will be surprised at the crispness and near-professionalism of the players.

Adding spice to the Columbia-Penn rivalry is the alternation of home fields: The Saturday doubleheader will be played at Columbia’s Satow Stadium – located behind the football field up the hill off 218th Street west of Broadway - and the Sunday twinbill moves to Meiklejohn Stadium on the edge of the Penn campus near the Schuylkill River.
Batter up on both days will be 1pm.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF THE MLB SEASON
I journeyed to Citi Field on Sunday April 19 for the Matt Harvey show. Unbeknownst to the ticket buyers, the Mets star young right-hander reported in sick early in the day, but after missing more than a year for Tommy John surgery he was not going to miss a precious start.

He pitched six very efficient innings and the Mets batters helped out with a seven-run fourth inning. But trying to save the overworked bullpen, Mets manager Terry Collins let Harvey start the seventh inning. He quickly gave up three hits and a run and then disaster struck (though the Mets held on to win the game, 7-6).

First, lefty reliever Jerry Blevins got struck by a line drive on his pitching arm. He will be in a splint for six weeks and no one can accurately predict how soon he will come back. Even worse, in the bottom of the seventh inning, rapidly improving Mets catcher Travis D’Arnaud got hit on the wrist by Marlins reliever A.J. Ramos. He suffered a fracture and will be out indefinitely.

The Mets have still won eight in a row and have come from behind in many of those wins, always a good sign for a potentially contending team. They have another promising young catcher Kevin Plawecki ready to replace D’Arnaud for the near future, and with solid starters like Harvey, Jacob DeGrom and perhaps Jon Niese too, there might be regular nights and days of fun and hope in Queens this year after a long dry spell.

However, there is always something to criticize about these Mets.
(1) The elevators from the upper decks run very sporadically after the games (unlike at Yankee Stadium). And believe it or not, the one escalator I found was running up and not down at the end of the game.

(2) Their half-inning contests for fans on the big video screen need work. The most embarrassing was a hula hoop twisting "competition" between Mets center fielder Juan Lagares, recorded on video, and a not particularly athletic woman who had trouble even getting the hoop on her body let alone spinning it. Where do these ideas come from?!

Meanwhile, injuries have struck my Orioles, too. Their fine second baseman from Curacao Jonathan Schoop (pronounced “Scope”) suffered partially torn knee ligaments in a collision with Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli on Friday night at Fenway.

The early diagnosis is that Schoop might not need surgery and he is already starting rehabilitation at the Orioles fine all-year facility in Sarasota. We fans can only hope that he won’t be out for most of the season. When Schoop’s teammate Manny Machado hurt his knee last year, they also said he might not need surgery. But he did for the second time in two years. And Manny's off to a slow start with the bat and there are troubling signs that he may be taking his offensive problems out to the field which is an absolute no-no.

Schoop’s stumbling over the base leads me to pose a serious question: Is there any reason to still require the bases being attached firmly to the ground? Wouldn’t softer pads serve the same purpose? They are used in many amateur games.

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

YIBF (Yours In Baseball Forever), Teny Ymota (The Earl of NY, Your Man On The Aisle)
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