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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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How 13-22 Might Be More Hopeful Than 22-10 & Columbia Returns to Ivy League Baseball Playoffs (slightly revised)

On the first Saturday night of May on Star Wars Night at Camden Yards, struggling Dylan Bundy threw the best game of his career.  He pitched into the 8th inning to lead the Orioles to a 3-0 victory over the first place Tampa Bay Rays.

 
Last night (Mon May 6) rookie southpaw John Means contributed a similarly deep outing in a 4-1 victory over the Red Sox. Though my Birds seem consigned to permanent basement residence in  the AL East, they are now 13-22 and on a two-game winning streak.  Whoopee! and I am not being sarcastic.  

 
Two years ago harboring dreams of contention, the Orioles started 22-10 before reality set in.  They wound up 2017 under .500 setting the stage for the disastrous 47-115 of 2018.     

 
Allow me to note some cautiously hopeful signs for 2019.

 

**The overall defense is improved.

**Some decent offense has been provided (and good defense) by Blue Jays castoff outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. and young veteran Trey Mancini (gamely playing right field these days though better suited for first base). 

**Chris Davis is no longer an automatic out but certainly not yet a consistent threat.

**Rookie manager Brandon Hyde has the team playing hard if not always well or smart. 


Any solid hope will depend on the pitching staff.  Much has been expected of Dylan Bundy once a top pick in the draft.  His latest efforts have been encouraging.

 

Nothing was expected of John Means.  "I was never a prospect," he says, but he developed four pitches during his five-year minor league apprenticeship. So far he is rising to the occasion at the major league level.

 

A third starter veteran Andrew Cashner looks like he can provide five or six innings most of the time. Don't ask about where other starters will come from or what the bullpen will look like. Converted shortstop Mychal Givens has closer potential but hasn't shown consistency.

 

Repeat after me class - "If consistency were a place, it would be lightly populated." Don't know who coined the phrase but you can quote me.

 
One thing I've learned in nearly 70 years of intense baseball watching is that won-lost records don't mean much until at least Memorial Day weekend. In the 24/7/365 frenzied mass media world we live in today, it is a good point to remember. 

 
Good examples:  The once high-flying Seattle Mariners now limp towards .500 or worse.

The early promise of the Mets has sunk along with a record now below .500.


Turning to the much shorter season of college baseball, Columbia on Saturday May 4th earned its ticket into the Ivy League Championship Series with a 4-0 shutout in Philadelphia over perennial power Penn. 

 
Needing just one victory to make the playoffs, the Lions had lost four in a row. Gone was the hope of hosting the championship series that will now open at Harvard on Sa May 18.

 
The Lions faced elimination in Saturday's second game after a tough 5-2 loss in the first game when Penn got four runs in the bottom of the 8th. The Quakers had won a similar Winner Take All game two years ago. 

 
Short memories are so essential for baseball success. So senior righthander Ethan Abrams pitched shutout ball into the seventh inning and junior southpaw Leo Pollack earned the save in a 4-0 win. Junior catcher Liam McGill delivered two RBI, a single in the first and a huge insurance HR in the eighth.  

 

It's been quite a run for the Lions under coach Brett Boretti now in his 14th season.  A win over Harvard in two weeks will mean the fifth Ivy League title in the last seven seasons for the native of the North Shore of Boston. Though he still roots for all New England pro teams, there is no doubt that proud alums and all fans of the Columbia Light Blue and White feel that he is the answer to the question posed in the great school fight song, "Who owns New York?" 

 
Harvard will provide stiff competition for Columbia as they seek to repeat their thrilling series win two weeks ago. They have a deep pitching staff and a formidable one-two punch  in senior first baseman Patrick McColl, in the running for the Golden Spikes award as college player of year, and junior right fielder Jake Suddleson.

 
In case of a split on Saturday May 18, there will be a winner take all game on May 19. Games can be seen on the paying service ESPN+ but this is a matchup I must see in person.

You'll read about it and other college baseball matchups in this area in future posts. 

 

There are at least two college tourneys in the NYC area before Memorial Day: Fordham's Rose Hill campus in the Bronx will host the Atlantic 10 tournament May 22-25. On the same days the MAAC will have their tourney at the Yankees' Staten Island ballpark.

 

Coming up in early June will be the PSAL high school championship game. More info on these matchups in the next post.

 

The NYC PSAL has been using wooden bats for several years now. Colleges still use composite bats. I don't like their ping sound any more than baseball purists do, but if you want to see baseball with plenty of hustle and stress on fundamentals, check out the college game.  


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

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