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Army, Fordham, and Stony Brook To Carry New York-area Banner Into College Baseball Regionals

Are you getting fed up with the epidemic of strikeouts in Major League Baseball?  For the second season in a row, it looks like a certainty that whiffs will eclipse wallops in The Show.  It disturbs me no end that doubles and singles are way down and triples nearly non-existent, but there is an alternative.

 

Try watching baseball on the college and high school levels. The pitchers are not yet fully developed or never will reach the mid-to-high 90 mph level. The hitters are not yet launch angle-crazy (though I fear a trend heading in that unfortunate direction).

 

So here's a salute to three New York area teams who will begin double-elimination regional play this weekend with a shot, admittedly a long-shot, at the College World Series starting in Omaha on June 15.

 
Last Sunday Fordham won the Atlantic Ten title at a conference tournament held on their Rose Hill campus in the Bronx.  They will open play against the host Big 12 conference winner West Virginia in Morgantown. Duke and Texas A & M are also in the same regional.

 
I didn't get to see the Rams play, but did watch the Davidson Wildcats advance with a victory over the Richmond Spiders coached by former major leaguer Tracy Woodson and with graduate transfer infielder Tyler Plantier, son of former Red Sox outfielder Phil.  (Yes, folks, Davidson in western North Carolina and the Dayton Flyers, runners-up to Fordham, are part of the Atlantic Ten which actually has 14 members.) 

 

Fordham has a proud baseball history that is immortalized with plaques that greet you as you enter Houlihan Park adjoining the football stadium. The list includes two early 20th century Hall of Famers, pitcher Ed Walsh ("the only man who could strut sitting down," in Chicago sportswriter Charlie Dryden's immortal phrase) and Frank "The Fordham Flash" Frisch who starred for both John McGraw's NY Giants and Branch Rickey's Gashouse Gang St. Louis Cardinals.

 
There is also post-Civil War star Esteban "Steve" Bellan, who helped to popularize baseball in his native Cuba; legendary broadcaster Vin Scully; sports and nature writer John Kieran (first "Sports of the NY Times" columnist); and Walter O'Malley, the man who moved the Brooklyn Dodgers to LA.  (I hated to write those last words but they are a part of baseball's rich if sometimes unpleasant history.)

 

Here's to a second New York-area champion:  Stony Brook, winners of the America East title, who will travel to Baton Rouge to face perennial contender LSU.  Seven years ago in 2012, Stony Brook shocked the college baseball world by winning the super-regional at LSU and heading to the College World Series.

 
In one of the greater sporting gestures I can recall, the ardent college baseball fans at LSU insisted that the conquering Sea Wolves run a victory lap around their ballpark.  Also in the Baton Rouge regional will be Arizona State, hoping to revive its storied college baseball history, and Southern Mississippi.


Army is the third NY team to make the tourney.  The West Point cadets will play host Texas Tech in a regional including Dallas Baptist and former CWS champion Florida.

 

Harvard, conquerors of defending champion Columbia in a thrilling playoff in Cambridge two weekends ago, will represent the Ivy League in Oklahoma City against host Oklahoma State.  Nebraska and Connecticut will also vie for the SuperRegional to be played the first full weekend in June at sites TBA.

 
A tip of the cap to Harvard's reserve infielder Evan Owolo who before the final playoff game in Cambridge played on solo violin one of the most beautiful National Anthems I've ever heard.  I think he played it as the notes were originally written and it took only 1 minute and 17 seconds.

 

Columbia fought Harvard valiantly.  Senior righthanders Josh Simpson and Ethan Abrams pitched brilliant baseball and ended their college careers on a high note.  But Harvard got great performances, too. 

 

Hunter Bigge pitched and batted the Crimson to a complete game victory in the first tussle.  And Patrick McColl's big bat couldn't be contained in the dramatic extra-inning clincher. 

 

One final note on amateur baseball - the New York PSAL high school semi-finals are set.  Tomorrow - Friday May 31 at 330p - Manhattan's Beacon travels to Brooklyn powerhouse Grand Street Campus (alma mater of Yankees reliever Dellin Betances).

Meanwhile two-time defending champion Bronx's Monroe journeys to upper Manhattan to play Gregorio Luperon. 

 
Each series is a best-of-three.  Winners play at Yankee Stadium on Wed June 12 at 7p.

Teams from smaller schools play their finals at 1p and 4p on that Wed.

 
So until next month when we may speculate on the results of Mon Jun 3's MLB amateur free agent, always remember:  Take it easy but take it!    

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NINE Magazine Baseball Conference Scores A Ten In Phoenix

The 25th annual conference of NINE Baseball Magazine was a rousing success in Phoenix last week. I find it hard to believe that it has been ten years since I delivered the keynote address, “Whatever Happened To The Marvelous Importance of the Unimportant?”

I still like the title and the idea - that baseball should be entertaining and fun, not a matter of life and death, not a vehicle for obtaining and showing off great wealth and celebrity. I’m a realist, though. In an increasingly violent and insecure world, baseball and almost all sports remain a high-growth industry.

One of the charms of the NINE conference has been there are no simultaneous panels, everyone can hear each other’s presentations without missing any one paper. Too many highlights to mention them all but here are a few:

**The opening night talk by Felipe Alou, the first Dominican star in major league baseball history. He talked about his new book from U of Nebraska Press, “Alou: A Baseball Journey,” with an introduction by Pedro Martinez. Collaborator/sportswriter Peter Kerasotis has captured well the rags-to-riches story of a man who is known to speak in parables.

**California Whittier College professor Charles S. Adams’s wry look filled with gallows humor at Seattle Mariners’ history and their lack of “an adequate myth”.

**Larry Baldassaro’s probing and good-natured look at Italian-American baseball players since the 1930s.

**Ed Edmonds and Frank Houdek's take on the California state law that actress Olivia deHavilland utilized to get out of her long-term movie studio contract and how it might apply to baseball players, perhaps especially Mike Trout of the Angels.
(Still feisty at 101, DeHavilland - who made her screen debut at age 19 opposite Joe E Brown in "Alibi Ike" (1935) - recently sued to prevent unauthorized use of her personage in a current movie.)

There was no keynote at NINE this year because Jane Leavy begged out for a variety of reasons. It turned out that the closing panel “Baseball and the West” sufficed very nicely as an alternative.

It featured three winners of the SABR Seymour medal for the best book of the given year - latest winner Jerald Podair for “City of Light” about the building of Dodger Stadium, Andy McCue for his monumental bio of Walter O’Malley “Mover and Shaker” and yours truly for my “Branch Rickey: Baseball’s Ferocious Gentleman”.

The fourth member of the panel was Rob Garratt, emeritus professor of Irish-American literature at the University of Puget Sound outside Seattle, whose history of the SF Giants “Home Team” was runner-up to Podair. Rob made the good point that Horace Stoneham doesn’t get enough credit for actually making up his mind to leave NY long before O’Malley did.

If I had grown up in Brooklyn, I doubt I could have had the dispassion to be part of this panel. When Branch Rickey was forced out of Brooklyn by Walter O'Malley after the 1950 season, the road was clear for an ultimate relocation. Banished to Pittsburgh, Rickey said many times until his death in 1965 he never would have moved the team.

I was a New York Giants fan but their players didn’t live in Harlem where the Polo Grounds was located. So the loss of the Jints of Willie Mays and company wasn’t felt as acutely as the departure from Flatbush of the Dodgers, many of whom made their homes in Brooklyn.

I was pleased that the evening was filled with reason and passion on all sides including very informed questions from the audience of around 80 people.
Baseball certainly needed to open up to the west coast by the 1950s. I still feel it was tragic that the cost of progress was the loss to New York of the Giants-Dodgers rivalry.

So I’m glad I was able to recite the lyrics from folk singer/social activist Dan Bern’s 2002 classic, “If The Dodgers Had Stayed In Brooklyn.” It opens:
“If the Dodgers had stayed in Brooklyn maybe things would be different today/
Maybe John F. Kennedy would have been president til 1968 . . .”

Another verse begins:
"If the Dodgers had stayed in Brooklyn maybe Watergate would be some obscure hotel/Tienamen [sic] square would be a square & Vietnam a vacation spot that travel agencies would try to sell . . . " (Of course those agencies are selling trips to Vietnam these days but that as they say is another story.)

Before I leave, I must mention that one of the long-time benefits of NINE attendance is “field research” as conference founder Bill Kirwin used to call going to spring training games. The must-see spot in Arizona spring training is the Talking Stick Salt River Fields complex not far from Scottsdale.

We saw the Milwaukee Brewers visit the Colorado Rockies (Colorado shares the complex with the Arizona Diamondbacks). Former Oriole farmhand Zach Davies looked sharp for the Brew Crew in his two innings though he did give up a solo home run. (Don’t get me started on how my team has been foolhardy in trading promising arms with little in return.)

What separates Salt River from other Arizona facilities is the quality of the concessions and the wide open spaces. They even provide free sun screen behind the center field scoreboard. Didn’t need much because it was somewhat chilly during my stay.

At a sparsely attended game at Mesa's HoHoKam field, where the A's now play, Willie Calhoun caught my eye when he roped a home run over the right field fence. He reminds me of a left-handed Toy Cannon, Jimmy Wynn former Astros star. Where the key player in the Yu Darvish trade plays is still a question. That's what spring training is for.

The only bummer of my trip was being unable to see the Arizona State Sun Devils play the opening game of their three-game series against Oklahoma State. The Friday Night Game is the big event in college baseball and ten NINE attendees looked forward to the evening.

However, we ran afoul of the rules at Phoenix Municipal Stadium where ASU now plays off-campus. Some of the bags and purses of a few members of our group were ruled too large. It became a perfect storm of frustration.
**We came by hotel van so no cars were available to store the offending items.
**There were no lockers available.
**We were told that clear bags were possible but we weren't season ticket holders.
Adding insult to injury, we paid for tickets but they were not refunded.

Written complaints have been filed but so far no response has been received.
I hope I have some news in the next blog. The ASU Ten of NINE will not be denied!

That's all for now as the regular season nears. So, as always, remember: Take it easy but take it!  Read More 
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