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My Awards for 2015: Coping with the No-Baseball Blues #5

Winter has arrived though New Yorkers are disbelieving. Christmas Eve and
Christmas Day will set record highs in the high 60s-even low 70s.
Unfortunately, it is rainy and we may miss out on both a white Christmas and
a sunny golden Christmas.

But be of good cheer – the days will slowly get longer and longer. Come mid-February “pitchers and catchers will be reporting to spring training,” still the greatest sentence in the English language. Even with the insane amount of money being thrown at players of fair-to-middling talent.

The Orioles are getting resigned to lose streaky slugger/good athlete Chris Davis to free agency. The team took off the table a reported offer of over $150 million for six or seven years. No other team has stepped forward in the bidding, but agent Scott Boras is rightly convinced that some panicked owner will step forward to up the ante for Davis. Without a salary cap or some kind of legal collusion, the salaries will keep going up in the off-season paradise (for players and agents) of free agency.

I was recently asked by Robin Valetutto, personable host of the Saturday noontime “Sports Angel” talk show on KVCE 1160 AM Radio in Dallas, Texas, for my sports highs and lows of calendar 2015.

Let me begin by disagreeing with Sports Illustrated’s choice of Serena Williams as Sports Person of the Year. Not that the tennis star didn’t have a fine year but it ended with a loss in the U.S. Open semi-finals. That would blemish her year for me.

If I had a vote on the matter, I would have given the nod to Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors. Not only did the Oakland-based basketball juggernaut win the NBA title in June over Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the Warriors started this 2015-16 season with an unprecedented 24 game winning streak.

My close second would have been golfer Jordan Spieth, who at age 23 won the Masters and the U.S. Open in sequence in 2015. He also came very close to winning the British Open. He is from an athletic and so far happily grounded family that includes his younger brother Steven, a guard-forward starter for Brown University’s basketball team in Providence, Rhode Island.

I also tip my cap to the Kansas City Royals for their aggressive style of baseball that resulted in their first World Series title since 1985 and the second overall in their history dating back only to 1969.

I don’t think many teams can duplicate their combination of speed and opportunism – honed by a patient intelligent farm system - but it is fun to watch a team hustling all the time and ready to pounce on an opponent’s weakness.

As for lows, I think Seattle's Russell Wilson trying a pass on second down near New England's goal line at the end of February's Super Bowl has to be the biggest boner.

I am happy though that Wilson, the former college QB for North Carolina State's Wolfpack and the Wisconsin Badgers, has the Seahawks ready to make it a run at a third straight Super Bowl appearance.

A runner-up for gaffe has to be Michigan's punting rugby-style when even a no-gain run would have virtually assured a Wolverines victory over arch-rival Michigan State.

But kudos to the Spartans who are enjoying great years in football and basketball and former Spartan QB Kirk Cousins has the Redskins on the verge of the NFL playoffs.

Meanwhile Bo Ryan's abrupt resignation as Badger basketball coach has left Wisconsin faithful wondering about the future of the program. More on this subject next month as we'll see if under Ryan's desired successor Greg Gard the Badgers can remain respectable in the Big Ten race.

That’s all for now – Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all, and back to you by the second week of January.

Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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Fasten Your Seat Belts: Looks Like We're In For A Roller Coaster MLB Season

The immortal Mets broadcaster Bob Murphy – the man who pronounced “line drive” as “li-on” drive and chortled after a victory about a “happy recap”
– loved to use the phrase “fasten your seat belts” to build up the tense late moments in a game.

With the MLB season less than a month old, it looks like the whole year will be a“Fasten Your Seat Belts” kind of year.
I noted in my last post that the one thing any baseball team must avoid in the long long regular season is not to get buried in April.
The booby prize in 2014 must go so far to the Arizona Diamondbacks who are already double-digit games under .500.

It didn’t help that Arizona opened its season in Australia with two losses to the Dodgers.
LA didn’t exactly enjoy that trip because their ace defending-Cy Young award winner
Clayton Kershaw evidently hurt his back on the return flight and hasn’t pitched since (but is due back soon).
It looks like the Dodgers and the SF Giants will engage in a year-long battle for NL West supremacy.
Colorado hovers around the .500 mark after a bad start.

And thanks to the truly woeful Cubs (yet again) Arizona won a couple in Chicago
as the Windy City nine celebrated the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field.
How sadly fitting that the Cubs blew a 3-run 9th inning lead on the celebratory day.

Better news in the NL Central comes from baseball’s surprise team, the Milwaukee Brewers who in the early going soared 10 games over .500.
After an unconscionably long road trip, the defending NL champion Cardinals will have some ground to make up.

In the AL West, the Seattle Mariners turned a solid start into a 8-game losing streak and are looking up at division leaders Texas and Oakland.
Seattle and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim could still be heard from. Every team could contend in this division except the Houston Astros
who are doomed to the basement in another year of rebuilding and falling attendance.

In the division I know the best and obsess about the most, the AL East is off to a predictably bruising start.
Every team, including Toronto whose cagey southpaw Mark Buehrle is already 4-0, could finish first or last.
The Tampa Bay Rays will have to come up with new starters - usually the strength of their team - because
of the season-ending injury to Matt Moore and long layoffs of Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson.

My Orioles managed to split a four-game series in Boston though came close to doing something that even their woeful lineal descendant
St. Louis Browns never accomplished: losing five and six-run leads in back-to-back games.
I know, it is a ridiculous stat but somewhat of an amusing if macabre one.

Fortunately the Birds held on to win the Patriots Day morning clash on Boston Marathon Monday, 7-6. Two things are crystal clear in the early going:
1) Shaky Oriole starters must get into at least the seventh inning more often or the bullpen will be worn out by Memorial Day.
2) The return of Manny Machado to fortify the lineup and the defense must happen soon (early May the target). But I hope and pray
that he and the team are first confident about the condition of his surgically repaired knee.

The Yankees with their $400 million in free agent expenditures - outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann,
and Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka all playing well - look like a team to beat. And it will be a pleasure to do that as the year unfolds.

Will be seeing the Orioles in early May in Minnesota, my first trip to the new Target Field. One of the feel-good stories of the young season is
the emergence of Chris Colabello as a huge run producer in the Twins lineup. Have to wish the best (except against the Orioles) for a player
like Colabello who was signed out of an independentleague.

The weekend before I'm heading for the climactic pair of doubleheaders between my alma mater Columbia and Penn.
They are the two best teams in the 2014 Ivy League but only one will qualify for the league championship series
and the right to play in the NCAA tournament that begins in late May.

The prize at the end is the 12-day double-elimination College World Series in Omaha in mid-June.
As a lover of acronyms, let me close today with what Omaha means to eager college players.
Opportunity
Makeup
Attitude
Hustle
Always Put The Team First

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