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Reflections on Baseball Streaks & Experiencing the Kelly Rodman Memorial Summer Rivalry Classic + TCM Tips

One of the amazing aspects of a long baseball season is how the old cliche usually proves

correct:  The best teams almost always lose at least 60 and the worst teams somehow manage to win 60 (though not this year for Diamondbacks, Orioles, Pirates, and Rangers). 

 

Look at what happened to the Yankees after winning 13 in a row.  After a punchless shutout loss to the Blue Jays on Labor Day, they have lost seven out of nine. Gerrit Cole, the $341 million pitcher, will have to be the stopper and he probably can fill the role.  But the bullpen once the team strength looks shaky these days.

 

The soaring Tampa Bay Rays are not likely to be caught for the AL East crown but the Yanks still narrowly control the top wild card by two lost games over the Red Sox with the Jays only one lost game behind Boston.

 

The A's and Mariners still have a chance if they go on streaks.  They are playing each other six times so that might be difficult. 

 

In the NL, after winning 9 in a row, the Braves have lost 8 out of 12 and the Phillies are only 2 games behind them for the NL East lead.  The slumping Padres - who last month fired their accomplished pitching coach Larry Rothschild - I never like scapegoating any individual in a team sport - still have a two-game wild card lead over the Phillies and Reds with the Cards and Mets still having outside chances if they go on a winning streak.

 

I am enjoying these close end-of-year battles - even if the length of the games is getting ridiculous. Might as well savor the competition if the rumor is true that there will be even more teams eligible for playoffs in the future. lf the money from TV and "new media" is there, I fear it will happen because $$$$ makes the reigning commissioner and the owners (and most players) drool.     

 

Despite the nagging issues with MLB, nothing can kill my love of the game on the grass roots level.  So on the last Friday in August, with the Red Sox on the road, I made a trip to Fenway Park to see the Kelly Rodman Memorial Summer Rivalry Classic. 

 

Now in its 13th year, the event features high school and college players eligible for next summer's amateur draft in two seven-inning games. The idea has been the brainstorm of two experienced Northeast area scouts, the Red Sox' Ray Fagnant and the Yankees' Matt Hyde. 

 

They may work for fierce rival organizations, but they each share a genuine interest in helping future players learn correctly the basics of the game.  Over a few weekends earlier in the summer, the youngsters receive instruction and the chance to play games, culminating in the precious opportunity to compete on the hallowed diamond of Fenway.

 

A few Augusts ago I went to the Rivalry Classic the one time it was played at Yankee Stadium. I saw a rising high school senior from Arizona belt a homer in the lower right

field stands.  His name was Cody Bellinger soon a NL MVP for the Dodgers.  (Slow in his

recovery from two surgeries, he will have a chance to play in October and possibly turn his season around.)

 

I also saw in the stands a former Rivalry Classic participant following the action. His name was Mike Yastzemski, then an obscure unappreciated Orioles minor leaguer and by 2020 a contributor to the SF Giants' resurgence as they battle with the Dodgers this season to

escape the wild card sudden death game.

 

Since last year's game, the Classic has been dedicated to the memory of Kelly Rodman, a full-time Yankee area scout who died of cancer in March 2020 at the unconscionably young age of 44. No one who ever met Kelly will ever forget her. It was heartwarming if bittersweet to see her face regularly flashed on the Fenway videoboard.

 

I remember her participating one Sunday morning a few years ago as an instructor in a clinic sponsored in Newburgh, New York by The Baseball Miracles project founded by retired White Sox scout John Tumminia.  She was a bundle of energy and life-affirmation as she led

pre-teenagers through drills and sprints.

 

A star softball outfielder at Eastern Connecticut State University, the native of Wallingford, Connecticut went on to play baseball in many places around the world before she turned to baseball scouting. 

 

She coined the mantra, "Be Great, Today!" to inspire players in their daily effort to improve.  There is a T-shirt with that motto and other apparel available by contacting 

jen@thekellyrodmanmemorialfoundation.org

 

Last month at Fenway I saw some famous offspring competing.  For the Bosox squad there was Pedro Martinez, son of Hall of Famer Pedro who was there to give support along with the youngster's mother. Pedro told me that he is primarly an infielder, currently in college in Lynn, Massachusetts, though he played outfield in the second seven-inning game. 

 

For the Yankees, Carson Sabathia, a prep first baseman, looks like he is taking after his father in size and he displayed a quick power bat.  I'm kinda glad, though, that both youngsters are not trying to emulate their famous fathers on the mound.    

 

I noticed scouts from the Brewers, Pirates, Twins, and Tigers in uniform helping out in pre-game drills and providing guidance in the dugouts. Another rewarding touch was to see coaching third base for Fagnant's Bosox squad Kayla Baptista, a softball player from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. 

 

During one half-inning break, the public address announcer asked Brad Dubrowski, a Monmouth University southpaw just back from a successful summer season for Harwich in the Cape Cod Baseball League, to take a bow.   

 

I am not sure where I first heard the phrase, "Competitors and Colleagues," to describe

scouting at its most generous.  But I certainly sensed that feeling the last Friday of August in Fenway. And no doubt every season in the future.  

 

Baseball remains the hardest game to master but there is joy in competition and solace in collegiality. So it was almost fitting that the games were split - the Yankees won the first game and the Red Sox the second.

 

TIME FOR TCM TIPS: There is not a heavy dose of sports-themed films in Sept. and they will be aired late in the month. 

 

Three roller derby films will be on back-to-back-to-back on Th Sep 23 starting with "Rollerball" at 8p and "Kansas City Bomber" at 1015p. 

 

On Su Sept 26, if you haven't seen it, make a point to see "Easy Living" at 1130a. Noir master Jacques Tourneur directs Victor Mature, a LA Ram football player who a cardiologist (Jim Backus) warns has a heart condition that could jeopardize his life.

Lisabeth Scott plays the scheming wife (what else is new?), Lloyd Nolan is the Ram owner,

Lucille Ball his secy. and get ready Jack Paar is the PR guy.  I kid you not.  And some of the Rams, including Kenny Washington, play themselves.

 

Coming up on Tu Sept 28 at 8a is Burt Lancaster in "Jim Thorpe All-American". Later that day at 630p, Harold Lloyd tries his hand as college football player in the silent movie "The Freshman". I'll note these films again later this month but mark your calendars now.  

 

Even though they have added a lot of bells and whistles to the website and taken away the original music for Eddie Muller's Noir Alley series, a full list of Noir Alleys through the week before Christmas is available on the TCM website.  

 

I highly recommend Fritz Lang's "Human Desire" on Sun Sep 19 at 10A esp. for the opening scene of Glenn Ford as a railroad engineer riding his first route since his return from

the Korean War.  The viewer actually feels he/she is in the driver's seat.  The triangle that develops among Ford, Gloria Grahame, and Broderick Crawford is pretty gruesome but after all it is Noir. 

 

That's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it!  And especially in these

uncertain times, Stay Positive, Test Negative. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reflections On Another Memorable Chautauqua Experience + TCM Tips

There is nothing like time spent at the Chautauqua Institution to recharge one's batteries and affirm one's belief in life and culture.

 

During the first week of August, I taught again my Baseball and American Culture class on the venerable lovely campus in far southwestern New York State near Jamestown, the site of the National Comedy Center and the Lucy-Desi Museum. (Lucille Ball grew up in nearby Celeron and I am happy to report that since 2016 a new and far better statue of Lucy has been erected.) 

 

My Chautauqua students as always ran the gamut of backgrounds: Houston Astro and Cleveland Indian fans. Devoted lovers of college baseball. A fellow who grew up in the same building where Carl Furillo lived when he starred for Brooklyn's Boys of Summer. A woman whose grandfather played for Connie Mack's Philadelphia A's and whose mother as an infant was held in the arms of Ty Cobb. 

 

My theme this year was that despite the Black Sox scandal, baseball remained dominant through the Jazz Age, the Great Depression, World War II and the first Cold War Years. 

By the 1950s, westward expansion of the major leagues was long overdue, but an enormous wound was inflicted on New York when Walter O'Malley engineered the shift of the Dodgers and Giants to Los Angeles and San Francisco. 

 

I continue to be amazed that WESLEY Branch Rickey never spoke at Chautauqua which was founded after the Civil War as a retreat for Methodist Sunday school teacher. I guess he was too busy building farm systems in three major league cities and doing volunteer work for his alma mater Ohio Wesleyan and his fraternity Delta Tau Delta.

 

I was able to do the next best thing - show my students "The Old Ball Game," a 45-minute documentary about baseball history narrated by Rickey in 1964 a year before his death. It's readily available on YouTube.

 

I was also pleased with the student response when I showed "Elmer the Great" (1933), the second of Joe E. Brown's baseball trilogy. Produced at the height of his fame in the 1930s,  

"Elmer" was Brown's favorite among the dozens of films he made in Hollywood.

 

No wonder. He gets to display his skills as a lefthanded-hitting second baseman that were good enough in his earlier days to attract pro scouts.

 

He brings a tenderness to Elmer Kane that is a needed balance to his other side, the egomaniacal athlete.  "Elmer" was based on Ring Lardner's "Hurry Kane" as was 1935's "Alibi Ike," the third of the baseball trilogy that had young Olivia deHavilland as Brown's love interest and Bill Frawley (the future Fred Mertz in "I Love Lucy") as Brown's manager. ("Fireman, Save My Child," the first in the trilogy, is now also available on DVD.) 

 

As far as seeing live baseball in the Chautauqua area, I missed by one day seeing the Jamestown Tarp Skunks in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League playoffs.  A huge crowd of 1400 saw the Skunks fall one run short of advancing to the final round but its first year of competition was a huge success. 

 

I didn't have easy access to television during my blissful week in Chautauqua, but I did follow at times on my computer the exploits of the plucky underdogs Team Israel and Team USA in the Olympics.  Though Team Israel won only one game in five, they fought valiantly and will savor the experience forever.  

 

It must be noted that the loss of their final game was excruciating.  International rules call for not one "ghost runner" in extra innings but TWO.  With runners on first and second in the bottom of the 10th against South Korea, a relief pitcher threw just two pitches, each one hitting a batter and thus ending Team israel's inspired run.

 

Team USA surprised the pundits by getting all the way to the final game against host Japan.  But in a score identical to the women's softball loss to the Japanese, 2-0, the Americans lost.  Again with nothing to be ashamed of.  

 

The Woerioles have plenty to be ashamed of but I won't go there. Too much to love about life in the dog days of August.  Wide-open race in NL East as Mets fall behind Braves and Phillies.  Second wild-card up for grabs as Padres falter and Reds fitfully make their move.

 

Yankees still very much alive despite gut-wrenching losses.  Games against the Red Sox starting Tu Aug 17 will be important. Oakland still with chance to catch Houston in AL West and holding second wild card at the moment. 

 

Can't stop talking about the Chautauqua experience so here's some more comments.  

The lecture and musical offerings were as always bountiful.

 

My favorite morning lecture was delivered by world-renowned primatologist Frans de Waal, a leader in his field, an entertaining lecturer, and the author of the current book, "Mama's Last Hug" and earlier "Chimpanzee Politics."

 

The Chautauqua Opera Company performed two memorable operas.  "Scalia and Ginsburg," Derrick Wang's witty and incisive one-hour creation, made its debut in 2013 when both late Supreme Court justices and opera lovers were able to attend.  

 

Mezzo-soprano Kelly Guerra as RBG and Chauncey Parker as Scalia inhabited their roles with aplomb. As did the crucial third character, Michael Colman as the Commentator.  I think the role was conceived as a homage to the ominous Commandant in Mozart's "Don Giovanni".

  

"As the 'Cosi' Crumbles," the debut opera, is a humorous examination of what standard opera would look like if the voices were shifted. Although I was disappointed that the beautiful trio, "May the Winds Be Gentle," from Mozart's "Cosi Fan Tutte," was not part of the production, I thoroughly enjoyed the idea of singers getting the chance singing arias written for different voices.  

 

The selections from "Madame Butterfly" were particularly moving. Burly stentorian baritone Yazid Gray's rendition of "Cara Nome" from "Rigoletto" was memorable. A bluesy back beat in the final measures added to the fun and frolic.  

 

After singing Scalia, Chauncey Parker directed "Cosi Crumbles". Kelly Guerra and Michael Colman were again in the cast along with spectacular soprano Chasiti Lashay, tenor Jared Esquerra and baritone Yazid Gray.  

 

Overall director Cara Consilvio has put together an impressive staff. Steven Osgood conducted both operas and gave informative introductions. The original music for "Cosi Crumbles" was created by Jasmine Barnes, Sage Bond, and Frances Pollock.

 

Pollock's seven-minute piece, "God is Dead, Schoenberg Is Dead, But Love Will Come," was premiered with the excellent Chautauqua Orchestra conducted by Rossen Milanov on Thursday night August 5.  She mixes effectively mournful strains composed during the height of the pandemic with fragments of "Smile," the song created by Charlie Chaplin for his classic 1936 film "Modern Times."   

 

Before I close, here are some tips for TCM viewing in the weeks while Eddie Muller's Noir Alley is off for "Summer of Stars" programming. He returns on Sep 5 - see below. 

 

There are not many films with sports themes remaining in August but bearing mention are:

W Aug 18 530p "The Natural" (1984) based on the Bernard Malamud story with Robert Redford, Kim Basinger and Glenn Close.

 

Sa Aug 21 2p "Woman of the Year" (1942), the first Tracy-Hepburn collaboration with Spencer as a sportswriter and Katherine as world-traveling journalist (inspired by Dorothy Thompson)

 

For Noir devotees and esp. Gloria Grahame fans, catch this binge-fest!

Tu Aug 17 4p "Odds Against Tomorrow" (1959, set on location in NYC and Hudson NY)

6p "Human Desire" (1954 with Glenn Ford, Broderick Crawford, dir. by Fritz Lang)

8p "The Big Heat" (1953 with G.Ford, Jocelyn Brando - Marlon's sister -, dir. by Lang)

10p "In A Lonely Place" (1950, Bogart as temperamental writer, Frank Lovejoy/Jeff Donnell as his friends, Grahame in key substantial role as Bogie's girlfriend - dir. by Nicholas Ray).

 

Su Aug 22 1245p "Witness for the Prosecution" (1957) twists galore in this classic based on Agatha Christie story and directed by Billy Wilder.  With Marlene Dietrich, Charles Laughton, Tyrone Power, that suave sinister character actor Henry Daniell, and others. 

 

8p "Blood and Sand" (1941) T. Power returns and has to deal with Linda Darnell and Rita Hayworth - it's a hard job but someone had to do it.  Dir. Reuben Mamoulian of NY stage.

 

M Aug 23 12:15a  Power again as a carnival performer in "Nightmare Alley" (1947)

945a "At The Circus" (1939) the Marx Brothers in not one of their best but Eve Arden is in it

 

W Aug 25  Jane Wyman Day has 4p Hitchcock's "Stage Fright" (1958)

8p "Johnny Belinda" (1948) Wyman's Oscar

 

Tu Aug 26 10p "The Mating Game" (1959) with Debbie Reynolds and Tony Randall.  Probably Paul Douglas's last film. He had signed for Wilder's "Apartment" but died and Fred MacMurray got the role as the louse. 

 

F Aug 27 215a  "Night Song" (1947) Dana Andrews as blind concert pianist, Merle Oberon pretends to be blind to get close to him.  Hoagy Carmichael/Artur Rubinstein perform.

 

Sa Aug 28  late 1960s shoot-em-ups for the Vietnam era starring Lee Marvin and others

8p "Point Blank" dir. John Boorman with Angie Dickinson and post-Bat Guano Keenan Wynn

10p "The Professionals" dir. Richard Brooks

 

Sun Aug 29  3:45p  Hitchcock's "Gaslight" with I. Bergman/G. Peck/Ch. Boyer

6p "Casblanca" (1943)

 

M Aug 30 James Cagney Day incl. 12N "Midsummer Night's Dream" (1935) with cast of

stars including Mickey Rooney as Puck, Olivia DeHavilland, and Joe E Brown stealing show as Flute

4p "White Heat" (1949) the post-World War II Cagney gangster.  In prison dining scene look for Jim Thorpe as an extra.

 

Tu Aug 31 8p "Best Years of Our Lives" (1946) - still hard not to cry and sigh at this one 

Th Sep 2 8p "The Comic" Carl Reiner directs Dick Van Dyke, Michele Lee, Mickey Rooney

 

Su Sep 5 12M, repeated at 10A - return of Noir Alley - Robert Preston in "Cloudburst" (1952)

 

That's all for now.  As always, take it easy but take it, and please: 

STAY POSITIVE, TEST NEGATIVE

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