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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.
Always Put The Team First

That’s all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it.
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The Blessed Return of Baseball 2014

The weather is still chilly in the Northeast but the first ten days of the baseball season have been most welcome. Already a couple of “surprise teams” have emerged – the Milwaukee Brewers who spoiled the world champion Red Sox home opener and swept them in a weekend series. They continued their pounding in Philadelphia.

And the Seattle Mariners are getting good pitching from surprise sources as two arms they are counting on, the veteran Iwajima and rookie Tajuan Walker, heal from what they hope are minor injuries. Heralded free agent Robinson Cano is off to a solid start and has obviously deepened their lineup.

Don’t make World Series ticket orders yet in the state of Washington and Wisconsin. But a good start is almost always essential to a good season.

My Orioles limped into Yankee Stadium with losses in their first two series of the year – to last year’s World Series winner Red Sox and one of this year’s favorites the Tigers. They fell to 2-5 after losing the Yankees home opener, 4-2, but evened the series with a resounding 14-5 shellacking of the Bronx Bombers. Most important, they won the rubber match of the series with a thrilling 5-4 victory.

So as they enjoy an off day on Thursday April 10, their record stands at 4-5 tied with the Yankees. No team is running away with any division so far but sadly Arizona and Houston and San Diego and the Cubs are in danger of getting buried way below .500.

Of course 150 games are still to be played but no team wants to spend the first few weeks of the season trying to get to and then over .500.

On a rainy last Saturday of the month, I took a trolley ride to baseball graves in Brooklyn’s renowned Green-Wood Cemetery. I thought I was entering Westminster Abbey when I walked under the majestic arch of a cemetery that dates back to 1838.

I knew Henry Chadwick, the so-called “Father of Baseball” and inventor of the box score, was buried there as well as noted personages like composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein. I didn’t realize that Louis Gottschalk (1829-1869), the brilliant composer-pianist who anticipated ragtime music decades ahead of time, was also buried there.

Other baseball notables buried at Green-Wood are Dodgers owner Charles Ebbets and Jim Creighton, baseball’s first spectacular pitcher who died in 1864 at the terribly premature age of 21. He suffered severe internal injuries probably because of the tortuous movements involved in his pitching motion.

At the end of our tour, guide Jeff Richman left us with the witty one-liner, “Come visit again while you can still leave.” I intend to do so on Tuesday afternoon April 15 when restorations to Jim Creighton’s impressive tombstone will be made. The ceremony will be from 1-3p and it is free. But you must register at the Green-Wood.com website.

Earlier in March I attended the 21st annual NINE Baseball Magazine conference in Phoenix, Arizona. Renowned baseball architect and stadium renovator Janet Marie Smith delivered an outstanding opening night address on her experiences from Camden Yards and Atlanta’s Turner Stadium to renovating Fenway and now Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

Virtually all of the 20 minute presentations during the conference were stimulating. Among my favorites were Larry Gerlach’s sensitive survey of Norman Rockwell’s baseball paintings, Lyle Spatz’s penetrating look at “Dixie Walker’s America,” and Steve Treder’s homage to the late colorful outfielder Leon Wagner.

The following weekend I undertook my first journey to Austin, Texas where I rooted for my Columbia Lions against the Texas Longhorns at Disch-Falk Stadium. The big ballpark, with power alleys larger than any major league ballpark, is named after two former Longhorn coaches - one of them Bibb Falk hit over .300 in his 10-year career after replacing banned Shoeless Joe Jackson in the White Sox outfield.

The Longhorns swept the three-game series but the first two games were competitive. Always helps to play the best if you want to be the best. Columbia was picked by “Baseball America” to repeat as Ivy League champions. But I know that the hardest thing in sports is to repeat a great season.

As the short Ivy League season heads to its climax in the next three weekends of April, Columbia trails the undefeated University of Pennsylvania by three games in the Gehrig Division. The other surprise team in the league is Yale that leads the Rolfe Division with a 5-3 log. The wins include a sweep of Columbia on the road.

The Ivy season is a very short one - only 20 league games. Columbia’s margin for error now is very small. They do have four games against Penn at the end of the month but it would behoove them to cut the margin before those contests.

That’s all for now. Enjoy the coming of full-fledged spring and the full-fledged baseball season on any level. Nothing like it!

And always remember to Take It Easy But Take It!
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