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Adventures in Grass Roots Summer Baseball

The dog days of summer may have started a little early in the Northeast U.S. The first heat wave has arrived but hopefully it won't last more than a week.

I always tell people up here that if you lived in Texas and other parts of the Southwest
you face months of steamy weather where the temperature may not go below 100 even at night. Air-conditioning becomes a must, though it is an unnatural way to live IMHO.

I got my first taste of the New England College Baseball League on a warm Tuesday night July 18. The visiting Mystic Schooners held off the Danbury Westerners in a wild 17-15 affair.

A hitting star for Danbury was first baseman Griffin Dey from Yale who belted two HR and had six RBI. He did commit two errors. Ah baseball - the only sport where the bad and the good are ALWAYS built in.

Outfielder Giovanni Dingcong, formerly of Manhattan's Beacon HS now at St. Thomas Aquinas College, contributed two hits for the Westerners, but the power of U Santa Barbara's third baseball Tommy Jew and the rest of the Schooners proved too much.

The Westerners play in Rogers Park that adjoins a Danbury middle school in a complex of many other fields. Ticket prices are very reasonable - $5 and $3 for seniors and I think also the youngsters, and the $3 hot dog was quite good.

My mini-trip ended the next afternoon with another "pitchers' battle" at the new Dunkin' Donuts Stadium in Hartford. The home Colorado Rockies affiliate Yard Goats came from behind three times to whip the Orioles' Double A Bowie Bay Sox,

The Yard Goat is the small locomotive that connects cars to fancier trains and the Hartford locals have taken a liking to that metaphor. The franchise had to travel all last season because of delays and legal problems with the new stadium.

The new structure is well worth waiting for. The sight lines and concessions are first rate. I recommend a visit to the left field corner where you can get a great view of the entire field. The nearby barbecue is worth tasting, too.

The foul lines are only 325 feet from home plate and the left field power alley is a ridiculously short 362 feet. Center field is only 392 away and the ball was flying out on this steamy summer afternoon.

Rockies prospect Drew Weeks blasted two key home runs in the Yard Goats' come-from-behind win. Reliever Matt Pierpont got the win by silencing the Bay Sox hot bats for two innings.

That's all for this edition - here's hoping you stay cool and keep rooting for your team(s) and always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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The O's Offer A Glimmer of Hope + Assorted Miscellany at All-Star Break

The Orioles wound up the first half of the season - actually their first 88 games - with two wins on the road at Minnesota. It brought their record to 42-46, four under .500.

Hardly cause for hand-stands but it did provide a much needed boost after losing five in a row - three straight at Milwaukee to the improving Brewers and the first two in Minneapolis.

Manny Machado’s bat finally came alive this weekend - his batting average has languished in the low .200s for most of the season. For him to finish above .250 will be a quite achievement in 2017.

Adam Jones contributed two home runs in the Sunday finale, getting him out of a HR-RBI rut that seemed stuck forever at 14-35. I know modern analytics pooh-poohs batting average and RBI but it does reveal something about how a player's season has unfolded.

Oriole starting pitching remains historically bad. It was wishful thinking to expect young Dylan Bundy in his first full season as a starter to emerge as the ace. But as long as he is healthy, he looks like a keeper. Hard to say the same about any of the other starters.

Kevin Gausman, first-round pick and fourth in the country in 2011, continues to be the the biggest mystery. He looked like he had turned the corner in the last half of 2016. Even when he didn’t win - and he does have a sub W-L record for his career - he seemed to get out of jams and keep his team close.

Not in 2017 and the big leads he has blown boggle the imagination. It makes Oriole fans welcome the All-Star break. Anxiety will ramp up when he starts the second half against the Cubs at home on Friday July 14 - Bastille Day I hope for the home team not the visitors.

Let’s turn to the positive news. Zach Britton is back in the bullpen and he looked like himself finishing off Sunday’s game with a 1-2-3 inning - two ground balls and a strikeout. It helped that he had a six-run lead but it is hard to overestimate what his loss for most of this season has meant to the Orioles.

I have always believed that a standout closer as well as a peerless ace can be a league MVP. He not only brings confidence to his team when he is out there. Equally important his specter at the end of a game added pressure on the opposition to score early and often.

The bullpen may be the only area of strength the Orioles can use for trading chips before the July 31 deadline. That and Manny Machado who might not re-sign when he becomes a free agent after the 2018 season.

It occurred to me that Darren O’Day, one of my favorite O’s (who by the way is of Polish descent not Irish - the family name is Odajowski), almost signed with the Washington Nats when he was a free agent. With the bullpen so obviously in need of upgrade down the turnpike, that might be a fit.

It says here, though, that the Orioles shouldn’t make hasty moves this month just to secure a wild card playoff spot. They need a major overhaul of the pitching staff and more speed in the lineup. That will take time and better scouting and player development.

And Now For Something (Almost) Completely Different:
**Have you noticed that the tarp at Wrigley Field now promotes Reynolds Wrap? I hope the fabric is not made of tin foil.

**Kudos to the Milwaukee Brewers for using again their Mb cap logo that is designed to look like a baseball glove. I rank it up there with the late lamented Montreal Expo cap.

The Brewers are doing quite well in the standings, leading the Cubs by four games in the lost column. Their pitching and defense need upgrades but what team doesn’t except maybe Houston and LA Dodgers.

**Three cheers to Zach Granite who made it into the big leagues with the Twins in Saturday’s game against the Orioles. A 2013 14th round draft pick from Seton Hall U in S Orange NJ, the Staten Island native is still looking for his first hit though his at-bats have been impressive. He made a great highlight-reel catch on Manny Machado's drive to deep center during Sunday’s game.

**R.I.P. David Vincent, 67, a renowned SABR member who compiled an exhaustive log of home runs throughout baseball history. He was dubbed The Sultan of Swat Stats.

Among Vincent's delicious details were his discovery that Tigers 2011 teammates in Juan Encarnacion and Frank Catalanotto were the longest-named players ever to hit back-to-back home runs.

I only lament that too bad Jarrod Saltamacchia and Billy Grabarkewitz were not also in the lineup that day. And wouldn't it have been great if William Vanlandingham threw the gopher balls?

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