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For those of us baseball fans who grew up in the middle of the last century or earlier, the Fourth of July had special meaning. It was the approximate mid-point of the baseball season and every team had played every other team home and road twice. It was a time for stock-taking to appraise what teams realistically had a chance for the pennant.

Being fans you could always dream for a miracle run like the 1914 Boston Braves who last in the National League on the 4th of July roared to the pennant and swept the heavily favored Philadelphia A’s in the World Series. Another special quality to the Fourth of July in the old days was the (2) after the listing of probable pitchers. That meant, of course, doubleheaders that were also featured on Memorial Day (originally called Decoration Day) and Labor Day.

Today, except for rescheduled rainouts, doubleheaders have become virtually extinct. There are now 30 teams not 16 and the schedule has become to me an unsatisfying but perhaps inevitable hodge-podge. Most old-time fans regret the loss of the holiday doubleheader tradition but I doubt if many players and managers share the sentiment. They didn’t like the long days at the ballpark that usually ended in an unsatisfying split.

Earl Weaver, who managed a team known as the Orioles (not the current achingly under-achieving Woerioles), was particularly critical of the doubleheader because he hated to lose and win on the same day. I am not sure how Joe Torre feels about doubleheaders but he said when he returned to managing from the broadcast booth with the 1996 Yankees that he missed the winning and the losing, that is, the competing. I doubt if he missed winning and losing on the same day.

I penned the opening paragraphs of the current blog entry in the middle of the Orioles’ embarrassing sweep by the Tigers in Detroit. One particularly egregious line score featured 5 runs, 17 hits and 17 LOBs in an 11-inning loss after blowing a late 4-1 lead. So what do the O’s do but go down to Texas and sweep the first-place Rangers? It was their first road series win of the year and “improves” their record to 29-59.

Does it mean anything positive for the second half of the season? A fan can only hope, realizing that baseball is SO unpredictable and the victories must be savored while you can. Especially over the All-Star break with games not resuming until Thursday or Friday.

During the grind of the regular season players cannot afford to get too high after a win or too low after a loss. Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon advises, “Win hard for thirty minutes, lose hard for thirty minutes,” and then get ready for tomorrow. Al Jackson, the fine lefthanded pitcher and excellent pitching coach now advising the Mets, has a great mantra for players: “Shower away the day.” Sing if you win, cry if you lose, but once you dry off you are thinking of the next game.

With the All-Star break at hand now, maybe you can savor the last victory a little more or fret a little longer about the last loss. But remember that the last win means nothing once the second half begins because your starting pitcher provides whatever momentum exists in baseball.

Would love to believe that I no longer have to call my favorite team the Woerioles any more. And if they continue to pitch and play defense and get just enough hitting as they did in Texas this weekend, there is a chance that a corner for an improved franchise has returned. Certainly righthanders Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman turned in masterful starts and good bullpen work by Jason Berken and Alfredo Simon provided some hope for the future.

And imagine Miguel Tejada receiving three walks in a row in the last game of the sweep and hitting an insurance home run to boot! Perhaps he feels the hot breath of third base prospect Josh Bell beating down on him from the high minors. If only erratic centerfielder Adam Jones felt the same pressure! Makes a mental or physical mistake almost every game, shows remorse on the field, and then does it again.

I recall center fielder Mookie Wilson commenting that the powerhouse Mets teams of the mid-1980s began to jell in the second half of a miserable 1983 season when they built something under Frank Howard that Davey Johnson then converted in a juggernaut. In the tough American League East hope for rapid contention is probably chimerical yet if you field the ball and throw it consistently in good places, good things can happen.

Remember in baseball there is only one word you need to understand: YOUNEVERKNOW. It seems there have been more roller coaster rides this year in baseball than usual. One particular example: Red Sox sparkplug second baseman Dustin Pedroia hitting three HRs in a game at Colorado and then the next night in San Francisco breaking his foot on a foul ball in the batter box. It will keep him out until at least late July though within days Pedroia was back in the ballpark throwing the ball around from his knees! No team can win without talented grinders like Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis who is playing hurt but out there every day.

I fulfilled a lifelong ambition to attend Cape Cod baseball league games late last month around my 68th Birthday. The experience exceeded my expectations. The spirit of volunteerism is the secret to the league’s success, circuit president Judy Scarafile told me during an interview outside the press box of the Harwich Mariners.

A native of Demarest, New Jersey, Judy Walden Scarafile got her start in baseball as an official scorer on the local and college level. After graduating from the University of Connecticut she moved to the Cape in the mid-1970s where she has become a pillar of the philanthropic community. Working for the Yawkey Foundation is just one of the many impressive parts on her resume.

The president of the CCBL for the past 17 years, Scarafile filled me in on some of the fascinating history of a league that today consists of 10 teams in two divisions with each squad playing a 44-game schedule with playoffs in early August. The CCBL can trace its history back to the late 19th century but an especially important event occurred in 1965 when the league decided to restrict participation to college age players only. A close working arrangement with both Major League Baseall and the NCAA can be traced to that decision.

Twenty years later in 1985, another milestone was reached when the CCBL opted for utilizing wooden bats exclusively. Controversial at first, the decision won the favor of major league scouts eager to see how pitchers threw and batters hit when not fearful of the distortions of aluminum and other metal bats. Unfortunately, Scarafile and other observers concede that metal bats will remain the norm in college baseball because too many contracts exist from aluminum and metal bat companies like Easton and Louisville Slugger. However, wood bat summer leagues have now caught on in every part of the country.

I doubt though if any have the seductive charm of the Cape Cod Baseball League. All games are free (though a hat may be passed and contributions are welcome). The ballparks are all adjacent to high school and elementary school grounds and generally well-maintained by the local communities. Players chip in to help with many usually found raking the mounds and home plate area and hosing down the infields before games. I love this ritual of pre-game field preparation as if the water is holy and serves to wipe away the stain of yesterday’s misplays and errors. And in this age of wealthy entitled players, to see the actual athletes doing these chores is very refreshing.

The players attend colleges all over the country and the school names are announced before every at-bat. A spirit of communal pride and cooperation can be felt everywhere. Where else would there be a plaque on the side of one CCBL dugout, “Thanks for the memories,” signed by a batgirl!

ALL HAIL BOBBY MISKE! The veteran scout – currently with the Yankees for a second tour after a thirty-year career with the Dodgers – was inducted on Saturday night July 10th into the Scouts Hall of Fame before the Hudson Valley Renegades New York-Penn League home game. Miske, the pride of Buffalo, New York, was able to enjoy the evening with his wife and kids and grand-kids. It is a wonderful honor for this open and friendly and talented appraiser of talent.

Like the best scouts Miske has always looked for the positives in players because it is so easy to criticize those who try to play the very hard and sometimes maddening game of baseball. It may be the ninth or tenth time Miske has been honored for his contributions to both baseball and basketball where he is a well-known and highly regarded basketball referee and instructor. Check out his plaque outside the gates of Hudson Valley’s very pleasant Dutchess County Stadium in Fishkill, NY near Newburgh. Coming up in early August – the induction of Tampa Bay Rays’ Midwest scout Ken Stauffer into the St. Paul Saints Scouts Hall of Fame.

All hail again to the Goldklang Group of four minor league franchises for its pioneering efforts in honoring baseball’s vital scouting fraternity!!

Ciao for now, and always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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