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Will June Be A Boon or A Swoon?

Usually Memorial Day weekend is a good assessment of where the season is heading, the likely contenders and pretenders. Not this year. Except for teams who had no hope of pennant contention before the season began – the Marlins, the Cubs, the Astros, high among them – there are still many questions about who will be for real come September.

Will surprising Boston stay atop the AL East? Can the Pittsburgh Pirates finally have a winning season and even make the playoffs? Will the expensive California Angels (OK, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) continue to sputter? Well, that’s why we watch the games.

My Orioles have not cracked the 10-above .500 mark yet. Their high so far in 2013 is eight above. The oblique injury to the Birds’ most reliable starter WEI-YIN CHEN has definitely hurt the pitching rotation. (Years ago no one heard of an oblique, now the injury to it is very common and I think it’s because players overdo their workout regimens.)

The Birds have rushed last year’s number one draft pick KEVIN GAUSMAN less than a year out of LSU to join the rotation. He is yet to win though his first home start against the tough Tigers lineup was very promising.

How unlike the Orioles of Their Glory Years 1960-1983 – a topic I discussed in late May at the annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture. The great farm-developed pitchers of the 1970s like Mike Flanagan, Dennis Martinez, and Scott McGregor got their feet wet in middle relief before being thrown into the fire of starting.

That luxury is not available for an Oriole team that wants to compete again for a pennant after last year’s breakthrough season. So I wish Gausman the best as for the time being he joins the improving Chris Tillman, last year’s miraculous minor league discovery Miguel Gonzalez, Jason Hammel and the game but fading Freddy Garcia in the current rotation.
And here’s a wish that wunderkind Manny Machado and emerging slugger/.300 hitter Chris Davis keep up their good work.

“Did You Feel The Draft?”
Chicago Cubs area scout John Ceprini pointed out to me the other day that this year’s MLB Free Agent Amateur Draft occurred on the same day as the immensely important D-Day invasion of France on June 6, 1944.

One of the great clichés about baseball scouting is that it is a crapshoot. But an increasingly very expensive crap shoot. This is not football or basketball where the player is close to a finished product and the likelihood of failure is far less.

In the new collective bargaining agreement there is a strict salary cap on how much in bonuses can be given to players coming into the business. I have little doubt that some of the more conservative owners would like to see the salary cap come to the top of the scale too. That is unlikely but it still will be very interesting to see how much a free agent like the Yankees’ Robinson Cano will be lavished with if he enters the free agent market after this season.

"Roar Lion Roar!"
My Columbia Lions won the Ivy League championship last month, sweeping Dartmouth in a
doubleheader to win the automatic NCAA tournament bid. Over a thousand people gathered at Satow Stadium at Robertson Field (just north of the Baker Field football complex) to watch the Lions upset the favored Big Green. Usually a college baseball game draws in the mid-double digits with most of the crowd being family and friends of the players. So this was a special moment in the history of Columbia team sports.

On the night of my 50th college reunion, Columbia trailed New Mexico 5-0 in the 8th inning
and it looked like they would go two and out at the Fullerton,California sub-regional. I turned off in resignation my android that was tuned into the game on ESPN 3.

Lo and behold! When I got home I learned that the Lions had scored 5 in the 8th to tie and won it in the 13th. They did get eliminated the next night by Arizona State but for an Ivy League school to win just one game in a tourney with the Big Boys is quite an accomplishment.

Hail to all-sub regional All Stars Alex Black and Nick Ferraresi and coach Brett Boretti and associate head coach/pitching coach Pete Maki! First baseman/closer Black and right fielder Ferraresi just graduated and may their follow their pro dreams if they have the chance. Ditto junior-eligible Joey Falcone, the oldest player in Division I, just turned 27.
He served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan and the son of former major league LHP Pete Falcone deserves to follow any dream of his choice.

One final Lion pride note - Dario Pizzano, 2012 Ivy League Player of Year, was just voted to Midwest League All-Star team. Dario, grandson of a former Red Sox batboy, is one of four Columbia men currently playing minor league baseball.

“Sleeper Film of the Season”
Mirra Bank’s “The Only Real Game” - about the efforts to build a baseball stadium and a baseball presence in Manipur, one of the poorest and most politically corrupt areas of the world in northeast India on the border with Burma. The last line of the film resonates with me every day: “Baseball is like breathing.”

That’s all for now. Remember always – Take it easy but take it!
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