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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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