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Late April Reflections on Baltimore Orioles and Columbia Lions

Readers of this blog will know that I am passionate about one pro team the Baltimore Orioles and the teams of my two alma maters Columbia and Wisconsin esp. baseball and basketball. (It remains maddening that Wisconsin gave up baseball in the late 1980s and remains the only Big Ten (or Big Fourteen) school without a baseball team. And no real hope that situation will change in the foreseeable future.)

The Orioles started 2016 with seven wins in a row - a team record for the early going and the first 7-game winning streak for my Birds in many years. They have come down to earth now with an 11-6 record, but they still lead the AL East by three games in loss column over the Red Sox with the Blue Jays beginning to make some noises.

Though under .500, the Rays and Yankees should not be counted out because they have the pitching to compete (though the Yankee starters have been inconsistent so far and their bats largely missing in action).

I still feel that the only possible runaway team in MLB this year could be the Cubs - 14-5 as I post this blog. But the Pirates and Cardinals will have something to say about that.

We must wait until the end of May before any real assessment of the season can begin. And even that milepost doesn't mean as much anymore because major additions to rosters can be made via trades until July 31.

On the college scene, Columbia basketball celebrated its winningest season ever with a farewell banquet to its four remarkable seniors and coach Kyle Smith who is heading back to the west coast as head coach of the U of San Francisco Dons, coached at one time by Phil Woolpert and Pete Newell and alma mater of Bill Russell and KC Jones.

Senior forwards Isaac Cohen and Alex Rosenberg and guards Maado Lo and Grant Mullins
all spoke with humor and emotion at the banquet last week. Lo and Mullins are likely to continue their careers next year - the quick sharp-shooting Lo with a chance for the NBA and Mullins with one year of eligibility left because a concussion kept him idle for over a year.

Meanwhile, Columbia's chance for an unprecedented baseball four-peat in the Ivy League is hanging by a thread. They will need a lot of help from Cornell who will play division leader Princeton four times this weekend while Columbia ends the regular season with two at Penn on Friday and two at home on Saturday.

The Lions at least kept Princeton from celebrating on Columbia's Satow Stadium at Robertson Field this weekend. They won three out of four despite the presence of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie whose son Andrew is a senior catcher for the Tigers.
Princeton still leads Penn by one game and Columbia by three with four to go.

I must end on a melancholy note. Columbia and a remarkably wide swath of America are mourning the passing of Bill Campbell, 75, who succumbed to a long battle with cancer last week. He was a Columbia football captain - class of 1962, and a former Columbia football coach who moved to Silicon Valley to become a major player in the computer industry.

No Columbia athlete will ever Campbell's #67 again. And that number is now painted on the baseball field and of course will be on prominent display in the fall on Robert Kraft Field at Lawrence Wien Stadium at the Baker Field complex.

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

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Baseball Thoughts On The Verge of the Good Old Summertime

Readers of this blog know that I am an ardent Orioles fan. So far in 2013 we loyalists have been given reasons to hope that our surprise 2012 rise to contention was not an aberration. The popularity of the Orioles is catching on nationally. The top seven men in the batting order all have a chance to be All-Stars with kudos especially to the not-yet-21-year-old doubles machine Manny Machado, already a superior third baseman; singles hitter extraordinaire/fine right fielder Nick Markakis; and the possible Triple Crown candidate Chris Davis whose defense at first base has definitely improved now that he is a regular.

Then there is the fine defense up the middle and occasional timely hitting of centerfielder Adam Jones, shortstop JJ Hardy and catcher Matt Wieters. And I have not forgotten left fielder and stolen base whiz Nate McLouth.

I must say, however, that the switch-hitting Wieters has been a disappointment offensively but he remains a top-drawer defensive catcher and game caller. Unfortunately, the starting pitching has not yet been of pennant-winning caliber although Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez have emerged as consistent performers.

The return of Taiwanese-born southpaw Wei-Yin Chen in a couple of weeks is eagerly awaited. But until the rest of the starting rotation gets into a groove I am resisting ordering my playoff tickets (of course none will be available until mid-September).

In this topsy-turvy 2013 season there is no sure lock for anything except it would be a major surprise if the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL and the Detroit Tigers in the AL did not make the playoffs. Biggest disappointments must be listed as the pre-season favorites Washington Nationals in the NL East and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in AL West. The Nationals are hovering around the .500 mark with the Atlanta Braves leading comfortably. Until the Angels get close to .500, they do not seem a playoff threat to either the Texas Rangers or the Oakland Athletics.

But the season hasn’t even reached the halfway mark so no need to prognosticate too much. Best advice: Just enjoy the daily grind of the wonderful game of major league baseball.

PLAY OF THE YEAR SO FAR:
Dustin Pedroia’s diving catch of a bloop in extra innings at Tampa Ray that preserved a tie in a game that the Bosox won in 14. It far exceeds Billy Martin’s famous catch of a Jackie Robinson bloop in Game 7 of the 1952 World Series. Pedroia had to come from a far greater distance at deep second base and needed to dodge the body of the clueless Bosox pitcher Tazawa who seemed not to know what was happening.

UPCOMING SCHOLASTIC EVENT OF THE YEAR:
On Monday July 1 at 11AM, public school high school All-Stars from Chicago will invade Yankee Stadium to meet their New York City counterparts. It revives a great tradition that dates well back into the 20th century. In the early 1920s Lou Gehrig of Commerce HS belted a grand-slam at Wrigley Field in this game.

SALUTE TO COLUMBIA BASEBALL AND OTHER IVY LEAGUE STARS:
On the night of my 50th college reunion dinner, Columbia won its first game ever in the NCAA baseball tournament. It rallied from a 5-0 top of 8th deficit to win 6-5 in 13 over Arizona State. First baseman/closer Alex Black got the game-winning hit and the save.
Sub-regional host Cal-Fullerton eliminated the Lions the next day but our season was a rousing success.

Alex Black was drafted in 29th round by KC Royals. Only other Ivy Leaguer drafted was Dartmouth southpaw Mike Horacek by the Orioles. Black's teammate Tim Giel was
signed by Yankees as undrafted free agent.

Kudos also to Princeton right-hander/first baseman Mike Ford who is one of three finalists for the John Olerud Two-Way Player trophy. It will be awarded at the annual College Baseball Hall of Fame inductions in Lubbock, Texas on Sat Jun 29th. I'll be in attendance and keep your eyes open for a report in this space early next month.

That’a all for now. Rememeber always: Take it easy but take it.
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