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Getting Ready For A March of 31 Days: On Baseball-Basketball-TCM Tips (updated)

I can't resist the old joke.  "Why are people tired on April First?"  Answer - Because they have just been through a March of 31 days.  

 

OK, it's pretty bad but please give me some leeway. 

There will be no Columbia baseball for the second year in a row as the Ivy League has called off all spring sports - my Wisconsin Badgers basketball team is collapsing into the nether regions of the tough Big Ten - and although "President Biden" remains a lovely two-word phrase, the problems of governing this divided country remain imposing.

 

I try to find half-filled glasses.  

**The growing number of available vaccinations against Covid are a positive.  Now if people wear masks and keep practicing social distancing, there will be light at end of the tunnel. 

 

**The Orioles' Trey Mancini got a hit in his first Grapefruit League at-bat on Sunday after missing a season recovering from Grade 3 colon cancer.  Rooting for him will be the easiest job of the season.

 

The Orioles seem committed to his playing first base which is a good move. The highest paid, least productive Oriole, Chris Davis, might DH now and then, or just ride the pine as he collects two more years on his enormous contract. 

 

Let's hope the full MLB season is played.  The Triple-A season was supposed to start on April 6 and the Double-A season on May 4. Now because of covid concerns, Triple-A baseball won't start until early May.

 

One of the quirks of the new Double A schedule is that there will be a lot of six-game series with a Monday off.  It reminds of the 192-game schedule of the old Pacific Coast League before the Giants and Dodgers' relocation to SF and LA in 1958 prompted its restructuring.

 

On the basketball scene, there have been no Columbia losses to gripe about because there was no season.  We alums can and do BIRG - bask in reflective glory - about the play of our star point guard Mike Smith's great season as a graduate transfer at the University of Michigan. 

 

The Wolverines now stand as the number two team in the country after throttling contending Iowa last week.  They have lost only one game all season in the very tough Big Ten. 

 

Freshman seven-foot center Hunter Dickinson from DeMatha HS in Hyattsville MD (outside DC) has been a revelation and seems to be improving each game.

 

"March Madness" will be held in only one city this year, Indianapolis, and #1 Gonzaga and Michigan right now look like teams to beat.  Gonzaga has never won the title so it says here that the ghosts of past failures will be a significant hurdle for them to overcome. 

 

On the pro scene, the New York Knicks under new coach Tom Thibodeau are at .500 which is a huge improvement over recent seasons.  Thibodeau has finally got them playing defense and I enjoy his intensity.  

 

He reminds me in some ways of Rodney Dangerfield. I can almost envision him grumbling behind his mask, "We get no respect!" 

 

The Brooklyn Nets under rookie coach Steve Nash certainly have the firepower to contend for a NBA title.  I'm not crazy about the way James Harden manipulated his way to become part of the Big Three of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving but he certainly has played well in his new home.

Unlike the other two, so far he has been very durable.  

 

Meanwhile, as always, TCM movies keep me believing that a culture that produced such thoughtful and vivid movies last century can figure out a way to get us through the pandemic and reach some kind of social understanding.

 

For the baseball fan in March, the TCM films are for the early riser or you can tape them.   

 

Sa March 6 at 630A "Big Leaguer" - 1953, first film directed by Robert Aldrich. Shot at NY Giants minor league camp with Edward G. Robinson as manager trying to save job, Vera-Ellen as niece, Jeff Richards and Richard Jaeckel as competing players and cameo appearances by Giants farm director and Hall of Fame pitcher Carl Hubbell and Al Campanis as a Dodger farmhand manager. 

 

Sa Mar 13 630A  "The Stratton Story" - 1949, based on true story with Jimmy Stewart playing pitcher Monty Stratton trying to make a comeback from a hunting injury. With June Allyson and Jimmy Dykes playing himself. 

 

Tu Mar 16 630A  "The Winning Team" - 1952 with Ronald Reagan as Grover Cleveland Alexander and Doris Day as his wife (Mondays in March are Doris Day days and nights ) 

 

I should have mentioned it last month, but I hope some of you caught John Garfield Tuesdays in February.   I had never seen "Humoresque" and Garfield, playing a gifted violinist, is at the peak of his fame and talent (1946). Clifford Odets' hard-hitting script is gripping. 

 

Maybe Garfield's chemistry with femme fatale Joan Crawford wasn't great, but Oscar Levant was never better as his sidekick whose actual piano playing is heard on the sound track which is filled with top shelf classical music.  

 

Another TCM highlight last month was the restoration of "Native Son," starring author Richard Wright as protagonist Bigger Thomas.  It was shown on Eddie Muller's Noir Alley Feb 21/22.  

 

Wright in his 40s was too old to play a character 20 years younger, and he was not an actor, but he gave a credible performance.  The film was shot in Buenos Aires in the late 1940s but the American version shown in the early 1950s had 50 minutes cut out.  

 

Blessedly, a full 108-minute print was discovered in Buenos Aires not long ago. Kudos to the movie archivists who lovingly brought it back to life. And to the very informative discussion before and after the film by Muller and TCM's talented silent movie host Jacqueline Stewart.     

 

So here is Eddie Muller's Noir Alley schedule for March, Sat at midnight, repeated Su at 10A.

March 6/7 - "Killer's Kiss"  an early film directed by Stanley Kubrick - 1995

March 13/14 "The Night Brings Terror" - 1955

March 20/21  "The Third Man" 1949 a classic Cold War film with Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, and one hour in Orson Welles and haunting zither music. Can't wait to hear Muller's take on it

March 27/28 "Pepe Le Moko" a French Noir classic from 1937

 

Special mention should be made of two showings of "The Mask of Dimitrios" 1944 

Sat Mar 6 12N and Wed Mar 24 8p with post-"Casablanca" Peter Lorre & Sidney Greenstreet

W Mar 24 has three Lorre-Greenstreet films back-to-back.

945P "The Verdict" - 1946

1130P Three Strangers" with Geraldine Fitzgerald

 

Fri Mar 12 6p "East of Eden" 1955 - I saw it last month for first time and glad it is coming up ahead.  James Dean's debut and NYC-born Jo Van Fleet's Oscar.  Set before and during World War I in John Steinbeck's California.  He wasn't pleased with the selections chosen from his book of the same name, but director Elia Kazan created a memorable film.

 

Tu Mar 30 8:15A  Kazan's equally memorable "Splendor in the Grass" 1961 with Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood and Pat Hingle and screenplay by William Inge  

 

Before I close, I want to remember my neighbor Susan Feingold who lived for 60 years in my building on West 104th Street near Riverside Park. She left us in late September 2020 at the age of 95. 

 

Alex Vadukul contributed a moving obituary in the Feb 26 NY Times.  A Holocaust survivor, Susan became a prominent advocate for childhood education. Her work influenced the Head Start program and she was honored by President Obama.

 

Always remember:  "There is no wealth but life" - John Ruskin   

As well as Woody Guthrie's immortal:  "Take it easy but take it!"

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How 13-22 Might Be More Hopeful Than 22-10 & Columbia Returns to Ivy League Baseball Playoffs (slightly revised)

On the first Saturday night of May on Star Wars Night at Camden Yards, struggling Dylan Bundy threw the best game of his career.  He pitched into the 8th inning to lead the Orioles to a 3-0 victory over the first place Tampa Bay Rays.

 
Last night (Mon May 6) rookie southpaw John Means contributed a similarly deep outing in a 4-1 victory over the Red Sox. Though my Birds seem consigned to permanent basement residence in  the AL East, they are now 13-22 and on a two-game winning streak.  Whoopee! and I am not being sarcastic.  

 
Two years ago harboring dreams of contention, the Orioles started 22-10 before reality set in.  They wound up 2017 under .500 setting the stage for the disastrous 47-115 of 2018.     

 
Allow me to note some cautiously hopeful signs for 2019.

 

**The overall defense is improved.

**Some decent offense has been provided (and good defense) by Blue Jays castoff outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. and young veteran Trey Mancini (gamely playing right field these days though better suited for first base). 

**Chris Davis is no longer an automatic out but certainly not yet a consistent threat.

**Rookie manager Brandon Hyde has the team playing hard if not always well or smart. 


Any solid hope will depend on the pitching staff.  Much has been expected of Dylan Bundy once a top pick in the draft.  His latest efforts have been encouraging.

 

Nothing was expected of John Means.  "I was never a prospect," he says, but he developed four pitches during his five-year minor league apprenticeship. So far he is rising to the occasion at the major league level.

 

A third starter veteran Andrew Cashner looks like he can provide five or six innings most of the time. Don't ask about where other starters will come from or what the bullpen will look like. Converted shortstop Mychal Givens has closer potential but hasn't shown consistency.

 

Repeat after me class - "If consistency were a place, it would be lightly populated." Don't know who coined the phrase but you can quote me.

 
One thing I've learned in nearly 70 years of intense baseball watching is that won-lost records don't mean much until at least Memorial Day weekend. In the 24/7/365 frenzied mass media world we live in today, it is a good point to remember. 

 
Good examples:  The once high-flying Seattle Mariners now limp towards .500 or worse.

The early promise of the Mets has sunk along with a record now below .500.


Turning to the much shorter season of college baseball, Columbia on Saturday May 4th earned its ticket into the Ivy League Championship Series with a 4-0 shutout in Philadelphia over perennial power Penn. 

 
Needing just one victory to make the playoffs, the Lions had lost four in a row. Gone was the hope of hosting the championship series that will now open at Harvard on Sa May 18.

 
The Lions faced elimination in Saturday's second game after a tough 5-2 loss in the first game when Penn got four runs in the bottom of the 8th. The Quakers had won a similar Winner Take All game two years ago. 

 
Short memories are so essential for baseball success. So senior righthander Ethan Abrams pitched shutout ball into the seventh inning and junior southpaw Leo Pollack earned the save in a 4-0 win. Junior catcher Liam McGill delivered two RBI, a single in the first and a huge insurance HR in the eighth.  

 

It's been quite a run for the Lions under coach Brett Boretti now in his 14th season.  A win over Harvard in two weeks will mean the fifth Ivy League title in the last seven seasons for the native of the North Shore of Boston. Though he still roots for all New England pro teams, there is no doubt that proud alums and all fans of the Columbia Light Blue and White feel that he is the answer to the question posed in the great school fight song, "Who owns New York?" 

 
Harvard will provide stiff competition for Columbia as they seek to repeat their thrilling series win two weeks ago. They have a deep pitching staff and a formidable one-two punch  in senior first baseman Patrick McColl, in the running for the Golden Spikes award as college player of year, and junior right fielder Jake Suddleson.

 
In case of a split on Saturday May 18, there will be a winner take all game on May 19. Games can be seen on the paying service ESPN+ but this is a matchup I must see in person.

You'll read about it and other college baseball matchups in this area in future posts. 

 

There are at least two college tourneys in the NYC area before Memorial Day: Fordham's Rose Hill campus in the Bronx will host the Atlantic 10 tournament May 22-25. On the same days the MAAC will have their tourney at the Yankees' Staten Island ballpark.

 

Coming up in early June will be the PSAL high school championship game. More info on these matchups in the next post.

 

The NYC PSAL has been using wooden bats for several years now. Colleges still use composite bats. I don't like their ping sound any more than baseball purists do, but if you want to see baseball with plenty of hustle and stress on fundamentals, check out the college game.  


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

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