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Oh For The Days When Spring Training Wasn't Filled With Anger + Thoughts on Columbia Women's & Wisconsin Men's Basketball

I'm trying to keep an even keel about all the anger from MLB players directed against the Houston Astros for their now-revealed high-technology methods and Keystone Kop execution that probably aided their World Series triumph of 2017. 

 
This is February, the slowest month of the sports year now that the Super Bowl is over. The build-up to college basketball's March Madness has not shifted into high gear. And the NBA basketball and NHL hockey playoffs are still a ways off.

 

So reporters are desperately looking for stories. Angry players are providing plenty of copy from Florida and Arizona.

 

It says here the protests won't amount to much because it will be impossible to prove exactly how much the signals affected game outcomes. The anger has almost made lament the pre-free agency days of baseball.

 

In the years when the reserve clause ruled baseball (through the 1976 season), spring training stories were usually about holdouts of players not satisfied with contract offers. 

 

In the vast majority of cases, they were one-year contract offers. Usually the pot was sweetened a little bit by management, and on went the regular season without interruption. 

 

The old system was obviously unfair to the players economically but it provided stability for the owners and for the fans could deeply identify with their favorite players. 

 

It was interesting if somewhat bizarre to watch Red Sox co-owner John Henry's press conference the other day trying to explain why Boston had traded star outfielder and recent AL MVP Mookie Betts to the Dodgers.

 

He spent a good deal of time reminiscing about Stan Musial, his favorite player growing up in St. Louis.  He waxed rhapsodic about how Red Sox fans felt the same attachment towards Ted Williams.

 

Both stayed with their original team forever. John Henry even noted that Musial turned down in 1946 a huge salary increase by spurning an offer from the short-lived Mexican League. 

 

Henry professed his approval of Betts' wanting to get "market value" for his services.  Yet neither finance mogul Henry nor his partner TV mogul Tom Werner (a former San Diego Padres owner who I remember most as the man who hired Roseanne Barr to sing a disastrous National Anthem) addressed in any great detail the real reason why Betts was traded. 

 

They didn't want to pay any more "luxury tax" into MLB coffers that a long-term contract to Betts would have required. They insisted that they didn't think a draft pick at the end of this season would be sufficient.

 

Yet the return for Betts seems questionable.  Two minor leaguers and a young outfielder Alex Verdugo may have a high ceiling but who will start season on the disabled list. 

 

To add to Red Sox questionable decisions, they selected as Cora's replacement Ron Roenicke (brother of former Oriole left fielder Gary Roenicke). Ron enjoyed only moderate success in prior MLB managerial jobs with the Brewers and Angels.

 

The Red Sox will face more bad news when beleaguered commissioner Rob Manfred announces the results of his investigation into Red Sox malfeasance during Alex Cora's reign as manager, especially their 2018 championship season. 

 

With too many stories in baseball resembling the troubling wider political world these days, you can see, dear reader, why I try to find solace in the college basketball seasons of my alma maters. 

 

The Wisconsin Badgersmen and Columbia Lions women have given me considerable pleasure. Picked for sixth in the 14-team "Big Ten", the Badgers have a chance at a top three finish and another trip to March Madness. 

 

They are maddeningly inconsistent to be sure. One center with the combined talents of Nate Reuvers' sweet touch and Micah Potter's toughness might be an All-American.  But last I looked cloning players has not been approved yet by the NCAA.  

 

With just eight players getting regular playing time, the Badgers have overcome great adversity to keep hope alive. First, there was the pre-season loss of  assistant coach Howard Moore whose wife and daughter were killed in a horrific auto crash - Moore himself is recovering slowly from his serious injuries and a subsequent heart attack.

 

Then last month, the streaky but talented swing man Kobe King abruptly left the team. The Lacrosse, Wisconsin native's reasons were sketchy at best.  Not being appreciated beyond a basketball player was one of them.  

 

Under coach Greg Gard's firm and steady hand, the Badgers have regrouped and are on their first three-game Big Ten winning streak of the season.  That's a modest number of course, but the flashes of offensive production from the likes of juniors Brad Davison and Aleem Ford and consistently tough defense have me pulling my chair up close to the TV these days.

 

I thought the Columbia women would be worth watching in 2019-20 and I have not been disappointed.  Under youthful coach Megan Griffith, Columbia class of 2007 grad and former assistant at league powerhouse Princeton, the Lions last weekend swept two Ivy League opponents for the first time since 2011, Dartmouth and Harvard.

 

There is now a four-team tournament in the Ivy League and Columbia has a chance to make it if they continue to grow and play hard and smart and well. 

 

Last year's rookie of the year, forward Sienna Durr from Grinnell, Iowa has stepped up her all-around game. 

 

Guard Abby Hsu from Parkland, Florida is a strong candidate for this year's rookie award.  The only senior on the squad, feisty guard Janniya Clemmons from Accoceek, Maryland outside DC, is another solid presence.

 

Both point guards sophomore Mikayla Markham from Manasquan on the Jersey shore and first-year Carly Rivera from Arlington, Virginia are getting plenty of playing time. They are sparkplugs for a frequently-employed full-court defense.

 

Tigers on the boards and adding a lot of energy to the team are first-year Caitlyn Davis from Norwalk, Ct. and sophomores Lilian Kennedy from Buford, Ga. and Hannah Pratt from Boca Raton, Fla. 

 

Unfortunately, the Columbia men have fallen into the Ivy League basement. It's a familiar story - close losses and no conistent scoring except from senior guard Mike Smith who hasn't had a lot of help and winds up taking too many shots.

 

After a good start to the season, the Wisconsin women have fallen near the bottom of a tough Big Ten conference. Hopefully, both teams end the season with good efforts and confidence-building results to give hope for better days ahead for both teams. 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 


  

 

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“Pain Is Temporary, Pride Is Forever” Says Badgers Star Freshman Guard Brad Davison + First Spring Training 2018 Notes

In a rare under-.500 season for my Wisconsin Badgers, first-year Brad Davison has been a breakout star. He’s playing with a chronically dislocated left shoulder that came out for the fifth time this season in the Sunday February 25 loss to Big Ten champion Michigan State.

I dislocated my left shoulder over 50 years ago while a grad student in Madison so I know all about the excruciating pain. But I was running for a bus - Davison has battled all season the big guys in the very physical Big Ten. He will have surgery after the season but he has toughed it out all season, even playing point guard on a team that lost two key guards, Kobe King and Trayvon Trice, early on to season-ending surgery.

The injured shoulder didn’t stop Davison from scoring a career-high 30 points and contributing mightily though Wisconsin lost a thriller 68-63 loss on Senior Day in Madison. Michigan State is a potential Final Four team and no disgrace to lose to them.

A former high school quarterback in the bordering state of Minnesota, Brad Davison epitomizes the term “gamer”. His motto is: “Pain is temporary, pride is forever.”

Columbia, my other alma mater, is still alive for the Ivy League four-game tournament on the weekend of March 10-11. A tough loss to Yale on Saturday didn't help their situation but they do hold a tie-breaker over Cornell with whom they are tied at 5-7 in league play as they head into the final weekend of the season.

They play at Dartmouth and at Harvard and the latter game will be especially tough. Though the Big Green is in the basement of the league, they are improving and the Lions' 3-point shooting and defense will have to be operating well to win.

Kudos to the track and field Lions who won four individual titles and one women's relay title at the Heptagonal Games at Dartmouth this weekend. 1000-meter runners Sarah Hardie and Alek Sauer repeated as title-winners in their events as did 400-meter runner Akua Obeng-Okrofi. Kenny Vasbinder was a first time winner in the 5000 meters.

Meanwhile, spring training games have started and fans are paying high prices to see minor leaguers play almost all the time. There used to be an unwritten rule that visiting teams bring at least three regulars on road trips. Because it is “unwritten” in an increasingly litigious baseball world, teams nowadays usually bring just one regular if that on the road.

The season of ridiculous quotes is at hand because there is no real game news until the season starts on March 29. My candidate for the dubious quote of the year so far comes from what an anonymous Houston Astros executive told mlb.com's national baseball writer Mark Feinsand: “I wish we could just fast-forward to opening day.”

Hey, man! Spring training should be the most leisurely time of year when the bodies get slowly but surely ready for the long grind of the baseball season. The Astros are also blessed with a new facility in Palm Beach, Fla. that they share with a perennial NL favorite (and usual playoff-disappointment) the Washington Nationals.

I know that injuries are the greatest fear in any spring training but can’t you just enjoy things a little bit? I guess because the Astros will undoubtedly be favored to repeat their World Series appearance, with the Yankees the co-favorites, people in Houston are already getting impatient for the coronation to begin.

I say: Not so fast Houston. THE HARDEST THING IN SPORTS IS TO REPEAT, and I’ll repeat that in lower case: The hardest thing in sports is to repeat as champion. Everyone will be shooting for you and if you have the slightest relapse in intensity the competition will come up and bite you.

It is far too early to make a prediction for 2018 except that certain teams will not be able to compete for a title. This development is very sad - the willful decimation of rosters by the Miami Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Kansas City Royals because ownership wants to cut payroll is not a good augury for the future in those cities.

It is true that there are always surprises in every baseball season because the season is so long that bad teams will inevitably win at least 60 games and good teams lose at least 60. Yet even in the best of circumstances, the surprise teams rarely make or go deep into the playoffs.

The current situation is distressing and there is no easy solution. The current labor agreement has three more years to run and there is no automatic re-opener as far as I know. So my advice to others as well as myself is to enjoy the little moments of development and delight that baseball always brings. On every level of the sport from little league on up.

Heading to the 25th annual NINE baseball magazine conference in Phoenix. Will be participating in a closing panel on “Baseball and the West” with two authors versed in Walter O’Malley, Andy McCue and Jerald Podair, and the able historian of the SF Giants and Horace Stoneham, Rob Garratt.

Will also catch the Brewers-Rockies at the handsome Salt River Fields complex and the Rangers at the A's Ho-Ho-Kam park in Mesa. Back with news on Arizona baseball
next time. In the meantime - Take it easy but take it!
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