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Pitchers and Catchers Have Reported, but I Must Admit College Basketball Still Grabs My Attention

The Northeast has been experiencing a record-breaking heat wave. Well, "heat" is a bit of an exaggeration - temps in lower 60s - but I've been parading around my Upper West Side NYC neighborhood in my Cape Cod Summer Baseball League sweatshirt without need for an overcoat.

(The CCBL, by the way, should be on any baseball fan's bucket list: Games at no cost from early June to early August with some of the best amateur players in competition - many of them are on the cusp of pro careers. More info: check out www.ccbl.org)

The main thing about spring training is to get and keep everyone healthy before the season begins. In the days of the reserve system when players had to work in the off-season, spring training was a time for getting into shape and losing weight.

Today, the six weeks or more in Florida or Arizona might seem excessive because smart players stay in shape all year round. But who wants to give up the relaxed environment of warm weather climates?

Just don't believe any spring training stats esp. during the first few weeks of exhibition games. Yes, exhibition games were what they used to be called and should still be called. "Pre-season" sounds more serious and it allows ticket prices to reach the ridiculous $40 and $50 range and even higher.

Turning to the hardwood game, the Wisconsin Badgers broke their two-game losing streak with a much-needed home win on Sunday Feb 19 over the Maryland Terps.
The two big Badger frontcourtmen sophomore Ethan Happ and senior Nigel Hayes led the way in scoring.

But it was the second half return to form of senior leader Bronson Koenig that triggered the Badger victory. A calf injury caused Koenig to miss the loss at Michigan earlier in the week, but after not scoring in limited first half action Sunday, Koenig hit a couple of jump shots that really triggered the comeback win.

As Koenig goes so goes the Badgers is the short story of the 2016-2017 squad. He has much on his plate as he is also an activist in the native American movement against the Dakota pipeline.

I noticed today huge tattoos on his chest honoring his Ho-Chunk heritage. The team has been supportive of his commitment because there is no doubt that he remains a court leader in the Badgers' quest to go deep into the post-season.

Yet winning the Big Ten title and hoisting another banner at the Kohl Center home court means a lot to the team and to me as a semi-fanatical alum. Wisconsin is tied with Purdue in the Big Ten title race with Maryland a game behind with four games to play.

The Big Ten may be down this year according to the pollsters and the tournament seeding mavens, but the competition level remains high. I only wish the refs would use more restraint in their dishing out technicals to benches.

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon got one in the Wisconsin game, and it was nice to see his assistants calming him down to keep him from being ejected. The T did not affect the final outcome because Wisconsin controlled the game from the middle of the second half.

The T on the Michigan bench in the tough struggle against Minnesota at Minneapolis Sunday night basically determined the outcome. Though Michigan gallantly fought back to force overtime, the Wolverines would have won except for the technical.

In the Ivy League, home of my other alma mater Columbia, the Lions have lost excruciatingly close games the last two weekends. After an 0-5 start Penn has roared back into playoff contention.

The Quakers jumped ahead of the Lions for the fourth and last spot in the first-ever Ivy League tournament. It is coming up the second weekend of March at Penn's legendary home court the Palestra.

Columbia meets the Killer P's, Princeton and Penn, at home this coming weekend.
Odds are long now against the Lions but they will compete and compete hard. Of that I am sure. How well and how smart is another question that will decided on the court.

On the women's side, Columbia broke a three-game losing streak Saturday night by thumping Dartmouth 69-48. Picked for last in the Ivy League, the Lions under new coach Megan Griffith has won 3 games in the league and lost some very close ones.
They need one more win in their last four games to be assured of an overall winning record for the season.

Junior Camille Zimmerman is a legitimate Player of the Year candidate as a consistent 20-point scorer who tries her hardest to work within the team framework.

Perhaps the most optimistic event of the weekend was the play of first year guards Janiya Clemmons and Maya Sampleton. Rushed into action because of injuries to upperclassmen, they both performed with poise.

Clemmons has a chance to be an electrifying player because she always keeps her head up and is eager and willing to drive to the hoop, not afraid of making mistakes.
As long as the Lions keep playing outstanding defense, they have a real chance in future seasons to crash the Ivy League women's cage elite.

That's all for now - until the next time, always remember: Take it easy but take it.
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Now That The TV Show Known As The Winter Meetings Is Over

Did anyone really expect that there would be another labor shutdown in baseball? Hey, man, this is the 21st century - the age of labor peace in baseball is upon us after the bitter battles of the last century ultimately cancelled the World Series of 1994.

Remember the old line? The warring sides of owners Reinsdorf, Selig & Company versus Fehr, Orza, and The Living Specter of Marvin Miller did something that neither World Wars I or II could do - cancel a World Series.

That was then, and this is happily now where the new Basic Agreement signed on the eve of the Winter Meetings assures more peace through the 2020 season.

This is not to say that the baseball business has no problems. Poor attendance and poor stadiums in Oakland and Tampa Bay remain very serious issues.

The rumor is that MLB would love to return to Montreal and maybe even enter Mexico City. There are reportedly billions of dollars in Portland, Oregon - including some from the Nike treasury - salivating over the prospect of obtaining the Athletics.
Yet no decision is imminent.

For his role in labor peace and pushing for expanding playoffs and its resultant TV
bonanza, retired commissioner Bud Selig was elected to Cooperstown's Hall of Fame during the Winter Meetings.

I think Bud's plusses obviously and justifiably outweighed the minuses of his role in the collusion against free agents in the 1980s and his looking the other way during the rampant invasion of PEDs in the 1990s.

As for the actual player transactions at the meetings, held for the first time at the new National Harbor casino resort outside Washington D.C. the consensus is that the
Red Sox bolstered their starting pitching staff by trading for Chris Sale, the outstanding left-hander of the White Sox.

I wonder though if his temperament off the mound could be an issue when he makes his home in the pressure-filled confines of Fenway Park.

Remember that Sale is the fellow who was in the middle of a revolt of the White Sox last spring training when team management banned first baseman-DH Adam Laroche from bringing his teenaged son into the clubhouse.

Laroche, who clearly was on the downside of his career, suddenly retired rather than face that indignity. Last I heard he and his son were doing plenty of hunting and fishing.

Sale was also the fellow who was so distressed at wearing a retro uniform last season that he cut up not only his own uni but some of his teammates’ jerseys, too. Sale reportedly said that he only wants to win and this new-old uniform was just a sign that the team was more interested in marketing than winning.

For this act of childish insubordination, Sale got slapped on the wrist and suspended for only one game. We’ll see how this volatile temperament plays out in Boston. He undoubtedly has great talent, is young, and has a team-favorable contract.

But I always shy away from predictions in December. Let the countless number of "analytic" rags/websites proclaim that because the Orioles did nothing except add a couple of minor league outfielders, they will finish 10 games under .500 in 2017.

We haven’t even turned the calendar year and doomsday is already predicted for the Birds. Just like last year when the Birds finished 16 games over .500

Now if I were running the team, I’d have extended brilliant closer Zach Britton before 2016 and started to buy out some of Manny Machado’s arbitration years. In case you haven’t noticed, fans have no control over these things. So we wait and hope.

Meanwhile I am keeping my rooting chops in shape by following both basketball teams of my two alma maters, the Wisconsin Badgers and the Columbia Lions. Trending up right now are the men of Madison and the women of Morningside Heights.

The Columbia women, under rookie coach Megan Griffith (a former Lion player and Princeton assistant), are 7-2 with a do-it-all star forward in junior Camille Zimmerman.

The expected-to-do-well male Badgers are 9-2 with a heavily senior squad. They have many great stories as well as great players.

Senior guard Bronson Koenig has become very visible as a role model for the Ho-Chunk tribe of native Americans. His lineage comes from his mother's side.
Senior forward Nigel Hayes has supported many of the causes associated with "Black Lives Matter" activists.

In a fascinating pure basketball story, sophomore center Ethan Happ, a first cousin of Toronto Blue Jay southpaw J. Happ, is a potent inside force on both sides of the court. But it remains to be seen if he EVER attempts a basket from outside the paint!

Ivy League and Big Ten seasons don’t begin until after Christmas but watch this space for more news. I maintain hopes that Columbia men and Wisconsin women with new coaches and young teams show progress, too.

And always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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