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A Special Leap Day for NYU Baseball, Scott Boras' Turkey and the Thermometer Metaphor & Columbia Women's Basketball Ties For Lead (corrected version)

At this time of year, I often muse about what I would have done if I had been a parent with a child born on February 29. What would I tell him/her during the other three years? I hope without being too heavy about it, I would explain that keeping the equinoxes and solstices in sync with the calendar is important and you don't want to start summer in July.


I couldn't ask, of course, long gone figures how they dealt with Feb 29.  People like Pepper Martin, sparkplug of the Gashouse Gang Cardinals, or Al Rosen, Cleveland's sllugging third baseman & later MLB general manager, or songstress Dinah Shore. I didn't have the access to call Tyrese Halliburton, 23, breakout star guard of Indiana Pacers, or Bligh Madris, 28, trying to make the Tigers in spring training and with that delightful name I hope he does. 


Happily, I think I'll remember the Feb 29, 2024 Leap Day as a special day. Because I went down to New York University's dormitory-athletic facilities building in the former Palladium Theater on E 14th Street for the official opening of the Branca Family baseball training facility.  


After a 40-year lapse without varsity baseball, NYU started playing Division III ball in 2015 but the team lacked convenient space to train. They had been traveling all over the city to find places to practice.


Enter John (Gregory) Branca, a prominent Hollywood entertainment lawyer who represents Bob Dylan, the estates of Michael Jackson and Otis Redding. Smokey Robinson, and many other notable artists.  John is the nephew of Ralph Branca, the Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher and NYU baseball star who also played on the school's basketball team.


John's father, John R. Branca, two years older than Ralph, was a good athlete too, but he served four years on an aircraft carrier during WW II and never enjoyed a pro career.  John R. instead went to NYU on the G.I. Bill and wound up getting two degrees from his alma mater. 


He stayed close to baseball by running local athletic programs in the Branca family home town of Mount Vernon.  Among the future stars who profited were Ken Singleton, originally a Met and then a great Oriole, and basketball's stalwarts Gus and Ray Williams, the former Knick, and Rodney McCray. He was the kind of community-oriented person who saw that lights were put on the playground courts so kids could play at night.  John R. also served as a state assemblyman and later was New York State Boxing Commissioner. 


When John Gregory Branca learned from his son Dylan Gregory Branca, a sophomore pitcher, of the team's travel woes, he acted swiftly. The result is a handsome state-of-the-art 4,400 sq. ft. facility with 3 mounds, 2 batting cages, and also the analytic prerequisites these days of Rapsodo and Trackman. 


John Branca earlier gifted the UCLA baseball program with similar facilities at the Jackie Robinson Field near the campus.  Ralph Branca and Jackie Robinson were teammates and close friends and John Branca has kept that connection alive as a member of the board of directors of the Jackie Robinson Foundation.


Things are looking up for NYU athletics.  The baseball Violets have started the season 4-0 and their home season this year will be played at the handsome independent league Staten Island Ferry Hawks stadium just a short walk from the ferry. 


Both NYU basketball teams are in their Division III playoffs.  The men are hosting Husson College from Maine F March 1 at 645p with a game on Saturday if they win.  The women open on the road also on Mar 1 playing Millsaps College from Mississippi at DeSales College in Center Valley, Pennsylvania. They could host more games the weekend of Mar 8-9 if they win F and Sa.


Meanwhile the Columbia women Lions won a thrilling 67-65 victory over their nemesis, the Princeton Tigers, last Saturday Feb 24 before an enthusiastic packed Levien Gym. They are tied for the Ivy League lead with Princeton with 3 games to play The Ivy League tournament this year will be hosted by Columbia starting March 15.


You can always tell a good NYC crowd when it arrives real early - it was Senior Day for the outstanding Abbey Hsu and her teammates Paige Lauder and Nicole Stephens - and the cheers of "De-fense! De-fense!" happened early and often.     


Turning back to baseball, let me close this post with a remarkable quotation from super-agent Scott Boras after the Cubs' signing his client Cody Bellinger to a "measly" 3-year $80 million contract a few days ago.  As reported by Jesse Rogers on a Feb 28 espn.com post, Boras said:  "Free agency is like a turkey and a thermometer.  You have to go in, see what the temperature is, evaluate it."  


Quite a remarkable metaphor from an agent, given how many human turkeys have been lavished with big contracts by panicked owners.  Don't get me wrong.  I wish Bellinger well - after all, his father is Clay Bellinger from Oneonta, NY, home of the late lamented Oneonta Yankees owned by Sam Nader and his talented family. And Clay was the kind of grinder who won 3 World Series rings, 2 with the Yankees and 1 with the 2002 California Angels.


That's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it, and stay positive test negative.  












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Baseball Playoffs Have Been Thrilling If You Can Stay Awake + TCM Tips with corrections

I'm posting a little before midnight on Sunday Oct. 17.  The Braves just went 2-0 up on the Dodgers in the NLCS with another dramatic walk-off bottom of the 9th win. 


Former Minnesota Twin Eddie Rosario started the tying rally in the 8th with some daring base-running encouraged by third base coach Ron Washington.  And then Rosario stroked the single past Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager that won the game in the 9th.


The Braves lost 2-0 and 3-1 leads to the Dodgers in last year's NLCS so this series is not over.  Yet there is nothing like the exhilaration of a comeback win for player and fan alike.  


Once the Yankees were convincingly eliminated by the Red Sox in the AL Wild Card game,

I had no team to viscerally root against. But the Dodgers with their huge payroll can be an easy target. 


I will say this - until these last two games in Atlanta, they were behaving admirably like a defending champion.  They chased the surprising Giants all season, losing their quest for their ninth straight NL West title on the last day of the regular season.


After winning the Wild Card game over the Cardinals, LAD ultimately caught SF in the final game of the best-of-five NL Division Series on Th night Oct 14.


For eight innings it was an extremely well-played taut game. Scoreless until the top of the 6th, LA drew first blood with a double down the left field line by free-agent-to-be Seager. It scored Mookie Betts, the former Red Sox star, who went four-for-four and demonstrated that he is probably healthy again. 


I had hoped that the Dodgers might get too cute by starting an "opener" in Corey Knebel, the former Brewers reliever and University of Texas Longhorn.  But Knebel and successor Brustar Graterol put up one zero each.  


Julio Urias, baseball's only 20-game winner in 2021, entered in the 3rd. Urias, the young Mexican who arrived in the majors at the age of 19, was virtually flawless until Giants journeyman outfielder Darin Ruf led off the bottom of 6th and homered deep to center field to tie the game.  


Answering runs is SO important in baseball and this was an immediate response. I love stories like Ruf's, a onetime Phillie who played in Korea for three years and returned in 2020 and this year has become a key member of this year's Giants' many platoons.


Not known as a good defensive player at either first base or outfield, Ruf also made two fine plays to keep singles from becoming doubles. He epitomized the kind of under-the-radar players that made the 2021 Giants so appealing.


Young Giants starter Logan Webb threw seven solid innings giving up only the one run. 

He hails from Rocklin, California near Sacramento, only 100 miles from SF's ballpark. Honored earlier in the week at the elementary school in his home town, he didn't let his new-found fame affect his concentration on the mound. 


As many people feared (including yours truly), the Giants bullpen was not as effective as the Dodgers' group. The Giants dodged a jam in top of 8th, but Camilo Doval, the Giants newly-anointed young closer, hit Justin Turner to start the top of the 9th.


After a single by rookie Gavin Lux moved Turner to second, the former NL MVP Cody Bellinger drove in Turner with a solid single to right-center with what proved to be the NLDS-winning RBI.


In my last blog, I said that Bellinger might make up for his injury-plagued poor regular season by filling the void left by injured Max Muncy.  His reawakening may be happening.


The Dodgers won the game, 2-1, when Max Scherzer got his first career save despite an error by third baseman Justin Turner that gave the Giants hope with one out.  But there would be no more amazing show of Giants' resilience.  


After a routine second out, the Giants' season ended when versatile journeyman Wilmer Flores was called out on strikes by first base ump Gabe Morales.  Replay confirmed what most of us watching at home already knew - Flores did not swing.  


Yet I find it highly unlikely that the Giants could have rallied against Scherzer.  He wasn't sharp pitching on two days rest, but his arsenal of pitches kept the Giant hitters off balance.  


Scherzer is a free agent after the World Series, and he and his agent Scott Boras are lobbying for another big contract for the 37-year-old winner of 3 Cy Young pitching awards with perhaps a 4th in 2021.  


I don't care what salary Scherzer will make, but I don't like players' economic demands rubbed in my face.   The Astros' Justin Verlander, out all year recovering from Tommy John surgery, tweeted the other day that Houston should give shortstop Carlos Correa anything he wants during his upcoming free agency.  


Verlander will be on the market himself after the Series with his full recovery uncertain but his competitiveness undoubtedly remaining very high.   But please don't rub all your salary and guaranteed year demands in my face. 


Given the long history of animosity between players and owners - see my three editions of THE IMPERFECT DIAMOND and works by many others - I'm not betting against a lockout after Dec. 1 when the current Basic Agreement has expired.  But not now for these tiresome discussions.


Turning to the ALCS, the series could well turn on the unavailability of Houston's ace Lance McCullers Jr.  Framber Valdez and Luis Garcia, the Astros starters used in the first two games, did not pitch well. 


Though Houston won Game One on timely home runs by their productive double play partners, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, the Red Sox rebounded in Game 2 with grand slams by J.D. Martinez and Rafael Devers in the first and second innings. Such a feat had never happened before in a post-season game.


I'd like to see manager Dusty Baker win his first World Series ring.  He has done an

excellent job of uniting his team after the sign-stealing scandal during the 2017 World Series, revealed two years later, cost general manager Jeff Luhnow his job and forced manager A.J. Hinch and bench coach Alex Cora to serve 2020 suspensions.


Yet the 2021 Red Sox are a likable team. Cora is back managing them (and Hinch led the Tigers to near-respectability this season).  Cora knows how to manage - he led the Red Sox to their 2018 World Series win over the Dodgers.


He understands how to encourage levity in the stressful world of major league baseball.

I've been getting a kick out of seeing a Bosox home run hitter get a ride on a laundry cart in the dugout.


The idea evidently was hatched last season when the Red Sox finished last in the shortened 60-game season, even behind the Orioles.  Coach Jason Varitek, and former Bosox star catcher, thought it might lighten the mood.  Now in a season of success, it continues to

be an amusing ritual.


It is hard to exaggerate the importance of genuine team-bonding activities.  The

Blue Jays, who just missed making October baseball, made a production of giving a glossy jacket with logos of the players' native countries to every home run hitter.  


Sometimes hijinks behind the scenes even help losing teams. The Orioles credited backup catcher Austin Wynn's buying of some sage on line for the end of their 19-game losing streak.  With the help of teammate Trey Mancini, the lighting of the incense in the clubhouse helped to lift the pall of defeat. 


The Dodgers will have to win four out of five now to return to the Series.  They could do that, but the Braves are pitching better than people expected, especially the bullpen.


The Red Sox have the next three games at Fenway so they have an edge on Houston even though the series is just tied at 1-1.  Maybe the off-day will cool off former Dodger Enrique "Kike" Hernandez who has been blasting homers and key hits at a record-breaking pace.


Houston must hope for that but the laundry cart rides will be ready for amazing Kike. He is starting to do to the Astros when he did to the eliminated 100-win Tampa Bay Rays. 


Whatever else happens in the next two weeks, I sure hope we continue to see stirring baseball. Because never forget - "the only reason to play baseball is to keep winter away."


Before I close, here are some sports and other movie tips from TCM for the rest of October, listed chronologically.  


Wed Oct 20  5:15A "This Sporting Life" (1963) - searing British drama about lower-class

rugby player with Richard Harris, Rachel Roberts, dir. Lindsay Anderson, writer David Storey


Th Oct 21 Rodgers and Hammerstein Day starting with "State Fair" (1945) at 1245a and resuming in prime time from 8p through Friday 1145a. 


Fri Oct 22 3p "Two Smart People" (1946) Jules Dassin directs Lucille Ball/Lloyd Nolan/John

Hodiak - "conniving people involved in art forgery," Leonard Maltin has described it. 

He doesn't rate it highly but Dassin was a fine director who left USA during blacklist.


Su Oct 24 10a Noir Alley presents North American debut of "The Beast Must Die" (1952)

   South American noir - (also on at 2a for the real night owls)


2p "Pat & Mike" (1952) Tracy & Hepburn in ladies golf scene with cameo by

Babe Didrikson and small key role for ex-first baseman future "Rifleman" Chuck Connors


345p "Sorry Wrong Number" (1948) really scary and well-done with Stanwyck 


530p Hitchcock's "North By Northwest" (1959) with Cary Grant/Eva Marie Saint


W Oct 27 930a "The Hard Way" (1942) Ida Lupino tries to protect younger sister Joan Leslie


4p "Shine On Harvest Moon" (1944) musical about Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth who wrote words to "Take Me Out To Ballgame".  Ann Sheridan/Dennis Morgan/Jack Carson are a good cast in undoubtedly a frothy film.


Th Oct 28 6:15a  "Woman of the Year" 6:15a (1942) the first Tracy-Hepburn collaboration with Tracy as sportswriter and Hepburn as influential world-traveling journalist/activist


Fri Oct 29  8a "Easy Living" (1949) Victor Mature (not Tyrone Power) as the football player with heart condition - some LA Rams play themselves incl. Kenny Washington

Dir. Jacques Tourneur - again, though, don't blame me for the ending.

(Audrey Young, wife of Billy Wilder, sings the title song by Leo Robin/Ralph Rainger.) 


12M "Invasion of Body Snatchers" (1978) 12M - the remake with Donald Sutherland/Brooke Adams directed by Philip Kaufman a few years before he directed "The Right Stuff"


Sat Oct 30 8p "Frankenstein" (1931) the original

930p "Young Frankenstein" (1974) Mel Brooks' take on it


Su Oct 31  12M & 10a "Cat People" 1942 - Jacques Tourneur directs Tom Conway (George Sanders' brother) and Simone Simon and Jane Randolph - this week's Noir Alley


330p "Pit and Pendulum" 1961 - Roger Corman directs Vincent Price


8p "Psycho" (1960) - not one of my favorite Hitchcock's esp. the preachy ending and

Janet Leigh's work was so much more varied than this, but still a classic film.


That's all for now - keeping remembering to Stay Positive, Test Negative, and

take it easy but take it! 



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