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Behold, It Is The Springtide of the Year! Thoughts on Baseball's Opening Day & Basketball's Sweet Sixteen

I've always loved the song in the Reform Jewish Haggadah that begins:  "Behold it is the springtide of the year/Over and past is winter's gloomy reign."  Well, it could snow in April as Andy Pettitte found out pitching through snowflakes on Yankee Stadium Opening Day over twenty years ago - I think it was 1999.

 

This still remains an amazingly hopeful time of year. Birds are chirping, buds are blooming, and Passover starts on Sat night March 27 along with the NCAA Division I men's basketball Sweet Sixteen earlier that day.  Then Opening Day for MLB on April's Fool Day.  

 

It's a fitting way to start a season for teams without a prayer of competing for a pennant. Let's start with my Orioles whose lack of veteran pitching, a left-side infield defense "anchored" by retreads Maikel Franco and Freddy Galvis, inconsistent offense, and no closer don't exactly inspire confidence.  

 

I will certainly root for individuals like Trey Mancini, back at his best position first base after a year missed to colon cancer; RHP Dean Kremer MLB's first dual Israeli-American citizen; outfielder Austin Hays who had a great spring training but alas always seems to get hurt; and switch-hitting outfielder Anthony Santander (accent on the last syllable please - "san-tan-DERE!").

 

Since Orioles need feel-good stories, young Venezuelan Santander has found a fan club in the United Kingdom. 

Joe Trezza posted a lovely piece Mar 24 on mlb.com about how a few thousand United Kingdom youths on a trip to the States two years ago adopted Santander while sitting in Camden Yards left field seats. 

 

I just hope the rumors that he could be traded at the late July deadline are false. No one is safe from the analytic-drenched Oriole brain trust.

 

There is hardly pennant hope in Anaheim (Angels), Cincinnati, Denver (Rockies), Detroit, Dallas (Texas Rangers), Kansas City, Phoenix (Diamondbacks), Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Toronto.  With the inability to pay Francisco Lindor, now a Met, Cleveland might also become a non-contender.  

 

The Cubs could also be slipping. I see the Brewers and Cardinals as co-favorites in NL Central.

 

On paper, the White Sox look like the stronger Chicago team. They still have to do it on the field with Tony LaRussa as the first manager ever enshrined in the Hall of Fame to return to the field.

 

LaRussa's rehiring occurred just after he was hit with a DUI charge for the second time in recent years. There is little doubt that his return is owner Jerry Reinsdorf making amends for dismissing him 35 years earlier.

 

Mel Brooks had it right - "it's good to be the King."

 

The Twins could challenge the White Sox in AL Central and Kansas City could stick around.

Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield is one of the unheralded players in the game.

 

The Royals may be developing some good pitching to throw to All-Star catcher Salvador Perez, who the other day signed up for another four years in Kansas City.  

 

In AL West, Houston lost free agent outfielder George Springer to Toronto and ace Justin Verlander is recovering from Tommy John surgery and may not be back until late in the season. But I think with Dusty Baker managing, the Astros will find a way to contend. 

 

Oakland under manager Bob Melvin might be a slight favorite in AL West because the Angels need pitching and Mike Trout to have an even better year than usual. Shohei Ohtani, the Japanese pitcher-first baseman, is healthy and will certainly be fun to watch on both the mound and at bat.

 

The Mariners as always talk a good game at the cutting edge of analytics. So far it hasn't translated into wins.

In their new billion dollar stadium, Rangers will still look upward.  Dallas is also planning on a capacity crowd for Opening Day which might lead to Covid nightmares.   

 

In AL East, Tampa Bay always manages to compete against the behemoth Yankees and the enigmatic Red Sox whose co-owner John Henry seems more involved in his international soccer interests than the Bosox.

 

Toronto has already lost closer Kirby Yates but I like their core for the future: Two sons of Hall of Famers, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Craig Biggio; infielder Bo Bichette; free agent pickup infielder Marcus Semien; and the wonderfully named first baseman Rowdy Tellez.  But who will pitch?!

 

The NL East could be very interesting.  The Braves, who fell one game short of the 2020 World Series, have to be favored.  They've added reliable starter Charlie Morton and have returning MVP Freddie Freeman. 

 

I'm not impressed by the Mets pitching after Jacob DeGrom or their defense.  Lindor must be signed for a good chunk of the future and Pete Alonso must bounce back from a miserable sophomore season.

 

I do hope that a full season is played. Unlike the powers that be who crave the TV-watching eyeballs in LA and NY,

I don't want to see a Dodgers-Yankees World Series. But since October is such a long way off, I'll try to enjoy the daily drama.

 

There is always a surprise in any season because MLB is such a marathon and the nature of the game is capricious.  So is life. And that is my biggest gripe with the analytics crowd. They are hell-bent at forcing certainty on a game that blessedly has defied simple categorization in its long and fascinating history. 

 

On the local scene, Manhattan College has resumed its home schedule at its new field at Van Cortlandt Park.  

They host Rider College from Trenton NJ for two doubleheaders before Easter Sunday - FSa Apr 2-3 starting at noon.  Only the famllies of players are invited to attend, but the games are free and in a public park so no stopping anyone from looking on.

 

The Jaspers play another twinbill against Iona on W Apr 7, first game 12N   Iona returns on Wed Apr 14.

The field is located not far from the northern terminus of the #1 train at 242 St and Broadway.

 

PSAL high school baseball is slated to resume on May 1 for a 10-game season with no playoffs. It will be only intra-borough competition and end in mid-June.  

 

To use a term from the days of Watergate, NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio's pronouncement that all high school sports will be played through August is now "inoperative."  

 

Now on to hoops, Loyola of Chicago has become perhaps the sentimental favorite after dismantling #1 seed Illinois to everyone's surprise including me.

  

One pithy phrase summed up Loyola's convincing win: NUN-AND-DONE - it paid homage to Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, 101, who has been rooting the Ramblers on and really knows the game. She is the team's long-serving chaplain.

 

The Sweet Sixteens this Sat and Mon & Sun and Tues should be exciting. The three #1 seeds left will be favored -  Michigan v. Gonzaga for one semi-final on Apr 3 and Baylor v perhaps #2 Houston for second semi.

 

I wouldn't count out anyone yet.  Michigan must beat Florida State (Su at 5p CBS) and then the winner of a matchup between explosive Alabama and red-hot UCLA (Su 715p TBS). 

 

After years of disappointment, Gonzaga may finally get its title but must beat Creighton (Sun 240p CBS) and then the winner of USC-Oregon (Su 945p TBS).  

 

Baylor, who dispatched my Wisconsin Badgers fairly easily, has to go through Villanova (Sa 515p CBS) and the winner of Arkansas-Oral Roberts (Sa 725p TBS).  ORU is the #15 seed that knocked out Ohio State and Florida.

 

Houston will have to beat Syracuse (Sa 955p TBS) before it can face the winner of Loyola-Oregon State (Sa 240p CBS) 

 

Columbia alums continue to BIRG (Bask In Reflected Glory) about Mike Smith whose point guard play for Michigan has been outstanding.  The Wolverines are the only Big Ten team left in the tourney.  

 

Nine got in but Iowa was blown out by Oregon; Ohio State, Purdue and Rutgers lost winnable games; Michigan State lost an overtime play-in game to UCLA (now in the Sweet Sixteen); Maryland couldn't match Alabama's offensive fire power. 

 

The Big Ten was probably overrated because lack of intersectional play in regular season masked their weaknesses in dealing with quicker teams. The intensity and defensive prowess in the Big Ten this year was still wonderful to watch.   

 

That's all for now.  In this age of the not-yet-conquered pandemic, please stay positve and test negative.  And always remember:  Take it easy but take it!    

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Winter Has Come But Only About 100 Days to Spring Training! (updated with corrections)

I had a premonition that Game 7 of this gripping World Series might be anti-climactic. But thought it might go the other way in favor of the home team Dodgers.

After all, they had beaten future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander in Game 6, not that they pummeled him. A game-tying bloop 6th inning double down the right field line by center fielder Chris Taylor had been the big hit followed by a sacrifice fly by shortstop Corey Seager.

Behind two solid 8th and 9th innings by closer Kenley Jansen, Dodgers won 3-1. Jansen blew the Game 2 save and lost the Game 5 classic on Alex Bregman’s single, but confidently bounced back in Game 6.

“Little ball” decided that game and as it turned out, so it did Game 7. Deserved World Series MVP George Springer led off the game with a ringing double. Then two ground balls to the right side helped by a throwing error by first baseman Cody Bellinger led to two quick runs.

In the next inning, another ground ball to right side by pitcher Lance McCullers plated the third run. Before manager Dave Roberts could move to replace Yu Darvish, ineffective for second time in this WS, Springer homered to give Astros a 5-0 lead.

After leaving the bases loaded in the first inning and Logan Forsythe unforgivably getting doubled off second on a line drive to shortstop to end 2nd inning, Dodgers hardly threatened again.

I say “unforgivably” because baseball savant Paul Richards always said that the only time a runner is blameless for being doubled up is when he is on first base and the ball is hit directly to first baseman.

So in the end the World Series was decided by Baseball 101 - hitting behind runners and protecting your position while on base. It will, of course, be remembered for the
unexpected momentum swings in every other game, especially the classic Game 2 & Game 5.

I’m happy for the city of Houston after the trauma of Hurricane Harvey and its past failures on the national baseball stage. I’m not happy that the Astros organization let go of eight veteran baseball scouts two weeks before the end of the season.

The reliance on statistical/analytical studies instead of scouts with two eyes and two ears on the field is an industry-wide trend that is unfortunate. But life is always more complicated than I’d like it to be.

The bottom line is that 2017 Houston Astros rose to the occasion in every way.
All hail to them!

[Update on George Springer III: He is a wonderful story that the New York Times has covered with distinction. Sportswriter James Wagner informed us on Nov 3 that Springer has made great progress dealing with a stuttering issue and has become a spokesman and fund-raiser for The Stuttering Association for the Young.

Vivian Lee informed us in the main A section of the Nov 2 Times that Springer hails from New Britain CT, the home town of "The Father of College Football" Walter Camp and Paul Manafort. There is even a Paul Manafort Drive that curves around the Central Connecticut State Univ. campus, named after Manafort's father who was a New Britain Republican Mayor.

Isn't America an amazing bundle of contradictions?!
A few years ago I heard Springer's father George Springer Jr. deliver an inspirational speech at the annual New York Pro Scouts Hot Stove League dinner. He is a lawyer who played in the Little League World Series and football at the U. of Connecticut.

Springer Jr. spoke like a preacher that night accepting the Herb Stein Future Star award from the scouts. I normally don't like the term "giving 110 per cent" but he made me a believer when he accepted the award for his son who was unable to attend.]

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT:
The absence of daily baseball is never easy to endure, but I do have my college football and basketball teams to follow. Columbia tasted defeat for the first time in 2017 when Yale thoroughly outplayed them in New Haven last Saturday Oct 24 on their way to a 23-6 victory.

Five bus loads of Columbia alumni and students enjoyed a wonderful pre-game tailgate but the vibrancy of our gathering was dimmed by the performance of the impressive Bulldog eleven.

If you’ve never been to the Yale Bowl, it should be on your bucket list. Football tradition exudes all over place. After all, it was Walter Camp in the 1880s who created the line of scrimmage and the concept of four downs to separate American football from rugby. The Walter Camp "fence," where players have posed for decades, is just outside the stadium.

Football history at Yale even predates Camp. There is the number 145 painted on the sidelines at the Yale Bowl. It stands for 145 years football has been played at the storied Ivy institution and counting.

I don’t know if there is a changing of the guard in the Ivy League but upstarts Columbia and Cornell are tied for first with Yale at 3-1 with three games left to play.
Perennial contender Harvard at 2-2 visits Columbia this Saturday Nov 4 and we’ll
see if the Lions can get back on the winning path.

In closing, I want to pay homage to a great Columbia man, writer-author-editor Ray Robinson who died on November 1st. He would have been 97 on Dec 4.
In his later years Ray became an acclaimed biographer of Columbia man Lou Gehrig and Bucknell’s Christy Mathewson.

Ray grew up near the Columbia campus and remembered Columbia’s infrequent gridiron triumphs very well. In our last conversation he reminded me that Columbia had not only beaten Stanford 7-0 in the 1934 Rose Bowl but had been undefeated in two other games against the Pacific Coast powerhouse.

Until next time, always remember: Take it easy but take it
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