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Late April Reflections on Baltimore Orioles and Columbia Lions

Readers of this blog will know that I am passionate about one pro team the Baltimore Orioles and the teams of my two alma maters Columbia and Wisconsin esp. baseball and basketball. (It remains maddening that Wisconsin gave up baseball in the late 1980s and remains the only Big Ten (or Big Fourteen) school without a baseball team. And no real hope that situation will change in the foreseeable future.)

The Orioles started 2016 with seven wins in a row - a team record for the early going and the first 7-game winning streak for my Birds in many years. They have come down to earth now with an 11-6 record, but they still lead the AL East by three games in loss column over the Red Sox with the Blue Jays beginning to make some noises.

Though under .500, the Rays and Yankees should not be counted out because they have the pitching to compete (though the Yankee starters have been inconsistent so far and their bats largely missing in action).

I still feel that the only possible runaway team in MLB this year could be the Cubs - 14-5 as I post this blog. But the Pirates and Cardinals will have something to say about that.

We must wait until the end of May before any real assessment of the season can begin. And even that milepost doesn't mean as much anymore because major additions to rosters can be made via trades until July 31.

On the college scene, Columbia basketball celebrated its winningest season ever with a farewell banquet to its four remarkable seniors and coach Kyle Smith who is heading back to the west coast as head coach of the U of San Francisco Dons, coached at one time by Phil Woolpert and Pete Newell and alma mater of Bill Russell and KC Jones.

Senior forwards Isaac Cohen and Alex Rosenberg and guards Maado Lo and Grant Mullins
all spoke with humor and emotion at the banquet last week. Lo and Mullins are likely to continue their careers next year - the quick sharp-shooting Lo with a chance for the NBA and Mullins with one year of eligibility left because a concussion kept him idle for over a year.

Meanwhile, Columbia's chance for an unprecedented baseball four-peat in the Ivy League is hanging by a thread. They will need a lot of help from Cornell who will play division leader Princeton four times this weekend while Columbia ends the regular season with two at Penn on Friday and two at home on Saturday.

The Lions at least kept Princeton from celebrating on Columbia's Satow Stadium at Robertson Field this weekend. They won three out of four despite the presence of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie whose son Andrew is a senior catcher for the Tigers.
Princeton still leads Penn by one game and Columbia by three with four to go.

I must end on a melancholy note. Columbia and a remarkably wide swath of America are mourning the passing of Bill Campbell, 75, who succumbed to a long battle with cancer last week. He was a Columbia football captain - class of 1962, and a former Columbia football coach who moved to Silicon Valley to become a major player in the computer industry.

No Columbia athlete will ever Campbell's #67 again. And that number is now painted on the baseball field and of course will be on prominent display in the fall on Robert Kraft Field at Lawrence Wien Stadium at the Baker Field complex.

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

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Wisconsin and Columbia Cagers Provide Joy While Orioles Sputter in Spring Training

There is nothing like having one's team in contention for a title. Much was expected of the Columbia basketball team this season. Its four seniors brought a lot to the table and two were coming back from year-long injuries: forward Alex Rosenberg and guard Grant Mullins.

Combined with perennial All-Ivy shooting marvel Maado Lo and the versatile Isaac Cohen - who can impact a game positively without take a shot - an end to the Ivy League championship drought since 1967-68 seemed within reach. Unfortunately for fans of the Light Blue and White Lions, Yale and Princeton were just a little bit better this season.

Yet Columbia under six=year head coach Kyle Smith has done very well in the post-season College Insiders Tournament (a tourney so "inside" that very few people know about it). Blessed with two home games, Columbia trounced Norfolk State and came from behind to nip Ball State 69-67.

On Easter Sunday March 27 at 6p they will face NJIT (New Jersey Institute of Technology) for the right to meet in the championship game on Tuesday March 29. Both games will be televised on the CBS Sports Network cable channel. NJIT's coach is a former Columbia assistant Jim Engles, something that adds a little flavor to the matchup. The Lions beat NJIT by 9 points in December.

Meanwhile out in Big Ten land my graduate alma mater University of Wisconsin Badgers has surprised all the pundits by making the Sweet Sixteen. Not once all season did they crack the Top 25 in the weekly polls. (Among superfluous ridiculous aspects in today's sports, those basketball-football polls rank very high IMHO).

Lots of heart-warming stories with this year's Badger team. High among them is coach Greg Gard earning the full-time job for his great work after taking over in mid-December after Bo Ryan's retirement.

Unlike Ryan who rarely used his bench, Gard has developed youngsters Jordan Hill and Ethan Iverson and Charlie Thomas into players who can provide key minutes while the impressive starters need a rest.

A third straight Final Four appearance seemed the unlikeliest of dreams a few weeks ago. It is still a long shot but how lovely it is to dream of it. Even to the point of writing about it just a few hours before the Badgers take on Notre Dame for the right to play either North Carolina or Indiana on Sunday.

All this basketball love has enabled me not to worry too much (yet) about how the Orioles will fare in 2016. If I were a pundit predicting the season, I would be hard-pressed not to pick them 5th in the 5=team AL East. Their starting pitching looks mediocre at best.

But fortunately no games count until Monday April 4 when they begin the season against the Minnesota Twins who swept them out of the pennant race last year with seven straight victories. Certainly the Birds are due for a win. So I will say with a wan smile channeling the late pitcher-pundit Joaquin Andujar, "Youneverknow, youneverknow."

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