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On The Joy of Wearing My Orioles Jacket + MLB Playoff Predictions

It is always a bittersweet time when the precious days of September fade away.  The autumn leaves tell us that winter is not behind and even worse, that the regular season of baseball is over.

 

The Orioles' improbable run into contention surprised everyone, certainly yours truly who was glad by summer to ditch my alter ego of Masochist Mel.  Alas, another alter ego, Pessimistic Pete, lurks nearby

because there are no guarantees for 2023.

 

The Birds still need more reliable starting pitching that can go deep into games and more consistent hitting to truly contend in a tough AL East Division.  I know that the number of intra-division games will

be cut from 19 to 13 in 2023 - not the greatest idea BTW - but you still must win the majority of

your games and get comfortably over .500 which the 2022 Orioles never could do.  

 

And repeat after me, class:  EVERY SEASON IS DIFFERENT. There is still much to dream about - full

seasons from catcher Adley Rutschman - voted the Oriole MVP though I would have picked spectacularly-fielding shortstop Jorge Mateo in a very close vote - and versatile infielder 21-year-old Gunnar Henderson.

 

I saw Henderson play last year in the lower minors and twice this year at Norfolk.  You could see not only the talent but his love of the game in his every movement on the field and in the dugout.  Same is true of Rutschman who is reminscent of Gary Carter in his joy in catching.

 

And get this!  Henderson's older brother is an Orioles fan.  Natives of Alabama, Gunnar couldn't

wait to come to Baltimore to hear the Oriole fans shout "O!" near the last lines of the National Anthem.

That note has dwindled in the recent years of losing, but it is definitely making a comeback.

 

I happily report that I now wear my Oriole jacket again - it led to an interesting encounter a few days ago. I was sitting on a bench in Riverside Park near the Columbia campus reading a book when a man walking a dog gave me a thumbs up for my baseball allegiance. 

 

It turned out that not only was he an Oriole fan but I had seen his son on TV a couple of nights earlier.  Watching the Red Sox feed on my MLB Extra Innings package, the Boston announcers kept replaying the shot of a fan in an Oriole cap botching a home run catch in the bleachers.

 

Earlier he had caught one easily but not this time. and was he ever mad at himself.  And does TV ever love to focus on the agory of defeat as well as the ecstasy of victory.   

 

It turns out that the 30-something fellow, a graduate of Manhattan College, is virtually a professional ball game attendee.  He drove with his father to that Monday night game.  Because there was a long rain delay, they didn't return to NYC until 4AM.

 

The father, Shelley Barasch, told me that Greg always gets over 10 baseballs at every game, mostly during batting practice.  They intend to drive to the season's last game at Fenway to get in on the giveaways of jerseys, batting gloves, more baseballs, and other memorabilia.  

 

I wished them luck and we saluted each other's Oriole fandom. He walked back to his apartment

and I continued reading the deeply moving book "1947: Where Now Begins," published in 2016 by Swedish writer Elisabeth Asbrink (translated by Fiona Graham).  Rarely have I have read such a combination of poetic memoir and historically keen observation.   

 

A few minutes later Shelley came back to the park bench with a gift that I will treasure, a baseball from Greg's collection. O, those little things that make baseball-loving so special. 

 

And while I have the Red Sox on my mind, here's to a good retirement for Dennis Eckersley, 65, who I was glad I could hear on that Red Sox-Oriole broadcast.  The Hall of Fame pitcher developed an unique

language as a commentator.  

 

He was the one who coined "walkoff" homer to describe a game-winning blast.

Here's another Eckersley coinage, describing a pitcher's statistical line:

   "9 strikeouts, 7 swinging, 2 pairs of shoes" (i.e., just standing at the plate, not swinging the bat).

 

Eckersley, of course, gave up one of the most famous walkoffs to the LA Dodgers' Kirk Gibson in the first game of the 1988 World Series, but he survived to have more good years.  

 

TIME TO WARILY PUT ON PREDICTION CAP!

The 12-team October playoffs begin on Friday October 8 with four best-of-three wild card series.  I don't bet although TV and MLB certainly want me and millions of others to do so. Here's two examples:

 

An ad on the Yankees' YES network for a betting service show a man sitting on a toilet seat placing bets on his cellphone.  At the Mets' CitiField, the lines for the third base coaching box are now dwarfed by a huge plug for Caesar's Sports Book.

 

I still want to put in my 37 cents of playoff predictions (my two cents corrected for inflation).

 

I will go with the home teams in the wild cards - Tampa Bay bowing to Cleveland the youngest team in the playoffs with a great manager in Terry Francona (who everyone calls Tito after his late father a former MLB slugger); solid if playoff-inexperienced pitching; two infielders they got from the Mets for Francisco Lindor, Andres Gimenez and Amed Rosario, both having excellent years; and a fertile player development system.

 

They also have third baseman Jose Ramirez who in any other year would be a top-rank MVP candidate.

(Aaron Judge will win with Shohei Ohtani getting some votes, but I for one cannot see how even a

great hitting-pitching talent like Ohtani can be most valuable on a bad team.)

 

That Jose Ramirez decided to stay in Cleveland on a long-term contract was a refreshing sign that not every player wants to come to the highest-paying big market cities.  I just hope Cleveland gets crowds

approaching 30,000 for the games against Tampa Bay. 

 

I think Toronto, my pre-season pick to win the AL East, will prevail over Seattle, the Mariners in playoffs for first time since 2001.  But the Blue Jays must run the bases better than they did recently against the Yankees.

 

One of my favorite Jays is stocky catcher/DH Alejandro Kirk signed out of high school in Tijuana. He appears to be the picture of grizzled experience at the plate but he won't be 23 until next month. 

 

In the NL wild cards, I think the Mets have had enough time to lick their wounds from Atlanta's sweep last weekend to beat the Padres in New York. Deeper starts from Max Scherzer and Jacob DeGrom will be needed and the red-hot closer Edwin Diaz must stay at his near-perfection level.  

 

A return to health of Mets outfielder Sterling Marte would be welcome but finger fractures are tricky

things and he may not be ready.  The Padres rallied late in the season behind their new veteran manager Bob Melvin and even beat their nemesis Dodgers a couple of times to insure they made the playoffs.  

 

I hope Yu Darvish does well because I think the Iranian-Japanese righthander is one of baseball's more endearing players. But I hope the Mets prevail in what certainly will not be a slam dunk because the Mets offense without Marte has been sputtering.

 

Solid shortsotp Francisco Lindor needs to step it up and add his offense to power-hitting Pete Alonso and potential batting champion champ Jeff McNeil - a versatile, intense easy-to-root-for mainstay. Otherwise, there are too many holes in the lineup.  

 

The Cardinals should hold off the Phillies in St. Louis but their pitching is not proven except for aging Adam Wainwright. He is one of three grand old men along with retiring slugger Albert Pujols and catcher Yadier Molina that may make the Cardinals a sentimental favorite.  

 

St. Louis also features two potent corner men, third baseman Nolan Arenado and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. Likely Hall of Famers along with sure-fire immortals Molina and Pujols who passed the

700 career HR mark late this season.  

 

The Cardinals' nabbing Arenado from Colorado and Goldschmidt from Arizona, two chronic losing franchises, reflects the sad state of those expansion franchises .  The Rockies and Diamondbacks have gotten little in return, but baseball history is replete with the rich picking on the poor and the bright on the dumb and some things may never change.   

 

In the best-of-five division series, picks are less clear to me.  I'd like to see a Cleveland-Houston

best-of-seven in the ALCS with Dusty Baker going all the way to win his first World Series as a manager.

In fact, it could well be that we have a repeat of 2021, an Atlanta-Houston World Series with

the Astros this time coming out on top. 

 

The Cardinals will have to face the Braves if they win the wild card series and the Mets the Dodgers

if they win, and both rested teams will be favored with the home field advantage. The Dodgers are

loaded as usual with baseball's largest payroll and a playoff-tested roster.  

 

But they have question marks at closer and in the starting rotation so their advance is not a slam dunk.

Such a sign of the times - me using basketball terminology to describe baseball! I love basketball

but it is not baseball.   

 

The Yankees bullpen is a work in progress with no consistent closer.  A return to form of pending free agent Aroldis Chapman would be a godsend. They probably have enough to beat Cleveland.

 

After its August slumber, the Yankee offense has re-emerged. If DJ LeMahieu is healthy and Giancarlo Stanton gets on a roll which is conceivable, the Yankees will be very dangerous.  

 

And, of course, add a relaxed Aaron Judge to that picture. I am very happy he got his 62nd home run to

relieve the pressure building on him.  He should be the face of baseball for his genuine team-

orientation and his humble yet perceptive demeanor.

 

Rumors persist that he might bolt to the West Coast after the season because he is a free agent.  

I personally doubt he will leave, but let's table that emotional discussion into later November when the hot stove fires really start buring. 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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Ballades, College Basketball And Movies Supplant MLB For Near Future (at least) - corrected

It is sad but not surprising that the baseball lockout is impacting spring training.  

The greatest words in English language, "pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training," mean nothing to the powers in baseball ownership intent on rolling back salaries and letting the hired help realize at long last who is Boss.  

 

MLB Opening Day on March 31, another special occasion, looks threatened, too. Let me be clear, though, that there will be baseball on other levels soon. In fact, the Fordham Rams open their season on Fri Feb 23 at 3P against Sacred Heart of Fairfield, CT, at Houlihan Stadium at Jack Coffey Field.  

 

The park is a little treasure located behind the football stadium and across the street from the New York Botanical Garden.  And if you are into a healthy walk, it's just a little over a mile walk east on Fordham Road to the Bronx's Little Italy on Arthur Avenue.    

 

Manhattan College - now playing home games in Pomona New York at the independent league Rockland Boulders ballpark - waits until March 4 to open its season against Fairleigh Dickinson of Teaneck.   

 

My Columbia Lions head to Jacob DeGrom country to open its season Feb 25 thru 27 against the Stetson Hatters in Deland, Fla.  Stetson is DeGrom's alma mater

where he started as a shortstop until he needed Tommy John surgery.  

 

Columbia's home opener is against Penn with a doubleheader on Sa March 26 starting at 1130A and Su Mar 27 a 12N single game. Satow Stadium at Robertson Field is located west of Broadway & 218 St. Like Fordham, the baseball field is down a little hill behind the football field and affords a lovely view of the Hudson River.   

 

Deland, Florida is the home town of David Fultz, a forgotten but important figure in MLB labor history. Briefly a major leaguer in the early 20th century, Fultz was a well-respected football referee, and the president of the short-lived Baseball Players Fraternity of America.

 

The Fraternity vied with the owners around the time of the Federal League third league challenge and won some small concessions  It died shortly after the Feds folded by the end of the 1915 season.

 

It seems my mind never strays that far from the perennial labor wars in MLB, but, Virginia, let me stress that there will be baseball this year.  Exactly when on the MLB scene is not clear. I still don't know - nor does anybody - who is capable of making a deal on either side.

 

"You Must Believe In Spring" remains one of my favorite mantras.  Thank you Michel LeGrand for your lovely melody with lyrics by the Bergmans, Alan and Marilyn.

 

Meanwhile, my favorite college basketball teams continue to bring me pleasure and hope.  Wisconsin enters a Lincoln's Birthday Feb 12 game against improving Rutgers with a

18-4 overall record and locked in a first place Big Ten tie with formidable Illinois and Purdue.

 

Columbia's women basketball Lions got spanked by defending Ivy League champion Princeton last Saturday, but they will have a rematch at home on Wed Feb 23 at 5p. 

Can't wait to bring my newly acquired cow bell as spectators are welcomed back. 

 

The women Lions can't afford to overlook games against tough Yale on road and Harvard and Dartmouth at home before tackling the mighty Tigers again.

 

And now some tips on the music and movie scenes:

I heard last night (Wed Feb 9) on WQXR's long running series, David Dubal's "Reflections from the Keyboard," his second show dedicated to pianist Arturo Benedetto Michelangeli.

 

Brahms' Second Ballade, an early work, and Chopin's First Ballade in G-Minor, op. 23 took my breath away.  Talk about harmonies that stir the emotions and open the heart!  

A rarely heard Chopin Op. 45 Prelude in C-Sharp Minor was a highlight of the first Michelangeli show.

 

Also featured in Tribute #2 was the slow movement from Beethoven's Piano Concerto #5. One of its melodies must have inspired Leonard Bernstein when he wrote "There's A Place For Us" for "West Side Story".  

 

The Michelangeli show will be rebroadcast on Sunday night Feb. 13 from 10-11P and streamed at wqxr.org   Maybe listen in and mute the Super Bowl which might still be going. 

 

On the live scene, "Friends of Mozart" returns for another season:  

Wed Feb 16 at 7P with a Mozart Oboe Quartet, Beethoven's Variations of "La Ci Da Rem La Mano" from Mozart's "Don Giovanni," & an early Beethoven trio for piano, violin, and cello.  

 

The concert will be at the comfortable and welcoming St. Stephen's Church at 120 W 69 St just east of Broadway. There is no admission charge but a contribution is suggested.

 

On the TCM front, the Noir Alley selections for the rest of February look enticing.

Sa midnight Feb 13 repeated 10A Sun - "Side Street" (1949) with Farley Granger

 

Sa Feb 20-Su Feb 21  "Cast A Dark Shadow" (1955) with Dirk Bogarde the Brit who was a heartthrob of my late sister Carol Norton. He plays a bad guy out to do violence against

Margaret Lockwood.

 

Sa Feb 27-Su Feb 28 "No Way Out" (1950) Sidney Poitier young doctor assigned to treat an unrepentant racist, Richard Widmark.  Also featuring Linda Darnell, Stephen McNally (who played one of the most hateful characters ever in "Johnny Belinda", Jane Wyman's Oscar.) Directed by Joseph Mankiewicz.

 

Other TCM films of note include:

 Th Feb 17 will be Gene Tierney night starting with: 

8P with "Laura" (1944) with Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price, directed by Otto Preminger.  I'm not a collector but I'd love to know the story of the "Baseball" ball bearing game that Andrews is noodling with as he interviews Webb at beginning of film. 

 

945P "The Ghost and Mrs Muir" (1947)

 

1145P "Whirlpool" (1949)

 

Back to Linda Darnell, the Museum of Modern Art has a Darnell festival through the end of March.  The alluring and talented actress, who died at 41 from injuries in a fire, stars in:

F Mar 4 at 130P with Rex Harrison in "Unfaithfully Yours" (1948)

 

F Mar 11 at 130p as part of the great cast in "A Letter to Three Wives" (1949)

 

W Mar 23 at 130p in Rene Clair's "It Happened Tomorrow" (1944) with Dick Powell, on his path from bobby soxer roles into full-fledged dramatic noir, and Jack Oakie who might never have exceeded his portrayal of a Mussolini character opposite Charlie Chaplin's Hitler in "The Great Dictator" but he was a talented and humorous actor who enjoyed a long career.

 

That's all for now.  Try to stay positive and test negative, and take it easy but take it!

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