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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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YIBF (Yours In Baseball Forever) Journal - Late August Dog Days Edition

It caught my eye while recently surfing the internet. Toronto left-hander Mark Buehrle was tipping his cap to White Sox fans in Chicago after being knocked out of the box in the bottom of the 6th inning.

Buehrle was signed and developed by the Chisox and was a key mound stalwart when they won the World Series in 2005. He left for the Florida Marlins as a free agent and then was traded to Toronto but obviously a lot of his heart was left in the Windy City.

It seemed that Buehrle was fighting back tears as he saluted the Chicago fans, who also cheered his first inning appearance on the mound. His emotion reminded me of something wise that Ken Griffey Sr. said as his son – the fabled Ken Griffey Jr. – was contemplating leaving Seattle for free agency. “The team that signs you cares the most about you,” Griffey Sr. noted sagely.

The younger Griffey ultimately opted to OK a trade to Cincinnati where he grew up. However, because of accumulated injuries and the ravages of age, he never had the impact that he had in Seattle.

David Price, the Rays’ southpaw ace traded to Detroit at the July 31st deadline, received a similar heartwarming welcome on August 21 when he pitched in Tampa for the first time as a member of the opposition. Whatta game Price pitched, too, a one-hitter but he lost it 1-0 on an unearned run in the first inning.

Tampa Bay was the scene for another poignant baseball moment a week ago when Alex Cobb of the Rays faced off against Brandon McCarthy of the Yankees. Both pitchers have bounced back, literally, from being hit on the head with line drives – Cobb last year in June and McCarthy in September 2012 while pitching for the Oakland A’s.

Never underestimate the courage of pro athletes in any sport to get out there on the firing line as soon as possible from an injury, however serious. It is what is meant by being a competitor and “getting it.” Kudos to David Adler, a writer for mlb.com in Tampa Bay, who made a point to note the back story of the Cobb-McCarthy matchup that Cobb won though McCarthy pitched very well. Cobb, whose front leg gyrations are even more pronounced than most Japanese pitchers, was the hurler who bested Price 1-0 in that classic recent game.

COULD THE DEADLINE DEALS BE BACKFIRING?
Too early to bash media darling general managers Billy Beane of the A’s (who traded center fielder Yoenis Cespedes for ace southpaw Jon Lester) and Dave Dombrowski who traded his center fielder Austin Jackson for Price. Both A’s and Tigers have struggled mightily since the deals but plenty of time to correct their ships. After all, it is still August with more than three dozen games (two NFL regular seasons) to play before the playoffs start.

There remains a wise old adage, "Sometimes the trades you don't make are the best ones."
And never forget that players are not robots and may not seamlessly fit into their new environment. Nor forget the side-effect of trades being telling your existing players that they may not be good enough to win it all.

EARLY THOUGHTS ON THE NEW COMMISSIONER
On the labor relations front in baseball, the election of Rob Manfred to replace Bud Selig as commissioner is good news for those who never want the continuity of the baseball season to be disrupted again.

There was a last-minute attempt, evidently masterminded by White Sox and Chicago Bulls basketball owner Jerry Reinsdorf, to prevent the seamless transfer of power from Bud Selig to Manfred. It got no traction and the vote to approve Manfred was made unanimous by the 30 baseball owners before their meeting broke up in Baltimore on Thursday August 14.

Manfred is an experienced lawyer who arrived in baseball in the early 1990s. He was witness to the nuclear summer of 1994 when the players went on strike and in early September the owners unilaterally cancelled the playoffs and the World Series.
Manfred soon rose to power as the chief management labor negotiator and has been instrumental in the two decades of labor peace that ensured and looks like will continue for the foreseeable future.

He has kept his personal preferences close to the vest. It will certainly be interesting to see where he comes down on such issues as the increasing length of games, the continuing failure to attract younger audiences to the game, and the four-decade-old-and-still-counting split on the designated hitter used in one major league and not the other.

Personally I have never liked the DH but with interleague games every day now it becomes an increasing disadvantage for American League pitchers to hit when they are not trained to do so. Also I have been convinced by the argument that since the DH is not utilized in World Series game in National League parks, it does put the American League at a distinct disadvantage.

As for increasing the pace of the game, I'm all for a clock to be utilized at all major league ballparks limiting a pitcher's dallying before throwing a ball. Such a clock exists in college conferences these days - 12 seconds in some cases - and it would be a good start.

That’s all for now – next edition of the YIBF Journal comments on my travels on the road to varying baseball spots from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, Washington DC to Manchester, New Hampshire and the New York outer boroughs.

Always remember: Take it easy but take it!  Read More 
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