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Reflections on Baseball Streaks & Experiencing the Kelly Rodman Memorial Summer Rivalry Classic + TCM Tips

One of the amazing aspects of a long baseball season is how the old cliche usually proves

correct:  The best teams almost always lose at least 60 and the worst teams somehow manage to win 60 (though not this year for Diamondbacks, Orioles, Pirates, and Rangers). 

 

Look at what happened to the Yankees after winning 13 in a row.  After a punchless shutout loss to the Blue Jays on Labor Day, they have lost seven out of nine. Gerrit Cole, the $341 million pitcher, will have to be the stopper and he probably can fill the role.  But the bullpen once the team strength looks shaky these days.

 

The soaring Tampa Bay Rays are not likely to be caught for the AL East crown but the Yanks still narrowly control the top wild card by two lost games over the Red Sox with the Jays only one lost game behind Boston.

 

The A's and Mariners still have a chance if they go on streaks.  They are playing each other six times so that might be difficult. 

 

In the NL, after winning 9 in a row, the Braves have lost 8 out of 12 and the Phillies are only 2 games behind them for the NL East lead.  The slumping Padres - who last month fired their accomplished pitching coach Larry Rothschild - I never like scapegoating any individual in a team sport - still have a two-game wild card lead over the Phillies and Reds with the Cards and Mets still having outside chances if they go on a winning streak.

 

I am enjoying these close end-of-year battles - even if the length of the games is getting ridiculous. Might as well savor the competition if the rumor is true that there will be even more teams eligible for playoffs in the future. lf the money from TV and "new media" is there, I fear it will happen because $$$$ makes the reigning commissioner and the owners (and most players) drool.     

 

Despite the nagging issues with MLB, nothing can kill my love of the game on the grass roots level.  So on the last Friday in August, with the Red Sox on the road, I made a trip to Fenway Park to see the Kelly Rodman Memorial Summer Rivalry Classic. 

 

Now in its 13th year, the event features high school and college players eligible for next summer's amateur draft in two seven-inning games. The idea has been the brainstorm of two experienced Northeast area scouts, the Red Sox' Ray Fagnant and the Yankees' Matt Hyde. 

 

They may work for fierce rival organizations, but they each share a genuine interest in helping future players learn correctly the basics of the game.  Over a few weekends earlier in the summer, the youngsters receive instruction and the chance to play games, culminating in the precious opportunity to compete on the hallowed diamond of Fenway.

 

A few Augusts ago I went to the Rivalry Classic the one time it was played at Yankee Stadium. I saw a rising high school senior from Arizona belt a homer in the lower right

field stands.  His name was Cody Bellinger soon a NL MVP for the Dodgers.  (Slow in his

recovery from two surgeries, he will have a chance to play in October and possibly turn his season around.)

 

I also saw in the stands a former Rivalry Classic participant following the action. His name was Mike Yastzemski, then an obscure unappreciated Orioles minor leaguer and by 2020 a contributor to the SF Giants' resurgence as they battle with the Dodgers this season to

escape the wild card sudden death game.

 

Since last year's game, the Classic has been dedicated to the memory of Kelly Rodman, a full-time Yankee area scout who died of cancer in March 2020 at the unconscionably young age of 44. No one who ever met Kelly will ever forget her. It was heartwarming if bittersweet to see her face regularly flashed on the Fenway videoboard.

 

I remember her participating one Sunday morning a few years ago as an instructor in a clinic sponsored in Newburgh, New York by The Baseball Miracles project founded by retired White Sox scout John Tumminia.  She was a bundle of energy and life-affirmation as she led

pre-teenagers through drills and sprints.

 

A star softball outfielder at Eastern Connecticut State University, the native of Wallingford, Connecticut went on to play baseball in many places around the world before she turned to baseball scouting. 

 

She coined the mantra, "Be Great, Today!" to inspire players in their daily effort to improve.  There is a T-shirt with that motto and other apparel available by contacting 

jen@thekellyrodmanmemorialfoundation.org

 

Last month at Fenway I saw some famous offspring competing.  For the Bosox squad there was Pedro Martinez, son of Hall of Famer Pedro who was there to give support along with the youngster's mother. Pedro told me that he is primarly an infielder, currently in college in Lynn, Massachusetts, though he played outfield in the second seven-inning game. 

 

For the Yankees, Carson Sabathia, a prep first baseman, looks like he is taking after his father in size and he displayed a quick power bat.  I'm kinda glad, though, that both youngsters are not trying to emulate their famous fathers on the mound.    

 

I noticed scouts from the Brewers, Pirates, Twins, and Tigers in uniform helping out in pre-game drills and providing guidance in the dugouts. Another rewarding touch was to see coaching third base for Fagnant's Bosox squad Kayla Baptista, a softball player from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. 

 

During one half-inning break, the public address announcer asked Brad Dubrowski, a Monmouth University southpaw just back from a successful summer season for Harwich in the Cape Cod Baseball League, to take a bow.   

 

I am not sure where I first heard the phrase, "Competitors and Colleagues," to describe

scouting at its most generous.  But I certainly sensed that feeling the last Friday of August in Fenway. And no doubt every season in the future.  

 

Baseball remains the hardest game to master but there is joy in competition and solace in collegiality. So it was almost fitting that the games were split - the Yankees won the first game and the Red Sox the second.

 

TIME FOR TCM TIPS: There is not a heavy dose of sports-themed films in Sept. and they will be aired late in the month. 

 

Three roller derby films will be on back-to-back-to-back on Th Sep 23 starting with "Rollerball" at 8p and "Kansas City Bomber" at 1015p. 

 

On Su Sept 26, if you haven't seen it, make a point to see "Easy Living" at 1130a. Noir master Jacques Tourneur directs Victor Mature, a LA Ram football player who a cardiologist (Jim Backus) warns has a heart condition that could jeopardize his life.

Lisabeth Scott plays the scheming wife (what else is new?), Lloyd Nolan is the Ram owner,

Lucille Ball his secy. and get ready Jack Paar is the PR guy.  I kid you not.  And some of the Rams, including Kenny Washington, play themselves.

 

Coming up on Tu Sept 28 at 8a is Burt Lancaster in "Jim Thorpe All-American". Later that day at 630p, Harold Lloyd tries his hand as college football player in the silent movie "The Freshman". I'll note these films again later this month but mark your calendars now.  

 

Even though they have added a lot of bells and whistles to the website and taken away the original music for Eddie Muller's Noir Alley series, a full list of Noir Alleys through the week before Christmas is available on the TCM website.  

 

I highly recommend Fritz Lang's "Human Desire" on Sun Sep 19 at 10A esp. for the opening scene of Glenn Ford as a railroad engineer riding his first route since his return from

the Korean War.  The viewer actually feels he/she is in the driver's seat.  The triangle that develops among Ford, Gloria Grahame, and Broderick Crawford is pretty gruesome but after all it is Noir. 

 

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

uncertain times, Stay Positive, Test Negative. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On Miracles in Football and Baseball (updated with report on 50th anniversary of Columbia's 1968 championship cagers)

Thanks to an excellent game story on the Super Bowl by New York Times sportswriter Ben Shpigel, I read this morning that victorious Eagles coach Doug Pederson put up a sign this season in the Philadelphia clubhouse:
“An individual can make a difference. A team can make a miracle.”

It was no miracle that the Eagles ruined the Patriots’ attempt at a repeat Super Bowl title. It was some great offensive football led by backup quarterback Nick Foles that did the trick. A huge sack and fumble then cemented the victory late in the fourth quarter. (I wonder if horses born in Philly today will be named Foles' Foals!)

As a U. of Wisconsin graduate, I was pleased that former Badger running back Corey Clement - from south Jersey so playing near home - was a key part of the offense. Glad also that James White, another back developed well at Wisconsin, did his part to almost bring the Patriots back to the winner’s circle.

Early Super Bowl Sunday I was involved with a real miracle by sitting in on a baseball clinic in Newburgh, New York sponsored by Chicago White Sox scout John Tumminia’s Baseball Miracles project. Newburgh is just 65 miles north of NYC with rolling Catskills foothills serving as a lovely backdrop to this Hudson River town.

Talk about giving back! Brooklyn native Tumminia has lived in Newburgh since the end of his playing days as a St. Francis College-Bklyn and minor league outfielder.
His project has sponsored baseball and softball clinics all over the world.

“We strive to reach out especially to the youth who have never the played the game,” the mission statement explains. “At no cost, we provide instruction, gloves, bats, hats, shirts, and memories.”

Baseball Miracles traveled to Argentina late last year and previously put on clinics in Honduras, Kenya, South Africa, and Ireland. Domestically, they have brought the joy of baseball to the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, to underprivileged areas in Kentucky and New Orleans.

An impressive array of baseball scouts and coaches from big league organizations was on hand Super Bowl Sunday morning. Among them was White Sox scout/assistant Bronx Monroe H.S.coach Jose Bautista Jr. whose father pitched in the big leagues and is no relation to the free agent slugger Jose Bautista.

There was a chorus of boos from the youngsters when they thought Jose Jr. was related to the swaggering former Blue Jay slugger. Our Jose is also an assistant coach for the Bronx Monroe H.S. powerhouse team.

Others serving as clinicians yesterday included Alex Agostino of the Phillies, Kyle Bamberger of the Orioles, John Ceprini of the Reds, Ray Fagnant of the Red Sox, Cesar Presbott and Kelly Rodman of the Yankees, and Dennis Sheehan of the Diamondbacks.

I hadn’t seen Fagnant since a high school all-star game at Yankee Stadium several summers ago. In a great show of collegiality Red Sox and Yankee organizations cooperate on bringing national players to a mid-summer clinic that ends with a game at Yankee Stadium.

I attended this game years ago when Arizona high schooler Cody Bellinger, now reigning NL Rookie-of-the-Year, homered into the right field Stadium stands.
Fagnant told me that no one had done that until last year when six were hit, including three by a northern Ohio slugger Northcott now attending Vanderbilt who should be a high draft pick by his junior year.

Before the clinic began, Toronto Blue Jays executive Ben Cherington gave an introductory talk. He reminded the youngsters of three basic facts:

1. Have fun while learning. Afer all, the first three letters in fundamental are fun.
2. Learn how to practice. He recommended going to You Tube and putting in “Derek Jeter Practicing” and “Steph Curry Practicing”.
3. Learn how to be a good teammate even if you have a bad day.

And then the clinic of over two hours began. I’ve been to the long-running winter BeTheBest clinic in Atlantic City and this Baseball Miracle Clinic was run with the same efficiency and elan as the older one for the big boys and college players.

A couple of nine-year-olds really impressed me with their quick bats on wiffle balls soft-tossed by coaches. They also showed good speed around the bases.

One was wearing an Aaron Judge #99 jersey but he said he wasn’t a fan of any team. He just loved to play. Something I love to see!

A huge tip of the cap goes to 91-year-old Newburgh native and philanthroplst Bill Kaplan. A few years ago he funded the conversion of the old Newburgh Armory Unity Center that had been used mainly for storage of antiquated military equipment.

It is now an impressive modern facility. Much of the clinic took place on a field turf playing service that is set up for soccer but can also be used for baseball. There is an adjoining gymnasium, and a dining room.

Every Saturday the Armory Unity Center hosts Enrichment Programs for academics and sports. For more information, call 845-245-4035 or e-mail info@newburgharmory.org

In early August, Baseball Miracles plans a clinic at Yankee Stadium. For more information on this and other Baseball Miracles projects, e-mail: baseballmiracles.org

Before I close, I want to add a word on a celebration the night before the Super Bowl of my undergraduate alma mater Columbia's 1968 Ivy League championship basketball team. They won their only Ivy League title (so far), were nationally ranked finishing 23-5 and playing deep into the NCAA tournament.

All-time great Columbia forward Jim McMillian passed away last year but his widow attended as did two McMillian children. Both played basketball for Wake Forest in the late 1990s, daughter Eron attending the Winston-Salem school at the time of Tim Duncan.

Jim McMillian went on to a solid pro career, He was a starting forward on the great LA Laker team in the early 1970s that won 33 games in the regular season and the NBA title.

Another star on the '68 champs Heyward Dotson attended the Saturday event, but the other bulwark on the '68 team, seven-foot center from Brooklyn Dave Newmark, couldn't make the trip from his home in the SF Bay area.

To make the evening even more celebratory, Columbia completed a weekend sweep by holding off Dartmouth in the second half en route to a 77-74 victory. On Friday night the Lions handed Harvard its first league loss with a stirring come-from-behind 85-78 victory.

In a league where there is now a post-season tournament of the top four teams, Columbia is now 3-3 with four more weekends ahead. The Ivy League is the only league that plays on Fri. and Sat., a grueling test of stamina and talent.

Penn is undefeated, Harvard has only the Columbia loss, Princeton has two losses, but it is wide open for the last spot among Brown, Columbia, Cornell, and Yale. Tough luck winless Dartmouth will not be easy pickings for any of the contenders. All hail a very competitive underrated league.

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