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In Praise Of March Madness & Some News of Baseball, College and MLB

I must admit that I've come down with a real case of March Madness.  I don't bet, I don't intend to bet, and I don't make up brackets for either the men's or the women's tournaments. 


But there is something intoxicating about the winner-take-all atmosphere that will dominate the sports scene into the first days of April. I'm especially thrilled that my two favorite teams, Columbia women and Wisconsin men, are still alive and dreaming of advancing. 


I attended the Ivy League tournament this past weekend, held for the first time at my alma mater's Levien Gym that was pretty much filled to the rafters with almost 3000 people.  There was disappointment on Saturday afternoon when perennial Ivy League women's champion Princeton proved too much for Columbia, who shared the regular season title with the Tigers. On this afternoon Princeton dominated in a 75-58 whipping.


The crowd did its best, shouting "De-fense! De-fense!" in the first minute and reviving it even in the second half when the outcome was clear. The gloom over the next 24 hours turned to elation when Columbia was selected to play against Vanderbilt in a play-in game.


It will be on Wed Mar 20 at 9p on ESPNU (channel 370 on Spectrum in Manhattan).  It marks the first NCAA tournament appearance ever for the Lions who have come a long way under Megan Griffith, a passionate and talented coach now in her 8th year. She was a 1000 point scorer during her Columbia playing career and after playing as a pro overseas she served as a Princeton assistant coach. 


The Vanderbilt game gives the nation another chance at seeing Columbia's all-around senior guard Abbey Hsu. A four-year starter who has improved each season, she is a quiet leader who leads by example.  She has the kind of shot and follow-through that, as Griffith says, you will see it today and then three months later, it will look exactly the same.  


The earlier game this Wed at 7p on ESPNU will feature the Presbyterian Blue Hose from Clinton, SC, v the Sacred Heart Pioneers from Fairfield, CT.  The winner of Columbia-Vanderbilt will play Baylor on Fri at 6p on ESPNU. The Sacred Heart-Presbyterian winner will face overall number 1 seed the undefeated South Carolina Gamecocks on Fri at 2p on ESPN. 


On Sat Mar 23 at 530p on ESPN2, Princeton will meet West Virginia at Iowa City. 

Earlier on Sat, Caitlin Clark's Iowa Hawkeyes will meet a play-in winner at 3p on ABC. 


In the second round a possible matchup looms between Iowa and Princeton.  The Ivy League champ has beaten top teams in prior tournaments so

Princeton will not be an easy game for any opponent. First things first in March Madness, win the game today!


On Sat at 130p on ESPN, the undefeated Fairfield Stags from Fairfield, CT  take on Indiana in Bloomington

30 minutes earlier, perennial contender/often champion UConn Huskies take on Jackson State in Storrs. 1p on ABC.


On the Division III side, the NYU Violets completed their 31-game undefeated season by bringing home the title to Greenwich Village with two impressive wins. They handled defending champion the Transylvania U. Pioneers, 57-42, in the semi-final, thereby breaking the Kentucky school's 64-game winning streak. The following night Sat Mar 16, NYU held off the Smith College Pioneers, 51-41, to win their first national title since 1997 and 2nd overall in the school's history.   


There is plenty of news on the men's side of March Madness. In the men's final of the Ivy tournament at Columbia, the Yale Bulldogs won the title in dramatic fashion by beating the upset-minded Brown Bears, 62-61. Conquerors of top-seeded Princeton, Brown could not hold a 6-point lead in the last minute. A deadly elixir of missed foul shots, two timely Yale three-pointers, and a lay-in as time ran out led to a very painful loss for the men from Providence RI.


Under longtime coach James Jones, Yale has won games in March Madness and they have enough balance to cause trouble for any team.

On Fri Mar 22 they play the Auburn Tigers, alma mater of Charles Barkley and football/baseball legend Bo Jackson, at 415p on TNT.


A special shout-out to Wagner College of Staten Island whose men will also compete in a play-in game:

Tues Mar 19 245p on CBS against Howard of Washington DC (a school named after Oliver O. Howard who was the first director of the Freedmen's Bureau formed after the Civil War - a little dose of history in this vital year of 2024 always seems necessary). 

The winner goes against formidable 4th national seed North Carolina on Th Mar 21 245p CBS.


Here's a kudo to the Wagner band that performed very capably during the Princeton-Columbia game.  It is a band for hire, I learned, and they completed a reamrkable week of playing in four other tournaments!  


The Wisconsin men Badgers have recovered from a ghastly 3-8 finish to the regular season to garner a 5 seed and will play the James Madison Dukes from Harrisonburg, Virginia on Friday night Mar 22 at 940p on CBS.  I had a chance to see them in person at the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn but the upper deck at that dimly-lit home of the Brooklyn Nets is much too steep for my unsteady gait and balance to deal with.


I hope 7-foot Steven Crowl will want to shoot the basketball and grab the defensive rebound with two hands which he didn't do at two crucial points in the loss to formidable Illinois in the Big Ten tourney final on St. Patrick's Day. Normally a fairly reliable rebounder, Crowl on two crucial plays slapped at the ball, tipping it to where alert Illini players regained possession and converted key baskets in a hard-fought 93-87 victory that allowed Illinois to cut down the nets in celebration.


Ah the rituals of sports that we have lost touch with in this age of analytics where legions of young men and women are looking at computer screens and other new-fangled devices and losing sight of the powerful drama and the tactile pleasures of rituals.


On the positive side for Wisconsin, the return of an aggressive Chucky Hepburn has been a wonderful development.  He is a remarkable point guard, a junior from Omaha Nebraska who has had to deal with a personal tragedy - his best friend was killed during Hepburn's freshman season.  When he is looking to score as well as to pass and play his devilish "hand-is-quicker-than-eye" defense, he adds so much to the Badger cause.



Time now for some college baseball talk.  Kudos to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights who returned from their pre-Big Ten season southern trip with a 13-6 record and a 3-game winning streak.  Shortstop Josh Kuroda-Grauer was named Big Ten player of the week for his stellar play.


Rutgers plays 6 games at home at Bainton Field this week, starting with:

Tu Mar 19 at 3p vs. Rider Broncs of Trenton NJ

W Mar 20 3p vs. Lafayette Leopards from Easton PA

F thru Su Mar 22, 23, 24 against Connecticut Huskies

     F at 4p, Sa at 2p, Su at 1p.

Tu Mar 26 3p NJIT (New Jersey Institute of Technology)


After a winless road trip to California and East Carolina (not uncommon in the career of highly successful Lions coach Brett Boretti who stresses playing a tough non-league schedule), Columbia hosts contenders Harvard and defending champion Penn the last two weekends in March.

Sat Mar 23 1130a and approximately 3p - twinbill against harvard,  Sun noon Mar 24 single game.  Sat weather looks rainy so checking with

gocolumbialions.com a good idea before you make the trek to Satow Stadium, just north of the Baker Field complex.


Sat Mar 30 1130 & approx. 3p Penn twinbill - Sun Mar 31 noon single game. 


More on the other college teams in NYC area including St. John's, Seton Hall, and Manhattan in the next posts.


As far as pro baseball in NY, the long 162-game season starts with Mets at home first against the Milwaukee Brewers

Th Mar 28 110p  After an off-day, they finish with the Brew Crew Sat Sun and then Detroit Tigers come in Apr 1-3.


The Yankees start on the road in Houston and Arizona and then open at home against Toronto. 

Opening Day Apr 5 at 110 and then no day off but a rare Sa night Apr 6 at 710 followed by Sun at 110. 

Marlins come in Apr 8-10 and Yankees are away until Rays come in Apr 19-21. 


With so many - too many, I say - teams eligible for post-season play now, our old great game aint what it used to be.

The Dodgers and Padres will be playing games that count in Seoul, Korea as early as Mar 20 and Mar 22.  They call it "growing the game"

and both owners and players are in agreement on this (although the players cannot like the huge amount of travel so early in season). 


I would love to see baseball return to its 154-game schedule or preferably less.  But no one is even talking about it and there is a limit to how

many windmills I can tilt against.  So let me conclude as I have done since the pandemic by urging "Stay positive, test negative," and

as always, there remains nothing as good as the advice:  "Take it easy but take it."    







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On Gunnar Henderson's Non-Cycle and Other Musings About The Orioles As The Dog Days of August Morph Into Meaningful Games in September

If you want an understanding of what baseball purism is all about, check out Gunnar Henderson's second double of the game in yesterday's (Sun Aug 20) rout of the lowly Oakland A's.  Seemingly all the broadcasters and even most of his teammates wanted him just to get a single to complete a cycle, having already gotten the triple, homer, and double.


Gunnar's baseball instincts, though, took over. His smash down the right field line "looked double," he said after the game almost sheepishly. He just couldn't turn off his highly competitive and wonderful-to-watch jets. 


Now, listen, I am not against any change in baseball.  I'm all for the pitch clock and the end of the infield shift that turned the right side of the baseball diamond into a grotesque facsimile of a football backfield. 


But if purism means endorsing playing the game hard, smart, and well, running out every at-bat, and hitting the cutoff man on outfield relays, call me a purist. And after sweeping the lowly Oakland A's to finish a West Coast trip with a solid 6-3 record, the AL East-leading Orioles got to enjoy the Monday off-day, three games ahead of (and four games in lost column) Tampa Bay. 


Tomorrow (Tu Aug 22) the Birds open at home their last series of the year with division rival Toronto. Although nine games out of first place with 38 to play, the Blue Jays still look formidable to me. They are coming off an impressive road series victory over the surprising Cincinnati Reds. Toronto's outstanding young shortstop Bo Bichette is back from a leg injury and he is always a bundle to deal with. 


Because of the so-called "balanced schedule" that downplays intra-divisional play, the Orioles finished with the Yankees at the end of July and now Toronto before end of August.  At least there are four left with Tampa Bay in Baltimore from Sep 14-17. 


One thing the Orioles should be proud of is their consistency which, of course, is the most hallowed hallmark in any sport. As a wise sports psychologist once said, "If consistency were an island, it would be lightly populated. 


The Birds have not been swept in any three- or four-game series since mid-May 2022, a record that is the fifth longest in MLB history.  Not coincidentally, the streak started at almost the same time as the MLB arrival of deservedly-touted switch-hitting catcher Adley Rutschman. 


I can here former Oriole manager Earl Weaver grousing from the Great Baseball Beyond, "What's the big deal? You are supposed to win most of your games if you are a good team."  That is true, Earl, but the stat does speak to keeping one's focus on each and every game.  And realizing that Nothing Is Guaranteed. 


It looks like there will be plenty of drama throughout MLB in the final weeks of the season.  It seemed likely that the runner-up in the AL West would be the second of the three wild cards, but this weekend both the Rangers and Astros were swept at home by the Brewers and Mariners, respectively. 


Despite losing to suddenly potent Milwaukee, leaders of the NL Central, Texas still has a four game lead on defending World Series-champion Houston. But Seattle spanked the Astros and is on a roll to at least capture the third wild card over Toronto.


The Mariners came on strong last season and made the playoffs and certainly they look tough with possibly the best starting pitching in baseball and a red-hot young star in Julio Rodriguez. The Red Sox cannot be counted out after sweeping the reeling Yankees on the road. 


The National League has quite a wild card race going on, too, with two surprising teams, the Cubs and the Reds, vying with defending NL champion Phlllies for post-season play.  The Braves and Dodgers have sewed up their NL East and NL West titles and the Brewers with less breathing room seem to have at last the NL Central under control.


I'm not the biggest fan of the expanded wild cards but as long as the teams are somewhat over .500 I can reluctantly accept them.  With Cleveland now 8 games under .500 and Minnesota four over, it looks like the AL Central is close to being settled. 


I must remind myself that the calendar still says August.  Yet there is that lack of dramatic intra-divisional matchups in September because of the so-called "balanced" schedule (sigh). 


In closing, a tip of the cap to three Rutgers baseball players who led the Bourne Braves earlier this month to their second straight Cape Cod Baseball League championship. They are outfielders Josh Kuroda-Grauer, the championship series MVP; Pete Cuifffreda, an incoming graduate transfer; and catcher Hugh Pinkney. 


It was the second consecutive year that 3 Scarlet Knights played for champion Bourne.   


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


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