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Four Cheers for Baseball in New York Area + In Memory of Roger Angell + Noir Alley Tips

As major league baseball passes the quarter-pole in the 2022 season, both the Yankees and the Mets have solid leads in their eastern divisions.  Neither success is that much of a surprise, but certainly a pleasant experience for fans of New York pro sports who have suffered greatly in recent years with the constant failures of the football Giants and Jets and the Knicks and the Nets.  

 

Expectation was high for the Nets but the Celtics wiped them out in four straight. I must say I almost enjoyed it because I don't like teams built from the top down with expensive free agents, especially one like self-absorbed Kyrie Irving who refused to get vaccinated and missed most of the season.   

 

Another positive development in Gotham this spring has been the emergence of a young and likable New York Rangers hockey team.  They knocked out the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round in a gripping seven-game series.  They have rallied to tie at two games apiece the Carolina Hurricanes with the pivotal fith game scheduled for tomorrow (Th night May 26).

 

I never learned to ice skate but as a fan of many sports, I say that there is nothing like the intensity of Stanley Cup hockey where there is no doubt that players are going all out to inscribe their name in undoubtedly sports' most captivating trophy.

 

I have never liked the term "warriors" to describe athletes who usually will have another season to try again, unlike real soldiers who may never come home.  But when you see the bloody faces of hockey players and their near-exhaustion, maybe warrior does fit them.

 

I saw my first major league game of the season at New Shea last Thursday afternoon May 19.  It was a dramatic encounter, won in the bottom of the 10th on a long Pete Alonso home run.  

It was very comforting to be in a crowd again - although with Covid-19 still a constant danger, I don't blame anyone for staying away. 

 

It was tonic for my soul to gaze upon the wonderful variety of fan affection for their heroes.  

I saw two Met fans sitting near the home dugout wearing Javier Baez jerseys, a homage to last season's rental who was only here for two months before signing a big free agent contract with the Tigers. (It is one of the season's early disappointments that the Tigers and their rival in the AL Central, Kansas City, are dong so poorly after signs of growth in 2021.)

 

I also saw a Cardinal fan wearing an Allen Craig jersey - a hero of many years ago who flamed out quickly.  An older woman sporting a gray ponytail and carrying a cane honored a more durable Cardinal hero with her jersey, Stan Musial.

 

I have not made a journey to Yankee Stadium yet but on the first Sunday in June, I will see them against the Tigers.  But I've been alerted that the game will start at 1135A as part of MLB's exclusive arrangement with NBC's Peacock streaming service. 

 

How many shekels baseball's moguls are receiving from its deals with "advanced media" is a highly-guarded secret.  It is obvious, though, that the inconvenience of early times to both fans and players was not a concern when MLB made this decision.

 

I mentioned Four Cheers in the title line for this blog so it is time to salute Columbia and Rutgers, two outstanding local baseball teams whose seasons are continuing.  My Lions pulled off a doubleheader sweep at Penn on Sunday May 22 to win their sixth Ivy League title

in the last fifteen years under the steady hand of coach Brett Boretti.  

 

I was a bit uneasy when they ran off 19 games in a row after losing their first series of the season to Penn at home. Baseball gods exist and you don't tempt with long streaks.  Sure enough, Dartmouth broke Columbia's streak in Hanover on the last weekend of the regular season. 

 

Then in the rubber match, the Big Green erased a 10-4 deficit in the eighth inning to win in the tenth inning.   It cost Columbia home field advantage against Penn for the best-of-three Ivy League Playoff.

 

After losing the first game at Penn, 13-4, this past Saturday May 21, the Lions shut down the powerful Quaker offense in the Sunday twinbill by the scores of 4-2 and 9-1. 

 

Nothing exemplifed the balance in their lineup than the 9-1 victory in which leadoff man Cole Hage drove in four runs and number nine hitter Austin Mowrey also drove in four. Coach Boretti's team now have an impressive 18-6 record in elimination games.

 

Down in New Brunswick, Rutgers set a school record with forty-one wins this season and they will have a number 2 seed in the upcoming Big Ten tournament in Omaha. Rain has delayed the opening of the tourney until Th May 26.  

 

Maryland will be the top seed in the 8-team tourney with the winner getting an automatic bid to the competition leading up to the College World Series also in Omaha starting on June 17.  Who said that northeastern baseball can't hold its own against any region of the country? 

 

The sad one note in this blog is the loss of Roger Angell at the age of 101 on Friday May 20.  Beginning in the early 1960s, Angell's thoughtful and beautiful essays on baseball in "The New Yorker" were must-readings for baseball fans who appreciated good writing.   

 

He occasionally guested on my WBAI-Pacifica "Seventh Inning Stretch" baseball shows in the 1980s.  I will never forget his inviting me to the memorial for baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti at Carnegie Hall in November 1989.  Harvard man Angell shared a profound love for the game along with the former Yale classics professor and university president. 

 

That's all for now.  Don't forget Noir Alley on TCM Sat after midnight and repeated at 10A on Sunday.  May 28-29's offering is "Bad Day At Black Rock" (1955) with Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, and Spencer Tracy.  

 

The film is usually labeled a Western but I'm sure host Eddie Muller will inform us about its Noir attributes. Coming up on June 4-5 is a truly classic Noir, "Out of the Past" (1947) with Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer.

 

Always remember: Take it easy but take it! 

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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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