By Hal McCoy
UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave, giddy as always when it is time for pitchers and catchers to put button on their uniforms, pull on their spikes, grab their gloves and begin working on ther sun tans.
FOLLOWING THE FIREBIRDS: With spring training camps opening their gates this week, how about something from the game’s grass roots?
Pure pastoral baseball can be found in the Cape Cod League, a summer collegiate wooden bat league.
Even a movie, ‘Summer Catch,’ was about the league with a cameo appearance by Ken Griffey Jr., who did not win an Academy Award.
Now there is going to be a book about one team in the Cape Cod League, the Orleans Firebirds.
My wonderful friend and author, Mark Epstein, is going to follow Orleans all summer this year and write a chronology book on the daily grind both on and off the field of the organization, including the many volunteers.
There is no doubt it will be outstanding. Sports fans can check out his work by reading, ‘They Call Me Pathfinder’ and ‘Jack ‘The Shot’ Foley, A Legend For All Time.’
The Foley book is a fascinating, well-written, well-documented piece of work about Foley, a Holy Cross All-American basketball player who could shoot a marble into a tea cup from 30 feet.
Interesting tidbit: The Cape Cod League was formed in 1923 with four teams — Osterville, Hyannis, Chatham and Falmouth. There are now 10 teams with Hyannis, Chatham and Falmouth still in it. And Falmouth, a 1923 charter member, hasn’t won a Cape Cod championship since 1971.
At least they keep trying, hoping to some day re-discover the taste of champagne.
—ICHIRO TO REDS?: Did you hear that the Cincinnati Reds signed Ichiro? Really? Well, not THAT Ichiro, not Ichiro Suzuki.
They signed a 19-year-old switch-hitting third baseman out of Mexico named Ichiro Cano Hernandez. So, he was named after Ichiro Suzuki, right? Wrong.
In an e-mail to the Reds, he explained, “They gave me this name because my dad had a Japanese friend named Ichiiro who was a surfer.”
So Ichiro is a common name in Japan like James or John? Who knew?
—A DOUBTING THOMAS: What was the longest home run in baseball history? How about 3,300 miles?
As the story goes, a guy named Jimmy Ryan, playing for the Chicago Pirates in 1890, hit a ball over the center field wall in a State Island Ball Park. The New York Giants were playing there because the Polo Grounds was being built.
The ball allegedly landed on a schooner in the Atlantic Ocean, striking a fan on the head. He kept the ball and sailed to Liverpool, England, about 3,300 miles.
Some spoil sport researcher debunks the story. He said the ball would have had to travel 610 feet to the boat in the ocean. And he said Ryan never hit a home run in State Island in 1890. He did hit one in 1889 while playing for the Chicago White Stockings, not the Chicago Pirates.
Nothing like spoiling a great story, right?
—THE GRAND MASTER: Before the start of a World Series game in Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field, old Casey Stengel, the New York Yankees manager, took a young outfielder named Mickey Mantle out to right field.
His mission was to show Mantle how to play caroms off the complex wall in Ebbets Field. After the tutorial was concluded, Mantle asked Stengel, “How do you know so much about playing caroms off this wall?”
Stengel shook his gnarled and wrinkled old head and said, “I used to play right field here for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Do you think I was born old?”
—A GREAT MYSTERY: What’s going on in Lexington, Ky. . .and it has nothing to do with horses or the Kentucky Derby?
The University of Kentucky basketball team certainly has the horses, but UK lost Saturday to Gonzaga, the third straight home loss for the Wildcats.
Three straight home setbacls had never happened to the ‘Cats since Rupp Arena opened in 1976.
And they lost Saturday to coach Mark Few’s worst Gonzaga team. The UK win was the Zags’ first Quad 1 win this season.
While UK is a powerful scoring machine, defense is a dirty word. Despite three 7-footers, the Wildcats were outrebouned by the Zags, 43-31. UK has one of the worst defensive rebounding team in the country.
And the rabid UK fan bases wants to turn coach John Calipari’s head into a basketball to dribble down West Main Street.
—THE REST OF THE STORY: Now that Chip Kelly has left the head coaching job at UCLA to become offensive co-ordinator for Ryan Day at Ohio State, there has to be a back story. And there is.
It is role reversal. Back when Kelly was in his formative years as a coach, he was the offensive co-ordinator at that football powerhouse, the University of New Hampshire. And his quarterback? Ryan Day. And those were the days of two-way players and Day also was a linebacker.
—ROAD GLUTTONS: For some strange reason, the Mid-American Conference and Sun Belt Conference took league play off this weekend and every MAC team played every Sun Belt team.
Why strange. Because in every game, the MAC team went to the Sun Belt team’s gym. As one might expect, the Sun Belt won most games aand mostly by wide margins.
The MAC was 2-and-9 both winners were by one point, Buffalo over Georgia Southern and Central Michigan over Old Dominion.
—STOPING WILT: Former NBAer Charles Barkley has an opinion on everything and is the kind of guy when somebody says, “Good morning,” he says, “What do you mean by that?”
And, of course, he has an opinion on the night Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a game against the New York Knicks in 1962, 62 years ago.
Barkley says the 7-foot-2 man nicknamed ‘The Stilt’ and ‘The Big Dipper’ would never score 100 against him.
“You know whatl bothers me about that? That team (the Knicks) had no pride. If a guy was roasting me like that, I’d be in the lockerroom because I would have been flagraant fouling him,” said Barkley.
Hey, Sir Charles. The Knicks tried that and Wilt hit 28 of 32 free throws. That means he made 36 baskets. . .and there was no three-point line in 1962. The only way to stop Wilt that night was to deflate the basketball with a needle. . .or hide the basketball.
—THE ‘SPIDA’ MAN: The NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers don’t have a player of Wilt Chamberlain’s calibre, but apparently they don’t need one.
They have Donovan Mitchell and a strong supporting cast, strong enough that the Cavs are on a nine-game winning streak and have won 17 of their last 18 games.
And for the season, they are17-8 on the road, which in the NBA is like Napolean winning at Waterloo. It just doesn’t happen.
During the last 18 games, Mitchell is averagine 28.5 points a game, 5.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists. The assists are surprising to me because it looks as if nobody passes the ball in the NBA.
Mitchell, a shooting guard nicknamed ‘Spida,’ was Utah’s No. 1 draft pick out of the University of Louisville. And he is inserting himself as the possible MVP of the NBA.
—QUICKIE QUOTES: Some more utterings from baseball people:
—From Roy Campanella, when told by photographers to smile for the cameras: “I ain’t heard nothin’ funny yet.”
¸—From a player named Birdie McCree on facing Walter Johnson’s fastball: “There is only one way to time it. When you see his arm start forward, swing.”
¸—From catcher Tim McCarver on pitcher Steve Carlton’s preference to pitch with McCarver catching: “When we die, we will be buried 60 feet, 6 inches apart.”
¸—From Joe Grzenda after spending 11 years in the minors riding buses: “I’d like to stay in the majors long enough to make enough money to buy a bus—then I’d set fire to it.”
—From Dale Berra, a son to Yogi Berra, comparing himself to his dad and sounding just like him: “Our similarities are different.”
—From George Brett on umpires favoring Wade Boggs: “A woman will be elected president before Wade Boggs is called out on strikes, I guarantee that.”
—From Joe Dugan, teammate to Babe Ruth: “Born? Hell, Babe Ruth wasn’t born. He fell out of a tree.”
—From broadcaster Hank Greenwald when Dusty Baker came to bat: “Dusty Baker will lead off the ninth and judging by the music, The William Tell Overture, he’ll be followed by The Lone Ranger and Tonto.”
—From manager Whitey Herzog: “I’m not buddy-buddy with my players. If they want a buddy, let them buy a dog.”
—PLAYLIST NO. 18: Some songs from the deep recesses of my iPod:
As Good As I Once Was (Toby Keith), In The Ghetto (Elvis Presley), Wonderful Tonight (Eric Clapton), Baby Come Back (Player), Baker Street (Gerry Rafferty), I’m A Believer (The Monkees), Just The Way You Are (Bruno Mars), How Do I Live (LeAnn Rimes), Hey Jude (The Beatles), Bette Davis Eyes (Kim Carnes).
Tonight’s The Night (Rod Stewart), Let’s Get It On (Marvin Gaye), Another One Bites The Dust (Queen), Night Fever (The BeeGees), Dream Lover (Bobby Darriin), What About Love? (Heart), Money For Nothing (Dire Straits), There Goes My Baby (The Drifters), Lean On Me (Bill Wiithers), Somewhere Out There (Linda Ronstadt & James Ingram).
—Oh, yeah. The Stupor Bowl is over. Did the Kansas City Swifts win? Yes, the underdog Swifts beat the 49ers, 25-22, in overtime.
And KC QB Patrick Mahomes had the best post-game quote: “Just remember, the Kansas City Chiefs are never underdogs. . .never.”