Baseball Dreams; Stanford's Collapse; Mississippi's Miracle
When I was a kid growing up in New Jersey I was a huge Yankee fan. My heroes were Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford. I watched every Yankee game on channel 11. I listened intently to every word from announcers Mel Allen and Red Barber. Today, 60 years later, I can still sing the Ballantine Beer jingle.
We never went to the games at Yankee Stadium. “It's too expensive,” my parents would say. “Traffic and parking are awful. The food's terrible. You can see the game better at home on the TV.”
So I sat by the TV and fantasized playing shortstop for the Yankees. I dreamed about wearing the pinstripes and the Yankee hat, sitting in the same dugout where my heroes had camped out.
For 60 years I've wanted one of those Yankee caps. Not the cheap kind you can buy for $18. The real deal, fitted to your head, with no plastic strap in the back. When my wife and I went to New York last October, I went into a dozen shops looking for one, but all they had were the cheapo versions.
Then last week, when we were in Puerto Vallarta of all places, there was a fantastic New Era store in the airport. They had legitimate caps from every pro team. Sized to fit. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw a whole stack of real Yankee caps.
So I found one that fit perfectly and brought it home from Mexico. I'm wearing it proudly in the neighborhood while I walk the dogs.
As my wife likes to say, you can't take the child out of the man.
My Other Team: When I’m not wearing the Yankee hat, I wear a SF Giants cap. Since we moved out to Northern California in 1963, I’ve been a Giants’ fan.
I’m a little worried about our local lads. Last season’s 107 wins were phenomenal, but this season they can’t seem to hold a lead. Everyone’s been injured—Lamonte Wade, Evan Longoria, Brandon Belt and now Brandon Crawford. Joey Bart, the heir apparent to Buster Posey, is in the minor leagues. They lose every close game.
And the fans aren’t showing up like they used to. For years the Giants sold out every game. But even after last year’s historic season, the crowds are still down. The Giants are averaging about 30,000 this season, lower than the 33,000+ they drew before the pandemic in 2019.
The season ticket base has dropped from 30,000 to half that amount. It used to be you could buy a season ticket and sell unused games on Stubhub for a huge profit. Today I went on Stubhub and found club seats for Tuesday’s game against Detroit for $36.
The natives are restless, thinking back to Barry Bonds, and yearning for a new superstar to follow.
Aaron Judge is going to be available after this season. Just sayin’.
Stanford’s Rough Ending: An exceptional season ended on a sour note for the Stanford baseball team, which was eliminated after absorbing two disappointing losses in the College World Series in Omaha.
This was Stanford's 18th appearance in the CWS and the first time it lost two straight and was sent packing. After being embarrassed by Arkansas in the opening game, 15-2, the Cardinal blew a 2-0, sixth inning lead and lost 6-2 to Auburn.
The Omaha collapse shouldn't obscure what was a terrific year for coach Dave Esquer's team. Stanford was ranked in the top 5 teams in the country for much of the year, won the Pac-12 conference regular season championship, and then swept the first-ever Pac-12 championship tournament. The Cardinal won both the playoff regional and super-regional with incredible comebacks to advance to the CWS, finishing with an overall 47-18 record (21-9 in league play).
Stanford had one of the top hitting teams in the country, and perhaps the best lineup ever to play at Sunken Diamond. Some of the highlights—a .309 team batting average, a school record 118 home runs (compared to 36 for the opposition), all nine starters (including the DH) with an average of over .290.
Next year's team will be led by hit-machines Tommy Troy and Eddie Park, who both excelled throughout the post-season, third baseman Drew Bowser (.293, 18 HR), outfielder/pitcher Brandon Montgomery (18 HR) and pitcher Ryan Bruno (6-1, 2.72).
They should be in the hunt again.
Appel Returns: Speaking of Stanford baseball, former Cardinal standout pitcher Mark Appel finally made it to the big leagues last week, nine years after the Houston Astros made him the No. 1 pick in the MLB draft.
Appel, a product of Monte Vista High School in my adopted home town of Danville, struggled with injuries for four years before giving up the game. He returned to baseball last season with the Phillies and this year posted a 5-0 record and 1.61 ERA in 19 appearances for the Triple A Lehigh Valley Ironpigs before being called up.
Some dreams never die. Mark will be 31 on July 15.
Mississippi Shocker: The SEC isn't just strong in football. It’s the strongest baseball conference in the country as well. Four of the eight teams in the College World Series came from the SEC’s West Division.
Over the weekend Ole Miss shocked the pundits and the college baseball community by winning its first national title with two straight victories over Oklahoma.
How shocking was it? The unranked Rebels were the last team selected for the 64-team tournament.
Two months ago Ole Miss was 7-14 in SEC play, and head coach Mike Bianco was feeling the heat, especially since the Rebels' No. 1 rival, Mississippi State, had won the CWS championship last year.
Then they won seven of their last nine games to sneak into the tourney, despite finishing last in SEC West with 14-16 record.
Three of the four teams ahead of them in the standings—Texas A&M, Arkansas, and Auburn—also made it to Omaha, and Arkansas and Auburn were the two teams that knocked out Stanford.
Never say never.