Caribbean Series SemiFinals; Never Forget the Bambino

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Today, the semifinals of the Caribbean World Series will be played in Santo Domingo, with the final tomorrow. Yesterday in this forum I said it hasn’t been healthy to bet against Cuba in my lifetime  and sure enough,  against all odds the Cuban 9  won over the winless home team the Dominican Republic and gained a spot in this weekend’s festivities.

The first game was all about position and nobody getting hurt. As such, Mexico beat Puerto Rico 8-4.  So Mexico faces Cuba tonight while Puerto Rico faces Venezuela in the earlier contest. Venezuela is 3-1, Puerto Rico 2-2 at this point. The early game was tied at 2-2 until a 6-run rally by Mexico put it out of reach.

With both contenders fighting for their lives, it’s hardly surprising the nightcap became the series’ third extra-inning contest. Cuba broke the tie on a two-run hit in the top of the 11th inning by Jose Adolis Garcia, the younger brother of Adonis Garcia who plays third base for Venezuela following his 2011 defection. The home team looked like a winner until the top of the 8th when Cuba notched the tying run on a scoring fly ball.

Today’s first baseball birthday is one of two free agents who should have been signed by somebody_ a long time ago. Pedro Alvarez is 29 today. He and Dexter Fowler have to be even more surprised than I am that they don’t have a home for 2016-considering spring training is about to start. Alvarez has been a Pirate since they drafted him second overall in 2008. Though born in the Dominican Republic, he grew up in the Washington Heights neighborhood where Manny Ramirez did. Alvarez played college ball at Vanderbilt. He reached the show in June 2010, was an All-Star and led the league in home runs in 2013. While his defense is suspect, he hit 27 home runs in 2015 making him seem like a fit DH for somebody other than the Yankees who have too many DH-worth players now.

Travis Wood is 29 today. He’s pitched with the Cubs since 2012 and was a starter in the 2015 NLCS against the Mets. The Reds drafted him out of high school in 2005, and he made his MLB debut with them in 2010. His first start was a no-decision against his present team, the Cubs. Unusual for modern pitchers, he has 9 hom runs as a major leaguer.

Mark Hutton is 46 today. He had moved from his native Australia to America at age 18.   In my pro debut as a broadcaster on April 11, 1991 he started for the Ft. Lauderdale Yankees of the Florida State League  and beat our team the Miracle, 6-2.  He had been 1-10 the year before, so he hardly seemed a candidate for even a cup of coffee in the bigs. Unlikely or not, there he was in 1993 with the Yankees. He had a 9-7 mark in parts of 5 big league seasons between the Yankees, Reds, Marlins and Rockies.

Bob Wickman is a year older at 47. He was with Sarasota in 1991, so my partner and I broadcast games he pitched against the Miracle. He was a second-round draft choice of the White Sox in 1990. He played at a perennial Division 3 powerhouse, University of Wisconsin Whitewater.   The funny thing is, he was a Yankee a year before Mark Hutton became one. Wickman was in the trade that sent Steve Sax to Chicago. Pitching on some unusually bad Yankee teams, Wickman was 20-5 between 1992 and 1993, and appeared in 53 games in 1994 before the strike ended the season with the Yankees in first place. He pitched in the first ALDS for the Yankees in 1995, but was sent to Milwaukee before they could start winning Word Series rings. As Jim Bouton said, “Can’t beat the hours.”He would be an All-Star with the Brewers in 2000 and the Indians in 2005, for whom he holds the saves record with 139.

Richie Zisk is 67. While he’s best known as a Pirate, his two All-Star appearances were with the White Sox (1977) and Mariners (1978.) Born in Brooklyn, the Pirates drafted him in round 3 in 1967 out of Seton Hall. He was a late callup in both 1971 and 1972, and a regular in 1973 after Roberto Clemente was killed. Zisk played in the 1974 and 1975 NLCS, both of which the Pirates lost. When he went to the White Sox, the Pirates got Terry Forster and Rich Gossage. As of now, he’s in charge of pro scouting in the state of Florida for the Cubs.  If he’s like the scouts I remember, he tours ball parks eating  food that was meant for the media. 🙂   If you’re a media person, You either have to have sharp eyes or good friends to get food if scouts are at the park.

George Herman “Babe” Ruth was born this day (maybe) in 1895.  I say maybe because, in the two outstanding books about his life it is clear how unclear his actual birthday was.  Ruth himself believed until he died that he was born in 1894.  At least one source shows a birth date of Feb. 7, not Feb. 6.  But the books by Robert W. Creamer “Babe, The Legend Comes to Life,” and Leigh Montville “The Big Bam,” say more about the Bambino and say it better than I ever could.  I knew a man who met the Babe, and hearing this distinguished  elderly man tell of that chance handshake made me a child again hearing my grandpa tell his baseball stories. The only authentic recording of a baseball game in which he played is the 1934 All-Star game, in which Ruth was the first of five straight baseball titans struck out by Carl Hubbell. There are a tiny handful of recordings of the Bambino’s full voice before throat cancer ruined it and took his life. And a full voice it was,  a powerful baritone.  He loved to sing, with no particular ability and it seems merciful that what recordings exist are of him speaking, not singing. One I will mention in particular is a record of  him doing a comedy routine with Lou Gehrig. One joke goes: Lou: What do you grow on your farm? Babe: “I raise cellery.” Lou: I thought Colonel Ruppert raised your cellery.” Babe: I said cellery, not salary.”  It sold records before the stock market crash.

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