Category Archives: Baseball

Farewell Captain

by Sean Begin

The very first time I watched baseball was in 1998. It was the first sport I ever got into. No one in my family had any interest in it, my curiosity was piqued by a family friend.

So when I decided to pick a team to root for, the decision was easy. It was ’98. The Yankees were the best team in baseball all season long. They couldn’t stop winning. As a nine-year-old, that was reason enough for me to root for them.

“Who roots for a loser?” said nine-year-old me.

Fast forward to Sunday, when Derek Jeter swung a bat for the last time: an infield chopper to third that resulted in a single and an RBI. Quite Jeter-ian, to borrow the phrase.

I have never known a Yankees team without Derek Jeter. I’ve been spoiled, really, getting to watch him play. I imagine it’s how people felt watching Ted Williams or Mickey Mantle retire.

It’s been a season filled with cheap gifts and donations to Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation — a season-long love fest for Jeter that’s made me sort of sick. But, as he walked off the field Sunday afternoon, I understood why he did it.

The game is always bigger than the people who play it. But Jeter is one of those once-in-a-generation players that seems to elevate himself above it.

Yes, he was never the most defensively gifted shortstop. Yes, he struggled when ranging to his right. No, he didn’t win a major offensive award, although looking back, it’s pretty obvious he should have been named MVP on 1999.

A quick note about that season: Jeter finished sixth in MVP voting in ’99 behind Ivan Rodriguez, Pedro Martinez, Roberto Alomar, Manny Ramirez and Rafael Palmeiro. He had a better WAR than every player on that list except Pedro. He was also the only one to break 200 hits. But this did come at a time when the steroid-filled long ball dominated the sport.

So, no: Jeter was never exceptional on a year-to-year basis. Even during his prime, he probably wasn’t the best shortstop in the game. But, unlike his peers Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra, Jeter managed longevity.

And, he managed to keep his image clean — often more important in New York than the play on the field. Yeah, he dated. A lot. If that’s the worst thing you can say about Jeter, I guess he did all right.

Where Jeter really stands above most of the former baseball greats, though, was the position he took as a leader on the team. He worked tirelessly year in and year out. And to kids growing up watching baseball in the 1990s, he was the player to look up to.

Just ask Xander Bogaerts, a young shortstop for the Red Sox who wears number two on his jersey in honor of Jeter. He was there with David Ortiz when the Red Sox presented Jeter with his going away gifts in his final game in Fenway Park.

And for me, a young kid who fell in love with one of America’s oldest sports, who picked a team because all they did was win, Jeter was the one who showed me what passion really is.

So thanks for the memories, Jeter. Thanks for great moments on the field and the funnier moments off of them. Thanks for caring more about the fans and the game than anything else.

Despite a Lost Season, an Ace Makes a Return

by Sean Begin

Masahiro Tanaka signed with the New York Yankees in January for seven years and $155 million. His contract includes an opt out clause after the 2017 season meaning at a minimum the Yankees could start him for four years.

At 25 years old this would give the Yankees control of some his best years of pitching, with a chance to again sign him long term before the 2018 season. Then came the worst start of his young career, when he gave up 10 hits and five runs over 6.2 innings to the Cleveland Indians on July 8.

The next day, Tanaka was in New York for an MRI, eventually being placed on the disabled list with elbow inflammation. The injury was essentially a slight tear to his ulnar collateral ligament, the ligament most often associated with Tommy John surgery.

Rather than undergo the now widely-used procedure, Tanaka and Yankee’s doctors decided to rest and rehabilitate his elbow, hopefully avoiding surgery. Tanaka left the team having posted a 12-4 record with a 2.51 ERA, among the league leaders in both categories. He also struck out 135 batters while walking just 19.

As the summer wore on, Tanaka rested. Eventually he began light tossing before moving on to simulated games and full bullpen sessions. And on Sunday, he returned to the mound for the first time since July.

And he actually looked good.

He threw just 70 pitches but went 5.1 innings, with four strikeouts and zero walks, spreading around five hits and surrendering a single run. His pitches looked as sharp as they did before the injury.

This doesn’t mean Tanaka is out of hot water though. St. Louis Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright went down a similar route. In an article by the NY Times’ Tyler Kepner, Wainwright explains how he first felt elbow discomfort in middle school.

Then, in middle school, he was diagnosed with a partial-UCL tear, which he rehabbed over surgery. It happened again while he was in AAA. But after another successful rehab, Wainwright pitched six years in the major, culminating in his All-Star 2010 season.

Wainwright had to have Tommy John surgery after that season, sidelining him for all of 2011 but he returned strong and has been an All-Star the last two years.

“You don’t want to have surgery unless you have to,” Wainwright said in the Kepner article. “We’ve been given ligaments and tendons that are much better than repaired ligaments and tendons. Any time they’re drilling holes in bones and putting things in, there’s risk involved. So don’t get it unless you need it.”

So, what does this mean for Tanaka and the Yankees?

Well, if the rehab proves as successful as Wainwright’s, it means the Yankees only lost Tanaka for two months of his rookie season. Had he had surgery, he’d be gone until 2016, essentially losing his first two years.

If Tanaka can follow Wainwright and pitch six more years, it’d be through those first four years of his contract until his opt out clause kicks in. And if something goes wrong further down the road, there’s still the option of surgery, which has an almost universal success rate.

So while the Yankees season may lie dead in the water at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles, Tanaka provided one last important spark, one last look at the potential of the 2015 Yankees rotation.

For the Love of the Game, Just let them Play

by Sean Begin

It’s time to throw out the book.

Or, at least, make some highly necessary changes.

What book? That would be the Unwritten Rules of Baseball, which made yet another appearance April 20, when the Brewers’ Carlos Gomez ignited a benches clearing brawl after he flipped his bat on what he thought was a home run.

Turned out it was really just a deep outfield hit, one that saw Gomez wind up (barely) at third base with a triple, and could, as Fox’s Jon Paul Morosi speculated, been an inside-the-park home run, had Gomez hustled out of the box.

Pirates closer Gerrit Cole, apparently succeeding Brian McCann as baseball’s Arbiter of All Things Unwritten, took offense to this action. Cole shouted something to Gomez, who promptly removed his helmet and started towards the mound, having to be restrained by the third base umpire.

Naturally, the benches cleared, and after Gomez slipped the umps grasp, a full-on basebrawl erupted on the field at PNC Park. Gomez was eventually ejected, along with the Pirates’ Travis Snider.

But the real issue here starts back at the plate, with Gomez’s bat flip. This story is not a new one.

Gomez, himself, drew the wrath last season when he bat-flipped after hitting a home run against the Braves, whose then-catcher, Brian McCann, took exception. McCann blocked Gomez from touching home, causing benches to clear then.

The same story can be applied to Marlin’s pitcher Jose Fernandez, who also caused the benches to clear last season when he stood at home plate and stared down his first major league home run against those same Braves.

McCann again, this time joined by third baseman Chris Johnson, took offense to Fernandez’s actions.

Lather, rinse and repeat the story with the Dodgers Cuban sensation Yasiel Puig, who seems to anger the Unwritten Rules arbiters wherever he goes.

Really, it’s time for all this game managing by the players to stop. Baseball, while making massive amounts of money from TV contracts, is facing a sharp decrease in young fans. The exuberance guys like Gomez and Puig show when they play the game needs to be allowed to flourish.

If Gomez wants to flip his bat over a triple, let him. In the end, because he didn’t score, his actions only hurt the Brewers. Cole didn’t suffer from being stranded 90 feet from home, so why does he feel the need to say something?

If anyone should have policed Gomez, it should have been the Brewers.

Most of these players, too, are young Hispanics from the Dominican Republic or, in Puig’s case, Cuba. Long have they played simply for the love of the game. Puig made $17 a month playing ball for Cuba’s national team. When he celebrates with a bat flip, it’s not to show up the other team, it’s to show his excitement over the game.

Besides, watch a basketball game, a soccer match or a hockey game, and tell me if you don’t see players celebrating the in-game accomplishments.

You don’t see some seventh-man bench players in the NBA getting mad at Blake Griffin for staring down some guy he just posterized with a massive slam-dunk. When Messi scores for Barcelona, the backup goalkeeper isn’t running onto the pitch to get in his face for taking his shirt off and sliding on his knees in front of the fans.

Baseball is 160-plus-years-old. It’s time leave the old, unwritten code of behavior where it belongs, in the past, and stop acting like a bunch of old men angry that some kid is having fun on his lawn.

Baseball’s Replay Pains

by Sean Begin

The 2014 baseball season comes with a major shift in the way games are umpired: for the first time ever, instant replay will be used extensively throughout the game.

But three weeks into the season, it’s already facing major obstacles.

In a game between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees over the weekend, the Yankees Dean Anna was showed on the TV broadcast to have clearly been tagged out, even though the initial ruling was safe. But after Sox manager John Farrell challenged the call, instead of being overturned it was confirmed.

The next day, Farrell became the first manager in the major’s to be ejected from a game for arguing the results of instant replay review when Yankees first baseman Francisco Cervelli was called safe at first.

But after Saturday’s call, it’s hard not to agree with Farrell. Anna should have been out at second. After that game, an MLB official acknowledged that the Replay Operations Center in New York that handles all replay challenges did not have immediate access to all conclusive angles.

Wait, what?

How do multiple TV broadcast (I watched the game on the YES Network, but it was also broadcast on NESN and Fox Sports 1) immediately see a perfect angle showing Anna is out but the ROC doesn’t get it?

Is there some miscommunication between the providers of the footage (the channels broadcasting the game) and the ROC? Maybe someone just choked. Maybe they felt rushed to make a quick decision that they didn’t go through all available angles. Maybe it was simply technical difficulties.

None of that matters, though.

Replay in baseball has long been an issue of contention. Purists will argue that it takes the human element (umpires) out of the game. Proponents of the system, ironically, will argue the same point.

While I’m all for expanded replay (baseball added replay on home run calls in 2008) it’s becoming increasingly clear that patience on many levels is being worn thin.

These early months of replay are when it will be most scrutinized. Mistakes like the one in the Sox/Yankees game, or lengthy reviews like the four minute, 45 second one that took place in a game between Oakland and Cleveland earlier this season, will provide proof for the doubters that the system isn’t perfect yet.

But that’s precisely the point. John Schuerholz – former Braves manager and one of the minds behind replay – called 2014 the first year of a “three-year rollout” of expanded replay. Patience becomes necessary.

But for fans, managers and players patience isn’t always a strong suit. And with baseball already facing issues of game length (the average game length has gone up 30 minutes since the 1960s) there is no room for five minute reviews that come up “inconclusive.”

Now is the time for replay to show its usefulness. Through the first 141 games of the season (about two weeks), replay overturned a call once in every 6.7 games. Out of 64 challenges, 21 have been overturned with the average replay length 2:15. These are not bad numbers, even though the time can continue to be decreased.

And most of these early mistakes seem to be technical, which should be expected given the newness of the system. But the way replay is used still needs policing.

Managers have already shown that these new replay rules can be bent and twisted as strategy for giving bullpen pitchers more time to warm up without the struggling starter continuing to flounder, or will come out to talk with the umpires while they wait for the team’s new replay guy to determine if a challenge is necessary (which, of course, only adds to the length of a game).

Look, it’s not surprising there are kinks to the system. But some of these mistakes and issues have been so glaring that the people decrying replay as a failure will only get louder. Baseball should take some quick and necessary steps to shore up replay before those voices continue to grow.


Baseball Splits Weekend Series with the Mount

by Sean Begin

The Central Connecticut baseball team headed into the weekend, and their first conference series, on the heels of back-to-back victories to even their record at 7-7.

That .500 winning percentage stayed in place after the team went 2-2 in it’s weekend series against Mount St. Mary’s, winning Friday’s game and the first game on Saturday before dropping the last two.

“We got ourselves started…this weekend and haven’t done anything to jeopardize our goal to be in the top four,” said head coach Charlie Hickey, following Sunday’s finale. “[We] had an opportunity today to come out and win a series and gain a tiebreaker and we ended up on the short end of a 6-5 game.”

The team has struggled offensively this season, piecing together runs on small ball tactics (hit and runs, stolen bases and sacrifices) eking out a run or two here or there in combination with shutdown pitching to earn their victories.

But the offense showed some life this weekend, recording at least 11 hits in every game of the weekend. In the previous fourteen, they had managed that feat only twice.

“We were more effective offensively, or we started to be, this weekend in terms of having some runners on base and creating some hitting opportunities,” said Hickey. “Still learning about ourselves; learning to try to get better.”

Central (9-9, 2-2 NEC), who is hitting .257 as a team on the season through Sunday’s game, hit .389 during the series against the Mount (8-11, 2-2 NEC). Despite the sudden life in Blue Devil bats, they remain subdued when scoring opportunities rose up.

“We didn’t hit well with runners in scoring position and that’s something we’re going to have to build off of,” said Hickey. “And you don’t know that ‘til you get runners on, and we haven’t been getting runners on until this weekend.”

With runners in scoring position over the weekend, Central hit .333 with most of their hits coming in the 6-0 victory on Friday and the 6-5 loss on Sunday. They struggled to bring home runners on Saturday, however, hitting just .231 and leaving nine and 3 runners on base in games two and three, respectively.

“There was a little frustration from yesterday where we left 13 guys on base in the second game,” said Hickey Sunday afternoon. “We’ve got to keep believing, keep creating opportunities, keep becoming more versatile and be able to score in different ways.”

The weekend started out well, with senior Tom Coughlin tossing his second consecutive shutout, giving up just five hits over nine innings. Coughlin, who struck out six batters, reduced his ERA to a miniscule 0.93 on the year.

Central was lead offensively by senior Josh Ingham, who went 3-4 in Friday’s contest with an RBI. Ingham leads the Blue Devils with a .361 batting average. All but one batter got a hit on the day.

Both of Saturday’s games were just seven innings long. In the first game, Central got another strong performance from senior Nick Neumann, who gave up just one run over six innings, good for his first win of the season.

Neumann gave up a run in the first but settled down for the rest of the day. Ingham came in the seventh to record his fourth save of the year after going 3-3 at the plate with an RBI.

Senior J.P. Sportman went 3-4 with an RBI and a run scored, both coming in the third inning to tie the game and take the lead on Ingham’s single.

Central got a strong show from lefty Jesse Frawley in game two on Saturday, but a big Mount fifth inning that knocked Frawley from the game and handed senior Nick Boyd the loss in relief. Hickey called the inning “tough.”

The Mount opened the inning with a single, causing Boyd to come in for Frawley. Boyd gave up three runs on three hits before being pulled for freshman Kevin Connolly. The Mount scored four times in the inning with one run being charged to Frawley.

Both Sportman and junior Dominic Severino went 3-4 on the day. Ingham and senior Anthony Turgeon collected two hits as well.  Sportman and Turgeon picked up the RBIs for Central in game two.

Mount St. Mary’s struck first on Sunday off of freshman Matt Blandino for two runs in the second. Central answered with two in the bottom of the inning. But a run in the third, and three in the fourth, put the Mount ahead 6-2.

Blandino was tagged for all six runs in the loss. Senior Anthony Mannucia threw 5.2 innings of scoreless relief to give the Blue Devils a chance.

Central scored a run in the fifth and two in the sixth to pull within one. They had the tying run in scoring position in the eighth but failed to bring him home.

Severino led the Blue Devils on Sunday, going 3-5 with an RBI and two runs scored. Turgeon collected three RBIs on a pair of hits. Sophomore Connor Fitzsimons went 2-3 with an RBI.

“We got another three good pitching performances,” said Hickey of his first three starters on the weekend. “Matt Blandino wasn’t what we had hoped today. But we got good relief bullpen out of Anthony Mannucia. He was terrific. He gave us a chance.”

Hickey added that he and his staff would look at reducing Blandino’s time in the outfield if they felt it was interfering with his ability on the mound.

“We learned some things and we’ll sit down as a staff and readjust during the week and we’ll try to put our players the best position to be successful,” said Hickey.

“All in all, we’re still moving forward, we’re getting our feet underneath us, we’re getting into conference play. We get a good test next weekend in Bryant.”

Central plays a four-game series at Bryant on April 11-13 before returning home on April 15 for one game against UMass.

Baseball Splits Series Against Pirates

by Sean Begin

Despite the blustering wind and cold rain on Saturday, the Central Connecticut baseball team squeezed in both games of their scheduled double header against Seton Hall.

The Blue Devils took the first game, shortened to seven innings on account of the weather, 1-0 before dropping the full nine-inning second game 2-0.

“That’s why you don’t predict anything. You sort of get routines and you go about your business,” said head coach Charlie Hickey on the team getting both games played. “At the end of the day it was good for us to get out and play again.”

The Blue Devils (5-7) returned to the diamond after losing 6-4 to Quinnipiac on Thursday in a tightly contested game that saw the Bobcats come away victorious on two ninth-inning runs.

“We had a bad taste in our mouth after a bad performance on Thursday,” said Hickey. “The good thing about baseball is, usually, you get to do it 24 to 48 hours after; you don’t have to wait a whole week.”

Senior Tom Coughlin hurled a complete game gem for Central in the abbreviated first match. Over seven shutout innings, Coughlin allowed just five total base runners (4 hits and a walk) while striking out six.

The win was Coughlin’s second this season, both coming in one-run victories. Coughlin improved his ERA to 1.35 over 20 innings pitched.

Nick Neumann took the ball for the Blue Devils in the second match, pitching his best game of the season so far, despite getting the loss. Neumann threw seven innings, allowing just one earned run and four hits while fanning eight Pirate (18-5) batters.

“We were able to get two quality pitching performances today against a team that might be a top thirty team,” said Hickey. “Tommy, in the first game, really mixed his breaking ball [well] and had command. And I think Nick piggybacked off of that a little bit.”

Added Hickey: “That’s what we need out of fifth-year seniors. At this stage of where we are in the program and their career, we need them to be able to go out and do that on the weekend. That’s how you can win some games while trying to get better.”

While the pitching may be working for the Blue Devils, it’s the offense Hickey sees as needing to improve. The team has struggled this season, hitting .207 as a team. Central lost some of their biggest power hitters in the offseason, resulting in an increased reliance on small ball tactics: sacrifice bunts, hit and runs and base stealing.

“We’re trying as much as we can to create some type of offensive attack but it continues to be a struggle. 16 innings, you get one run, you know. But to win a game when you do that, you take that,” said Hickey.

Central scored their lone run in the first game on a wild pitch. Senior J.P. Sportman led the inning off with a walk and reached second on a sac bunt from fellow senior Josh Ingham. A wild pitch moved Sportman to third; a second brought him home.

The Pirates, similarly, capitalized in a Blue Devil mistake with a timely hit to score.

In the second game, Neumann surrendered two runs in the fourth inning, only one of them earned. A throwing error by shortstop Bryan Rivera and a sac bunt from Seton Hall first baseman Sal Annunziata set the Pirates up with runners on second and third with just one out.

Designated hitter Tyler Boyd took advantage, slamming a triple to center that plated both runners.

“The margin of error, the difficulty when you’re not scoring runs, that those mistakes get magnified,” said Hickey. “It wasn’t like it was an offensive explosion anywhere.”

Seton Hall’s Anthony Elia allowed just four Blue Devil hits en route to his third win of the season, striking out seven batters.

Despite the offensive struggles, Hickey isn’t unhappy with where his team sits heading into conference play this weekend.

“I’ve talked to this team that we’re sort of winning games while we’re trying to get better,” said Hickey. “I like the idea that we haven’t dug ourselves a hole, we’re not 10 games under .500. At that point it becomes impossible to get over the top.”

The Blue Devils kick off Northeast Conference play this weekend against Mount St. Mary’s. The Mount will visit for four games starting Friday, April 4 — featuring a double header on Saturday.

Dominic Severino threw six shutout innings on Tuesday to earn his first win of the season.

Baseball Survives Ninth Inning Rally

Dominic Severino threw six shutout innings on Tuesday to earn his first win of the season.

Dominic Severino threw six shutout innings on Tuesday to earn his first win of the season.

Central Connecticut baseball, on the arm and shoulder of junior Dominic Severino, held UMass-Lowell at bay for most of the brisk and sunny Tuesday afternoon, before surviving a pair of ninth-inning home runs to edge the Riverhawks 4-3.

“The plan was today to get him [Severino] a chance to warm up properly and get out there and try and get some innings under the belt, not trying to pitch in the eighth inning with a one run lead or a tie ball game,” said head coach Charlie Hickey. “Doing that allowed him a little chance to breath. He established the ball down in the strike zone. They let him off the hook once or twice when he was a little sloppy but all-in-all he was able to give us six quality innings.”

Severino had his strongest start of the year, allowing just three base runners over six innings of work, giving up a hit, a walk and a hit batsman while striking out four. Severino was pulled from the mound and moved to first at the end of the sixth. Senior Nick Boyd took over the pitching duties, recording a 1-2-3 seventh inning.

Senior Anthony Mannucia took over for Boyd in the eighth inning. Mannucia pitched a scoreless frame before surrendering the three runs in the top of the ninth.

With one out, the Riverhawks’ first baseman, Matt Mottola, homered to left off Mannucia for UMass-Lowell’s first run of the day. After Luke Reynolds reached first on a third-strike wild pitch, catcher Jacob O’Keefe matched Mottola, hitting a bomb over the left-field fence to pull the Riverhawks within one.

Mannucia was pulled for senior Josh Ingham who struck out the next batter and induced a harmless fly ball to right field to close out the game and pick up the save, his third of the season.

“We had thought about using Josh anyways,” said Hickey, “but anytime you can allow him to not have to come in is beneficial.”

Added Hickey: “He [Mannucia] is going to be an important factor in our bullpen. We’re going to need him to pitch some innings. We’re going to try not to do that to Josh. And he’s going to bare the load as Nick Boyd does.”

In what’s become typical of the Blue Devil offense this season, their runs were scored by capitalizing on the opportunities presented to them, rather than waiting for a big home run.

“That’s who we are and that’s how we’re going to have to play,” said Hickey. “We’ve been able to win some baseball games this way. It’s a fun way to win with good pitching and defense.”

Junior Nick Coro scored the first Blue Devil run of the day in the bottom of the fourth. Coro reached base on a single to right center and moved to second after sophomore Connor Fitzsimons was hit by a pitch, scoring on an Anthony Turgeon single to left field.

Turgeon, a senior, finished the day going 2-4 with the RBI and a nice defensive play to get the last out of the second inning, diving to his left to snare a hot ground ball before popping up and throwing out the Riverhawks’ Kelly Rooney.

Freshman Jake Patton scored the Blue Devils second run in the bottom of the fifth on an Ingham sacrifice fly to center to give Central a 2-0 lead.

The big blow for Central came in the seventh. Freshman Pat Sirois doubled into the right field corner to bring  home Severino and junior Bryan Rivera and give the Blue Devils a 4-0 lead, scoring for the third straight inning.

“We still got a long way to go. We are very inefficient,” said Hickey of the teams’ offense. “We still give one at-bat away an inning. We’re not very good at moving runners. We had a couple hit-and-runs today that didn’t work out. We have to be better.”

“We’ve been scratching off a win here and a win there to keep ourselves in a position where if we can find some more answers offensively, we got a team that can be successful.”

The Blue Devils return to the diamond again tomorrow afternoon, when they take on Rhode Island at 3 p.m.

Florida Road Trip Proves Valuable for Baseball Team

by Sean Begin

When a spring sport’s season kicks off in the last few weeks of winter, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that games could still be cancelled. Thanks to several inches of snow still on the field, Central Connecticut baseball was forced to postpone or cancel multiple games at the beginning of the season.

The extra time, though, wasn’t a concern for head coach Charlie Hickey, who looked to the silver lining of missing some game time.

“There’s no reason to anguish,” said Hickey. “What were trying to do is look at it and spin it in a positive direction. We had a couple kids who were banged up, so that helped [to get them healthy].”

With the exception of the team’s opening game against Iona at Dowling College in New York — which they won by a score of 2-1 in 11 innings — the team has played every game in the warm embrace of the Florida spring.

“We were going to be able to get some games under our belt to go down there [to Florida] and play. Reality is it didn’t happen,” said Hickey of what the lost games would have meant for his squad.

Instead, Hickey was left with extra practice time in an effort to prepare for an eight game road trip into the Sunshine State. There, the Blue Devils played a three game series against the University of Central Florida, one-off games versus Army and UConn, and finished with a three game series against Bethune-Cookman in Daytona Beach.

“At the end of the day I’m pleased with that fact that we were able to play quality baseball there. We played 73 innings of baseball in Florida. I would say 67 of them were very valuable,” said Hickey. “We were in just about every game. In the big picture, I think we got better. And that’s the goal at this point in the season.”

Central went 3-5 on their trip down South, but could easily have come back with one or two more wins if some luck and timely hitting had gone their way.

The Blue Devils opened the trip with three games against UCF. Central dropped the first two of the series 10-0 and 9-8, respectively, but took the third game from the Bulls 5-4 in 10 innings in what was the team’s second extra inning win of the season, and one which helped bring the team some confidence.

“Beating Central Florida allowed us to feel good about ourselves,” said Hickey. “You can run the risk of going down there on these trips and coming back without a win. Especially when you’re a young group.”

After an off day, Central fell to Army 9-1, a game in which the team didn’t play very well, according to Hickey who added, “We made some mistakes and they took advantage of it.”

The following night, the Blue Devils went into extra innings against UConn thanks to a well-pitched game from junior Jesse Frawley. Both teams entered the 10th inning tied at one before Central’s bullpen gave up five to the Huskies.

Central finished the road trip this past weekend with three games against Bethune-Cookman. The Blue Devils took the first two by scores of 2-1 and 8-6 before dropping the third game 4-0. Another strong Blue Devil pitching performance from Tom Coughlin led the Blue Devils in their 2-1 Friday night victory.

“We got some quality pitching, which we had hoped for,” said Hickey. “Traditionally, what happens when you go down there for a long stretch is you’re not used to the elements: The fields are faster, the wind’s blowing. And as soon as you make a mistake or two and give a team extra outs they punish you.”

In addition to strong outings by Frawley and Coughlin, the Blue Devils got a good luck at Anthony Mannuccia, who joined the team only in January.

“He got a chance to go out there three times and pitch so we got a chance to see what he’s capable of,” said Hickey of Mannuccia. “He was very effective this past Saturday when he went out and got a two inning save for us and beat a Bethune-Cookman team who had knocked off the University of Miami the prior week.”

In that save, Mannuccia struck out four of the six batters he retired while allowing only one hit to secure Central’s 8-6 victory.

Hickey has had to find a good balance in giving his younger players quality innings, both on the mound and at the plate this season, without allowing them to lose confidence, especially his young hurlers.

“You’re trying to go with the concept of bringing people along the right way,” said Hickey. “You’ve got some young kids, you put them in a spot against teams that have played 20-24 games; that’s a delicate manner trying to get younger pitchers of ours into games where they can get their feet on the ground without having to come into the game with bases loaded and nobody out.”

The Blue Devil’s offense has struggled this season at times, only hitting .212 as a team. But Hickey doesn’t see that as a bad thing.

“We’re very thin or young offensively. And so we have to find different ways to score runs,” said Hickey. “We’re not going to be able to sit there and play for the three run homer. We’re going to have to battle, we’re going to have to put the ball on the ground, we’re going to have to bunt, we’re going to have to hit and run. Our numbers are not going to be impressive. You just have to try and scrap and claw a little bit.”

Despite the low offensive numbers, the opportunities have been there for the team like Sunday’s loss to Bethune-Cookman when the team had bases loaded with no outs, yet failed to score a single run. For Hickey, it’s just a matter of capitalizing on the opportunities as they come.

“As a team we have to take better approaches in putting the ball in play and not striking out. If they’re moving runners or driving in runners, those are the things that help you win ballgames,” said Hickey. “The averages and the numbers, everybody who plays looks at them but I think as we get into situations where we have opportunities to score, we have to be productive.”

The Blue Devils are scheduled to play three games this weekend: a double header on Saturday versus Seton Hall starting at noon and a single game Sunday versus Iona at 1 p.m.

Baseball and the Gold Coast

by Sean Begin

You may not have noticed, but the 2014 Major League Baseball season has started.

The first official pitch was thrown at about 7 p.m. AEDT. In case your not time zone literate (Thanks Google!), that’s Australia Eastern Daylight Time.

Yes, that’s right. Australia. The Gold Coast. Down Under. The Outback. Oz.

Back here on the East Coast that was about 4 a.m., which meant the majority of fans missed the beginning of the season in favor of sleep. (Thanks DVR!)

Time differences aside, baseball down under is far from a bad idea. And it’s another step in baseball’s attempt to expand its international market beyond Latin America and Japan, the latter of which features the strongest professional baseball league behind the MLB.

MLB has opened its season internationally before, visiting Japan four times as well as Mexico and Puerto Rico. And with MLB owning the majority of the Australian Baseball League, it’s no surprise a trip to the Outback for Opening Day has arrived.

The game took place at the historic Sydney Cricket Grounds, which has hosted both cricket and rugby, but never baseball. The 38,000-seat stadium recently received $170 million in upgrades, making it the ideal location for major league baseball’s debut.

Perhaps the most well known Australian ballplayer is Grant Balfour, the Tampa Bay Rays’ closer and an 11-year veteran. Balfour’s father played rugby, but when he showed an interest in baseball, his father started an entire youth club.

Casual fans of the game may be unfamiliar with Balfour. He’s been around but hasn’t really made himself a household name. It’s for this reason that baseball decided to play two games at the SCG in the hopes of popularizing the sport in a country dominated by cricket and rugby.

Balfour is one of only 28 Australian players to have ever reached the majors.  He is one of 45 players currently playing in either the majors, Class AAA or Class AA. It’s baseball’s hope that these two games will increase interest in the sport in Australia to add to the number of Australian players.

The two games were played between the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks, two of the teams perhaps best positioned, geographically at least, to fly to Oz for a pair of games (about 14 hours from LA and 16 from Phoenix).

The Dodgers won both games, but the outcomes, so early in the year, don’t really matter. What matters is the impact the games had. Did they increase interest in young players who may want to be the next great rugby player? Did the fans that attended enjoy the game enough to want it back?

Well, if Matt Cleary serves as the majority opinion, then the answer to that last question is a resounding yes. Cleary is a freelance sportswriter based in Sydney who frequently contributes to the Guardian’s sports blogs.

“Major League Baseball? Lend us an ear: Come back. Please,” wrote Cleary in article published in the Guardian following the second game of the weekend. “Australians could easily get used to watching this at the Sydney Cricket Ground, and in consistently super numbers.”

While the effort of Major League Baseball to advance the game abroad is commendable, as a fan it is a little off-putting for the season to start so early. Last year, the first official game was held March 31, with most teams kicking off the next day on April 1.

The season started nine days earlier this year on March 22. Meaning there will be more than a week before all the other teams get underway (there will be one game on March 30 before all other teams kick off March 31).

These seem to be small sacrifices to make to see the game grow, especially considering there are 2,428 more games to be played for the next five months.

America’s Pastime No Longer

by Sean Begin

Spring may not officially arrive until March 20, when the equinox sends us into the long days of summer, but I’ve never really agreed with that astrological estimation.

For me, spring begins with the first pitch of an exhibition game from one of Major League Baseball’s first spring exhibition games of the preseason.

While we shiver away the last of winter’s cold in the Northeast, my eyes turn to Arizona and Florida, where the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues begin smearing dirt on baseballs, oiling leather gloves or working on their swing or pitching motion.

Baseball has always been my favorite sport, thanks in part to steroids. I started watching the sport in 1998 thanks to the home run race of Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa. That was also the year the Yankees won 114 games, then a major league record en route to their 24th World Championship; the year I became an entrenched member of the Evil Empire.

But while baseball always evokes romantic and nostalgic images in my mind, it’s not hard to miss the signs the sport is waning in popularity; that it is no longer “America’s Pastime.”

That title now, sadly, belongs to the National Football League.

In January of this year, Harris released their annual poll of America’s most popular sport, conducted since 1985. That year, football beat baseball by just one percentage point (24-23). In 2014, football had risen to 35 percent while baseball had fallen to just 14.

There are many factors that may explain this change. But New York Time’s writer Jonathan Mahler hit upon a key point in a September 2013 column.

“Baseball’s never-ending nostalgia trip has made it an inherently conservative sport,’ writes Mahler, “one that’s forever straining to live up to its own mythology.”

Baseball, Mahler argues, is built on its mythos as the “national pastime.” So when the sport nearly doubled in team membership between 1961 and 1998, those expansion cities the sport moved into did not have the roots necessary to sustain baseball’s popularity.

Football (and to a lesser extent basketball) do not suffer this same issue. The NFL has had its popularity increase in part to the success of other games: the Madden NFL video game franchise and fantasy football.

Ironically, baseball was one of the first sport to have a modern fantasy league developed around it (the original fantasy sport was golf, but the more modern version played today originated with a baseball rotisserie league in 1980).

Part of the reason baseball has seen such a dramatic decrease in popularity is the 1994 strike that resulted in the cancellation of the World Series. That loss of fans was part of the reason baseball turned a blind eye to the steroid use it knew was rampant in the locker rooms: the home run race was a valuable money maker.

Baseball revenues the following season where just $2.2 billion when adjusted for inflation. Compare that with baseball’s 2013 season that saw a record $8 billion in revenue. Most of that, however, comes from TV revenue as opposed to ticket sales, jersey sales, etc.

Football, however, easily exceeded $9 billion its last fiscal year and has the potential to make as much as $25 billion by 2027, if the goals are Commissioner Roger Goodell are achieved.

As spring training moves into the 2014 baseball season, I begin to get more and more excited. I’m thrust back into memories of the 1998 season, when baseball entered my life. I don’t foresee baseball dying off, like some have predicted of football due to the concussion crisis.

But I don’t see the sport overtaking football in popularity ever again, unless something unpredictable was to occur. America’s pastime has been handed off to the pigskin sport, leaving baseball swinging in the wind.