Do you like movies? More specifically, have you seen, “The Natural”? It’s a baseball movie about fictional player Roy Hobbs (“the greatest to ever play the game”). If you haven’t seen it, here’s how it ends, and I’m not sorry if I’m ruining it for you, because the movie is something like 78 years old, at this point. Just kidding, but I’ll give you a hint – you could’ve seen a modern-day version of it, if you were at the Tulane-Illinois game on Friday night.
The Green Wave, who led the entire night, but were facing a 5-2 deficit in the 10th inning, would not give up, and provided some opening night magic. Following a 2015 campaign where the Wave would gut out nine victories after being tied or trailing in the seventh inning, the boys of Uptown opened the 10th playing smart ball, as CF Grant Brown and 1B Hunter Williams both drew walks. Lex Kaplan, batting clean up, singled in Brown, and the Green Wave were back in business, but still trailing the Illini, 5-3.
Then Tulane’s own Roy Hobbs stepped to the plate. Sorry, I mean redshirt-junior DH Jeremy Montalbano. The rest was magic. Although, the lights didn’t blow out and shower fireworks down onto the field, it was the hearts of the Green Wave faithful that popped with joy as Montalbano sent a pitch over the left-center wall and deep into the New Orleans night. Players and coaches stormed the field to meet their latest hero at the plate, and Tulane walked off with a 6-5 victory. Even though he didn’t get credited with the win (which would go to relief pitcher Trevor Simms), Corey Merrill finished the night giving up no runs, with seven strikeouts, in six innings pitched.
My other favorite play of the night, was by the gentleman who participated in the “spin the bat” game, who after 10 quick spins, took one step, and promptly face-planted. Well done, sir.
The good vibes spilled over into Saturday’s contest, as the Wave jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, behind singles by SS Stephen Alemais, C Jake Rogers, and Kaplan. It would be Kaplan’s third RBI in the early season. The Wave would add one more run in the fourth, as 2B Jake Willsey would go yard in his first start for the team. That’s all they would need as Alex Massey would strike out eight, and pitch seven scoreless innings, giving the starting pitching staff it’s second great start of the season.
Sunday, while well attended, was a sleepier affair as the students seemed to all still be in bed. However, the families were out in full force. Kids, 13 and younger, get free ice cream every Sunday home game! That sweet deal made the youngsters in the right field stands a happy sort, as they called down, and tried to get the attention of the Green Wave pitchers and catchers warming up in the bullpen. Once again, the starting pitching staff got a strong performance, this time from senior, and Jesuit High graduate, Emerson Gibbs. The right-hander would give up no runs, and sit down six batters, in 6.1 innings worked. The Wave carried a 2-0 lead into the eighth, before seeing the Illini erupt for five runs in the final two innings, handing the Wave their first loss of the season.
It was a solid start to the year, a year with high expectations, but not one without questions. As noted, the starting pitching staff couldn’t have been better. I doubt there are many teams, if any, that can say their starters worked 19.1 innings, struck out 21 batters, and gave up zero runs this weekend.
On the flip side of that rosin bag, the relievers didn’t have the best weekend. It was a bullpen by committee approach against Illinois, as coach Pierce figures out what he has, a year after losing closer Ian Gibaut. The Wave’s Christian Colletti and J.P. France both looked good in relief, but veterans Tim Yandel and Patrick Duester both struggled. It’s early, but something to keep an eye on. Even with the series win, I’m sure Coach Pierce wasn’t happy giving up two-run leads in two of the games, and both in the eighth inning or after.
Be that as it may, if you see the boys around town this week, give them a slap on the back. It was a great opening weekend. The Wave take the field again tonight at 6:30 p.m. at Turchin Field, against Alabama A&M. Then, this coming weekend, they are off to San Diego to play in the Tony Gwynn Classic. The Wave will square off against the Arizona Wildcats in their first game of the tournament.
And like a fine wine with a steak dinner, every game should be accompanied by a beverage and song.
Beer Pairing – Green Flash Brewing’s “West Coast IPA”
Playlist Recommendation – Stevie Wonder – “Superstition”
Around the Way
Anthony Davis is a beast. Still a beast, I guess I should say. Davis entered the season showered in accolades, but as the Pelicans faltered (around him), critics have started sharpening their knives and going after Davis. How ridiculous. Davis hasn’t changed. He is still the top-notch talent that drove the Pelicans to the playoffs last year. If you want to criticize, then look at the play around him, or the injuries, or the management that did nothing over the off season to improve this team. It’s almost as if they said, “Hey, we got beat in the first round of the playoffs. We really have this figured out!” And then…nothing.
As for Davis – he followed a 34-point, 7 rebound performance against Philadelphia, with a 59-point and 20 rebound masterpiece against Detroit. You know, no big deal. Davis is averaging 24.3 points and 10.1 rebounds on the year, which are one-tenth off of his career highs set last year (when everyone was tripping over themselves to name him the greatest player in the league). Unfortunately, the Pelicans are still 22-33 on the season, and 5.5 games out of the NBA playoffs.
Speaking of good things from Kentucky…horses, anyone? Gun Runner, trained by Steve Asmussen, ran a perfect trip for Florent Geroux, and took the 44th installment of the Grade II Risen Star Stakes. Gun Runner, saved ground the entire way, gaining the rail on the backstretch and settling down there until popping outside to pass longshot Candy My Boy at the quarter pole. Gun Runner would hold off quick closing Forevamo at the line. In hot pursuit of those two, was Gale Benson-owned Mo Tom, who had to overcome being bumped by a quickly fading Bestraya in the stretch. Gale Benson’s other Derby hopeful, Tom Is Ready, was never a factor in the race.
Congratulations to coach Blake Dean and the UNO Privateers on an impressive opening weekend of baseball. The Privateers hosted the MLB Urban Youth Invitational and finished the weekend, 3-0, with victories over Grambling, Alcorn State, and Louisiana Tech. Dean, in his first season as head coach, takes over a Privateer program that has gone 32-122 over the past three seasons.