This & That

Autumn is just around the corner. The heat seems to come around on alternate days now, and there is a little more nip in the air every evening. Even without these hints of what’s ahead, the fall sports practices let everyone know summer days are limited.

Is it just because I was an educator for a long time after my attendance school days were over, or does everyone look at the opening of school as a landmark that summer is over? Then there is that holiday known as Labor Day, which serves as a signal as well. Just think, once upon a time, no one went to school before Labor Day. Then someone got the bright idea; well you know the rest.

The New Hampshire sporting world is playing extra tricks on us in this summer of 2018. The first day for competition in some sports is this week, believe it or not. Both the Fall Mountain girls and boys soccer teams open this Friday, Aug. 24. The ladies take the field first, hosting Laconia at 4 p.m., while the boys have traditional rival Stevens under the lights on the road in Claremont at 7 p.m. Hey Granite State, you are really pushing the calendar.

 

Just wanted to salute the Connecticut River Valley Baseball League before putting the area summer season to rest. Men’s summer league baseball has been around forever. Even before this old man came around. I hear the old summer leagues, especially the old old Northern League was something to behold, and then there was the West River Valley League. Then later, there was the rebirth of the Northern League, and now there is the CRVBL.

My thinking is that there are many similarities between the present CRVBL and the West River Valley League because they have been both centered around their towns and they have a regional feel. One thing the CRVBL can’t match with its West River predecessor is the attendance numbers, and that is a sign of the times.

Back in the West River Valley days, Sunday afternoon baseball was the event of the week for so many people. Home games were must-see and many road games were a part of what was a customary Sunday afternoon drive back then. In addition, once upon a time, baseball wasn’t on television around here. Most people didn’t have a tube until somewhere in the mid-60s.

A couple of kind of old timers raved about this summer’s CRVBL play-offs, especially the semi-finals at the Walpole Hubbard Field complex. They felt the baseball was so clean and pure. I am an advocate of seven-inning baseball at that level because usually more than half of the runs in a nine-inning contest are scored in the last three innings.

This time around, the CRVBL made it not matter when the runs were scored. When two teams have a couple of nail-biters, which result in six runs total being scored in the doubleheader with games played in about two hours, very few strikeouts, and very few errors, the fans are the winners. Can’t say it’s easy to accept losing those games especially when your entire season is on the line.

 

It has been said many times, the more baseball changes, the more it stays the same. I’m not sure that’s true about the game we watch at the major league level anymore. For years, there have been arguments about the game in general being the same. But with launch angle and exit velocity, along with home runs and strikeouts, the game doesn’t have the same feel.

Then there is the revolutionary pitching opener created by Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash. The Rays literally ran out of capable starting pitchers in their organization. They had a number of strong young eager arms, so Cash decided to use an opener who has often been a former closer to pitch the first one or two innings of a game. He then pieced together the rest of the contest.

The concept has basically worked with the Rays as they use two conventional starters in their rotation, along with two or three openers, depending on how many off days they have each week. How it has revolutionized the game is, in professional baseball, the name of the game for teams to put together a bullpen, which will be strong enough to close out games once the starter has to be removed.

The best pitchers in baseball rarely go beyond the seventh inning, if that, so most teams work on landing a seventh, eighth, and ninth inning guy who can shorten the game. The really good teams have both an extra guy for those innings and a couple of sixth inning guys.

From an offensive standpoint, Cash’s invention takes some getting use to. Hitters have learned chances are you will see the opponents starting pitcher three and possibly four times in a game. If you don’t come through in your first at bat, just pocket what you learned from that appearance at the plate and utilize the information in later innings. However, Cash’s opener model may not have you see the same pitcher more than once in a game, and that opposing pitcher is likely to be throwing harder than what would have been the opposing starter. Each hitter has to figure out the pitcher he is facing without previous experience in the box on any given day. It will be interesting to see if anyone else copies Cash’s model in the future.

 

While on the subject of Cash, I always figured Jason Varitek would be the first one to come out of a Red Sox player uniform and on to the managerial scene. Everyone knows by now, Cash beat him to the punch. They were catching teammates a couple of different times and believe it or not, Alex Cora, Dave Roberts, and Gabe Kapler also played with Jason. All of those leaders are part of the Terry Francona managerial tree and every one of them has succeeded at a certain level early in their careers.

Varitek is now biding his time as a part-time catching instructor with the Sox. If Varitek had expressed any managerial training interest back when he retired, it might possibly have been him sitting in the manager’s seat right now. The long time Sox said he wanted to spend time with family at the outset.

The former backstop told me late last season that he was ready to spend more time around the game now, but obviously the time he missed allowed others who were more aggressive pursuing the managerial dream to move ahead of him.

 

Here’s a reminder that Leland & Gray is now a part of our reporting area. Spoke with Marty Testo the other day who is the athletic director of Rebel Nation, and he has hopes for both the boys’ and girls’ soccer teams this fall. Chris Barton has been the head of the boys’ program for two decades now and has this way of getting the most out of his talent. Lucas Bates is back for year seven for the girls, and they reached the Vermont Division III semis in 2016 before bowing to Thetford. The boys were in the soccer Final Four in the fall of 2015 when they fell to Twin Valley. The Rebel girls open their fall campaign Aug. 31 at home versus Mill River while the boys also open at home but must wait until Sept. 5 to meet Woodstock. Both teams will scrimmage Brattleboro at home: the boys Thursday, Aug. 24 at 5 p.m. and the girls next Tuesday, Aug. 28 at 6 p.m.

 

One of the biggest questions for this fall is how will the Bellows Falls field hockey girls do in the Division I playoffs? We will have to wait two months to find out. They showed they belonged already in the preseason by defeating perennial top contender South Burlington in an early scrimmage. Coach Bethany Coursen downplayed the result by saying, “We both were just trying to get our teams figured out,” but to prove their competitiveness once again this fall is important.

Before opening at Burr & Burton, Bellows Falls will host Hoosick Falls Wednesday, Aug. 23 in a 4:30 p.m. practice game and then travel to Mohawk Regional in Masachusetts next Monday.

The hard part is the Terriers are faced with basically the same regular season schedule they had one year ago, which isn’t as challenging as the coach would like. Southern Vermont is in the second year of a two-year scheduling cycle and making a change is difficult.

 

If you would like to comment about the sports page in this paper, feel free to email me at bmurphy@vermontjournal.com.

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