Keeping Score: On orders from the Mayor

Friday, March 31, 2017

Good morning!

Greenfield Mayor William Martin — Slater as he’s known to his longtime friends — issued a heartfelt proclamation this week, anointing March 29 as “Vietnam Veterans Day” in Greenfield.

His statement said in part: “We are grateful to the contributions by Vietnam veterans for their individual acts of sacrifice and commitments to the community.”

I can think of a few, but not nearly all the locals who deserve praise for doing tours of duty in Vietnam— Chris Rose, Rick Lashway and Bill Delia, for starters, and Martin himself was a highly decorated combat medic with the 1st Air Cavalry Division.

Bill Phelps left the GHS gridiron and suffered nary a scratch during his 22 months in Vietnam. His luck ran out this spring in Fort Myers where he was watching the Red Sox with Jim Elwell at JetBlue Park. They were sitting four rows from the field when Boston outfielder Bryce Brentz hit a screeching line drive that skimmed off the top of the visitor’s dugout and smacked him square in the knee.

“The ushers rushed over with ice packs and that helped the swelling,” said Phelps. “One of Jimmy’s friends wound up with the ball and handed it to me. ‘You took one for the team,’ he said.”

It’s been a milestone year for the former Green Beret and longtime local baseball coach, who coached the now defunct baseball team at Greenfield Community College, and now heads the American Legion Greenfield Post 81 teams during the summer months. Phelps celebrated his 70th birthday in February and was presented with a baseball signed by three kindred spirits: Skip Fotopoulos, U.S. Army, Courtney Woodcock U.S. Air Force (and) Ken Caouette U.S. Navy.

Two days after whacking the ball off Phelps’ knee, Brentz autographed the baseball, and when he noticed Phelps’s service hat he commented, “If I’d known you were a vet, I wouldn’t have made you wait so long.”

Vietnam Vets indeed waited too long to be recognized for their valor in what was an unpopular war.

“Being a Veterans advocate and having those guys sign that baseball meant a lot to me,” said Phelps. “It was really quite thoughtful.”

Who knows, maybe Mayor Martin will add his signature to the baseball. That would make it a grand slam.

South Deerfield’s Leonard and Diane Grybko saw Baylor University fall to South Carolina last weekend in the Sweet Sixteen at Madison Square Garden. “This closes the book on our adventures with Baylor,” said Diane, referring to their earlier trip to watch Baylor in Texas.

On both occasions, the Grybkos were guests of assistant coach Tim Maloney. Leonard is a renowned mechanic, and he kept Maloney’s car fine-tuned for recruiting trips when he was at UMass during the Travis Ford era.

The two became friends, and Maloney gave them an “any time” invitation to visit Waco. After Baylor won its first 18 games and reached No. 1, Leonard decided it was time to take Maloney up on his offer.

“He checked his schedule and said ‘Let’s go,’” remembered Diane. “They played Kansas and it was crazy — the Ferrell Center was rocking!”

Baylor went 27-8 and finished second in the Big 12 but the Bears were soundly beaten by the Gamecocks at MSG. “On Dylan’s recommendation, we stayed at the Archer Hotel and had nightcaps on the roof-top bar overlooking the Empire State Building. New York, New York, it was amazing.”

This summer Dylan Korpita will marry Kristyn Grybko in what will be South Deerfield’s version of the Royal Wedding— the Duke and Duchess of SowDee.

Kristyn works in admissions at NMH and Dylan is a Princeton grad and business entrepreneur.

Though the honeymoon destination remains a secret, Dylan might spring for a trip to the Seychelles off the coast of East Africa, where Prince William and Catherine Middleton celebrated their nuptials.

This month’s annual Joe DiMaggio Dinner at the Plaza Hotel on Fifth Avenue hasn’t generated much interest in Red Sox Nation. No wonder, since an overnight stay at the Plaza is $600 and the guest of honor is Bobby Valentine.

Fans in Boston might regard Bobby V as the Donald Trump of baseball. After a big buildup he guided the 2012 Red Sox straight into the AL East cellar with a 69-93 record. He was fired and scooted back to the Big Apple where his Red Sox exploits probably earned him more praise.

Tickets are $500 each, and jacket and tie are required.

After 14 losses in 15 games — including a one-run blemish to eighth-ranked Baylor — the UMass softball team has regrouped and won seven straight.

On Thursday, they celebrated the end of their 22-game road trip by sweeping a twin bill against Boston University at Sortino Field in Amherst.

All but five of the 17 players on coach Kristi Stefanoni’s team are freshmen or sophomores, including first year pitcher Candace Denis of Malakoff High School in East Texas. Going into Thursday’s contest she had an ERA of 1.75 in 11 appearances and had won three straight games. She upped her overall record to 5-5 with a 6-4 win in the nightcap. Junior Meg Colleran of North Attleboro tossed a five-hitter to help UMass win the first game, 3-1.

Sophomore Shea Newsome of Sunderland went in as a pinch-runner in the opener.

Defending Atlantic 10 champion Fordham is the team to beat. The Rams are 23-7 at this writing and were ranked 44th out of 295 teams in Division I by the NCAA. The Minutewomen are ranked 175th, within striking distance of Harvard (171) and archrival UMass Lowell (168).

At this writing it appeared Mother Nature would postpone this weekend’s three-game series versus George Washington, giving the Minutewomen a chance to bask in the sunshine of their own making.

Greenfield’s Les Lapointe recognized me near the entrance to Big Y on Monday. He was holding a potted plant and pointing a finger. “I got a beef with you,” he exclaimed. “Fake news! Your autograph story said Billy Goodman won the 1954 batting title. Wrong, he won it in 1950. Bobby Avila won in 1954 (with Cleveland). Ted Williams would’ve won it but he didn’t have enough at-bats. That was before they changed the rule to plate appearances. Williams had like 170 walks that year.” Actually Williams had 136 walks — still enough to lead the league — but better watch out for that fake news, Les.

New UMass basketball coach Matt McCall is young and hungry, but the most fitting lyrics of the past week were uttered by Liza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady:” “Words, words, words I’m so sick of words, I get words all day long, first from him now from you. Don’t talk of fall, don’t talk at all… Show me!”

SQUIBBERS: Oh, how tempting it would’ve been to do an April Fools’ joke that Pat Kelsey had relented. … Bob Diamond remembers Lou Roe wearing No. 15 and “standing on the scorer’s table when we upset mighty UConn. That seems like eons ago.” … Dan Wetzel got in a good dig at Pat Kelsey for bailing out on UMass: “Can’t wait for the ESPN 30-for-30 on the Pat Kelsey era at UMass. So many memories.” … The only reason Donald Trump’s not throwing out the first pitch is his chicken arm. He has to throw out the first pitch, no excuses, or Hillary wins by default. … Movin’ Up: South Deerfield native Bill Decker coached pitcher Derek Falvey at Trinity College. Decker now coaches at Harvard, and Falvey’s the chief baseball operator of the Minnesota Twins. … Ever wonder why New England teams don’t play the UConn Lady Huskies? The last to try were beaten by nearly 60 points, that’s why. UConn beat Hartford 89-34 on Nov. 9, 2013, and two weeks later beat BU, 96-38. … Aroldis “The Cuban Missile” Chapman threw a slow motion no-hitter this spring: seven appearances, 6.2 innings with nine strikeouts, two walks and yeah, no hits. Meanwhile CC Sabathia’s allowed 11 earned runs in 21.2 innings pitched for the Bombers and appears about done with a career record of 233-141. … More than 11,000 fans packed into 9,334-seat Cushman Field in Las Vegas on Sunday to watch the Cubs hammer the Reds, 22-4. … At last look, opening-day tickets on StubHub ranged from $76.84 for standing room only in left field to $788 five rows behind the Red Sox dugout. Bring your hat and mittens, or wait a week when temps rise and tickets fall to as low as $14.30 for the Birds vs. the Sox on April 11.

Tomorrow afternoon in the Bronx, Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka will wind up and deliver the first pitch of the 2017 season. Spring training was the equivalent of one-quarter of a regular season, long enough to wonder if any stats do indeed portend a season’s trend.

A quick glance at MLB’s sortable stats on Thursday showed that Yankee hurlers had tossed the fewest wild pitches and their batterymates led the AL in caught-stealing percentage.

The Red Sox led the majors in strikeouts, but David Price will be out half the season with a bad arm and who knows how long it’ll take Tyler Thornburg to start retiring lefty hitters. In December, the Red Sox got him in exchange for third baseman Travis Shaw, who batted .429 last spring, dipped to .242 in the regular season, and is back up to .333 for the Brewers this spring (18-for-54).

Six-foot-three, 225-pound Greg Bird pounded out seven homeruns for the Yankees, including a blast onto Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa that had the crowding ooh-ing and ah-ing. Bird has a naked pet cat, in case you didn’t know.

Baltimore led in fielding percentage and the Rays led in errors. The Cubs hit the half-century mark in long balls, closely followed by the Indians and Brewers both with 48.

“I see great things in baseball. It is our game, the American game,” said Walt Whitman, as quoted by Annie Savoy in “Bull Durham. The screenwriter most likely deserves credit for that pithy quote.

Want a long shot? Take Milwaukee at 200-1, otherwise presuming the West Coast remains intact it’ll be the Mariners and Dodgers in the Fall Classic. You heard it here first.

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.