Big Joe Jersey Talent Finals

Beautiful night on the beach for the Big Joe Jersey Talent Show finals tonight.  The two perennial celebrity judges were in place Robert John and Franke Previte.

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Robert John best known for his cover of The Tokens’ The Lion Sleeps Tonight, which climbed to #3 on the Billboard Chart in 1972.

And what about New Jersey’s own Franke Previte?

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1987 was his musical Annus Mirabilis with an Academy Award for Best Achievement in Music: Best Song for 1987 for Dirty Dancing’s “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”, as well as a Golden Globe and a Grammy nomination.

Congratulations to this year’s winner Ava Rose Dresendorfer, a semi-finalist for the past six years who finally took home the whole enchilada tonight!

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Arizona Fall League Sneak Preview

Looking forward to spectating at another Arizona Fall League season, with the rosters recently announced.  The team from Philadelphia is once again part of the Scottsdale Scorpions, and here’s a preview of the eight Phillies representatives:

Sixto SanchezSixto Sanchez is by far the most intriguing Phils’ prospect we’ll be following in October/November.  The first Sixto since Lezcano with a chance to succeed for the Phils at the major league level, Sanchez is rated #5 among pitchers on the mlb.com prospect watch list, and #17 overall.  He’s the Phillies #1 prospect, but then again so was J.P. Crawford until Sanchez displaced him.  Yet there’s reason for enthusiasm when you read the mlb.com write-up about him:

“Sanchez signed for just $35,000 in 2015 and if his first two seasons in the United States are any indication, he might turn out to be the greatest international signing bonus bargain in Phillies history. He won the ERA crown in the Gulf Coast League for his U.S. debut in 2016, then dominated in his first taste of full-season ball and earned a promotion up to the Florida State League just after his 19th birthday for an encore. His race to Philadelphia was slowed somewhat by elbow inflammation in 2018.

It’s hard not to get excited about Sanchez’s combination of pure stuff and feel for pitching. While he is just six feet tall, he’s strong and athletic with a repeatable delivery that points to a future in a rotation. He can hit triple digits with his four-seam fastball and also features a two-seamer with a ton of sinking action. His fastball is better than its pure velocity because of its movement as well as his ability to command it extremely well. His secondary stuff continues to improve, with a breaking ball he adds and subtracts from and a changeup he shows a good feel for at times. Both will flash above-average to plus, and given his overall feel for pitching, there is confidence both will get there consistently in time.”

Sanchez just turned 20 years old on July 29, so there’s no need to rush him.  Before being shut down in Clearwater, he was 4-3 with a 2.51 ERA, a 45/11 K/BB ratio, only 1 HR allowed, and a .224 BA against over 46.2 innings.  Aaron Fultz, his pitching coach for the Threshers this year, is the Scorpions’ pitching coach, so the Phillies will be able to keep a close eye on their crown jewel in Scottsdale.

Arquimedes Gamboa

No other Phils’ prospect in Scottsdale ranks on the mlb.com Top 100 list, but they do have one other prospect on the team’s top 30 list, and that is Sixto’s Threshers teammate Arquimedes Gamboa sitting at #11.  Though named after a famous Greek mathematician his numbers haven’t added up yet, and the AFL will be a nice proving ground for the slick fielding, switch-hitting soon-to-be-21-year-old shortstop to see if his bat can continue to develop.  From his mlb.com writeup:

“The Phillies shelled out $900,000 to sign Gamboa out of Venezuela in July 2014 when he was ranked No. 15 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 International Prospects list. There wasn’t much to show for the investment, at least not offensively, over his first two summers of pro ball, but particularly at the end of his first taste of full-season ball in 2017, things started to click.

The Phillies never doubted Gamboa’s ability and were more than willing to be patient for his considerable tools to start showing up. It didn’t help that the start of his 2017 season was delayed by a hamstring injury, but he did start swinging the bat well over the last month and change of the year. He’s starting to add strength, with more to come, and that combined with his bat speed should allow him to impact the baseball from both sides of the plate. He makes all the plays at shortstop, where he will be able to play long-term, with a plus arm.

In terms of raw tools, Gamboa rates higher than rookie shortstop J.P. Crawford and might end up with similar offensive tools to those of Scott Kingery. He’s a long way away from reaching that ceiling, but the Phillies are confident he’s starting to figure it out.”

Darick Hall

In the image of Rhys Hoskins and Dylan Cozens the Phils have another Big Bopper who likes to hit dingers, the Fightins’ hulking first baseman Darick Hall.  Hall will be playing close to home having been born and raised in Siera Vista, Arizona.  Drafted in the 14th round (407th overall) by the Phillies in 2016, Hall signed for $95,000 and immediately started putting balls over the wall in Williamsport.  He punished pitching in low A Lakewood for 27 homers and 96 RBIs in 114 games in 2017, and in 2018 belted a combined 25/86 for Clearwater and Reading.

Although he hit in the .270s in Lakewood and Clearwater, Hall dropped to .229 at Reading.  No doubt the Phils would like to see him do better than his .720 OPS at the AA level, and he’ll start next season with The Fightins again.  But if he has a good showing for the Scorpions, it will give both him and the club more confidence in his future.

Austin Listi

Austin Listi may not have as much size as his Dallas Baptist University teammate Darick Hall, but he may prove to be the better all around ballplayer.  He began 2018 in Clearwater but the Phils couldn’t justify leaving him at that level with his stellar .344 average and 1.013 OPS in 58 games.  So up he went to Reading where he put up a very respectable .288/.835 in 62 games, with the same number of HRs (9) and 39 RBIs, a shade less than his 45 at Clearwater.

Luke Williams

Luke Williams is the last of the three position players who’ll represent the Phils on the Scorpions, and the least likely to advance.  A 3rd round draft choice in 2015, his numbers at all levels have been disappointing thus far.  He spent all of 2018 with the Threshers at third base, putting up a .248/.682 line.  His claim to fame is that he was born in Park Ridge, Illinois, birthplace of Hillary Clinton and home to Sara, Dan, Ethan, Ella, and Eva Press.

Luke Leftwich

Luke Leftwich was selected by the Phillies in the 7th round of the 2015 draft, and has a baseball pedigree, with both his father and grandfather having pitched in the major leagues.  Although no one is going to confuse him with Sixto Sanchez, he had an excellent 2017 in Clearwater with a .275 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and a K/BB ratio of 98/21.  Reading in 2018 was more of a challenge, with Luke dropping to .375/1.30 and 67/24 respectively.

Seth McGarry

Seth McGarry was acquired by the Phillies in a trade straight up last July that sent Joaquin Benoit to the Pittsburgh Pirates.  He’s a sinker baller who started out 2018 like a ball of fire in double A, garnering headlines in the Reading Eagle.  But the accolades didn’t last, and he finished the year with an ERA of 4.11, a whopping WHIP of 1.48, and a pedestrian K/BB of 65/41.  Although his sinker would be welcome in Citizens Bank Park, he’s a long shot to make it and will be turning 25 this January.

Tyler Viza

Tyler Viza is another Arizona native who’ll be at home pitching for the Scorpions.  Talk about long shots, he was a 32nd round pick for the Phillies in 2013 who struggled mightily in 2014 at Lakewood with a record of 3-17, an ERA of 5.29, and a WHIP 1.56 (shades of  John Buzhardt and Frank Sullivan of the early ’60s Phils).  After an unimpressive 2017 year with the Fightin Phils, Viza may have turned a corner with his second stint in Reading this year posting an ERA of 2.94, a WHIP of 1.25, and a K/BB of 63/19.  Having been rocked in his five appearances with the Iron Pigs, this will be Tyler’s chance to redeem himself.

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An Inspring Immigrant Story

Chobani YogurtChobani is my favorite yogurt.  After Starbucks, it’s how I start every morning.  Hamdi Ulukaya is a Turkish immigrant who arrived in the U.S.A. in 1994 and ultimately purchased a failing yogurt factory.  Having grown up with shepherds, he re-named the product Chobani (which means “shepherd”).  His is a hardworking immigrant success story that should be shared widely.   Have a read here.

 

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CHNOPS Holds the Secret to Life

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No … I’m not talking about that kind of schnapps, though Chabad does have an explanation for the association between schnapps and the secret to life.  I’m talking about the five elements that ubiquitously attach themselves to Carbon to make more complex arrangements in life forms:  Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Phosphorous, and Sulfur.  A marvelous book by astrobiologist Charles Cockell mentions these six as having the “unmemorable mnemonic CHNOPS”, but that’s likely because he never made a l’chaim!

The Equations of Life Book Cover

CHNOPS are the most common elements in living organisms.  These elements make up 98% of living matter on earth!  It’s time to move on from the schnapps at Tevye’s table, and re-visit these six vital biochemical elements in the periodic table.  To learn more about the power of CHNOPS, and how it confers life, here’s a pleasant and informative YouTube video.

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Dani Shapiro Bares Her Genes

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Struck paydirt again at BookTowne last Sunday, picking up an Advance Reader’s Edition of Dani Shapiro’s Inheritance scheduled for publication on January 17, 2019.   If you have any interest in genealogy and Judaism, be sure to pre-order a copy.  Dani is an accomplished author and teacher, with a look that would qualify her for the role of lead Shiksa in a Woody Allen movie.  I say that for a reason you’ll soon see.

Dani Shapiro Photo

The author’s note indicates at the outset that Inheritance is a work of nonfiction, but that some names and identifying details have been changed to respect and protect the privacy of others.  One of the Thoreau-ly fictitious names is Dr. Benjamin Walden, who turns out to be her biological father, while among the non-fictitous is Jared Kushner’s grandmother, a friend of her parents, telling the young Dani in her thick accent one Shabbos afternoon:  We could have used you in the ghetto, little blondie.  You could have gotten us bread from the Nazis.  Of course as long as one parent was Jewish, Hitler would have come for her anyway.  Another non-fictitious individual in the book, Rabbi Haskell Lookstein reassures Dani in adulthood that her Jewish status is secure as long as her mother was Jewish.

On a quest to learn about her genetic composition, Dani registers with ancestry.com and discovers that there’s a good reason she doesn’t look Jewish.  As a memoirist, writing her previous books have helped her plumb the depths of her personal and family life.  Just when she thought the waters couldn’t get any deeper, the genealogy results of being genetically half-Jewish rattled the essence of her personal identity.  Taking a page of out Graham Nash’s songbook, Dani notes that she was raised in a very, very fine house, with two sinks in the kitchen and the whole orthodox nine yards.

But in a Q & A published in the Connecticut Jewish Ledger in 2011, Dani confesses being conflicted about Jewish practice as a child:

 

Connecticut Jewish LedgerQ: How did you experience Judaism growing up?
A: My background is complicated. My father was from a prominent New York Orthodox family. My grandfather was one of the founders of Lincoln Square Synagogue, and one of my uncles was a four-time president of the Orthodox Union. My grandparents founded many yeshivas in Israel, and were very philanthropic. My mother, however, was not Orthodox. She came from a very different background – her parents had a chicken farm in southern New Jersey. When my parents decided to marry, my father told my mother that it was important to him to keep an observant home, and she agreed to this. But she didn’t really believe in what she was doing – and so there was a lot of conflict over religious observance and customs when I was growing up. Most of this conflict revolved around how to raise me. My father wanted me to go to a yeshiva. My mother wanted me to be a modern American girl. The two seemed at odds with each other. And so I went to a Jewish day school, Solomon Schechter, until I was in 6th grade, and then to a prep school in New Jersey, The Pingry School, from 7th grade through high school.
For me, growing up, I equated religious belief with conflict. I didn’t see the beauty in it – or frankly, the point. It seemed to cause strife between my parents, and not to make either of them happy or more contented. The meaning was drained out of it… and all that was left was the ritual, which, drained of meaning, felt empty. And so I left.”

Dani was never close with her mother, and recounts an extended period of being adrift after her father died when she was in her early 20s.  Mrs. Kushner may have been the first person to sensitize Ms. Shapiro to her non-Jewish looks, but the nagging doubt about her roots seems to have followed the author throughout adulthood.  The inverse of Howard Stern, who was “slapped the yarmulke”, Dani’s looks made one wonder “vus fahr a punem”  – how a Jewish girl could look so un-Jewish.

The author also addresses the “vus fahr a numen” question – what kind of a name is “Dani”?  Turns out that her parents named her Daneile, pronounced “Dah-knee-el”, the transliteration of דָּנִיֵּאל.  Last year, as part of coming to terms with her new-found genetic identity as half Jewish, she legally changed her name to Dani.  It was the culmination of a trail that she deftly weaves like a detective novel, leading to the discovery of her biological father in Oregon.  “Dr. Benjamin Walden” was a medical student at Penn in the early 1960s who donated sperm to a fertility clinic with the expectation of anonymity.  With the ancestry registry and the help of other clues through the internet, Dani reaches out to her biological father.  The tension and suspense of how he and she handle this is spellbinding reading.

As Shabbos candles were burning in New Jersey on a Friday night last May, Dani Shapiro was doing a book reading of her latest memoir, Hourglass, at Powell’s City of Books in Portland.  Her biological father and his previously known family were in attendance, incognito.  You will have to visualize what he looks like because there is no trace of a Dr. Benjamin Walden on the internet that you’ll be able to find, so well has she protected the privacy of others.

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The Essence of Sportsmanship

They played the second annual MLB Little League Classic game last night at picturesque Bowman Field in Williamsport, PA, home to the Phillies’ low A short-season minor league affiliate, the Williamsport Crosscutters of the New York-Penn League.  How fitting it was to have two teams representing New York and Pennsylvania.2018-Little-League-Classic-Promo

From the original announcement:  “Historic Bowman Field, in which Major League Baseball and the State of Pennsylvania invested a multi-million dollar renovation prior to the 2017 MLB Little League Classic, opened in 1926. It is the second oldest Minor League ballpark in the United States. More than 560 Major Leaguers, including Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan, Bill Mazeroski, Jim Rice and Jim Bunning, have worn a professional baseball uniform for Williamsport.”

One of the cliches in baseball at the professional level is that players have to find a way to keep the game fun, as was evidenced in the social media bond of Rhys Hoskins and Big Al sharing their love of hitting dingers.  As much as a business as it has become, it still is at its most fundamental level a game.  So it was great fun seeing the Met’s starting rotation spending time in the stands during the game sitting the section with the little league team from Staten Island.

Mets Players in Stands

But aside from having fun, and ahead of the business element of the game, the second most important lesson for the young kids is sportsmanship.  The brotherhood and collegiality that extends to each player, transcending race, color, or religion.  This was in evidence during the opening ceremonies when the game ball was thrown in from center field in a chain from one child to another, each representing one of the little league teams, until it reached the Phillies’ Scott Kingery at home plate.

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Perhaps the finest touch of the evening was the bookending of players from the Phillies. Mets and Little Leaguers, ringing the diamond prior to the game, followed by the Phillies and Mets shaking hands after the end of the evening, as it customary in the Little Leagues.  One wishes there was a way to bottle that international feeling of sportsmanship, and sprinkle it liberally when tensions arise among human beings off the playing field.

Pre Game Ceremony

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Trevor Liam Jungreis

Almost three years to the day of their wedding, Jacquelyn & Brian with a beautiful bris in Cedarhurst this morning.

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