As sure as the robins return to herald the spring, the venerable traditions of our vernal roots rekindle themselves anew, and OH HELL THERE WAS BASEBALL LIVE BASEBALL IN THE LEHIGH VALLEY COLLEGE BASEBALL LIVE BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL.

Yes, after two washed-out weekends, at least one local college baseball team finally got to take the field today.

At the start of the day, Lafayette College was one of only 33 Division I baseball programs that hadn’t played a home game yet. Now they’ve played two, and I saw some of both.

It was cold as hell and also amazing. The routine tics and motions and noises and set-pieces of the college baseball diamond are charming as ever.

(The ones that happen off the diamond are welcome too. It was a pleasure as always to watch the players eating sandwiches with their parents between games, or to see two players walking to the bathroom and catch a bit of their conversation: “On that three-and-one count…”)

Lafayette’s opponent today was the Crusaders of the College of the Holy Cross, and their first game was a dandy. At the end of the regulation seven innings, Holy Cross had one hit, Lafayette had three or four, and neither team had a run.

(Lafayette’s starting first baseman was Toby Schwartz, whose heroics last season were immortalized in this space. Schwartz came up twice today with runners on, but couldn’t drive them in. Ah, well. Riding high in April, shot down in May.)

Both starting pitchers shone — Lafayette’s David Bednar struck out 10 hitters, while Holy Cross’s Donny Murray (of Walpole, Mass.) took a line drive to the midsection but kept pitching anyway.

In the top of the eighth, with the bases loaded, a Holy Cross hitter chopped a ball off the plate that rolled maybe 25 feet. Lafayette catcher Parker Hills couldn’t quite make the scoop and tag, and Holy Cross’s Alex Voitik snuck past him from third with the only run of the game.

Maybe one of the better sports action pix I've ever taken, not that that's setting the bar that high.
Maybe one of the better sports action pix I’ve ever taken, not that that’s setting the bar that high.

I hung around for the first inning or so of Game 2, which Holy Cross apparently also won 1-0. For all the pleasure of being back in baseball’s presence, I had had enough of the wind for one day.

I didn’t need to glut myself: It was only the start of the season, and there would be plenty more opportunities.

In addition to Mr. Schwartz, I was pleased to see a couple of memorable Lafayette Leopards back for another year.

Relief pitcher Connor McMahon is a sidearmer, and one of the most pronounced sidearmers I can remember seeing. His entrance music is Men At Work’s “Down Under,” he’s pretty good, and he’s always fun to watch.

McMahon works to the plate.
McMahon works to the plate.

Also back is third baseman Tyler Hudson, the only one of this pajama-panted bunch who wins points for style. With his shaggy hair, horseshoe mustache and stirrups rampant, he looks like he stepped straight off the roster of the ’77 California Angels.


Not that much more to say, really; so I’ll give this post over to a couple more pictures and bring it to a close BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL.

Lafayette's first-base coach. Did I mention it was cold?
Lafayette’s first-base coach. Did I mention it was cold?
The three-and-one-count conversation.
The three-and-one-count conversation.
McMahon again. The left fielder and umpire look like they're saying to each other, "Damn, that's weird-looking."
McMahon again. The left fielder and umpire look like they’re saying to each other, “Damn, how’s he do that?”
Now THOSE are freakin' stirrups.
Now THOSE are freakin’ stirrups.
Mound conference. Toby Schwartz at far right, hand jammed blithely in pocket.
Mound conference. Toby Schwartz at far right, hand jammed blithely in pocket.
It's a beautiful day for a high leg kick.
It’s a beautiful day for a high leg kick.
Donny Murray, who has just been nailed by a line drive, recovers to pick up the ball and throw the batter out at first.
Donny Murray, who has just been nailed by a line drive, recovers to pick up the ball and throw the batter out at first.
Good game. Here's to many more.
Good game. Here’s to many more.

Paper cuts.

One of the big rivalries around here is Lehigh University vs. Lafayette College. It’s more than just an annual football game — Leh-Laf (or Laf-Leh, depending on your loyalties) spills over into other areas of student life.

Both schools have searchable editions of their student papers online — The Brown and White for Lehigh, The Lafayette for Lafayette. Both date back to the 19th century.

College papers, while laughably bad sometimes, are also barometers of American youth culture. You’ll read about issues and cultural events there that you won’t find in professional daily papers.

So here’s a new twist on the Lehigh-Lafayette rivalry:

I took 10 terms from the past half-century of American college life and youth culture, and searched the archives for their first mentions in both papers.

I was trying to determine which campus has been hipper over the long term.

As I saw it, if one school’s paper was consistently the first to mention youth culture or alternative topics, its campus was probably in the lead, culturally speaking.

So who’s cooler? The Mountain Hawks or the Leopards? Let’s see what the papers say:

Pizza: The definitive college food was first mentioned in both papers in 1949, thanks to advertisements from local restaurants. Colonial Pizza and Spaghetti House, which advertised in The Lafayette, helpfully subtitled its ad “Pizza (Tomato Pie).”

But which was the first to mention it in staff-written copy? After exhaustive research, I conclude that honor goes to The Lafayette, which mentioned in its Dec. 9, 1955, issue that a student injured in a car accident was “dying for pizza” instead of hospital food.

Marijuana: How do you think college kids get so hungry for pizza? (Well, OK, there are multiple ways; but pot is one.)

Lehigh’s Brown and White was the first of the two papers to refer to marijuana, in its Sept. 26, 1939, issue. An anonymously written opinion-page column opined: “You will have most trouble with sophomores, the faculty and sophomores. Together they will contrive to make your life so inexpressibly happy that you will sooner or later come to know the joy of arsenic, the charm of marijuana.”

The Lafayette didn’t get pot into print until April 16, 1948, again in an opinion page column — this time about the music of jazz saxophonist Illinois Jacquet.

(It occurs to me now that I might have gotten different results if I’d used the archaic spelling “marihuana.” Not gonna take time to do it again, though.)

Velvet Underground: One of the most influential bands of all time, the Velvets’ sound has echoed in college/underground/alternative rock for decades.

The Lafayette did itself proud, running a staff-written review of The Velvet Underground and Nico in its April 21, 1967, issue. It’s kind of a lousy review — quoting the whip-verse in “Venus in Furs” and calling it “pure poetry” — but it was still far ahead of a lot of other people and publications in noticing the band.

The Brown and White has mentioned the Velvets five times in its history, the first as a passing mention in a Jan. 16, 1973, review of Lou Reed’s Transformer. (“Have a few drinks and enjoy it.”)

Doonesbury: Before Garry Trudeau’s comic strip became as entrenched and familiar as Peanuts, it was the first strip of its generation that commented satirically on current events and sympathetically depicted long-haired young adults.

The strip entered syndication in 1970, but it took eight years to get mentioned in the local college papers. The Brown and White was first, putting a front-page tease into the Sept. 26, 1978, issue to announce it had picked up the strip.

The strip was first mentioned in The Lafayette on Feb. 8, 1980, in an article announcing Trudeau as that spring’s commencement speaker.

Quaalude: A friend of mine who attended the University of Massachusetts in the latter half of the 1970s once nostalgically told me, Those were the days of ludes, ludes, ludes.” So I’ve chosen the depressant to represent all of ’70s and ’80s campus drug culture.

Whaddya know: The first reference to Quaaludes in either paper is, once again, on the front page of the Sept. 26, 1978, Brown and White. A story mentions that former Presidential adviser Peter Bourne, coming to speak on campus, faced charges for writing a false prescription for the drug.

The Lafayette has mentioned Quaaludes three times, all between April and December 1993.

Punk rock: College kids were probably the first group of Americans to warm to punk rock. And they’re still listening to it today, in different guises (pop-punk, anybody?)

The race to get punk rock into print was a close one. It was won by The Brown and White with scarcely three weeks to spare.

Lehigh’s paper ran a review of a local punk concert on Oct. 4, 1977, while The Lafayette mentioned the term in a disparaging review of a Stranglers album on Oct. 21.

Condom: College kids hook up; everyone knows that. Condoms can also be a controversial topic on college campuses, when the student health dispensary either provides or refuses to provide them.

So which was the first paper to call a French letter by its real name in print?

Well, The Brown and White ran an advertisement for mail-order birth control as early as Feb. 5, 1971. Almost exactly two years later, the first reference to a condom in staff-written copy appeared, in a story claiming that “Many Women Remain Ignorant of Information on Birth Control.”

Lafayette women apparently remained ignorant for another 15 years: The first reference to a condom in The Lafayette appeared in the issue of April 17, 1987.

Michael Stipe: Few bands were as synonymous with college radio in the ’80s and early ’90s as R.E.M., and frontman Michael Stipe was the most visible member of the band.

I thought a search for R.E.M. might be difficult and time-consuming — for instance, what if the writer spelled it REM? — so I decided to search for the singer instead. Certainly, any reference to Michael Stipe would have to occur in the context of intelligent staff-written copy.

As with the Velvet Underground, The Lafayette was in the vanguard, mentioning Stipe in an October 1985 review of Fables of the Reconstruction. The Brown and White wouldn’t mention the singer until October 1994, in a review of Monster.

Kurt Cobain: When I was in college in the first half of the ’90s, no band was bigger on the college scene than Nirvana. Everyone knew Nevermind song for song. If you didn’t own it, your roommate did.

I found it rather surprising that neither paper mentioned Cobain until after he killed himself. The Lafayette mentioned him in passing in a nonsensical column in its April 15, 1994, issue, while a letter to the editor in The Brown and White of April 22 included his name.

I’d call that a draw, and not an especially impressive one.

Fuck: No, this isn’t a uniquely youth-oriented term. But college kids tend toward salty informality, especially after a couple beers. And God knows they like to test limits. So I figured I’d search for one of the seven dirty words and see where it showed up first.

(We won’t count a mention of “Fuck ’32” in a track meet summary in The Brown and White from April 1929. Presumably that was actually the guy’s last name, or a misprint of same.)

Once again The Brown and White led the way, running a police blotter item in November 1982 in which a luckless Sig Ep said someone threatened to “fuck up his car.”

Nine years later, The Lafayette dropped its first F-bomb, in a May 3, 1991, column by Frank Puskas.

The final verdict? Over the years, The Brown and White seems a touch more cutting-edge than The Lafayette — though the Easton paper seems to have an advantage where music is concerned.

It’s an old romance, the goalie dance.

One of my favorite little moments in all of sports is the herky-jerky “dance” hockey goalies do at the start of each period to scrape up the ice in the crease.

(I *think* the intent is to make the freshly smoothed ice a little less slick and give themselves better traction. I’ve never put on the pads myself, though, so I could be wrong.)

I happened to be in the right place at the right time the other day to catch a goalie conducting his solitary ritual. So I taped it.

As an added bonus, the goalie in question — Matt Benincasa of Lafayette College — drops to his knees at the end and prostrates himself toward the memory of Georges Vezina.

Or something like that, anyway.

The moment isn’t special to anyone who watches hockey, since they’ve seen it a million times … and it probably won’t be all that charming to anyone who doesn’t watch hockey.

But I like it.

Do you believe in miracles?

This past weekend was better than it seemed at the time … and at least the second-best part of it was the college hockey game I went to this afternoon.

It was Lafayette College’s last hockey game of the year, and maybe the last real competitive game ever for the four or five seniors on the team.

Lafayette showed up with nine skaters and a single goalie, while their opponents, Penn, brought a full squad.

I figured Lafayette would put up a valiant fight, but would run out of gas in the middle of the second period and end up losing.

When Penn scored three times in quick succession in the second period, bringing a 5-3 lead into the break, it looked like my prophecy would come true.

As the Lafayette players trudged into the locker room, I heard the family members of one player call, “Go get ’em, Kev!” The kid looked up, smiled ruefully and said, “I’m gonna die.”

A couple minutes later, I saw one of the other Lafayette skaters buying a bottle of Powerade from the vending machine in the rink lobby. He looked spent.

And then, absolutely out of nowhere, Lafayette came trucking out for the final period and scored. Once, twice, three times.

They gave one back.

And then they scored again. Once, twice, three times.

Start of the period: 5-3, Penn.
Barely two minutes into the period, it's 5-5.
Barely two minutes into the period, it’s 5-5.
90 seconds later, it's 6-5 Lafayette.
90 seconds later, it’s 6-5 Lafayette.
Fast-forward four minutes. The game ended 9-6.
Fast-forward 10 minutes.
Game over. I bet that drink of Gatorade tasted pretty good.
The final buzzer has just sounded. I bet that drink of Gatorade tasted pretty good.

After Lafayette pulled to within 5-4, I went from a dispassionate observer to a fan. I got sucked right in, like the Miracle on Ice, tapping my hands against the boards and rocking anxiously back and forth every time Lafayette beat back a rush.

After the game, the seniors lingered on the ice, posing for pictures.

It was easy to imagine them, 50 years old and graying, still telling each other, “Remember when we dropped six goals on Penn in the third period?”

It felt like a small pleasure of my own to be part of the memory.

We are the champions. Well, maybe not, but we went out winners.

And then there was one kid — not a senior, I later found out, but a freshman — who didn’t seem to want to leave the ice.

Over and over he skated circles, up until the Zamboni started to pull onto the ice and he had to leave.

Maybe he found his freshman season too memorable to leave behind. Maybe he was thinking about February of 2016, when he would pull on the uniform for a final time himself.

Either way, after three hard periods of hockey, he wasn’t too tired to cling to his own private reverie.

Sorry, kid. Time to go home.
Sorry, kid. Time to go home.

On ice.

I went to see some college kids play hockey today.

This could easily be one of those blog posts that rants about how the NHL owners and players are all worthless greedheads, and how they are shooting themselves in the feet (if not the head), and how hockey played by unknowns for a crowd of 20 in a rink that smells like teenage socks is somehow purer and more righteous than that played in the NHL.

That would be bushwah, of course.

Grass-roots hockey is often sloppy and imprecise and frustrating to watch.

One of the players I saw today — I’ll spare him the embarrassment of identification — was so clearly deficient in passing, puck-handling and skating that I winced whenever the puck reached him.

The teams combined for 13 goals, one of them an own goal by a defenseman who chipped a bouncing puck the wrong way in front of his own net. That one made me wince too.

I’ve seen a couple club-level (sub-varsity) college hockey games, and there always seems to be one guy on each team who can outskate everyone else. That’s frustrating, too.

Seeing a big-league athlete take a game in the palm of his hand is magical. Seeing a bush-league athlete dominate just makes you think he should have gone to a school with a better hockey program.

All that being said, I enjoyed this afternoon’s outing. I expect I will go again, numerous times, between now and February or March when the local club squads pack it in for the year.

I would even go so far as to say that college hockey as played by the economics and engineering majors at Lehigh and Lafayette is one of the small undiscovered pleasures of the Lehigh Valley. It is low-key, spirited, and accessible. Free, too.

But, no lectures about how I don’t need the NHL when the humble local kids take the ice.

Amateur pluck has its place. So do the crisp laser-like passes and jaw-dropping finishing moves that only the very best can pull off.

One will hold me. But I still miss the other.