May 2009

A YOUKILISTIC EXPERIENCE

Kevin Youkilis was in the PawSox lineup on Monday night and is scheduled to be in again on Tuesday for a 12:05 p.m. game.  Youk was slated to DH on Monday but he approached manager Ron Johnson and told RJ he preferred to play first base instead.  RJ called Boston and got the OK to put the Gold Glover on the field.  When Youk came up through Pawtucket in 2004,05, and 06 he was a third baseman.  He moved over to first to accomodate Mike Lowell and promptly set a Major League record for consecutive games at first without an error.Kevin handled 2002 chances over the span of 238 straight games, winning a Gold Glove in 2007.  To say he has developed into one of the finest all-around players in the game is no exaggeration.  He started at first base for the American League in the 2008 All Star game and finished third in the MVP vote after hitting .312 with 29 homeruns and 115 rbi.  We sat down and taped a pregame interview and got re-acquainted.  Among the topics we discussed- Dealing with his fame in Boston ( it’s getting tougher all the time)- Manny Ramirez and his suspension (shocked by the revelation)- David Ortiz and his extended slump (Boldly preedicted that Big Papi would hit a home run in 2009)- Financial security (you’ll never see him doing anything lavish)- and being a cornerstone for the forseeable future for Boston- ( likes what he and Dustin Pedroia will be able to do on the right side of the Red Sox infield). Youkilis added that the oblique strain is much better and now he is just working on “getting his legs back”, meaning his conditioning.  He is perpetual motion in the batters box and his BP (batting practice) looked effortless.  You can hear the interview on Saturday during PawSox Insider, which airs at 2:00 p.m. on the PawSox radio network.   Already this season Youk, Julio Lugo, Rocco Baldelli, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Mark Kotsay have rehabbed with the PawSox. 

 

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Coming into the Monday game at McCoy, the PawSox had won 8 straight at home to establish their longest such streak in 10 years.   Overall, the Sox were 11-4  (at home) going into the game.

 

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No fewer than 4 former PawSox players on the Buffalo roster.  Wily Mo Pena, Bobby Kielty, Jon Switzer and Kyle Snyder all called McCoy home at some point since the 2007 season. 

 

RANDOM RAMBLINGS

Lots of things to go over, so pay attention, there may be a quiz later.

 

Interesting to see outfielder Jonathan Van Every at first base with roving infield instructor Bruce Crabbe before Sundays’ game at McCoy.  It looked like Crabbe was going over the nuances of the position with JV.  The Red Sox are always looking for ways to increase the values and versatility of their players.  Brandon Moss played first base for the PawSox in 2008 before being traded to the Pirates.  Moss is the rightfielder for Pittsburgh.  Van Every may be one of the finest defensive outfielders I’ve ever watched.  The best may be Jeremy Owens, who played center for Pawtucket in 2004.

 

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Javy Lopez is back in a PawSox uniform.  The tall lefty spent parts of 2006 and 2007 with the PawSox, appearing in 74 games.  Lopez is a classy guy, who almost sounded like he empathized with Terry Francona when Tito told him he was going to be designated for assignment. Lopez was philosophical when speaking about his demotion to Pawtucket, basically saying that he had the opportunity, but didn’t get the job done.

 

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Spent an entire flight on Saturday sitting with second baseman Travis Denker.  Denker and I watched a surfing video on his laptop.  An avid surfer himself, he spoke with great passion about riding the waves in his native California.  His dad taught him the ropes.  When Travis was three years old, he was such a proficient skateboarder that he worked for the company “Vans”.  Vans is best known for their surfer and boarder gear, primarily slip-on sneakers.  Denker worked as a promotional skateboarder for Vans for about 8 years.  His cousins had a ramp built in the back of their house in California, where they skated with some other young guys who turned out to be the nucleus of the TV series and movie “Jackass”.  Denker was quick to add that the only skateboading he does these days is around his apartment complex.  Denker was involved in a car accident the other night while riding in a taxicab in Toledo.  The driver rear-ended a car stopped at a light.  Luckily, Denker was wearing a seatbelt.  He was not hurt.

 

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Freddy Guzman joined the PawSox Saturday. The speedy outfielder lead the I.L. in stolen bases in 2008.  He has stolen as many as 90 bases in a minor league season.  A funny moment as RJ made contact with him on the phone for the first time.  After a conversation that covered what, when and where Guzman needed to be on Saturday, RJ thought for a moment and asked- “By the way Freddy, do you know who I am?”    Guzman did.

 

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With the Red Sox out west, we got another glimpse of Daisuke Matsuzaka on Sunday as the Japanese righty threw a “bullpen” session at McCoy Stadium.  The entourage of media was riveted to every pitch that Dice threw.  He was under the watchful eye of Pawtucket pitching coach Rich Sauveur.

 

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Mercifully, the PawSox snapped a string of 39 and a third innings of scoreless baseball on Saturday.  Sean Danielson scored a run in the third inning on Tuesday and no one crossed home plate again until the sixth inning on Saturday as Chris Carter belted a 2 run double off the centerfield wall.

 

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Looking forward to the return of Kevin Youkilis to the Boston lineup.  That should be soon, as Youk is set to make a pair of rehab appearances at McCoy Monday and Tuesday.  Kevin is slated to DH on Monday and play first base on Tuesday.  The former PawSox mainstay has turned himself into one of the best all-around players in the Majors.

TODAY WAS VETERANS’ DAY

I know it’s mid-May and Veterans’ Day is six months away, but today I got a heart-warming dose of reality.  As the PawSox arrived early Saturday at the Detroit airport to fly back to Pawtucket, we came upon a contingent of World War II veterans who were making a trip to Washington D.C. to visit the World War II monument.  What struck me was the contrast between the young, strong PawSox players and the heroes of our fathers’ generation.  As they sat, smiling and clearly happy about their excursion, I imagined them in foxholes, storming the beach at Normandy, or enduring the attack on Pearl Harbor.  There they sat sixty four years after the war ended, no doubt wondering how the time passed so quickly.  Dressed in patriotic colors, they used canes, walkers and wheelchairs to get around.  You didn’t see or hear any complaints, these were men who fought for us.  They fought and in a lot of cases, died to defend the United States of America.  They boarded the same Southwest flight as the PawSox, settled into their seats and headed for the airport in Baltimore where a bus awaited their arrival.  After the short ride to the monument, I imagined there would be a flood of emotions, ranging from sorrow and anger to a sense of “Wow, I can’t believe we did what we did”, perhaps a sense of pride for their accomplishment.  I suddenly felt very guilty for being bitter about getting up early.  You know these men faced much more dire situations.  It definitely gave me a pause for thought.  As we got off the plane, the people at the gate in the Baltimore airport were standing and applauding their arrival.  It was a humbling experience.  I’m glad I was there.  I know this blog is supposed to be about baseball, but I felt that any reader might appreciate everything about our life on the road.  Today was a special day.

 

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After we boarded the plane, the stewardess welcomed the veterans on board.  She then wished PawSox manager Ron Johnson a happy 65th birthday.  Every trip, it seems someone tells the flight attendant that it’s RJ’s birthday.  RJ is only 53 and his birthday is in March.  Usually they just wish him a happy day, but this time the stewardess got the entire plane to sing “Happy Birthday”.  To me, it was incredibly funny.  Wild applause followed as      the players got a tremendous kick from the joke.  As Larry the Cable Guy might say- “That’s funny, I don’t care who you are.”

 

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True moment- as we got off the plane, strength and conditioning coach Mike Jones was applauded with the other veterans.  Jonesey is a “silver fox” with a full head of white hair.  He took a good deal of teasing for it and inherited a new nickname, “D-Day”.  We’ll see if it sticks.

 

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Best of luck to Jeff Corsaletti, the outfielder out of the University of Florida.  Corso wa traded early Saturday to Pittsburgh.  The PawSox will receive Freddy Guzman.  Guzman lead the I.L. in stolen bases in 2008. 

DAISUKE AND A TRIP TO BEIRUT

After being “struck out” in my first attempt to tape a pre-game interview with Daisuke Matsuzaka, I dug in to the batters box and swung away and I got a hit.  I sat down with Dice and his translater Masa Hoshino and chatted with the Japanese icon.  We ran the first half of the interview on Thursday and we’ll run it in its’ entirety during PawSox Insider Saturday at 2:00 p.m. on the PawSox radio network.  We talked about the condition of his arm after being sidelined with arm fatigue.  He assured me that it was fine.  He is honored to represent his home nation of Japan in events like the World Baseball Classic,  although he says he does not consider himself a national hero.  He is being modest, in my opinion, he says he doesn’t put himself in the same category as Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods.  When asked about the “Matsuzaka Generation” in Japan (people born in Japan between April 4, 1980 and April 4, 1981) Dice laughed and said that he strives to the best, the leader of his generation.  He added that living in the United States is a different experience.  He has learned, to paraphrase, “to not sweat the small stuff”.  Although he isn’t thrilled to be on a rehab assignment, he has enjoyed meeting his PawSox teammates.  He is looking forward to    rejoining the Red Sox and he said that Pebble Beach took his breath away when he had the chance to tee it up on the west coast.  Although he loves golf, he conceded that he would have very little chance of beating teammate John Smoltz.  Tiger Woods once characterized Smoltz as “the best amateur I’ve played with.”   Matsuzaka was very thoughtful as he answered my questions and very generous with his time.

 

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A night off in minor league baseball is a rarity.  When you have one, you try to get the most bang for your buck.  After the 1-0 loss on Wednesday afternoon, Dan and I went to a Middle Eastern restaurant, named “The Beirut”. Autographed photos of Jamie Farr and Gary Burghoff of M*A*S*H fame were among the celebrity pics that lined the wall to the entrance.  After an appetizer of “hummus” (chick pea dip prepared with garlic, lemon and sesame oil) and “tabouli” (a salad with parsley, tomatoes, scallions, cracked wheat, lemon, oil and spices), I had my favorite meal, “Kibbee”, a meatloaf of sorts, the national dish of Lebanon.  Not as tasty as my mothers’, but darn good.  Hot, fresh syrian bread complimented the meal and a steaming cup of Turkish coffee finished me off.  It was like a little mini-vacation to a city that was once known as “The Paris of the Middle East”.  The Beirut got 2 thumbs up from Hyder and Hoard.

 

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Interesting to see Major League umpire Rick Reed working the first 2 games of the Toledo series.  The 27 year M.L. veteran is coming back from a pair of strokes, one suffered in May of 2008 and another in Febuary of 2009.  Reed is among the best at his trade.  He has worked World Series and All-Star games.  Wishing him a full recovery.  

BUCHHOLZ AND BONINE- AN INSTANT CLASSIC

The good news is that Clay Buchholz was awesome again on Wednesday.  The young Texan baffled Toledo hitters, striking out 11 in 8 shutout innings.  His changeup was a work of art, and it was a tremendously encouraging performance.  His dominant effort was for naught, however, as Eddie Bonine kept pawSox hitters off balance in the rare morning game at Fifth Third Field.  Bonine gave up a single to Dusty Brown in the second inning and he was the ONLY Pawtucket baserunner of the day.  Bonine was nearly perfect, retiring 27 of 28 batters.  The PawSox lost 1-0 in 10 innings.  They are 2-3 in extra innings in 2009.  The old adage of a “broken clock being right twice a day”  applied as Toledo scoring just 1 run against Pawtucket came true again, the Hens have scored just 5 runs in 6 games against the PawSox.

 

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The PawSox had to play without Chris Carter.  Carter was summoned to the West Coast by Terry Francona, as the Red Sox put Kevin Youkilis on the disabled list with an oblique strain.  Once again the PawSox are doing their part to bolster the sagging troops in Beantown.

 

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I wonder if the Village People had any ideas of the impact their hit from the ’70s, YMCA would have, even a generation later at ballparks.  During Wednesday’s game, 10,300 packed the park and most of them were up and on their feet when the old disco tune played.  It was a special school day celebration as youngsters were treated to some “day baseball.”  Ron Johnson once rode in a limo with the Village People, who were at a minor league park for a promotional appearance and concert.  I think RJ dressed as the policeman  

 

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Getting back to the Youkilis injury, Francona did say tha Youk could possibly play a rehab game or two for the PawSox.  Of course, I’ll keep you posted.

OFF THE TOP ROPE

I have not been a fan of pro wrestling for a long time. Not that I have anything against it, I just outgrew it when I was about 12 years old.  Chief Jay Strongbow, Mr. Fuji, and George “The Animal” Steele were the men in tights that I’d watch on Saturday afternoons, in the early days of what was then, the World Wrestling Federation, or the W.W.F.  The reason for the trip down memory lane is because right next door to the ballpark here in Columbus is the Nationwide Arena, where the W.W.E. is performing at the same time as the series finale between the PawSox and Clippers.  The entire entourage was staying at the same hotel as the PawSox and I ran into some of them.  I met the woman who is apparently the current “world champion”, Mickie James, a young lady from Richmond Virginia. A tough-looking Irish type, introduced to me as Seamus and a statuesque woman from Costa Rica named Melina.  This definitely isn’t the wrestling I used to watch.  There were many autograph-seekers in the lobby looking for a photo or handshake from John Cena and the like.  There may or may not be any truth to the rumor that PawSox Director of Security Rick Medeiros, a dead ringer for the wrestler, the Iron Sheik was approached for an autograph.  I found it interesting that the wrestling people think BASEBALL is fake.

 

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Good to see manager Torey Lovullo of the Clippers.  For years Lovullo managed in Buffalo, but when the Indians changed their affiliation to Columbus, Lovullo moved with them.  Widely regarded as a top managerial prospect, Lovullo’s father, Sam, was the executive producer of the old TV show, Hee Haw.  The variety show was way ahead its’ time, before the age of CMT and other country music venues, Hee Haw featured all the stars of the day.  Lovullo once told me a story of being on the set with his dad, and getting the chance to play one on one basketball with a singer who was appearing on the show.  His name…Elvis Presley.  He said “The King” was pretty good.

 

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The starting pitcher for Columbus on Monday was Jack Cassel, brother of former New England quarterback, Matt Cassel.  It wasn’t Jack’s day.  He gave up 15 hits and 9 runs in 5 innings.  Their younger brother Justin, pitches for Charlotte.

 

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Michael Bowden was awesome again.  The 22 year old righty worked 7 and a third innings, scattering 4 hits and 1 run.  You know you’re in a groove when you pitch that well and your ERA goes up. (1.01 to 1.06).  The pitcher performed with mom Nancy and sister Melissa in the stands.  They made the 6 and a half hour drive from Aurora Illinois.

 

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A couple of seasons ago Bobby Scales would tape a weekly pre-game interview for us- “Weighing in with Bobby Scales”.  We thought it might be fun to have Jeff Natale do the same this season.  His first one aired Monday and he interviewed roommate Sean Danielson.  Danielson, or “squirrel” as he’s known to teammates, promptly went 5-6 with his first homerun since last July here in Columbus.  If you have a clever name for the segment, email me at radioguys@pawsox.com.  If we use your idea, we’ll send you a gift card for Greg’s Restaurant.

 

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This morning I saw a guy in the hotel lobby wearing a goofy hat and glasses, apparently trying to go “incognito”.  The gentleman skulked out onto the street, successfully evading fans that might recognize him.  It was Japanese hero, Daisuke Matsuzaka.

BYE BYE BARDIE

Poking around the PawSox clubhouse early Sunday, Daniel Bard was conspicuous in his absence.  The tall right handed fireballer has been promoted to Boston, and why not?  The former Carolina star struck out 29 hitters in 16 innings of work with the PawSox.  Bard converted 6 of 7 save opportunities and surrendered just 2 earned runs in 11 outings.  There is no such thing as a “sure thing”, but in my opinion, Daniel Bard is as close as you can get.  As we went on the air Sunday, no corresponding move had yet been made.  Daniel, we hardly knew ye.

 

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Daisuke Matsuzaka made a rehab start Sunday in Columbus and “Dice-mania” was in the air.  The Clippers granted 20 extra press credentials to members of the Japanese media, as well as another 20-25 for curious media members who ordinarily don’t cover the club.  Although this probably wouldn’t make Theo Epstein laugh, I got a pretty good chuckle as I made my way into the park.  A van carrying the Matsuzaka posse pulled up and all but the pitcher got out as they tried to figure how to avoid autograph seekers and get him inside the stadium.  While Matsuzaka sat in the van alone, I overheard a couple of starstruck fans comment on the running van and the man inside it.  “Hey” said one, “Let’s get in the van and kidnap Dice-K.”   Although I’m certain they were kidding, I was ready to be a hero and stop the crime.   They looked kind of wimpy, I think I could have taken them.

 

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The Japanese are much more formal than we Americans are.  Matsuzaka texted RJ the other day and asked if the PawSox had a dress code.  Johnson, the self-proclaimed Redneck texted back and told his pitcher- “Boots, Wrangler jeans and a George Strait shirt”.  Wisely, Dice did not comply.  Sometimes, east should not meet west.

 

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Sometimes, it’s tough to measure a mans worth.  Other times, it’s pretty easy.  When Boston successfully earned the right to negotiate with the Seibu Lions for Dice, they had to pay the Japanese team a posting fee of 51 million dollars.  The Lions set aside about 5 milll for player salaries and used the rest for a renovation of their ballpark.  Included in the overhaul, complete restoration of the restrooms.  In Japan, apparently warm toilet seats are considered a luxury and a sign of respect, and every time a Seibu Lions fan uses the facility, they can thank the Red Sox and Dice-K.  Talk about a legacy.

 

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Speaking of bathroom humor (for the record- I like it)- one of the funniest things I ever saw at a ballpark took place at Fenway Park during the 2003 playoffs.  I was in the crowded restroom, waiting patiently for my turn.  Standing in front of one of the stall doors, guarding the man inside, were a pair of burly men, arms folded, stoic as the guards at Buckingham Palace.  As the door opened, out came the honorable Rudolph Giuliani, former mayor of New York City and staunch Yankees fan.  Folks buzzed about the hero of the 9/11 disaster, among them in the bathroom.  The next man who used the stall, shut the door, and loud enough for all to hear, shouted “Hey, Rudy had corn for lunch!!!” 

 

THEY’RE NOT BOOING- THEY’RE SAYING LOU

Extremely interesting comments on Saturday by Lou Merloni.  The former PawSox infielder, now a commentator on ComCast said that the Red Sox brought a doctor into a meeting in spring training (he didn’t specify the year) to talk about steroids.  Merloni and the rest of the players were stunned that the doc told the guys that if you took steroids the right way, they could help.  They had expected a “fire and brimstone” talk about how dangerous they were.  I suspect we haven’t heard the end of this.  Merloni is already “making his bones” as an on-air talent. 

 

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Great to see International League President Randy Mobley at Huntington Park on Saturday.  The I.L. offices are in Dublin, a suburb of Columbus.  Not sure if the prez reads this blog, but he is ready to lobby for bobbleheads of Dan and me, like the ones on the homepage of PawSox.com, the official website of the PawSox.  His predecessor, Harold Cooper stands forever in front of this new  ballpark, memorialized with a beautiful bronze statue.  According to Joe Santry, Director of Media Relations for Columbus, Cooper, now 89, still comes out to the yard.  As the story goes, Cooper was unreachable in the early hours of that fateful day in April 1981 when the PawSox and Rochester played 32 innings, in what turned out to be the longest game in baseball history.  When he was finally available, he told them to quit for the night.  Of course, the game resumed in June and the PawSox eventually won.

 

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As we were about to go on the air today, I finally found something I didn’t like about this new venue.  I saw a youngster buy some cotton candy for $4.25, pretty pricy.  That’s not it.  The young girl gave the vendor a five dollar bill and waited for her change.  He looked at her and said ” I usually get to keep the 75 cents.”  He turned around and the scumbag took off. 

 

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Centterfielder Michael Brantley made the defensive play of the day Saturday.  He leapt high over the wall about 405 feet away and pulled a homer back in the park, robbing catcher Carlos Maldonado.  If this were a Major League game, it easily makes ESPN Sportscenter’s top ten.

 

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Things got a little interesting in the fifth inning after Angel Chavez grounded out to third.  Chavez was making hs way across the diamond, when he and pitcher Kirk Saarloos had to be separated after exchanging words.  The benches didn’t clear as managers Ron Johnson and Torey Lovullo interceded along with the umpires.

 

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Dice-K on Sunday!!    

WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, DOM DIMAGGIO?

I guess I pilfered those lyrics from Simon and Garfunkel, but I don’t think they’ll mind.  Dominic DiMaggio, an all-time great Red Sox centerfielder has passed away.  The 92 year old brother of the late Yankee Clipper, Joe, was a one-time guest on PawSox Insider.  He shared some great stories and at age 90, was as sharp as a tack.  He remembered buying silver candlesticks for his brother when he married Marilyn Monroe.  He also recalled keeping track of Joe’s 56 game hitting streak through hand signals relayed from inside the Green Monster at Fenway, through Ted Williams.  Rest in Peace, Little Professor.

 

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Huntington Park, the new home of the Columbus Clippers is magnificent.  Nestled in downtown Columbus, in the “arena district”, it lies in the shadow of the Nationwide Arena, home of the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets.  We are afforded the opportunity to broadcast from behind home plate, “al fresco”. (I had to ask Dan to make sure “al fresco” meant “outside”, not “naked).  Great sight lines, very good atmosphere, a really beautiful new ballpark.  We sit under an overhang amongst the fans.  So far, a great experience.

 

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They expect a sellout here on Sunday. Daisuke Matsuzaka is scheduled to pitch against the Clippers and there is a large contingent of Japanese fans coming.  It seems that when word of Dice’s appearance got out, the local Honda plant in Marysville bought an entire section of seats.  The Japanese automakers apparently aren’t feeling the same “pinch” as GM and some of the others.

 

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Jonathan Van Every is back with the PawSox after his stint in Boston.  JV will be activated and probably be in the lineup on Saturday.  I very rarely, if ever, dream or remember them.  However, I did dream that I was sitting at Fenway with the actor Sam Waterston, who plays District Attorney McCoy on “Law and Order”.  When Van Every homered in my dream, I jumped up and down like a little schoolgirl, screaming “I know him, I know him!!!!”  Dan thinks I have deep psychological issues…he may be correct.

 

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Happy to hear that Detroit will promote Dontrelle Willis back to the big leagues.  He is slated to pitch for the Tigers Wednesday against Minnesota.  The former N.L. rookie of the year was terrific in his start earlier this week for Toledo, at McCoy Stadium.  He has battled anxiety.  Hopefully he’s got it under control.

LOTS OF NEWS, SOME NOT SO GOOD

As we were about to go on the air on Thursday afternoon, we learned that Manny Ramirez would be suspended for 50 games for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs.  The artful Dodger claims that it was due to a prescription he was given by a physician for an unspecified ailment.  I am not sure if it’s stupidity or arrogance in this case that lead Ramirez to think he could get away with this.  Does this put any type of asterisk next to the Red Sox World Series titles of 2004 and 2007?  Even if others were taking them at that time, I think Red Sox fans like to think they are superior to others.  A-Rod, Bonds, Clemens etc. are or were with OTHER teams.  Manny clearly didn’t just start with the ped’s when he went to L.A.  It is a bitter pill to swallow, but in this day and age, are we really surprised?

 

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That’s disappointing, but this is sad, really very sad.  56 year old Jerry Remy has announced that he is suffering with lung cancer.  I surmised in this blog a couple of days ago that the RemDawg might be sicker than we were lead to believe.  Talk about a guy who has so much going for him.  Thousands and thousands of loyal citizens of Red Sox Nation have made Remy the most beloved figure around.  Pray for Jerry.

 

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It’s always great to see Tommy Harper in the McCoy Stadium press box.  The former Boston centerfielder is a coach and consultant for the Sox.  One of his projects in the last couple of years is to work with Jacoby Ellsbury on his base-stealing.  Rather ironic, since Harper holds the single season mark for the Red Sox with 54 steals.  Ells is the man who figures to break the mark some time soon.  He swiped 50 bags as a rookie in 2008.  Harper, who played in the late ’60s and ’70′s is among the classiest individuals you’ll ever meet.  Even though it was not that long ago,  it’s hard to fathom the plight that Harper and other African-American players faced while racism was still rampant in Boston.

 

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The PawSox catch a 7p.m. flight to Columbus tonight (Thu).  A certain member of the PawSox travel party always makes sure that a flight attendant wishes Manager Ron Johnson a happy birthday.  RJ’s birthday is actually March 23.  It’s always funny, even though Johnson doesn’t readily laugh.  He is a notoriously “bad flyer”.  He’d rather ride 10 hours in a bus than hop a 2 hour flight. 

 

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Looking forward to our first trip to the new Huntington Park in the “arena district” of downtown Columbus.  It replaces the antiquated Cooper Stadium, which looked like you were walking into a time machine that stopped in 1969.  You’ll get a full report tomorrow.

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