Looking through my notebook from the past few days and I had these tidbits to share…
According to manager Ron Johnson, outfielder Jonathan Van Every is scheduled for a visit to Dr. Thomas Gill to see about his injured knee. RJ said that Van Every may need to have his meniscus repaired and knee surgery is on the horizon. RJ added that he didn’t think it was too serious and that JV should be back within a matter of weeks. It has been somewhat of a “lost” season for JV so far. After making his M.L. debut in 2008 in his first year with the Red Sox, Van Every endured a severe ankle sprain in spring training, missing time. Since then, he has been hampered by knee problems. Van Every was an I.L. All Star last season and lead the PawSox with 26 home runs. That doesn’t even take into account the defense. He runs like a gazelle and covers more territory in centerfield than just about anyone.
Although you never know, it looks like Daniel Bard has weathered a rough spot and is still in the Boston bullpen. A few days ago, the “Bard back to PawSox” rumors were all over. The fireballer has, for the most part pitched well for the big boys. In 12 appeareances over 13.2 innings, Bard has surrendered 11 hits, 5 earned runs, and 7 walks, while striking out 15. Bard has a save and a 3.29 ERA. He hasn’t given up a run in 10 of his 12 outings. He coughed up a single run in his debut against Toronto on May 20 and 4 earned runs against Philadelphia in two thirds of an inning in his last outing on June 14. He is already well-respected, even by the hated New York Yankees. In a recent telecast on the YES network, announcer Michael Kay quoted an anonymous member of the Evil Empire- “Bard. I don’t need to be seeing that for the next ten years.” Yes you do!
PawSox blogger Keith Thibault recently interviewed Dan and me for his website Pawsoxblog.com. He did a really nice job with the video and I encourage you to check it out.
Quote of the week came from Ron Johnson after his team beat Syracuse Sunday at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown. Referring to the shoddy field conditions and lack of facilities. “If I ever want to go back to Cooperstown, it’ll be on vacation, only.” How would he have felt if he lost 15-5?
Great to see former PawSox player Keith Ginter, in town with Charlotte. The likable third baseman homered on Wednesday against John Smoltz. When Ginter was with Pawtucket, he provided a tremendous amount of leadership to the ballclub. The Skipper (Ron Johnson, not Alan Hale, Jr.) spoke fondly of Ginter- “Gint meant a lot to our team. He applied what I like to call “veteran pressure”. It helps me out quite a bit. There were a lot of things he’d handle. With a veteran like Ginter, the younger guys get guidance and learn how to act.” RJ added- “Hopefully, guys are comfortable in that role, willing to do that. It makes my job a lot easier.”
When he is not furthering his Hall of Fame resume on the baseball diamond, John Smoltz loves to play golf. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised, if injected with truth serum, Smoltz admitted that he likes golf better. He is so good that Tiger Woods once said the right handed pitcher was “the best amateur golfer I have ever played with.” High praise from perhaps the greatest golfer of all time. It is a mutual admiration, for sure. Just before his start on Wednesday at McCoy, Smoltz and I discussed the upcoming U.S. Open, to be played at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale New York. The renowned course is widely acclaimed to be one of the toughest tests of skill out there. Smoltz has never played the Black course, but he says it is “on his list”. Being who he is has allowed John Smoltz to play some of the greatest golf courses in the world. Many times with Tiger. A couple of weeks ago, Peter Gammons of ESPN told me about a match between Smoltz and Woods. Tiger took it so seriously, that he didn’t speak to Smoltz until after the round was over. Incidentally, Tiger birdied 11 of the last 12 holes, for the win. Gammons said it would be a treat if he could caddy for the duo after the season is over. Smoltz said “it could easily be arrranged.” The bets between Smoltz and Woods are not confined to just when the two play together. As Smoltz was going to play at another U.S. Open course, Oakmont, outside Pittsburgh, Woods bet him that he couldn’t break 80 on the course, about three weeks before the Open was to be contested there. After 16 holes, Smoltz was 8 over par. He had to finish one over on the final 2 holes to win the bet. Smoltz suddenly realized he could either finish the round and possibly win the bet, or call it quits. If he played the last 2 holes, he risked getting a hefty fine and incurring the wrath of Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox. Smoltz decided he better get to the ballpark. “Oakmont was the toughest course I’ve played.” I asked Smoltz about this week’s Open. He didn’t hesitate a moment. “Tiger will win, no doubt. He’s ready.” I asked him about Phil Mickelson and his chances. “I know Phil and the emotion will definitely help him. I know his make up, Phil will make a good run, but Tiger will win.” The emotion of playing while his wife Amy is preparing to be treated for breast cancer may be helpful or it could hurt him. According to ESPN’s Andy North, a 2 time U.S. Open champion, “Mickelson needs to get off to a good start and the flow of emotion from the crowd could definitely help.” We didn’t talk about pitching, but Manager Ron Johnson is confident that if Smoltz says he’s ready to go to Boston, he believes. “Smoltzy’s word is good enough for me.” Terry Francona has said that Smoltz will pitch on June 25th against Washington. The Red Sox will use a 6 man pitching rotation, at least in the short term. R.J. says the Red Sox brass knows what they’re doing. “I’ve never had any experience with a six man rotation, but I trust those guys.”
The day we were in Cooperstown (Sunday) I met three lovely ladies who made the trip from Augusta Maine to watch the PawSox play. They are Portland Sea Dogs season ticket holders and were excited about Aaron Bates and his start with Pawtucket. They also inquired about Bubba Bell and when he might join the PawSox. Ladies, he is here. The 26 year old Texan joined the club on Monday, travelling from Akron to Portland to Pawtucket, getting here in time for the rainout. “It was a long day for me, it started about 4:30 in the morning. We flew back from Akron and I got a call from Arnie (Portland manager Arnie Beyeler), he told me I had to get to Pawtucket and here I am. I was definitely tired, but I had enough excitement to carry me through the day.” Bell, an outfielder has put up good numbers at Double A. In his fifth year in the organization, the former 39th round pick (1187th overall) of the 2005 draft has had to work very hard to catch up with the likes of “classmates” Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden. “It’s been tough coming from where I did, not having a lot of expectations from me. I’ve had to work that much harder and I appreciate everything that has happened to me. It has made me the player I am today”. Bell has had an outstanding minor league career, posting a career .309 batting average. He said that his MVP season in 2007 in the California League has given him the confidence to forge ahead. “It proved to me that I was meant to be here and put up these kind of numbers (.370 22, 83), It meant a lot because it said to me- this is what you should be doing. I think it proved something to the organization and something to me.” Any baseball person I’ve asked describes Bell as an “all-out player”, meaning he never leaves anything in the clubhouse. He chose a pretty good role model. “My favorite player growing up was Griffey. He’s had some injuries going into walls, etc. I have a lot of competitive drive so if I see a ball somewhere in the outfield, I am going to do everything I can to bring it down.” Bell knows why he becomes a fan favorite, no matter where he plays. “I think people appreciate it a whole lot more, it makes the game more exciting. Thats my “M.O.”, that’s how I feel I’ll play my whole career. Bubba Bell also passed the “Steve Hyder Poise Test”. As we chatted in the PawSox dugout, Bell hardly cracked a smile, despite the best efforts of Charlie Zink to make him laugh during our interview. A lot of his “new” teammates really aren’t that new. “I’ve got a lot of good friends on this team. Buch (Clay Buchholz), Michael Bowden and Charlie Zink. I spent a lot of time with this group of guys at Spring Training. I’m real comfortable with these players. It made it even more exciting when I knew I was coming up and playing with them.” Aaron Bates has a six game “head start” at Pawtucket over Bell, and Bubba is encouraged by Bates’ fast start. “Absolutely. He’s been swinging the bat so well all year, it’s been fun to watch Aaron do it. I have no doubts that I can do the same thing up here. Bubba, of course is a nickname. It’s been with Bell since even before he was born. His dad gave it to him. “My real name is Billy Wayne Bell, Jr. I’ve had the nickname “Bubba” as long as I can remember. It’s something that I haven’t been able to shake so far.” Bell isn’t sure the nickname is always a good thing. “Some people hear the name and try to define me by it. It’s not the case, but every where I go people seem to think it’s a good baseball name, and I’ll keep it as long as I’m playing ball.” Add the name Bubba Bell to the long list of great kids and outstanding players to come through the doors of McCoy Stadium.
If I were Gene Siskel and/or Roger Ebert, I would probably give my trip to Cooperstown one thumb up and one thumb down. (If you know me, I don’t want any thumb jokes) The positive part was obviously the Hall of Fame and the village of Cooperstown. The shrine is second to none. It has magical qualities, whether you are an avid fan like I am or a casual fan like my wife, Sue. I think she enjoyed it as much as I did. Probably differently, but she clearly was impressed with the amazing exhibits and artifacts. I’ve been there ten times or so, but it is a remarkable experience every time I go. The Babe Ruth room is a step back into history and a look at one of the most famous AMERICANS ever. Uniiforms, bats, gloves etc are expected, but to see the Babe’s bowling ball and golf trophies he won, as well as family photos and the like were great. Nothing compares however, to the gallery containing the plaques celebrating the members of the Hall. The immortals. As I read each one, I marveled at their achievements. I reserved a couple of extra minutes to linger at the plaque of my all-time favorite player, Carlton Fisk. Maybe the most impressive part of the Hall are the wooden statues of the Babe and Ted Williams, carved by Rhode Islands’ Armand Lamontagne. The attention to detail defies description. I dare say that even Michaelangelo would doff his cap to Lamontagne’s work. There are so many things to see that you owe it to yourself to make a pilgrimage. The ambience of the village takes you back to a simpler, better era in America. As you stroll down Main St. (yep, it really is called Main St..) you can imagine Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio sitting on a park bench, unbothered by fans, discussing the science of hitting. Quaint shops and restaurants really complete the picture. Next time I go to Cooperstown, I will check out the wax museum down the street. Standing guard at the front door was a replica of the actor Jason Alexander, the man who brilliantly portrayed George Costanza on “Seinfeld”. The mannequin was decked out in a Yankees jersey, fitting for the former assistant to the travelling secretary. Doubleday Field is undoubtedly a beautiful park, but it is not meant for Triple A baseball. The infield was thick and a bit scruffy looking. The short fences made the game a joke. There was no facility for the players to dress in. Jerry and Bob, our bus drivers took the guys to the local YMCA to change and shower. The dugouts were tiny, subcompact cars are bigger. Half the team was forced to sit on a bench adjacent to the dugout. There is no press box, none of the necessities we need to do our jobs. Without getting technical, even the broadcast lines we used were the kind we used to use more than ten years ago. It was a one shot deal, however. As my old buddy Brandon Moss would say, “Just wear it.”
I made a pilgrimage to another shrine I love, The Change of Pace at 1802 Grant Blvd. in Syracuse. Owner Steve Grilli, the losing pitcher in the longest game in baseball history (yes, that one) serves up the best wings in the world. If there are any better, I need to know about them. A bus load of PawSox fans came to Central New York for the weekend and on Saturday night Rick Medeiros the director of security for the PawSox brought about 15 of them up for wings. I felt very satisfied as they thanked me for telling them about the place on the blog and during our broadcasts. The wings were a rousing success.
We all need passion in our lives. Whether it is personally, professionally or even with a hobby. PawSox manager Ron Johnson is blessed with a fire in all three departmrnts. He adores his family. Spend five minutes with him (or in my case, 5 years) and you will hear a man who is a loyal husband, and a loving father. His children are perhaps the most important thing in his life. He lights up like a Christmas Tree when he talks about his younger daughters Bridget and Cheyenne and their horse riding exploits. When the topic is his son Chris, a third baseman at the Triple A level with the Astros, he loses all objectivity and becomes a proud papa, like any of us would. Christian is his stepson, but you’d never know it. “Bubby” as he calls him is a great young man. His wife Daphne is the love of his life. Unlike a lot of guys, RJ isn’t afraid to tell her he loves her, even when there are others around. He sets a great example. In his professional life, he bleeds the Red Sox colors. He is fiercely loyal to the organization and he really appreciates his job. He likes to joke that he is in the “eighteenth year of a five year plan”, meaning it is taking a lot longer than he originally expected to make the Major Leagues as a skipper. That being said, I hope he does attain his dream someday, but right now, he is the PERFECT man for the job in Pawtucket. He is so adept at handling the multiple personalities, all the different situations and countless scenarios he faces on a daily basis. He does it all with an unending smile on his face and a charm that is very endearing. I am fortunate that he classifies me as a friend and an “insider” when it comes to his ballclub. I think our mutual respect has been the foundation for the friendship we have forged. Even his hobby, horses, is something he absolutely loves. RJ grew up in California, played baseball and managed all around the country and before moving to Tennessee a couple of years ago, lived in Orlando. He has always been a self-proclaimed “redneck”. I met a neighbor of his recently. A good ole boy named Rodney Lockhart. Rodney, who listens to our broadcasts on the internet had no idea what his new neighbor did for months. “Heck, I thought RJ was rich, he just rode his horses around his ranch with his girls. I never saw him work.” Lockhart was amazed when he found out what RJ did for a living. It explained his ability to spend the offseason pursuing two of his three passions, his family and his horses. The horse “thing” kind of carries over to the baseball season. RJ is entrusted with 24 thoroughbreds at a time- The PawSox. These “stallions” need to be tamed and raised and RJ does an incredible job. Like any good stable man, he knows when to crack the whip and when to let up on the reins. As his team endures a season-long offensive drought, he recently “threw a nutty” in the clubhouse after a game. He told the guys that the “clock was ticking” meaning that if they didn’t start to hit, their would be consequences. That earned him the nickname “Flavor Flav”- Flav is the rapper who wears an oversized clock around his neck to remind people of just how precious time is. He later told the guys that he recognized that they were “pressing” and that doesn’t help. His message was simple. “Don’t think, just get up there and hit. If you can’t do that.” he continued, “just swing hard and you might run into something.” Of course he takes it seriously, but at times, you have to let the colts trot more slowly and at other times, you’ve got to get them to gallop. RJ’s buddy Rodney was right in one respect. He is a rich man. You don’t always measure fortune in terms of dollars.
One time, back in the early 1990′s, while covering the induction ceremonies for my radio station, I stopped by the Otesaga Hotel in Cooperstown. The Otesaga is a “grand old girl”, a hotel where you could easily envision Babe Ruth chugging down a beer or two, while chomping on his cigar and telling countless tales to fascinated listeners. Alas, this was more than 40 years after the Bambino’s death, but there was no shortage of stars there, believe me. As the likes of Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial and Yogi Berra made their way to their rooms, the lobby was abuzz with an incredible energy. Reporters, fans and friends besieged the stars for interviews and autographs. After a while, in the mid-summer heat and humidity of the Leatherstocking Region, the hotel lobby became quite stuffy and sticky. I walked out to the back porch of the hotel. It was beautiful. Sunny, with a much-needed breeze blowing through. Rocking chairs were abundant across the massive deck overlooking bountiful gardens of the most colorful flowers you’ve ever seen. After cooling off a bit, I started to make my way back into the fray. I noticed a woman sitting in the rocking chair, seemingly oblivious to all the activity around her. Very thin, she sat wearing a pair of oversized sunglasses, rocking back and forth. I smiled and nodded as I walked past her. She acknowledged me with a slight nod. I immediately realized that she was Jean Yawkey, owner of the Red Sox. I introduced myself and told her of my lifelong love affair with her team. Tom Yawkey’s widow proved to be an engaging conversationalist. We chatted about the Induction weekend and the current state of “our” ballclub. The sense I got was that she appreciated being recognized, especially by a loyal citizen of the “nation”. I thought about how tough it must have been to be a woman in a mans’ world. I marveled at her style and her class and the dignity which she clearly possessed. Years later, long after she had passed away, I ran into someone who had known her. As I told him about the chance meeting at the Otesaga, he said- “Jean Yawkey was a tough old broad!” At first I thought that was not a very pleasant characterization of this stylish woman who was so nice to me that day. Then it dawned on me that she probably had to be a tough old broad for people to take her seriously. We are lucky that the Sox are in such capable hands these days. Let’s not forget, however, Jean Yawkey.
I have had some “chance encounters” over the years with some famous and not so famous folks. Last night at the Dinosaur Barbecue in Syracuse, Dan, myself and Jason Benetti, a young up and coming broadaster were at our table. The waitress told us that we had just missed rock legend, Daid Crosby of “Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young” fame. I once ran into wrestler Sargent Slaughter in the airport in Charlotte, and another wrestling legend, Ric Flair not once but 3 times in 3 different states. Florida at a convenience store in 1984 (he bought deodorant and Lite beer) In L.A. at my hotel in the mid ’90s and once in North Carolina a couple of seasons ago at a gym. One of my all-time favorite meetings took place while I was broadcasting Syracuse Basketball. We were playing in the NCAA tournament, and as a good journalist should do, I was always on the prowl for a good pre-game interview. I spotted Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax sitting near mid-court with his friend, CBS analyst, Billy Packer. I knew that Koufax had played college basketball in the mid-’50s at the University of Cincinnati. That would be my hook. I asked him for 5 minutes of his time, but he politely declined. We said our good byes and undaunted I found former Kentucky star Sam Bowie for my interview. (Bowie along with Hakeem Olajuwon, the 2 men drafted BEFORE Michael Jordan in 1984). We did our broadcast and after packing up the equipment, I looked for a spot to watch the next game. Sitting alone in the section previously occupied by the Syracuse Band, was Koufax. He motioned me over and invited me to join him. There I was alone with the great Sandy Koufax. He quizzed me on the Orangemen, we talked about baseball, and I even told him that my brother had once caddied for him at Orchid Island in Vero Beach. It was the most magnificent way to spend time watching hoops. With a few minutes left in the game, he excused himself, shook my hand and said so long. I was on Cloud Nine. You never know who you’ll meet or when or where.
Down the street from our hotel in Syracuse there is a Dunkin’ Donuts. I make the trek every morning for a cup of greatness, usually settling in with the newspaper. Thursday I ran into an old friend. In my 12 years in Syracuse, I spent 10 seasons broadcasting S.U. Basketball, among other things. In 1995-96 the Orangeman were good, so good in fact that they would face Kentucky in the NCAA championship game at the Meadowlands. Syracuse was lead by John Wallace, a 6’9 talent from Rochester. JW was an All- American who stayed for 4 years, back when kids did that. He would eventually play in the NBA for the Knicks, Miami, Detroit, Phoenix and Toronto. He was the only guy on that team to play in thte NBA. The WildCats featured future NBA players Antoine Walker, Ron Mercer, Walter McCarty, Derek Anderson, Tony Delk and Wayne Turner, Nazr Mohammed, Jeff Sheppard and Mark Pope. Kentucky won a hard fought game 76-67. After the game Coach Rick Pitino sought out a senior point guard named Lazurus SIms. “Z” was a seldom use player until his senior season. If Stephon Marbury had come to Syracuse instead of Georgia Tech, I contend that S.U. never would have made it as far as they did. Z was unselfish, distributing the ball to Wallace, Todd Burgan and Jason Cipolla. He could also score. He made some huge shots on March 22, 1996, S.U. battled back and eliminated Georgia. I remember that date because my daughter Carly was born that day. Anyway I saw Sims, we embraced and caught up. He is now a coach on Jim Boeheims’ staff. He meant a lot to the program and now he is giving back. Sports and the people you meet are amazing.
The hardest thing about the minor leagues is the transient nature it has. You can be rolling along and the next thing you know, BOOM, you’re gone. As we boarded the bus on Wednesday for Syracuse, conspicuous by their absence were Chip Ambres and Sandy Madera. “Chipper Dipper” the former star high school quarterback out of Beaumont Texas was in his second stint in the Red Sox organization. In 2005 Ambres, an I.L. All-Star with Pawtucket, was traded to Kansas City for Tony Graffanino. He appeared in the big leagues with the Royals, Mets and Padres. Apparently the Mets wanted him back, because they acquired the softspoken outfielder on Tuesday night for a player to be named later. Presumably, our paths will cross again when the PawSox face Buffalo. It will be good to see him, but not the same as seeing him every day. Hopefully, the Mets will have a spot for him in the Majors. The news wasn’t as good for Sandy Madera. The slugger best known as the childhood friend of David Ortiz was released by the Red Sox. Madera had been hidden on the disabled list for much of the season, even though he had been healthy. Madera is a guy who has phenomenal strength and is a very good man, unfortunately he is somewhat limited defensively and became expendable. I hope another organization has the good sense to sign the Sandman and give him a well-deserved opportunity. He almost always produced for the PawSox when given the chance.
Here in Syracuse and looking forwad to Sunday’s game in Cooperstown at Doubleday Field. I have been to the Hall of Fame many times, but it never gets old. I am reminded of a trip I made there in the ’90s to cover the Hall of Fame game. The Dodgers were playing and I was on the field interviewing the great Tommy Lasorda. My conversation with the Dodger manager was wrapping up when the heavens opened up and it began to pour. I was prepared and opened my umbrella and Lasorda and I huddled underneath it. The game was soon called off and as I was about to head for my car, Lasorda asked me for a favor. “Son” he rasped. “Could you please take Annie to our bus under your umbrella?” “Sure, Tommy, no problem”. I turned and came face to face with Ann Meyers Drysdale. Ann was an All-American basketball player at UCLA, perhaps one of the best players of her generation. In fact, so good that in 1979 she signed a contract with the Indiana Pacers of the NBA. Ann had recently lost her husband, the hard throwing right hander of Dodger fame Don Drysdale. Drysdale had teamed with lefty Sandy Koufax in the ’60s for an incredible one-two punch. I was somewhat taken aback by my new acquaintance. It was a short walk to the bus and we made small talk. As I left her off I offered my condolences about her husbands’ passing. She smiled, thanked me and got on the bus. Eight months later as a broadcaster for Syracuse University basketball, I was dispatched to Ogden Utah for the NCAA tournament. On the day before their first game, the Orangemen held a practice at the venue, the Dee Events Center. I was along to do my homework and prepare for the next days’ broadcast. I looked across the gym and there was Ann Myers, in her capacity as a reporter for CBS Television. I thought about going over to say hello, but decided that she would never remember our brief encounter the summer before. A few minutes later, she tapped me on the shoulder and amazingly, asked if I was the gentleman who escorted her to the bus in Cooperstown. I told her I was and she sat down and we chatted for the duration of the Syracuse shootaround. It was amazing to me that a small gesture would carry so much weight for such a successful woman. I came away incredibly impressed.
Hope the Red Sox first pick in the 2009 draft is as good as his cousin. 18 year old Reymond Fuentes is related to Mets centerfielder Carlos Beltran. The scouting report compares the young Fuentes to Johnny Damon.
Tomorrow I’ll share more Cooperstown memories, my meeting with another great Dodger and running into an old friend in Syracuse.
Not since Howard Cosell left this world has anyone been so willing to tell it like it is. The late Cosell would have admired the “crawl” across the bottom of the screen on ESPN Tuesday morning. THE LEAD- “Real Madrid acquires Kaka in record deal”. It usually takes a while for a transaction to be deemed either a boom or a bust. Real Madrid admits right off the bat that the guy they signed for more than a 94 million dollar posting deal is Kaka. I don’t like soccer, it bores me. I can’t even watch a highlight on the news. I just don’t care. They have my respect, now though, they signed a guy and he is Kaka. There have been other horrible deals but at the time, I’m sure that both sides were thinking they got the better end of things. I’m positive that when Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold George Herman Ruth to the Yankees to finance the Broadway production of “No No Nanette”, he thought he was on target. He changed the course of baseball history. To my knowledge, Frazee never admitted the deal was the most collossal pile of all time. There have been other deals that make you cringe when you look back at them. Most recently, the Red Sox got Kaka when they sent David Murphy and Kason Gabbard to Texas for Eric Gagne. “Poop” might best describe the trade that sent future MVP Jeff Bagwell to the Houston Astros for aging Larry Andersen. When the Red Sox sent “Bags” to the ‘stros, Peter Gammons knew that “the Red Sox traded away a future batting champion”. Boston isn’t ALWAYS on the short end of the deal. In 1997, The Mariners must have been in a coma when they sent Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe to the Red Sox for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb. The M’s would have been better off at that point with Heathcliff Huxtable as their closer. You want to talk about “doody”? How about the Tigers sending future Hall of Famer John Smoltz to Atlanta for Doyle Alexander? How’d that one work out for ya? Before today’s ESPN revelation about Kaka, my previous favorite trade analysis came from Charley Steiner, the former ESPN anchor. In 1994, when the Brewers traded the over the hill Tom Brunansky to the Red Sox for catcher Dave Valle, Steiner summed it up best- “Both teams got gypped.” I don’t know about you, but I’d be prretty steamed if my team signed Kaka and then bragged about it. What? Oh, yeah? Kaka is really a 27 year old Brazilian? Huh? Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite??? A nickname???Oh my bad! Never mind. How long before some disgruntled Real Madrid fan holds up a sign that seems to me inevitable? “Kaka Stinks!!!”
It was fun to hear PawSox hitting coach Russ Morman reminisce about his days as a basketball star as a high schooler in Missouri. Morman was a McDonald’s All- America and entertained scholarship offers from schools like Notre Dame before deciding to focus on baseball.
If anyone finds the PawSox offense, please send it back to McCoy. Tell it I miss it. We all do.
I hate it when people brag about their kids. I’m sure they will some day cure cancer or solve the energy problem, but until then, keep me out of the loop. That being said, I have to tell you about my nephew, Luke, or as he is known, The Duke. I got a chance to go to his T-ball game on Saturday morning. He is the biggest six year old out there and a very good athlete at an early age. He is the only kid in history who had to stop for a haircut on his way home from being born. All man, even at age six. I got a kick out of his game. Everyone hits every inning and even if you make an out, you’re allowed to stay on the base paths. He had two of the best hits of the day (in 2 at bats). I asked him how he’d like to be introduced if I were to talk about him on the radio. “Here comes the hard hitter.” He assured me that would suffice. He is a hard hitter in many ways. He is being raised as a typical guy in New England- loves the Red Sox, Patriots and especially the Celtics. We have our rituals that we do after every New England touchdown, etc. He is LOYAL to the Sox. The other week I was watching the Sox and Tampa with him and his father at their home. Joe Maddon summoned former PawSox reliever Joe Nelson from the Rays bullpen. I told the Duke- “See that pitcher, Joe Nelson? He’s a friend of Uncle Steve. Thinking that he’d be impressed, I waited for his reaction. “You’re a Tampa fan?” “No, no” I promised him. “Joe used to pitch for the PawSox and once he did me a big favor. He’s a very nice man.” Unfazed, he continued his verbal barrage at his uncle and godfather. “You probably like the Yankees, too.” At age 6, the kid can bust chops with the best of them. Then again, we’ve been booing him when he enters the room since he was in diapers. Now, just to get him going, I will tell him that Nelson was asking for him. He does not care. This is a kid who oince proclaimed that he “would never eat cheese and crackers again” just because he was ticked at his father. I have gone against my own rule today, bragging about my “little nephew”. You have to meet him someday. He will crack you up. By the way, don’t tell Joe Nelson that the Duke hates him.
After much ado on Saturday, John Smoltz was ultimately allowed to use Major League baseballs for his six inning stint. Apparently team president Mike Tamburro had to intercede with the umpiring crew to make sure that it happened. Smoltz gave up a hit and a run as he took a big step forward to joining the Red Sox.
Virtually every day I am treated to a front row seat to something special. Saturday was no exception. Baseball Hall of Famer Peter Gammons of ESPN was at McCoy to address the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR). After giving an enthralling, hour-long talk to the “stat-geeks” (I can call them that, I consider myself one) Peter consented to do an interview for the PawSox Radio Network. I consider myself a fairly adept interviewer, and I try to be prepared, no matter the subject, but I will admit that I tried to step up my “game” for the sit-down with Gammons. Among the topics we discusssed- Gammons being the real pioneer when it came to the transition from the print media to the electronic media. I jokingly told him that I hope he gets a lot of thank you notes from others that he paved the way for. We reminisced about the great Boston Globe sports page, and the incredible stable of writers he worked with. “There’s a story currently on SI.com about the greatest sports page in history. We had an incredible vibrancy and the camaraderie at the Globe. Bob Ryan and I started as interns on the same day back in the ’70s. Bob was a B.C. guy and I was out of North Carolina. We had Will McDonough covering the Patriots, Bob had the Celtics, I covered the Red Sox. We also had Ray Fitzgerald, Leigh Montville, who to this day, I consider the greatest columnist I’ve ever known, Leslie Visser who was a pioneer for female journalists and don’t forget Dan Shaughnessy.” A “murderer’s row” of journalists. Gammons spoke fondly about PawSox owner Ben Mondor. “Ben was the first minor league owner to “get it”. Come see the Boston Red Sox stars of tomorrow.” He relayed a conversation he had a couple of years ago with Red Sox G.M. Theo Epstein- “You can’t pay for what the PawSox provide the Red Sox.” When asked about the current rumor mill regarding the Red Sox and their needs- “They need a shortstop who can catch the ball.” Gammons had mentioned earlier that he was a Jed Lowrie fan, citing his high baseball I.Q. as one of the reasons. “They may be in the market for a successor to David Ortiz. I love Tito’s loyalty, but you have to have a DH that can hit the ball.” Gammons was the man who interviewed the disgraced third baseman of the Yankees, Alex Rodriguez, when allegations of the use of performance enhancing drugs arose in late March. “Alex is a very insecure person. Just keeping the interview going was a struggle.” Gammons added “Knowing now how human he is- I like him more.” Gammons had very definite thoughts about Roger Clemens and his chance of serving time in prison. “Clemens was so adamant with Congress- it’s perjury. Someone in the previous presidential administration (George W. Bush) told me it might be tough for Clemens to avoid jail time.” On the afternoon that John Smoltz was to make his first rehab start for the PawSox, Gammons looked into his crystal ball. “I think he’ll be a significant contributor to the Red Sox this season. But what I’m really looking forward to is caddying for him and Tiger (Woods) this offseason. Gammons spoke about a round of golf the two friends played this spring. “Smoltz started the round with three birdies, but Tiger birdied 11 of the last 12 holes and he wouldn’t talk to Smoltz until the round was over.” Gammons put reigning MVP Dustin Pedroia on his list of top 10 all-time favorite players. (Something we have in common). “What makes Pedroia special is is hand-eye coordination. As a boy, he played a lot of tennis and pingpong. The other thing that sets him apart is his incredible will to win. I love his cockiness. I remember a game last season, when Pedey stumbled and fell. I texted Alex Cora and jokingly asked if Pedroia was drunk. A few hours later, I got a message from Pedroia that said- Remember Peter, I am the greatest bleeping player that you’ve ever seen.” Gammons recalled a conversation between L.A. coach Don Mattingly and Dodger outfielder Andre Ethier. Mattingly asked why Ethier was always telling Dustin Pedroia stories. Ethier, who went to Arizona State with Pedey had a quick answer. “Pedroia’s the greatest teammate who’s ever lived.” I could have easily sat and listened to Peter Gammons for hours. I likened it to Christmas morning, being a baseball fan, picking his brain. I guess I am bragging a little bit when I tell you this, but I have NEVER been more proud of a compliment. As the interview drew to a close, I thanked him for his time and congratulated him on a brilliant career. He looked me in the eye and to my surprise said- “Thanks, by the way, I love listening to you.” Blew me away!