July 2009

A NIGHT OFF AFTER AN OFF DAY

Taking full advantage of the night off on Thursday, (as you know a rarity in the minor leagues) I decided to check out the biggest tourist destination in western New York.  Along with my daughter, Carly, we took the short ride over to Niagara Falls.  We paid the dollar toll each way and the $10 .00 parking fee and after that, it was absolutely free.  We started off by taking an elevator to the top floor of an observation deck.  The clueless girl running the elevator had definitely spent too much time alone, sniffing exhaust fumes.  As we boarded the elevator I asked her if we would have a good view from the top floor.  She smiled the smile of a moron and looked at me and said “You’ll have a good view”.  I asked “Will we see the Falls?” She responded “Oh no.” “What will we see?” I asked. “Niagara Falls” was her answer (still smiling the smile of a moron).  Completely confused, we got off the elevator and proceeded to the window and saw absolutely nothing.  We returned to the elevator and “Moronica” asked “Did you see the Falls?” laughing as she spoke.  A little ticked off I reprimanded her “You think it’s funny?”  We then began the trek to the falls by foot and was it worth it!  Absolutely breathtaking!!  We saw Horseshoe Falls and American Falls.  It’s a lot of water.  What blew my mind was that people have tried to go over the Falls.  INSANE.  It is something that you should definitely see.  I’m not sure I’d make a trip especially for that purpose, but since I was in the neighborhood…Was pleased to run into a few PawSox players doing the same thing.  My main man, Jeff Natale and roommate Sean Danielson took the $2.65 bus ride to take in the splendor. (If I had known, I’d have given them a ride)  As we were leaving, we ran into Mark Wagner, Junichi Tazawa and his translator, Masa.  Although we didn’t take a ride on the “Maid of the Mist”, I could easily picture Jim Carrey in “Bruce Almighty” having his meltdown.  Incidentally, worst souvenirs EVER.  Junk with a capital “J”.  Among the trash- A hair brush for a bald man (A little board with no bristles) Some of the cheesiest T-shirts, photos and trinkets in the entire world.  Maybe if they upgraded the stuff, people might buy something.  Nonetheless, definitely a great time.  The one thing that kept runmning through my mind was the old “Three Stooges” line- “Slowly I turned.  Step by step, inch by inch…NIAGARA FALLS”. (for you Stooge-ophiles from “Gents without Cents”)

 

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Capped the night off with a trip to “Chefs” restaurant.  The same joint that we dined at for Easter (courtesy of Ben Mondor)  Terrific meal  Spaghetti Parmesan, Veal, Eggplant, salad, Italian bread…I’m still full.

 

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Very glad July ends today.  Worst month for the PawSox in a long time.  The boys are 6-19 this month heading into the game on the 31st. 

JONESIN’ FOR THE PAWSOX

One of the true pleasures of this job is the people you meet.  In past seasons, the PawSox have had assistant trainers to help head man Greg Barajas.  Guys like Steve Spero, Fuji Sakamoto, and Dave Getsoff, come in spend a season learning and then move on.  Last season the Red Sox shifted gears and hired a strength and condiitioning coach, Carl Kochen.  Kochen was incredibly valuable to the team, catching bullpen sessions and doing what ever else had to be done, in addition to his regular job in the gym.  Carl landed a fulltime gig with the Giants organization.  He was replaced by Mike Jones.  Jonesy is very likeable man.  He is in his first year with the Sox.  “It’s been great.  A very very good experience to see the emphasis that’s been placed on development here.  The resources that are devoted to that develpoment is really exciting.”  Jones says it isn’t hard keeping track of all his charges.  “The most difficult part is identifying the needs of the individual players, then developing exercises to help correct the deficiencies.  I’ve done this for many years, so it isn’t difficult.  Having a trainer like Greg (Barajas)- we work well together and if there’s a situation or an injury, we work well in tandem to get it taken care of.”  Jones says that “old-timers” might cringe if they saw the shape the players are in today, when they get to Spring Training.  “The biggest difference is the length of Spring Training.  Years ago it was 6 weeks long, now it’s four weeks, or a little longer in some organizatons.  It has necessitated the athlete getting ready during the offseason, because there’s a lot of competition and they know if they’re not prepared, they’re not going to win one of those spots.”  Jones adds that there is a very small group that is reluctant to go the gym on a regular basis.  “When you’re at the Triple A level, you see individuals that come over from other organizations where the emphasis hasn’t been there, they are sometimes reluctant, but the good part is that they see success and finally buy in.  You see those changes and you get those calls.  Justin Lehr, who I had previously in Tacoma, texted me to tell me he was getting a Major League start Friday against the Rockies.”  Jones added- “That’s why I am in this business.  It’s rewarding to watch these young men progress, supervise their programs and watch them make it to the Major League level.”  Jones measures success in different ways.  “One of the areas that is my biggest concern, is keeping the athlete healthy.  That’s one way to evaluate it.  It’s subjective.  I like to see the athlete’s performance affected by their strength and conditioning, but you can’t always tell.”  Jones is often the victim of good natured ribbing from the guys, espically Ron Johnson.  “RJ is a once in a lifetime experience.  You have to have a thick skin.”  The silver haired Jones has been compared to the Burgess Meredith character, “Mickey” in the “Rocky” movies.  Jonesy always has a cup of coffee in his hand and a smile on his face. “I guess when you take the “abuse” , it shows you are part of the inner circle.”.  Mike Jones is a strong man, in many ways. 

 

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Found a new eating spot in Buffalo.  “Daddio’s” on Hertel Ave in Buffalo offers tremendous sandwiches, appetizers, wings and pizza.  Owner Jimmy is the most hospitable restaurateur you will EVER encounter.  The place is decorated with “Rat Pack” memorabilia and a movie poster signed by the great Francis Ford Coppola.  “Props” to PawSox head of security, Rick Medeiros for finding the spot.  Hyder and Hoard will be back.  By the way, my daughter Carly did NOT order chocolate milk with her sub. 

NOT TIME FOR HALLADAY SHOPPING

I was a little bit buckled when I saw the Gordon Edes report saying that the Red Sox had offered Clay Buchholz, Michael Bowden ad Ryan Westmoreland to the Jays in exchange fir Roy Halladay.  I was bummed when the Sox sent David Murphy to Texas with Kason Gabbard for Eric Gagne.  Same when Brandon Moss was dealt to the Pirates.  Those were for personal reasons.  They (Murf and Moss) are two of the best people I have ever met.  While I really like Buch and Bowdie, and Westmoreland seems to be a good kid, their value as players is, in  my mind, off the charts.  Clay will be a front of the rotation guy for the next decade or so.  Bowden is just 22 and just beginning to scratch the surface of his potential.  Westmoreland is lighting up the NY/Penn League and projects to be a 30/30 man in the Bigs.  Halladay, although very good, is just a rental. signed through 2010, he could be a vital cog in the Red Sox rotation for the next year, plus.  He could very well propel the Sox past the Yankees and any N.L. foe that could stand in the way.  Think of a Beckett, Halladay, Lester rotation in the playoffs.  Seems unstoppable.  But what about Beckett, Lester, Wakefield, Penny?  Nothing to sneeze at.  And if you don’t make the deal, you have Buchholz and somewhere a discontent Daisuke Matsuzaka.  Bowden could help with a spot start or certainly out of the pen.  Thankfully, the Sox and Jays have both denied the rumor.  I tend to think, however, where there’s smoke….I will be glad when the deadline passes.  I just don’t feel good about this one.  I think the days of trading tons of prospects for a star are part of a bygone era in Red Sox Nation.  There is still the possibility of a deal, and it won’t surprise me, but I really hope that Edes is wrong, really wrong on this one.

 

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Junichi Tazawa was awesome in his PawSox debut.  The Japanese righty worked 6 innings, giving up 1 earned run, 3 hits with three strikeouts. Tazawa labored in the first inning, throwing 27 pitches, but needed just 43 pitches for innings 2-6.  He showed exceptional poise and composure for an I.L. rookie.

 

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A late night pilgrimage to the Anchor Bar on Tuesday didn’t disappoint.  My daughter Carly learned a valuable lesson.  Buffalo WIngs and chocolate milk do NOT mix.  Frank and Theresa (the reported inventors of the Buffalo wing) probably didn’t have that combo in mind.

 

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Recently saw the movie “Orphan”.  A creepy thriller.  Didn’t think I’d like it, but I found myself on the edge of my seat the entire flick.  See it and you’ll know why no one will ever name their child “Esther” again.

 

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It’s a strange time in PawSox Nation.  In the last couple of days, Paul McAnulty and Freddy Guzman have been released.  The leaders in home runs and rbi (McAnulty) and the stolen Base leader (Guzman) are gone.  I felt badly for Sean Danielson before, spending all this time on the “phantom” disabled list.  Now that the Guzman experiment is over, with the addition of Brian Anderson to the club, it really seems like “Spike” got short end of the stick. 

IT’S TAZAWA TIME

Junichi Tazawa is here and ready to go.  The 23 year old Japanese product is starting for the PawSox tonight (Tuesday) in Bufffalo.  Tazawa earned a promotion from Portland after putting together a 9-5 record with an ERA of 2.57 with the Sea Dogs.  His 88 strikeouts wee third best in the Eastern League.  Tazawa had already been rewarded with spots in the Double A All Star game and the Futures All Star game.  Rain cancelled his scheduled start for the Futures contest.  “Taz” signed with Boston in December for a reported 3.3 million dollars.  That was alleged to include a 1.8 million dollar signing bonus.  Tazawa is said to have spurned a 4 year/7 million dollar agreement with Texas, so he could join compatriot Daisuke Matsuzaka in the Red Sox organization.  “Baseball America” rates Tazawa the number 7 prospect in the Sox chain.  It weill be interesting to see if RJ uses catcher Dusty Brown on his regular day or if Mark Wagner catches in a reunion with his former Sea Dog batterymate.  No doubt, he hopes to join countrymen like Hideo Nomo, Ichiro and Dice as Big League success stories.

 

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Even with the addition of Tazawa, righty Michael Bowden (22) remains the youngest member of the PawSox.  He has pitched well in his first full season in Triple A, despite his record (3-5)  Bowden boasts a 3.09 ERA.  He has surrendered just 3 runs in his last 16 innings of work.  At such a tender age, he takes pride in keeping his composure on the field. “Showing any type of emotion gives the hitter the advantage, no matter what is happening.  If I’m giving up runs or not, I have the same mentality and keep the same composure no matter what.”  Although he would never publicly state it, I’d imagine Michael is frustrated with losing. “I think all the pitchers understand the game.  This is baseball.  We’ve had an offensive funk that’s lasted longer than anyone on the team would have imagined.  All I can do is go out there and do my job and hopefully the wins will start coming later in the year.”  Bowden, like all top Boston prospects, got a team-imposed, mini vacation, a 13 day break from starting.  Although he doesn’t like it, he grudgingly admits it helped-“I got to work on a lot of things in the bullpen.  I figured out what I’d been doing wrong.  Since then, I’ve been throwing the ball well.  I practiced some things and now I’m going out there and applying them.”  Bowden especially didn’t like the timing of his time off. “I don’t like it at all.  I was struggling at the time and the last thing a pitcher wants when he isn’t doing well, is time off to dwell on it, but mentally and physically, it was a good breather for me.”  Rated the number 2 prospect with Boston, Bowden does not succumb to any of the hype-  “It’s fun.  Nobody sets higher expectations for myself than I do.  The only person I can disappoint is myself.  I’m a perfectionist.  I just go out there and work as hard as I can to do the best that I can.”  Bowden thrives on the confidence he garnered in his two separate turns in Boston.  Earlier this season he struck out Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano in an appearance against the Yankees.  He carries it with him- “It feels good to have the confidence to know I can get it done.  I can get Major League hitters out.  When I was sent down I started pressing, knowing I was just a phone call away…I pressed a little bit to get back there.  I’m trying to get the weight off my shoulder and just play my game.”    

TESTING 1 2 3

SUNDAY AFTERNOON AT THE YARD

Some things running through my head as the PawSox get set for Columbus-

 

Travis Denker might be psychic.  Saturday during batting practice, he began making up his own lyrics to a song playing over the P.A. system att McCoy.  I think it was a song by the “Black Eyed Peas”.  His words went something like this- “Tonite’s gonna be a good night, we’re gonna score like 13 runs…”  Well, sure enough, Denker waxed prophetic.  The PawSox scored exactly 13 runs in a 2 run win over the Clippers.  Denker played a huge role, hammering a 3 run double late in the game.  I thought maybe I had lost my mind when I asked him about his prediction during the postgame on field interview.  He looked at me quizzically, not remembering his earlier prognostication.  Sunday, when I entered the Pawtucket clubhouse, Travis grabbed me and said he suddenly remembered what I was talking about in the middle of the night as he was trying to fall asleep.  At least I’m not completely losing my mind.  I think I’ll ask him about the numbers for the upcoming Powerball drawing.

 

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What a pleasure it was to greet the parents and girlfriend of my man, Jeff Natale on Saturday night.  Tony and Barb Natale and Leigh Foster stopped up to say hello.  Leigh brought us some freshly made whole wheat pasta from her company, Nella Pasta.  Can’t wait to taste it.  Of course, Jeff is affectionately known as the third member of our broadcast team.  His weekly “At Bat with Nat” interviews are available on the “pawsox.com” website.  For more pasta “info”  check out “nellapasta.com”

 

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As Jim Rice and Rickey Hendeson are being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, I was asking RJ about his baseball heroes as a boy.  “Johnny Bench was my guy.  I caught growing up and I loved Bench.”  Oddly enough,in all his years in the game Ron Johnson has never met his hero.  He still thinks it would be a kick to meet Bench.

 

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I am not an especially big fan of country music.  It’s not that I don’t like it, I just don’t listen to much music.  RJ, however, loves country music.  If there isn’t baseball on his office TV, it’s a pretty safe bet that CMT, the country music version of MTV, is on.  Among RJ’s favorites, Johnny Cash, George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Jason Aldean and Rascal Flatts.  I am soaking it in by osmosis.

 

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For the time being, outfielder Chris Duncan is patrolling leftfield and hitting cleanup for the PawSox.  Manager Ron Johnson isn’t exactly sure what Boston has in mind for the man acquired for Julio Lugo.  “We haven’t talked specifically about it.  We’re just going to get him some at bats, play him in left field and get a feel for what he can do at first base.  Chris is going to be a nice addition to our organization and our team when the opportunity comes about for him to help.  He’s got experience, he’s played well at the Major League level.  He plays hard.  We’re looking for some good things from him.” 

TWO VERY DIFFERENT JORDAN BROWNS

Apparently the name “Jordan” is quite versatile.  It’s the name of a country.  It’s the name of an American Idol.  It’s the name of the greatest player in basketball history.  It’s the name of an I.L. All Star and it’s the name of a PawSox players’ wife.  In the case of my last two examples, they share the exact same name- Jordan Brown.  First the Columbus outfielder.  He had a single, double and home run in the Clippers’ win at McCoy on Friday.  He was also victimized by a teammate during my on field, postgame interview with him.  As he was about to answer a question about winning pitcher Chuck Lofgren, another Clipper snuck up behind him with a shaving cream “pie” and smashed it in his face, “Three Stooges” style.  Brown was a good sport and graciously accepted a $25 gift certificate to Gregg’s Restaurant.  Meanwhile the “other” Jordan Brown, Dusty’s wife, had the presence of mind to email us as she was heading to the hospital the other day to give birth to the couples’ first child, Jude.  We had been closely monitoring the pregnancy and were thrilled when the newest member of the PawSox family arrived.  I wonder what Brownie thinks when he hears P.A. announcer Jim Martin introduce the opponent that bears his wifes’ name.  I just hope that Dusty doesn’t get confused and kiss the Clippers outfielder and then mistakenly tag his wife out.

 

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Tremendous effort by Michael Bowden on Friday.  He worked 7 innings, scattering 4 hits and surrendering 2 runs, walking none and striking out 5.  Unfortunately, the sleeping Pawtucket offense came up short again and Bowden was tagged with a loss.  Despite a terrific ERA of 3.09, Bowdens’ record fell to 3-5.  The 22 year old righthander has definitely made the most of his first full Triple A season.

 

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As one Red Sox legend is being enshrined in Cooperstown, there’s another who should be.  This weekend Jim Rice takes his rightful place among baseball’s immortals.  Rice waited until his final year of eligibility before being granted admission.  His former teammate, Luis Tiant has been denied entry and there ought to be an investigation.  It first came to my attention earlier this season when I asked Peter Gammons of ESPN, who was the best player not in Cooperstown.  Instead of the “stock” Pete Rose or Shoeless Joe answer, Gammons said El Tiante was the best player that hasn’t been recognized.  When I asked Tiant about the injustice, he wasn’t shy and didn’t give an “aw shucks” type response.  He also didn’t disagree with Gammons- “He might be right.  I don’t like talking much about it.  The more you point fingers at people, the more you’re embarassing someone.  A lot of baseball fans know I’m supposed to be in the Hall of Fame, there’s 15 pitchers in the Hall that I have a better record than- 15, not one or two, 15.  And now you tell me why they are there and I’m not.  Jim Rice- they made him wait 15 years- what’d he do in the last 15 years?  Did he play?  Did he improve his record?  He had the same numbers that he had 15 years ago and now you tell me he belongs in the Hall of Fame.  C’mon, that’s enough of that.  I don’t know what they’re thinking, but I don’t want to lose sleep at night worrying about if they’re going to vote for me or not.  I know I deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.  I put myself in my own Hall of Fame.  I hope they don’t wait for me to die to put me in the Hall of Fame, because I’ll come back from the tomb and pull an “Ole”, I’ll tell them they’re going to die tomorrow.  Make them suffer because that’s what they do.  Why would you want to put players in there after they’re dead?  You make aggravation for the families, the player can’t enjoy it.  What good is it?  Like I said, I don’t want to point fingers.  If they put me in, fine.  If they don’t, fine, too. When you put your life in someone elses’ hands, what can you do?  You hope and pray.  I don’t want to go get a machine gun and kill everybody.”  For the record, Tiant amassed a career mark of 229-172 with an ERA of 3.30, with 2416 career strikeouts, 49 shutouts and an amazing 187 complete games.  By my count, there are no fewer than 20 pitchers already in Cooperstown with less than 229 wins.

 

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Great to welcome Chris Duncan to McCoy.  The slugging outfielder singled in a run in his first PawSox at bat.  The brother of Scrantons’ Shelley Duncan was picked up in the trade for Julio Lugo, from St. Louis.  It will be interesting to watch, as the PawSox and Scranton meet 8 more times this season.  If dad Dave Duncan, the former M.L. catcher and currently pitching coach for the Cardinals had directed his sons a different way, they might both be All Pro offensive linemen in the NFL.  Chris looks chiseled at 6’5 and 230 pounds.  Sorry to see Paul McAnulty get released by the Sox.  He lead the team in homers (11) and rbi (48).  A gentleman with that much talent will get another job soon.  We also shared the same automotive fantasy.  To some day own a 1957 Chevy Belair.  Happy driving, Big Mac!      

HYDER DID WHAT NO ONE ELSE COULD DO

As I sit in the radio booth at Frontier Field in Rochester, directly to my right is the owners’ box.  As I look out my window, I am privy to whatever goes on over there.  Last night, it was occupied by the great El Tiante.  Red Sox legend Luis Tiant was in Rochester to sign autographs and throw out the ceremonial first pitch.  A couple of seasons ago we saw Dwight Evans here, and today Keith Olberman of MSNBC was in the house.  In 2004, I was here setting up the equipment for a game when I looked to my right and spotted the Ripken brothers, Cal and Billy.  When you’re in this business, you’ve always got an eye out for a potential pre-game interview.  I figured “What could be better than an interview with a Hall of Famer?”  The brothers were sitting there, alone, drinking beer.  I approached and politely introduced myself.  “Cal, any chance we could tape a five minute radio interview?”  The so-called Iron Man of Baseball, the hero who outplayed the great Lou Gehrig, the guy who played through bumps, bruises, sprains, strains, pulls, fractures, coughs, colds and hangnails, the player who suited up for every single game the Orioles played from May 30, 1982 through September 28, 1998, Calvin Edwin Ripken Jr. He glanced up, barely diverting his attention from his cold beer and had the audacity to say.  “I just got done doing an interview and I’m kind of tired, no thanks.”  The great Steve Hyder was able to do what no American League team could do for nearly two decades.  I brought the fraud to his knees.  This cat played in 2632 consecutive ballgames and an interview wore him out.  I do a nice interview (if I do say so myself) but for crying out loud, I’m not Mike Wallace of “60 Minutes.”  He should have just said “no”, but to add that the previous interview had tuckered him out made me laugh.  I don’t think Ripken caught on to the irony, and if I were sitting in a ballpark with my brother drinking beer, I probably wouldn’t want to do an interview, either.  But “too tired”-  are you kidding me?  The Iron Man had the heart of the Tin Man.

 

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There was an interesting article in the “Rochester Democrat and Chronicle” written by my old friend Jim Mandelaro, recounting the tale of former Red Wing Steve Dalkowski.  “Dalk” was a pitcher who was said to throw the ball harder than anyone in history.  Routinely clocked at over 100 m.p.h. he was never able to harness his potential.  In his first 2 pro seasons, he averaged 19 strikeouts and 18 walks per nine innings.  He was once lifted from a game after throwing 120 pitches by the second inning.  Reportedly, Dalkowski was the inspiration for the Nuke Laloosh character in “Bull Durham”.  Ron Shelton, who wrote and directed the flick, is also a former Red Wing, who played for Joe Altobelli, an I.L. Hall of Famer.  Allegedly, “Alto” inspired the character Crash Davis and is a  great story teller.  Altobelli says one time the Wings were in Richmond and hadn’t had a day off in a while, so he and a couple of others snuck over to the ballpark and in the dark of night turned on the sprinkler system, flooding the field and forcing the postponement of the game.  That scenario was famously played out in the movie.  Altobelli once quipped- “I didn’t room with Dalkowski, I roomed with his suitcase.”  Dalkowski is now 70 and is living in his hometown of New Britain, Ct. at the Walnut Hill Care Center.  According to Mandelaros’ article, “Dalk” has suffered with alcohol-induced dementia.    

TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER

The PawSox are sorely in need of leadership.  Not from the coaching staff.  Manager Ron Johnson and coaches Russ Morman and Rich Sauveur more than fill the bill in that department.  What I’m talking about is the type of leadership that comes from within the clubhouse.  A player who is not content to just play out the string.  Someone who will grab a younger teammate by the front of the jersey and not be afraid to tell them to hustle, try harder, or just to smarten up.  The PawSox miss Jeff Bailey.  Not that “Bails” is a rah-rah type, he really isn’t.  But he leads by example and does not tolerate fools well.  Bailey, the reigning MVP in the I.L. is currently on Bostons’ disabled list with a high ankle sprain.  The PawSox are not his responsibility, but I mention Bailey to show what the PawSox seem to be missing.  If you’ve head me on the air over the last 5 years or read this blog this season, you know how I feel about RJ.  There’s not a better man for the job- anywhere.  However, from what I’ve been told, nothing makes more of an impression than a teammate calling you out.  Last season, Joe Thurston was that kind of guy in the clubhouse.  Thurston didn’t care if he ruffled feathers, winning was priority number one.  He may not have been the best player on te team, but he cared, a lot.  The PawSox have turned in a crummy month of July, so far.  They’ve dropped 12 of their last 14 games, all but falling out of any possible postseason conversation.  Monday night, the PawSox hit “rock bottom”.  That was the term used by shortstop Gil Velazquez in the Rochester newspaper after Pawtucket committed 5 errors in their most recent defeat.  RJ closed the door to the visitors’ clubhouse at Frontier Field and read his team the riot act.  It takes a lot to get him upset, but apparently it’s happened.  RJ feels that if he allows mental mistakes, laziness and lack of concentration to be tolerated for one night, the wrong message is sent with the rest of the season in the balance.  He made his point and made it very clear.  If you can’t hit, fine.  If you can’t pitch, ok.  If you can’t catch the ball, so be it.  You better be on time.  You better play hard and you had better be trying.  Younger players like Aaron Bates, Bubba Bell and Mark Wagner are impressionable and will follow an example set by a veteran player, if they don’t take the bull by the horns, themselves.  It is tough enough to make the transition to Triple A without having to be the “team captain” as well.  I’m not pointing fingers at any one specifically, but I’d love to see a roster that has this much talent on it, live up to somewhere close to its’ potential.

 

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Welcome Adam LaRoche to the Red Sox.  The first baseman was traded from the Pirates to Boston for shortstop Argenis Diaz (Portland) and pitcher Hunter Strickland (Greenville).  LaRoche, 29 was hitting .247 with 12 home runs and 47 rbi.  LaRoche is a free agent at the end of the 2009 season.

 

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I love Frontier Field in Rochester.  It is very well-maintained and seemingly well run.  The park features organist Fred Costello.  It just sounds so great to hear Fred work his magic on the organ.  Costello has turned down offers from Major League teams to remain in Rochester.  His son Thurm, is another fixture in the League.  Thurm runs the visitors’ clubhouse at the ballpark.  Freds’ other son, Chris, works in the PR department for the Tampa Bay Rays.  He gave his A.L. Championship ring to his dad.  Freds’ mom is 98 years old and lives in Syracuse.  She used to listen to me back when I did the Syracuse University broadcasts and the Chiefs baseball games.  Fred says she’s up and about all the time, socializing and playing cards with her friends.  “She’s no decrepit old lady, that’s for sure.” says Fred.

THE “BUCH” WON’T STOP HERE

In what has been a disappointing season so far, there has been one bright spot.  One white hot, supernova bright spot.  His name is Clay Buchholz.  Buchholz pitched for Boston the other day, going 5 and 2 thirds innings, giving up a run on 4 hits, striking out 3 and walking 3.  He earned a win for the Red Sox in Toronto.  It was Buchs’ first major league appearance in 2009.  I’m not quite ready to give up on the John Smoltz experiment just yet, but at 1-3, 6.31, I am close.  Brad Penny is 6-4 with an ERA of 5.02 for the year.  If the Red Sox are going to trade a starter, it better not be Buchholz.  Clay has been dominant in the I.L. going 7-2 with a 2.36 ERA.  He’s struck out 89 men in 99 innings.  I sat down with Buchholz and we chatted about his season and career.

 

Buch- great outing for Boston.  How did it feel?

“Oh, it felt good.  I appreciate it too. It felt good to get up there and see the guys again.  It felt like a couple of years, even since Spring Training was over.  It was definitely a good spot for me to be in.  I was pleased I got the invitation to pitch for Boston again.  Hopefully it leads to more.  Bigger and better things.”

When the invitation does come, does it catch you by surprise?

“It was a little bit of a surprise.  It always seems to come after a rough outing.  My last outing (with the PawSox) things didn’t go quite the way I wanted.  I had just left the clubhouse and I wasn’t in the best mood when I got a call from RJ, telling me I should get back because he had to talk to me.  It was weird because I was mad, then very excited.  It was definitely a good thing.  I’d like to be up there for more than just one start.  I’m back here.  With the starting staff they have, it’s a rough road to compete with.  You gotta take what you get and hopefully, you get some more later.”

You used the word “appreciate” before.  In what way?

“They (Boston) gave me a lot of opportunity last year.  You can’t be trying to win a championship and develop your young pitchers at the same time.  You’ve got to be able to go out there and know what you’re doing.  The struggles came and I gave up on myself before they did.  I don’t even think they gave up on me.  They just had to do something different.  I say “appreciate” because they gave me another opportunity to go up there and prove to myself and everybody that I can do it.”

How much “internal pressure” did you apply on the day of your start, and can you tell me about the hours leading up to the game?

“I didn’t think I’d be that nervous in Toronto.  I think I was more nervous before that start than I was at any other point in my pro career.  Even the whole “no-hitter thing”,  I was nervous but at the same time you can’t control any of that.  It was definitely a unique feeling going out there again and after almost a year layoff being on a Major League mound.  I can’t really describe it, but after I threw the first pitch and the first strike, the feeling went away and I went back to pitching like I have been down here all year.”  

You threw 17 of 24 first pitch strikes.  How important was that to your success?

“That was the whole game.  It was something I’ve been working on for the last couple of years.  Throwing strikes without throwing it right over the plate, down the middle.  You’ve got to throw a quality pitch.  It’s one of the harder things to do.  You start thinking about things and outguessing yourself.  I thought- Alright, you’ve got two fastballs, a 2 seamer and a 4 seamer.  I’ll use them as two different pitches, and I did.”

You worked with former Major League pitcher Bob Tewksbury over the winter.  He is the Red Sox sports psychology coach.  Now that you’ve implemented some of the things you learned from him, how do you feel they’ve worked?

“I owe him a lot for taking the time out.  It was a situation where I was embarassed that I didn’t have the mental makeup that I needed to be successful.  Being able to go out there and not get frustrated with every mistake, knowing it’s not the end of the world if I do make one, is big.  We sat down and created a plan for me.  Spring Training through the season and All Star break and through the rest of the season.  Make a plan and stick to it.  It’s worked out well so far.”

Did it feel like you were auditioning for the Blue Jays?  And how do you put aside all the trade rumors?

“I’d be lying to you if I said it didn’t cross my mind.  I didn’t think about it while I was on the mound, but on the flight up there, I thought it made sense.  My agent called me and assured me it wasn’t an audition.  The Halladay trade rumor-  He’s the best pitcher in baseball right now and teams would be stupid if they didn’t try to get him.  It is what it is.  If they trade me, they trade me.  If they don’t, I want to be here for a long time.  If things go well healthwise, I’ll be here a long time and it’s going to be fun.”

What was your comfort level with catcher Jason Varitek?

Great.  We got into a routine last year calling for my best pitch, my changeup.  I told him, Hey let’s throw some fastballs, get ‘em over the plate.  I’ll try to get ahead of the hitters and then go with some offspeed stuff.  That’s what we did and then we switched it up in the middle of the game.  It’s fun having a guy like that behind the plate.  He studies the hitters for hours before the game and after the game.  He knows what he wants to do.  With him, all I have to do is throw the ball where he wants me to, and he’ll do the rest.”

Did you almost feel like you were re-auditioning for the Red Sox?

“It was weird because I know how much things have changed for me.  Pitch efficiency and everything that goes along with it.  I wanted to show them.  I wanted them to see that I am not a fluke.  I want them to know how well I throw the ball.”

Were you pleased with the praise from Mike Lowell, a consumate professional?

“It was awesome.  I can’t imagine how bad it was last year, with the game slowing down to a crawl when I had runners on base.  I was so worried about everything else, instead of just trying to get the hitters out.  I just concentrated on getting the ball to the plate.  If I needed to throw to first base, I did.  It was really different for me this time.”

You had a “big head of lettuce” when you left McCoy.  What’s up with the haircut?

“When they told me I was going up, I got my hair cut, but I wanted to keep it a little long in the back.  They left it too long so I went back the next day and then she cut it too short.  As long as it looked good on TV and I looked presentable, that’s all I can ask for.” 

Buch-  I don’t think Tito (Terry Francona) cares what your hair looks like as long as you keep pitching the way you did against Toronto.

“Thanks, Hydes.  I appreciate it.”

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