July 2009

A STREAK THANKFULLY ENDS

The PawSox snapped an 8 game losing streak on Sunday afternoon in McCoy Stadium.  They edged the lowly Indianapolis Indians, 3-2.  Despite the win for Pawtucket, the last-place Indians took 3 of 4 and very nearly staged a ninth inning comeback that would have completely demoralized the club.  Michael Bowden, T.J. Large, Javier Lopez and Fernando Cabrera combined to no-hit the Indians for 8 and 2 thirds innings, before Cabrera gave up a single to Larry Broadway and a home run to Tagg Bozied.  Cabrera, who has been phernomenal this season, is struggling lately.  At the Triple A All Star game he did earn a save, but only after giving up a home run.  In his first appearaance after the break, he took a loss and then on Sunday, the hits to Indy.  

 

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Marcus McBeth has also had a  great season for Pawtucket out of the pen.  The multi-talented righthander was a high school football and baseball star.  So good, in fact that he played both sports at the University of South Carolina.  In baseball, he was a teammate of another former PawSox reliever, Lee Gronkiewicz.  In football, he played for Lou Holtz.  McBeth reminisced about his old coach on the weekend he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.  “Playing for Coach Holtz was a lot like playing for RJ.  His door was always open and he was a great motivator.”  McBeth recalled a time just before his junior year when Holtz called his house.  McBeth was at a crossroad in his career.  Holtz asked him simply, “Marcus, is it going to be football or baseball?”  Obviously, McBeth made the right choice and opted for baseball.  He thinks Holtz was fond of him because of his cousin, Tony Rice.  Rice was the quarterback who lead the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame to the national championship in 1988.  At that time, Holtz was the head coach in South Bend.  Marcus says that Rice still lives in Indiana and has been successful in the mortgage business.  Holtz was as good to his guys as you might imagine.  “I’d go out of my way when I was on campus to stop by his office to talk.  You never needed an appointment.  He was always there for you.  Even the season we were 0-11 (1999), he had us believing we could beat anyone.”  McBeth looks forward to a return to the Columbia campus.  “I haven’t been back for a while.  I live in Arizona in the offseason and it’s tough, but I love it there.” 

 

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Ben Mondor seems to know when to pull out all the stops.  The PawSox owner hosted a group of the “Little Sisters of the Poor” at McCoy on Sunday.  I didn’t know if it was to bring the team good luck, or because maybe he thought they were a team the struggling PawSox could beat.  My main man, infielder Jeff Natale caught the ceremonial first pitch thrown out by one of the nuns, then posed for a picture with the group.  For some reason, it really cracked me up.  I guess it’s a “good habit” to get into.

 

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Despite his heavy workload, manager Ron Johnson always finds time to volunteer for the youth clinics held once a month during the season.  In the midst of the losing streak, RJ was as jovial as ever, as he entertained and instructed the kids with a big smile on his face.  He maintains that those clinics are his favorite thing to do.  “We spend a lot of time with adults. This is great!  The kids are so grateful..maybe it’s their first game…you never know.  While he is always willing to help someone elses’ kid, he is extremely proud of his own.  Son, Chris, is a third baseman in his first season at Triple A with the Houston Astros affiliate in Round Rock, Texas.  “We keep in touch, we text regularly.  When he’s going good, I hear from him all the time.”  When asked if he takes advantage of his friends throughout the game to “keep tabs” on Chris, RJ is honest.  “Heck yeah!  I have lots of relationships and friends throughout baseball.  I beg them to be truthful.  I tell ‘em I can take the truth”.  RJ concedes that the reports are usually good, and that pleases him. “With Chris, I’m a father and fan first, a baseball guy, second.”  Johnson admits that he looks forward to the day when Chris makes the majors, a feat RJ accomplished with Kansas City and Montreal.  He also tries to be somewhat objective.  “If he were with the Red Sox organization I think we’d want him to spend the whole season at Triple A.”   

READ THE GOOD BOOK

I’m definitely not a bible-thumper, but I do encourage you to read the good book.  “Born to Play” My Life in the Game.  It’s a biography of the reigning American League MVP, Dustin Pedroia.  Pedroia gets the credit, but it’s told to Ted Delaney.  It recounts the life and times of the Red Sox star, his trials and tribulations and his successes as well.  Delaney was struck by the young man and his “bravado”.  Where does the real Pedroia end and the loud Pedroia begin.  We speculate that Pedey has had to compensate for his size since he was a “little guy” (No pun intended).  When he isn’t proving it on the field, he proves it with his mouth.  There is little doubt that Pedroia has endeared himself to Red Sox Nation, but now you can figure out how and why. The book is available at all good bookstores and is published by Simon and Schuster.  Look for a certain PawSox broadcaster prominently featured in one chapter. 

 

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Aaron Bates is back with the PawSox after making his M.L. debut with Boston.  As you’d expect, Bates was thrilled with the experience.  “I had a great time.  We were 5-2, I think while I was there.”  When asked about the best part, or the best thing he saw-  “Baseball is baseball no matter where you play, but the police escort the Red Sox got coming from the airport was impressive.”  Bates was asked if he was rooting extra hard for Boston now that he has played for them and they always give anyone who’s played for them, even briefly, a World Series Ring.  “Man, I hadn’t thought about that, but yeah, definitely”.  Ron Johnson was pleased with Bates- “He was given a great opportunity and I think he comes back with a nice sense of confidence.  There’s a unique feeling when you become a Major Leaguer.  That will prove to be very valuable for Aaron.”  RJ continued “He’s seen firsthand and had success.  He’ll use that to get much better.”

 

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On Friday night, catcher Mark Wagner threw out successive attempted base-stealers in the third inning.  He gunned down Brian Bixler and Lastings Milledge.  Wagner, known for his strong and accurate arm says that is a fun facet of his game.  “I love throwing a guy out as much as getting a hit.”  “Wags” had gunned down 62% of would-be thieves in Portland this season.

 

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Overheard Friday night in the Indianapolis dugout as burly catcher Carlos Maldonado lumbered up to the plate to pinch hit for the PawSox.  “Watch out for the bunt.”  His former Indy teammates realized the likeliehood of Maldo bunting was about as good as RJ ordering a salad.  When I told Maldonado about the jab- he roared with laughter.  Carlos did get the last laugh.  He had a base hit and an rbi.

 

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Tough night for second baseman Travis Denker.  Despite hitting a home run, he’d just as soon forget Friday.  An errant throw from catcher Mark Wagner bounced funny and caught Denker in the throat.  He stayed in the game, but eventually needed  to go to the emergency room.  He’s OK, but still experiencing soreness in his throat.  On top of that, the air conditioning in his apartment wasn’t working.  Bad night despite the homer.  

 

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Dusty Brown made a brief appearance at McCoy on Saturday.  The brand new father took batting practice and worked out before leaving to be with wife Jordan and son Jude.  Although he wasn’t required to be here, RJ felt it showed tremendous commitment.  “Brownie got his work in and he is in good position to help up in Boston should there be a need.”  RJ said he knew that Brown was coming in for a while on Saturday.  He has Sunday off with the Red Sox’ blessings and is scheduled to travel with the PawSox on Monday as the team heads for Rochester. 

HEY JUDE!!

It’s nice to get some good news every once in a while and we got the best possible news on Friday afternoon.  PawSox catcher Dusty Brown and his wife Jordan welcomed their son to the world.  Jude Brown arrived on July 17 to rave reviews.  Named Jude, because his folks are Beatles fans, the little guy is the first child for the happy couple.  Jude arrived at a solid 8 pounds, 13 ounces and 20 inches long.  In a recent interview, Brown joked that he expected his son to be “really smart” and “a great athlete.”  Brown left Thursdays’ game to take Jordan to the hospital in Boston.  We speculated on the air as to whether Brown showered and changed or drove to the hospital in his dirty uniform and catchers’ gear.  It reminded me of the birth of my second daughter, Carly.  She was born on March 22, 1996.  At the time, I was a broadcaster for the Syracuse University basketball team.  The Orange was playing in the NCAA Sweet 16 against Georgia, out in Denver.  Of course, I didn’t make the trip, but since Carly was born about 3:30 p.m.,  by 8:00 p.m. I was ready to watch the game.  I figured I could watch it at the hospital.  The Orangemen were trailing by 9 with just 3 minutes to go.  Amazingly, they tied it and went to overtime.  When the game was tied, I gues I was a little exuberant, apparently disturbing those poor mothers busy giving birth.  The nurse came into the room and asked me to please quiet down.  I did, until the Orange won the game.  The victory, coupled with my daughters’ birth was just a little too much for me.  I whooped it up pretty good, at which point the nurse came in and basically threw me out.  “Sir, you’ll be leaving NOW!!”  Well, you don’t have to draw me a picture!  I sheepishly left the hospital.  I’m not as excited about S.U. Basketball these days, but I am still Carly’s biggest fan.    

 

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Baseball players willl bust your chops for ANY reason.  Do something good, bad, harmless- you name it.  They prey upon the smallest detail and rip away.  Indianapolis catcher Eric Kratz was named the MVP at the Triple A All Star Game in Oregon.  Kratz didn’t make it to McCoy in time for the series opener on Thursday.  When he arrived in the visitors clubhouse, he had to laugh.  Resembling a crime scene, white tape designated a path from the door to his locker.  Written in that same tape- “Sir Kratz, MVP” . Not quite “red carpet” treatment, but a nice thought, nonetheless.

 

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MIke Stanton was at McCoy on Thursday night.  Mike is a writer for the Providence Journal and the author of one of my favorite books “The Prince of Providence”.  It’s an extremely fascinating look into the life and times of former Providence mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci.  Mike is excited that he has recently signed a movie deal.  According to Stanton, Oliver Platt will star as Cianci.  Also lined up are Robin WIlliams and Clive Owen.  Rhode Island native Michael Corrente has signed on to direct.  Much of it is slated to be shot here in R.I.

BACK FROM THE BREAK

Had a great three days off.  Took my daughters Eva and Carly to Cooperstown to see the Hall of Fame and to Syracuse for chicken wings at the famed Change of Pace.  They are truly chips off the old block.

 

Catching up on some random thoughts from the last few days.  Is it just me, or did President Obama look very UN-presidential in his jeans and White Sox jacket throwing out the first pitch at the All Star Game on Tuesday?  I’m not sure what disappointed me more- the pants or the jacket.  I’m not a big fan of the tie and jacket- I avoid it whenever I can.  Then again, I’m not the leader of the free world.  Other countries have to be laughing at us.  This has nothing to do with his politics, believe me.  Look the part.  Act as if you’ve been there before.

 

Carl Crawford’s catch of Brad Hawpe’s fly ball at the game in St. Louis saved Jonathan Papelbons’ bacon.  More importantly, it helped earn the American League the home field advantage in the World Series.  Hopefully, the Red Sox will be able to take advantage of it.

 

Just as we adjourned for the All Star break, we learned that Clay Buchholz (7-2, 2.36) would get his first Major League start of 2009 on Friday in Toronto.  The Red Sox would have you believe it’s just a coincidence, but the conspiracy theorist in me says it might be an audition for the Jays as the Red Sox try to get involved in the Roy Halladay sweepstakes.  Imagine a vintage Buchholz outing to get Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi drooling over the 24 year old Texan.  Manager Ron Johnson quickly nixed my idea. “Buch’s just getting a start.  I’m real happy he’s getting it.  As far as trade talk goes, I don’t get involved with that.”  RJ added that Clay knows it may be just a one-shot deal for now.  “He knows, because I told him.  It may be just one start.”  Johnson admitted that he would take several peeks at the TV in his office between innings on Friday to see how Buchholz fares in Canada. “No doubt, I always check. Those guys are our guys.” 

 

Rumors before Thursdays’ game had Indy starter Ian Snell being dealt to the Dodgers.  There was some question as to whether he’d pitch against Pawtucket.  As he wandered into the visitors’ clubhouse to get ready, he was pounced on by inquiring media members.  Snell had no idea about how the rumors started and insisted he hadn’t heard from his agent or anyone else regarding a trade. 

 

When asked if he had seen his pitchers Jose Vaquedano and Fernando Cabrera play in the Triple A All Star game in Portland, Oregon, RJ admitted that the only sports he had seen over the break were the softball games his daughters played in. “Cheyenne went 3-4 and Bridget had 2 hits.  It was awesome.  All of Morrison, Tennesee turns out at the field to watch these games.”  Johnson added that it really is a slice of Americana. “We live in a very small town.  Very homey.  It’s great.”

 

When asked about his teams’ struggling offense (.230 as a team- last in the I.L.) and if the break would help, RJ was brutally honest.  “We’ll see.  I don’t want to be negative, but our offense is what it is.”     

A MUCH NEEDED BREAK

The All Star break comes just at the right time for the PawSox.  I used to think that making the All Star team was the right way to spend the break, but now I’m not so sure.  I guess as I get older, I appreciate the time off.  It’s a chance for the players to recharge their physical, mental and emotional batteries and gird themselves for the “dog days” of summer.  This has been a strange first “half” of the season.  The bullpen has been primarily responsible for whatever success the PawSox have enjoyed.  Fernando Cabrera and Jose Vaquedano have been rewarded for their effort with berths on the International League All Star team.  Clay Buchholz was also named to the team, but his turn in the Pawtucket rotation came around on Sunday, precluding him from participating in Portland, Oregon.  Manager Ron Johnson heads a list of willing and ready “R & R” guys as the break arrives.  On Sunday he talked about some of the seasons’ highlights, so far. “As much as you hate to see rehabs, you get excited because it means the guys are almost ready to help Boston again.  We’ve had some gems.  It’s been a fun first half.  We’ve had some offensive struggles, we all know that.  We have had some very positive things done with some pitchers and some guys that have been moved up from Portland.”  RJ singled out Daniel Bard, who was promoted to the Red Sox in early May, after dominating in the I.L.  and is now a vital cog in the Boston bullpen.  Johnson joked that he was Bards’ personal coach and every time the righthander touches his cap, it’s a secret signal to RJ.   Johnson was pleased and proud of his trio of All Stars- “It was a well-deserved honor for those guys.  I think “Buch” was even going to be the starter, but his spot in the rotation came up.  Cabby (Cabrera) was excited, but Vaquedano was really the most thrilled.  It really stands out for me because it’s his first All Star team.  He’s burst on the scene.  He’s always been an organizational guy, but this year he’s made great strides.  When I told him he was on the team, I also told him that it excited me a whole bunch because last year I didn’t even want to bring him into the game.  Now he’s at the point where he is as reliable or more reliable than anyone out there in the bullpen.  You can use him in any situation, rightys or leftys, to get a double play, back to back days…he has become the foundation for our bullpen.  He doesn’t have the saves or the big numbers or 100 mile per hour stuff, but he is as good as it gets out there.”  The topic of Buchholz came up and not only did RJ praise his mound work, but also took note of his off-field persona.  “He’s maturing.  It’s not only about wins and losses, strikeouts and ERA.  The bottom line is the maturity is coming in and he’s starting to figure some things out.  You can see it every time he takes the mound.  You don’t see him getting too ramped up.  If he continues to keep his composure, he’ll end up where he wants to be.”  Johnson is a big proponent of the “healing effect” that a 3 day break brings- “Oh, it’s huge.  Most of these guys have been at it since January or at the very least, February.  I think when you get to this time of the year, it’s a well-timed situation.  You battle through these days.  You don’t have a lot of days off in the minors.  It’s a rejuvenation period.  We’ll come back and try to finish the season strong.”  Johnson will spend the break at his home, outside of Nashville.  When asked about who he was most excited to see, there was a long pause.  “I better say my wife, but man, I’m really excited to see my man, “Peanut”.  “Peanut” is RJ’s favorite horse.  He’s certain to get a good workout.  “He’s gonna be paying the fiddler.  We’re gonna get busy!!” 

While RJ was ready to play “cowboy”, the rest of the guys were also looking forward to some time off.  Strength and conditioning coach Mike Jones was heading to Martha’s Vineyard to relax with his family.  Catcher Carlos Maldonado was going to the Six Flags amusement park in western Massachusetts.  Maldo was going with his “kids”- teammates Gil Velazquez, Angel Chavez and Ivan Ochoa.  Carlos quickly added that he was looking forward to his wifes’ arrival on Tuesday.  Pitcher Marcus McBeth will be hitting hot spots like “Chuck E. Cheese”.  “My family has the whole break planned out for me.”  Red Sox field coordiantor Rob Leary is heading to the Dominican Republic, not for vacation, but to check out Bostons’ Dominican League team.  “I always look forward to going.” said Leary “But I really look forward to getting home.”  Former PawSox second baseman and reigning A.L. MVP Dustin Pedroia has withdrawn from the M.L. All Star game to be with his wife Kelli.  The Pedroias are expecting their first child and Kelli was recently released from the hospital after going through a “false labor”.  Kelli is said to be doing well.  Personally, I’m heading to Cooperstown to tour the Hall of Fame with my two favorite Red Sox fans, my daughters Eva and Carly.

 

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Great piece on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Sunday.  Reporter John Berman threw out the first pitch at McCoy this week and was highlighting the “art” of the ceremonial first pitch.  Featured prominently in the report were Pawtucket catcher Mark Wagner and mascot “Paws”.  President Obama is scheduled to do the honors at the M.L. All Star game in St. Louis.   President Taft was the first chief executive to do so.  President George W. Bush was credited with throwing a perfect strike at Yankee Stadium immediately after the 9/11 tragedy in 2001.  Not everyone enjoys success when given the chance.   Some notable flops- Mariah Carey, Carl Lewis, Cincinnati mayor Mark Mallory and Howard Stern show producer Gary “Baba Booey” Dell’abate.  You can see the “GMA” video on pawsox.com

 

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This blog will return on Thursday, after the All Star break.  Take care.  SH

 

 

THE EX-FACTOR BITES THE PAWSOX TWICE

It was a brief two game series against Buffalo, but man, was it discouraging.  The last place Bisons swept the PawSox 3-1 and 1-0 at McCoy on Thursday and Friday.  Prior to Thursdays’ loss, manager Ron Johnson warned the media about the “Ex-Player Syndrome.”  In his mind, former players of his come back to McCoy and wreak havoc against his current club.  RJ cited the case of Dustan Mohr, a pretty useless outfielder when with the PawSox, who seemingly hit a home run for Toledo every time he came up against Pawucket.  Thursday, Chip Ambres who was traded by the Red Sox to the Mets on June 10 and assigned to Buffalo hit a two run homer and a solo shot to account for all the Buffalo runs.  “I love Chip.” said Johnson who managed the outfielder in 2005 and again this year.  “But save that stuff for when you get outta here.  Everybody in our clubhouse loves him, but Geez.”  RJ said his former teammates began to razz Chip during his first at bat at McCoy.  Johnson, a superstitious baseball guy, quickly had them stop.  “I’m always paranoid when we go against our former guys.  You have to watch out for the “baseball gods”.  Don’t get ‘em mad.”  In game two of the series the PawSox held Ambres in check, but couldn’t manage any offense.  Tobi Stoner gave up one hit over 7 shutout innings of work.  Former Pawtucket righty Kyle Snyder came on to get the final 6 outs and preserve the win.  Snyder, the owner of a 2007 Red Sox World Series ring and I visited before the game Friday.  He knew how happy Ambres was with his success against the Sox.  “What a night he had.  He carried us all the way.  We’ve talked quite a bit since his trade over here and he told me how much he enjoyed his time with the Red Sox and PawSox organization, as well.”  Snyder said as time passes, he relishes his role with Boston and the ring he earned.  “As time goes by, I appreciate it even more.  What it means to me personally, to have been a part of that team, that organization.  How well they treated me!  I knew it was going to take some time for it to sink in, it really hadn’t.  As each day goes by and I’m further removed from my time with this team, it’s left its’ mark on my life.  There’s no question about it.”  Snyder is a former number one pick of the Royals who has been dogged by major injuries throughout his career.  Kyle says he doesn’t ever stop to feel sorry for himself.  “I try not to focus on those things.  For me, there’s been a lot of fulfillment having dealt with the adversity I have on the field.  To persevere and come back and enjoy the game I love, is really something I take to heart.  Coming back from four arm surgeries…a lot of guys might not have come back from one.  I try not to focus on the past.  I focus on what’s going on now and what the future’s going to look like.”  Snyder has maintained friendships with players from both his former teams, the Red Sox and Kansas City, but he is especially proud of his alma mater, the University of North Carolina and the job Mike Fox has done as head coach.  “Mike Fox has done a tremendous job with that program.  He took over in 1999, my junior year and what they’ve accomplished over the last ten years is really a tribute to him.  He just continues to produce big league talent year in and year out.”  One young man stands out in his mind, former PawSox and current Boston reliever, Daniel Bard.  “He’s exceptional.  I’m happy for him to see the success he’s having this year with the Red Sox.”  Snyder, a proud “Tar Heel” through and through, was excited about a fellow UNC alum who is moving to Boston.  “Rasheed Wallace will be great.  He’s persevered through quite a bit himself.  He’ll help the Celtics in all facets.  I think leadership as much as anything else.  He’s been on winners in the past.  He’ll help on the defensive end, the offensive end…he’s going to bring a lot of experience to that club.  I think he’s going to help a tremendous amount.”  Snyder, Tobi Stoner, Nelson Figueroa and the rest of the Buffalo staff looked like anything but a last place team beating Pawtucket twice.  The PawSox haven’t scored a single run in 17 innings and just one run in their last 31 frames.  Before sending 6 men to the plate in the ninth on Friday,  the PawSox had been retired in order 11 times in 17 innings.  They hadn’t had an inning with more than 4 hitters for two nights.  Maybe RJ has something with this “Ex-Player Syndrome.”

 

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Pitchers are always looking to add something to their repertoire.  Michael Bowden is no exception.  It’s not another pitch, however.  Inspired by fellow hurler Marcus McBeth, “Bo” wants to learn the piano.  He’s purchased a Casio keyboard and has enlisted McBeth to teach him.  Bowden is a big admirer of his “professor”.  “I was completely mesmerized by his playing.  I’ve always wanted to learn and Marcus seems to be a willing teacher.”  McBeth, who’s been playing since the age of 4, says the 22 year old Bowden should pick it up easily.  “All you need is the willingness to learn and he certainly seems to have that.” 

 

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A true legend was present at McCoy on Friday.  NHL Hall of Famer, Milt Schmidt of the Boston Bruins threw out the first pitch prior to the game.  Schmidt, who also laced them up for the Providence Reds enjoyed the game from Ben Mondors’ box.   

A LOOK THROUGH THE BLOODSHOT EYES OF RJ

One question that has been asked constantly over the last few months is “When is Clay Buchholz going to join Boston?”  Consider the numbers and it is definitely a legitimate question. 16 appearances, a 7-1 record, a 2.11 ERA (best in the International League), 86 strikeouts in 93.2 innings of work (5th most in the I.L.).  Buchholz has been sensational.  Named to the I.L. All Star team, Buchholz won’t make the trip to Oregon since he is scheduled to pitch the final game of the”first half” for Pawtucket. Clay’s been replaced on the I.L. roster by Dale Thayer of the Durham Bulls.  Manager Ron Johnson is very methodical, calm and unemotional when he speaks of Clay Buchholz.  Although he is a big fan of the 24 year old, he is quick to put things into perspective- looking at things through the eyes of the Red Sox organization.  “When it comes to “Buch” and “Bo” (Michael Bowden) I try to help them envision the future, not today.  I tell them that in a season or two, I want to be watching NESN and see them leaning against the dugout railing with their pullover on, watching the game, Beckett on one side and Lester on the other.  I want to hear the broadcaster talk about how that trio is the present and future of the Boston rotation.”  RJ says there’s a history of guys who’ve been promoted and demoted before finally “making it”.  All Star Zack Greinke of the Kansas City Royals was first and foremost in his mind.  “Greinke was up and down and had the anxiety attacks, but look at him now!”  RJ has to be the voice of reason when dealing with athletes who might not be as objective, after all, it’s their career and future we’re talking about.  “I’ve got to look at the big picture, the long term situation.”  Not only is he helping them become better players, but he tries to help all his young charges become more “self aware”.  “We want the young men to become better “self-evaluators”.  After a start, we watch the videotape and I’m honest with them.  I want them to be honest with me and more importantly, with themselves.” 

 

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Don’t get the wrong idea with the headline over todays’ column.  There is a very legitimate reason RJ’s eyes were bloodshot on Thursday.  The PawSox entourage rolled into the McCoy Stadium parking lot at about 5:30 a.m. The caravan encountered incredible traffic in the New York City area on the way home from Lehigh Valley.  At one point I woke up on the bus at around 2:30, expecting to be rolling through Connecticut into Rhode Island.  Incredibly, I saw a sign for the George Washington Bridge.  Construction held us up for a couple of hours.  Lots of cranky people on those buses.  Just another reminder why you want to go to the Majors.  Former Pawtucket pitching coach Mike Griffin used to say- “Gentlemen, when you’re in the “pros” you don’t sit in traffic, you fly over it.”  RJ and most of the gang caught up on their rest before starting the series with Buffalo.  Johnson said he received a text message around 10:30 a.m. from his boss, Mike Hazen director of player development for the Red Sox. “Are you up yet?”  After getting no response, Hazen texted back and knowingly followed up- “No, you’re not.  Call me when you get up.”  After a 12-0 loss and an endless bus ride, it had been a long night.   

ODDS AND ENDS AGAIN

Bubba Bell appreciates a good heckler.  He better, because a group of Lehigh Valley fans in the right field seats made his life miserable for 9 innings on Tuesday night.  The PawSox won the game 6-2, but the 26 year old Bell had to endure taunts and jabs throughout the entire game.  Aside from the obligatory chants of “Bubba sucks” and the catcalls of “Bubba Gump”, Bell said he was also showered with insults about his batting average (.127), his injury history and just aboiut everything else you could imagine.  “I don’t really mind it if it’s creative, but when it gets mean…”  Bell added that even though he was the target, he gave the hecklers their due.  “Man, these people did their homework.  They knew where I was from, everything about me, you name it.”  He drew the loudest jeers during the game when a balloon came onto the field.  Bell stepped on it to pop it.  After that, he had to listen to the chant of “Bubba hates kids” for a couple of innings.  After the end of the game, he politely turned towards the gang of fans and symbolically applauded their effort.  They, in turn applauded Bell as he left the field.  Nonetheless, Bubba was pleased that he would be somewhat insulated on Wednesday night, playing in centerfield.

 

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Sometimes when you work for the PawSox, you take for granted that everyone knows how things “should be done.”  I’ve witnessed so many classy promotions at McCoy over the years that I am still a little taken aback when I see something like I saw on Tuesday.  To celebrate the 1 millionth fan in Coca Cola Park history, the Iron Pigs gave away a pretty lame prize package.  A pair of 2010 season tickets was a nice start, but it went down hill from there.  Also included in the swag- a “1 millionth fan” jersey, 1 million sips of Coca Cola, 1 million bites of pretzels, 1 million kernels of pop corn, 1 million potato chips and 1 million swings at a local driving range.  PATHETIC!!!  As I recall, the last time the PawSox celebrated a similar milestone, they gave the lucky fan a NEW CAR.  My advice to the management at Lehigh Valley, stop by McCoy for a visit and bring a notebook.

 

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News on a couple of former PawSox pitchers.  Lefty Michael Tejera has signed a free agent deal with Cleveland.  You may recall I wrote about Tejera recently in my blog about Cuban defector, Aroldis Chapman (Hotfooting it out of Havana).  Bartolo Colon, the 2005 American League Cy Young winner has vanished.  Colon was scheduled to make a rehab start for Charlotte, but to this point hadn’t shown up at the ballpark.  No one in the organization, including White Sox general manager Ken WIlliams knew of Big Bart’s whereabouts.

 

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We predicted it would happen, and it has.  After the PawSox’ debacle in Scranton due to unplayable field conditions, the Yankees will play their next two home games at Lehigh Valley on Thursday and Friday.  Scranton season ticket holders and fans cannot be happy.

 

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Infielder Jeff Natale is wearing a sleeve on his right arm after he was hit by a pitch on Tuesday night.  The sleeve is supposed to help reduce swelling.  Natale took a shot to the elbow as he tried to brace himself for the pitch he thought was going to hit him in the spine.  The host of “At Bat With Nat” said he experienced numbness in his ring finger and pinkie, but that has subsided.

THE TALE OF “WAGS”

Mark Wagner is one of the newest members of the Pawtucket Red Sox.  The 25 year old catcher was promoted from Portland on June 28.  At that time, Wagner was hitting .301 with 3 homers and 23 rbi.  Perhaps his most impressive number is 62.  Wagner had gunned down 62% of attempted base stealers (18-29). An extremely gregarious guy Wagner grew up in California, but insists he wasn’t a fan of any team or any particular player.  He just loves the game.  “I was a guy who’d rather play baseball than watch it.  I played a bunch of sports growing up.  If there was a good game on, I’d watch it, not if it was a blowout.  If it is a fun or competitive game in any sport, those are the ones I love to watch.”  Wagner says that he never planned to be a catcher, it more or less chose him-  “It was one of those things where no one else wanted to do it and it kind of fell into my lap.”  Wagner is glad about his career choice now.  With George Kottaras in the Majors and Dusty Brown knocking on the door, Wagner is ready to prove to Boston that he could be the heir apparent to Jason Varitek.  “I just work hard every day and try to improve in every aspect of the game.  I compete every day, stay strong and healthy and I really want to help the team win.”  As I mentioned, Wagner is an outstanding defensive catcher and takes pride in his gaudy defensive statistics.  “You can’t be a catcher if you can’t play defense.  It’s what we work on, day in and day out.  It worked for me in Portland, I’ll continue to work really hard here and maybe I’ll get the chance to show what I can do at the Big League level.”  Wagner realizes that he is very fortunate to be able to handle such a talented stable of young pitchers- “It’s been a blast.”  Wagner goes way back with some of his battery mates.  “I remember walking into the clubhouse in Lowell and Clay Buchholz and I hit it off right away.  We met up again on down the line and with him and guys like (Michael) Bowden, it’s just a real pleasure.  They are just a couple of the special young arms in the baseball world.”  Despite his experience, Wags got a little wide-eyed when he got to Spring Training and caught some of the “Big Boys” in Fort Myers.  “In the beginning, it happened really early for me, it was a little bit nerve-wracking.  These are the guys- some of the best in the game.  I’ve caught (Josh) Beckett and Dice (Daisuke Matsuzaka) so now it’s just a matter of getting more comfortable and knowing them so if I ever do get a call-up, I’ll be ready.”  Wagner actually made his debut at McCoy Stadium this winter at the annual “hot stove” gathering.  He turned a few heads and made a few people laugh (especially RJ) when he spoke about himself in the third person. “Wags is not afraid to talk in the third person.  Him and RJ get along pretty well.  It’s a game within a game and you have to come to the park and have fun every day  It’s a joke.  I like to lighten up the mood.  Every day at the park is a brand new day.”  Seems to me Mark Wagners’ day is coming soon to a ballpark near you.

 

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From the “hard to believe” department.  After getting postponed two straight days because of wet grounds and unplayable field conditions in Scranton, the grounds crew actually was watering the field after the Yankees doubleheader sweep on Monday night.  BRILLIANT!!!

AARON BATES MOVIN’ ON UP

You never know what’s going to happen in baseball.  Jeff Bailey, called up to Boston on June 30 to replace Mike Lowell, has been placed on the 15 day disabled list, himself, opening a space for Aaron Bates.  Bates, has struggled since his promotion from AA Portland.  Bates was hitless in his last 29 at bats for Pawtucket and just 6 for his last 60.  He is a right handed hitter with power.  At the time he was promoted to the PawSox, Bates was tearing up the Eastern League, hitting a robust .340 with 70 hits and 41 runs.  Bates had 7 HR and 39 rbi.  Bates is in the Red Sox starting lineup on Monday, playing first base and batting ninth.  He has played terrific defense, despite his offensive woes.  The former North Carolina State star makes his offseason home in Los Gatos, California.  Ironically enough, the Red Sox are playing the A’s at Fenway.  Oakland is about 45 miles from Los Gatos.  Bailey suffered a high ankle sprain and has been placed on the 15 day DL.  High ankle sprains can be difficult to come back from quickly and are said to be painful.  With Lowell, and now Bailey out, it seems all the more important for Jed Lowrie to get back ASAP.  Given the lousy field conditions in Moosic (see yesterdays blog)  The Red Sox have sent Lowrie to AA Portland to continue his rehab. (Lowrie had 3 hits in his Sea Dogs debut on Monday)  The Yankees did the same with catcher Jose Molina, shipping him to AA Trenton.  Bates’ promotion should mean increased playing time for Jeff Natale.

 

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Ivan Ochoa has rejoined the PawSox.  The talented infielder has been activated from the DL  where he has been since May 1 with a hamstring strain.  Ochoa is in the starting lineup for game 2 of the twin bill.  The former PCL All Star and San Francisco Giant has been in Fort Myers rehabbing the hammy.  Ochoa says he is back to 100%.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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