Manager Ron Johnson is held in high regard in the Boston Red Sox organization. Not only is he entrusted with the teams young stars of the future, but he will get a front row seat for the Red Sox playoff push again. Terry Francona has announced that RJ will earn a September “callup” regardless of whether any of his players do or not. Tito has made it an annual “rite of fall” promoting RJ as a reward for his hard work during the year. Johnson will be the only minor league staffer to get the “call.” Theoretically, it’s another set of eyes and ears to help outsmart the Yankees, Rays, etc. Allthough he is reluctant to talk about it, it pleases RJ that he has earned the respect of Francona and Theo Epstein. “It’s such an honor. It really is. The biggest thing, is Tito asking me to go. I know that the Red Sox could succeed and go on without me. They’d do well with or without me. I’m glad the people up there like me enough. It’s exciting for me. It really is cool.” RJ says he has absolutely no problem going from being the “chief” to one of the “indians.” “I’m always made to feel like I’m part of the staff, an extension of the Major League staff.” He may be asked for advice or other information, but more than likely, RJ will help out before games. “Oh heck, I’ll throw batting practice, hit ground balls, whatever’s needed.” While it’s obvious that Tito respects Johnson, believe me, it’s more than mutual. “Tito is so good at what he does. He is so aware of everything surrounding him, from the biggest superstar, to the littlest guy. He has time for everything and he really gets it.” RJ says his experience on the Boston bench the last few Septembers has been invaluable and could be a big help if he ultimately reaches his goal of managing in the big leagues, himself. “I know the situation and I learn a lot from Tito. It’s valuable to my development if I ever get to the Major Leagues, I’ll look back on these experiences.” RJ is very proud of the players he has helped to develop and is especially proud of the two pieces of jewelry he acquired in 2004 and 2007. Holding both hands in the air, as if praising the Lord, RJ added a final thought- “Thanks to the Red Sox I have two extremely, extremely large, large, rings that I love to wear,”
Not that I needed another reason to hate the Yankees, but I have another one. They blocked the Red Sox deal with the Mets, claiming Chris Carter from the waiver wire. The move costs in several ways. Carter, who would have probably played all month for the Mets, loses a valuable shot at Major League action. Monetarily, it cost Carter roughly, $65,000 in salary and another few thousand in meal money. It also costs the Red Sox a 40 man roster spot. Their flexibility is compromised. By my count, it’s the 7 millionth reason I hate them
I’m not talking about the PawSox and their series with the first place Yankees (although it may fit), I am talking about our hotel in Scranton. I have written before about the Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel, and the rumors that swirl around the converted train station. Every team that I have been with in the I.L. has always had some comment or story about the hotel being haunted or inhabited by ghosts. I started to wonder where the rumors came from. My answer came from Paul Brower, or “Red” as he’s known. Red is the visiting clubhouse manager at PNC Field in Moosic, Pennsylvania. A guy that has become a fixture in the league, a guy you always look forward to seeing. Red was well-versed in the birth of the rumors and was more than willing to share the stories. Apparently, the hotel, or train station back in the old days was used as a morgue for slain soldiers, killed during World War I. Their bodies were kept there until funeral arrrangements could be made, or families could scrape up funds for a proper burial. “The rumors really started back in 1995 when we hosted the I.L. All Star Game.” They’ve picked up steam ever since. According to Brower, former Scranton manager Marc Bombard really helped perpetuate the myths. “Yeah, Bomby was into it.” Recently, Lehigh Valley slugger Terry Tiffee felt the wrath of the haunted hotel. “Tiffee was staying in room 420 and heard a knock at the door.” Reportedly, he answered the door and an African American gentleman in a tuxedo, claiming to be a bellman asked if everything was OK. Tiffee thought it was a strange visit, so he called the front desk to ask about his visitor. The girl at the desk told Tiffee that the hotel employed no such person. “Tiffee was sufficiently spooked to pack his bags and move across the street to the Hilton, paying the $200 per night tab himself.” Teammate Cedric Bowers decided to do some investigating, and supposedly found a “hallway” somewhere in the hotel that he was told didn’t really exist. The curious Bowers was eventually shown the area that was once the morgue. I told you earlier of the story of Dustin Pedroia claiming to see the ghost of a young boy in a top hat and a Giants jersey in his room. Real or imagined, the hotel in Scranton has people looking over their shoulder. Even if you use the “dead bolt” you’re probably not safe. Red, who works fulltime for the Postal Service says the scares in Scarnton are not confined to just the hotel. “Supposedly, this ballpark is built on top of an ancient Indian burial ground.” Brower adds that former General Manager, Rick Muntean bought into the whole deal. “Once when Rick was at the Winter meetings in New Orleans, he bought a voodoo doll from a little shop in the city. When we’d make the playoffs, we’d bury it under home plate.” Former Philly third baseman, Scott Rolen was playing with Scranton at the time and he is said to have the doll. Rolen currently plays for the Reds. Whether the hotel is haunted or not, if the park is disturbing the eternal resting place of some native Ameriicans, or if voodoo really works, who knows? Red says he will definitely retire some day from the post office, but will never give up his other gig as the visiting “clubbie” or the resident Edgar Allen Poe.
Hall of Famer Yogi Berra once said- “Baseball is 90% mental- the other half is physical.” I think we get the drift. A season that begins in February with Spring Training and can last until late October is a grind, both physically and mentally. The Red Sox, like many teams have addressed the situation by hiring a sports psychology coach. In this case, it’s former Major League pitcher, Bob Tewksbury. “Tewks” has a very good way about him. He won’t prod into a players’ personal business, but if the player needs help, Bob is ready to lend a hand and an ear. Tewksbury was at McCoy on Wednesday as the PawSox were winding up their longest homestand of the season. “It’s my last trip in, I hadn’t been here in a while. It’s a chance to see some of the guys. We have a lot of guys, our guys, our guys being Richardson, Large, Bates, Wagner, Reddick…guys that I have history with. Every year at Triple A, we’re getting more and more of our drafted players here. Five years ago, when I first started, we might’ve had one or two of our guys in Pawtucket. It’s good to catch up with these guys, see the staff and watch a little PawSox baseball.” I likened a visit from Tewksbury to my favorite TV show of all time- M*A*S*H*. There was a recurring character, a psychiatrist, Dr. Sidney Freedman, played by Alan Arbus, who would make occasional trips to the 4077th to “take the pulse” of the unit. Tewksbury has a similar job. He said his visit had nothing to do , however, with the recent swoon that has left the PawSox out of playoff contention. “No, I’m here generally. I focus more on individuals more than a team, but I’ll talk with RJ or Russ (Morman) to see if there is anyone I should be talking to. A lot of times it’s just the daily struggles of being a professional baseball player. Dealing with the successes and failures and stuff the staff can talk to them about. It seems like one of those years they haven’t had a big bat in the lineup and run production is down from what I remember from Pawtucket teams. Pitching was good early, and you need those things, pitching, hitting, defense. When a couple of them are missing, it can make for a long stretch and I think that’s probably what happened.” With an influx of young players making their first trip through Triple A, there can be growing pains. Many of the young men face adversity on the diamond for the first time in their career. “At every level, the guys become “professionalized” Everyone here, young or old, free agents or guys with big league time has gone through periods of time, in A ball, Double A or even rookie ball where they struggle. They eventually work their way through that. When you get to a new level, you’re not quite sure you really belong until you’ve had some success, then you go “OK now I belong here”- I did that as a player. I think every player goes through that. You go through that at the big league level. That’s why it takes some players so long to stick at the Major League level. It’s been such a dream, such a goal, a focus for so long. You get there and you think “Oh my God, can I really pitch here,” because it’s larger than life. That’s what happens. A lot of guys have performances that go up and down, because they don’t really know if they belong. That happens at this level too, so some of it is just Go Play, Go Play, Go Play and through the repitition of playing there is some success that breeds more success and they keep going.” Clay Buchholz is a big believer in Bob Tewksbury. Buchholz told me earlier this year that the two worked extensively during the offseason and it was a tremendous help. Tewksbury allows that Buch is a perfect example of what can be done to help a young man. “We all know about his trials and tribulations. The no-hitter, etc. You have initial failure.Youkilis was up and down, Pedroia had a bad month. Jacoby’s been one of those guys that hasn’t had to go through that. For Clay to be here (Pawtucket) then go back up there (Boston) and pitch, I think he felt he really belonged. Although, his first couple of games, you could tell he wasn’t as comfortable as he was his last three. His confidence has grown. He beat (Roy) Halladay in Toronto, I think it’s wonderful. He certainly can pitch at that level with a lot of success and it’s nice to see he’s getting the opportunity to do that.” Tewksbury provides a valuable and under-rated service to these young guys.
One of the biggest characters I have ever met, in or out of baseball is former Red Sox lefty, Bill Lee. The “Spaceman” came to mind today as I was looking through upcoming minor league promotions and noticed that he’d be appearing in the Northwest League at the park in Vancouver on August 31 to sign autographs and pose for photos. My first encounter with Lee came about 15 years ago when I was helping put together a charity golf tournament in Cooperstown. It was affiliated with the Major League Alumni Association and Lee was set to appear, along with 40 or so other ex- big leaguers. As fate would have it, we were paired in the same foursome. I was pretty excited. As we started the day with breakfast, he regaled us with tales of his stormy relationship with Don Zimmer and other nuggets. Suddenly, a woman appeared from the pro shop and told Lee he had a phone call. A few minutes later, he emerged, visibly shaken. As he sat down, I asked my new friend what was wrong. His answer shocked me. “My wife just called. She has cancer.” News no one ever wants to get. Lee made his apologies and got in his car and left for his Vermont home. Many years later, in 2004, when the PawSox wer hosting the I.L. All Star game, Lee was among the celebrities invited for the Home Run Derby (which he won, outslugging Sam Horn). I approached Lee and reminded him of our partial day in Cooperstown. I asked him what ever became of his beloved bride, the woman he wept over that sunny summer day in upstate New York. “Turns out she didn’t have cancer, after all. It was poison ivy. They completely screwed up the diagnosis.” I was so glad to hear the news, until he quickly added- “I wish she had died. She ran off with a Delta Airlines pilot.” A couple of years later, Dick Radatz died. “The Monster”, a man who was the Jonathan Papelbon of his day. Knowing of his friendship with Radatz, I called Lee and asked him to appear on my radio show. He readily agreed. With no prodding whatsoever, Lee began to tell one off-color story after another, leaving my cohost, John Rooke and me gasping for air, we were laughing so hard. Even a couple of years after that, I was the master of ceremonies at a dinner for the Newport Gulls, of the NECBL. Lee was the guest speaker and by the time he got up on the dais, he had enjoyed a few tequilas. After giving a rambling, mostly incoherent talk, he finished with a joke that I, as the president of the Yankees Haters Club really enjoyed. Lee reached into his back pocket and produced his wallet. He went inside and pulled out a worn baseball card. It wasn’t one of his, or one of a hero of his, but a faded old card of New York Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles. The mostly partisan Red Sox crowd feigned horror until Lee explained. “The view from where Nettles sits isn’t great and it doesn’t smell so good back there, either.” The “Spaceman” brought down the house and, with tequila in hand, said goodnight. I guess I won’t be surprised if his trek to Vancouver offends a Canadian or two. I will be surprised if he doesn’t make them laugh, though.
This has been a strange season for a lot of people and for a variety of reasons. Jed Lowrie is no exception. The former PawSox standout was penciled in at shortstop for the Boston Red Sox as they began their quest for a 2009 World Series title. Jed earned his “stripes” after his 2008 callup. It was a promotion that culminated with him getting the series clinching hit against the Angels in the A.L.D.S. at Fenway. Hampered by wrist problems, Lowrie opted eventually for surgery and figured his troubles were behind him. Lately, he has been bothered by ulnar neuritis, which he describes as “numbness from his pinkie to just below the elbow.” Lowries’ rehab assignment with the PawSox got off to a rousing start on Monday night, as he homered into the right-centerfield bleachers at McCoy. His home run was the answer to a solo shot hit by Lehigh Valley outfielder, John Mayberry, Jr. son of former All Star John Mayberry. Jr. also happens to be one of Jeds’ best friends. The two were teammates and roommates while attending Stanford. Prior to the game I sat down with Jed and we talked about his “lost season.” Of course, I wanted to know how he was feeling. “Obviously, the season has not gone as planned, but sometimes that happens. I’m doing the best I can dealing with it, communicating with the training staff and the doctors to make sure my wrist is continually getting better. As much of a lost season as it’s been, I feel I have been able to accomplish a few things as well.” Lowries adds that physically, he feels much better now than he did during his last rehab assignment. “Last time I was here, I really wasn’t able to work out a lot. I was focused on the wrist. Whether mentally I didn’t want to do anything, or physically I couldn’t, I really had a hard time working out. All my rehab efforts were going into getting my wrist better and as a result it took a toll on my body.” The physical end aside, Jed says dealing with the mental aspects of a long layoff is just as demanding. “I feel like I’ve taken a pretty good, steady approach to this. Every day, just find something to get better at. I know when I’m up there and I don’t feel right. You’re out there and you’re being judged by everybody and that’s fine. I know that if I keep doing what I need to do to get back and get stronger and don’t feel impeded by my wrist, I’ll be fine.” Lowrie says there are some positives to be gained from his ordeal. “I felt like I’ve maintained a good approach, I am still confident in my abilities and I know I’m a good player. I’ll get better and things will be good.” As with any “thoroughbred” one of the hardest thngs is to watch your team struggle without you. The Red Sox have tried all season to fill the shortstop position with the likes of Julio Lugo, Nick Green, Chris Woodward and now Alex Gonzalez. Lowrie has been forced to sit on the sidelines and watch the parade of replacements march past. “That’s the thing. Coming out of Spring Training, I’d had such a good spring, I felt great and my world was basically flipped upside down on me, finding out that surgery was probably the best path to take- that’s how this game works. It’s a business. If I’m not able to go out there and perform as the shortstop every day, they’ve got to go out to find someone who can play every day and perform. They’re doing their best to get the best guy for the job right now. I’ve got to be patient and try to get myself ready and if it’s not for this year, I’ll be ready for next year.” Lowrie knows time is of the essence as September is just around the corner and he felt like he’d know fairly quickly what his fate might be. “3 or 4 games. As long as I don’t have any pain or numbness in my hands, that’s a good indicator for me. That’s what happened to me a couple of times in Boston. My hand was going numb. As long as that’s not happening, I would feel pretty confident about it.” Lowrie looked smooth and comfortable at short and with the home run, looked like he had some good “pop” in his bat. With a little luck, Jed Lowrie will be able to help Boston make a push for the postseason.
Some times you’re forced to assess things in different ways. I have stopped trying to judge this PawSox season based strictly on wins and losses. At 53-74, the Sox are guaranteed a losing record for 2009. With 16 games remaining on the schedule, there is a possibility of a “Bizzaro” stat. In 2008, the PawSox were 85-58 in the regular season. Finish this season 5-11 and you’ve got the 58-85 mark all sewn up. (I obviously have enough free time to figure things like this out.) I really want to emphasize that while I know this year is a bust- 2010 will be better. The young players that are feeling their way through the I.L. for the first time, will be the nucleus of the ’10 squad. Names like Bates, Wagner, Bell, Mills, Large, Johnson and Richardson are the next wave of Sox prospects that project to be Major Leaguers. Throw in veterans like Jeff Bailey and Chris Carter and the PawSox will again be poised for battle. Sunday, (loss not withstanding, of course) was a great day at McCoy. We broadcast the game from the stands, behind home plate. Thanks to Michael Gwynn, Mick Tedesco and his staff, Eric Petterson and everyone else who made it possible to broadcast the game. It provides us a different perspective and it was a breath of fresh air. It is a great feeling to meet our listeners and e-mailers and blog readers and to put a face with a name. Also, I have to thank a guy I have admired for years, PawSox General Manager, Lou Schwechheimer, “Schwech” is the consumate good guy. The always congenial G.M. rolled out the red carpet for us, even though we have worked for the PawSox for years. He has a knack for making anyone feel welcome at McCoy Stadium, even his own guys. Lou fed us like he was our grandma. He dropped off trays of the delicious concession items available at the park. Kind of made it tough to concentrate on the game. Lou, a fellow UMass grad is one of the best, ever. Also got a thoughtful gift from the team store. The lovely Kelsey Albair brought us really nice black and green PawSox caps, with a shamrock on the side. I appreciate the gesture, although there has never been a more useles gift to me. I am not being ungrateful. It’s just that there has never been a hat created that would fit my freakishly large head, comfortably. Dan and I have a long-running recurring gag on the air about me and Marfan Syndrome. Although it is medically inaccurate, we joke about the size of my noggin and the fact that President Lincoln had the same affliction.
After the game, my wife Sue and I went to the Comcast Center in Mansfield, Mass. to enjoy the Bruce Springsteen concert. It was my third such show and the only difference between this one and the first one I saw in the early ’80s was that this one was shorter. It still lasted approximately 2 and a half hours. “The Boss” can still get it done! He absolutely rocked the joint. Amazing for a guy his age. (He turns 60 on September 23) Nils Lofgren, Clarence Clemons and Max Weinberg were all there. (Yes, Weinberg from the Conan show) although the veteran drummer gave way to a younger percussionist for the latter part of the show. I got the biggest kick out of seeing Steven Van Zandt. “Little Stevie” with kerchief on head, banging away on his guitar. To an entire generation, Van Zandt is best-known as Tony’s underboss, Silvio Dante, in the mega-hit TV show “The Sopranos”. The HBO show ranks second on my all-time list of favorite television programs. Only M*A*S*H* ranks slightly higher. At one point, Springsteen referred to Steven as “Silvio” - my favorite moment. They sang just about every hit you could imagine, except, and to me these are 2 big exceptions- “Born in the USA” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”. It was a great night. Comcast, like McCoy, offers free parking. The beers are very expensive- $9 a pop- but, what the heck. If you have never seen or heard Springsteen- GO! On the way home we continued to rock out to the Boss on Sirius radio, on The E Street Channel.
Come and watch the PawSox on Monday. Jed Lowrie is scheduled to start a rehab assignment and Paul Byrd is on the mound for Pawtucket. Don’t forget to bring your non-perishable food items for the drive benefiting the R.I. Food Bank.
Happy 27th Birthday to the the third member of our broadcast team. Infielder Jeff Natale is blowing out the candles today.
Aaron Bates might be considered a man for all seasons. Well, maybe not all seasons, but at least two seasons. Baseball and Hockey. We all know Aarons’ baseball resume. The 25 year old North Carolina State product is starting to really get into a groove for the PawSox. What people probably don’t realize is what a big hockey fan he’s become. Specifically, a fan of the San Jose Sharks. Bates’ girlfriend, Lacey is the daughter of Sharks General Manager, Doug Wilson. Wilson was a standout defenseman for the Chicago Blackhawks in his playing days. He now runs the Western Conference powerhouse. The Sharks skated to the best record during this past regular season. They suffered an early exit in the playoffs, though, losing their series to Anaheim. Bates said it was a bitter pill for everyone involved. “It was bad. Really bad. People were really down for a while.” While he lives in the Boston area during the offseason, he loves the home ice advantage the Sharks enjoy in San Jose. “The Shark Tank has an unbelievable atmosphere. They almost never lose there.” Bates has become friendly with some of the NHL stars and has a tremendous amount of respect for their abilities. “Hockey is such a hard sport. I can’t skate at all. What these guys do is great.” Bates gets an inside look at the operation. He says he’s become very close with the entire Wilson family, including Laceys’ brother, who plays hockey at Tufts. “A Boston/San Jose Stanley Cup Final would have been awesome. It was too bad it didn’t work out for either team.” Even though he is a professional athlete himself, Bates admits he is not above acting like a typical fan. “I sometimes find myself being critical of the hockey players…He should have made that save…they should have scored on that break. It’s kind of funny. I’m critical of them like our fans are of us.” He enjoys being around the sport and the men who play it- “Yeah, the guys are cool. I love the game.” Bates might not get to see as many NHL games as he’d like this offseason. He plans to play in a Puerto Rican winter league for the second straight year. He is of Puerto Rican descent, on his moms’ side. Last season, his teammates included Jose Vaquedano and Iggy Suarez. While he’s in San Juan, most of the ice he’ll see will be in his drinking glass.
Congratulations to Chris Carter. The PawSox outfielder was recognized as the team MVP in a pregame ceremony at McCoy Stadium on Saturday.
Outfielder Brian Anderson is trying out some new contact lenses. His vision is 20/30 without them and he says that would be good enough if he weren’t a baseball player. He feels that if his sight improves to 20/15 or 20/12 it could provide him an edge. As of Saturday, Anderson still wasn’t used to them. He planned to get some special eyeglasses from Nike, just in case.
For a hot second, it looked like the PawSox were going to win a game. It doesn’t sound like much and under usual circumstances, it wouldn’t be much to crow about. These are not usual circumstances. The PawSox began their epic tumble around the Fourth of July and since then have played 46 games. They’ve lost 36 of them. That is not a misprint- 36 of 46, down the drain. There have been blowouts. There have been close calls. Shutouts and high-scoring affairs. Thursday night may have hurt the worst. Rochester is in town for a four day, five game series. Thge Red Wings are not a great team. Like Pawtucket, they’re a group of prospects and suspects lurking below the .500 level. Yet, they’ve found a way to come into our house and beat us like a bass drum. There really is no one player to blame for the slide. Everyone from top to bottom has to look in the mirror and ask if they’ve done their best, consistently. These are really great guys, terrific people who have all gone in the tank at once. Leading 3-1 going into the ninth, it appeared like the nine game losing skid would become a bad memory. The always reliable Marcus McBeth walked the first two hitters in the ninth and they both eventually scored. When it was over, the PawSox had fallen 5-3. Ten losses in a row. The PawSox have not won a game in the entire lifetime of Dylan Pedroia, new son of A.L. MVP Dustin and wife, Kelli. (OK I’m being dramatic, the kid’s only a couple of days old) But you get the point. It’s the longest PawSox losing skein since 1993 and perilously close to the franchise mark for futility, 13 straight L’s. Friday night, Rochester will try for the unheard of 5 game sweep. All Star Tim Wakefield will try his special brand of knuckleball mastery, but even that is somewhat diluted. Normally a sideshow, Wake’s appearance will mark the third straight night a knuckleballer takes the mound at McCoy. There are thought to be only 5 in all of professional baseball and Wake follows Wednesdays’ outing for Charlie Zink and Thursdays’ R.A. Dickey sighting. Not quite as dramatic as when all the living presidents are photographed together, but somewhere Hoyt Wilhelm is smiling. Believe me, I am just as frustrated as any member of the organization. From owner Ben Mondor to manager Ron Johnson to the batboys- everyone is searching for answers. Smarter people than I have been given the task. If it were that easy to figure out, we’d never lose. There has been a slight dip in attendance. Hits on the blog and our email seem to be down. I can’t blame you. Remember, this is the same club that made the playoffs in 2008 and has developed stars like Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jon Lester and Jonathan Papelbon in the last few seasons. Things will get better. I promise. History proves me right.
Great article in the Providence Journal on Tuesday by Mark Emmons of the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News. It was about former PawSox lefty Craig Breslow, deemed by the Wall Street Journal as “The Smartest Man in Baseball.” Bres has a degree in Molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale. I once asked him to explain that to me and I was left scratching my head. Breslow started a foundation that has already raised over $100,000 for cancer and leukemia reseach. Breslow was inspired by his sister, Lesley, who was diagnosed with cancer when Craig was 12. Now 29, his sister has been cancer-free for 15 years. Breslow is the American League leader in appearances by a pitcher and is in the vast minority in baseball. He is one of just 26 big league players and managers who have college degrees. I always enjoy chatting with Breslow. I don’t always understand, but there’s nothing quite like chatting with Breslow.
As you’ve learned this season, relationships are a recurring theme in this blog. I was able to renew an old acquaintance this week when the PawSox received shortstop Chris Woodward. Woody, who has logged 8 years in the Majors was with me when I was the Syracuse Chiefs broadcaster in 1998 and 1999. He was put on waivers by Seattle and was claimed by Boston. After the Red Sox traded for Alex Gonzalez, Woodward was sent to McCoy. The 33 year old infielder maintains a terrific attitude and positive outlook. He makes his offseason home in Palm Harbor, Florida. Woody and his wife, whom he met while playing in Toronto, are expecting their third child.
Josh Reddick is off to a slow start offensively for the PawSox (.095, 2-21). He had an rbi with his first Triple A hit, a triple in Gwinnett. Upon reaching third base, manager Ron Johnson told him he had secured the ball as a souvenir. Reddick said thanks, but he didn’t want it. RJ was a little taken aback by that until Reddick explained that he already got the ball from his first major league hit. Nonetheless, Reddick graciously took the ball. He might want it some day.
Lefty Kris Johnson was optioned to Double A Portland to make room on the roster for Paul Byrd. Johnson went 3-13 for the PawSox in 2009. Personally I don’t think the Red Sox did him any favors by letting him go out there every five days to get beat. He’s a nice young lefty with good velocity and a live arm. Hopefully, he will get his confidence back and be back at McCoy in 2010.
There’s a great event coming up on Monday August 24 at McCoy. PawSox wives and girlfriends are holding a food drive to benefit the RI Food Bank. The ladies will be at tables at the Main Entry tower from 5-7 p.m. taking donations of nonperishable food items. Fans bringing 3 or more items will receive a PawSox player autographed photo. If you bring in ten or more items you’ll be entered in a drawing to win an autographed bat.
Also looking forward to Sunday. Dan and I will be sitting in the stands at McCoy to broadcast the game between the PawSox and Lehigh Valley. Game time is 1:05 p.m. We did the same for a game last year and had a great time. Please come by and say hello.
Tennis Hall of Famer Mats Wilander was in the house on Thursday. Wilander, wearing a Red Sox cap and jersey whacked a couple of tennis balls into the stands. He is in RI for a tournament at the Tennis Hall in Newport.
I went against baseball protocol on Wednesday by asking the days’ starting pitcher to tape a pre-game interview with me. In this case, it was Paul Byrd who pitches in the nightcap of a separate admission doubleheader, and I asked him about 9 hours before his scheduled start. The veteran righthander could not have been kinder or more accomodating. Byrd, 38, has authored 108 major league victories with the Mets, Braves, Phillies, Royals, Angels, Indians and Red Sox. Byrd went 4-2 for the Red Sox in late 2008 and with the staff in tatters, he got a call from Boston and he answered. “It’s a chance to see what I’ve got- see if I can help the big club out. See if I still have some life left in the arm, some life left in the fastball. I’ve been throwing down in the Gulf Coast League, but it’s completely different up here. We’re a step away from the big leagues. These are great hitters, so this will be a big opportunity for me tonight.” Despite interest from some teams this past winter, Byrd decided to retire to spend time with his family in Kentucky. “I had some really nice offers this offseason. My wife asked me to quit in 1994. She’s tired of doing life alone. I’ve got two boys 13 and 11 and they need their dad home. It just felt like it was time. Then I decided I wanted to come back at the (All Star) break and I put my name out there and no one was interested, so I just kept throwing batting practice to my 13 year old. I coach his team and all of a sudden the Red Sox called and asked how soon I could be ready. I talked it over with my family and we decided to give it one last try. I really want to get a ring and I’m really excited the Red Sox would give me the opportunity to come back and help them out.” As an athlete teetering between playing and retirement, Byrd completely identified with Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre and his decision to return for another season.. “Absolutely! When you love something and have been doing it your whole life, and the next thing you know, you’re pulling weeds and cutting your grass…and I love taking my kids to school. It’s great, but it’s just different. Especially, if you can still do it. It would be different if I was to the point where I couldn’t get anybody out, but I finished last year, the second half 8-2, with a low 3 ERA. I felt like I was still at the top of my game and when you walk away when you can still get the job done like Brett Favre can, it’s tough. It really is. You love to take the mound and compete. There’s a big void in your life and it’s a tough transition.” Although his spirit is willing, Byrd wasn’t sure how long it would take him to get ready to join the Sox. “That’s what I didn’t know. I’m at the point where I have to do something quick. Help out in the next couple of weeks or go home. I feel really good. My arm feels fantastic. I’ve never had a stretch of 8 months or so off without having surgery. It feels really strong. I do have to get in shape. I was pitching in the Gulf Coast league and it was like 104 degrees. I felt like I was going to die out there. It’s nice to be up here, get a night start have some fun and face some hitters that are really, really good.” Byrd appreciates his shot at the Red Sox roster and relishes every day at the “yard”. “I love to talk baseball and nobody wants to talk baseball with me at the “Pawtucket Mall” or at the hotel. Hopefully if I can influence some of these younger guys, answer a question or maybe say something that will help them out- Bottom line is I love being at the park, I love baseball.” Byrd bears an uncanny resemblance to actor Kelsey Grammer, TV’s “Frazier”- he hears it all the time. “Frazier’s one of my nicknames. I do get that. It’s kind of funny, when I grow my hair out in the back into a mullet and I shave, it’s even better. It’s a lot of fun.” As I left Byrd in the clubhouse, he was poring over the PawSox media guide so he could learn the names and faces of his new teammates. Even if he is here for a short time, I think he’ll have an impact.