Very often, we use words incorrectly or inappropriately. Media members are no exception. In fact, we may be the worst offenders. An athlete is a “hero”. He made a “courageous” effort. You get the message. These words flow off our tongues and you’ve come to accept them. Since we just celebrated Memorial Day, let me take a moment to tell you about a real hero. He’s a man who comes to work at McCoy Stadium every day. He’s not a pitcher. He’s not a great hitter and he’ll never win a Gold Glove. If you walked past him, you might not even notice Mike Roose. He’s not a really big guy, although as the PawSox strength coach, he is well put together. Even that is not what sets Roose apart from most of us. Roose is a veteran of the U.S Air Force and has served four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He volunteered. No one forced him. No one drafted the Pawtucket native. No one held a gun to his head. Mike Roose just sacked up and enlisted.
While most of us smoldered after the events that took place on September 11, 2001, Roose put his money where his mouth was. “After all that happened on 9/11, seeing the devastation and seeing just how patriotic everyone was at that time, made me feel that it was the right thing to do at that time. I wanted to do someting bigger than myself, and do someting for somebnody else. Just give back, really.” While many of us sit in our easy chairs and say we’re going to do something, Roose took the bull by the horns. He admits, however, there was plenty of soul-searching involved. “A lot of people questioned it. Asking if I was crazy for risking my life. I believe that actions speak louder than words. A lot of guys talk about doing the right thing. If you feel it’s the right thing, if you know it’s the right thing, then you act upon it.”
Roose has come back a changed man. While many of us might gripe about the economy, or a Red Sox loss, Mike has things in perspective. “Being over there is life-changing. You try to tell people about your experiences and the way of life over there…Young children with no shoes or even no clothing, bathing in and drinking the same water that is used by cattle and sheep. Even the military, operating over there with just the bare necessities. Lying in your cot or tent or where ever you are, you realize just how lucky we really are to live in America and have everything that we do have. Those people have never even been able to have a dream about the things that we have, or how great life is here. It puts things into perspective. We are lucky to be Americans.”
It’s hard to call anything that Roose witnessed a “highlight”. He had a front row seat to the horror and carnage. He did have an experience, though, that many Americans would have loved to see. The incarceration of Saddam Hussein. ” I wasn’t there for the actual capture, but I was able to see him be held by the United States as he came through our area.” The tyrant, who had hundreds of his own people slaughtered, was nothing more than a sniveling coward while held by U.S. forces. “He was just a man. I guess you have even less respect for him when you see him. We saw just how weak he was. You’d have no respect for him for the things you’d heard he’d done to people, but after seeing him, we had even less respect for him.”
On Monday, Memorial Day, Roose remembered his fallen comrades, from the current conflict as well as those of past wars. “The guys I served with are great men, but there are greater generations before us. I believe the veterans of World War II are the greatest generation that the world has ever known. Without them, it’d be a totally different picture for everyone. They saved the world. It lets me think about about those who gave their lives, their service. That’s what I really think about today.”
Mike Roose says that he has been treated exceptionally well since his return home. He feels fortunate that his group of returning heroes faces a much more cordial reception than the men and women of a generation ago- The Vietnam vets. “We are definitely treated way better. The stories I’ve heard…We get a lot of respect. I don’t usually go around telling people what I did” Roose says the reception around here is always heartwarming. ” I came back from a couple of tours and we’d be somewhere and my dad would say ’Hey my boy just got back from a tour of duty’ and the whole place would stand up and cheer for me. There’s a lot of patriotism in the area and that felt good.”
Mike even thinks that his military record had a lot to do with his current job as strength coach for the PawSox. “I probably wouldn’t be sitting here in this position in the Red Sox organization if I hadn’t been in the military. It says a lot that the Sox gave me that kind of respect. They’ve trusted me with their players, their prospects, their investments. That, right there, says there is a lot of respect.” Roose doesn’t tell his charges about his past, but word spreads. he has a certain amount of credibility built in, before the workout begins.
Over the last day or two, a photo has appeared in the clubhouse on the bulletin board, just outside the PawSox weight room. It is of Roose and three fellow soldiers in fatigues, full gear, holding machine guns somewhere in Afghanistan or Iraq. Not that wearing the uniform of the Pawtucket Red Sox is insignificant, by any stretch of the imagination, but man, does that photo put things into perspective. If you happen to run into Mike Roose, or any of the other brave men and women who’ve given their service, please make sure to thank them.
The Norfolk Tides are in town and there is a decidedly Boston flavor to their staff. Former Red Sox catcher Gary Allenson is their manager and New Englander Richie Hebner is their hitting instructor. The pitching coach is no stranger to McCoy, that’s for sure. Mike Griffin was the PawSox pitching coach from 2003-2007 before joining the Orioles organization. Griff was always a great guy to be around and it’s nice to have him here again. “This place has special memories for me. I spent 5 years here. My family and I thoroughly enjoyed Pawtucket, the Providence area. With Ben Mondor, Mike Tamburro and Lou (Schwechheimer), they always made us feel very special here. It’s always great to be back. I always look forward to it.”
Griff jokes that old habits die hard. He makes sure that he doesn’t go into the wrong clubhouse when he arrives at McCoy. “You feel like you want to keep going straight when you walk through the double doors. I remind myself to make the right turn. You look forward to coming back here because of the atmosphere, the fans and the ownership. McCoy will always hold a very special place in my heart.”
Part of the good times that Griff misses here stem from his co-workers. Managers Buddy Bailey and Ron Johnson and hitting instructor Mark Budaska helped form a circle that he relishes. “It’s like a fraternity. You work together for a while and then you go your separate ways for a while. It really is like a “360″. You stay in touch and see each other. ’Buda’ and I still talk a couple of times over the winter, R.J. – the same way. You build these friendships and they are special relationships. We had some great ballclubs here, Buddy, R.J., Buda and myself.”
Even though Griff is in the Orioles organization, he still keeps a close eye on some of his former pupils. ”Any pitcher I’ve had over the years, I still watch to see how they’re doing. (Jon) Lester, (Clay) Buchholz, (Jonathan) Papelbon, (Manny) Delcarmen. Boy, what a special group that was to work with. Just like these young pitchers I’ve been working with in Baltimore for the last three years. It doesn’t matter, where ever they go, I keep an eye on them just to see how they’re doing and believe it or not, some of them still call me to this day, just to talk.”
While Mike Griffin spent the better part of a decade in the Boston organization, make no mistake, he now bleeds Oriole orange. “We do basically the same things, but we do them in a different way. We prepare them, so when they do get the call, everything is in place.”
One of Griff’s fondest memories goes back to the 2004 season. He was named the International Leagues’ pitching coach for the Triple A All Star game at McCoy Stadium. “That bar was set so high by the PawSox, I don’t think it could ever be matched. In my mind, there’s nothing that could match what the PawSox did for that event. To be involved with something of that magnitude, it will always be etched in my mind as one of the single most spectacular days I’ve ever spent on a baseball diamond.”
In 2009, the Orioles recognized Griffins’ efforts by giving him the Cal Ripken, Sr. award. It goes annually to the minor league staff member that best exemplifies “The Oriole Way”. Ripken was credited as the architect of the Orioles blueprint for doing things. “They had me on the field in Baltimore before a game against Tampa Bay. I really had to work to hold it back”. Griff admitted that emotion almost overtook him as he remembered his former manager. “I played for Cal Ripken Sr. in 1987 in Baltimore. I knew the guy very well and to be recognized for doing something in development that was the “Ripken” way was very special. I got it for something I guess I did well. It meant very, very, very, much to me.”
The Orioles made a good pick up by hiring Mike Griffin. There’s no doubt, however, he left an indelible imprint on the Red Sox in general and the PawSox, specifically.
Hopefully, as the old adage goes, a day off isn’t followed by an off day. The schedule maker in the I.L. really hasn’t done the PawSox any favors in 2010. Our first day off was spent in Charlotte ( a fine city, but I’d rather be home) The second day off (Wednesday) was spent travelling. An early wake up call followed by a ride to the Raleigh-Durham airport. Hung out at the gate for almost 2 hours before boarding the first leg of our flight, from North Carolina to Baltimore. Lots of bleary eyed personnel, sarcastically wishing each other “Happy day off”. We average a single day off per month in the I.L. (FYI). We hopped on the flight from Baltimore to Providence to find it about 20 degrees hotter in RI than it was in Durham. The air conditioning on the bus wasn’t working, luckily it was a short trip from Greene Airport to McCoy. As I tossed my suitcase in the trunk of my car, I looked at my watch. It was 1:48 p.m. and my “day off” had yet to begin. The thermometer in my car read 101 degrees as I made my way home. Unpacked, threw clothes into washer, and made myself a sandwich. Now my mini vacation was picking up steam! It slowed down again as I went and got a haircut. Pete DeCotis is my barber. A great guy, who has been promising to come see me at McCoy for the last 7 years. I finally don’t believe him anymore. After the haircut, it was onto the car wash and the bank. I imagine that this is exctly how Paris Hilton or Donald Trump would spend their day off. By this time, it’s about 4:30. Hadn’t seen my parents in a while, so caught up with them. Tom and Lucille, regular listeners of the broadcast (Big Dan Hoard fans!!) are baseball junkies. They’ll watch Boston with the volume down while listening to us. We decided to go to the “Melville Grille” in Portsmouth RI for dinner. We drove back out that way, fighting the traffic and cones set up for paving route 114 later that night. Upon arrival, the hostess informed us, that due to a power outage…no food. Not what a hungry Steve Hyder wants to hear. Never happens to George Clooney when he has a reservation at Nobu! We drove back to downtown Newport, had a nice meal at a place called the “Red Parrot”. Our waitress was an extremely dim bulb, but, whatever. After dinner, I dropped off my folks. It was only 8:45 and this was my night off! Newport on a Wednesday in May isn’t exactly hopping. I figured I’d go to my favorite bar, “Cappy’s”, settle in for a while and watch the Celtics complete their series in Orlando. As ESPN’s Lee Corso might say- “Not so fast, my friend!” The Orlando Thugs, er I mean Magic blocked, tackled and concussed the Celtics into oblivion, beating them in Game 5. At least I enjoyed the Sox trashing Tampa again on the other TVs. As I finish writing this epic paragraph (with apologies to my friend, Dan Barbarisi) I realized that I just needed to get it off my chest. Is it not in the Constitution, that every man is entitled to a good, solid day off? No need to worry, though. We have another day off coming…June 16. We’ll be back at it tonight and ready for action.
As we departed Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Tuesday night, we spotted Rick Medeiros talking with a familiar figure. Former PawSox outfielder and good guy, Sean Danielson! “Spike” made the 30 minute trip to Durham from Zebulon to watch his former team. Zebulon is the Reds’ Double A affiliate. (It was also the first name of Will Geers’ character in “The Waltons”). Spike journeyed with a couple of his current teammates. He isn’t playing as much as he’d like, but he’s enjoying the experience. Many of his former Pawtucket mates, like Gil Velazquez hugged him as they got caught up.
Also in Durham that night, we learned that the Rochester Red Wings were in town after a day game in Norfolk (Hey, why are we never afforded that courtesy?) Their series with the Bulls begins Thursday. We got in touch with Josh Whetzel, their talented and very funny radio man. Josh, along with Wings trainer, Tony Leo, joined Hyder and Hoard for a post-game meeting, for a late night snack.
One final note about Durham. Best press box in the League for one reason and one reason only. There is a soda machine in there. Just push a button (no money necessary) and out tumbles a can of frosty deliciousness! Diet Sunkist Orange Soda. My favorite. I hope Durham and the PawSox make the playoffs for that reason alone!
Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to since we last talked. Let me know if there’s anything you need to know, via this blog. I’ll try to accomodate your desires!! Just the kind of guy I am….
For guys of my generation, as a kid, there were very few things that were as exciting as watching ABC’s “Wide World of Sports”. In the pre-ESPN era, there were minimal options for budding sports fans. One of them was “WWoS”, hosted by Hall of Fame sportscaster, Jim McKay. Cliff diving in Acapulco, the Little League World Series, the rodeo, ski jumping. It was all good. The one thing I really looked forward to though, was the Harlem Globetrotters. Resplendent in their red, white and blue uniforms, Meadowlark Lemon, Curly Neal, Geese Ausbie and Marcus Haynes would thrill and amaze the audience with their special brand of basketball and fun. I’ve been in the audience as a child and as a parent, and it never gets old. One man who’s had a front row seat to the Globies’ antics is PawSox athletic trainer, John Jochim (pronounced YO-kum). Before joining the Red Sox, Jochim spanned the globe with the Trotters. “JJ” is in his first year with Pawtucket, but he’s no stranger to the Boston organization, working his way through the ranks over the better part of the last decade. Jochim started with the Sox in 2003.
The Sox invest millions in their players, and it could be a daunting task to keep the guys healthy and on the field, but Jochim takes it all in stride. “It’s my job. That’s why I love what I do. These guys are a good group of guys and they’re fun to work with. Baseball players are fun to be around. It’s Americas’ pasttime.”
You may see Jochim occasionally as he comes out onto the field to tend to an injured player, but his day begins long before the National Anthem is sung. “It depends on the day. Typically for me, it’s about 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. A lot of the early stuff is personal time for me, to get things organized and up and running.”
Jochim wears many hats as an athletic trainer. Part-time babysitter, psychologist, travel agent. The list goes on and on. “We’re known as Jacks of all trades as the profession has progressed. We take those responsibilities as they come and do what we have to do to make everything work.” That may include scheduling bus or van rides to the park or making travel plans for a promoted player. All in a days’ work.
Before he began his baseball career, JJ worked in hockey and basketball, as well. He was athletic trainer to one of the worlds’ most famous group of athletes, The Harlem Globetrotters. “I was very fortunate to work with the Globetrotters from 2000 to 2003. It allowed me to travel a lot and see a lot of things I never thought I would see.” While we travel to the same I.L. cities year after year, Jochim gave his passport a thorough workout. “In three years, I went to 47 of the states as well as 13 different countries. Among them, Germany, Spain, Holland, Iceland and Mexico. John says that no matter where the team travelled, whether English was spoken or not, the Trotters always have a positive effect. “They’re so well known and respected throughout the entire world. The ambassadors of good will is what they’re known as and where ever they go, people know who they are and what they’re all about. They always end up putting smiles on fans’ faces. It’s great for basketball specifically and the world of sports in general to have the Globetrotters.”
Don’t go looking for Lemon or Neal. Some of the old timers have died, some have retired. Jochim says there is a fresh new generation of basketball wizards weaving their magic to the sounds of “Sweet Georgia Brown”. “A lot of the old stars are still around and a part of the organization. The new guys bring a whole different “spin” to the Globtrotter way.” There is one thing JJ says is the common denominator between old and new “school”. “They are phenomenal basketball players, phenomenal guys and it’s a lot of fun to watch and be a part of.”
Jochim says there is no difference between tending to the Globetrotters or the PawSox. “An injury is an injury, a sport is a sport.” Usually with the PawSox, though, you won’t get doused with a bucket of water, or confetti, for that matter.
Sunday has traditionally been the day of rest. Not in baseball, however, and especially not this week. The PawSox were rained out on Saturday, trailing 5-0, after one inning, plus. The skies opened up here in Durham, complete with thunder and lightning. A bolt of thunder, followed by a flash of lightning, forced home plate umpire Damian Beal to jump out of his skin and motion the teams to their respective clubhouses.
Sat down with manager Torey Lovullo for our Sunday conversation and he admitted, his club has a steep hill to climb. “It is a little bit frustrating. These guys will have a little bit of a mental challenge. They have to show a little bit of toughness, play hard and close the gap. If you look at it, we average 4 or 5 runs a game. They just happened to get theirs’ quickly and we’re going to catch up.” Despite the line, Torey says he isn’t worried about Boof Bonmser, yesterdays’ starter. “Boof was throwing the ball well. there were a couple of cases where they got “seeing-eye” base hits. You can’t feel sorry for yourself, and I know Boof doesn’t. His stuff was OK, his command was OK. Once Durham gets men on, they get the running game moving. That’s what happened in the first, when they got those 4 runs.”
Lefthander Felix Doubront is scheduled to make his Triple A debut in the nightcap. Lovullo is excited about the prospect. “He’s got a great presence. Just him walking around. He’s a likeable guy and now we get to watch him perform. Anyone that saw him at throw at Spring Training liked what they saw.”
The threat of rain is real again on Sunday and Lovullo realizes that he has to keep his men sharp and ready, no matter what. “That’s one of my challenges, becaue it’s so hard on baseball players with “down-time” because of rain or whatever. I run through the clubhouse, keeping the guys up, reminding them that we may play in as little as 20 minutes. I try to shift it so the thought of cancellation isn’t in their mind. I tell them not to let it get away from them.”
One thing that made Lovullo smile, was talking about the addition of veteran shortstop Gil Velazquez to the roster. Gil had been at Fort Myers since breaking his left thumb in Grapefruit League play, with Boston. “Gil’s invaluable. You saw a couple of things happen with him the last couple of years. He had decent minor league seasons, but found himself on Major League rosters. There is so much versatility with him, I know from a managers’ standpoint, and I know that Tito feels it as well. You can use him in so many places and situations. He plays good defense. He’s going to put the bat on the ball. On top of that, the leadership he shows, the ability to command respect from teammates is there. Those are the things that fans don’t see, that I really really value from him.”
As I’ve so often said, the relationships in baseball last forever. Lovullo once managed an A ball team in Kinston, North Carolina. At the start of this trip to Durham, he had a poignant moment, returning to the town. “ I had a very dear friend of mine pass away. “Mama” Kornegay was a house mom to a lot of the Latin players who I managed when I was in Kinston. I managed there for two years and developed a very special bond with “Mama”. She had developed pancreatic cancer and death was imminent. Still, you’re never ready for something like that. It was coincidental that we were here. I think fate intervened and gave me a chance to go and pay my respects. I got myself down there, saw a lot of my old friends and I was able to say my special goodbye to her. I’ll remember that forever.”
PawSox catcher Mark Wagner has disappeared from the radar screen. The highly regarded prospect is in Fort Myers on the mend, after breaking a bone in his hand earlier this season. Out of sight, definitely not out of mind. I got to wondering how the 25 year old Californian was feeling, and what he’s been doing on his rehabilitation stint in Southwest Florida. Wagner, who jokingly likes to speak in the third person, was his usual upbeat self. “Wags is hanging in there.” he said “Everything is going real well down here.”
Extended Spring training is notorious for being long and boring. After you complete your workout for the day, you’ve got 19 or 20 hours to kill. It makes for tedious time. Wagner takes it all in stride. “I’m just trtying to stay sane down here.” he joked. “I’m getting a lot of good work done down here, despite having to wait for my hand to heal.” Wagner was hitting .226 with 2 homers and 8 rbi, when he went down after just 16 games. He had been starting 4-5 games a week before the injury. Since then, Dusty Brown has taken over every day catching duties
Wagner says he is making strides on a daily basis. “My grip strength is starting to come back, and once it does..it’s GAME ON!” Despite his enthusiasm, the Red Sox management will keep a close eye on his progress, making sure he doesn’t do anything to hamper his recovery. “I hope I’ll be back, seeing you guys really soon!” Wagner is not only a very good player, but a strong presence in the clubhouse. Hopefully, he will be back soon.
I’m sure Rick Medeiros has detailed our trip to “Doumar’s” in geat detail on his blog, “Rollin’ with Rick”. “Doumar’s” is a hole in the wall diner, that boasts the worlds’ first ice cream cone making machine. It is still in operation, invented by the current owners’ father about a hundred years ago. Abe Doumar was a Syrian immigrant that came up with the idea for the cone. His son, Al, in his late eighties, still works every day. “Doumars” was featured a couple of years ago on the Food Networks’ “Diners Drive-ins and Dives.” There’s a gigantic autographed poster of Guy Fieri, the host of the show, hanging on the wall. It is a trip back in time, one I thoroughly enjoyed. If you’re in the Norfolk area, give it a try. I heartily recommend the Lime Freeze.
The question I am most frequently asked (other than”what’s wrong with you?”) is “What do you do all day?” I figured I’d answer the question and from now on, refer anyone that wants to know, to this blog.
Point number one. It really varies from day to day. At home, I’ll do errands, blog, go to the gym, sometimes eat lunch with my brother, nothing really special. Probably exactly what you do when you have to work. I live in Newport, about 45 minutes south of McCoy, so I’ll sometimes stop at Dunkin’ Donuts for a “pick-me up” cup of coffee. (Large, a little cream and a sweet and low, in case you’re wondering) Usually at home, after a game, I’ll head right back home for some sleep. Occasionally, I’ll stop somewhere like “Cappys” for a beer. Friday nights are the best. My man, Joe Lalli is behind the bar. If it’s a day game, I might go to the “Brick Alley Pub” for dinner. I enjoy sitting at the bar, watching the Red Sox, eating and chatting. It’s my favorite restaurant anywhere.
On the road, things are a little diffferent. You tend to sleep a little later. I am not a fan of hotel rooms. I am a big “lobby guy.” I settle in, in a comfortable chair and take in the sights and sounds. After a cup or two of coffee and the morning crossword puzzle, there’s usually a van heading to the gym. PawSox players are required to go a certain amount of times per road trip. Mike Roose, the strength coach is always kind enough to let the old man tag along. I’ve been trying to rehab my knee since I had arthroscopic surgery in March. It’s much better, but still not 100%. There’s almost always playful banter and jabbing at each other on the ride over. One might be ridiculed for being stupid, weak a bad dresser, smart, strong or a classy dresser. It doesn’t matter. I have always said, you can’t have a thin skin and travel with this gang. I am not immune, despite my age (48) or number of years in the International League (10). Some days you’re the windshield, some days, you’re the bug. It is like my mother told me when I was a kid. “They only make fun of you if they like you.” They must REALLY like me. After an hour or so at the gym, we pile back into the van, head to the hotel and shower up. Lunch is usually next. 99.9% of the time, Dan and I eat together. We have diffferent tastes, but always manage to come up with a consensus. By the time we’re through, it’s about 1:30 or 2:00 p.m. I may head back to the room to do the blog (as I am now), or might hit the local mall for a look-see. Different towns provide different things to do. In Columbus, I spend the time with my daughters, who live there. In Syracuse, I visit with old friends. In some cities, you’re strapped to the hotel because there’s nothing around. In others, there’s plenty to do. One great addition to our travelling entourage has been Rick Medeiros. Rick is a retired cop who is head of security for the PawSox. Due to the high cost of shipping equipment on planes, Rick drives a Penske truck from city to city. He has become our third ”amigo”, always joining Dan and me for either lunch or a post game meal. Having Rick around makes things much more fun and interesting. One time in Charlotte, he asked an 80 year old woman if she had any tattoos. Ya never know what he might say. I am really glad he’s around, though. It never fails, the day always goes by quickly. Usually around three o’clock or so, we head to the park assuming it’s a 7:00 game. “Why so early?” you might ask. The “magic” you hear us weave on a nightly basis, doesn’t just happen. There is always a pregame meeting with the manager. Torey Lovullo has been terrific to us and always has an open door. We pick his brain. Batting practice is one of my favorite parts of the day. Hanging around the cage, chatting with the fellas, trying to glean “nuggets” for the broadcast. Dan and I alternate doing the pre-game interview. You have to figure who to get. One of our guys, or an interesting opponent. Either a former star or a rising prospect is usually the case. Then it takes a little while to fill out the scorebook. Lineups, stats, notes fill the spiral style book. I use a couple of different color pens so thing jump out at me. We make contact with the radio station about 30 minutes before air time. Ordinarily, I spend the last half hour before we go on the air, on line checking out interesting baseball stories that I might use that night. I might grab a quick bite from the press box if it looks edible (McCoys’ is always great thanks to chef Ken Bowdish, on the road- not so much). I try to speak with my daughters on the phone, and then just settle in. Whether we win or lose, the broadcast is almost always fun, thanks to Dan. We’ve been friends a long time and have done the PawSox games together for almost 5 years. There’s usually a good laugh or two every night. If the pregame food in the press box is crummy. we’ll head out for a late night snack. Depending on the city, we have our favorites. It’s a chance to wind down tell stories and get a bite to eat. There are some I.L. broadcasters we hang out with regularly like Josh Wetzel in Rochester, Matt Swierad and Mike Pacheco in Charlotte or Jim Weber in Toledo. It’s fun to hear their war stories, we all go through the same stuff.
Folks tend to think I lead a glamorous life, living with the future stars of the Red Sox. It is far from that. Don’t get me wrong- I love it. You couldn’t do it this long if you didn’t love it. You miss your families, but hopefully they understand. It is rewarding, personally. I am one of the lucky ones that goes to a job he loves, every day!
It was great to welcome Jacoby Ellsbury back to McCoy on Monday, as he began his rehab with the PawSox. Just one game before heading north to join Portland, since the PawSox are heading south to Norfolk and Durham. “Ells” and I sat down before his 1-3 afternoon, that included a walk, 2 runs and an rbi.
How are you feeling?
Feeling better. The biggest thing is it feels good being back in the lineup, and get back playing. I’m excited for it.
It was 2007 when you starred here in Pawtucket. Does everything since then seem like a whirlwind?
It does. Everything happened quickly. It’s been fun, especially winning that World Series. It’s good to be back here, seeing familiar faces, like yourself. I am excited to be here for today.
Going back to the ’07 World Series, not only did you star in it and win it, but how much did it help your confidence, moving forward?
The confidence just snowballs when you succeed at the highest level, it grows and you grow as a player. It helps you to be strong.
Despite all your accomplishments already, you’re still just 26. What did it mean to you to break Tommy Harpers’ single season stolen base mark of 54 set in 1973, at such an early stage of your career?
I still talk to Tommy. He’s always at the ballpark. It was neat. Such a storied franchise, for all the great players that have come in that locker room, to have any kind of record in that clubhouse is pretty special. I think it was neat that Tommy could be there, to mentor me and show me what’s going on a little bit.
You’ve already got that mark. What goal do you set for yourself this year?
For one, be consistent, stay healthy and get on base and steal at a high success rate. With the guys that are hitting behind me in the order, it’s important. It’s been fun. I enjoy getting on base and causing havoc, making things happen. It’s part of my game. I enjoy it.
Everyone seems willing to concede that you are the fastest guy around. There was one exception. Clay Buchholz claimed that if you two raced, he’d win. Has he come around yet?
I hope so (followed by laughter). That race he talks about never happened, but it makes for a good story for “Buch”. I thought it was pretty funny.
People tend to focus on te speed, but you are a career .297 hitter. My contention is the reason the Red Sox have struggled is because you’re not there at the top of the order to put pressure on the opposition.
When I go up there, my main thing is to be a hard out. cause havoc, put the ball in play, hit the ball hard. I feel I can bring a lot to a lineup. That’s why I’ve been itching to get back out there. Today’s a big step to get back in the lineup. It feels like it’s been a long time.
When the Red Sox acquired Mike Cameron, Terry Francona said he made sure to talk to you about moving from center to left, so you you wouldn’t feel it was a demotion. How have you adjusted to playing outside your natural habitat?
I think centerfield is always going to be my natural position. I’ve played there my whole life. When I came up in ’07, I played a lot of left. I felt comfortable starting the season there. I only got 6 games in (before getting hurt). When Cam gets a day off, I’ll play center. I think the adjustment has gone pretty well.
Initially, after your collision with Adrian Beltre, you weren’t put on the DL. Were you surprised at the severity of your injury?
At first, they diagnosed that it was just a bruise. A couple of days went by and it felt the same, so I asked for an MRI. It revealed four broken bones. I think if we had found it a little sooner, I’d have been back a little sooner. It takes time to heal and time was all I had. I’ve been staying in shape. Taking BP, running- doing whatever I needed to do so that when I get back out there, I’m ready to go.
How long before you think youi’ll be ready to rejoin Boston?
Hopefully, soon. Go out there and feel pretty good. The biggest thing is playing defense, running, just getting over that couple of days of soreness. I’m hoping to be back up there as soon as possible.
A week ago, the PawSox were mired in a season-long funk. At 12-19 they were playing Gwinnett at home, and perhaps dreading a 4 game series with first place Syracuse. Something funny happened somewhere along the way. The PawSox got hot. Heading into Mondays’ matinee with Syracuse, the Sox had won a season-high, 6 straight games. They’ve gotten very good pitching, timely hitting and solid defense. The addition of Mike Cameron to the lineup certainly helped. His hitting, gold glove defense and veteran leadership all made an impression on his mates. His generosity won’t soon be forgotten. He treated the guys to a couple of post game spreads and took a handful of them to the Celtics/ Cavs- game 7 in Boston. I almost felt embarassed to give him the $25 gift card from Gregg’s for being my on-field guest. He accepted it graciously, with a smile.
Cameron’s gone, presumably ready to rejoin Boston and here comes Jacoby Ellsbury. The former PawSox centerfielder will play one game at McCoy, then to avoid going on the road with the club, he is reported to be heading north to play at AA with Portland. When Cameron’s activated and then when Ellsbury is activated, it will necessitate two players being optioned to Pawtucket. Darnell McDonald, Jonathan Van Every and Bill Hall are the likely candidates. It ought to be interesting.
Busy weekend at McCoy. Youth Clinic, Motorcycle show, food drive Principal Financial Fan Fest an oh yeah…baseball. Sunday, author Edward Achorn was in the park for a book signing. An editorial writer at the Providence Journal, Achorn wrote “59 in ’84″. It is the story of Old Hoss Radbourne, baseball in Providence and America in the 1880′s. PawSox owner Ben Mondor gave me a copy of the book, which Achorn was gracious enough to autograph for me. Speaaking of Mondor, you never know who you’ll find watchng a game in his booth. Saturday, former New England Patriots quarterback, Steve Grogan took in the game from the owners’ suite, and Sunday, Maestro Keith Lockhart of the Boston Pops was supposed to watch with Ben, but had to cancel at the last minute.
Listener Chris Aaron of Framingham, Mass won our contest to name the Chad Paronto pregame interview segment. “Hangin’ with Chad”, earned Aaron a Gift card to Gregg’s. I think anyone (with maybe the exception of Al Gore) would find the name amusing. The Achorn interview, and the Paronto segment will be available to hear on pawsox.com
I got a phone call Wednesday morning. It was former PawSox infielder, Jeff Natale. “Dude” he said. “You’re not going to believe this.” When a conversation begins like that, it could go in any direction. So I braced myself for news from my friend, and even in my wildest imagination, I wouldn’t have expected this. “I’m signing with the Yankees.” “Huh?” was my insightful reply. After I got up off the ground, I congratulated him. He is an excellent baseball player and I still contend the Red Sox made a big mistake letting him go. “I’m heading to Tampa for a week or so, then probably to Scranton.” Natale had been weighing his options, including a series of conversations with the Arizona Diamondbacks and worst case scenario, a job in independent ball.
If you are familiar with my blog or broadcast, there is nothing in the world, NOTHING that I hate more than the New York Yankees. I’ve admitted in the past that I think it’s irrational. In “Fever Pitch”, Jimmy Fallon talks about his undying love for the Red Sox. He tells Drew Barrymore that he has always loved the Sox. He asks her what in her life has she loved since she was a kid and still loves today. I thought it was a brilliant point in the movie for a fanatic like me. Conversely, as I say, there is nothing I loathe like the Yankees. Everyone says-”Well, you can hate the Yankees, but you’ve got to like Jeter, right?” No, I don’t. Natale once confided to me that he grew up as a Yankees fan in Connecticut. He likes Jeter, but he was able to put it aside while he was in the Sox system. He can now come out of the closet and proudly proclaim his love for the “Evil Empire”.
I never thought I’d say this, but I find myself in a predicament. I’m probsbly as close with Nat as I have ever been with an athlete I covered. We just hit it off. So what do I do? Inevitably, he’ll come back to haunt the Sox, whether it’s in Pawtucket or Moosic, or Boston or New York. I’ll be honest. On the inside, I’ll be cheering like a proud papa. Dan Hoard has been teasing me that I am really, secretly a Yankees fan. He cited the picture of Johnny Damon I carry in my wallet. (It’s with my daughters and he was a Red Sox at the time). He inferred that I would wear a Yankees hat if Nat got me one. (No worries there, there’s never been a hat of any type that fits my Abraham Lincolnesque dome). Hoard even went as far as to fabricate a story that had me sending a birthday card to 85 year old Yogi Berra.
It’s like changing religions, or families. Usually, it’s just not done. The response from his former teammates has been terrific. They respect and like him. He told me Thursday that he had received text messages from some of the guys, congratulating him. “Pretty awesome.” was how he put it. Two pitchers, currently on the ballclub, separately told me the same thing. “Man, I don’t want to have to face Natale.” They know what he can do, and almost certainly, will do when the clubs meet . Nats’ final words to me Thursday night were- “I’m pumped to get another shot.” Great for Natale and I hate to say it, but-Great for the Yankees.
Folks, please be generous on Saturday at McCoy. PawSox players’ wives and girlfriends are holding a food drive to help benefit those less fortunate. Bring your non-perishable food items to the game on Saturday night. It’s something you can feel really good about.