June 2010

GROWING A BIERD IN PAWTUCKET

     You may or may not know, but Red Sox minor leaguers are not allowed to have facial hair.  No whiskers of any sort.  There is one Bierd allowed at McCoy, however.  Randor Bierd.  The 26 year old righthander came over in January of 2009 from Baltimore for David Pauley.  Bierd came off the disabled list on Sunday, after suffering with a sore shoulder for the last month.  Randor started for the PawSox in Louisville and went three and a third innings, allowing 2 runs and scattering 7 hits in the 4-3 loss to the Bats.  It may not excite the average fan, but it was definitely a step in the right direction.  Bierd began the season in the bullpen, piggybacking on starts of men like Daisuke Matsuzaka and Boof Bonser.  With both of those guys in Boston, a spot in the rotation opens for the native of the Dominican Republic.  Randor moved into the starting rotation back in August and went 2-1 with a 3.57 ERA in seven starts.  It was impressive enough to open some eyes and move him into the rotation on a permanent basis.

     Originally signed by the Tigers as a nondrafted free agent in 2003, Bierd definitely didn’t take a conventional road to the Majors.  He has pitched in 29 games in the big leagues for the Orioles and is working to return with the Sox.

     As a young boy in Santo Domingo, Bierd suffered with asthma.  “Until I was thirteen, I couldn’t play baseball or any sport.  I had lots of trouble breathing.”  That all changed when Bierds’ uncle snuck him out of the house to play baseball one day while his mother was working.  “My mother didn’t know.  She was at work.  Right away, I liked baseball.  I was pretty good.”  Healthwise, an amazing thing happened to the young Bierd.  “As soon as I began to play baseball, my breathing trouble went away.  It has never come back.”  Eventually, his mom found out and she couldn’t fight his new love.  It was apparent very quickly that Randor was meant to play the game.  Bierd has been generous with his family and will continue to do so.   “Every check I get, I send some to my uncle.  Without him, I wouldn’t have anything.”  Don’t worry, he, like any good son, is taking care of his mom, too.  “Right now, I am buying my mother a house in the Dominican.”  Bierd beamed as he shared that news with me    

     The baseball bug has bitten another member of the Bierd clan.  His younger brother Jose, is a farm hand in the Mets organization.  Like Randor, he is a pitcher.  “Jose really didn’t like baseball very much, but he saw the money I made.  He likes it  much better now.”  The younger Bierd, 25, is 2-3, 4.35 with 4 saves for the St. Lucie Mets.

     While Bierd toils in the minors, he vividly recalls two incidents that let him know he can pitch at the highest level.  “For me, the best moment came when I struck out A-Rod.”  Bierd fondly remembers striking out Alex Rodriguez when his Orioles were playing New York.  “That was great.”  He also likes to recall a moment when he got the best of a future Yankee.  “We were playing the Angels and my manager has me walk a man to load the bases and face Mark Texeira.  I got Texeira to hit into an inning ending double play with the bases loaded.”  The ear to ear grin on Bierds’ was priceless as he recollected the memories.

     Although he admits to being a fan of the Dallas Mavericks and Dirk Nowitzki, he is rooting for the Celtics in their NBA Finals matchup with the Lakers.  “Boston’s a good team.  They will win.”  Maybe before too much time passes, the kid who used to have asthma, will be helping a different Boston team to victory.

 

DECISION TIME ON BONSER

     Back in December, the Red Sox traded for big righthander, Boof Bonser, presumably for long relief duty in the bullpen.  Everything was going according to plan until the 28 year old came down with a groin pull in late March.  At that time it seemed like Bonser was competing with Joe Nelson, Scott Atchison and later Scott Schoeneweis for the final spot in the Boston pen.  Atchison and Schoeneweis began the year in Boston, while Nelson and Bonser started their seasons at McCoy. Nelly’s been in the bigs now for a couple of weeks, Scoheneweis is gone and Atchison is back in the Majors.  That leaves Bonser.  Boof struggled early in April with shoulder stiffness, but after his most recent start, we talked.  “Everything is feeling good.  Everything is clicking, knock on wood.”  After his last outing (7 ip, 1er 5h, 0bb, 6k) Bonser said that there is nothing physically holding him back.  “I just keep doing what they tell me to do.  Physically, if I can go out there and just pitch, I think that’s helping out big time, getting my start, every five days.” 

     Bonser needed to prove to Boston that the early season “kinks” are a thing of the past and no longer a factor.  “No, no, none of that.  I’ve been able to prepare and be ready every five days.”  Boof says he’s no more clear on his immediate future than we are.  “The funny thing is, that you guys seem to know more than I do.  To be honest, I have no idea.  I’m just doing what they tell me to do.  Get my innings in, work on my pitches…that’s what I’ve been doing.”  Bonser says he has absolutely no clue, as to the Red Sox’ plans for him.  “Everybody expects to be up there (Boston).  That’s where I hope to be.  It’s getting close to the end and that is where I hope to be.  I want to be with the Red Sox, not here in Pawtucket.”  The deadline is the 6th of June.  That is the last day he can pitch for the PawSox.  He is scheduled to start here in Louisville against the Bats.  After that, it’s anybodys’ guess.  Either Boston calls him up or has to let him go.  Reports have been floating around that he and Atchison will flip-flop spots.

     He has pitched well, for the most part fot the PawSox.  Overall, the numbers don’t look great (0-2, 6.54)  He’s made 8 starts for Pawtucket and 6 have been very solid.  Still just 28 years old, he would provide depth for those nights the starter doesn’t last. “They wanted me to be the ‘long’ guy in the pen, in case a starter goes down.  I can eat up the innings.  Unfortunately I got hurt during Spring and had to do this rehab assignment.  That was the plan from the get-go.”

     Bonser says it’s been especially frustrating for him, seing friends and fellow competitors like Nelson and Atchison get chances that he might have had if he were healthy.  “I’m frustrated.  I missed all of last year due to shoulder surgery.  Got healthy and then got hurt again at Fort Myers.  I keep wondering what’s next.”  Bonser is clear that he isn’t diminishing the accomplishments of the other relievers, but he is smart enough to know, it would or could have been him.  “The three of us competed at Spring Training.  They’re up there and I’m not.  I’ll see what happens soon.”

     Boof Bonser is 6’4 and listed at 245 pounds.  It brought a smile to his face when I used the words “cat-like quickness” describing his defensive prowess.  He sounded like Bill Belichick when he answered.  “It is what it is- I get the adrenaline flowing and it’s my game out there.  I’m going to get to that ball.  I know I’ve surprised a lot of people playing ball.”  Despite what he’s endured, Bonser is still a hard-throwing 28 year old with his career still out there n front of him.   In spite of his size and the injuries he’s endured, he seems OK with who he is.  “It’s funny.  It’s always been- ‘you’re not like the other pitchers’. I’m built differently.  I’m a plus size guy.  It happens.”  Bonser says that trainers and coaches have finally stopped trying to get him to be an “off the rack” type of guy.  Boof cited David Wells.  He said if the Hefty Lefty were a thin man, he might not have reached the heights he reached.  “Look at Wells.  He’s a big guy.  I don’t know exactly how many years he got in, but the wins…everything else.  He pitched successfully in the Big Leagues, he did what he did.  He went out and did well, very well.  That’s how I look at it.”

     Boof would love to be in Boston, but he is mentally preparing himself, in case they don’t want him.  “I don’t know…free agency, waivers.  I have no idea.  Whatever happens.”  We will find out very soon.                       

CELTIC PRIDE IN PAWTUCKET

     You shouldn’t be surprised to know that professional athletes are sports fans.  Fans of sports other than the ones where they earn their living.  That rings true in the PawSox clubhouse these days.  With the Celtics ready to square off against the Lakers in the NBA finals, there’s no shortage of trash-talking at McCoy Stadium.

     I begin by saying that I am, and have always been a Celts’ fan. I did get a little disgusted during the year, when some of the C’s claimed they were “bored” with the regular season.  They’ve flipped the switch, dispatched Dwyane and the Heat, LeBron and the Cavs and Dwight and the Magic.  Up next- Kobe ad the Lakers.  While Red Sox skipper Terry Francona is a big fan of Doc Rivers and the Celtics, PawSox manager Torey Lovullo is not.  “I grew up in ‘Cally’ and I’ve always been a Lakers fan”.  While we all know, thanks to Pete Rose, that betting on baseball is illegal, there is no rule that prevents two colleagues from making a friendly wager on the series.  I have Boston.  Torey has L.A.  Loser takes the winner out to dinner…….Hmmmm, somewhere on Fedeal Hill might be nice.  Lovullo is greatly outnumbered in his own clubhouse.  Leading the attack, with a “BEAT LA” bumper sticker on his locker is New Englander Chad Paronto.  The big reliever sums it up nicely- “There’s one thing that wins championships- Heart.  And that’s what the Celtics have!!”  Tuesday, as several members of the PawSox sat in the dugout during an afternoon thunder storm, Paronto compared a lightning bolt to a Ray Allen jump shot. “It’ll kill you.”  Chad is definitely the most vocal Celtics fan.  Decked out in a C’s t-shirt, he high-fived any teammates who agreed with him and admonished those who didn’t. 

     An informal exit poll was conducted that afternoon and of the 25 men asked a simple question- “Boston or L.A.?” eighteen had the good sense to respect the “Mystique”.  There was an almost universal response after they said “Celtics”.  Most of the time, it was quickly followed with “I hate Kobe!”  Instead of listing all the “smart” guys, I’ll rat out the Lakers fans.  It’ll be much quicker.  Besides Torey, pitching coach Rich Sauveur says the Lakers will win.  Sauveur is joined by pitchers Randor Bierd, Fabio Castro, Robert Manuel, and infielders Lars Anderson and Gil Velazquez.   It’s always fun.  Game one is set for Thursday.

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     It’s always interesting to talk with Lovullo about his father, Sam, who was the executive producer for the old TV show “HeeHaw.”  Torey said his dad was such a great baseball fan, that occasionally, he’d invite stars of the game to appear on the country music program. “Dizzy Dean, Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Stan Musial all came on the show.”  Lovullo remembers how Deans’ appearance got hin into trouble. ” I was a young kid.  We were playing ball outside and we lost the ball.  I ran into the house and grabbed the first baseball I could find.  We continued to play and when my father got home, he noticed we were playing with the ball Dizzy Dean had autographed for me.”  Torey said his father never usually got too angry with him, but that day was an exception. “Oh, was he mad! He took the ball.  He was ticked!” 

     After Mickey Mantles’ appearance on the program, he forged a friendship with co-host, Roy Clark.  The two developed such a close bond, that Clark sang at the Micks’ funeral in 1995.  As much as I hate to admit it, and I did ‘fess up to Torey, despite my hatred of the Yankees, I got a little emotional as Clark, with his guitar, crooned- “Yesterday, when I was young….”  I’ll always remember Clarks’ words as he got ready to pay tribute to his friend.  “A promise is a promise.  it just wasn’t supposed to happen so soon.”  Torey added that Clark has come to the ballpark where he’s been managing before and taken batting practice.”  I’ll keep you posted.

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   One final thought for the day.  With the health of Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron still so “iffy”, you might wonder if the Red Sox are “fast-tracking” Ryan Kalish.  The 22 year old prospect had played just 7 games in center for Portland, while playing at least  twice as many at each of the corner spots.  Kalish played center on Tuesday night for the PawSox.  He went 0-4, but made a couple of nice sliding/diving catches in center.  We’ll keep an eye on that for you, too.

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