September 2010

THE OTHER JOE MORGAN

     There are two baseball Joe Morgans.  Ours and the other one.  “Walpole Joe”, the former Pawtucket and Boston manager is beloved in this neck of the woods, and rightfully so.  Morgan Magic captivated New England a generation ago.  As Joe told me earlier this season, he doesn’t miss managing and is thoroughly enjoying his retirement.  It’s always a treat when that Joe Morgan comes around.

     The other Joe Morgan is a different story.  The Hall of Fame second baseman, part of “The Big Red Machine” of the seventies, that defeated the Sox in the 1975 World Series, is a commentator on ESPN.  He works Sunday Night Baseball with Jon Miller and Orel Hershiser.  Apparently, Morgan is one of the lucky announcers that is paid “by the word”.  He has diarrhea of the mouth.  We’ve come to settle in with Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy on NESN.  We’re used to their banter, their pace, their analysis and their style.  Whether you like them or not, (I do), they are our guys.  It is tougher to listen to the ESPN broadcast.  Morgan will either predict the daylights out of the game and when he finally gets one right, he’ll boast.  Or, if something happens, he says “I was just about to say that…”  Had to endure that broadcast on Sunday night.

     The other thing that bugged me about the trio, was Millers’ repetition.  He harped on and on about Joe Girardi’s decision to start Phil Hughes instead of Dustin Moseley against Boston.  Miller, ordinarily one of the best, this side of Vin Scully, seemed to just mail it in.  Nothing worse to me than a guy who hasn’t done much, if any homework, and drones on about the same topic, hammering it into the ground.  It turns off the listener/viewer.

     The guys did raise an interesting point during the Boston/New York marathon.  “Did the Red Sox give up too soon on the 2010 season?”  Nineteen men went on the disabled list this season, 9 of them, current or former All Stars.  Despite that, the Sox have hung in there until the bitter end.  True, they’ve been able to “kick the tires” on guys like Ryan Kalish and Lars Anderson, but if they’d acquired some “road tested” vets for the stretch, there’s a chance that we could be looking forward to a fun October.  Hershiser pointed out that the Sox may not have considered the swoon the Yankees endured late this month.  Boston needed to catch just one of those teams for a postseason berth.  If Boston had gotten anything from Josh Beckett this season, if John Lackey wasn’t so average or if Dice-K wasn’t Dice-K, there could be postseason activity.  

     I will say, however, that I also watched Saturday’s game on Fox and it is always a pleasure to hear the voice of Dick Stockton.  Even when Tim McCarver is sitting next to him.

WAIT ‘TIL NEXT YEAR

     As the Red Sox sputter down the home stretch for 2010, it is apparent that there’ll be no playoff baseball in Boston.  Selfishly, that’s a bummer.  PawSox owner Ben Mondor always buys a bunch of tickets and treats his employees to a good time.  It’s nice to socialize away from McCoy with your colleagues.  I believe it’s a “perk” that none of us takes for granted.  Sadly, no one, not even Ben could turn around the fortunes of the Red Sox this year.

     These next ten days should have been the most exciting stretch of the season.  Six games against the hated Yankees.  The perfect prelude to an ALCS matchup.  Instead, we’re left wondering what might have been if Pedroia hadn’t gotten hurt. If Youk, Ellsbury, Cameron etc. had stayed healthy.  Injuries are part of the game.  I understand. But, come on!  Now I am relegated, not only to hating the Yankees,  but also to being jealous of them.  Jealous that their fans could be treated to another championship.  We now know what it is like to win it all, and as dumb as this might sound, winning is way better than losing.  I loved having the upper hand over Yankees fans.  It was awesome.  People think I’m crazy when I tell them I will not watch the playoffs.  They may be right.  But without your favorite gal at the party, why stick around?  Unfortunately, these six meetings between the bitter rivals will mean nothing more than a March meeting in Fort Myers or Tampa.  (By the way, was anyone surprised that the monument dedicated to George Steinbrenner at Yankee Stadium this week was bigger than the ones for Ruth, Mantle or DiMaggio?)

     The lone bright spot this September has been the abundance of playing time for friends of ours like Josh Reddick, Ryan Kalish, Daniel Nava, Lars Anderson, Michael Bowden and Rich Hill.  For the most part, they have answered the call, and are jockeying for spots in 2011.  Some will be in Boston.  Others, back at McCoy and some, with other teams.  The nice thing is, they are gaining valuable experience, getting a taste of the Bigs and also fattening their bank accounts.  It’s also great to see Pawtucket manager Torey Lovullo in the Boston dugout.  I spoke to the skipper this week and he is soaking it all in.  “Tito (Terry Francona) is an amazing guy to be around.  I’ve learned so much in this short time, just listening and observing, it’s great.”  Francona and Lovullo have a relationship that dates back to Toreys’ last days a a player in the Phillies organization, when he was managed by Francona.  Later, the pair worked together in the Cleveland chain and became even closer.  As Francona told me last winter, it was a “no-brainer” when Lovullo became available.  The Red Sox hired him immediately.  After seeing him in action this season, I understand why.

     You know you’re in flux when you have so many questions to answer in the offseason.  Not just about players like Reddick and Kalish, but players like David Ortiz, Adrian Beltre, Victor Martinez and Jonathan Papelbon.   I hope to see all four of them back at Fenway.  Big Papi has proven he can still produce.  Beltre has put MVP numbers in his season of “redemption”.  Victor gets the seal of approval from Dustin Pedroia and that is more than good enough for me.  Papelbon is a stud.  His best years are still ahead of him.  As John Tomase pointed out in the “Boston Herald”, and I agree, I’d rather have a pen that features both Pap and Daniel Bard.  The bullpen struggled with both of them there in ’10.  How much worse would it be without Papelbon.

     Many questions to be answered in the coming months.  Call me if you want to hang out over the next couple of weeks.  I’ve got plenty of free time.  For me, the baseball season is over.

SPECIAL DAYS AT MCCOY

     If you’re reading this blog, chances are that you are a baseball fan of some measure.  If you are, then you might get a little jealous when you hear about this.  This week, the PawSox invited their sponsors and advertisers out to McCoy to play baseball.  That’s right.  The folks were allowed to take the field, throw in the bullpen and take swings in the batting cage.  The week before, season ticket holders were given the same opportunity.  It’s the way the PawSox thank their loyal supporters.

     According to Michael Gwynn, PawSox V.P. of Sales and Marketing, it is a special way to thank the people who support the PawSox.  “We probably started this about 9 years ago.  We looked for a way to thank our sponsors in a way that was different.  Something they might not get to do in an ordinary setting.  We decided to open up the stadium, bring them over and give them a feel of what it’s like for a player to come to te ballpark, dress in the locker room and take batting practice like the players do every day.  For the sponsors, it was a great opportunity to see what it’s like to be a player.  They loved it the first year.  We decided we had to do it every year.” 

     It has snowballed over the years with hundreds signing up to take their hacks against the pitching machine.  After humble beginnings, it has picked up momentum over time.  “The first year, people didn’t know what to expect.  We got a good turn out the first year.  They came, got out on the field and found out that there was nothing better than being out on the McCoy Stadium diamond.  The green grass, the sun coming down, the sound of the bat hitting the ball.  I think it brought back a lot of memories for them.  No matter what level they played, Little League, high school, whatever, it took hold immediately.” said Gwynn.

     Skill level is unimportant.  In the three days of batting practice this year, just one home run was hit.  Dan Pettinato of Arbella Insurance launched one into the PawSox bullpen in leftfield.  He was pleased.  “It felt great.  I just wanted to get up there and get hold of one.”  Pettinato was impressed with McCoy.  “This is such a great facility.  Just unbelievable.”  When he’s not working for Arbella, he coaches American Legion Baseball.  Dan wished that some of his players had been there to witness his dip into the fountain of youth.  “Absolutely.  It’s always a bragging rights kind of thing with those kids.”

     Bill Cardinal of IHOP is a regular at the annual event.  Dressed in his Red Sox jersey and PawSox cap, Bill was thoroughly enjoying the day.  “For an old guy like me, the little kid is coming out again.  The child never leaves you.  I’m 48 years old, feeling like I’m 21.  I know I’ll feel a little shaky right now and achey tomorrow.”  Cardinal, who along with his brother Glenn, operates several Rhode Island restaurants savored the chance to be on the field where many Red Sox stars have played  and developed. “I went back out to the bullpen.  I thought about just this year.  (Josh) Beckett was out there.  Daisuke (Matsuzaka)…just being on the same mound, what an experience.  That’s something I’ll treasure.  I’ll never forget it.”  Playing some defense at the park gave him a new-found appreciation for the young Pawtucket outfielders like Bubba Bell and Josh Reddick. “Being in the outfield and shagging balls.  It was amazing.  Thinking that there are only three players out there that make up that tremendous distance.  I was only good for about 15 feet, myself.”  Cardinal took in the big picture and reflected on the parallels of his company and the PawSox.  “The PawSox are an icon here in Rhode Island.  So many fans turn out.  With IHOP being family oriented dining, and the PawSox being such a family-type event.  For us it’s a no-brainer.  Our relationship with the PawSox is a natural.  We are both targeting the same type of audience and customer base.  It’s all about families and that’s what you guys (The PawSox)  do so well.

     Gwynn knows that every year, long before the season ends, he’ll get almost daily reminders from people regarding those magic days of September, when they’ll don their brand new PawSox shirt and hat that they’re given, put on their glove, swing the bat and eat a terrific lunch under the red and white striped tent on the first base line.  “At least once or twice a game, I’ll run into sponsors at McCoy and they always say the same thing.  ‘Don’t forget to invite me to that batting day.”    

WHO YOU ROOT FOR

     There really is no rational reason a lot of times as to who you root for or for that matter, against.  As baseball is over in 2010 for me (sorry Boston) I turn my attention to my beloved New England Patriots and to college football.  I root for Ohio State (my daughters and I used to live in Columbus).  In college football, that’s really about it.  I do root against a lot of teams though.  Much of it is based on personal experiences I may have had with a coach or player from the school.  Also, it is based on a graduate of that particular school that I might not like, or even a broadcaster from that college that I may loathe.  Anyway, I have absolutely no interest in the Pac-10 or for that matter, UCLA, but I did find myself rooting for the Bruins as they were drubbed by Stanford, 35-0.  PawSox manager Torey is a UCLA grad and a member of their athletic Hall of Fame. Torey is a great guy and I thoroughly enjoyed working with him in 2010.  He was clearly a bright spot in the season.  Even after spending a solid 5 months with a guy, you continue to learn new things.

     First example.  When Torey was a young boy, growing up in Southern California, his flag football coach was actor Robert Conrad.  Remember him? “Knock this battery off my shoulder…I dare ya!”  The star of the “Wild Wild West” led Lovullos’ team to the California state championship.  As I’ve mentioned in the past, Toreys’ father Sam, was the executive producer for the TV show “HeeHaw”.  He knew some celebrities, growing up.  I know I’ve told you the story of a young Lovullo (5 or 6 years old) playing basketball with Elvis Presley at the “Kings’” Palm Springs  estate.  The alumni list from his high school, Montclair College Prep in Van Nuys, California is a veritable “who’s who” from the entertainment world.

     The school has educated the likes of Cher, Eve Plumb (Jan from the Brady Bunch), Danny Bonaduce (Danny Partridge),  Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra Jr., and Nicole Richie.  Torey told me that the late Barry Whites’ children attended Montclair while he was there.  (They did not walk around the school in silk bathrobes, talking in a low voice).  And sadly, contrary to urban legend (that I started) Torey did not take Jan Brady to the Senior Prom.  “Oh my goodness”  he laughed.  “No I didn’t.  She was a little too old for me.   She was about 6 or 7 years ahead of me at Montclair.  It’s a great school and we are proud of the names that have come out of there.  I know you know the names.  It’s a pretty impressive list of alumni that have come out of that school.”  There may be some more famous grads from Montclair, but there are no better people than my man Salvatore Anthony Lovullo.

HI-TEK

     With nothing really to play for, the 2010 PawSox limped into the finish line, getting swept in Scranton and splitting with Syracuse to end a forgettable season.  The one remarkable fact about the PawSox this year was the seemingly endless stream of Major League rehabbers that graced McCoy Stadium with their presence.  The final one of the year was catcher Jason Varitek.  The Red Sox captain played in the Syracuse series, catching one game and DH-ing in the finale.  I had the chance to spend some “quiet time” with the three time American League All Star.

     Varitek sustained a broken foot, but was happy to be behind the plate and playing again.  “I felt good.  I was anxious to get back out there on the field.  The body responded well and I’m ready to get after it again.”  Varitek was tested early by the Chiefs and their widely unpopular manager, Trent Jewett.  The consensus was that Jewett would try to “show up” Varitek in some way.  In the first inning, he had Michael Martinez attempt a stolen base and Varitek gunned him down by at least ten feet.  “We’ve done a lot to try to maintain arm strength from the time I was in a boot until now, so (Fabio) Castro gave me a chance and I made a good accurate throw.”  Varitek adds that he is ready to return to Boston.  “The foot’s good.  I’m ready to get some at bats.  Getting through the game yesterday, had a couple of balls in the dirt, a guy tried to steal, had a long inning behind the plate and got a couple of at bats.  I had a little bit of everything yesterday, so it was good.”

     Offensively, in two games, Varitek had two hits and a sacrifice fly that scored a run.  He was somewhat satisfied.  “In the grand scheme of things, I was pleased.  Especially in the third at bat, fouling off pitches, I was happy, staying in the at bat.  I felt good at the plate, period.

     Varitek has been in the game a long time, but even he couldn’t have envisioned the nightmarish injury plagued season his team would have to endure.  “It’s been a different experience for a lot of people.  It’s been that way all year, not just a month.  It’s given a lot of people an opportunity to play.  A lot of different people had to ask extra things of themselves.  Really, we are just a few one run games away from being at the top of the division.  Hopefully, we can find some favor and make a final push over these final few weeks, and make a run towards it.”

     Besides the injury, Tek has also had to adjust to a lesser role as a player, backing up Victor Martinez.  Despite what he says, it can’t be easy.  “It’s an ongoing adjustment, but it started in August of 2009.  It’s still adjusting, trying to find out what’s too much work, what’s not enough when you’re used to playing every day.  It’s still agrind, even when it’s not your gig 24 hours a day.  Whether you feel good, bad or indifferent.  You look for a different way to help when you are in here.”  Varitek keeps a close eye on “his” pitchers and the catchers, as well.  “I watch our guys throw from different angles, compare intent with results, provide feedback when need be, be there on the bench to support the guys.  It’s very important for me to keep an eye on what’s going on, so if I do go in, I’m prepared.”

     Varitek looks liike he could play linebacker for the Patriots.  At age 38, he’s still in peak physical condition.  “That’s one thing you can control as a player.  You can’t control the results on the field, but you can take care of the preparation.”

     The 18th captain of the Boston Red Sox, Varitek is still humbled to war the “C” on his chest.  “It’s been a great honor.  I haven’t had to do much more being the Captain, than before I was named.  My biggest responsibilities have been dealing weith the pitching staff and leading by example.  As I’ver gottern a little older, I’ve gotten a little more vocal and had a little more fun with it.  It’s evolved and it’s an honor and I’ve been blessed to be able to stay in the same place.”  Although he was a bit reluctant to name a name, he and I are on the same page as far as his potential successor as Red Sox Captain.  “There’s guys.  Guys like “Pedey” (Dustin Pedroia) that easily fall into that and I’m sure that thtrough the course of time, it’ll play its’ way out.”

     Varitek is eagerly looking forward to 2011.  He is quite motivated to keep playing.  “Absolutely.  I believe I’m at a spot where I can still compete at a high level and do very well.”   

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