December 2010

ARNIE’S ARMY SET TO GO TO WAR

     The PawSox will play for a third diffferent manager in as many seasons when they take the field at McCoy Stadium in April.  Ron Johnson finished a five year stint in Pawtucket and was replaced by Torey Lovullo for 2009 when RJ moved up to Boston as first base coach for the Red Sox.  Lovullo will take the same position with Toronto, working with new manager, John Farrell, north of the border.  The Sox have promoted 46 year old Arnie Beyeler from AA Portland to AAA Pawtucket.

     I spoke on the phone with Arnie the other day, not to interview him, but to introduce myself and welcome him to the PawSox family.  After all, we will be spending a lot of time together, starting in late March in Fort Myers.  There will be plenty of time to interview the skipper then.  Beyeler had been on a whirlwind since his promotion.  Beyeler had just returned to the United States from South America where he was coaching in Winter Ball.  Arnie expressed gratitude to the Red Sox organization for the confidence they had shown in him.  He added that he was looking forward to meeting the people of Pawtucket when he came to town in a couple of weeks.  While he was looking forward to the job, when we spoke, he was really looking forward to spending Christmas in Ponte Vedra, Florida, with his children.  Seems like a very nice guy.  He has big shoes to fill in that department.  This will be my eighth season with the PawSox and I’ve had the extreme pleasure of working with RJ and Torey as well as Buddy Bailey in 2004.  Nonetheless, I look forward to it very much.

     Speaking of RJ,  lately there have been some stories published which have shed some light on his absence from the coaches box the final third of 2010.  While I have known the reason since it happened, I kept it quiet out of respect for the Johnson family.  We all did because of our deep admiration for Ron and his wife Daphne, and their kids.  Their youngest daughter, Bridget was involved in an horrific accident while horseback riding near their home in Tennesee.  It was an automobile accident that killed the horse she was riding and severed her leg, near the knee.  After attempts to re-attach the limb and countless surgeries, Bridget is home.  She is doing great and is scheduled to be fitted for a prosthetic leg soon.  RJ has been a pillar of strength for his family.  He refuses to look at anything but the bright side.  “Heck Hydes” he told me, “We are blessed.  ‘Bridgy’ is alive.  No internal injuries, no brain damage.  She is alive and that’s a miracle.”  Bridget is tough.  She has refused to use a wheel chair and is determined to ride a horse again. Joe McDonald of ESPN Bosston recently travelled to the Johnsons’ home and did a feature which will be on the website soon.  I encourage everyone to read it.  No one gets to the heart of a story like my man “Joey Mac”.  

     I wish the Johnsons, and all my friends a Happy 2011.  2010 was a bittersweet year.  We lost our dear friend, Ben Mondor.  McCoy Stadium will never be the same.  Time marches on, however.  It is up to us to carry on his legacy, doing things the “PawSox” way.  I have always relished my role as a good-will ambassador for the PawSox.  It may sound cliche, but I think you’ll agree.  We could use some Peace on Earth and Goodwill toward Men and Women.  Happy New Year!  Let’s hope it’s the best ever.   

IT GETS BETTER EVERY DAY

     Santa has been working overtime to make all the good little girls and boys of Red Sox Nation happy this month.  First, he made sure that Adrian Gonzalez wound up in Boston.  Then he gave us another gift in Carl Crawford.  It eased the sting of losing Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre, no doubt.  I was fantasizing about a lineup that would include V-Mart.  Unbeatable, right?  I was speaking  the other day to a friend of mine who posed that very question to Terry Francona.  Tito, who has to be thrilled about the upcoming season was philosophical.  It was after they got Gonzalez, but before they landed Crawford.  His message was that the Sox were on their way to becoming very good.  They would put a powerful lineup on the field every night.  The Sox are happy to have Jarrod Saltalamacchia as their catcher and the “Captain” Jason Varitek as his mentor.  They have always liked “Salty” and have high hopes for him.  Tito felt that you didn’t necessarily need to get a ton of offense from the catchers’ spot.  In the short time Saltalamacchia was with the PawSox I saw glimpses of power.  Playing everyday and being amongst so many great hitters in the lineup, he could thrive.  But Boston is going to content with his defensive contributions.

     The “bow” on top of the package, though, was not something that the Sox got, but something the Yankees didn’t get.  Cliff Lee, courted by New York and Texas, spurned his American League suitors and signed with Philadelphia.  What great news for Boston.  The Yankees didn’t get Cliff Lee.  That’s 15-20 wins that they won’t get, or have to come up with elsewhere.  I can’t wait until the Sox get to Yankee Stadium and take advantage of the short porch in right field.  So, there’s no Cliff to worry about until October.  Seems clear that the Phillies and Red Sox are destined for a showdown in the World Series.  As formidable as the rotation of Lester, Buchholz, Beckett, Lackey and Matsuzaka is, the Phillies send out Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels.  What a potential Series that would be.  Do we even need to play out the regular season?

     I imagine George Steinbrenner had to be rolling in his grave.   He left the Yankees to his sons, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.  Seems that Brian Cashman has never been more important to New York.  They mishandled the Derek Jeter deal.  Jeter has been vocal in his displeasure  with New York.and that can’t bode well.  Just another reason to be happy this holiday season.  Things are good right now.  Spring Training is a couple of months away.  There are “t’s” to be crossed and “i’s” to be dotted.  Minor deals to be made. A bullpen to be replenished.  But, for now, thank you Santa.  You’ve done a great job.    

NOW I’M EXCITED

     I am not a guy who gets overly excited about a lot of things (although I was absolutely giddy after the Patriots humiliated the Jets).  However, you can officially consider me excited about the state of the Nation.  By that, I refer to the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics as of December, 2010.

     The Sox blew away the competition in Orlando, where the annual Winter meetings were held.  Now that I better comprehend the Adrian Gonzalez deal, I am excited about that.  He will sign some time in 2011 and be a fixture at first base.  Carl Crawford has been a thorn in the side of Boston forever.  Now he is one of us.  Think of this potential lineup on Opening Day.

Jacoby Ellsbury-CF

Carl Crawford-LF

Dustin Pedroia-2B

Kevin Youklilis-3B

Adrian Gonzalez-1B

David Ortiz-DH

J.D. Drew-RF

Marco Scutaro-SS

Jarrod Saltalamacchia-C

     Your bench will be deep.  Mike Cameron could platoon at DH and provide depth in the outfield.  Jed Lowrie could contend for the shortstop spot.  Everyone is frothing at the mouth (rightfully so) over budding superstar Ryan Kalish.  The rotation is set.  You have to have good comeback years from Beckett and Lackey.  Buchholz and Lester are both “aces” and Daisuke isn’t a bad fifth starter.  The pen is anchored by Jonathan Papelbon, who I believe is still a premier closer.  Daniel Bard is extremely valuable.  It is really heady stuff.  There can’t be any way the injuries of 2010 repeat themselves.  The addition of Crawford is awesome.  I get a kick out of the “experts”.  They contend that the Sox batting order is too heavily laden with left handed hitters.  I’d rather have a good lefty batter than a mediocre righty.  The balance of power has shifted and this could be, and should be a 100 win season for the “good guys.”

     The Celtics are on a tear.  Thursday night, they found a way to beat the 76ers in Philly.  The Big 3 have never been bigger.  Rajon Rondo is emerging as the best point guard in the NBA.  I absolutely love the addition of Shaquille O’Neal.  Not only for his play, but for the leadeship and levity the “Big Shamrock” brings.  Glenn Davis has become so valuable and when Kendrick Perkins, Delonte West and Jermaine O’Neal get healthy, is there a deeper team in basketball?    The Celts make those cold winter nights much more bearable.

     The Patriots are amazing.  Two reasons.  Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.  If there was ever a guy you could put your faith in, it’s Coach Belichick.  With the youngest defense in the NFL, The Pats are 10-2, tied for the best record in the league.  The man knows how to evaluate talent and coach it, as well.  When his career is over, he may go down as the best coach in NFL history.  Tom Brady is the best quarterback in the NFL.  He may not be the quickest afoot.  He may not have the strongest arm.  When the chips are down, though, he is the man I want under center.  The word “great” is overused and cliche, but does it apply anywhere more than it does with #12?  As long as Bill and Tom are together, the Patriots will be an elite team.

     My point is this.  We have the best team in MLB, NBA and the NFL.  It doesn’t get any better than this.  I predict a clean sweep in 2011.  The World Series, The NBA title and The Super Bowl.  How great would that be?   

I’M NOT SURE WHAT TO THINK

     I am a little unsure about how I feel about the Adrian Gonzalez trade with San Diego.  Obviously, It will be great to have him in the lineup in 2011.  That being said, Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo, Reymond Fuentes and a player to be named later are a very high price to pay. 

     First, The Sox have yet to sign Gonzalez to a long term deal.  We had a roller coaster Sunday, wondering if the deal had gone through or not.  The Padres get the better of the deal, it seems to me, if Boston can’t sign Gonzalez beyond this year.  Trades are a gamble for both sides, no question.  This one is risky for the sake of the contract and Gonzalez’ surgically repaired right shoulder.  He passed his physical, yes, but it really seems like Theo went out on a limb to make this trade.  Believe me, I want it to work out, but I’m not even close to being ready to sip any Kool-Aid on this one.  It was one of baseballs’ worst kept secrets how much Epstein coveted Gonzalez and the San Diego front office knew it.

     Second, with Jed Hoyer as General Manager of the Padres and Jason McLeod and Josh Byrnes working in the front office, there was no way the Red Sox could slip a “suspect” in with the prospects.  That group all worked in Boston for Theo and McLeod was responsible for drafting the trio.  You have to believe that if the Padres wanted those young men specifically, they are all fast track guys with big upsides.

     I suppose that if the Sox win the World Series in 2011, it will be worth it.  How many more Julio Lugo type deals will Boston live with though, and still allow Theo to keep his job.  We saw fan interest dwindle in 2010 with all the injuries and mediocre play.  Epstein has a fairly good track record.  Not impeccable, but good.  Two World titles buy a lot of good will, but the sellout streak will come to a screeching halt this year (although some might say it did last season)  if Boston doesn’t make a run at the A.L. East crown.

     I’m a little bummed that we won’t ever get to see that trio play for Pawtucket.  I first met Casey Kelly when I was the voice of the Syracuse Chiefs and his dad, Pat Kelly was the manager.  Young Casey, 8 or 9 at the time hung around the ballpark.  He was a nice  boy and he has grown into an outstanding man.  I wish him well.  I don’t know Anthony Rizzo, but I have heard great things about him.  He, like Jon Lester, has battled cancer.  How can you not root for him?  Fuentes is very often compared to his cousin Carlos Beltran and is still just 19 years old.

     The stove is finally heating up.  The Red Sox have made a splash.  Ironically, it was the great work that McLeod did as the scouting director for Boston that enabled the Sox to make the deal, and thus help his new club as well.  You never know how a trade will work.   I have a feeling the jury will be out for a while on this one.

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