VOICES OF SPRING

     This past week, dating to last Thursday, has been a refreshing reminder of what is around the corner.  It began on Thursday, as I travelled to Boston with my dear friend Joe McDonald of espnboston.com for the annual Boston Baseball Writers Association of America Dinner at the Westin. Joe not only covers the Red Sox, but also the Boston Bruins.  Part one of our “excellent adventure” took us to the TD Garden for the Bruins morning skate.  They would lose to the Sabres that night. Not a big hockey guy, I did correctly identify Zdeno Chara (the Bruins do not wear numbers on their jerseys during a skate)  I shouldn’t be that proud.  On skates, Chara is almost 7 feet tall.  Nonetheless, it was interesting to listen to Coach Claude Juliens’ comments.  Ran into some old friends like Bruins radio broadcaster, the talented Dave Goucher.  Also Kathryn Tappen from NESN.  Kathryn used to work at Channel 10 in Providence.  For my money, she is the complete package on TV.  Knowledgable, likeable, and very easy on the eyes.

     After lunch, we ventured to the Westin for the media opportunity with the Red Sox luminaries who’d be at the dinner that night.  Terry Francona, Jed Lowrie, Ryan Kalish, Darnell McDonald, Clay Buchholz and Anthony Rizzo were there and you will hear from all of them in the coming days on this blog.  It is always heartwarming to see your former PawSox friends who have gone on to Big League success, remember you and take special time aside to chat.  Clay and his beautiful wife Lindsey have a six month old daughter, Colby, and Buch was understandably proud. 

     The dinner is always interesting.  I’ve been fortunate to attend many times over the years.  Always look forward to hearing what the guys have to say.  Sometimes the speeches are a letdown, but Darnell McDonald did not disappoint us when he accepted the “Jackie Jensen Hustle Award” named in honor of the Red Sox former American League MVP.  After a very cordial and heartfelt acceptance, he asked us to remember the family of little Christina Green, the 9 year old girl who was tragically killed in Arizona on the same day Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot.  Christinas’ father John, was the scout who signed Darnell to his first professional contract.  Johns’ father is Dallas Green, who managed the Phillies to the 1980 World Series title. 

     For those of us seated at Table 16, the highlight of the night came when it was announced that henceforth, the New England player of the year will receive the “Ben Mondor Award.”  This years’ recipient is Carl Pavano, the former PawSox righty who won 17 games in 2010 with the Twins.  Pawtucket Red Sox team president, Mike Tamburro was eloquent and no doubt, emotional as he spoke on behalf of the organization.  I later asked Mike what life has been like since Ben passed away, last fall.  “I think that paternal feeling that has been looking over all of us for so long is missing.  Some of us have to step up and try to fill his shoes to a bit of a degree.  We’ve lost a very special guy and I think that drives each of us to try to do a little more, be a little more and make this organization as good as it can be.”  One of Bens’ favorite lines was always “I’m not a jock like you guys, I’m a businessman.  What happens on the field matters little to me.”  It was so transparent, because Ben cared very much about the results between the lines.  I knew it and certainly Mike knew it. “He always talked like that, but there was no bigger baseball fan in this building than Ben.  I don’t think he missed a pitch in 33 years.  He sat in that box and he would not leave until the last pitch was thrown.  He loved this game.”

     Mike admitted that tributes to Ben Mondor would take place this season, but wasn’t ready to share them just yet.  “We’re still putting all those plans together.  There’ll be an announcement as we get closer to the season and opening day for what we plan in Bens’ memory.”  Whether it’s a patch on the uniform, a statue or the renaming of the ballpark, it will be greatly deserved and anticipated.  Tamburro says that he won’t go against Bens’ wishes and rename McCoy Stadium. “To be honest, we’ve been approached by the city fathers, and that’s not what Ben wanted.  We’ve got some ideas that will eventually take the place of that, that will give him a fitting position in this stadium.”   

     Spring Training begins in 3 weeks.  Get ready!

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