February 2011

SPECIAL K

     Ryan Kalish is going to be an impact player.  Watch him for a couple of games and it is apparent.  In fact, when asked last season about the top prospect he has ever managed, Torey Lovullo barely hesitated before answering “Ryan Kalish”.  Kalish appeared in 53 games for the Red Sox in 2010 and did well.  Unfortunately for him, the Sox have an embarassment of riches heading into 2011 and that could mean that the young man from New Jersey will start the season in the outfield at McCoy.  Kalish, a confident kid, is unfazed by that prospect.  “Not at all.  I’m enjoying the ride.  I’m just trying to get better as a player every day and if that calls for me to start the season in Pawtucket, that’s fine.”  Kalish knows that the signing of Carl Crawford may have pushed him back a notch on the depth chart, but his mature attitude is one of the reasons he will eventually be a star.  “We signed a great player.  I’m excited to watch him.  We have a great outfield.  We have a good team.  I’m just happy to be a part of it.  I just want to go out and get better and see what happens.”

     Kalish really relished his stint with the Boston Red Sox.  “Fun is an understatement.  Obviously, it was disappointing not making the playoffs, but the experiences I had, the people I met, the things I learned…just irreplaceable.  Like I said, ‘fun’ just begins to describe it.  I really don’t know what word to use.”

     Ryan jumped right into the fray of the Sox/Yankees rivalry last August.  Kalish, who grew up an hour away from Yankee Stadium was a New York fan as a boy.  He proved that his allegiance had changed when he lined a Javier Vazquez pitch into the night, helping the Sox to a 6-3 win.  “I was in a daze that day because I was so nervous playing at Yankee Stadium.  I had a couple of bad at bats (2 strikeouts on just 6 pitches), but with my even keel attitude, I got my first home run at the place where I watched the most basaeball as a kid, being from so close in New Jersey.  It was really cool.”

     Kalish is considered a five tool player.   He exhibited his defensive prowess while up in Boston, as well.  Three weeks later in a game against the Rays, Ryan went deep into right center and made a highlight reel grab, as he laid flat out, snared the ball and somersaulted back to his feet.  “It was cool, but it just happened.  I was trying to make a play.  Clay Buchholz was pitching and I was just trying to help.  I thought I had a chance at it, so I jumped.  Coming up the way I did, was just the best way, I thought, not to get hurt.”  No question, it was a SportsCenter Top 10, but Kalish remains modest.

     Whether the Sox are loaded in the outfield or not, Ryan Kalish approaches this Spring Training with a very workmanlike attitude.  “I’m going to be ready for whatever it is they ask me to do.  If they ask me to go down to Pawtucket..whatever, it’s fine.  You never know.  I’ll get better and watch guys like Crawford and “Ellsy”, J.D., Cameron and Darnell.  But I will be ready when they call on me, and one day ask me to be a part of this team for good.”     

     After an offseason vacation to Puerto Rico with Lars Anderson, Ryan Kalish is ready to work.  It should be pretty exciting to think of a potential PawSox outfield that could feature Kalish, Josh Reddick, Daniel Nava and last years’ Pawtucket MVP, Bubba Bell.  Talk about an embarassment of riches.

YOU KNOW THERE WILL BE SURPRISES

     We sit here and figure in our heads where our favorite Red Sox or PawSox players will be to start the season.  Let’s face it, it’s fun to speculate and it helps the frigid winter months pass by.  You could have been a “real good thinker” and there is no way you could have predicted the success that Darnell McDonald would enjoy in 2010.  An extremely likeable guy, presumably signed to provide the PawSox with a modicum of leadership and some at bats in the outfield.  After all, the former number one pick had only “cups of coffee” in the Bigs.  Why would 2010 be different?  I don’t know why, but it was.  McDonald earned a promotion early in the Spring and rode out the rest of the season with Boston, aiding the injury riddled Sox.

     We were in Rochester when D-Mac got the call.  In fact the night before, Dan Hoard and I were sitting in some crummy restaurant, eating dinner and the waitress brought us a round of beers.  “These are from that gentleman, over there”.  she said as she pointed over to the bar.  Darnell McDonald was sitting there, alone eating his dinner.  We waved to thank him and he waved back.  Less than 24 hours later, he was the toast of Boston.  Darnell recalled the moment he was promoted. “You’re shocked when you get that call to the Big Leagues.  We were sitting in the restaurant in beautiful Rochester, New York the night before and the next day, I’m out of there.  I was excited to be a part of the Red Sox coming into Spring Training.  Then I got the opportuinity as early as I got it.  It was unexpected, but a dream come true for me.  You can’t even describe what it feels like to play at Fenway Park.” 

     McDonald, a veteran had enough experience and savvy to relish his success.  He says he didn’t get caught up in looking over shoulder to see if anyone was gaining on him.  “I enjoy every day.  That’s one thing that I’ve learned throughout the years.  I know it’s a business.  I try to work hard and be prepared every day”

     In a season filled with struggles for the undermanned PawSox, D-Mac provided the high point for our entourage.  After a nondescript game against the Red Wings, we huddled around manager Torey Lovullo’s laptop computer to watch the rest of the Red Sox game.  Darnell had already made a great first impression.  In the bottom of the eighth he hit a game-tying two run homer, pinch hitting for Josh Reddick.  In the ninth, Darnell lofted one off the Green Monster, bringing in the winning run. While he tried to avoid being trampled by Kevin Youkilis and the rest of his new teammates in the jubilant aftemath, his Pawtucket brethren erupted, high-fiving and hugging, celebrating, as if they were there.  D-Mac was touched by the PawSox celebration, hundreds of miles away.  “When you’re as little kid, playing wiffle ball in the back yard, those are the scenarios that you imagine…for it to happen to me at Fenway Park, with the great fans we have here…it was unbelievable.”  Immediately, Dustin Pedroia tagged him with a nickname, paying homage to a former Detroit Pistons standout.  “He’s the Microwave.  No more Vinnie Johnson.  He heats up and provides instant offense.”

     With a year in “the Nation” under his belt, Darnell McDonald is vying for a spot on the Red Sox roster.  Common sense dictates that he and Mike Cameron will be the extra outfielders on the Sox roster.  McDonald takes nothing for granted.  “I’m just going to try to earn a job, be ready to go.  The only thing that has changed is my level of excitement.  To be able to come back and see a lot of familiar faces and just get going.”

     He won’t take anyone by surprise this year.  Red Sox Nation knows Darnell McDonald.

LET’S HOPE THE BUCH DOESN’T STOP HERE

     As I enter my eighth season as voice of the PawSox, I realize I have been fortunate to witness the emergence of many great players since 2004.  Pedroia, Youkilis, Lester etc.  You sense when a kid may become a success.  Sometimes you’re right.  Clay Buchholz was one such guy for me.  His “stuff” was undeniable in the minor leagues.  The question was whether he’d be able to harness his immense gifts and succeed at the Major League level.  Well, we now know the answer to that.  In 2010, Clay stepped out of the shadows and went 17-7 with a sparkling 2.33 ERA, second best in the American League.  Buch also made his first All Star team, as well, and finished 6th in the American League Cy Young voting.  Not bad for a young man who went into Spring Training not knowing whether he’d be in Boston or back at McCoy.  Clay told me he is ready for whatever Fort Myers offers this Spring.  “I feel good.  The approach is locking down a spot in this rotation.  The stress isn’t going to be there like it has in the past couple of years. Although, I think it did actually make it better the last couple of Spring Trainings, knowing the spot wasn’t mine.  I had to earn it.  I’ve worked hard to get where I am, and there’s no need to stop now.”

     Clay Buchholz has journeyed up and down route 95, between McCoy and Fenway many times.  That is one of the reasons he relishes the success he enjoyed in 2010.  “It was awesome.  It was a fun season.  I overcame a lot of struggles I went through and learned a lot too.  It definitely helped me to get the confidence that I needed to have to go out there and pitch every five days in this town, and against the competition we play every day.”

     The young Texan is somewhat cautious when the term “Ace of the Staff” is thrown at him.  “When you’re a little kid, growing up, in your wildest dreams, if you were ever mentioned in the same sentence as Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, John Lackey…it would make my world.  That’s sort of where I’m at right now.”

     While Clay enjoyed personal success in 2010, he is hungry for team success in 2011.  Buch is excited about the group in Fort Myers, and what they could accomplish. “This team is one of the best teams anyone’s ever seen on paper, right now.  Pedey is back healthy, Youk’s healthy and the key acquisitions they made during the offseason, it’s definitely going to be something to watch.”

     Another event that the Sox had to endure in 2010 was the tragic accident that claimed the leg of first base coach Ron Johnnsons’ daughter, Bridget.  Buch and RJ go way back to their time together in the minor leagues.  Clay was looking foward to Johnsons’ return.  “RJ’s the best.  He never changed.  When he got to the Big Leagues, he never changed, and that’s what everybody loves about him. He is a guy who will always make you laugh.  He helps us, because he helps keep everyone  relaxed.”

     A burgeoning career, a beautiful wife and a new daughter.  Life is good these days for Clay Buchholz.  He appreciates it.  “I never expected I’d have a baby as good as Colby is.  She never cries.  Lindsay and I are just keeping our fingers crossed.”  Colby got here just in time to watch her daddy pitch for the Red Sox.

SOX BRASS HIGH ON BEYELER

      For the second straight year, the Red Sox had to go out and replace their Triple A manager.  Torey Lovullo replaced Ron Johnson a year ago and has since joined John Farrell’s staff in Toronto.  While Lovullo came from outside the organization, hiring him was a “no-brainer” according to Terry Francona.  This time the Sox promoted from within, bringing Arnie Beyeler up from Double A Portland.  Mike Hazen is the director of player development for the Sox and he has high praise for the work done by the new PawSox skipper.  “His passion and work ethic make him the right guy.  I think that’s been consistent with the guys we’ve had here and that’s one of the more important qualities that we see in any manager at any level.  That’s why he was so deserving of being promoted to this level.  He brings an energy level, day in and day out, that really is unmatched in our system.  The players feed off of that.  It’s not about wins or losses every day, it’s the enthusiasm that you need to have over the course of a 144 game schedule.  We’re pretty fortunate to have him in our system  the last four years and now taking over at Triple A.”

     While the Sox have always liked Beyeler, they passed him over in 2010 in favor of Lovullo.  A year later, the time is right.  Hazen says that the Red Sox weren’t surprised that Beyeler did the job last season in Portland, despite what fans may have regarded as a snub. “From a development standpoint, the job in Double A and Triple A are equally important.  Externally, it looks like a true promotion, but we try to put the guys in a position where they are going to have an impact on the players.  Last year, we made the decision that it was going to be Torey.  This year, it’s Arnie.”  Hazen added that Beyelers’ knowledge of the players in the system is a factor.  “It wasn’t that he did anything differently last year in comparison to the other three he’s been here, we felt like it was the best time for him to come up here and take over these players.  There are a lot of players comng to Pawtucket this year that he’s already managed and we feel like extending that relationship is important.”

     Hazen and Lovullo had previously worked together in the Indians system.  When you saw the two together, it was evident they are good friends.  Hazen says there are no mixed emotions for him as his friend leaves.  He is happy for him.    “No, I love him. He’s like a brother to me, he always has been, ever since I’ve been around professional baseball.  I know how badly he wanted to coach at the Major League level.  It’s just like a player.  That’s their goal.  To watch them go and do it, you feel happiness and joy for them.  Hopefully, he’ll have success. Not against us, but he will have success and go on to bigger and better things, as well.  I’m really happy for Torey.”

     While injuries decimated Boston and in turn, Pawtucket in 2010, it’s time to turn the page.  Hazen reluctantly admits, that the PawSox could be a force in the International League this season.  “That’s the kiss of death, isn’t it?  I thought we were a good team on paper last year, as well.  When you play with a dfferent roster every day, that is what happens at the  minor league level.  You get stuck with a bunch of injuries, guys get moved up and you lose your best players every day, that can present a challenge.  If we can maintain our health at the Major League level, we should be pretty good down here.”

NOT QUITE A HOUSEHOLD NAME YET

     Quick, what Red Sox farmhand lead the entire development system in strikeouts in 2010?  If you said “Robert Coello”, you know your stuff.  The 6’5 righthander made the meteoric rise from AA Portland through Pawtucket and finished his season with the Boston Red Sox.  The 26 year old notched 130 strikeouts in 122 and a third minor league innings.  Coello took part in the rookie development program this winter and that speaks volumes to his ascent through the system.  Coello has the heart of a lion and his self confidence is at an all-time high.  “The biggest thing is to continue to make those strides, throw everything off my fastball and to maintain a Big League mentality.”

     What makes Robert Coello’s story so much more remarkable, is that he hasn’t been pitching all that long.  The Florida native was originally drafted in 2004 by the Reds as a catcher.  He went from behind the plate to the mound as an Angels minor leaguer  in 2007.  The Red Sox plucked him from the scrap heap prior to the 2009 season.  Now he has the words “Major Leaguer” on his resume.  Coello admits that some times that even he can’t believe what has happened in the last couple of years.  “Sometimes you wake up and you have to really remember where you are.  I start out in Portland and was doing my thing, getting into my routine.  Then, I’m in Pawtucket and I start to do my thing here.  Then, all of a sudden, I’m in Boston, or we’re in New York, or where ever you are.  It’s been fun, but I’m always ready to keep it on a straight plane, and keep making more strides.”

     It shouldn’t come as a surprise that two of Roberts’ biggest influences are two of the more beloved members of the Red Sox family.  One a current star and the other, a great former star.  “When I first got here, Luis Tiant was phenomenal.  We talked and he has always been good to me.  He is like another father to me.  David Ortiz, same thing.  Fantastic.  All the bullpen guys, just terrific.  Honestly, all the guys have been great.”

     Coello looks toned and fit as the start of Spring Training approaches.  He really didn’t take any time off this winter.  He continued to hone his skills at Winter Ball.  “I didn’t slow down.  I pitched in the Dominican (Republic), Mexico.  I worked on all my stuff, so when I get to Fort Myers, I’m going to be ready.”     

     Coello is blessed with strong family support.  It’s not uncommon to see his mom, brother or even his little nephew, Vincent, Jr. at McCoy.  When little Vincent is not at the game, I speak directly to him over the air.  I tell him it’s time to put down the video game and pay attention.  Uncle Robert is pitching.  His dad says he responds, and immediately puts down the game.  Ahhh, the power I wield.  Coello doesn’t take his familys’ support for granted.  “They are always behind me.  The ups and downs.  From catcher to pitcher.  No job, to here with the Red Sox.  It’s so good.”

     When Coello (Kway-oh)  arrived in Pawtucket for the first time in 2009, even his manager, Ron Johnson, didn’t know how to pronounce his name.  “Cool-oh, or Cwell-oh” were just a couple the ways it was said.  Another year in 2011 like the last, and everyone will be  saying it correctly. 

MAYBE IT’LL BE LIKE CHATTING WITH BRESLOW

     Baseball players come from all over.  All over the country and all over the world.  From small community colleges and from perennial powerhouses like USC or Arizona State.  They even come from the Ivy League.  Hall of Famers like Lou Gehrig and Eddie Collins, who both starred at Columbia top the list.  Bill Almon, the former number one pick in the draft was a standout at Brown University.  More recently, lefty Craig Breslow of the Athletics, who was an International League All Star with Pawtucket has carried the Ivy banner as a Yale grad.  “The Sporting News” tabbed Breslow as “The smartest athlete in the world”, and the “Wall Street Journal” surmised that he could be the “smartest man in the world.”  Knowing Craig, I would not disagree.  I can vivdly remember him trying to explain his college major at Yale to me.  Molecular biophysics and biochemistry.  I had to check the dictionary just to type it into this space!  Aside from being one of the most reliable relievers in the Bigs over the last two seasons (152 appearances in 2009 and 2010, combined)  Breslow founded the Strike 3 Foundation, raising money for cancer research.  His inspiration is his sister, Leslie, who was diagnosed with cancer when the pair were children.  Leslie is a 17 year cancer survivor.

     There is another Eli on the horizon.  Catcher Ryan Lavarnway, 23, is coming off an impressive 2010 campaign.  He combined to hit .288 with 22 Homers and 102 rbi.  While at Yale, he became the Ivy Leagues’ All-Time home run leader with 33.  Ryan was a semi-finalist for the Johnny Bench Award and the Golden Spikes Award in 2008.  The Red Sox selected the 6’4″ catcher in the sixth round of the 2008 draft.  Lavarnway was introduced to Breslow when the catcher was an undergrad, and they have maintained the relationship.  “Craig came and spoke to us at Yale when I was a junior.  He talked about the Strike 3 Foundation.  We were all just college kids with no money, though.  I think Coach (John) Stuper just wanted us to meet.  We’ve kept in contact.  When he was with the Twins, at Spring Training, we spent some time together (in Fort Myers).  He’s a great guy.  He’s helped me out a lot.”

     With the unproven Jarrod Saltalamacchia listed as the #1 catcher in Boston and Jason Varitek, in the twilight of his career, as the backup, Lavarnway knows that Red Sox Nation is the land of opportunity for a young, talented backstop.  “In the long run, I want to help this team win and I want to be that guy.  It’s a great opportunity to be coming up in the system at this time.  The Sox are such a storied franchise.  So many great players.  Jason Varitek has always been one of my favorite players, since I was a kid.  I hope to learn a lot from him at Spring Training and throughout this year.  Hopefully, I’ll earn the opportunity to come up and help the Red Sox win.”

     Lavarnway is excited about heading south and getting started.  As a catcher, he’ll get ample chance to show his stuff to Terry Francona.  With all the pitchers there, there’s always a need for catchers, and Lavarnway will take advantage of the situation.  “It’s a good opportunity to get to know the Major League pitchers.  These guys who have tremendous stuff are some of the best pitchers in the game.  Going into this year, I would rank our Major League staff at the top of the league.  It’s tough to catch those guys if you’ve never caught them before.  You need to get to know what kind of pitches they throw in which situations.  When they bounce their curveball, when they like to expand the zone.  I’m going to really bear down at Spring Training and get to know these guys a little bit.”

     With his Ivy League education in his back pocket, Ryan Lavarnway should be a quick study. 

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