April 2011

KEEPING AN EYE ON THE FUTURE

     The Red Sox keep a close eye on their minor leaguers.  Aside from the coaching and training staff assigned to the club, there is an endless  stream of roving instructors, coaches and front office brass in and out of town on a regular basis.  During this weeks’ trip to Allentown, Pa.  one of the higher ranking Red Sox officials paid a visit.  Vice President of Player Personnnel, Ben Cherington stood at the batting cage and watched intently as the PawSox took batting practice, preparing for a game with the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs.

     Cherington made the stop as he travelled back across the country after the Red Sox West Coast swing.  “I was with the Big League team in Oakland and Anaheim and back to Baltimore.  It’s a pretty short drive from Baltimore to Lehigh Valley, so I’m just here, checking on the guys.”  One of Cheringtons’ objectives was to get a first hand look at outfielder Ryan Kalish who suffered a shoulder injury in Pawtucket a few days ago.  “We’re confident that Ryan’s going to be fine.  He feels a lot better today.  He jammed it pretty good.  We have to give him time for the inflammation to calm down and then give him some time to strengthen it.  He should be fine.”

     Although the front office looks at it differently than the average PawSox fan (development vs. winning) Cherington is pleased with the good start in 2011.  “Most importantly for us, we think it’s a real intriguing mix of veteran guys that can easily come up and help our Big League team at any time, with some younger players who are still developing, but look like Big Leaguers in the future.  Triple A teams, at times can be too old or too young.  This is a nice mix of the two.  We’re pleased with how the guys have started.  They’ve pitched really well and some young guys are playing every day at positions.  It’s a good mix of guys.”

     Ben Cherington insists that despite their horrific start in the Majors, the folks in charge never pushed the panic button in Boston.  “Inside our clubhouse, there was never really a sense of panic or anything.  Understandably, the concern was more external than internal.  Guys in our clubhouse know that we have a lot of good players and a lot of talent.  Over the course of the six month season that talent is going to win out, more often than not.  Certainly, it’s nice for us to get some wins on the board.  Probably most important for us, the starting rotation.  We’ve gone through roughly two cycles of the rotation with really good starting pitching performances and if we get anything close to that we’re in good shape.”

     It’s probably a comfort to know that the Pawtucket Red Sox are ready to make their annual contribution.

ALMOST LIKE FAMILY

     Some random thoughts rolling around my size 8 plus cranium as I travel the roads with the PawSox…

     One benefit of being on the road is that I am not currently paying close to $4.00 a gallon for gas.  I’m not sure why this bugs me so much.  At a store, I pay roughly the same for a twelve pack of diet sunkist orange soda.  I pay roughly four times that for a twelve pack of Budweiser.  And who among us hasn’t spent $2.00 or more for a 20 ounce bottle of water?  Anyway, I feel like I’m getting over on someone, eight days at a time.

     We spend more time together during the season than we do with our own families.  As I mentioned the other day, it’s nice when you can do something different, like go to an Elton John concert.  (Incidentally, should I be concerned that I haven’t received my invitation to the Royal Wedding, yet?  And has Prince Charles completely given up on ever becoming King?)  Although it wasn’t the same as sitting around the table with your family, we got a nice treat on Easter Sunday.  PawSox team president Mike Tamburro made sure that the guys (including the radio broadcasters) were treated to a fantastic spread from Rochesters’ legendary “Dinosaur Barbecue”.  More than enough ribs, chicken salmon, shrimp cocktail and all the trimmings for everyone.  It is tough to always miss the holidays and milestones that occur within your family.  Ben Mondor was always aware of that, and now Mike, the patriarch of this family, has continued the tradition.  I tried to reach Mike on Sunday, with no luck.  When I finally spoke to him to thank him on Monday morning, I told him “Reaching you was tougher than getting a hold of Harold Cooper in 1981.”  Luckily, the boss gets my sense of humor.  

     Big upgrade in hotels in Allentown.  Matt White, the CFO for the PawSox always hears the complaints when things aren’t perfect, but let me publicly tip my XXL cap for pulling the trigger on the change.  We used to stay in an antiquated old place in the heart of Bethlehem (a little better than a stable).  We are now at a much nicer, newer hotel that features a free hot breakfast and suite-size rooms, complete with kitchens.  I may invite the guys over tonite after the game and whip up a little feast.  The breakfast area reminds you of home.  Guys coming downstairs as they wake up, sitting around tables and sipping coffee and talking about just about everything, except baseball.  (OK, so sometimes baseball does sneak into the conversation).  Discussion topics today included the awful TV shows we watched on the bus ride into town after Mondays’ rainout in Rochester.  The level of attractiveness of the future Queen, Kate Middleton, and the pros and cons of youth sports.  We also discussed the sanity of one of our players (No, I won’t tell you).

     Several of the Iron Pigs are staying at the same hotel.  Former PawSox lefty, Juan Perez is among them.  Perez pitched for Pawtucket early in my time as a broadcaster.  It’s always great to see your former guys.  Ran into Jeff Bailey early on Monday, before the rainout.  He and his girl friend were about to tour the Eastman House, the former home of the founder of Eastman Kodak.  I’d prefer to remember “Bails” as the 2008 International League MVP, while a member of the Sox.  I guess it happens.  Guys will do ANYTHING for love.  It made me a little sad.  Anyway, once a member of the family, always a member of the family.

A RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE

     The last thing I want to do, especially on Easter weekend is offend any of my religious friends, but I had a very spiritual, if not religious experience on Saturday night in Rochester.  Dan and I like to chronicle our experiences for you to give you some idea of what it’s like to be on the road with the PawSox.  Usually, it’s quite mundane.  Get up, shower, eat, go the park, work, have a beer and go to bed.  When the opportunity to do something special arises, I like to pounce on it.  When I opened the newspaper on Friday, I discovered that Elton John would be performing on Saturday at the Blue Cross Arena, just a block up the street from our hotel.

     Ordinarily, I’m not a daring guy.  The show was sold out but I was determined to go.  I tried a few channels through the Red Wings, but came up empty.  I decided to walk up to the building and buy a scalpers’ ticket.  I had a certain amount in mind that I’d be willing to pay, and I was bound to stick to it.  After haggling with the first few scalpers I saw, I was discouraged.  They were asking for about twice what I was willing to pay, about 60 dollars over face value.  I figured if I waited until abou 8:00 p.m.  the price wouild drop meteorically.  I was pacing back and forth, mumbling something about needing a ticket.  Suddenly, this man said “Hey, you need a ticket?”  “Yes, you have one?”  “Floor seat.  I paid $140 for it.  I’ll give it to you for $60.”  I jumped on it as fast as I could.

     I knew Sir Elton would be good, but I had no idea how good.  Ironically, I was seated in the 22d row, very fitting when he sang “Candle in the Wind”, although no one can call me a “young man” anymore.  If The Beatles are the Babe Ruth of rock and roll, Elton John has got to be Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio.  Don’t scoff.  John performed for a solid 2 hours and 45 minutes.  He signed autographs for everyone in the front row and he actually seemed to love the audience back.  It was impressive.

     This guy has more hits than Pete Rose.  It’s amazing.  You’d think he was done and he’d belt out 5 more hits.  His voice is as beautiful and powerful as it ever was.  The Rocket Man introduced his band and backup singers.  His drummer Nigel Ollson has been with him since 1969 and his guitarist, Davey Johnstone has been there since 1971.  The music was magical.  Elton John could provide the soundtrack for my life.  Each of his hits transported me back.  Some to good times and memories and others to not so good ones.  They were all vivid, however.   

     The sold-out arena went berserk as he played hits like “Philadelphia Freedom”, “Crocodile Rock” and “Tiny Dancer”.  I was on my feet and cheering as if it were the seventh game of the World Series.  I’m not exactly sure what it was that moved me so profoundly.  I’ve always liked Sir Elton, but I would never have thought of myself as a super-fan, until now.  Sometimes, something touches you and you don’t necessarily have to ask “Why?”  Just enjoy it and recognize that you were part of something special.

     If you are a religious person, you can acknowledge Elton John as some of Gods’ most talented handiwork.  Happy Easter.

JOSE’S OK- HOPE RYAN IS TOO

     We’re all holding our breath as we await word on outfielder Ryan Kalish.  The super talented prospect injured his shoulder diving to make a catch in center in the top of the second on Thursday at McCoy.  Ryan confirmed to me through a text, that it was his shoulder and he was awaiting results.  We have come to find out that he will be examined on Friday in Boston to determine the severity of his injury.  Not only is he a fabulous player, but a tremendous person.  It would be easy to refer to him as a kid, because let’s face it,  these days, almost everyone, especially International League players, are kids to me.  Ryan “gets” it.  He takes the game seriously.  He plays hard and is the type of guy you hope your daughter brings home. 

     The other guy I am completely impressed with is Jose Iglesias.  The 21 year old defector from Cuba has been solid through the first two weeks of this season.  We know he is a defensive wizard, but offensively, he’s been consistent too.  After Sundays’ massacre of Syracuse (14-0), Iglesias was hitting .275 with 4 rbi.  He  has reached base in 10 of the 11 games he’s played in.  Iglesias is the #1 prospect in the Sox organization.  He is a phenom, not only for his defensive prowess, but also for his incredible command of the English language.  Jose defected in 2008.  He seems very happy to be in Pawtucket.  “It’s great. Pawtucket is a great city.  I like the fans.  I like this place a lot.  I feel at home.”  Nonetheless, it is difficult for a young man to be so far away from the ones he loves.  “It’s hard to leave your family there.  Your culture.  Everything is different for me.  I like my new home.  It’s great, especially here in Pawtucket.  This is my first full professional year and I feel great.”  In his new surroundings, Iglesias is still able to “reach out and touch” family and friends.  “I use the phone a couple of days a week.”  He admits to some homesickness.  “Of course.  I miss everything.  It’s tough for Cuban people when you leave the country.  I still have most of the famly there.  My Mom, brothers, cousin.  Everybody, you know?  I am happy though.  I am here working on my career.  That’s the best thing for me.”

     Iglesias may miss his family and his homeland, but he quickly adds that the way of life in his native country is less than desirble.  “Cuba’s a great country.  A very humble country with a lot of good people, but the life is hard.   You work very hard to make about ten dollars a month, or so.  That’s not enough to eat.  That’s not enough for anything.  Everyone has a goal.  That’s to play in the Big Leagues.  You can’t do that if you stay in Cuba.”

     Iglesias is blessed with tremendous defensive skills and instincts.  He’s so good at such a young age, that Red Sox management has said that he is ready for the Bigs, defensively, already.  Jose, doesn’t seem to take his enormous skills for granted.   “I’ve worked hard.  I think God gave me a gift, but I work at it every single day.  Shortstop is a great position.  You have a lot of responsibility in the game.  Some times a great defensive play can help win the game.” 

     Iglesias possesses charisma.  he also has matinee idol good looks.   Sometimes, sititng around the hotel lobby, he looks as much like a young pop star as a future Major Leaguer.  It’s pretty easy to imagine people wearing an “Iglesias” T-shirt or jersey when he sticks in the “Show”.  He is getting used to everybody knowing his name.  That’s life in Red Sox Nation.  “It’s great.  Fantastic.  I feel very excited about it.  The Red Sox are a great organization.  We have a lot of talent in the minor leagues.  We have very good people and very talented athletes.  It’s like a family.  I always say that.  Boston is like a family.  We always have tons of fans on the road.  It’s fun.”

     A lot of athletes who come to America don’t bother to learn the language.  Iglesias says he hasn’t taken any classes.  He just hangs around his teammates and soaks it all in.  His willingness and his maturity will earn him high marks from the Sox brass, as well as fans and teammates.  With the complete package in place, Jose Iglesias seems a natural for endorsements, too.  He is 21 years old.  It’s going to be great to watch his caree unfold.  He’s off to the races.

A LITTLE UPDATE FROM McCOY

     Monday marked the thirtieth anniversary of the start of the longest game in baseball history.  It was at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket.  Dave Koza, who had the game winning hit in the thirty third inning threw out the ceremonial first pitch.  Standing behind the plate was retired umpire Denny Craig, who called balls and strikes on that fateful night, three decades ago.  Over the weekend, Pulitzer prize winning author, Dan Barry was at the park, also throwing out a first pitch and signing copies of his new book, “Bottom of the 33rd”.  Mondays’ game did not bear any resemblance to the celebrated contest of 1981 (Thankfully).  The PawSox won their fourth straight game, beating Syracuse 5-1 in nine innings.  More good pitching for Pawtucket was the order of the night again as starter Matt Fox, Clevelan Santeliz and Michael Bowden shut down the Chiefs.  Santeliz left with a back issue after an inning and two thirds.  Hopefully, it’s nothing serious.  He’s been fantastic.

     The PawSox played a little long ball as Josh Reddick and Tony Thomas both hit home runs.  Ironically, that same duo teamed up for the pre-game interview.  Reddick is following in the footsteps of former Pawtucket players Bobby Scales (Weighing in with Bobby Scales), Jeff Natale (At Bat with Nat), and Chad Paronto (Hangin’ with Chad) as the “third member” of our broadcast team.  each has distinguished himself with their once-a-week look inside the PawSox clubhouse.  Reddick did a great job with Thomas, especially for a “maiden voyage”. 

     Lars Anderson had a 3-3 night, raising his batting average 60 points.  In one incredible at bat, he faced Henry Rodriguez of Syracuse, who consistently was clocked at 100 mph on the stadium radar gun.  H-Rod topped out at 101 with his heater.  Lars seemed unfazed, doubling against him in the seventh.  Surprisingly, he offered little insight when asked what that experience was like.  “It’s fast, man.  A tough at bat.”  He offered even less when he was asked if it was different than what he and his teammates usually see at the plate.  “Yeah, it is.”  Wow.  What a wordsmith.  

     Earlier in the day, lefty Felix Doubront made his return to McCoy.  He and Hideki Okajima switched roster spots.  Oki was terrific while he was with the PawSox.  He did not allow a run in 5 innings, although he did let an inherited runner score in his last appearance.  Doubront was coy aboout what his role might be with the PawSox, as was manager Arnie Beyeler.  Both claimed not to know what the Red Sox wanted to do with him.  Felix gave a politically correct response.  “I don’t know, man.  For now, I’m going to be in the bullpen…they’re going to figure it out this week.”  Doubront says he feels fine and is no worse for the wear.  “Right now I feel good.  My elbow’s good.  I need more innings to get totally into shape.”   Stay tuned.

IMPORTANT TO HAVE A GOOD WING MAN

     Although the road trip through Buffalo and Syracuse wasn’t exactly smooth sailing, we had a chance to eat at some of our favorite stops.  One, in particular, ties in perfectly with the PawSox, especially as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the longest game in baseball history.  Unless you live under a rock, you know it took place at McCoy Stadium in 1981.  Although he wasn’t there for the first 32 innings, righthander Steve Grilli had been signed by the Red Wings in the interim, and had the honor of trying to finish the epic battle.  “I got released by the Syracuse Chiefs and got a call from the Orioles organization.  Doc Edwards was the manager in Rochester.  He hadn’t told anyone who’d get to resume the game.  I walked into the clubhouse that day and the ball was in my locker.  I was shocked.  He called me into his office.  He said ‘Steve I chose you because you’re a veteran, you’ve got Major league experience behind you.  There’s a lot of media out there for this game.  I figure I’ll give it to you…you’ve got experience.’  Little did he know that I was just as nervous as any other young pitcher would have been.”

     Grilli laughs now about what transpired.  “Marty Barrett was the leadoff hitter and I drilled him with the first pitch.  It was my undoing.  You keep the leadoff man off.  That’s your primary goal and there I was, with a man on and nobody out, and in a lot of trouble from then on.”  Of course, the PawSox would win the game. and then go on to win the days’ scheduled ballgame, as well.  Grilli recalls the rest of the day vividly.  “Bobby Ojeda was scheduled to start that day, so Joe Morgan selected him to pitch the conclusion of the 32 inning game.  He went out there and because it was so easy and quick for Bobby, Morgan had him take the ball in the second game and he won that, too.  He was the recipient of two wins in one day.”  Grilli quickly added- “In my favor, I also pitched in that second game.  Three innings of shutout ball.” 

     Steve Grilli looks back on those days fondly.  He pitched in the Majors for Detroit and Toronto.  He has worked as a coach, scout and broadcaster in baaseball.  He also owns the “Change of Pace” at 1802 Grant Boulevard, in Syracuse, a place that serves the best chicken wings I’ve ever had.  We’ve been friends for a long time now.  So long, that I saw his 34 year old son, Jason, pitch in Little League and now he’s battled back from injuries to try to get back to the Bigs with Lehigh Valley.  The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.  Father and son are two of the great guys in or out of the game.  As we get older, we look back on our pasts.  Sitting in the stands at Alliance Bank Stadium on a sunny Thursday afternoon, Steve reflected.  “You know, I wasn’t going to make it to the Hall of Fame on my total number of victories.  I was only 296 short of winning three hundred.  My cap’s in the Hall of Fame for losing that infamous 33 inning game.  I got there, even though it was for a negative, I got there.  I’m kind of proud of the fact that now that it’s long behind me, I am proud.  I know that it’s a big day in Pawtucket on Monday as they celebrate the thirtieth anniversary.  I know there’s been a book written about it.  It remains a part of the history of this game and I am happy to be a part of it.”  

     To celebrate in my own way, I ate a couple of dozen of the worlds’ greatest chicken wings.

SHOULD WE PUSH IT YET ???

     OK I know I joked about it a few days ago, but it really isn’t funny anymore.  The Red Sox got clobbered on Monday by Tampa.  The Rays had scored 20 runs total all year and on Monday night, they hung 16 on Boston.  Daisuke Matsuzaaka stunk. Plain and simple.  Boston is now 2-8 and fading into an early sunset.  We may still have hope, however.  Here’s why.

     PawSox hitting instructor, Chili Davis was a member of the 1991 Minnesota Twins.   As I first mentioned on the air a few days ago, the Twins began that season at 2-9.  As you might recall, they went on to win the World Series that year.  All is not lost, but they better kick it into gear soon.

     When I was in Fort Myers, the Red Sox were in the midst of a ten game losing streak.  I mentioned on the air just how blah and lackadaisical they looked.  Everyone told me not to worry.  “It’s only Spring Training.” Or “Tito’s is only playing his starters 5 innings…No big deal.”  Well, guess what?  It is a big deal.

     A couple of things bothered me while I watched them in Florida.  There was no competition. NONE!  Every man knew exactly what his spot on the roster was and other than a handful of relievers, no one had to battle for a place.  Complacency.  There are very few players who can suddenly flip the switch and turn it on.  Obviously almost none in the “Nation.”

     The other thing that got me, were the daily reports of “Player X” or “Pitcher Y” opting out of a bus trip to Sarasota or Port Charlotte.  They’d rather stay back in Fort Myers and throw a simulated game.  It’s the baseball players’ vesion of working out of the home.  We’d all like to sit around, sip coffee and watch “The Price Is Right” while we do our job.  That’s just not reality.  Since when did Major League Baseball become less demanding that high school intramurals.  These guys are ALL making great money to play a game.  They are coddled and treated with “kid gloves” by everyone including the media.  We don’t want to upset any of the delicate geniuses, because they might not grudgingly give us a quote or two for our stories.

    Well, I for one, have had it.  We all hear that Terry Francona is a “players manager”.  Guess what?  I’m pretty sure a lot of guys could have managed the ’04 and ’07 Sox to victory.  You’re not there to make friends.  Hold everyone to a higher standard of accountability.  Stop the inmates from running the asylum, and just maybe, the Red Sox might be a little more respectable.  Right now, they’re a joke.

WE’VE SHUFFLED OFF

     The first road trip of the season is underway and quite honestly, it doesn’t feel like there was ever a six month intermission.  The PawSox won on Saturday 8-3 as Tony Thomas had a grand slam and 5 rbi to lead the attack.  Josh Reddick homered too, but seemed more proud of the foul ball he hit on the prior pitch.  It smashed the windshield of Buffalo General Manager, Mike Buczkowski’s car, parked in his reserved parking place at Coca Cola Field.  On the van ride over to the park Sunday, Reddick laughed about the time he hit a foul ball at Fenway, destroying “some reporters’” laptop.  Turns out the reporter was my good friend, Joe McDonald, who writes for ESPN Boston. 

     Manager Arnie Beyeler was pleased with his teams’ start, especially what he saw on the mound the first three days, and I’m sure what he saw on Sunday too.  “I think that’s going to a strength for us.  Atch (Scott Atchison) did a great job for us, especially on short notice. (Atchison got a spot start on opening day when Alfredo Aceves was promoted to Boston)  To do that with no notice was outstanding.  He did a great job.  Seeing our guys throw so far, I think maybe that pitching will be one of our strengths.”  For his efforts, the veteran righthander seemed  completely comfortable, working 4 and two thirds innings.  “It felt good.  It felt exciting to be in there.  I know it was kind of last minute but it was fun to start on Opening Day.  Iwas joking earlier, but I’ve been at this for 13 years now and it was my first opening day start.  You know, it was fun, it was a good outing.  It wa a good win for us.” 

     Thomas made a fabulous first impression on Saturday.  The infielder acquired from the Cubs for pitcher Robert Coello, exploded offensively, after spending the opening homestand on the bench.  His manager was pleased.  “His numbers dictate that he’s been a solid hitter throughout his career, so we’ll keep throwing him in there and give him opportunities.  He sure made the best of them yesterday (Saturday)”.

     On Monday, for the second straight game, a former PawSox pitcher will start against his old team.  Casey Fossum (2002) gets the nod against Brandon Duckworth.  On Sunday, it was Boof Bonser (2010) opposing Andrew Miller.

     Hyder and Hoard and their posse have hit the ground running, foodwise.  We have had our Italian “fix” from “Chef’s”, a legendary, local eatery.  They prove that everything tastes better covered in cheese.  Caesar salad, followed by veal and spaghetti (both “parmed”) absolutely fantastic.  You could plunk “Chef’s” right down into the middle of Federal Hill in Providence, and it would fit in perfectly.

     Congratulations to 11 year old Bridget Johnson.  The daughter of former Pawox manager, Ron Johnson, now the Red Sox first base coach.  Bridget threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Sunday, prior to the series finale against the Yankees.  Bridget lost her leg in an accident last summer when the horse she was riding, was struck by a car.

THAT WAS FUN

     Opening night at McCoy Stadium was a winner, all the way around.  Pawtucket topped Rochester 2-1, thanks to some great pitching and a timely two run triple by J.C. Linares.  The Triple A rookie blasted a shot that scored Lars Anderson and Drew Sutton with two outs in the sixth inning.  His Cuban compatriot, Jose Iglesias also chipped in with a couple of singles on a night when offense was at a premium.

     What wasn’t lacking, was tremendous pitching.  Alfredo Aceves was scheduled to start, but was lifted about an hour before game time.  We hear that Aceves is being promoted to Boston for ailing Matt Albers.  Scott Atchison set the tone, striking out eight batters in four and two thirds innings.  Atchison was a great call by manager Arnie Beyeler.  The veteran is a leader and was unfazed by his last minute assignment.  Atch allowed the only Rochester run.   The bullpen was spectacular.  Rich Hill followed and earned the victory with 2 and a third shutout innings.  The lefty side-armer whiffed 4 hitters.  He allowed just three hits.  2007 American League All Star, Hideki Okajima was perfect.  He retired the Red Wings in order in the eighth and Michael Bowden registered his first save with a 1-2-3 ninth.  The four pitchers, who all could have legitimate claims to belonging in Boston, all raised their stock.

     It was fun to see Jeff Bailey in town.  The 2008 I.L. MVP, who spent all or parts of 6 seasons with the PawSox is playing first base for the Wings.  No doubt, Bails was glad to be on hand for the touching and stirring pre-game ceremonies that honored the late Ben Mondor.  Ben passed away in October.  There were bagpipes, a 21 gun salute and a moment of silence.  Perhaps the most poignant moment took place when Mike Tamburro and Lou Schwechheimer presented Bens’ wife Madeline a dozen roses.  Mrs. Mondor gave one of the flowers to a PawSox batboy, who laid it across home plate.  Tribute was also paid to Rhode Islander, Lou Gorman.  Gorman, the former General Manager of the Red Sox, died last week at the age of 82.  He was the architect of the Boston team that won the 1986 American League pennant.  Also recognized, were the police, fire and military personnel that gave their lives over the last year.

     Really, it couldn’t have been a better day.  I’m sure that somewhere, Ben Mondor was smilling.

GETTING THE OPENING NIGHT NOD

     Alfredo Aceves is first alphabetically in the Pawtucket Red Sox media guide, and appropriately, will get the ball on opening day Thursday at McCoy.  The Red Sox  signed the right hander to a free agent contract in February.  Aceves pitched in each of the last three seasons for the Yankees, amassing a combined 14-1 record with a 3.21 ERA.  Alfredo is pleased to get the opening assignment.  “Man, I’m happy.  There’s a responsibility to get the job done.”  He is coming off a season that limited him to just 10 appearances, due to a lower back strain.  Then he suffered a shoulder injury, while bicycle riding.

     At first,  Aceves was adamant about not wanting to talk about his past, but relented.  “No…no…no, no, no, no.  I don’t even want to talk about the Yankees.  I fell down off my bike when I was with the Yankees.  I don’t want to talk about it.  The doctor in  New York, he did the surgery.  He did real well.  He gave me the green light after a few months to throw.  I started to throw, to get myself ready.  At that time, I was a free agent.  The Red Sox saw me throw and they picked me.”

     By all accounts, Aceves had a solid spring in Fort Myers, but he is his own most harsh critic.  “I am not that happy.  At Spring Training, I was more focused to show Red Sox Nation that I was ready to play, that I work hard and that I am aggressive on the mound.  I didn’t worry about my numbers.  I didn’t care about my numbers.  Now, they know that I am healthy and that I am an aggressive pitcher.  Now I set in my mind numbers…numbers…numbers.  That’s how you get to the next level.”

     Aceves will get the highly anticipated 2011 season under way on Thursday at 7:05 p.m. at McCoy Stadium.  He quickly answered when asked about his goals for Opening night.  “Not one game.  Not one day.  The whole year.  All the year.”  While most guys keep their goals private, Aceves is the exception.  He has set lofty goals for himself.  “I want better numbers than last year.  More.  Strikeouts.  More.  Mucho.  I want the Triple Crown. (Most wins, strikeouts and lowest ERA)  I never won that before.”

     Although the uniform is not available in Pawtucket, the native of Sonora, Mexico is partial to the number 91 on his jersey.  He wears that in honor of his favorite athlete, Dennis Rodman.  Aceves has always admired “the Worm” for his work ethic and crazy off-court antics.  Aceves had to be pleased this week, as Rodman was voted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.”

     If Aceves can pitch the way he did as a member of the Yankees, he could be the steal of the offseason, adding depth to the Red Sox rotation or bullpen. For now, he is the Opening Night starter for Pawtucket.  Maybe he’ll become the number one starter in Pawtucket.  After all, you can’t spell “Aceves” without the “A-C-E.”

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