June 2011

IT’S HOTT IN PAWTUCKET

     For my money, the “feel-good” callup of the 2011 season, so far, has to be Tommy Hottovy.  The lefthander earned his first Big League promotion on June 3 and was just optioned back to the PawSox on June 28.  Tommy, one of the most likeable and nicest guys on the planet, and I spoke upon his return.

     Hottovy was still tyring to catch his breath after his whirlwind journey.  “It was a blur.  It was amazing.  You can’t describe the feeling you get when you get that call.  It’s something you work for your whole life.  My family and friends came up, 17 people…you blink and it was over.  What a great experience.  I got to pitch in all three games (of his first series) my first weekend in the Big Leagues.  It was awesome.  I tried to savor it as much as I could.  I think it’s finally starting to settle in a little bit.” 

     “Hotty” tried to mentally prepare himself for the events, taking “mental photographs” and soaking it all in.  “I tried to tell myself not to get overwhelmed with things.  The game, where you’re at, take it in, take a deep breath and soak it all in.  Making your debut at Fenway Park is an amazing opportunity.  To be on a team with the guys you’re playing with.  There are “no-brainer” first ballot Hall of Famers on that team.  Being a part of that and just being one of the guys, is something I’ll cherish for a long time.”

     Tommy admits to buterflies in his first outing.  He says at least he had them flying in formation after that.  “Beyond my first appearance, every other game I was in, there were guys on base, so I came in ready to go.  In Toronto, I came in and the game did speed up on me a little bit.  I got out of it fine.  I walked a couple of guys and I wasn’t as sharp as I wanted to be.  After that I felt like I settled down pretty well and took advantage of the situation.  I got a lot of work. I appeared in 8 games (0-0. 6.75  4 IP, 4H, 3R, 3ER, 3BB, 2K)  and I was up warming in 8 others.  When you get that much work, the butterflies go away pretty quick.”

     It’s been an amazing road that Hottovy has taken.  Drafted by the Red Sox in 2004, Tommy underwent Tommy John surgery in 2008 and has worked very hard to get where he is.  He has endured parts of 6 seasons at Double A Portland, including the start of 2011.  Tommy has changed his delivery to a side arm style, similar to fellow lefty Rich Hill (on D.L. for Tommy John surgery currently).  Hottovy says while he was in Boston, working with Red Sox pitching coach Curt Young, they really didn’t tweak anything.  “It’s still the same thing.  I didn’t have time to really change anything.  One thing I told myself was to be confident.  My stuff”s good.  My stuff ‘plays’ or else I wouldn’t be here.  I just kept on doing what I’d done all year.”

     It’s always interesting to find out what type of impression a young man feels he made on manager Tery Francona.  Tommy says he thinks it was a positive one.  “I think they liked having me there.  Tito said he enjoyed having me around.  They said they had to make room for Franklin Morales, but they loved what I did.  They liked that I didn’t back down from any situation.  I was available and ready every single day.  That’s something I know they appreciated.  He said they liked my fresh attitude, experiencing things for the first time.”

     Considering the strides that Tommy Hottovy has made, it’s not surprising to hear how he feels.  “I don’t take anything for granted.  I really enjoyed being there.  I wasn’t afraid to show that I was excited and I think the veteran guys liked that.”

     These are heady times for the 29 year old Hottovy.  He and his wife are expecting their first child sometime during July.  “They’re saying the due date is sometime during the All Star Break (July 11-13).  We’re very excited, trying to get everything lined up and ready to go.  You talk about the most exciting time of my life.  Within a month, getting to make my Big League debut and having my first child.  It’s pretty awesome!!”

ACCORDING TO ARNIE

     PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler (BAY-luhr) is in his first season as skipper of the Triple A franchise.  He follows Torey Lovullo, now coaching first base for Toronto.  Beyeler is a no-nonsense type of guy, who takes his responsibilities very seriously.  Good thing, after all.  He is charged with handling many of the crown jewels in the Red Sox minor league system.  As we have aways done, we sit down with the skipper once a week, to take the pulse of the PawSox.

     Before falling on Sunday to Indianapolis, 7-5, the PawSox had won four of their first six on the swing through Kentucky and Indy.  That pleased Beyeler.  “Oh yeah, they’re playing well.  We’re getting good pitching, which we’ve been getting all season long.  We’ve been getting some hits and we’re starting to get some guys back (from injury).  It’s fun to come out here and play some games at these nice fields (Louisville Slugger Field, Victory Field) we’ve been playing on on the road.  We’ve played in front of more than 12 thousand fans the last couple of days.  It’s been a lot of fun.”

     The PawSox are a tough team to figure out.  They’ve played to a 17-18 record at McCoy Stadium, but on the road, they’re 22-18.  Beyeler seems to have an explanation.  “I think we ask a lot of these guys at home.  We ask a lot of them.  They are working out, doing things out in the community.  When we’re home, we do a lot of stuff.  We do early work, get out on the field.  From a development standpoint, things that need to be done.  When we’re on the road, guys just come out here and play baseball.  We come out and take batting practice and play the game.  Guys get a little more rest on the road.  We’ve been to some pretty nice places.  Some nice hotels and some pretty nice road situations.  I tend to think, that looking back over the years, most of the teams I’ve been around, have kind of been that way.  We’ve played better on the road from a performance standpoint.”

     Early in the series against the Indians, Yamaico Navarro was ejected for arguing a called third strike.  Beyeler flew down from the third base coaches box to defend Navarro.  He, too, was tossed.  Beyeler admits it was a bit of the aftermath of a blown call the previous inning that cost Pawtucket and Ryan Lavarnway, a home run.  Lavarnways’ shot hit off the foul pole in right, yet none of the three umpires saw it.  “Yeah, that’s why I ended up not lasting very long in the gameIt reverted back to that.  We had seen it at the start.  They got together and once they get together, you go with what they come up with.  You don’t have to like it.  We don’t have the replay or anything here.  I could see it hit the pole from third base, but the guy who was out there, thirty yards away from it, didn’t see it that way.  Guys kept coming out of the clubhouse (where there was instant replay available) telling me it hit the pole, I got kind of tired hearing about it.  It wore on me a little.  It all came together when ‘Yami’ got thrown out at the plate.  It escalated.  That’s alright.  It was due.”

     When asked if the next day, after the umps had a chance to see the tape of the play, they apologized.  “The good ones do.  Sometimes, they really won’t apologize, but they’ll tell you they saw the tape of the replay and maybe admit, ‘hey, we have to do a better job.’  They sometimes talk about it.  The good ones, who never make a bad call, and never get anything wrong have the desire to not let anyone they’ve done something wrong and they could care less.”

     Beyeler had nothing new to report on the status of top prospect, Ryan Kalish.  Out since late April with a dislocated shoulder and now neck pain, they just take it as it comes.  “Same old, same old.” Beyeler lamented.  “He has his good days and his bad days.  It’s two or three steps forward and one step back.  It’s on a weekly basis now.  We’re through looking at things day to day.  He’s making progress.  He took batting practice on the field with us Saturday for the first time.  Hit in the cage the day before against a live arm.”

     The injury to Kalish, coupled with the tremendous progress made by Josh Reddick has afforded the Georgia native a turn in the Big Leagues with Boston.  Redd has made the most of it and that pleases Arnie.  “Sure.  He’s been up and down a few times.  It’s nice to see him go up there and show some consistency.  He’s put some good at bats together.  We know he can play good defense all over the place.  It’s a chance to maybe play every day and be consistent.  He can show those guys what he can do the way he does when he’s here.  We’re happy for him and glad he’s getting the opportunity, and making the best of it.”

     Just another week in the life of the PawSox skipper.

IT NEVER GETS OLD, EVEN IF YOU’RE OLDER

     As I’ve said many times, someone is lying if they are in the minor leagues and they say that they do not have Major League aspirations.  Players, managers, coaches, trainers, umpires and yes, even broadcasters.  When someone gets the coveted call to the Bigs, I think everyone else shares in it.  Whether it’s a first time call or you’ve been there before, it’s meaningful and exciting. 

     Scott Atchison has been there before.  In 2010, the righthander appeared in 43 games with the Red Sox, earning the Boston Baseball Writers’ “Unsung Hero” award.  Shuttling back asnd forth between Pawtucket and Boston this year, Atch has been nothing but professional.  An integral part of the PawSox bullpen, the Texas native is 2-1 with a stellar ERA of 1.39 and 2 saves.  Atchison even made a spot start on Opening Day when Alfredo Aceves was called up to the Red Sox.

     The last day in Louisville, he got the news that once again, his services were needed in Boston.  “They’re calling me up.  I’m leaving in a couple of hours.  I’m meeting them in Pittsburgh and hopefully I’ll help them win some more games.”  The 35 year old, who was originally selected in the 49th round by Seattle in 1998 still gets jazzed when his name is called.  “Oh Yeah, it’s exciting.  Any time you’re not in the ig Leagues, you’re trying  to get there.  When they call and say they need you, it’s always an exciting moment.  You look forward to it.  There aren’t as many butterflies this time because you know what to expect, but it’s still a very exciting thing.”

     One thing that is apparent, whenever Atchison has been optioned back in the past.  There are no “pity parties”.  He puts his nose to the grindstone, and gets right back to work.  “I try to.  I think it’s a lesson for everybody.  It’s easier said than done, sometimes.  Knowing the situation when I come back down, I just try to stay sharp, keep doing what I’m doing and have fun.  You know, this is a good group of guys here (with the PawSox) so they help make it easier to do that.  It makes it nice.  Just try to stay sharp, so when they call, they say ‘Atch is still doing well, let’s call him up.’ “

     Atchison concedes that there can be a “hangover” when you’re optioned back to the minors.  Manager Arnie Beyeler said the other day that “guys are lying when they say it’s no big deal  being farmed out”.  Atchison agrees.  “It’s always a big deal getting sent back down.  I don’t think anyone’s ever happy to go down.  Some times you can realize that it’s coming and it makes dealing with it as a person easier.  You’re still frustrated.  We all feel we can pitch up there or play up there.  That’s where you want to be.  That’s where the best are playing and you want to go up there and show your stuff against the best.  You never want to get sent down from there or any level for that matter.  It’s definitely a downer, but you have to find a way to get over it as soon as possible.”

     There are several “elder statesmen” (35 or older) on the PawSox pitching staff.  Brandon Duckworth, Randy Williams, Atchison and now Kevin Millwood.  You can’t help but notice the younger guys soaking it in, watching the guys that have been there before.  Atchison says he just tries to show the way.  “It just happens.  Randy and I have talked about it some, but it’s mostly just trying to lead by example.  If we try to tell a guy that this is the way it’s done in the Big Leagues, we are consistent with that.  If they see that the old guys are doing the running, getting it done…the guys that have been around are still working hard, the younger guys will do it too.  You try to go about your business in a professional manner and hopefully, everybody follows.”

     Atchison doesn’t take the promotion for granted.  He is ready to chip in, in the thick of the perennial A.L. East battle with New York.  “My first few times in the Big Leagues were with teams that were pushing 100 losses.  It was exciting as an individual, but the team wasn’t winning.  Every time you go up there with Boston, you’re in first place, you’re trying to win the division, and then moving on to try to win the World Series.  It is always exciting, a big moment.  You want to go up there and contribute as much as possible.”

PAWSOX AND FRIARS CONNECT

     In the state of Rhode Island, there are truly two local things to root for.  The PawSox and Providence College Basketball.  We all love the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and now the Stanley Cup Champion Bruins, but they are all Massachusetts-based.  Here in R.I., our choices are somewhat limited.  While the PawSox are a consistent favorite,  the Friars basketball program has fallen upon tough, and at times, very dull times.  I get the sense that that is about to change. Newly hired coach, Ed Cooley was recently honored at a pre-game ceremony at McCoy Stadium.  With his family in tow, the former Fairfield coach threw out a ceremonial first pitch, and then spent some time with me in the broadcast booth.

     Understandably, Cooley is excited about his opportunity.  “It’s an incredible honor to be home and an incredible honor to coach the Friars.  I’m really happy to be back here in Gods’ country.”  Cooley, who grew up poor, earned All State honors in basketball at Central  High.  It is a rags to riches story.  “It is, but I’m the same man with the same principles and same values.  Right now, I’m just excited to get our program back on solid footing.”  Cooley jumps in on the heels of the extremely non-descript “Keno Davis era”.  Cooley makes it clear that Providence is the place he wants to be.  “When this opportunity came and other opportunities were being presented, there was only one place I wanted to be, and that was home.  There’s no other place I’d rather be.  This is a natural fit and I hope to be here for a really, really long time.”

     Cooley hopes he can get solid young men to buy into what he’s selling as the Friars’ head man.  “It’s going to take faith.  We have to sell the school.  We have to sell the Big East.  We have to sell our tradition and history.  There is a very rich history at Providence.  I think we have to tell them who we were and where we want to go.  There’s going to have to be a lot of trust involved.”  In the past, names like Mullaney, Gavitt, Pitino and Barnes helped mold the Friar program.  Cooley is undaunted.  “I hope someday, to be mentioned in the same breath as those men.  The difference is, I want to stay here.”

     Cooley knows that in the past, the P.C. job was often a stepping stone to other jobs.  He is clear when he says that isn’t how he’s approaching things.  “This is my dream job.  This my city, this is my state.  I want Providence College to be on the national map every single night.  In order to do that, we need stability.  With stability, comes years.  With years, come wins.” 

     Cooley will definitely mold the program in his own image.  He seems “old school” and that’s a good thing.  “Clean house is a term that’s often used in sports.  More importantly, I want clean men.  I want young men that have pride.  Men that want to graduate, great people, great players.  We want to see who wants to work, who wants to do it the right way.  Little things, like being early.  Being respectful.  When you do things like that you win the game of life, as well as the game of basketball. ”  Cooley wants his kids to realize how fortunate they are.  “It’s an absolute blessing to play in the Big East.  It is an absolute blessing to be at Providence College.  You can play on national television every night and show what you said you could do.  We will attract young men who will come and help us win a national championship.”

     Cooley is looking forward to scouring the gyms across America, in search of the next great Friar.  “We’re going to go wherever there’s a player.  Whether he’s in another country or across the street.  If he’s in another state.  If we sell our brand the right way and share our visions and goals, we’ll be attractive to all of them.”

     Cooley gets a kick out of the “friends” he now encounters on a regular basis, since his appointment.  “The reception has been phenomenal.  At the same time, I’m meeting people who say they’ve known me for a long time.  Honestly, I don’t remember some of them.  I don’t want to be disrespectful so I try to make time for everyone.”  He admits that it could be friends that have followed his career from afar.  “That’s the special thing about Rhode Island, and especially Providence.”

     The new coach has already put his money where his mouth is.  He has already decided to help bring underprivileged children to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, to watch the Friars.  “I’m working with (former PawSox employee) Steve Napolillo to make sure that every night there will be 100-200 kids at the game that might not ordinarily get to go.  Not good students, or bad students.  Not poor or rich kids, just children that want to see a game.  I remember how much that touched me when I was young.” 

     Ironic that the young kid who used to sneak in the “side door” of the Civic Center to watch P.C. games is now front and center, carrying the hopes of the Friar faithful on his broad shoulders.  He will clearly give the state and region a shot in the arm.  He is full of hope and enthusiasm.  “Every now and then, I pinch myself and say’wow, this is true’.  I’m just so grateful.  I want to do something for  the little guy.  Everyone said you can’t do this, or you won’t do that.  I can tell them one thing.  I am Providence Colleges’ Head Basketball Coach.”

     Dressed in his PawSox jersey, with “Cooley” and the number 1 emblazoned across his back, Ed Cooley truly did look happy to be home.

KEEPING AN EYE ON ANDREW FROM THE FARM

     While all of Red Sox Nation watched on Monday night as 6’7 Andrew Miller made his Boston debut to positive reviews, his teammates and coaches were just as interested down in Louisville, Kentucky as they were playing the Bats.  Miller worked 5 and two thirds innings for Boston in their eventual slaughter of the Padres.  Millers’ first five frames were shutout innings.  In the sixth, a  walk, a single, and a three run homer by Orlando Hudson sent Miller to the showers with the score tied at 3-3.  Miller was long gone by the time the Red Sox offense erupted for ten runs in the seventh inning.

     One man was especially interested in the results.  PawSox pitching coach, Rich Sauveur, who has worked extensively with the former number oe pick since early this spring.  “I’m very, very proud of what he’s done, what he’s accomplished here in Pawtucket, able to get back to the Big Leagues and have a very positive outing.”  Sauveur spoke about Millers’ mechanics and his “Buchholzian” plan of attack.  “Andrew approached me and wanted to throw more pitches in a game.  I just couldn’t allow that to happen, so we started going down to the bullpen earlier.  He’d warm up as usual, then sit down for four or five minutes, then throw a simulated first inning.  15 or so pitches.”  Sauveur had used the same technique with another star pupil a couple of years ago.  “It worked for Clay Buchholz, so we figured, why not?”  Buchholz still uses the same approach and Sauveur thinks Miller will too.  Technique-wise, Sauveur said they tried to compact Millers’ delivery.  Andrew is tall and lanky with a lot of moving parts.  Rich is pleased with the results.  ” It started out trying to minimize some of his movements.  Curt Young started working with him in Fort Myers, and passed along a couple of things to work on here in Pawtucket.  Minimize his movement.  Step back and shorten things up a little bit, and compact his delivery a little bit.  He’s worked really hard.  It’s been a positive outcome of him working hard, day in, day out on the things he needed to work on.  He’s been in the Big Leagues before and wanted to get back there.”

     There are inevitable comparisons to another tall lefthander, 6’10 RandyJohnson.  Sauveur is one of the best people around to adddress such an analogy.   Sauveur and the Big Unit were teammates in Indianapolis, while at Triple A, and has more recently, tutored Miller.  “It’s valid.  Both of them are very tall, very lanky, very strong.  It’s the delivery.  Scouts talk about the body.  They see bodies like this, most bodies like this are going to be pitchers.  I do see a lot of Randy Johnson in Andrew Miller.  Randy had command issues back when I played with him.  He had to work on that. Obviously, it worked out.  He overcame those and did a great job in the Big Leagues.”

     While Terry Francona was dishing out praise after Andrews’ outing, he did single out Sauveur for the work he’s done.  It meant a lot to Rich.  “It’s very very nice.  I didn’t see it, but it’s nice.  I appreciate it when he notices the work that goes on down here.  It’s great when the work that our coaching staff does, pays off.”  

     Sauveur points to Millers’ work ethic and his “secondary” pitches as keys to his success.  He says those things, coupled with the confidence he has from being in the Big leagues before, are a good recipe.

     If 25 year old Andrew Miller continues to improve and pitch well, he will be a big part of the Sox present and future

FATHERS DAY-PAWSOX STYLE

     Fathers Day falls smack dab in the middle of the baseball season.  No matter how you slice it, the third Sunday in June is a baseball day.  Some years we’re on the road, this year we’re home.  It’s a fact of life for the nomads who play, manage, coach and broadcast baseball.  Either we are away from our fathers or our children, obviously the ones you most want to spend the day with.  Although we will be at the yard, our thoughts are with loved ones.  Hopefully, after a quick game (preferably a win) we can spend time with Pop or the kids.

     For a young man like Daniel Nava, a phone call will have to suffice.  His father, Don is 3000 miles away in California.  Despite the distance, Nava feels close to his dad.  “He’s done a lot to get me where I am today.  He was a football player, an athlete, so we definitely have a connection there.  Off the field, he’s done a lot to make me the man I am today.  We have a good relationship, a good friendship more than anything. We’re able to talk about just about anything.”  Nava credited Dan Hoard and me for helping to strengthen the bond.  “His connection to me is through you guys and I know he enjoys listening to you as well.  I’m definitely grateful for the support I’ve had and the love I’ve had through the years.”

     Lars Anderson is in a similar situation.  His father George is on the West Coast, but close to Lars’ heart.  “He’s one of my best friends.  He’s taught me a lot about life.  He’s also taught me a lot without even saying anything.  I appreciate him more and more as we both age.  I look back at my formative years and recall how my mom and dad were with me.  Despite having their own hardships in life, they always found the time to fully commit to me as parents.  It’s really awesome.  I’m really happy about that.”

     Unlike Nava and Anderson, Scott Atchison is both a father and son.  He looks at things from both sides of the coin.  He speaks of his father with respect and admiration.  “He had a huge impact.  He was a high school football coach.  He always taught me that once you start something, you have to finish it.  He gave me my work ethic.  If you’re going to do something, put everything you have into it.”  Scott is also the father of three year old Callie, the apple of his eye.  “Fatherhood’s been great.  I love my daughter to death.  From a baseball standpoint, she’s made me realize that there are way more important things than what happens on the field.  I recover quicker from bad outings.  I go home and there she is.  It really puts a smile on my face.”  Atch says he will try to pass on some of the lessons he learned from his father, down to Callie.  “I want to teach her and instill in her the same things.  If you want ot do something, work hard, and that’s when the best things happen.”

     21 year old Jose Iglesias treasures his father.  Both men escaped the Castro regime in Cuba.  He speaks openly about the man he cares most about.  “My dad is the most important thing in my life right now, along with my baby.  He was my first coach when I was a kid.  I feel very happy that he is now here with me.”  Fatherhood for Iglesias has been rewarding.  “It’s great.  It’s been a good experience.  Family is the most important thing to me.  I feel very happy to be with my family.”

     Manager Arnie Beyeler has two children and his high school-age son, Brady is a fixture in the PawSox clubhouse during his summer vacation.  “It’s cool.  It’s worked out the last couple of years that he’s been able to come out and be around and hang out with me.  Doing what we do, we don’t get the opportunity to be around the family and the kids very often.  It’s very special to have him come out and spend time together.  It’s awesome.”  Beyeler downplays his role as a paternal figure to his 25 “other sons”.  “I don’t know about that.  You’d have to ask them.  You know, we’ve got some young guys out here and every once in a while, something comes up that they need help with.  Maybe you can throw something at them that will help along the way.”

     Tony Pena Jr.  got his love of baseball from his father, spending most of his childhood in Major League clubhouses.  Tony Sr. of course, was one of the best catchers of his generation.  Tony Jr. absorbed it like a sponge and his trying to pass it on to his beautiful little son, Tony III.  “It was great.  I learned so much being around my father and his teammates.  Of course I hope I do the same thing for my boy.”

     That’s what baseball should be all about.  Whether it’s in a professional clubhouse or the backyard.    Happy Fathers Day to all, especially my Pop, Tom Hyder.

IS IT MILLER TIME?

     The last few days, Twitter, the internet and just about everything else has blown up with the news that Andrew Miller is heading to Boston to join the Red Sox rotation.  The 6’7 lefty had an “out” clause in his contract for June 15.  The date has come and gone and Miller is still in a PawSox uniform.  Reports indicated that Miller and Theo Epstein would get together on Wednesday the 15th and discuss his future.

     The reason there is something to discuss, is because Miller has been pitching extremely well.  In his last outing on Tuesday he struck out ten hitters and walked just one.  It was the first base on balls Miller had issued in 20 innings.  Miller is feeling good about his progress.  “I think lately we’ve fine-tuned what my routine’s been between starts.  It’s been getting better every time.  Rich (Sauveur) and I work on trying to get better every time and I think we’ve accomplished that lately.”  One of the key moves has been pitching a simulated first inning in the bullpen after completing his warmups.  That same technique worked for Clay Buchholz.  Millers’ mind and body believe it’s the second inning when the ballgame actually starts.  It has worked.

     Miller says that hard work has been important.  “I think it’s a combination of everything.  The organization has given a great plan to stick to.  So far, it’s working out well and I’m just trying to kep it going.”

     While Miller is unwilling or unable to “come clean” on his future, he does admit to the Wednesday rendezvous with Epstein.  “The meeting did take place and all I can say right now is that the organization has treated me phenomenally well so far.  I can’t be any happier than I am here.”  Miller, when pressed, still didn’t talk.  “I have a pretty good idea of what’s going on, but I’ll let them (Red Sox) doing the talking and make any announcemenmts that need to be made.  I don’t want to step on anybodys’ toes or anything like that.  Like I said, I have a good idea what they’re going to do.  I trust them.  So far, things have worked out perfectly.”

     When Miller goes to Boston, he’ll be reunited with his college teammate from the University of North Carolina, Daniel Bard.  Miller admits that Bard played a small part in gettging him to sign with Boston.  “It was nice to be able to talk to him and get his feelings about the organization.  I asked him some questions.  Ultimately, Daniel and I are in different situations.  It was nice to get his feedback, but it’s not like he was the reason I signed here.  Plenty of other people told me what a great, first class organization this is.  It was a combination of a lot of people that helped me make my decision.”

     Miller seemed genuinely amused by the interest he generates from the fans in the “Nation”, but he wasn’t surprised.  “It’s a little funny, but you see the fan support we get here in Pawtucket and even on the road for a Triple A team, the amount of support the Red Sox get is incredible.  The fans take a lot of pride in their team and they don’t miss much.  It’s certainly exciting to be part of an organization where that’s the case.”

     One tweet I read quoted Miller as saying that if there were a spot in the Majors, he wanted it.  Miller clarified.  “No.  Everyone wants to pitch in the Big Leagues.  Nobody wants to be in a situation that’s artificial.  When the timing is right, it’ll happen.  I trust myself in the hands of this organization.  So far, they’ve done a great job and I’m going to stick with them.”

     It seems that the promotion is just on the horizon.  Rumors about a Monday start against San Diego continue to be reported.  If Andrew Miller finds the success in the Majors that was projected when he was the sixth pick of the first round in 2006, he will go down as the steal of the offseason.  He’s got the right stuff.  He’s got the right attitude.  It just might be “Miller Time.”

KALISH GETTING CLOSER

     2011 was supposed to be the year that Ryan Kalish polished up his game, and prepared himself to take over in rightfield in Boston.  After all, J.D. Drews’ contract expires after this season and Kalish did a great job, playing in more than 50 games in Boston last year.  The Sox brass wanted Ryan to play every day in Pawtucket and they obviously felt comfortable with Mike Cameron and Darnell McDonald as their extra outfielders.  Sometimes, things don’t go “According to Hoyle”. 

     Kalish hasn’t played since late April after injuring his shoulder while diving for a ball in the outfield at McCoy Stadium.  Kalish has spent weeks in Fort Myers rehabbing at Extended Spring Training.  They are on hiatus in Florida, getting ready for the start of the Gulf Coast League season and as a result, both Kalish and Yamaico Navarro are back in the PawSox clubhouse.  Kalish is dying to return to action.  “It’s been frustrating, but at the same time, my shoulder has been doing really well.  I could’ve had surgery.  I’m just excited that it looks like now there will be a good chance of me playing in the not too distant future.”  Kalish, while frustrated has things in perspective.  “I just have to count my blessings.  Life could be a lot worse.  There are a lot of people that come to mind when I say that.  In my own personal journey, I could’ve had surgery, like I said and I wouldn’t be playing until next year.  I’m just excited to get back.  I was down in Florida and not watching too much baseball.  It’s good to back at least watching and getting back into it.”

     Extended Spring Training is notorious for two things.  The heat and the boredom.  Once you have finished the rehab for the day, you just wait until tomorrow.  “You’ve got to find stuff to do.  For me, I was done around 2:00 in the afternoon and I had the rest of the day to find something to do.  I’d take a nap.  I saw a bunch of movies.  Like I said, I’m excited to be back.”  Kalish made the most of the opportunity to help younger guys get through the tedium of the day.  “I actually made a good new friend.  Matt Price.  He’s 21, out of virginia Tech.  We met, it was cool.  He’s a really good kid.”  Price is a right handed pitcher, drafted in the eighth round in 2010.  Kalish himself, is still just 23, but with Big League time under his belt as one of the crown jewels in the Sox organization, he served as a mentor down south.  “I just tried to help the younger guys and it was cool.  I got to help out a lot of people.  It’s what guys used to do for me when I was down there.  Kind of a reversed role.  I tried to give guys advice and help people out.  Hopefully give them a little piece that can help them.”

     While most of the pundits say that Kalish will rehab with the Lowell Spinners, Ryan, himself, isn’t so sure.  “I don’t know.  I might not even…I’m just here to get healthy.  That decision isn’t mine and it will come when it’s time.”  Kalish couldn’t estimate when he’d be back in action, but he’s closer today, than ever.  “I can’t, I can’t.  I’m out there throwing.  Now I think it’ll be more towards me playing in the outfield right away, rather than DH-ing.  Especially with the extra time.  We’ll see.  It all depends on how I feel.  When I feel ready and the training staff is comfortable with it, I’ll be ready to go.”

SUPER JOE’S BACK IN TOWN

     Joe McEwing played his final season of pro baseball in Pawtucket back in 2007.  That was after playing in over 750 Major League ballgames with Cardinals, Mets, Royals and Astros.  Although he came through Pawtucket in the twilight of his career, his fire, grit and determination were apparent.  That’s why I’m not surprised he is passing along those same qualities to the young men he now guides as manager of the Charlotte Knights.

     McEwing, who earned the nickname “Super Joe” while a player with the Mets, was a hard-nosed competitor who could play any position on the field.  He made such a lasting impression on his manager with St. Louis, Tony LaRussa, the skipper asked McEwing for a pair of his spikes when he was traded to New York.

     In his first season at the Triple A level, the Knights manager was glad to be back at McCoy.  “I love coming back here.  I loved playing here.  It’s an outstanding city and a great atmosphere to compete in.  Loyal fans, good fans.  The city of Providence is outstanding.”  McEwing added that he was looking forward to a nice dinner after the day game, presumably on Federal Hill.  He added  “Seeing some familiar faces and old friends is nice.  It’s a joy to come back.”

     Even though the Knights are a sub .500 team, they are thriving under McEwings’ infectious enthusiasm.  “I’ve been very fortunate, you know, I’ve got an outstanding staff to work with and players that go about their business the right way.  It’s nice to see the development of some of our younger guys, mixed in with the veterans.  The younger guys I’ve had the last couple of years at Winston-Salem, it’s fun to see their development and watch them grow.  They play hard and that’s all we can ask for as a staff.”

     After two seasons as a manager at the lower levels of the minors, McEwing is now theoretically one step away from becoming a Major League skipper.  He couldn’t pinpoint just one of his former managers that he has gleaned something from.  “I take bits and pieces from everybody I come across.  Managers and players.  I’ve been very fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of great individuals.  LaRussa, Bobby V (Valentine), Buddy Bell and Art Howe…you hate to name names because you don’t want to leave anyone out.  I’ve learned from every single one of them.  You try to adapt it to your own style.  That’s what I’m trying to do.”

     Not a big surprise that Joe McEwings’ greatest satisfaction comes through helping others.  He didn’t hesitate when asked about the best part of his job.  “Seeing other kids’ dreams come true.  That means the most to me.  I had my time and obviously I’d like to get back to the Big Leagues, but I’m in no hurry.  To see other kids’ dreams come true is pretty rewarding to me as a manager.”

     When Joe was a PawSox player, we occasionally talked about our shared love of the Howard Stern Show.  While he was a Met, McEwing struck up a friendship with Stern Show Executive Producer and uber-Mets fan, Gary Dell’Abate.  McEwing says he hasn’t really kept in touch.  “Bababooey! No I haven’t talked to him lately.  That’s something I need to do.  Great conversations.  He’s a great individual.”  McEwing admits that he hasn’t yet had the opportunity to read Dell’Abates’ best selling autobiography- “They Call Me Bababooey”.  “I don’t really have the patience to read.”

     One area where Joe and I differ, is when it comes to the manager of the White Sox, Ozzie Guillen.  McEwing says he doesn’t interact much with him during the season, but did quite a bit during Spring Training.  “Ozzie’s a great guy.  I really like him.”  McEwing intimated that all of Ozzies’ rants and raves are calculated.  “He takes the heat off his players and directs it towards himself.  He’s a good guy.” 

     I know a good guy when I see one.  You can’t convince me on Guillen, but Super Joe really is just that, Super.

 

WRAPPING UP ANOTHER ROAD TRIP

     Obviously, I realize we play 72 games at home and 72 on the road during an International League season.  It does seem, though, that we’ve been on the road an awful lot so far.  It’s no where near as much fun when the PawSox are losing, as they have been here in Norfolk.  Baseball is a tough game to figure out.  The Tides are the worst team in the I.L., yet they’ve won three straight against Pawtucket, holding the PawSox to just 5 runs over 31 innings.

     Dan Hoard and I took advantage of the day game on Thursday, making our long awaited pilgrimage to see the sequel, “Hangover 2″.  We both enjoyed the original very much.  Folks, if you haven’t seen “2” yet, don’t bother.  You’d get just as much out of it, if you took a ten dollar bill and lit it on fire.  You can’t rip yourself off, but Director Todd Phillips didn’t even try to make this any different than the original.  I am amazed that there hasn’t been an outcry from the public.  Not even Zack Galifianakis could save this raunchy mess.  Believe me, stay home.  You’d be better off with a real hangover of your own.

     How great was that series in the Bronx?  I joke on the air that I told everyone “not to worry” when the Red Sox started so miserably.  I figured they’d get better, but didn’t imagine it could happen so quickly.  I absolutely adore the way the Sox have owned the Yankees this season.  I was amused the other day when David Ortiz flipped his bat after the home run in game 1 of the series.  Dan pointed out that I wouldn’t have been so entertained if it had been a Yankees player doing it.  He’s right, I’m sure.  Sometimes Big Papis’ act wears thin.  After the win that completed the sweep in New York, Ortiz chastised the media because he was hit by a pitch.  It was the first time in 161 games against New York that Ortiz had gotten zapped.  He was irked that the media had pointed out that fact earlier in the week.  The media is a convenient scapegoat for athletes when they want it to be.  When they want, they use it to their advantage.  Who, more than David Ortiz has used it over the years to become the loveable, kindly Teddy Bear that wears #34?  I’ve been around him before, and he’s ok, but it’s not all peaches and cream.  I don’t think I have ever once heard Kevin Youkilis complain about getting hit by a pitch.  It’s a part of the game.  Wear it.  There are police and fire personnel going out every day and risking their lives.  Our military defends our country, stationed in the most ungodly places on the planet.  You got hit by a pitch.  Waaaaaaaahhhh!!!   

     Behavior like that is perpetuated by younger guys like the knuckle head in the Nationals organization, Bryce Harper.  Last years’ number one overall pick is tearing it up in Low A, Hagerstown.  Unfortunately, maturity is a big issue.  The 18 year old, while possessing the baseball skills of a man much older, seems to have the I.Q. of a child.  After hitting a home run the other day, he blew a kiss to the pitcher that gave it up.  Try that in the Major Leagues and they’ll be fitting you for an orthopedic helmet.

     Anyway, the point is that I wish these guys would think before they act or speak.  If they knew what it looked or sounded like, they might not do it.  Then again, maybe they don’t care.

 

 

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