July 2011

GOOD START FOR WEILAND

     Kyle Weiland is living the dream. The former Notre Dame star is back with the PawSox, after making his Major League debut with Boston.  The right hander appeared in two games, getting his feet wet in the Bigs.  He says that it is easily the biggest thing that has ever happened to him.  “Absolutely.  It was my first ever promotion, in-season.  I got to stay up there a little longer than I expected,  got a chance to pick those guys brains, see what it takes.  I asked how their rookie year went, how they adjusted to the new level.  Next time I go up there, I’ll be more well prepared.  It was a good time.”

     Weiland says he is inspired to work hard and improve upon his first two outings.  “My second outing was definitely different than my first one.  In the first one, my emotions were running high.  I was feeding off adrenaline.  I had a hard time getting into my comfort zone to pitch like I usually do.  The next outing was much different.  I had a lot more ability to control myself and the adrenaline level.  I found my comfort zone a lot sooner than in my debut.”   Weiland looks forward to his own improvement.  “There are obviously a lot more adjustments I need to make.  It’s a whole different ballgame.  Even though guys are experienced at the Triple A level, the approach in the Big Leagues is different.  You need to concentrate and constantly make quick adjustments.”

     As Weiland was set for his debut, the national anthem was playing and the starting pitcher kept reminding himself of one thing that we may take for granted.  “Breathe.  Just breathe.  I had to make sure I had my breathing under control.  I didn’t want to be sitting there, holding my breath.  I wanted to be focused.  When it comes down to it, it’s the same game.  I’m still pitching like I’ve done since I was 8 years old.  I just tried to focus and not think about being at Fenway.  We are in the pennant race and I didn’t want to let anyone down, but when you think about stuff like that, you have to pull yourself back and think in the right direction.”

     Weilands’ Major League debut took a wild turn.  He was ejected from the game after hitting Vladimir Guerrero with a pitch.  Warnings had been previously issued.  “I knew the situation coming into the game.  There had been the history of Big Papi and Kevin Gregg, so it was there.  I really didn’t think the warning was warranted. Kevin  Youkilis had been hit earlier in the game with a changeup.  It was clearly not on purpose.  I’d been throwing inside to Guerrero all day.  One got a little bit away from me and he checked his swing.  I don’t think it would have even hit him if he hadn’t checked his swing.  I guess the ejection was done with the best intentions.  The umpires were trying to keep the game under control.” 

     With family and friends in the stands, Kyle Weiland has logged his first two Major League appearances.  The first two of many to come.  He rates it a positive experience, overall.  “It was great.  It was a dream come true.  Everything you’d expect and more.  You get that taste of it and now it’s just a matter of getting back and staying for a while.”  As for his approach, now that he’s back in Pawtucket?  “Stay confident and stay hungry.”

THE STATE OF NATE

     I liked Nate Spears the very first time I met him.  It was in the Spring of 2010 down in Fort Myers.  Nate was living with my good friend, Jeff Natale during Spring Training.  Nat was going to accompany my daughter Carly and me to dinner for her 14th birthday celebration.  He asked me if he could bring Nate along and I figured, the more the merrier.  We had a good time that night and I think Carly enjoyed being “in” on baseball banter beetween two players and her grizzled old dad.  I expected to see Spears in Pawtucket, but it didn’t happen in 2010.  After playing the year before in Triple A with the Iowa Cubs, Nate began his Red Sox career at Double A Portland.  He had a great year with 20 homers, 82 RBI and a .272 batting average.  The 104 runs he scored ranked 7th among all minor leaguers.

     This Spring, Spears stuck with the parent club for all of Spring Training.  In 28 games with the Red Sox, Spears impressed Terry Francona with his versatility, as well as his .290 batting average (18-62) and 9 RBI.  the 4 time minor league All Star (2004, 05, 08, 10) earned an Opening Day roster spot in Pawtucket and has been an important part of the club that is making a bid for the postseason.  He approaches the game with a child-like enthusiasm and in the world of big-time athletes, jaded by their success and all the trappings, it is very refreshing.

     On the current PawSox  roadtrip, Spears homered in back to back games.  The latest was a leadoff shot in the tenth inning against first place Lehigh Valley.  It temporarily put the Sox in front, but they couldn’t hold on and lost 8-7.  Spears talked about his tater.  “I was looking for a good pitch and (Michael) Schwimer threw me a fastball and I put a good swing on it.”  Spears wasn’t necessarily thinking “home run”, but it did cross his mind.  “I was thinking if he gave me something good, I’d take an aggressive swing.  I put the barrel on it and it happened to go out.”  Spears has 7 home runs this season and feels he knows why he is having a little more success.  “I’m starting to play a little more now.  I’ve been healthy the last couple of weeks and my swing is starting to feel good.”

     People would be surprised to know that every player at this time of the year, no matter the position, is at least a little banged up.  Spears says it’s part of the game.  “This game’ s a grind.  you have to take every day and do whatever you can to keep your body healthy.”

     Despite the daily grind, Spears admits that he likes being in the chase for the I.L. crown.  “Winning is fun.  To make the playoffs and be in a playoff atmosphere is great.  You go into the season wanting to make the playoffs.  It’s what everyone looks forward to.  An extra couple of weeks of playing.  We’re going to go out there every day and give it our all.”

     One relationship that catches your eye almost is immediately is that between Spears and 21 year old shortstop Jose Iglesias.  Nate took the young Cuban under his wing last season when they met in Portland.”We clicked instantly last year when I signed with the Red Sox.  Right away in Spring Training.  We became roommates on the road.  I got a chance to teach him a lot of his English.  It’s been fun.  Having him back in the lineup at short, it’s great.  You can’t find a better shortstop out there than him.  It’s like having a Big League shortstop playing here in Triple A.  It’s fun.”  

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     Anyone who has listened to Hyder and Hoard for any length of time knows that one of our favorite topics is food.  We were greatly anticipating our visit on Thursday night to “Emerils’ Italian Table”, one of Chef Emeril Lagasses’ restaurants.  This one is in the Sands Casino in Bethlehem Pennsylvania.  Hate to say it because I’m a huge fan of his, but the food was average, at best.  I’ve had many better Italian meals on Federal Hill in Providence or even at places like Buca di Beppo in Seekonk or, believe it or not, Uncle Tony’s on Newport Avenue, near the ballpark.  The Salumi was the highlight.  An assortment of meats and cheeses with bread and olives.  My salad was bland, as was my Veal Parmesean.  They didn’t serve my favorite beverage.  The waiter talked me into a Czechoslovakian version, in his words.  If I had to move to the Czech Republic, I’d give up beer for good.  Anyway, I think Emeril wouldn’t be pleased if he happened by.  The place could use a little “Essence”.  I do not recommend.  As Dan would say. “Two gigantic thumbs down.”

FROM C-TOWN TO A-TOWN

     It’s still a novelty to have a Hall of Famer amongst us in the International League.  Lehigh Valley is managed by Ryne Sandberg.  Tuesday night at Coca Cola Park, there was another HoFer on hand.  A freshly minted one, at that.  Pat Gillick was honored by the Iron Pigs, a little more than 48 hours after he was enshrined among the immortals of the game.  Gillick is the former Toronto Blue Jays executive who constructed the 1992 and 1993 World Series Champions.  He did the same for Philadelphia, putting together their 2009 winner.  Gillick, now in semi-retirement, is an adviser for the Phils.

     Gillick had no problem when asked about what his most vivid memory of the weekend in Cooperstown was.  “Being around that array of talent that’s in the Hall of Fame and when you get up on stage with that group, you look at the players that have had the opportunity to be in the Hall and you really are amazed.  It huimbles you pretty quickly.”  In all his years in the game, the thought of being a member of this ultra-exclusive fraternity never crossed his mind. “I never imagined it at all.  I was stunned when the call came in December.  I was honored and humbled and at the same time, very stunned about it.”

     Gillick is not, of course , the first executive to be honored.  He remembered those who paved the way for guys like him.  “Men like Branch Rickey and Lee MacPhail, those are people who had a lot of love and passion for the game.  I feel the same way.  You want the game to succeed and get better.  I don’t know if I’m like them.  Hopefully, I can be 50% of what they are.”

     It almost seemed ludicrous to give away a Pat Gillick bobblehead doll in Allentown just two days after the biggest honor of his life, but Gillick played along, even throwing out the ceremonial first pitch to fellow HoFer, Sandberg.  “I don’t collect them.  I don’t have any at home, but I will say that I think they did a pretty good job with mine.  They made me look skinny.”  Gillick laughed. 

     Gillick is glad that the Philly club he assembled still has the nucleus in place, but he recognizes the evolution set forth by G.M. Ruben Amaro, Jr.  “We used to try to bludgeon teams to death.  Scored a lot of runs and won games.  He’s done a good job turining us from an offensive club to a pitching/defense club.  He deserves a lot of credit for that.  We’re on a run and we want to stay on a run.”   

 

 

 

PAWSOX SWEEP WEEKLY I.L. AWARDS

     Despite the fact that the PawSox have been a contending team for most of the season, not a single Pawtucket player had earned an I.L. Player of the Week award.  Until today.  Brandon Duckworth has been named the Pitcher of the Week and Ryan Lavarnway garnered Player of the week honors.  Teammates haven’t turned that trick since the Richmond Braves duo of Corky Miller and James Parr both won on August 24, 2008.  The last time a pair of Pawtucket players were recognized at the same time was when Gar Finnvold and Andy Tomberlin won on April , 1994.

     Lavarnway has terrorized I.L. pitching since his promotion to Triple A.  In 36 games, he’s hitting .372 with 13 homers and 36 RBI.  This past week, the Yale product hit an amazing .409 with 4 home runs and 11 RBI.  He’s provided the PawSox with a legitimate, run-producing power hitter in the middle of their lineup.  It’s not a coincidence that his arrival matches up with Pawtuckets’ surge to the top of the International Leagues’ North Division.

     Duckworth won a pair of games this week and didn’t allow a single run.  The 35 year old righthander worked 11 and two thirds innings, scattering ten hits, walking 2 and striking out 5.  Overall, Duckworth hasn’t allowed a run in 16 and a third innings, winnng three straight decisions.  Duckworth was the I.L. Pitcher of the Year in 2001.  He was 13-2, 2.63 for Scranton-Wilkes Barre.  “Duck” is a veteran of 134 Major League appearances with Philadelphia, Houston and Kansas City.  Duckworth had spent time away from the club earlier this season as his wife gave birth to twins.  He also had a brief stint on the disabled list, with an oblique strain.

     In my usual perch in the hotel lobby, I was able to share the news with both Lavarnway and Duckworth.  Both were obviously pleased.  Duckworth got a pat on the back from fellow veteran righty, Scott Atchison.  Lavarnway, looking over my shoulder at my laptop while he was chatting on his phone, smiled and gave me  fist bump. 

     Congratulations to both of them.  Let’s hope they’ll be hoisting the Governors’ Cup sometime in mid- September.

**********

     A great scene at Coca Cola Field on Sunday afternoon.  The Buffalo Bisons held their annual Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.  This years’ honorees were Jim Rosenhaus, who broadcast Buffalo baseball for 11 years before joining the radio team for the Cleveland Indians, and Tony Pena, Sr.  one of the greatest catchers of his generation.  Tony Sr. was unable to attend since he’s the bench coach for the New York Yankees.  Pinch-hitting was his son, PawSox righty, Tony Jr.  After a video screen acceptance by the former All Star, young Tony accepted the plaque and thanked the Bisons on behalf of his family.  “It’s a special moment for the Pena family and I’m glad to accept his award.”  Pena tried to put his fathers’ feelings into words.  “He had a great year in Buffalo in 1979.  It helped him get to the Major Leagues.  It’s part of his resume and something he’ll cherish for the rest of his life.”

COOPERSTOWN REVISITED

     I’ve been to Cooperstown, New York many times over the years.  I was sitting in the lobby of the Hyatt in Buffalo and sipping my overpriced coffee while thinking that a few hundred miles east, the normally sleepy village would be over run with people on this induction weekend.  I thought about my trips there, both the good and the bad.

     My most vivid memories come from 1991.  I was working for WSYR radio in Syracuse and they sent me to cover the ceremonies.  I plunked myself into the middle of the lobby of the Otesaga Hotel to try to catch interviews as the Hall of Famers checked in.  It was the last time Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio appeared there together.  My head was spinning.  Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Bobby Doerr all checking into the Otesaga.  I was like a kid in a candy store.  All of a sudden, the front door swung open and with the sun shining on him, it looked like God, himself was walking through the door.  I was in the same room as Theodore Samuel Williams, Teddy Ballgame.  It was surreal.  The reporters converged on Williams as you would expect.  He was a bit cantankerous.  No surprise.  What shocked me was how many of these baseball greats were cranky and unappreciative of the fans.  Bob Feller, Warren Spahn, Reggie Jackson and a slew of others spurned fans and autograph seekers, who had travelled into the middle of nowhere to meet their idols.  After the media throng had waned, I figured now was my chance to get his autograph.  It’s a no-no for the media to ask for a signature, but I didn’t care.  It was Ted Freaking Williams.  I took a baseball out of my briefcase and asked- “Mr. Williams, would you please sign this?”  He ignored me.  I figured “He must not have heard me.”  Again I tried.  “Mr. Williams, I’m a lifelong Red Sox fan.”  He signed for a little kid to my left.  Now I was getting annoyed.  A last ditch effort.  Guns blazing- “Mr. Williams, 20 years ago this week, I was at your baseball camp in Lakeville Massachusetts and you never showed up.”  Williams grudgingly snatched the ball out of my hand and without ever looking at me, signed it and dropped it back into my hand.  Are you kidding me?  This is what I looked forward to?  True story.  In the summer of 1971, my parents sent me to the Ted Williams Baseball camp where one of my teammates was future Major Leaguer, Jeff Kunkel.  I was a chubby kid who couldn’t hit, catch or throw.  They might have been better off lighting the money on fire.  Anyway, part of their sales pitch was that Ted shows up at every session and spends at least a day, talking with the kids and signing autographs.  He was a no-show and knew that I couldn’t have made up the story.  He signed the ball.  It means nothing to me.

     That same day, I ventured out to the back porch of the hotel.  It overlooks beautiful gardens, an idyllic setting.  Sitting on a rocking chair, enjoying a warm breeze, was an elderly woman.  Very unassuming.  I sat in the chair next to her to cool off.  She looked at me and smiled. “Hot in there, huh?”  As  I was about to respond, I realized who it was.  Red Sox owner, Jean Yawkey.  I introduced myself and we chatted for about 15 minutes.  About the Sox.  About my job.  Nothing special, just small talk.  It’s an experience I will always treasure.  What a lovely lady.

     On another occasion, I was there to cover the Hall of Fame game.  the Dodgers were scheduled to play, but it was raining.  I took the opportunity to talk with L.A. manager, Tommy Lasorda.  standing underneath my blue and white umbrella, he answered all my questions.  Just as we were wrapping up, they announced that the game had been cancelled because of the weather.  As I thanked him for his time, he asked me for a favor.  “Son, would you mind escorting ‘Annie’ to the team bus under your umbrella?”  Of course I wouldn’t mind.  As I looked up, I discovered that ‘Annie’ was Ann Meyers Drysdale, one of the greatest college basketball players of her generation and the widow of Dodgers Hall of Famer, Don Drysdale.  As we walked the 50 yards, or so to the bus, I offered her my condolences on the recent passing of her husband.  She thanked me and stepped onto the bus.  That was it.  In all, maybe we spent a minute together.  The following March, I was in Utah for the NCAA tournament.  I was a broadcaster for the Syracuse University Basketball team.  The day before the game I was at the teams’ shootaround.  I was at a table, preparing my chart for the game and watching the practice.  Out of the blue, Ann Meyers Drysdale  appears.  She tapped me on the shoulder and asked- “Excuse me, aren’t you the gentleman who escorted me to the bus on that rainy day in Cooperstown?”  I was floored.  She sat down and we spent the next two hours talking about everything under the sun.  She was there, working for CBS.  Another experiene I wil not soon forget.

     Over the years, I’ve broadcast a game from there.  Met my idol, Carlton Fisk there and taken my baseball fan daughters, Eva and Carly there.  Cooperstown is a special place, filled with memories.

REMEMBER KEVIN FRANDSEN?

     The name Kevin Frandsen might sound familiar to a true PawSox fan.  The infielder appeared in 17 games for Pawtucket in 2010.  He was back in town for the first time since, as a member of the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs.  We had the opportunity to discuss, among other things, the politics of baseball as well as a huge obstacle he has had to overcome this year.

     Although he appeared in just a handful of games in Pawtucket, he seemed happy to be back.  “It’s great.  Being in the Red Sox organization, there’s a lot of tradition, a lot of demands.  Expectations of good baseball.  I really enjoyed that when I was here.  I know it was only a few games.  (Former Pawtucket teammate and current Rochester first baseman) Aaron Bates and I have remained good friends.  We always talk about it.  It’s a great place to play.”

     2010 was an up and down year for Frandsen.  He was designateed for assignment by Boston and was picked up by the Angels.  He was in the Big Leagues for most of the year and despite leading the team in hitting, he was sent to the minors for about a month.  He finished up in Anaheim in September.  In the offseason, Frandsen signed with San Diego.  That didn’t work out, so he ended up signing with the Phillies and here he is, with the Iron Pigs.  After a while, the nomadic lifestyle can get to you.  “The first time I had a non-upbeat attitude for a consistent period of time was when the Angels sent me to the minors.  I really busted my butt to become what I was.  I finally got to show who I was in the Big Leagues and for whatever reason, they got another guy and stuck with someone else.  You live and you learn.  Certain things happen in baseball and you learn to deal with it.”

     2011 has been a challenge, as well.  Frandsen tested positive for an illegal substance and was suspended by Baseball for 50 games.  Naturally, you hear that and automatically think steroids or performance enhancing drugs, or maybe recreational drugs.  Wrong on both counts.  Frandsen explains.  “It was a 50 game suspension for using Ritalin.  I had it prescribed to me by four different doctors over the years as an A.D.D. (attention deficit disorder) drug.  Major League Baseball is the one who decides who does and doesn’t take it.  It was my fault.  I took it one time.  Literally, one time and I paid the price for it.  Obviously, I learned a lesson.  It’s not my style to do that type of stuff.  It’s not me.  What matters to me is my family, and they know the type of person that I am.  I have been drug-free my whole life.” 

     Although Frandsen concedes that he was responsible, he still insists that he did nothing wrong.  “In all honesty, watching others deny allegations over the years, the one time I did do it, I figured I had to be a man about it.  Admit my mistake.  Do I do any other drugs?  No.  That’s a fact.  The whole time, I never felt guilty about it.  Do I know I’m at fault?  Yes.  It is what it is.  A big growing process.  Hopefully others will notice what happened to me and not make the same mistake.”

     Kevin “manned up”.  He admits his error and is willing to share his story.  “I was never afraid to talk about it.  I didn’t think it was a ‘steroid type’ situation.  I fully cooperated and did everything possible to provide them with any information they needed,  The doctors I had seen in years past with the Giants, the Angels, the Red Sox, the Padres.  It was out of my hands.”  He was clearly frustrated as he summed up his point of view.  “It’s a condition I’ve had for a long time, just one of those deals, that if I was in the ‘normal’ world, in everyday life, it would be different.”

     Kevins’ story might make you think twice the next time you’re ready to point a finger at someone.

CLEVELAN ROCKS

     Clevelan Santeliz is a 24 year old righthander in his first year in the Red Sox system.  Originally signed by the White Sox in 2004 as an international free agent, the Venezuelan with the ever-present smile is 2-3 with an ERA of 4.32 this season.  Fresh off the disabled list, Santeliz is happy to be back and contributing.  “It’s a big thing for me to come off the disabled list, especially with our team playing so good.  I want to come in and throw strikes and help my team.”  Santeliz says that being on the DL hurts when you’re trying to get in a groove.  “Consistency.  With everything, especially exercise.  I am working hard, doing extra stuff.  It’s really hard for me, because this is my first year with the organization.  I want to be healthy all year,  but my oblique was weak and I have to make it stronger.”  Being part of the organization is important to him.  “You know me.  I always try to be happy.  I always try to be the best teammate.  I always pull for my guys.  Now I am back on the team and I can help.”

     Santeliz admits to self-imposed pressure.  The desire to get back quickly after an injury and prove his worth to the Red Sox.  He says that it’s hard not to do that.  “You don’t want to do that, but there is always pressure to produce.  Especially for me.  This is my first year.  I’ve got to show the Red Sox what I can do, but I try to be relaxed and I try to be calm.  I try to do everything right and not put more pressure on myself.  In baseball, you don’t have to put pressure.  There is already so much pressure on the field.”

     Very often, one of the forgotten aspects of the game is what it must be like for a foreign player to come to the U.S. and try to succeed.  Imagine yourself in a foreign country, not knowing the language and trying to get by.  Santeliz had no problem coming up with an answer when asked about his biggest challenge.  “I think the hardest part is the language.  This is my sixth year.  I try to learn English every day.  Also the lifestyle is different.  It’s really good here.  it’s better here, as far as security and respect.  The hardest thing though is English.  I try to undestand everybody.  That’s the hardest thing for all the Latin players.”  Santeliz was very frank when he was asked why some foreign players opt not to learn English.  “They’re lazy.  They think that the work they do on the field is enough.  You have to learn to speak English.  This is professional baseball.  You have to be professional on and off the field.  You have to talk with the media, you have to talk with the fans, you have to talk with your coaches.  It’s important to learn English.  It’s better for you.”

   Whether it is spoken or not, Latin players tend to stick together.  If you are a South American like Santeliz, Cuban like Jose Iglesias or Dominican like Hector Luna, they share a language and certain cultural customs and habits.  Santeliz tends not to see color or race.  “Like I said, we should be professional in every way.  We share a language.  We all support each other.  We don’t care where you’re from.  Even with the American guys, we don’t care if you’re white or black.  This team is really good and everybody supports everybody.  The Latin guys, the American guys.  That’s why we play well and are such a good team.  We don’t care about color or language.  We try to have fun and win games.”

JOSE CAN WE SEE?

     It’s been roughly two weeks since PawSox shortstop Jose Iglesias was hit in the head by a pitch thrown by 6’10 Andrew Brackman of Scranton-Wilkes Barre.  It was a frightening moment as the 21 year old prospect crumpled to the ground after the fastball struck Jose in the back of his helmet.  Iglesias hasn’t played since he suffered the concussion, but the native of Havana, Cuba is making strides on a daily basis.  The slick-fielding infielder is taking ground balls and is just about ready to face live pitching.  The irrepressible Iglesias was excited about his progress.  “I feel great.  I feel much better.  I’m glad to take ground balls.  Today I hit in the cage with Chili (PawSox hitting coach Chili Davis).  I hit off the tee and did some soft toss.  I feel much better.”

     Baseball rules dictate that any player who suffers a concussion must be placed on the disabled list and cannot return until he passes a battery of tests.  Manager Arnie Beyeler described it as an “Impact Test”.  Iglesias was pleased with his results.  “I did good.  I took this test early in the year and this time, I did better.  It’s really weird.  It’s OK, I passed the test.” 

     Jose says that there are no lasting or lingering effects of his concussion.  Shortly after the incident, he was experiencing pain and dizziness.  “I am just a little tired.  That’s because I’ve just started practicing.  No, it’s been good.”

     Iglesias freely admits that the incident threw a fright into him.  He had never been hit in the head before.  “It was scary.  I saw the ball coming right at my face.  It was scary, but I got lucky.  Nothing serious.  I’ll be alright”

     While the inside of his head is making improvements, so has the outside, in my opinion.  Iglesias, a handsome young man, had been sporting a mohawk style haircut.  Perhaps, more accurately, a “faux-hawk.”   Iglesias cleaned it up and looks a thousand times better.  “No more mohawk”.  Iglesias noted.  When asked why, the reply was simple.  “I want to look fresh.”  I shared with him my opinion on the Mohawk, telling him he was better looking than that.  His reply?  Again, simple.  “You’re right.” he laughed.

THE RING’S THE THING

     When a young athlete gets a ring, it usually signifies victory.  A championship of some type.  It is often the culmination of years of preparation, dedication and perspiration.  The same can be said, I think, when a young athlete gives out a ring.  That was the case earlier this week, while Daniel Nava and the PawSox enjoyed the three day All Star Break.  Most of his teammates were content to loll around and recharge the batteries, going to the beach or somewhere that helped them energize for the seasons’ final seven and a half weeks.  Nava and his girlfriend, Rachel Parker, got engaged.

     2010 was a storybook year for Nava.  “The Little Engine that Could”.  The guy who was too small, too slow, not strong enough, not big enough, not fast enough.  The kid from Los Altos, California who defied the odds.  I take that back.  he didn’t just defy the odds.  He beat them senseless.  The switch-hitting outfielder who had his contract purchased by the Red Sox, from the Chico Outlaws of the Independent Golden Baseball League early in 2008.  The very same Daniel Nava who connected for a Grand Slam against Phillies’ Joe Blanton on the very first Big League pitch he ever saw.  As Bill Murray said in “CaddyShack”,  “A Cinderella Story”.

     Nava and Parker met and eventually fell in love in that magical year of 2010.  Daniel thought the Break would be a good time to pop the question, so he devised an elaborate plan which included a secret visit out West to surprise Rachel.  A plan that Nava says took “a couple of months” to concoct.  “I flew back home.  I sent her on a little scvavenger hunt, ya know, got her out of work, and I finally met her at the final spot of the scavenger hunt.  She didn’t know I was coming out.  From there, we went to Lake Tahoe.  I proposed on this rock called Eagle Rock.  It’s a little hike.  It overlooks Lake Tahoe.  It was perfect.”

     I wasn’t exactly clear how Nava got Rachel to go on this adventure, with him supposedly 3000 miles away getting ready for the rest of the season.  “She knew I was behind it.” He explained.  “I told her that I was sending her a gift to her work.  In the card there were directions.”  Nava had enlisted the help of her colleagues at work.  They helped him keep the enormous secret.  “They encouraged her to go, told her they’d cover for her.”

     When Daniel proposed, she, of course, said yes.  He said Rachel got emotional, but there wasn’t a waterfall of tears.  Brent Dlugach chimed in.  “Nava cried, not Rachel.”   

     Brent Dlugach is also Navas’ roommate .  The self-proclaimed bachelor was happy for Daniel, although his tongue was firmly planted in his cheek.  “I am happy for him.  He’s a wonderful guy.  An average roommate, but a great guy.  He found a beautiful girl and they’re lucky to have each other.”  For a ballplayer, or really, for most guys, I thought that was an open and sincere response.  Navas’ reaction?  “An average roommate???  You’re kidding!!”

     Nava is from a close family.  They shared in his joy.  In fact, they held the ring that he says he mailed to California, so he wouldn’t have to worry about it being in his pocket.  “My folks, in fact, both sides of the family knew about it for a while.  They were just as excited as I was.  They’ve been sending texts, counting down the days…Once it happened, they were all really excited.”

     As I said, 2010 was a great year for Daniel.  A storybook ending.  Let’s hope that Daniel and Rachel have decades of storybook years.  And I think we know the answer to the question that has perplexed us since Nava made his Red Sox debut.  “Whattya gonna do with that Bg League cash?”  I said it before.  The Ring’s the Thing!

BUBBA BELL, BUFFALO BISON

     The last time I saw Bubba Bell, it was late in Spring Training.  At that time, he was still property of the Red Sox.  Bubba, the MVP of the 2010 Pawtucket Red Sox, had an inkling that his days in the organization were numbered.  Two organizations and three and a half months later, a member of the Buffalo Bisons, Bubba and I caught up in the wives’ lounge at McCoy Stadium.  Seeing Bell put a genuine smile on my face.  He seemed happy to see me too, as we caught up.

     Bell didn’t even get off the team bus before the sentiments started to stir.  “The bus came rolling into the parking lot at about 1:30 a.m. and immediately, I started getting butterflies in my stomach.  Happy to see the area and happy to be back in the area.  I’m really excited to see everybody and catch up with everybody a little bit.” 

     Billy Wayne Bell was given the nickname “Bubba” by his dad, even before he was born.  It stuck and it fits.  Bell was drafted by the Red Sox in the 39th round in 2005.  It was no sure thing that he’d make it.  In 2007, Bell was named the MVP of the California League after hitting .370 with 22 homers and 83 rbi in only 76 games.  By 2009, Bubba had made it to Pawtucket and in 2010, when he was supposed to be an extra outfielder for the PawSox, he hit .293, with 6 HR and 49 RBI.  He also swiped 13 bases en route to earning Pawtucket Player of the Year honors.  Now he looks back on being with three different organizations since March.  “I left the Red Sox and went to the Indians.  I was over there for about a month and a half and ended up here with the Mets.  I spent most of my time in Buffalo.  I did have a four day stint in Double A (Binghamton).  Whirlwind is a great way to describe it.  It hasn’t been anything like I thought it’d be.  It’s been a learning process.”  Bostons’ Director of Player Development, Mke Hazen offered Bell a couple of options.  He could have his release, or they would try to trade him.  Bell opted for the latter.  “I knew late in Spring Training, rosters were pretty well set.  It would have been more risky to become a free agent, so I asked for the trade.  At the time, I thought it was going to mean more playing time.  A better situation, more of a chance to get into the Big Leagues.  It didn’t work out that way.  The season’s not over.  I’m starting to heat up a little bit so I’d like to finish with a strong second half.”

     In Columbus, Bell was stashed away on the “phantom disabled list”, kept in reserve, even though he wasn’t really hurt.  After three weeks, frustration set in and Bubba asked to be moved.  Several days later he was indeed, sent to the Mets organization.  “It’s more packing up and learning a new system.  It’s all fun and exciting, but at the same time, it takes a huge toll on you emotionally.  Getting to know people.  Leaving people that have meant so much to you.  It’s all part of the game.”

     Bell has persevered, although he concedes the trip back to Double A made him question his career path.  There is one constant, however, that continues to drive him.  “The obvious goal of playing in the Big Leagues.  For having that dream for so long, it’s sometuing that you want to see through.  A lot of time, it’s playing with a chip on my shoulder, to prove people wrong.”

     Bell was reminded of a promise he made to a certain PawSox broadcaster a year ago.  He made fun of my wardrobe and vowed that when he made the Big Leagues, he’d buy me a new suit.  Does the offer still stand?  “I think that we could still probably work that in.  I see that your fashion hasn’t come along like I thought it was going to after I razzed you a little bit.  You look like you are making some improvements.  You’ve got some nice dress pants on.  But yes.  The offer still stands.  I get up to the Big Leagues and you get a new suit.”  I wasn’t sure if I should be happy or insulted.

     When Bell was with the Sox, his dad Bill, and mom, Cynthia would frequently e-mail us.  Bill would very often get our mouths watering, telling us about that evenings’ fare.  I asked Bubba about the last great meal his dad cooked him.  “He loves the fish fry.  That’s probably the last home cooking I had from him.  Fried fish.  I’m looking forward to getting back there.  I haven’t seen them in a while.  I’ll tell him to shoot you a little email, just so you know he hasn’t forgotten about you.”

     I sincerely hope that Bubba Bell makes it to the Major Leagues someday, and not just so I can get a new suit.

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