August 2011

ONE BIG PAISAN

     The Buffaslo Bisons are not having a very good season.  They are mired deep in the International League North standings.  They have virtually no chance of even a .500 record this year.  One guy that has carried the Herd, sits smack dab in the  middle of their lineup.  Valentino Pascucci.  With the ethnic name it sounds like Pascucci invented the radio or discovered some foreign land.  At 6’7  and close to 270 pounds, the big guy looks like a stand-in for Paul Bunyan. (Replace the bat with an axe.) Pascucci lets his bat do the talking, although, as I discovered, he is an engaging guy, who speaks well, too.

     Valentino, with 17 homers and 77 RBI is one of the very few bright spots for the Mets Triple A affiliate.  He takes it in stride.  “Well, when the weather started heating up, so did I.  I’ve just been doing my work, getting in the cage and trying to do what I always do.”  Even though the Bisons have no shot at the postseason, Pascucci continues to play as if it’s always game 7.  “As long as there are games on the schedule, I keep playing.  I play until the last out is recorded.  You never know who’s watching.  There are a lot of other teams out there and they could be keeping an eye on us.  Maybe for next year.  Maybe for later this year.  I play the same way, no matter what the standings say.”

     Pascucci is a former Oklahoma Sooner.  He loved his time in Norman.  “It was great.  A bunch of my friends and I from California went there.  It was a great place.  Baseball is huge.  They had won the College World Series a couple of years before I went there.  As for football, I don’t think I ever missed a game while I was there.  It was so much fun.”  Bob Stoops had just taken over as head coach.  “(Josh) Heupel was running around out there.  I worked out with those guys in the weight room and the coach asked me of I had ever played football.  I told him I had in high school.  Those were some big guys.  I don’t know if I could have kept up with them.”

     With a name like “Valentino Pascucci”, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out his heritage.  “Yeah, full blooded Italian, my father and mother.  My father was born in Italy, so I’m about as Italian as you can get.”  Pascucci says it’s his father that makes the sauce and meatballs on a regular basis.  “My dad’s the cook.  He just gets in the kitchen and starts throwing things together.  He’s the big cook in the family, but on special occasions, my mom will take over.  I’ve been lucky food-wise in my house.”

     Pascucci has logged Major League time with the now-defunct Montreal Expos.  In fact, he played in the last-ever game for Montreal.  He says it was a little surreal.  “It was crazy.  We actually finished the season in New York.  The clubhouse was packed after the game.  Guys were trying to get flights.  It was crazy.  You played a game in Montreal and there might be 5000 fans.  You’d go to a place like Dodger Stadium and there might be about 45,000 fans there.  I realized that was what the Big League experience could be like.  Montreal was a great place.  I just wish we had more fans.”

     Pascucci has played in the Bigs.  He has played in the I.L. and the P.C.L.  He also has toiled in Japan, an experience he says he enjoyed.  “I played over there and we won the Japanese World Series in my first year (2005).  Those fans come out and pack the place.  They love baseball.  It’s their favorite sport.  It was a great experience and a great atmosphere to play in.”  Pascucci also fondly recalls his manager.  “Bobby Valentine.  He was great.  He’d be out there and he really enjoyed being ‘Bobby V.’  He let everyone know he was running the show.  You were alright as long as you went out there and played hard. “

     Pascucci is 32 years old.  He is well past the prospect stage.  His numbers are great.  He’s been around and takes it all in stride.  “This isn’t the first time I’ve put up good numbers.  I’ve had years like this before.  It’s just another year for me.  I’m here to drive in runs and be a leader for the young guys they keep sending through.”  Mission accomplished.

THE RETURN OF THE JED (THE NEXT CHAPTER)

     It’s always nice to see Jed Lowrie.  Ever since his first stint with the PawSox in 2007, he’s been a hard-working, no nonsense type of guy.  I don’t think Jed especially enjoys dealing with the media and all the hoopla that accompanies being a part of the Red Sox machine, but he always makes time and does so in a pleasant way.  You could forgive him if he isn’t smiling these days, again at McCoy Stadium, rehabbing his shoulder strain and trying to make his return to Boston.  Lowrie has played at Pawtucket in parts of 5 straight years.  In 2007 and 2008 he was a rising prospect.  In the three seasons since he has battled a broken wrist, mononucleosis and now the shoulder, all requiring rehab assignments. 

     The first question for any M.L. rehabber is obvious.  “I feel good.  That’s why I’m here, to get my timing back, be healthy and ready to go.”  Lowrie talked about how he sustained the injury.  “It started with a collision with Carl (Crawford) and then I aggravated it a couple of days later with a swing.”  I was just chatting with Jed and made an offhand comment about being back here.  His response was typical.  “No big deal.”  He explained.  “The types of injuries I’ve sustained will come when you play the game hard, and play the game the right way.  It’s all a part of it.”  Lowrie has always had the calm and almost stoic demeanor.  “You deal with it.  You get healthy and get back.”

     Lowrie is not completely unflappabale.  He had an answer when he was asked about what could set him off.  “I get frustrated when something I am trying to do isn’t working, especially on the baseball field.  When I set my mind to something and I can’t do it, that’s frustrating.” 

     Another thing I know about Jed Lowrie is that he is a confident young man.  Rightfully so.  When healthy, he is a force to be reckoned with.  Lowrie got off to a great start in 2011, earniong the shortstop job and helping carry the Red Sox through their early season woes.  Understandably, he was pleased.  “I was very happy.   I think that’s what makes this years’ injury so frustrating, because I was playing well, but like I said, it’s part of the game.”

     Although the PawSox had Wednesday off, Lowrie was still hard at it.  He was at Fenway, taking batting practice with his Major League teammates.  Given the A.L. East battle his club’s involved in, you can understand why Jed is so eager to return.  “I’ve been sitting there and just watching for the last 5 weeks, watching all the runs being scored.  Just good baseball.  It’s fun and you want ot be a part of it.”

     Because he has endured a lot of time on the disabled list, some may forget his “signature” moment.  In the 2008 ALDS against the Angels, Lowrie had the walkoff, game winning hit that propelled the Red Sox into the ALCS.  Lowrie relishes another shot at postseason glory.  “I look forward to it.  There are ‘big moments’ to be had.  It’s always exciting.  That’s why you play the game, to be in the playoffs and have an opportunity to win the World Series.  Lowries’ attitude is “why not me?”  “You have to have the confidence in your self to step up to the plate and know that you can get the job done in those types of situations.  I’ve created a comfort zone for myself so that I am able to produce in those spots.”

     Lowrie has managed to maintain his sense of humor.  We wondered what it might be like for him to play an entire year without rehabbing at Pawtucket.  “That would be ideal.  I got off to a great start this year.  I wasn’t expecting this, but like I said, it happens.”  He chuckled. “One of these days, maybe I won’t be here.”

     I told him the same thing I probably told him when he was with the PawSox the last couple of stints.  “It’s always great to see you, but just not under these circumstances.”

STRAIGHT FROM THE PLANET LARS

     There is very little doubt in my mind that the last couple of days have been a roller coaster of emotion for Lars Anderson.  He came tantalizingly close to gaining his freedom from the Red Sox.  For Anderson, yes, it would have meant freedom.  He is a first baseman, playing in Triple A, blocked by the probable MVP for the American League, for the next 7 years.  Adrian Gonzalez is ensconced at first and that is why Lars became expendable in the mind of the Red Sox.  He almost got out of “Shawshank.”  Almost.

     Anderson was taken out of the game at McCoy against Louisville on Saturday night as he was about to bat in the seventh inning.  He wasn’t sure why at the time.  Had he been traded?  Was someone hurt up in Boston?  The Red Sox called and told  Arnie Beyeler to remove him from the ballgame.  They had engineered a deal that brought Rich Harden from Oakland, sending Anderson back to the city where he was born, to play for the team he rooted for as a child.  For a few fleeting moments, Lars Anderson was bound for the Athletics.  As I left the park Saturday night, I ran into Lars, his father George and his dear, dear friend, Ryan Kalish.  There was a look of uncertainty on all their faces.  Lars and I have usually gotten along well.  We have what I think is a real relationship.  We talk about life and everything that goes with it.  We have had heart to heart conversations.  I like the guy.  We hugged and said our goodbyes.  Baseball is like that.  Here one moment and gone the next.  In this case, it was gone one moment and here the next.

     After reviewing the medical records of Harden, the Red Sox deemed that he couldn’t pass a physical and nixed the deal.  This happened in the wee hours of the morning.  I awoke Sunday to find that Lars was still in the family.  I caught up with him as soon as I arrived at McCoy.  He was sitting in the chair in front of his locker, reading the current issue of “Rolling Stone” magazine.  I approached him and broke the ice.  “Man, I missed you while you were gone.”  He managed a half-hearted smile, clearly exhausted by what had to be a sleepless night.   He took me through the entire ordeal.  First, he spoke about how he found out the deal fell through.  “I was curious about the deal, so I went online late last night.  I had been talking to a bunch of friends and family.  I just read that the deal had fallen through.”

     It was doubly frustrating for the 23 year old California native.  He was heading home and to a place where he’d have a great shot at playing in the Majors soon.  “From a personal standpoint it’s disappointing because I might have had an opportunity to play in the Big Leagues.  I have to say, I am happy here.  If this was a team I didn’t enjoy playing for, it would be a different story.”  Anderson was saying all the right things, despite the disappointment that was in his eyes.  “I grew up going to A’s games.  I don’t know if I was headed for Oakland or not, but my folks live in Sacramento, so it would have been cool to be so close.  I also think it would have been pretty intense.  I think it might have been a little overwhelming at first.  It’s all fantasy now.  It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to daydream about it.”

     Lars was honest when he was asked how he felt.  “I am mentally drained.  I feel like I just woke up from a 12 hour dream.  I guess I’m happy to be here.”  Some guys can tell you what it’s like to be traded.  Lars Anderson can tell you what it’s like to not be traded.  I hope he takes some solace in knowing that there are teams out there that have high regard for his abilities.  He may not be Adrian Gonzalez, but there is definitely a Major League job out there for Lars.

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