September 2011

STRANGE FEELING, ISN’T IT?

     The month of September was a bummer for the loyal denizens of Red Sox Nation.  An epic collapse of biblical proportions.  We saw what unfolded on the field.  A 7-20 record.  The worst teams in baseball play better than that.  What we didn’t see or hear about was the dissension that apparently was going on in the Red Sox clubhouse.  It seems like the end of the road for Terry Francona, and so far, at least, no one is coming to his defense.  I predict that when one of the Boston media tracks down Dustin Pedroia, he will stand up for his skipper.  Beyond that, I don’t know.

     It is disturbing to think what transpired behind the closed doors.  Reports of pitchers drinking in the clubhouse during games, on days they weren’t pitching.  I had been told in previous years that Francona reigned over that domain with an iron fist.  I had also been told that his word was law.  For whatever reason, if we are to believe these reports, Tito let loose his grip and the Sox imploded.  Ballplayers, like young children, need guidance.  Late in the year, the “loveable” David Ortiz called out Francona, challenging his decision to keep Alfredo Aceves in the bullpen.  That was in the midst of their historic freefall out of the playoffs.  Not what they needed.  Especially from a “leader.”

     Listen, I know, or have known most of the 20112 Red Sox.  The ones I know, are good guys.  Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, John Lester Dustin Pedroia.  The nucleus has come through McCoy Stadium.  Are we to believe that these young men have changed so much that they stopped caring?  I really am confused.  These guys, who for four months were the best team in baseball, just laid down and died.  I can accept player failure.  It happens.  What I can’t accept, and I think most fans agree, is a lack of effort, or worse, a lack of caring.

     Terry Franconas’ job, and the jobs of his staff, are hanging in the balance.  A month ago, Tito would have rated as the fifth face on Mount Rushmore.  Now, it looks like he’ll be a footnote in Red Sox history.  How do you fire a man who has won two World Series titles since 2004.  You can’t fire the whole team.  You’re stuck with a big donkey in Jon Lackey.  Millions down the drain.  Can Carl Crawford revert back to his Tampa Bay All Star form?  I think that the Red Sox have signed many players over the years for a couple of reasons.  A.)  So they could have them. and B.) So the Yankees couldn’t.  Theo went out and spent like a drunken sailor and what do we have to show for it?  One more win in 2011 than they had in 2010.  Maybe they should have kept Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez and taken a flyer on Crawford.  Nice job with Bobby Jenks, too.  If it sounds like I am frustrated, Bingo!

     I could live with Sox not making the playoffs.  What I’m having trouble with are the reasons that are slowly trickling out of the offices at Fenway Park.  I have a feeling that this is only the beginning.  Cleaning house should begin with Tim Wakefield, and some of his discontented teammates.  There is a lot of work to be done.  It’s going to be an interesting offseason.

THIS IS A BAD JOKE

     Remember the horrific start the Sox had this season?  0-6, 2-10, etc.??  They then played like a team on a mission.  Beating everyone in their path, thumping their collective chests, telling us we were idiots for worrying.  Unfortunately, the season doesn’t end in the first part of September, as it does for their minor league counterparts.  As we turned the page on August, Boston was 31 games over .500 and a lock for the playoffs, if not the A.L. East title.  Faint and distant memories.  Very faint and very distant.  Now we’re supposed to be happy because they salvaged a game in a doubleheader on Sunday night.  Boy, have we lowered our sights. 

     This week we heard speculation that Terry Franconas’ job was in jeopardy.  A month ago, that would have been blasphemy.  Two World Series titles and a team that had the best record in the American League?!?!  Maybe it is time to go.  Trot Tim Wakefield out there every five days.  Go ahead.  He got his two hundredth win, finally.  Tuck him away somewhere deep in the bullpen and let his reign of terror be over.  Theo?  You want to go to the Cubs?  Good luck.  You are so fortunate that the Red Sox  have such deep pockets.  Certainly, 2004 and 2007 have bought you a lot of good will.  That can never be taken away from you.  If any of us wasted as much of our companys’ resources as you have, we’d have been lynched by now.  Lugo,  Drew, Lackey, Crawford.  We did get a year or so out of Dice-K.  Okajima made 1.7 million bucks pitching and snarling for the PawSox this year.  Bedard was a great acquisition, too!  Right?  With the roster we have in Boston, it should have been a better year.

     Quite honestly, I won’t be heart broken if the Red Sox don’t make the playoffs.  I’d rather have it end in a couple of days than prolong this agony.  After Beckett and Lester, then what?  Is Clay Buchholz going to pull a “Willis Reed” and make a miraculous return?  I have this platform to express my opinions, but I guarantee you, I am only one man.  One irate man, who has rooted for the Red Sox my entire life.  There are millions out there, just as ticked off as I am.  I want to play the role of Howard Beale, a T.V. news anchorman, brilliantly portrayed by Peter Finch in the 1976 blockbuster, “Network”.  Beale encourages his viewers to get up out of their chairs, open their windows, stick their heads out and yell.  “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!!”  Mad at whom?  The front office?  The Manager?  The underachieving players?  Maybe all of them!  I certainly recognize the efforts and accomplishments of many on the Boston roster.  Unfortunately, it’s guilt by association.

     To put this season into terms that I can best identify with, let’s compare it to a delicious steak sandwich, or a lobster roll.  The middle is beautiful, filled with flavorful, succulent meat and toppings.  What good is it, though?  On either end, there is moldy, stale bread that is guaranteed to make you sick.

     The other day, David Ortiz said something to the effect of “No one is flipping any tables over.  What good would it do?”  Maybe someone should get a little upset and show some leadership.  It’s probably too late for this year, but those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.

FINALLY DONE…I THINK

     I am finally back from Albuquerque, New Mexico.  I was there earlier this week as the sideline reporter for the Versus Network during the recently contested TripleA World Series at Isotopes Park.  Thanks to I.L. President Randy Mobley for inviting me to participate.  The highlight of the evening for me, was the interview I conducted with All-Time, Los Angeles Dodger Great, Steve Garvey.  Garvey answered all my questions thoughtfully and patiently.  He was in the “Duke City”, where he played Double A ball as a young Dodger farmhand.  Garvey looks like he could still put on a uniform and hit .300 for somebody.  I also had the chance to speak to Pat O’Connor, the Pesident of Minor League Baseball as well as Ken Young, the congenial owner of the Isotopes and the Norfolk Tides.  Young was involved with the opening of the Providence Civic Center, back in the bearly 70’s.  It was a pleasure to join forces with Robert Portnoy and, believe it or not, Bucky Dent, on the broadcast. 

     My trip home left a lot to be desired.  My Delta flight that was scheduled to leave New Mexico at 8:50 a.m. didn’t depart the “Land of Enchantment” until after 12:15 p.m.  The $6.00 food voucher handed out by Delta did little to soothe the savage beast.  After a nondescript trek to Atlanta, I endured a layover of more than three hours there.  Absoultely exhausted, I finally landed at Green Airport in Warwick, R.I. at 11:30 p.m.  It was a long and completely wasted day.

     This Saturday will mark the seasons’ final episode of “PawSox Insider”.  On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week, the PawSox will conduct their annual Season Ticket holder and Sponsors’ batting practice at McCoy Stadium.  It is one of the most fun and successful events of the year.  Fans, CEO’s, workers, men, women, young and old get the chance to hit catch and throw on the same field as their heroes.  After they’ve tired themselves out, they are treated to a terrific ballpark lunch under the red and white tent on the first base side at McCoy.  Everyone leaves smiling.  I sit by the batting cage and introduce the hitters over the P.A. system.  It is one of the highlights of the year.

***************

     I wanted to take a moment to pay tribute to a R.I. legend.  Former Providence College Basketball Coach Dave Gavitt passed away last week.  I know Gavitt was so much more than a basketball coach, but that was how I heard of him first. I was a young kid growing up in Newport.  My best friend was a transistor radio that took me away to where ever the Friars were playing.  Chris Clark was my eyes and ears and he turned me into a Friar Fanatic.  Names like Jim Larranaga, Ernie Di Gregorio, Kevin Stacom and Marvin Barnes became more familiar to me than the Presidents and statesmen I studied in school.  Dave Gavitt was the architect of sports greatness that this state may never see again.  I still wonder, 38 years later, what might have happened if Barnes didn’t get injured in that national semi-final game against Memphis State.  Thanks, Coach.  Thanks for the memories.

THE END OF THE ROAD

     By now, the PawSox players and staff have dispersed across the country, back to their repsective homes.  Of course, many of our guys are wearing Red Sox uniforms these days, with a front row seat to the epic meltdown going on at Fenway and across the American League.  At McCoy, plans are already being made for the 2012 season.  Clubhouse manager, Carl “Goody” Goodreau surely has the clubhouses in top condition, spic and span for the winter.

     Oddly enough, my season hasn’t ended yet.  I am in Albuquerque, New Mexico for the Triple A, National Championship Game.  The Columbus Clippers, winners of the I.L. crown for the second straight year, will go up against the Omaha Storm Chasers, champions of the Pacific Coast League.  I will be the on-field reporter for the game tonight, to be aired on the Versus Network.  Game time is 6:00 p.m. locally, and 8:00 p.m. Eastern time.  Robert Portnoy, voice of the Albuquerque Isotopes will call the play by play and, brace yourself, Red Sox fans- Bucky Dent will provide analysis.  Yes Bucky “Bleeping” Dent.  Dan Hoard had jokingly wondered what it might be like if I was the sideline reporter who “flipped out” and just started smacking Bucky.  Sorry to disappoint you, Dent is actually anice guy whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting before.  He was managing the Clippers in 2004 when I began with the PawSox.  I did a pregame interview with him on August 2.  It happened to be the 25th anniversary of the plane crash that claimed the life of his former teammate with the Yankees, Thurman Munson.  Dent was open and honest.  It was a poignant interview.  Maybe the best I’ve ever been given.

     Went to batting practice yesterday at Isotopes Park.  It’s a beautiful facility that has a definite “Simpsons” flavor to it.  Statues of Homer, Marge and the kids adorn the concourse of the park.  The name is actually life imitating art.  The name Isotopes came from a Simpsons episode written by my friend Ken Levine.  Ken is one of the most prolific comedy writers of all time.  He worked on such classic shows as M*A*S*H, Cheers, and Frasier.  In the Simpsons episode, titled “Dancing Homer”, the Isotopes broadcaster was named Dan Hoard, an homage to my man.

     While sitting in the lobby of the beautiful Sandia Resort, writing this blog, I ran into former I.L. batting champion, Wayne Harer.  Harer batted .350 with the PawSox in 1977.  Harer is with the Clippers entourage.  He does some TV work for them.

     Very strange to be doing a game tonight.  I literally know just one player on either roster.  Argenis Reyes, who played a handful of games for Pawtucket in 2010 is an infielder for Columbus.  Since I am an I.L. guy, I guess I’m rooting for the Clippers.  We’ll see.

ANOTHER AT BAT WITH NAT

     In my job as radio broadcaster for the PawSox, I’ve become friendly with a lot of guys.  Hundreds over the years.  Some become big stars, others never make it to the “Show”.  You become friendly with many, but friends with very few.  A good friend I’ve made in baseball is Jeff Natale.  You may remember Natale as a guy who was a career .298 hitter in the minor league system for Boston.  You might recall that he hosted a pre-game interview segment a couple of years ago on our broadcasts called “At Bat with Nat.”

     Jeff is out of baseball now.  last December when I was having dinner in Boston with Jeff and his fiance Leigh, they asked me if I’d be willing to do them a favor.  “Sure”  I said.  “What is it?”  I could have guessed for days and never come up with the favor.  It just wasn’t in my realm of thought.  “We’d really love it if you’d be willing to marry us.”  I love Jeff, but he just isn’t my type.  Leigh, on the other hand…  Anyhow, they were asking me to officiate at their wedding.  I was honored and humbled by the request.  I was concerned that I wasn’t qualified, but they assured me that I was.  “Just be yourself”.  They told me to do the wedding like I was broadcasting a PawSox game.  Relax and have fun.  Any one who found out made the jokes.  “Oh Father Hyder…Hello Reverend….Would you hear my confession?”  Invariably, people got around to “Wow, they must really like you to  ask you to do this.”  I guess so.

     I have thought about the honor off and on over the last nine months.  I’ve rehearsed in my head what I might say.  Never really got nervous until Friday morning when I was driving up to Woodstock, Vermont.  I met up with Jeff and Leigh.  We had lunch and went over the ceremony.  I am, by the way, a licensed Justice of the Peace in the state of Vermont for just one day, September 17, 2011.  We had a smooth rehearsal Friday afternoon.  After that, the rehearsal dinner.  I was happy to be seated at the same table as former PawSox outfielder, Sean Danielson, one of the groomsmen, and his fiance Ashley.  Great catching up with the man former PawSox manager, Ron Johnson nicknamed “Spike”.  He and his childhood friend, Hunter Pence of the Phillies, have opened a baseball school in Houston. 

     The ceremony is this afternoon.  My sermon, if you will, will be brief but hopefully poignant.  I will make attempts at humor, but most importantly, I will let them know how lucky they are to have found each other.  Wish me luck.

POOF!!

     When the PawSox finished the regular season at 81-61, champions of the I.L. North Division, I know I envisioned a much different ending to the 2011 season.  Champagne showers, Governors Cup T-shirts and caps, raucous celebrations.  Those things will happen, unfortunately, just not at McCoy Stadium.  The dust has settled a little over the last couple of days and it is time to try to figure out just went wrong for the PawSox.

     It isn’t very hard, actually.  Pawtuckets’ offense went completely dead in the three game sweep by Lehigh Valley.  Plain and simple.  5 runs in 27 innings just won’t cut it.  In Game 2 alone, the PawSox stranded 9 men on base.  Clutch hitting didn’t exist.  Down 2 games to none, the PawSox were lifeless for the decisive game 3 at McCoy.  Alex Wilson pitched very well, but got no offensive support.  Same for game 1 and 2 starters, Matt Fox and Tony Pena.

     Yes, you are correct when you say the PawSox missed some of their regulars.  Ryan Lavarnway owned Iron Pigs pitching this season.  In his brief time with the PawSox, as he tore through the International League like a comet, the “Babe”, as his teammates called him, had 5 home runs and 17 RBI.  No one picked up the slack.  Meanwhile, former PawSox MVP, Brandon Moss carried the Pigs on his back in the first two games.  Moss was 5-8 with 4 RBI.  He belted two home runs and a double.  Former Pawtucket infielder Kevin Frandsen tacked on a couple of RBI himself, to add insult to injury. 

     It was pretty much a carbon copy of the 2008 playoff results against Scranton.  A depleted team was outmanned.  I do not think apathy was a factor.  Arnie Beyeler is a tough competitor who loves to win.  He will carry the company banner and talk about player development,  but make no mistake. Arnie wants to win.  I am certain the sweep was a bitter pill to swallow.

     You can lose 61 games during the regular season and still make the playoffs and win a division crown.  Once the postseason begins,  you must adopt a different mindset.  The PawSox rode a 4 game winning streak into the playoffs, only to lose three in a row for the first time since July 1 and 2.  That’s bad timing.  From a lot of perspectives, 2011 was a success.  The PawSox continued to help develop guys like Josh Reddick, who make huge contributions in Boston.  We got our first glimpse of Lavarnway and Will Middlebrooks.  The future is bright.  It always seems to be bright.  We could have used a gift for the present.

ARNIES’ ARMY READY FOR ACTION

     As we sit in Coca Cola Park for the second straight night, waiting for the weather to cooperate, I pondered the job done by first year Pawtucket manager, Arnie Beyeler.  Arnie gided the PawSox to the second best regular season record in the I.L.  (81-61).  He did it without a lot of players he was “supposed” to have, who were absent due to either promotion or callup.  J.C. Linares, Ryan Kalish, Josh Reddick, Yamaico Navarro.  The list goes on and on.  He skippered the PawSox to their first division title since 2003 and their first playoff beth since 2008.

     We sat in his office this afternoon and looked to the playoffs.  As always, he was modest about his contribution.  “The guys have done a great job all year and we have seen the rewards of that.”  The team has been in Allentown for about 48 hours (49 at 7:05 p.m. Thursday).  Some complain of boredom, but Beyeler sees a silver lining.  “You just go through your normal routine.  This time of year, it’s always good to have days off.  Let the guys re-charge a little bit.  We had our day off coming down here on Tuesday.  They were ready to go yesterday (Wednesday).  They did their work.  You have to relax.  You can’t fight it.  We’ll go out there today and wind it back up again and hopefully get a chance to play.”

     All season long, the “mantra” for the PawSox is “develoopment.”  We are told it takes precedence over winning.  Arnie doesn’t foresee any change this month.  “No, that’s how we got here.  Guys will just go out and play hard.  Everyone is well rested so we can use everybody, however we want.  A game’s a game.  These guys will go out and play the way they have the last 5 months.  We’ll swing the bat and try to drive in some runs and also try to get some guys out.”

     Even though the roster is missing mainstays like Ryan Lavarnway and Nate Spears (both in Boston), Beyeler, again, is optimistic.  “Other guys will have to step up.  They get the chance to show what they can do.  We’ve been in that situation all year.  Guys have consistently picked up the slack and we expect the same thing now.”

     The PawSox were 10-6 against the Pigs this year, including 4-4 in Allentown.  While Arnie has a great deal of respect for them, he knows they are beatable.  “They are a good team.  They’re here for a reason.  We just need to tend to our business and see how it winds up.”

     Arnie offered his thoughts to the keys to victory in this best of 5, first round playoff series.  “It depends on the situation.  We haven’t seen these guys in a month or so,  Domonic Brown is down here.  They’ve added Freddy Galvis.  He’s a little guy we saw at Double A last year.  He can really throw the leather around.  Domonic is a dangerous guy.  Brandon Moss is a dangerous guy.  We haven’t seen (Scott) Podsednik, but he’s a Major Leaguer.  I have to assume he knows how to play.  Kevin Frandsen has been hot lately and Rich Thompson is dangerous.  When he gets on base, he scores.   (Thompson lead the I.L. with 48 stolen bases).  The games we’ve been successful here, we’ve kept Rich off the bases.  That’s what we need to do.  Keep the speed guy at the top of the order off the bases.”

     Hopefully, the weather isn’t a factor any more.  Arnie also had another idea as to what could help the PawSox be successful.     “Maybe the big guy, Ben (Mondor) is up there and looking out for us.”

PLAYOFF BOUND

     I write this blog as our bus bounces down route 95 south, headed for Allentown, Pennsylvania and a first round playoff series with Lehigh Valley.  I am a good speller, so I apologize if there are typos.  As I said, the bus is bouncing.

     We left at noon on Tuesday,  31 hours before game one is scheduled to start.  I emphasize the word “scheduled” because there is rain,  and a lot of it in the forecast.  Obviously, nothing we can do about that, but it could throw a huge crimp into plans.  Not sure if things get pushed back a day or if we’d play a doubleheader.  I’ll keep you posted.

     The bus is quiet.  There’s a movie playing.  More background noise than  anything else.  Most guys are just finishing up the sandwiches they bought at Quiznos’ or Subway, before boarding the bus at McCoy.  Our drivers, or “bussy’s” as they’re known, are the same two guys we’ve had all season.  Terry, an affable Englishman with a proffesorial look.  About 5’9 with glasses and short “salt and pepper” hair.  His counterpart is Dan.  Dan is, quite literally, a giant.  About 6’5, a power lifter and body builder type.  Shaved head and several visible tattoos.  They are great guys and have grown to become part of the gang as the season progressed.

     Trainer John Jochim, as always, seems to be doing some work on his laptop. Manager Arnie Beyeler is peering up ast the movie “We Own the Night”.  Hitting instructor Chili Davis is chatting on his cell phone.  As I survey the rest of the bus, guys are sleeping, doing crossword puzzles, playing cards or just staring off into space.  It’s about a 5 hour ride, so we should arrive around dinner time.  It is daytime so not a lot of guys are sleeping.  When we travel at night, a lot of the time, players are spread out across the aisle or even along the aisle.  That makes it extremely difficuklt for anyone, especially a middle aged radio guy to make his way back to the “facilities”.  You have to leapfrog over sets of legs.  Sets of valuable legs.  My recurring nightmare is tripping and landing on an important set of legs, maybe breaking one and effectively ending two careers at the same time.  His and mine.

     Rain has started to fall steadily as we are now about an hour south of Pawtucket.  The windshield wipers have an hyonotic effect, hopefully, not on bussy, Dan.  Speaking of Dan, let me acknowledge my partner of the last 6 years, Dan Hoard.  Dan is done with the PawSox and off to Cincinnati for good.  Being in the playoffs without him is bittersweet.  It would have been fun to share the quest for the Governors’ Cup with my friend.  I doubt I will ever have a better partner.  Pretty much impossible.

     The PawSox went 10-6 against the Iron Pigs this season, so nothing to be afraid of in Allentown.  The winner of our series matches up with either Columbus or Durham for the Governsors’ Cup.  It’s been over a quarter century since they hoisted the Cup at McCoy.  Hopefully, we are on our way to ending a 26 season drought.

NORTH DIVISION CHAMPIONS !!!

     For the first time since 2008, the Pawtucket Red Sox have earned an International League playoff berth and for the first time since 2003, the PawSox reign as champions of the North Division.

     The PawSox came from behind to beat the Scranton Wilkes Barre Yankees 12-7 and clinch the third of four spots in the upcoming postseason.  All that has to be decided is the Wild Card winner, which happens to be the first round opponent for the PawSox.  Columbus, the West winner, will face Durham, the South Champ in the first round.  The PawSox will battle either Lehigh Valley or Gwinnett.  With 2 days left in the regular season, the Iron Pigs lead the Braves by one game in the chase.  The PawSox will open the playoffs in Allentown, Pa. or Lawrenceville, Ga. on Wednesday and Thursday for games 1 and 2.  Games three, and four and five if necessary will be played at McCoy on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

     I’m finishing up my eighth season as the voice of the PawSox, and the clincher was exciting.  Pawtucket scored five runs in the first to take a 5-1 lead, highlighted by a Will Middlebrooks grand slam.  It was the first homer by the third baseman since his promotion to Triple A.  Credit Scranton for chipping away, coming all the way back to take a 7-5 lead.  Down to their final six outs, Pawtucket got busy, scoring 7 runs in the bottom of the eighth.  Down by two, Ryan Lavarnway blasted a three run jack onto the leftfield berm to give the PawSox a one run advantage, 8-7.  It was the 18th homer he’s hit for Pawtucket and his 32d overall in 2011.  Jose Iglesias and Joey Gathright each chipped in with a two run single.  Daniel Nava drove in the first Pawtucket run with a first inning base hit.

     With the Norths’ top spot locked up, a pretty wild looking celebration ensued on the McCoy infield.  Guys doused each other with champagne and beer, celebrating the achievment.  Everyone was fair game, including manager, Arnie Beyeler.  Arnie spotted a couple of his players with an orange Gatorade cooler filled with ice water coming his way.  He tried to sprint from foul territory on the third base side over to the visitors’ dugout on the first base side.  Good idea, except he was being chased down by one of the fastest men in all of baseball, Joey Gathright.  Joey caught him and downed him with a slide tackle.  Very funny!  Moments later, the skipper was drenched.  It was a sight I won’t soon forget.

     The PawSox wrap up the regular season on Sunday and Monday with games against lowly Rochester.  At 79-61, Pawtucket could finish 20 games over .500 with a couple of wins.  Job #1 was to make the playoffs.  Mission accomplished.  This could be a fun couple of weeks.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.