March 2012

A LOT OF HEART, A LOT OF MOUTH

     It’s no secret that Dustin Pedroia has been one of my all-time favorites since he first joined the PawSox  The 2007 American League rookie of the year and the Leagues’ MVP in 2008, Pedroias’ heart is as big as all outdoors.  We’ve had a very nice relationship for a while and I was proud to be featured in his biography, “Born to Play.”  He is “The mouth that roared”, and always will be.  When I walked into the clubhouse the other day and he saw me for the first time this Spring, he started right in on me.  “Hey Hyder, you look like a terrorist.”  Mildly funny, but material he has used many times before.  When I asked him “what was up?” he looked me over and answered  “Apparently, your cholesterol.”  I’ll give him credit for that.

     Hard to believe that Dustin is ready for his sixth season as a member of the Red Sox.  “It goes by quick, that’s why you have to enjoy it and have fun.  It’s a joy, man.”  When asked if he was enjoying himself, he had a quick response. “Yeah, it’s been a good time.  It’s gone by fast.  I wish it would slow down a little bit.  It’s been fun.”  Pedroia says that he and his teammates have a simple way to erase the memory of last years’ epic collapse.  “Just get better.  That’s the past.  Just try to block it out.  That’s not easy.  I think we’re all excited for this year to just get out there and play the game right.”

     Pedroia claims that there’s no difference playing for Terry Francona or Bobby Valentine.  “There’s no difference really.  A little different routine that has taken some time to get used to.  We’re enjoying it.  We’ve just got to go out there and play hard.”  Dustin was loyal to Francona, at one point saying that he would’ve loved to play his entire career for him.  He says they stay in touch.  “I talked to him during the offseason, seeing how he’s doing and stuff like that.  I’ll akways be close to him.  He helped me out so much in my career.  It was great to play for him.”

     Dustin seemed genuinely surprised and somewhat perturbed when I mentioned that the Red Sox are under dogs heading into 2012.  “Who said that?”  He wanted to know, as if he were ready to fight them.  “People.  People who don’t know what they are talking about.  We feel like we’ve got a good team.  A chance to go out there and compete for a championship.  We’ll see what happens.”

     Pedroia also seemed happy with the new additions to his ballclub. “We brought in some good guys.  Nick Punto, Cody Ross, (Ryan) Sweeney, (Andrew) Bailey, (Mark) Melancon.  Those guys are great guys.  Great clubhouse guys.  They do their job professionally ad they’re going to help us out a ton.”

     With Jason Varitek retired the Red Sox do not have a “captain” per se.  Pedroia claims that he has never considered being Teks’ successor. “I haven’t really thought about it.  My job is to come out here and play the game right and help us win games.  It’s great that people say I’m one of the leaders of the team and to put me in the conmversation.  That’s an honor in itself.”  He may not wear the “C” on his chest, but underneath that Sox uniform, there may be a Superman “S”.    

AS ALWAYS, RIGHT IN THE HUNT

     As usual, Scott Atchison is in demand.  He is having a good Spring, coming out of the bullpen for Boston, battling for one of the final spots on the Red Sox roster.  It’s a position he has become familiar with since joining the organization in 2010.  Since then, he has split his time between Fenway and McCoy.  Atch, who turns 36 on March 29, is pleased with his showing thus far at jetBlue Park.  “I’ve done OK this Spring.  I was taken off the (40 man) roster, but that’s alright.  I just try to come in and show them what I can do.”

     Atchison is philosophical when asked what it’s like to have to grind it out, year after year for a position on a Major League roster.  “You kind of get used to it.  It’s what I expect.  I know I have to come in and perform well and do my thing.  Essentially, show them that I’m the same guy I’ve been the last couple of years.  I don’t think about it too much wearing on me.  Obviously, we all want to walk in knowing we have a job, but that’s not the case.  It’s probably a little late in  my career for that.  Like i said, I just try to go with it, get myself ready for the season and try to make a team.”

     Atchison is competing in front of new sets of eyes this year.  Manager Bobby Valentine and pitching coach Bob McClure are new to the organization this year, but that doesn’t affect Atchison.  “You always want to impress.  Bobby has seen me pitch a little bit in Japan (for the Hanshin Tigers in 2008 and 2009)  I kind of feel he knows me a little from there.  The GM, Ben Cherington has been around, so there are people here who know what I can do,  but anytime there are new people around, you want to impress them.” 

     Scott had a very good 2011 season in both Pawtucket and Boston.  He went 6-2, 2.64 for the PawSox and 1-0 with a 3.26 ERA in 17 appearances for the Red Sox.  He was familiar with the shenanigans that took place in the Sox clubhouse, and says it’s a new day.  “I think everybody pretty much got it off their chest at the start of Spring.  It’s done, it’s over and that’s the last we’re going to talk about it.  Last season is over.  It’s time to move on.  There’s  nothing we can do to fix that.  Let’s move forward and try to get ourselves ready and have a World Series run.”

     It was an eventful offseason for the former Texas Christian University star.  He rehabbed from a sports hernia surgery and spent quality time with his wife Sarah and their daughter Callie.  “It was a pretty quiet, normal winter.  I spent time with the family.  We got away a little bit.  Pretty normal Winter.”

     No matter where Scott Atchison winds up in 2012, you can count on solid pitching and leadership from a good guy.  

THE PAWSOX JUST GOT WAY BETTER

     As I entered the lavish clubhouse at jetBlue Park this morning, I was greeted by a ton of familiar faces and friendly “hellos”.  Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis were among the first people I saw.  Before much more time passed, I bumped into both Lars Anderson and Jose Iglesias.  Iglesias, the 22 year old Cuban shortstop, greeted me with a hug and his traditional nickname for me, “Stretch”. (Still not sure why he calls me that, but I’m cool with it.) Lars, the big Californian, hugged me and immediately said, “I have to go into the managers’ office.  I’m being sent down.”  Naturally, I felt badly, but Lars quickly assured me that it was OK.

  Anderson knew exactly what he was talking about.  Both he and Iglesias were optioned to Pawtucket, making the PawSox a prohibitive, early season favorite in the North Division.  A few minutes later, manager Bobby Valentine explained the moves to the assembled media.  “Jose had a really emotional meeting with Ben (Cherington), Ben (Crockett) and I.  At this time we decided it was best for him and the organization that he gets some real regular at bats and works on the consistency of his swing and play.”  Valentine continued.  “He’s working on things.  He just needs to develop confidence in his program.”  Valentine characterized the meeting with Iglesias as “emotional”  “He was very professional in his conversation, but we all felt there was emotion in the room.”  With Iglesias returning to Pawtucket, it looks like Mike Aviles will be Bostons’ opening day shortstop.  “It wasn’t a tough decision.  Eventually, things play themselves out.”  Valentine admitted that Aviles’ play made the choice that much easier.  “Mike hasn’t done anything wrong.  He’s pretty much done everything right.”

     Valentine was quick to add that Iglesias is close to being major league-ready.  “He’s not that far off.  We all agreed that it isn’t a question of ‘if’ he’s going to make it.  It’s ‘when’.  Jose could be our shortstop if we needed him to, but it’s tougher to sharpen your teeth at the Big League level.”

     Bobby V didn’t hesitate when asked about what type of camp Lars Anderson had.  “Great camp.  he proved our scouting reports correct.  He drove the ball to center, left center.  He also added to his resume by playing some leftfield.  He’s a good guy to have on the team.  He could make a lot of Major League teams.” 

     When he was asked if he sent Iglesias to Pawtucket with any special message, he shared his thoughts.  “I gave Jose the same message I gave Alex Ochoa a hundred years ago.  ‘Just because God delays, it doesn’t mean God denies.’  He won’t be denied.  That’s what I believe and that’s what Ben believes.”  Valentine recalled a day when he suffered the same fate as Jose.  “When I got sent down and I stunk, I thought it was the wrong decision.  He doesn’t stink.”

     The PawSox roster continues to take shape.  As of now, there are still 41 players left in Big League camp, 16 over the limit.  Right handed pitchers Justin Germano and Doug Mathis were also reassigned to minor league camp with outfielder Josh Kroeger.

LIKE THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL

     My vacation is over and thus begins the non-stop baseball that I will watch and broadcast through Labor Day.  I am in Fort Myers to begin my ninth season as a broadcaster for the PawSox.   There is one major difference this year- jetBlue Park, the new Spring Training home for the entire Red Sox organization.  By now, you’ve seen it on TVor on line.  Those images do ot do it justice.  It is a magnificent structure and should keep the Sox and their affiliates happy for along time.  City of Palms Park was nice.  The girl next door, if you will.  Fenway South will knock your Sox off.  A supermodel.

     The PawSox took center stage on field #6, named after Boston legend, Johnny Pesky.  They squared off with I.L. North Division rival Rochester.  The Red Wings are the Triple A club for Minnesota.  The Twins also make their Spring home here in Lee County.  It makes sense that the PawSox and Wings play often during the Grapefruit League season.   Very little travel cost.

     Japanese righty, Junichi Tazawa started for Pawtucket, on his way back from Tommy John surgery.  After giving up a leadoff triple that ticked off the glove of centerfielder Che Hsuan Lin, Tazawa retired the final nine hitters he faced.  Tony Pena pitched the middle three innings and wasn’t quite as sharp, yet managed to pick up the win.  Pawtucket edged Rochester 5-4.  Garret Mock and Will Latimer looked good in relief.  

     Daniel Nava belted a two run homer over the fence in center and Kevin Youkilis went 3-3 for his old club. Youks’ last hit was an rbi double, that pulled the PawSox to within a run, 4-3.  Pawtucket tied it in the fifth and went ahead for good in the sixth as Jonathan Hee drew a bases loaded walk to make it 6-5.

     Got the chance to catch up with some old friends and familiar faces.  Manager Arnie Beyeler feels that the club he brings north will be a “Pretty good one.”  For Arnie, who holds his cards close to the vest, that was about as excited as he’ll get.  He added that there going about 10 pitchers in contention for starting jobs at McCoy.  Great to see J.C. Linares in action after the gruesome looking broken leg he suffered last Spring.  There should be good competition for starting jobs for the PawSox. Lars Anderson and Mauro Gomez figure to duke it out for playing time at first base.  The left side of the infield could feature Jose Iglesias at short and Will Middlebrooks at third.  Catching should be shared by Luis Exposito and Ryan Lavarnway.  Second base is a question mark, but Nate Spears could be the answer if he isn’t in Boston.  In the outfield, Che Hsuan Lin, Linares, Nava, Jason Repko, and Alex Hassan are all in the mix.  Ryan Kalish told me earlier this Spring that he hopes to be back by June.

          Great to see Pawtucket batting coach, Gerald Perry.  The former National League All Star returns to Pawtucket after a year with Oakland.  It was a beautiful day, the PawSox won and things are starting to heat up.

THE STATE OF THE INTERNATIONAL LEAGUE

     One of my favorite people in sports is I.L. President, Randy Mobley.  I always enjoy our conversations and Randy is always generous with his time.  As we embark upon another minor league baseball season, we discussed the direction of the I.L. and what we might expect in 2012.

     Several years back, Mobley re-started the I.L. Hall of Fame.  Ben Mondor, Joe Morgan and Jim Rice have already been honored and this season, the Hall opens its’ doors to PawSox President, Mike Tamburro. “This one will be a little bit extra special because Mike was in the league when I joined.  He was certainly well on the way to getting his career going.  Along the way, he’s not only been a guiding force within this league, he’s become a tremendous friend, as well.  I could not be happier for Mike and I’m already looking forward to that night at McCoy, on August 4th.”  Mobley recalled a time before the PawSox were transformed into the iconic franchise that is so well respected now.  “I don’t go back to Ben (Mondor) and Mikes’ earliest days, but my first trip to Pawtucket came back in 1982.  It was, of course, the old ballpark.  Not as nice or “gussied up” as it is today.  Even back then, they were well on their way to winning the community back.  The family orientation, the treatment of the fans was number one back then, exactly like it is today.”

     Mobley was happy to share some of the things he looks forward to for the upcoming campaign.  He felt the thing that would get the most attention was the status of the Scranton Wilkes Barre Yankees.  The Yankees will play all 144 of their games on the road this year, while their ballpark undergoes a massive renovation.  “That team will not play any games at home this year.  Their games will be disbursed throughout the rest of the North Division.  That’s going to be a unique situatiion, one that we would hope not to repeat any time soon.  We are going to make the best of it.  The Rochester club is going to have 109 games played in that ballpark.  There’ll be some tired people in Rochester when the season is over, and all is said and done.  We think the short term pain is going to be worth the long term gain with a totally renovated facility over there in Scranton.”  This season, the club will be known as the “Empire State Yankees.”

     Mobleys’ league is ready to host two major events this season.  The Triple A All Star game will unfold in Buffalo, while the Triple A National Championship contest will be played in Durham, North Carolina.  “In July, Buffalo will host the 25th anniversary All Star game.  That’s hard to imagine.  They played the very first one there and we’ll play this one back there.  It’s going to air on the MLB Network, televised live.  We also expect to have 8-10 regular season games televised on the network.  Then the National Championship game.  We are going to host that this year in September, down in Durham.  I know it’s going to be a great event and hopefully, the Governors’ Cup Champion can win again.  (Columbus is the reigning National Champ).

     With the success of the league, more and more sponsorship opportunities arise and Randy was happy to talk about a new relationship.  “We are pleased that we just announced and industry-wide arrrangement within Triple A baseball, with a company out of Montreal.  Their headquarters in the United States are in Charleston, South Carolina.  Gildan U.S.A., a major manufacturer of T-shirts, socks and underwear.  They are going to have a major presence in all 30 Triple A ballparks this year.  They’ve actually purchased the title sponsorship to the National championship game.  That game, televised in 2011 on the Versus Network, will be aired live on the NBC Sports Network this fall.  We have a few things going on that are keeping us busy, buit all in all, it looks like it is going to be another great year.”

SPECIAL K COMING BACK

     Outfielder Ryan Kalish burst onto the scene as the Boston Red Sox rookie of the year in 2010.  The sky was the limit.  J.D. Drew was just keeping the seat warm for the kid with the “Jersey Shore” swagger and the boat load of talent he was carrying around with him.  In just 53 games with the Sox, Kalish hit .252 with 4 homers and 24 RBI.  Kalish announced to the world that he was ready through his actions, that included acrobatic catches and dramatic home runs.  Boston wanted him to play every day, so they sent him to Pawtucket to start the 2011 season.  After just as handful of games, Kalish injured his shoulder making a diving catch at McCoy Stadium on April 21.  It was a lost season.  Ryan is on the road to recovery and is hoping for a return sometime in May or June.  “It was a crazy year in 2011 and I’m hoping for a change in 2012.”

     At the time, no one had any idea of the severity of Kalish’ injury.  It was tough for the 23 year old to watch his teammates and not get to play.  “Yeah, it wasn’t the easiest thing in the world.  It was a season of opportunities.  That being said, I was happy for others who got a chance, especially Josh (Reddick).  It’s frustrating, but everybody goes through injuries.  It’s part of the game.”

     After surgeries to his shoulder and neck, Kalish is chomping at the bit, waiting to get back to action.  “I’m hoping to get back soon, but you never know.  You just keep chugging along, but you never really know.”  Despite being so highly bregarded, Ryan isn’t taking anything for granted.  He knows he’ll have to earn a spot when he is healthy.  “Nothing’s ever guaranteed, especially in this game.  It’s something I just want to go out and get.  You can’t ever expect anything just be given to you.  That’s not the way you’d want it anyway.”

     After getting a taste of life in the Big Leagues, Kalish knows what is in store when he’s ready.  “It’s the ultimate.  Fenway Park is so fun.  It’s the ultimate for a player.  It gives me more incentive.  It’s been frustrating that I haven’t been able to play for so long.  It’s baseball.  It’s life.  If I can get through it, I can look back on it like all the other guys who have ever been hurt, and say ‘That was it? That wasn’t so bad.’ “

     Kalish isn’t the only one making adjustments under new manager, Bobby Valentine.  His recent ban on alcohol in the Boston clubhouse is not big deal, according to Kalish.  “It’s all good.  Bobby’s got to take care of whatever he’s got to take care of.  He calls the shots and we want to play hard for him.  It was a crazy end to last year and whatever he says is good.”

     Kalish spent ample time rehabbing at the new facility in Fort Myers this winter and was ecstatic to be joined by his friends and teammates at “Fenway South”.  “It got boring.  I’m glad the guys are down here now and we are ready to play some baseball.  The last month of last season was hard to watch.  This is a championship caliber type team.  Everyone is eager to get started.”

     That includes Ryans’ best friend in baseball, Lars Anderson.  The former number one prospect endured a whirlwind 2011.  The first baseman was traded to Oakland for pitcher Rich Harden, only to have the deal negated when Harden failed his physical.  Kalish was there for his friend and was proud of the way he reacted.  “Last year was wild for “Larzy”.  I’ll tell you what. His game is coming around.  Obviously, he’s behind Adrian Gonzalez and that is a tough situation, but he’s just so positive.  He came into camp looking the best I’ve ever seen him.  His swing looks good.  He trained hard during the offseason.  He’s looking really fresh.  I have a good feeling about him this season.  You can mark my words, right here.”  Kalish’ prophecy came true shortly thereafter, when Anderson smacked a grand slam in Fort Myers in an exhibition game against the Twins and pitcher Jason Bulger.

     If Anderson and his friend Ryan Kalish are in the middle of the PawSox lineup in 2012, it’s going to be a great summer at McCoy.     

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