PUTTING ON THE HITS

     For the better part of the last month, the PawSox have had a stranglehold on first place in the I.L. North.  That has been due to great pitching, good defense and a terrific offense.  The Sox are at, or near the top of every major offensive category.  Hitting instructor Gerald Perry, a former National League All Star, is a big reason why.  This is Perrys’ third stint as a PawSox coach, most recently, he filled the same role in 2010, along side manager Torey Lovullo.  In 2011, Perry was the hitting instructor for the Oakland A’s.  He and Chili Davis essentially flip-flopped jobs this year.  “Third time, I guess it’s a charm.  I was looking forward to coming back.  It’s like the A’s and the Red Sox made a trade.  Me for Chili Davis.”   

     Perry is pleased with the numbers the PawSox are putting up, but he knows it all stems from one thing.  “The guys are looking for quality at bats.  We try not to look at the offensive numbers.  More so, what I try to look at, is when a guy makes it to the Big Leagues, how he handles Big League pitching.  I feel like my job is to get them prepared for that.”

     He is doing an amazing job in that regard.  Currently, former students like Will Middlebrooks, Daniel Nava, Che-Hsuan Lin and Scott Podsednik are helping Boston get out of an early season funk that finds them in last place in the ultra competitive American League East.  “I’m really not surprised at Wills’ success.  I told Dave Magadan, the big league hitting coach, that if they were getting the same guy that we had here, we’d never be getting him back.  He’s handled himself well, even from day one at Spring Training.  He got off to a good start and everything just carried over.  That’s what you like to see.”  Perry, known as “G”, credits Nava with being a hard worker and a good pupil.  “I looked at his 2011 numbers, and they were not ‘Nava’ numbers.  The Nava that’s up in Boston now is the Nava I saw here two years ago.  He trusts his hands, uses the whole field.  It looks like he got whipped up a little bit last year, but he has his confidence back.  I’m extremely happy for him.”

     Maybe the biggest change in 2012 is the evolution of Jose Iglesias.  The 22 year old shortstop is a defensive wizard, but needed to grow offensively.  He has.  His average has been as high as .280 this week.  He’s got a home run and is in double figures in RBI.  Perry is modest when asked about how he’s helped Jose.  “He’s made some changes.  Using the whole field and taking what the pitchers are giving him.  He’ll shoot the ball to the first base hole with a man on first.  Just doing  all the things you talk about.  He’s playing the game.  That development part wasn’t working at first, even though he was trying hard.  He’s stayed with it and hopefully he’ll continue to stay with it.”  Perry was asked to look into his crystal ball and predict the future for Iglesias.  “I just want to see him continue to work on the things we’ve been working on while he’s here.  Once he gets to the next level, stay within himself.  That’s important, staying within yourself.”

     Ryan Lavarnway blasted 34 home runs in 2011, including 18 with Pawtucket and 2 with Boston.  Through May 25, the slugging catcher had just 2 round trippers for the entire season.  The always-calm Perry insists there’s no need to push the panic button.  ” He could have 6 or 7 home runs right now, if it wasn’t for hitting balls up in the wind early in the year.  Right now we are just concentrating more on him using his legs and not thinking about home runs, just letting it happen.  That’s what happens when you stop thinking about it.  The home runs just come.”

PUTTING ON THE HITS

     For the better part of the last month, the PawSox have had a stranglehold on first place in the I.L. North.  That has been due to great pitching, good defense and a terrific offense.  The Sox are at, or near the top of every major offensive category.  Hitting instructor Gerald Perry, a former National League All Star, is a big reason why.  This is Perrys’ third stint as a PawSox coach, most recently, he filled the same role in 2010, along side manager Torey Lovullo.  In 2011, Perry was the hitting instructor for the Oakland A’s.  He and Chili Davis essentially flip-flopped jobs this year.  “Third time, I guess it’s a charm.  I was looking forward to coming back.  It’s like the A’s and the Red Sox made a trade.  Me for Chili Davis.”   

     Perry is pleased with the numbers the PawSox are putting up, but he knows it all stems from one thing.  “The guys are looking for quality at bats.  We try not to look at the offensive numbers.  More so, what I try to look at, is when a guy makes it to the Big Leagues, how he handles Big League pitching.  I feel like my job is to get them prepared for that.”

     He is doing an amazing job in that regard.  Currently, former students like Will Middlebrooks, Daniel Nava, Che-Hsuan Lin and Scott Podsednik are helping Boston get out of an early season funk that finds them in last place in the ultra competitive American League East.  “I’m really not surprised at Wills’ success.  I told Dave Magadan, the big league hitting coach, that if they were getting the same guy that we had here, we’d never be getting him back.  He’s handled himself well, even from day one at Spring Training.  He got off to a good start and everything just carried over.  That’s what you like to see.”  Perry, known as “G”, credits Nava with being a hard worker and a good pupil.  “I looked at his 2011 numbers, and they were not ‘Nava’ numbers.  The Nava that’s up in Boston now is the Nava I saw here two years ago.  He trusts his hands, uses the whole field.  It looks like he got whipped up a little bit last year, but he has his confidence back.  I’m extremely happy for him.”

     Maybe the biggest change in 2012 is the evolution of Jose Iglesias.  The 22 year old shortstop is a defensive wizard, but needed to grow offensively.  He has.  His average has been as high as .280 this week.  He’s got a home run and is in double figures in RBI.  Perry is modest when asked about how he’s helped Jose.  “He’s made some changes.  Using the whole field and taking what the pitchers are giving him.  He’ll shoot the ball to the first base hole with a man on first.  Just doing  all the things you talk about.  He’s playing the game.  That development part wasn’t working at first, even though he was trying hard.  He’s stayed with it and hopefully he’ll continue to stay with it.”  Perry was asked to look into his crystal ball and predict the future for Iglesias.  “I just want to see him continue to work on the things we’ve been working on while he’s here.  Once he gets to the next level, stay within himself.  That’s important, staying within yourself.”

     Ryan Lavarnway blasted 34 home runs in 2011, including 18 with Pawtucket and 2 with Boston.  Through May 25, the slugging catcher had just 2 round trippers for the entire season.  The always-calm Perry insists there’s no need to push the panic button.  ” He could have 6 or 7 home runs right now, if it wasn’t for hitting balls up in the wind early in the year.  Right now we are just concentrating more on him using his legs and not thinking about home runs, just letting it happen.  That’s what happens when you stop thinking about it.  The home runs just come.”

I LIKE MIKE

     Batman had Robin.  Martin had Lewis.  Jerry had George.  It might be unfair to classify a pitching coach as a sidekick, but the fact that Ron Johnson and Mike Griffin are reunited this season makes me smile.  The pair worked together flawlessly for three seasons together in Pawtucket.  Johnson managed and Griff was the pitching coach.  They now serve the Norfolk Tides in the same capacity.

     Seemingly, always in a good mood, Griffin is happy in the Orioles organization.  “Everything’s good right now.  I can’t complain.  I like the way some of our pitchers are going, so that makes me a little bit happy.  We’ve had some pitchers go up and have done well.  That’s what it’s all about, so right now, I’m doing well.”

     Griff says this is a good time to be with the Orioles.  It’s a time for optimism.  “I would definitely say so.  We have things going in the right way for us now, as  an organization.  It’s a really good time to be an Oriole and to be in the system and watch things get turned around.”

     Although he’s an Oriole, Mike Griffin still keeps a close watch on some of his former charges.  “I always keep up with everybody I’ve had in baseball.  That;s just the way I do things.  I watch Clay (Buchholz) and Jonny (Lester).  They look similar to when we had them in Pawtucket.  There’s always some things you could talk to them about, but I think they’re doing pretty good themselves.  I know Clay is struggling a little bit, but the season is still early and Jonny, from what I see, is pitching pretty good.”  Griff is equally upbeat when talking about future Baltimore pitchers.  “Chris Tillman is one.  Jason Berken, another of our starters is another.  We have Stu Pomeranz coming out of the bullpen.  There’s another guy who started out in the biullpen, who’s in the rotation, Miguel Gonzalez, who has really opened some eyes.  There are some things going on now that are really standing out.  Hopefully, we can keep it going.”

     Griffin laughed when asked his reacton to the news that RJ had been hired to manage in Norfolk for 2012.  “Oh boy.  I was ecstatic.  To be quite honest, I told my wife when he was hired as manager and I think she said it best.  Denise was jumping up and down and screaming at the topof her lungs- ‘he’s back, he’s back!!’  I said, Yeah, I know, he’s back.  Seriously, we work very well together, we know each other like the back of our hands,we can think ahead two innings and know what the other is thinking.”

     One of the staples for Johnson is his daily “Circle of Trust”.  It’s a chance to get the guys together and air out any issues and have a laugh to start the day.  Griff says the Tides players love it.  “They embraced it quite well.  We have a lot of fun with it.  It’s a way to start our day off on the right foot.  It works out really well for us.”

     The Tides pay a return visit to Pawtucket during the next homestand and Griffin is looking forward to it. “I am always looking forward to going to Pawtucket.  I love the fans there,  They are great fans.  I’m anxious to see everybody in the office.  It’s always a pleasure to go back.  I always look forward to it.”  It will be great to have Mike Griffin and Ron Johnson back home.  Like Fred and Barney.  Like Laurel and Hardy.

R.J.’S MANAGING OK

     I am always happy to see former PawSox people around the league, but never happier than when I see Norfolk manager, Ron Johnson.  R.J. managed the PawSox for 5 seasons (2005-2009) before serving as the Red Sox’ first base coach for two seasons.  In the aftermath of the September swoon, RJ was among the casualties.  It wasn’t fun.  “It was tough, but looking back on it, that’s baseball.  Looking back on my twelve years in the “Nation”- it was fantastic.  Looking at the experiences I gained, I don’t think you can put a price on them.  Going through that, and the season being a ‘whiplash’ season, I know those experiences are going to help me get to my ultimate goal, which is managing in the Big Leagues.”

     RJ landed on his feet.  He was hired to work with the Orioles by the same man who hired him to work with the Red Sox in 2000.  New General Manager, Dan Duquette.  Johnson doesn’t take it for granted.  “I was fortunate, very fortunate.  He had the confidence to hire me before and then hire me to come over here and run this thing.  This place reminds me of getting over to the Red Sox system early.  There is a lot of exciting things going on in the Baltimore Orioles organization right now.”  Johnson was also effusive in his praise for the man that runs the Orioles, Buck Showalter.  “You look over into that dugout and see Buck, I’ll tell you…once i got there to Spring Training and got to know him a little bit…Phenomenal.”  RJ added.  “His awareness and attention to detail, is second to none.  Tito was outstanding with that stuff.  Amazing.  Buck is just like that.  He made me feel comfortable right from the start.  There’s a lot of communication that goes on here, just like it did there.  We are going to be alright.”

     R.J.’s daughter is doing very well these days.  In August of 2010, she and the horse she was riding, were struck by a car, killing the animal and severing her leg.  After countless operations and procedures, Bridget is doing well and in fact, is still riding.  “Bridgie’s doing great.  She’s back riding and loves it.  she finished fourth in the state (Tennessee) in pole bending.  Last night she did very well riding “Youkie”.  On the medical side, she’s doing really well.  She has an amazing attitude.  She’s never asked ‘why me?’  You can’t tell Bridget she’s disabled.  She doesn’t want the sticker on the truck.”

     Yes, “Youkie” is named after a certain Red Sox third baseman.  When Bridget got hurt, Kevin Youkilis told Johnson that he wanted to replace the horse that was killed in the accident.  “I told him he didn’t have to do that.  He said he did.  He wanted to.  He said I didn’t realize the impact I had on his career.  I had Kev since he was in A Ball.”  Youkilis was surprised at how long it took Bridget to pick a new horse.  “I told him, it’s not like Wal-Mart.  You have to find the right one.”  She finally decided on a new horse and according to RJ, two days later, the new horse was delivered to their barn, courtesy of Kevin Youkilis.  The original name was Hootie, but not for long.  “Nah, she changed it to ‘Youkie and now the name is up on stall #1, forever.”  Johnson will always remember the gesture.  “Say what you want about Youk, but he’s got a big heart.  One of the bggest hearts in the game.”

YOUK’S BACK

     That’s the major concern these days for Kevin Youkilis and the Red Sox.  The three time All Star is in the midst of a rehab assignment with the PawSox.  On Wednesday night, Youk went 1-2, with a double and a walk.  Youk showed no ill-effects and seemed to swing the bat well.  During batting practice, he routinely deposited pitch after pitch over the 32 foot high wall at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.  Kevin is scheduled to play third base for Pawtucket on Thursday as his rehab continues.

     Before the rest of the media converged upon him, we sat down and had the chance to talk.  I’ve known Kevin since 2004 and have marveled at his achievements.  He was pretty clear.  His back was feeling fine.  “I feel great.  Ready to rock.  Just get off the rehab assignment as quick as possible and get back up and play for the Red Sox soon.”  Youk felt that there were no limitations or restrictions to hold him back. “I feel good.  I can do everything baseball-wise.  I’m just excited to do as much as possible and play some games here.”

     Youkilis and I last spoke in Fort Myers and he was eager to “turn the page” on the 2011 season.  He finds it frustrating to be injured again.  “It’s definitely frustrating.  You want to win games and stay healthy.  I think this is more precautionary than anything.  I’ve felt good for a while.  Trying to get healthy for the long run.  The Red Sox are picking it up a little bit, starting to win.  The key is pitching.  If we get good pitching, we’re going to win.  We’ve got plenty of offense.”

     Kevin Youkilis has come a long way since he was known as the “Greek God of Walks”.  He was won two World Series rings, a Gold Glove, a Hank Aaron Award and has finished as high as third in the American League MVP voting (2008).  He hesitated momentarily when asked to put into perspective.  “It’s definitely been a long time.  ’04 seems like it was yesterday, but the more I see guys come and go…the other day (Doug) Mirabelli was back (to help honor Tim Wakefield), it seems like it’s far away, with all the players that have come and gone since I’ve been here.  In one aspect, it seems like yesterday.  On the other hand, it’s been a long time.”  Youkilis continues to reminisce.  “There have been great years. ’04 and ’07.  Some good years too.  In ’08 we went to game 7 of the ALCS.  A lot of great times.  It’s weird.  I never think about it until after the season.  It probably won’t sink in until my career’s over.  Hopefully not for another 3 or 4 years.  It’s hard to put into perspective right now.  Going through the everyday grind now, you tend not to think about it.”

     Kevin Youkilis has gone from being the “kid” to the 33 year old veteran.  The emergence of Will Middlebrooks hasn’t helped.  Talk show hosts and “experts” are calling for a “changing of the guard” at third base.  Youk takes it all in stride.  “I just go out and do my job.  I can’t worry about that stuff.  Just have to get healthy, get some at bats and play the best I can play.  Those decisions are made from the front office.  For me, I just go out and play baseball, hopefully with the Red Sox.  There’s been a lot of talk about it and a lot of stuff put out in the media.  It’s not a bad thing.  You’ve got a player that’s playing well and you want him to do well.”

     One of Youks’ trademarks is his fiery demeanor and the emotion with which he plays.  Earlier this season, Bobby Valentine questioned his physical and emotional commitment.  Ridiculous to anyone who has ever watched him play.  Although he has admitted in the past that he was surprised by the comments, Youk refused to comment further in Durham.  “I really don’t want to discuss that.  It’s in the books.  I think that everyone knows how hard I play and how much pride I take in my game.  It’s in the past and nothing to worry about.”  Conversely, Youk appreciated the support he got from teammates like Dustin Pedroia.  “We’ve got a good group of guys up in Boston.  A lot of guys have become pretty close.  We have fun taking the field and we also have fun in the clubhouse, enjoying the game and talking about the game.  We also talk about other things, like life.  A lot of guys are fathers.  They’ve got outside things with their children and families.  We’ve got a good group of guys that really get along.  It’s pretty cool.  It’s good to have guys that are together and want to show up every day and see each other.”

     Youkilis is under contract with Boston until the end of this season, with a club option for 2013.  With trade specualtion swirling and questions about his health being asked, Youk just wants to get back to playing and let the chips fall where they may.  He says he’d like to be a Red Sox for life.  “Yeah. I think it’s a cool thing to play with one team for your whole career.  It doesn’t happen a lot anymore.  It would be a cool thing.  Sometimes, though, decisions are made that are outside of your control.  For me, and the things that I can control-  play the game as hard as I can day in and day out.  If it’s with the Red Sox, that’s great.  If it’s not, there are 29 other teams out there, but my first choice is the Red Sox.”

REINFORCEMENTS ARRIVE

     Somehow, the Mighty PawSox just keep rolling along.  Halfway through May, they’re ensconced in first place in the North Division.  They’ve done it with a revolving cast of characters.  Due to injuries, and promotions, the PawSox of today look very different than the opening day team.  All Star Kevin Youkilis is scheduled to arrive here in Durham sometime in the next 24 hours and begin a rehab assignment, presumably as DH.  Youk has worked so hard over the years, and has made himself, when healthy, one of the best all-around players in the game.  The emergence of Will Middlebrooks in Boston, may make for an interesting decision for the Sox.  Along with Youk, I expect a flood of scouts and the like to converge on Durham Bulls Athletic Park to check Kevins’ progress themselves.

     Incredibly proud of, not only Middlebrooks, but Daniel Nava, as well.  Really, an afterthought this year, Nava has re-emerged from the pack.  His home run into the Monster seats on Monday night, made me stand up and cheer, very much the same way his 2010 Grand Slam against Philadelphia did.  Nava is an incredible young man.  If you had a son, you’d want him to be Nava.  If you had a daughter, you’d want her to marry Nava.  He continues to defy the odds.  A person close to the situation recently told me that he thought Nava might be the best hitter in the Sox minor league system.  Not bad for a kid who wasn’t even invited to Major League Spring Training.

     Replacing Nava on the PawSox roster is former American League All Star, Scott Podsednik.  A career .279 hitter in ten Major League seasons, Scott was purchased from the Phillies. He’d been playing at Lehigh Valley.  Podsednik paid immediate dividends for Pawtucket.  In his first game at McCoy, he had a single, a sacrifice fly and two RBI.  The veteran seemed to take it all in stride.  “It was a pretty fair day one, I guess.” 

     Podsednik didn’t seem at all surprised with the transaction that landed him in Rhode Island.  “I’ve been around for a while, been doing this for a long time.  I’m not surprised.  If you play the game long enough, you see all sorts of movements, trades, and decisions that take place during the season.  You’ve got to take it in stride, focus on what you’ve got to do and try to come over here and help the club.”

     Podsednik says the fire stil burns inside of him and he is eager to get back to the Big Leagues.  “I still feel that I can compete at that level.  My body’s in good shape.  I’m still running well enough to steal a base.  There’s still some gas left in the tank.  I keep hearing from guys who played the game, to play as long as I can.  Until they rip the jersey off my back.  With that said- I’m still having fun, and I’ve got that fire burning deep inside.  I enjoy the competition.”

     One thing that has to be exciting to a guy like Scott, is the willingness of the Red Sox to make room on their 40 man roster for men who produce.  Given time to prove himself, he’s just a phone call away.  “They’ve made a lot of moves.  They’ve had a lot of unfortunate injuries.  A lot of transactions have taken place.  I’ve been around long enough to undestand that there are just certain things you can control as a player.  You can waste a lot of time and energy getting caught up in moves and transactions.  I try to focus my energy and attention on getting my body ready to go out and compete.  If you do that on a day in and day out basis, the rest will take care of itself.”  Spoken like a true veteran.

WHAT’S A DUCKWORTH?

     I guess I’m still a little “old school” and the title of todays’ entry sounded a little like an old Groucho Marx joke and it made me chuckle a little bit.  Anyway, if you’re a baseball fan, you know the worth of Brandon Duckworth, the right handed pitcher in his second year with the PawSox.  “Duck” is  4-0 a a starter and a bullpen guy for the first place Pawtucket club.  Currently in the starting rotation, he has proven his worth time and time again in the last season and a quarter.  Brandons’ last win was the 100th of his minor league career.   When asked about the milestone, he laughed.  “It means I’ve been playing an awful long time.  You can look at it in a number of different ways.  It’s really cool to have that many decisions and wins,but at the same time, you wish they were up in the Major Leagues.  But, ya know, this is my fifteenth season and that says a lot. ”   Duckworth hasn’t taken his longevity for granted.  “It goes by so fast.  You don’t realize it until you’re into it for ten plus years.  It just keeps getting faster and faster each and every year”.

     Duckworth admits that time can take its’ toll on a man.  Preparing for games isn’t the same as it was 10 years ago.  “Oh, it’s different.  I’ve learned my body.  You know what your body needs, day in and day out, over the course of time.  As you do get older, you learn what you need.  You may not throw as much in certain situations, like sidework, the things you need to do in order to stay on top of your game.”

     Brandon also has 23 Major League wins under his belt, with Philadelphia, Houston and the Royals.  He has spent parts of 8 seasons in the Bigs, appearing in 134 games.  Still, he has the desire for more.  “It’s been a dream come true.  Any kid that picks up a bat and ball, it’s an aspiration that everyone has.  To be able to do that, play in the Big Leagues for the over 8 years I’ve been there…you just kind of pinch yourself.  I may not have been there all 15 years, but at the same time, I have a good amount of time in at the Big League level.  You just have to take that with a lot of pride.” 

     With the amount of experience he has, there comes a certain amount of wisdom, as well.  Whether he’s starting, or coming out of the pen, he’s ready.  “I’ve had a lot of experience doing both.  During some of my time in the  Majors, I had to do that.  I’d spot start, come out of the pen, fill multiple roles.  You just learn how much you need to throw and really, how much you don’t need to throw, if that makes sense.  That’s where the mental portion  of the game comes into play.  That’s the biggest key for me,learning over time and knowing how to implement it every day.”

     We have all sat back and watched with horror, the starting pitching of the Boston Red Sox.  Duckworth feels he could contribute as he continues to bide his time in Pawtucket.  “You’ve got to look at it in multiple ways.  You’ve got a lot of guys, young guys that are going to be their core guys for years to come.  You have contracts that  you have to deal with and you also have to look at roster spots and what they can and can’t do.  If there’s a need, they’ll make a move.  It’s my job to be ready.  You’ve just got to keep driving.  You can’t look at it in a negative way.  If you do, the only thing that suffers, is your own game.”

     In my mind, Duckworth has assumed the role of “leader of the staff”. That’s a role filled in the last couple of years by guys like Scott Atchison and Chad Paronto.  Duckworth doesn’t back down from his responsibility to the game.  “We’ve got a lot of good young arms.  It’s a matter of going out there and learning new things.  I’ll relate my own experiences to the younger guys.  I ask them a lot of questions, like what they’re thinking in certain situations.  I try to pass on information to them, like it was passed on to me.”

     Here’s hoping that all our guys some day have at least 123 professional victories each.

THE CIRCUS COMES TO TOWN

     This has been a long road swing for the PawSox.  10 games, 4 cities with a last minute shift from Batavia to Rochester.  That move was necessitated by the presence of veteran lefty, Andy Pettitte.  The future Hall of Famer is very close to completing his comeback with the Yankees.  Ironically, it comes the same week that his teammate and friend, Mariano Rivera went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.  Along with Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, those men combined to form the “Core Four”.  The Core Four was the heart and soul of the Yankees, and as any good Red Sox fan can tell you, they made life miserable for us.

     Sunday at Frontier Field, I was interviewing PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler for our pre-game show when a large black SUV pulled right on to the playing field in Rochester and stopped at the backstop behind home plate.  The door opened and out stepped Pettitte.  The height, the unmistakable profile and the menacing eyes that sent chills through the hearts of hitters for the last generation.  Pettitte quickly made his way inside to safety while dozens of autograph seekers, who had been waiting for hours outside the park, continued their vigil, not realizing they had missed their quarry.

     Beyeler, who could be called a stoic, admitted he was looking forward to the days matchup.  “With Pettitte pitching, they’ve got a lot of tickets sold.  Should be a big crowd.  A little day baseball, get on the bus and go home.  It’s about time.”  Beyeler spoke about the oddity of his club playing 4 days in 4 different cities,  Toledo, Batavia, Rochester and Monday in Pawtucket.  “It’s not the norm.  It reminds me of being in Venezuela in the winter time.  You go to a different town every day to play.  You don’t think much of it.”

     Arnie commented on the “shoe being on the other foot”.  Usually it is the Red Sox making a splash with a Major League rehabber like Dustin Pedroia or David Ortiz.  This time it’s the Yankees.  “I think this is great.  Guys like him who have the ability he’s got.  Possible Hall of Fame career, a great competitor.  I think it will be fun to see him.  A quality pitcher like him.  I’m sure his stuff is still good.  The place will be buzzing and going crazy today.  It should be a lot of fun.”

     The irony of Pettittes’ comeback coinciding with the injury to Mariano Rivera was not lost on Beyeler.  “Any time you’ve got a superstar guy like that and he goes down, it’s not good for the game.  Hopefully, Mariano will rehab, get back and get back to form.  it will be better for him if he can finish on his own terms.  The respect among players at what he does as possibly the best relief pitcher ever.  Hopefully he comes back and we get to see him pitch some more.” 

     PawSox catcher Mike Rivera caught Pettitte while they were both Yankees players.  He has some advice for his current teammates, but not much.  “Watch for the cutter, cutter, cutter.  You may know it’s coming, but that doesn’t mean you can do anything with it.”  Pitching coach Rich Sauveur says the cutter is a variation of the slider, held just a bit differently, with a slighter break.  “Pettittes’ cutter is so good, because it has ‘depth’ to it.””

IN THE LOBBY

     For a guy who spends as much time on the road as I do, I hate hotels.  The rooms are somewhat depressing, so as a result, I spend a ton of time in the lobby.  It’s a fun place to people-watch, do a crossword puzzle, drink your coffee or just chat with the guys.  Over the years, I have developed a rapport with our players.  I feel that they trust me, because what “happens in Vegas…”  The bond doesn’t occur overnight.  It takes a while to develop.  As a young broasdcaster, I adopted the philosophy that this was their world and I was fortunate to have a front row seat.  Consequently, I have never taken my position lightly.  There have been many times over the years when I could have “broken” stories, but that’s not my job.  I ride the same busses, stay in the same hotels and eat at the same restaurants.  Whether you are a top prospect, or the 25th man on the roster, it stays in the “vault.”  Most people I’ve worked with, understand.  Others will never get it.  Not my problem, as they drown in paranoia.

     I thought it might be fun to spend an hour in the lobby of the Park Inn in Toledo, Ohio.  This has been the team hotel for as long as I can remember.  Not the best place we stay, but not the worst.  Folks who think this is a glamorous job would be interested to find out that there some very mundane moments.  Very often, more mundane, than not.  So far, catchers Ryan Lavarnway and Mike Rivera have made their way to the restaurant on the other side of the lobby, “Mad Mikes”.  I can honestly tell you that in 9 years with the PawSox, I have never taken one bite of their food.  Both acknowledged me as they passed by.

     A couple of moments later, a gruff, older man approached the front desk.  He had gone up to his room and his key didn’t work.  He took it out on the front desk clerk.  I learned a lesson today.  It’s not the front desk clerks’ fault.  As he left with his new key, he threatened, “This better work!”

     Trainer John Jochim, seemingly always busy, stopped at the front desk and nodded my way as he finished.  Pitcher Alex Wilson, a top prospect greeted me with a “Hey Hyder” as he passed by.  In baseball, last names, or variations thereof, are the norm.  Very few people in the “civilian world” can get away with it.  We had a kid that worked in the front office at McCoy, who has since moved on, but he called me Hyder once and I told him that it was acceptable, only if he put “Mr.” in front of it.  He got my message.  The lobby is pretty quiet, even at 10:00 a.m.  Yesterday was a different story.  Several wrestlers from the W.W.E. were staying here for a show they did on Tuesday night.  It was rather amusing watching these behemoths showing off their new sequins tights to each other.

     Over the years, I’ve had some great conversations in this very lobby.  I fondly recall the encounters I had with the grandfathers of two of our guys.  Chris Carter, an outstanding hitter and super guy, had a grandfather who listened to our broadcasts every night.  As I recall, he lived in the Cleveland area.  We talked for an hour about baseball, about his grandson and about life in general.  He thanked me for being his eyes into Chris’ career.  He meant it quite literally.  Mr. Carter was blind.

     On another occasion, I had the pleasure of talking with Lars Andersons’ grandfather, John.  A fascinating man, he is a retired PGA club professional, who worked and lived in Pennsylvania.  He told me a great story about being summoned to the golf course one day for a “command performance.”  A mutual friend wanted John to join a foursome that included a young man that had just won a fairly big tournament.  The man, Arnold Palmer, the tournament, The Masters.

     The lobby is still fairly quiet.  Lavarnway and Rivera finished the morning meal and when I asked how the breakfast was, Lavarnway lifted up his shirt a few inches and slapped his belly in approval.

     Nothing very exciting happens in the lobby, but it’s a comfortable home away from home.

STRONG AS EVER

     Mike Roose is a Pawtucket native, born in the shadows of McCoy Stadium on the night of the longest game in professional baseball history.  He served 4 tours of duty with the United States Air Force, in Iraq and Afghanistan.  For two seasons, he was the strength and conditioning coach for the PawSox, and now serves as the coordinator for the entire minor league system.  His “office” is a gleaming, state of the art facility at jetBlue Park in Fort Myers.  Recently, Roose joined the PawSox on the road and we had the chance to catch up.

     Roose is grateful for his new opportunity.  “It feels great.  It makes me realize that working hard and putting the extra time in taking care of guys, eventually pays off.  I’m working on a larger scale now, but a lot of people had my back.  Arnie (Beyeler), JJ (Trainer John Jochim), the coaches.  They all put in a good word for me.  They are the ones who thrust me into this position and I appreciate it.

     Instead of working with 24 or 25 players, Roose is charged with the responsibility of coordinating the whole system.  “I work with all 7 affiliates.  4 are playing right now.  I’ve got a bunch of guys in Fort Myers,  It’s a great responsibility, but I’ve got a lot of good people that do a great job.  All the trainers at every level are really good at what they do.”  While the workload is greater, Roose fondly recalls his years with the Pawsox.  “It was great.  I was near my family and got to spend time with my buddies.  It was a lot of fun.”

     Roose says his military background has been integral in helping him with his career in coaching.  “Oh Yeah.  It was the biggest experience of my life.  The discipline.  Learning to work in some less than ideal environments, you make adjustments.  Pushing guys, motivating them, even when they’re tired…that all came from my military background.”  Roose will try to relate his experiences to his players.  He knows that a 7 hour bus ride or the heat of Fort Myers aren’t the worst things that can happen to you.  “That stuff is luxurious compared to being in the desert.  I know it’s a long season, but there’s definitely worse places to be than on a bus going to play another baseball game.”

     The Red Sox spent a lot of money on their new facility in Fort Myers and with Mike Roose running it, they’ll get the most out of it.

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