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.
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.
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.”
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.
I’ll be honest. I have been watching the early coverage from Spring Training at Fort Myers and I find it fascinating. Everyone from John Henry down to the bat boys are saying and doing the right thing. Trying to exorcise the ghosts of 2011 seems to be first and foremost for the Sox. New attitudes are the order of the day. It seems those singled out most often are Josh Beckett and John Lester. The two were there early and ready to work. They were also two of the men who were thought to be responsible for the beer drinking and chicken eating last season ion the club house.
Bobby Valentine stalks around the new facility, keeping a watchful eye over everyone and everything in his domain. It looks like he will not leave a stone unturned. Now that Terry Francona is gone, the “experts” are saying that Bobby V is just what this team needs. For years, though, Boston had a great desire for a “players’ manager”. Don Orsillo pointed out that Tito had NO rules at all, other than to be on time, and not to dress worse than he did on charter flights. I suspect that Valentine will have substantially more regulations. He will not risk his shot at redemption, believing the players will do what they are supposed to do. He will make certain they do the right thing. His first step in that direction was bannng beer and all alcohol from the Boston clubhouse. It will not be allowed on the final leg of charter flights either.
Everyone, at least publicly, is on board. Not that they have any choice. David Ortiz, now the longest-tenured Red Sox player says it is no big deal. “This ain’t a bar.” quipped Big Papi.
Maybe the most telling “Mea Culpa” was issued by team owner John Henry. Henry apologized to outfielder Carl Crawford for his earlier statements, saying he was never “on board” with the signing of the former Tampa star. The two met, and Crawford graciously accepted the apology. So far so good at JetBlue Park. Injuries seem to be healing. Arms seem to be lively. Bats are being swung with authority and power.
There seems to be a catharsis going on. Out with the old and in with the new. Players will fight for playing time and roster spots. Complacency will not be tolerated. No standing around while you’re supposed to be working. It;s a new era in Boston and there is definitely a new sheriff in town.
Who among us hasn’t had their heart broken at some point? Last fall the Red Sox broke our hearts. A September swoon of biblical proportions. I was saddened by it. I was hurt. I couldn’t understand it, even though I endured every agonizing minute of it. Why us? We had stopped saying that for a while. The Patriots had their dynasty early in the new millenium. The Sox reversed the curse in 2004 and for good measure, won again in 2007. The Celts and the Big 3 bested the Lakers in 2008 and even the Bruins skated off with Lord Stanleys’ Cup last season. We were riding high.
We have had all winter to digest the debacle at Fenway. Terry Francona and Bobby Valentine have essentially switched jobs. Tito will work on ESPN, while Bobby V manages the Red Sox. In the meantime, we’ve been further emotionally crippled by the Pats’ inability to beat the Giants. We’ve seen the Celtics age before our very eyes, and we’ve been bludgeoned to death by Tebow mania and now Lin-sanity. My question is- “Are you ready to love again/”
It’s not quite Spring yet, but it is the time of year when ANYTHING is possible. Anything. Every man, woman and child has the chance to be happy. You’ve been beaten up in the past. We all have. You can say “screw it!” or you can get back up on the horse. I think I’ll choose to embrace the Sox again. Give it another try. My friend, “The Colonel”, was a Sox fan his entire life. The Aaron Boone home run in 2003 was the last straw. He announced a change of allegiance, to, of all teams, the Yankees. He remained steadfast until the Sox ended their 86 year drought. He wanted back in. Too late.
When you love something or someone, you want to be loved back. Last season, the Boston Red Sox didn’t love us back. They cut us off at the knees. They pulled the rug out from under us. They “bonked” us over the head with a giant hammer. You may not yet be ready to profess your love. I can’t blame you. Proceed with caution. You don’t want to get clobbered again. If you do love the Sox, don’t be afraid to stand on the rooftop and yell it out. Certainly, there’s a risk. But, how about the reward? Sometimes in life, you have to play a hunch. Go with your gut. The payoff could be the sweetest reward of all. Getting loved back.
One of the most colorful and popular players in Red Sox and PawSox history, dropped a bomb on us the other day. Nothing really surprises me any more, but Dennis Oil Can Boyds’ revelation that he very often was high on cocaine while he was pitching for the Sox, was a bit of a stunner. We live in a “tell-all” society and the Can has decided to tell on himself. Ironic, when you consider how hard others work to keep their dirty little secrets.
His book, “They Call Me Oil Can” is scheduled to come out this Summer. Give Boyd credit. He knew exactly how to whet the appetites of Red Sox fans. Boyd admitted to cocaine use, down in Fort Myers, as fans, hungry for the latest about the Sox, were getting ready for the loaded equipment truck to go south. Boyd was an average Major Leaguer in his 10 years in the “Show”. He was 78-77 with an ERA around 4.00 through his career. He claims a lot of things. That he could have won 150 games if he was clean. That “everyone” was doing it back in the ’80s. That he did it in every city and every ballpark. Says he was never tested. Oddly, the lanky right hander claims that he has no regrets. I tend to think that he’s lying. If he had been clean and had won 150 games, it’s less likely that he’d be airing his own dirty laundry at this stage of his life. Why else “come clean” for other than financial reward?
Boyd played parts of four seasons in Pawtucket. He notched 129 strikeouts to lead the club in 1983. He twice struck out 15 players in a game while a member of the PawSox, a team record he shares with Jin Ho Cho. One has to wonder if his bad habits began in the Big Leagues, or if he began cultivating them while he was on the road to the Majors.
We knew about guys like Darryl Strawberry, Doc Gooden and Steve Howe. I sat back and smiled smugly, content that none of “my” guys were ever incriminated. What a joke. First Roger Clemens and his steroid mess and now Oil Can and his admission. What a 1-2 punch to the gut! The Rocket is scheduled for trial next month and Boyd’s book hits the shelves this summer. Hope they both get what they deserve.
We were spoiled. Let’s face it. We did deserve it, though. We went 86 years without a World Series. Before the holy trinity of Kraft/Brady/Belichick united, a Super Bowl was merely something for the Cowboys or Steelers or 49ers. Before the Celtics’ big 3 got together, we had known for years that the trio of Bird, Parish and McHale were not walking through the door. We were the loveable losers. Every once in a while Boston would get close, only to get clobbered in the end. The Sox in ’67, ’75, ’86 and ’03 stand out. Before the Patriots won their three Lombardis, they were beaten by Chicago and the Packers. No one felt sorry for the Celtics. They had 16 banners hanging from the rafters before their most recent win over the Lakers. To be honest, I’m not a big Bruins fan, although I am happy they currently reign as Stanley Cup Champs. So that was us. A mere annoyance to the Yankees. A minor obstacle to Jerry Buss’ club. Not even an NFL afterthought.
I go back to when Dick Williams was managing at Fenway. I vaguely remember Phil Bengston in Foxboro, but certainly remember the Chuck Fairbanks era. Tom Heinsohn ruled at the Garden, after a Hall of Fame career and before he started his thirty plus year run with Mike Gorman. While I was rooting for the likes of Yastrzemski and Plunkett, only Havlicek and, Cowens delivered.
The first decade of the twenty first century will forever be known as the Glory Days. We went from perennial losers to Title Town, USA. I dare say we began to take it for granted. My kids thought that this was the greatest place in the world to be a sports fan. They love teams that I love. Recently, they’ve gotten the cold reality that we endured for decades. This year has been hard. The September Swoon at Fenway. Titos’ dismissal. The 21-17 loss to the Giants on Sunday and the realization that Coach Bill is not a genius. Learning that Doc Rivers is only as good as his players. There’s a very brief, fleeting window for success. You only get so many chances. Very quickly you go from hero, to someone whose supermodel wife has to defend you from her luxury suite.
It doesn’t take long to get from the top of the heap to has-been. From the NFL’s leading pass catcher to Super Bowl goat. It’s frustrating, but it’s a part of life. Can the Sox rebound after their epic collapse of 2011? Will the Pats be able to re-tool, because as soon as Brady hangs up his cleats, let’s face it, all bets are off. Will Danny Ainge start selling off pieces to contenders? He was there the first time when Auerbach didn’t pull the trigger.
I guess the hard times just make you appreciate the good times more. I hope I’m wrong, but I get the sense that the hard times are just around the corner.
Drafting in any sport is such an inexact science. The Super Bowl is this coming Sunday. Quarterback Tom Brady was the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL draft, from the University of Michigan. Is there any doubt now that if those “experts” had crystal balls back then, that Brady would have gone 198 picks sooner? ESPN touts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay as experts. If I ever had the time or desire, we would all have a good laugh thumbing through their picks. The “can’t miss” guys who turned out to be busts and conversely the Brady types, who were greatly undervalued.
Same holds true in baseball. “Baseball America” puts out an annual list of the top prospects in all the organizations. It is uncanny how quickly those prospects are jumbled. The 2012 list has third baseman WIll Middlebrooks listed as #1. Will is followed by shortstop Xander Bogaerts, Catcher, Blake Swihart, righty Anthony Ranaudo, and outfielder Bryce Brentz at #5. Rounding out the top 10- outfierlder Brandon Jacobs, 3b Garin Cecchini, righthander Matt Barnes, Catcher Ryan Lavarnway and of Jackie Bradley. A quick look back just one season shows an amazing amount of change in the top 10.
1. Casey Kelly (rhp) currently #3 San Diego prospect Adrian Gonzalez deal)
2. Jose Iglesias (ss) hit .235 for PawSox in 2011. 31 rbi, 12 errors, turned 22 on 1/5/12
3. Anthony Rizzo (1b) currently #1 San Diego prospect (Gonzalez deal)
4. Anthony Ranaudo (rhp) currently #4 Red Sox prospect (9-6, 3.97 at Salem/Greenville in 2011)
5. Drake Britton (lhp) after 4 years in organization 4-18, 4.82 ERA, in 2011 1-13, 6.91
6. Reymond Fuentes (of) traded to Padres (Gonzalez deal) .275, 5, 45rbi, 41 sb (A ball)
7. Josh Reddick (of) traded to Oakland for Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney. In 184 games over parts of 3 seasons, Reddick had 32 home runs and 107 rbi for Pawtucket. He will be 25 on Opening Day
8. Felix Doubront (lhp) Doubront suffered through an injury plagued 2011 season, he was 2-5, with a 4.22 ERA for the PawSox.
9. Stolmy Pimentel (rhp) went a combined 6-13, 6.79 (A/AA)
10. Garin Cecchini (3b) in 32 games at Lowell, the 20 year old hit .298, 3, 23 with 12 SB
Just a thumbnail sketch of how quickly things can change. It is a lot of opinion and conjecture. You can form your own opinions by coming out to the park and watching the PawSox.
I’ll start with Steven Tyler. The Aerosmith front man and American Idol judge sang the national anthem at Gillette Stadium on Sunday before the Patriots’ 23-20 win over Baltimore. It wasn’t perfect, but because it was Steven, I loved it. I didn’t think much more about it until Monday when I started reading the reviews. I found the criticism to be a little harsh. Tyler, decked out in a very shiny Patriots scarf, is our guy. The only “real” rock star from New England (with all due respect to Tom Brady). Maybe the voice isn’t as powerful as it once was, but it is unmistakable.
It reminded of one the best days I ever had. My brother Luke and I were able to secure tickets to Game 1 of the 2004 World Series. We were like a couple of little kids as we made our way to Fenway. There to throw out the first pitch was one of our childhood heroes, Carl Yastrzemski. Yaz was right on target. Tyler, who lives in Marshfield Mass., belted out the anthem and later that evening, American Idol, season 1 champion, Kelly Clarkson sang “God Bless America.” I guarantee you, Kate Smith never looked so good, even on her best day. Yaz, Steven and Kelly made it a special night. Oh yeah, the 11-9 win over St. Louis was pretty special, too. I don’t care if they have to wheel Tyler out there on a stretcher, the guy is a star. By the way, where can I get one of those scarves? I’d definitely wear it.
Boston Bruins goalie, Tim Thomas was not with the team as they visited President Obama to celebrate last seasons’ Stanley Cup championship over Vancouver. The Bruins trekked to the nations’ capitol to visit with the President. Thomas and defenseman Steven Kampfer were the only Americans on the squad. On one hand, I find it to be disrespectful As the sayng goes, “you don’t have to respect the man, but you must respect the office.” Looking at the flip side, that is what’s great about being an American. Freedom of Choice. Bruins President, Cam Neely defended his star goalkeeper. “Everyone has their own opinions and political beliefs and he chose not to join us.” Such an occurence is not without precedence. When the Red Sox travelled to Washington after the 2007 win over Colorado, Manny Ramirez was a “no show.” George W. Bush acknowledged his absence, quipping “I guess his grandmother died again.”