The road trip to Syracuse ended with a thud. The PawSox fell 4-1 to the Chiefs. Lackluster in just about every respect. Daniel Bard was a bright spot striking out 4 in 2 innings. The super prospect has fanned 22 in 12 and two thirds innings. He is 1-0 with a 1.42 ERA and has looked truly remarkable.
While having lunch in Syracuse on Tuesday, I had a brush with greatness. Seated at the table next to me was former U.S. Senator, Al D’Amato. I hold Senator D’Amato in high esteem for his support over the years for radio personality Howard Stern. D’Amato has always been a proponent of free speech. I said hello to him and he was cordial smiling and acknowkledging me with a nod. Stern is, in my opinion, easily the greatest broadcaster in history. Like Frank Sijnatra, Stern did it “his way”. He battled the F.C.C., the religious right and non-thinking, fearful lemmings to become the most successful radio entertainer in history.
I am a fan of Bill Reynolds of the Providence Journal. I would go so far as to call him a friend His book “Fall River Dreams” is one of my favorites. I was surprised (pleasantly) to open the Syracuse Post Standard on Wednesday morning to find his column on Lebron James on the front page of the sports section. Billy is as good as anyone out there. I had “Rhode Island Pride” when I saw it.
Speaking of proud- congratulations to my long-time partner on PawSox broadcasts, and long-time friend Dan Hoard. Dan has been invited to fill in for Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brenneman on this weekends broadcasts for the Reds. Cincy will be in Pittsburgh to face the Pirates. Hope Dan has a chance to catch up with our old pal, Brandon Moss, one of the top 10 nicest people, ever. Dan is getting a well-deserved trip to the “Bigs”.
As usual, the highlight of the trip to Syracuse was a visit to “The Change of Pace”. If I were going to the electric chair, I would have the chicken wings from the “Pace” on my last meal menu. I had the chance to catch up with Steve Grilli, the owner and keeper of the secret recipe. Like Brandon Moss, Steve is on my short list of nicest people, ever. Grilli pitched in the Majors for 5 and a half years for Detroit and Toronto. He was with Rochester in 1981 and was the losing pitcher when the PawSox won the longest game in baseball history. Grilli wasn’t with Rochester when the game began in April, but was traded in time for the conclusion. Grilli has quipped ” What it took them 32 innings to do, took me about 5 minutes to undo.” Steve’s cap, worn in that game is on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. His son Jason, is a reliever for the Colorado Rockies.
It’s after midnight and we are on the bus to Syracuse. It’s pretty quiet after a 2-1, 12 inning loss at Lehigh Valley. Clay Buchholz went 6 plus innings with 7 strikeouts. The offfense never got on track as Drew Carpenter of the Iron Pigs was, for one night anyway, Buchs’ equal. Although I base my theory strictly on my study of human nature and I didn’t ask Clay, I will share it with you. I figured he would pitch well Monday night, after Michael Bowden’s stirring performance against the Yankees on Sunday at Fenway. I surmise the Boston brass didn’t want to use Clay out of the bullpen, but maybe Buchholz thought it should have been his turn. Clay would have been pitching on short rest and he had the bad hamstring that caused him to miss a start earlier this month. Clay will be back in Boston and someday soon, he and Bowden could anchor the rotation. It is almost an “embarassment of riches” with all the good young arms in the organization. I re-emphasize, this is strictly speculation.
The real excitement on Monday came late in the game as a bat (the animal, not the hitting implement) flew into the Iron Pig radio booth. Matt Provence and John Shaeffer, their broadcasters scrambled like school girls, Provence hiding under the counter while Shaeffer bolted out of the room as if it were on fire. Dan Hoard and I got a tremendous kick out of it, but we quickly agreed, we were REALLY glad it didn’t enter our booth. Dan and I were both apparently traumatized as kids by the Hitchcock classic “The Birds.”
We look forward to our trips to Syracuse. At one point, both Dan and I served as the voice of the Syracuse Chiefs. It is great to see old friends and make a pilgrimage to the home of the world’s best chicken wings “The Change of Pace”. Former Major League pitcher Steve Grilli owns the place and oversees the wing process. PawSox fans may remember that Grilli was the loser in the longest game in baseball history, pitching for Rochester at McCoy back in 1981.
Chris Carter had a tremendous 2008 season for Pawtucket, The affable Californian hit .300 with 24 home runs and 81 rbi. The International League All-Star then went to spring training and lead the Red Sox with 6 homers in the Grapefruit league. Carter was rewarded with a spot on Boston’s opening day roster. In limited action, Carter had an rbi, going 0-5 for the big club. Carter was optioned to the PawSox and joined the team on Friday as they embarked on their current swing through Pennsylvania and New York. In three games, the lefthanded slugger has gone 7-13, hitting a red-hot .538, leading the PawSox to a pair of wins. Carter has reminded me of Kevin Youkilis in his professional approach, not pouting, or making excuses, just playing the game as hard as he can. Youkilis was a regular traveller up and down route 95 in 2004 and 2005 before becoming a cornerstone for the Red Sox. Each time “Youk” was sent back down, he put his nose to the grindstone and continued to prove he belonged in the “Bigs”. Carters’ approach and results are similar. He ought to be proud of himself. He will be back in the Majors soon, this time for good.
Baseball can be a dangeous sport. Just ask PawSox manager, Ron Johnson. On Saturday, during a win over Lehigh Valley, RJ was at the wrong place at the wrong time. While talking with pitching coach Rich Sauveur, RJ was inadvertantly clipped in the chin by the bat of Chip Ambres. The skipper required medical attention from trainer Greg Barajas, who cauterized the wound. RJ pretended the procedure wasn’t painful, as it was performed in the dugout, in front of the team. Johnson later admitted “It hurt so bad I wanted to cry”. Johnson is no stranger to in-game pain. In 2007, while coaching third base in a game at Scranton, RJ was zapped by a foul ball hit by Jeff Bailey. It left a bruise on the manager’s ample belly that lingered for weeks.
Anyone who knows me, knows that there is nothing I hate more than the Yankees. I realize that hate is a strong word, but in this case it applies. I rank the “Evil Empire” somewhere between Adolph Hitler and Saddam Hussein. Imagine how horrified I was to find out that Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis became friends with Derek Jeter at the World Baseball Classic when the trio played together on Team USA. Pedey admitted that Jeter would be the one “non Red Sox” that he’d love to play with before he retires. Get on your knees and ask whatever God it is that you pray to, that it NEVER happens.
Every once in a while you lay an egg so big, that even the Easter Bunny couldn’t deliver it. That was the case on Friday night in Lehigh Valley as the Iron Pigs destroyed the PawSox 13-3. The Pigs banged out 18 base hits en route to the rout. Kris Johnson got roughed up, surrendering 8 runs in just two and a third innings. KJ had not given up a run in 10 previous inninngs in 2009. Julio Lugo played in his second rehab game for the PawSox, going 0-3 with a walk. Lugo is coming back from a knee injury and seems to have limited range at shortstop. I had the opportunity to sit down with him for a pre-game interview and Lugo could not have been more cooperative or accomodating. The perpetual scowl on his face melted away as he spoke fondly of his time with the Red Sox, his brother Ruddy (currently with the Toledo Mud Hens) and the house he bought for his mother. He assured me that David Ortiz would be fine and he would put up “Papi-like” numbers before 2009 was over. Perhaps his most interesting comments involved former teammate Manny Ramirez. Lugo, who has the bat that Manny used for home run #500 says Ramirez is one of his best friends, the best teammate he has ever had and a guy who cares deeply about the game. Lugo adds, that like a lot of geniuses, he is greatly misunderstood. Hopefully, Lugo will get the bat going and be able to contribute in Boston.
When the PawSox are in “The Valley”, we stay at the Hotel Bethlehem. It is a quaint, old-time place , that probably was the talk of the town when Eisenhower occupied the Oval Office. There are photos and placards throughout the lobby and elevators celebrating former guests of the venerable “old girl”. I wonder what it means when they’re still bragging about Bob Hope, a young Shirley Temple, President John F. Kennedy and the Dalai Lama? Anyone from THIS century staying there?
One of the best parts of this job is getting to know the players on a personal level. We spend a ton of time together. After a morning trip to work out at a local gym, (the players are required to spend a certain amount of time at a workout facility each week) we returned to our hotel. The centerpiece of the lobby is a grand piano. It is rigged to either be played by a person, or act as a “player” piano, the type that just plays without someone sitting at it. All of a sudden, piano music filled the lobby. Beautiful, melodic and soulful, it sounded like it came from the heavens. I figured someone had turned the Player piano. I turned and looked and was amazed to see right handed pitcher Marcus McBeth, masterfully playing a hit by Alicia Keys. It was magnificent. So good in fact, that it got an enormous ovation from teammates and passersby when he was done. The native of Spartanburg South Carolina credits his mother, who had him on this bench since the tender age of four.
After the first scheduled day off of the season, the PawSox met at McCoy on Friday morning for an 8:00 a.m. departure for Lehigh Valley. Two Dattco buses were loaded up and with Jerry, our driver, or “bussy” in baseball parlance, behind the wheel, we hit the road. Allentown Pa., made famous by Billy Joel is the destination. About 5 hours from Pawtucket, it’s a short ride as far as baseball trips go. It’s comfortable, with a movie playing on the monitors of the bus. Early in the morning, a lot of guys aren’t paying attention- many are dozing, listening to their music or reading. RJ likes to stretch his legs a couple of times a trip, so we will probably stop soon. The guys will stumble off the bus and get something to eat at a convenience store or a burger joint. The radio guy gets the third row seat. It’s just a given. On our bus, we have RJ, a sleeping Russ Morman, strength coach Mike Jones who has taken a lot of good natured ribbing early this season for his resemblance to the Buigess Meredith character, Mickey, from the Rocky movies. Dan Hoard sits behind me, and behind him, the future of the Red Sox. On the other bus Greg Barajas the trainer and pitching coach Rich Sauveur preside over the other half of the team. Bus rides are a fact of life in the minor leagues. The PawSox fly to most of our destinations. When we go to Scranton, Allentown, Rochester and Syracuse we become road warriors. The movie selection this morning included the very forgettable “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Iron Man”.
I was watching the Red Sox game on Wednesday night and was thrilled to see Jeff Bailey hit a three run homer off Francisco Liriano. Bailey is a consumate professional who has worked hard to turn himself into a very good player. I’ve known “Bails” for about 5 years so it was exciting to see him get off to a good start. What really got me “juiced”, though was the next morning, watching ESPN and seeing his name come across the “crawl” on the bottom of the TV screen. That’s when you know you’ve made it.
Much of the conversation this morning centered around a couple of transactions made by Boston. The Sox re-acquired lefthander Kason Gabbard from Texas. “Gabby” was dealt to the Rangers with David Murphy in 2007 for the biggest bust ever- Eric Gagne. Presumably, after a stint at extended spring training, Gabbard will join the PawSox. The other move was Chris Carter being optioned to Pawtucket. Carter made the Red Sox out of spring training, but had just 5 at bats with 1 rbi for Boston. He will get some at bats and certainly help this ballclub. Jonathan Van Every is not on the bus, leading me to believe that he will take Carter’s spot with Boston. “JV” hit a game-tying grand slam in the bottom of the ninth on Wednesday to lead the PawSox to a great, come from behind win over Rochester. It was his only game action so far after spraining his ankle in Fort Myers last month. The wheels on the bus go ’round and ’round.
Most of us mature and grow as people when we go to college, or at least reach our early twentys. Most of us have the luxury of doing so in relative anonymity. Sure, our families and our friends are aware of our successes and of course, our failures. Pro ballplayers, especially in Red Sox Nation, are not afforded that privacy. It is all part of the package. Pitch a no-hitter and you’re coronated, even deified. Go 6-9 the next season and the whispers begin. As you’ve probably surmised, I’m talking about Clay Buchholz. Buch labored through the 2008 season, eventually winding up back at AA Portland. Unbowed, the righthander vowed to return, better than ever. During baseball’s winter meetings, Rangers President and Texas icon Nolan Ryan spoke openly about how coveted a commodity Buchholz is. A native of the Lone Star State himself, Buchholz was the subject of many trade rumors over the offseason. Happily, Theo Epstein has held firm. Clay has four pitches that are considered “plus”, meaning they project well at the highest level. Between winter workouts, Buchholz met with Red Sox psychology coach, Bob Tewksbury. Buch admitted in an interview, that those meetings were extremely helpful. My money is on the likable righty to fulfill the promise he has shown. Another topic we spoke about was the incessant “need” of Red Sox fans to know everything about their heroes. According to a recent arrticle in the Boston Herald, Clay is engaged to Lindsay Clubine, a beautiful young model and aspiring actress. Lindsay might be best known as the girl who holds suitcase #26 on the popular TV show “Deal Or No Deal”. After meeting her, I can honestly tell you that she seems as sweet as can be. Two young people, obviously enamored with each other but fodder for the tabloids and blogs (like this one). I asked him if he was surprised by his incredible lack of privacy. Paraphrasing, Buch said that he has grown in other ways, off the mound. He added that if he goes out for a drink with a friend or teammate, he isn’t shocked anymore by false reports that may say he was drunk or unruly. It is all part of growing up. Some guys seem to never learn, Clay Buchholz isn’t one them. Enjoy him while you can see him at McCoy Stadium for $6.00 because he isn’t going to be here long.
Speaking of today’s internet age and the tabloid mentality, I just don’t understand the thought process of some fans. Kevin Youkilis got married during the offseason to Enza Sambataro. One would think that the loyal residents of the “Nation” would be happy for “Youk”. I was disgusted to read the comments of some people. I alluded to it in my last blog. These are, for the most part, great kids who happened to blessed with an amazing skill. What they do off the field is their own business. I think we spend far too much time concerned with the life and times of Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton. Reality TV has become the norm and I’m not sure it’s all for the best.
Congratulations ot the great fans who jammed into McCoy on opening night. Nearly 12,000 of the best fans in baseball showed up. My favorite thing about the McCoy faithful is when the scoreboard shows the Boston Red Sox score. Of course, if they’re winning, the place goes wild. But that noise pales in comparison to the ovation that comes when they show the Yankees score and the they’re losing. I love PawSox fans. My kind of people.
The old adage is that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” is true. Even so, the 2009 PawSox have made a tremendous first impression on this observer. Start with pitching. Enrique Gonzalez, Michael Bowden, Kris Johnson and Clay Buchholz have been very good and instrumental in the 3-1 start for Pawtucket. The reigning pitcher of the year in the International League, Charlie Zink (14-6 in 2008) has yet to take the mound for the PawSox. The bullpen has been terrrific. On Sunday, the gang combined for 10 and a third shutout frames. Carlos Maldonado, a catcher, was called upon to pitch in the fifteenth inning against Buffalo. “Maldo” who was the hero of Saturday’s 1-0 win with a solo home run gave up a two run blast to Nick Evans as the Bisons salvaged a game in the 4 game series.
I am truly lucky. I have a job that I absolutely love. The management of the PawSox, Ben Mondor, Mike Tamburro and Lou Schwechheimer make it very easy for Dan Hoard and I to do our jobs. Manage Ron Johnson (RJ) has created an atmosphere that allows Dan and I to be a part of the team. When you spend as much tiume as we do with the young men that we travel with, you can’t help forging relationships with the guys. In my six seasons with Pawtucket, people like Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and Jon lester have made lasting impressions on me. Youk, for the way he never gave up, no matter how many times he was sent back to the minor leagues. Pedroia, for the unparallelled confidence he exhibits on a daily basis and Lester, for the courage and dignity he showed while battling cancer. You get close with other guys as well. Guys who will never play a day in the Majors. Former PawSox righthander Tim Kester, an I.L. All-Star in 2004 comes to mind. We have remained in contact over the years and still stay in touch. I tell you this for a couple of reasons. #1- It is the best part of my job. Getting to know these guys helps create a better broadcast, but more importantly, It humanizes them. For me and the listener. We eat in the same restaurants, ride the same busses and revel in the wins and agonize over the losses over the course of the summer. I’ve been fortunate to share “non-baseball” conversations with our guys, too. Stuff that never reaches the air I know Dan and I share the same philosophy when it comes to the broadcast. I learned from Dan many years ago about such things (a blog for another day). #2- When you care so much about something, it hurts when things go wrong. That is why I’ve been affected by the death of Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart. I never met the 22 year old hurler, I wouldn’t have known him if I saw him, but to see the dreams of a man,his family and his entire community go down the drain because of the thoughtless act of another, saddens me greatly. I cherish every time RJ makes a joke about me. I look forward to every bus ride, and I hold a warm spot in my heart for every player, coach and manager I deal with. Let’s remember Nick Adenhart, pray for his family, and pray that this type of tragedy never comes any closer to us than it already has. I hope you enjoy my random thoughts and ramblings and I welcome your feedback.
Over the course of the season, I will rank my favorite meals/restaurants for you. So far, so good.
#1 Anchor Bar Buffalo, N.Y. (They invented the Buffalo Wing…’nuff said)
#2 Dinosaur Barbecue, Rochester N.Y. ( I’m eating healthier- chicken was good, but not as good as the ribs)
#3 Chef’s Italian Restaurant Buffalo (always a winner)