Take any notion you have about superstars and their egos and throw them out the window when it comes to John Smoltz. The future Hall of Famer was sitting in the McCoy Stadium clubhouse waiting patiently for the weather to cooperate for his scheduled start on Friday night. After conferring several times with RJ and Terry Francona and Theo Epstein in Johnson’s office,(Tito and Theo via conference call) Smoltz told the trio he’d be happy to wait out the weather. A lot of prima donnas would have packed their gear and waited to start on the next day. The Red Sox were concerned about getting Smoltz warmed up and then having him sit and wait out the rain. The calls from the Red Sox are very funny. We are asked to vacate RJ’s office, the door is closed and they discuss the issue of the day. High drama and top-secret doings. I just hope the Department of Homeland Security is as conscientious as the Red Sox. Red Sox pitching coordinator Ralph Treuel is in town and he remembers Smoltz as a young guy in the Tigers organization, back in the mid 1980’s. “Smoltz was a good pitcher and a good position player, as well. We had to chase him off the field.” Treuel added that Smoltz would never come in from the action, if not forced. “We told John, we don’t play both ways (pitching and position) in the pros.” Treuel said that Smoltz reminds him of Casey Kelly, the young man chosen by the Red Sox in the first round of the 2008 draft. Like Smoltz, Kelly is a very good shorstop and a promising pitcher. Pitching, he has already earned one promotion after just a month or so. Ralph Treuel saw his last start- “Casey pitched well. We made four errors behind him, but he did OK.” Treuel is pleased with Kelly’s progress and his desire- “Case is a throwback, he’s a baseball player.” Treuel insisted that no decision has yet been made regarding Kelly’s future. It seems the Red Sox like him as a pitcher, but he is more enamored with playing shortstop. “I told him, no pressure, just play and take the quickest route you can to the majors.”
Ever wonder what goes on in the PawSox clubhouse during a rain delay? Here’s a small sampling. At about 5:00 p.m. on Friday Clay Buchholz was at his locker, strumming on his guitar. Next to him, Billy Traber was receiving or sending a text message. At the large rectangular table across the room a group was playing cards while several others kibbitzed on the game. Jeff Bailey and Jonathan Van Every were partners, while Chris Carter looked on. Jeff Natale was in an overstuffed chair watching a movie on his laptop. Carlos Maldonado and several others were watching NCAA baseball on ESPN, while others ate. Michael Bowden was in the weight room, jumping rope under the watchful eye of strength and conditioning coach, Mike Jones. Paul McAnulty wandered back and forth, chatting with a couple of members of the media. Just another day at the office.
I admit that I can get jaded. I have spent so many days and nights over the last 20 years at the ballpark, or an arena or stadium of some sort. I do love it, although maybe I might occasionally take it for granted. When the PawSox win, I am much happier than when they don’t. I got an eye-opener on Thursday night as I made my way back to the press box after my post-game interview with Travis Denker. A young girl who was in some way developmentally disabled, was being taken back to the car by her parents. The smile on her face was priceless. She looked at me and said “We won tonight”. It brought me back to a time when that was the most important thing in life. If my team won- I was a happy guy. Some times you need a kid to give you a more clear perspective. I have no idea who she is, but I hope I see her out here again.
Rather ironic that on the night I wrote a blog about a post-game interview experience I had with Steve McCatty, I could have used his help. (Check yesterday’s blog to get up to speed). After Louisville topped Pawtucket 4-2, I went to speak to second baseman Danny Richar. Richar, who went 3-4 with a home run, kindly consented to do the interview. As I got the signal from upstairs, Richar suddenly panicked and said “No, no, I don’t want to do it.” It was too late. Unbowed, I blurted out a question about his big offensive night. He took a second to think, then the native of the Dominican Republic, in a thick Hispanic accent, answered. Trying to salvage the moment, I figured I’d go to a little humor. “Danny” I asked. “Did you feel even a little bit badly the other night in Louisville when you spoiled Clay Buchholz’ perfect game?” Richar seemed a bit confused. He looked at me as if were from another planet. “No” was his only response. I figured it was time to cut my losses and give him his $25.00 gift card to Gregg’s Restaurant. Can’t hit a home run every time.
Before Thursday’s game at McCoy, the marching band from Portsmouth (RI) High School performed on the field. It is a field that one of their former classmates expects to grace, some day in the not too ndistant future. Ryan Westmoreland, the Portsmouth grad was the Red Sox fifth round pick in the 2008 draft. Ryan spurned a scholarship offer from Vanderbilt to sign for an unheard of amount for one selected so late in the draft, 2 million dollars. Westmoreland, highly coveted by the Boston brass has been at extended Spring Training recovering from offseason labrum surgery. The 19 year old outfielder is blessed with all the tools to be an outstanding Major League player. At 6’2,195 pounds, Ryan is considered the best position player to come out of the Ocean State since Rocco Baldelli. Baseball America rates Westmoreland as the 8th best prospect in the Red Sox organization. They call him the “best athlete in the system” and say that he colud some day be a “30-30” guy. Westmoreland will start his season at Lowell, in the NY-Penn League, but I, along with the entire state of R.I. can’t wait to see him make his way through McCoy Stadium on his way to Fenway Park His dad, Ron, is part owner of the Newport Gulls, a team in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. I grew up with Ron and his brother Jeff in Newport. Both were very good baseball players at Rogers High School (my alma mater). As I recall, Ryan’s aunt Beth was one of the first girls to play little league baseball in Newport back in the ’70s. Pretty soon, you can take the trip to Lowell and catch a rising star. If you run into his Grandfather “Mick” Hussey or his Uncle Kevin, tell them Steve Hyder says “Hello.”
Thanks to my good friend, Joe McDonald of the Providence Journal. “Joey Mac” had a nice article in Thursday’s paper about Jeff Natale and his foray into the broadcast booth. Natale sat in for Dan Hoard during his recent bout with laryngitis. Natale had been on the disabled list with an oblique strain.
As I was driving to McCoy today, my cell phone rang. I checked the caller I.D. (greatest invention ever!) and it was my old broadcast partner Dave Jageler. I answered it anyway and caught up with the radio voice of the Washington Nationals. Jags was in D.C anticipating his look at Major League history, a bird’s eye view as Randy Johnson was scheduled to go for his 300th career win for San Francisco. “It seems every time something big happens, it comes against us (The Nationals). Barry Bonds’ 755th, Manny Ramirez’ suspension came when we were in L.A. and now this. We’re only 14-36, but we have seen some big things.” Jageler who was with the PawSox in 2005 also called to tell me about the new pitching coach in Washington. Steve McCatty, a former pitcher with Oakland, a former teammate of ex PawSox hitting instructor Mark Budaska, was promoted to hopefully bolster a young, and not very good pitching staff. When McCatty was in the I.L. as a coach, his club won a game at McCoy. The star of the game was outfielder Pedro Swan. At home, I conduct the post-game interview on the field. Unsure if Swan spoke English, I tapped McCatty on the shoulder and politely asked- “Does Swan speak English?” You want to try to avoid a potentially uncomfortable situation with a player who might not speak English that well. McCatty looked at me with disgust and blurted out- “He’s a f******* American!!” When I asked Budaska about McCatty, he laughed it off. “Buda” later relayed to him exactly what I thought of him (Which wasn’t very much) Four or five years later, Jageler approached McCatty to introduce himself. He remarked that the two had met at McCoy years earlier. McCatty looked at Jags and said “Pawtucket, the radio guy there hates me!” He proceeded to tell the story verbatim. At least he’s honest. After I told this story on the air, Dan told me he ran into McCatty at a golf course in Ohio last summer. McCatty told him the same thing.
Sadly, all the mustaches are gone. Billy Traber was the last holdout, he shaved the last day in Indianapolis. Most of the Pawtucket relievers had grown the mustaches as a fun thing. Daniel Bard was apparently the instigator. Traber bemoaned the fact that Bard shaved when he was promoted to Boston. When I asked “Trabes” why he shaved, his reply was short and sweet. “Mustache May” was over.
It’s the old “good news, bad news” scenario. The good news is that Mark Kotsay is healthy and has rejoined the Red Sox. That means that Jeff Bailey is back in Pawtucket. That’s good news for a sagging PawSox offense. It’s not so great news for the reigning MVP of the International League. The 30 year old has been an incredibly good and loyal soldier of Red Sox Nation since I first met him at the tail end of the 2004 season. “Bails” was finally rewarded for his production and perseverance with his first promotion in 2007. The PawSox were on the road, late night returning from another road trip. RJ’s phone rang and he received the news that Boston needed a replacement and it was going to be Bailey. Jeff was on the other bus, so he was unaware of the news. I have to admit to eavesdropping, and not being a TOTAL idiot, I put two and two together. As we got off the bus, I followed a safe distance behind RJ because I wanted to see Bailey’s reaction to the news that he had waited so long to hear. RJ put his arm around Baileys’ shoulder and told him that he was going to the Big Leagues. What followed was stunned silence. As if his feet were planted to the grimy floor of the rest stop, he didn’t move. He stood there and stood there and stood there a little longer. As word filtered throughout the team, one by one the guys came by and congratulated him. He remained in that one spot, like a statue, with an enormous smile plastered across his face. I really don’t think it hit him. I finally made my way over to congratulate him and he simply replied “Thanks, Hyder.” That is the essence of Jeff Bailey. Stoic, plain and simple, and to the point. I think part of the key to his success or the success of any pro athlete is to not get too high when times are good and to not get too low when things get bad. He is a guy that I’d be honored to go to war with. He is tough but has things properly in perspective. When you ask him how he is on any ngivern day, his response might be “average”. It’s not a put-on. In this day and age of self-promotion, Bailey just lets his work speak for itself. I pride myself in recognizing his talent before some other people did. At the PawSox “Welcome” luncheon in April 2007, I predicted that Jeff would win the MVP awrd of the I.L. I’m sure that most of the folks assembled at Kirkbrae Country Club have long ago forgotten my prognostication, but I reminded Bailey after the announcement was made that he won in 2008. In typical Bailey fashion, he just smiled. Bailey will not mope. He won’t lament being back in the minors. What he will do is help the PawSox with his bat, his glove and his leadeship. And when the time comes again, and inevitably it will, Jeff Bailey will be ready to resume his Major League career.
I ran into former Providence College basketball coach Tim Welsh at Green Airport on Tuesday as we returned from Indianapolis. Tim and I go back to his days as a grad assistant coach for Jim Boeheim at Syracuse University. He admitted to wanting to get back into the coaching game, but also conceded that he was enjoying working as a color analyst for ESPN and other outlets. He was also planning a weekend of golf with his former boss, Boeheim. The Hall of Famer is slated to be in R.I. this weekend. “Bay” is a single-digit handicapper.
A couple of nights ago the PawSox played a marathon game against Indianapolis. The clubs endured a rain delay of an hour and thirteen minutes between the ninth and tenth innings. I speculated on the air that the guys might have gotten a bite to eat, relaxed, played cards, the typical stuff. When the teams came out to resume the game, Dan noticed that Dusty Brown had shaven off his fu-manchu style mustache. The good-looking catcher had been growing the ‘stash and it gave him an Oakland A’s 1970’s type of look. I asked him about the timing of the cleanup. “It didn’t help. I had gone 0-4 so I shaved it off. I came back out and struck out twice.” Brown added “I just couldn’t stand looking at myyself in the mirror anymore.” I know the feeling.
A recurring theme in this blog is the “Circle of Life” nature of baseball. It took place again in Indy as I was reunited with catcher Adam Melhuse of the Indians. Mel and I were together in Syracuse in the late ’90s. He has gone on to a successful career, catching in the Majors for Oakland, Texas, Colorado and the Dodgers. We reminisced about the teams he caught in Syracuse when they were the affiliate of the Blue Jays. He caught a couple of future Cy Young winners there- Chris Carpenter of St. Louis and Roy Halladay of Toronto. “I can’t say I knew they’d be THAT good, but I knew they’d be special, front-line starters”. Melhuse continued- “Their attitude, their “stuff”. their competitiveness- those guys had something that not a lot of people have.” When asked about the best he’d ever caught, he thought a moment and said-“(Mark) Mulder, (Barry) Zito, and (Tim) Hudson. Rich Harden, too. Those guys were special.” After spending the better part of the last decade in the “Bigs”, I wondered what fueled the 37 year old switch hitter’s fire. “That’s a great question. I’ve been asking myself that a lot lately. I was home, ready to turn the chapter on my baseball career and move on. Then the Pirates called, so I decided to “fire it up” again. I love it. It’s just so much fun being around the guys.” As a veteran catcher in the minor leagues, I asked him if he shied away from the “Crash” Davis comparisons. (Davis, played brilliantly in the movie “Bull Durham” by Kevin Costner). “The Crash Davis analogy is inevitable, whether I like it or not. I’ve been on good teams in Oakland, Colorado and Texas and I’ve been around some good pitchers as well. If that means I’ve got vetetran leadership, so be it. I have SOME knowledge and I’m glad to pass it on.” We shared a hearty laugh when I told Melhuse about former Toronto farm director, Bobby Mattick, a real “old school” type of baseball guy, who back in 1997, confided to me, about Adam “He’ll never play a single day in the Major Leagues.”
There are certain things in baseball that “get my juices flowing”. One such event is a scheduled appearance at McCoy Stadium coming up on Monday June 8. Red Sox Hall of Famer, Bill Monboquette will be there for Cox Legends Night. The 11 year major leaguer was a 3 time American League All Star, threw a no-hitter and won 20 games for the Red Sox in 1963. The ace of the Sox staff in the early ’60s, “Monbo” epitomizes the ballplayer of yesteryear. I got to know him when I was with the Blue Jays organization (Melhuse era). He was an instructor in the minors, one of the best story tellers I’ve ever encountered. The native of Medford, Mass. has recently encountered health issues. A Boston Globe story from May 2008 detailed Monbo’s battle with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia. Reportedly, it’s currently in remission but Bill would need bone marrow or a stem cell transplant for a cure to be possible. I will definitely be asking, no begging PawSox team photographer Louriann Mardo-Zayat to snap a pic of Monbo and me.