BYRD’S THE WORD
I went against baseball protocol on Wednesday by asking the days’ starting pitcher to tape a pre-game interview with me. In this case, it was Paul Byrd who pitches in the nightcap of a separate admission doubleheader, and I asked him about 9 hours before his scheduled start. The veteran righthander could not have been kinder or more accomodating. Byrd, 38, has authored 108 major league victories with the Mets, Braves, Phillies, Royals, Angels, Indians and Red Sox. Byrd went 4-2 for the Red Sox in late 2008 and with the staff in tatters, he got a call from Boston and he answered. “It’s a chance to see what I’ve got- see if I can help the big club out. See if I still have some life left in the arm, some life left in the fastball. I’ve been throwing down in the Gulf Coast League, but it’s completely different up here. We’re a step away from the big leagues. These are great hitters, so this will be a big opportunity for me tonight.” Despite interest from some teams this past winter, Byrd decided to retire to spend time with his family in Kentucky. “I had some really nice offers this offseason. My wife asked me to quit in 1994. She’s tired of doing life alone. I’ve got two boys 13 and 11 and they need their dad home. It just felt like it was time. Then I decided I wanted to come back at the (All Star) break and I put my name out there and no one was interested, so I just kept throwing batting practice to my 13 year old. I coach his team and all of a sudden the Red Sox called and asked how soon I could be ready. I talked it over with my family and we decided to give it one last try. I really want to get a ring and I’m really excited the Red Sox would give me the opportunity to come back and help them out.” As an athlete teetering between playing and retirement, Byrd completely identified with Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre and his decision to return for another season.. “Absolutely! When you love something and have been doing it your whole life, and the next thing you know, you’re pulling weeds and cutting your grass…and I love taking my kids to school. It’s great, but it’s just different. Especially, if you can still do it. It would be different if I was to the point where I couldn’t get anybody out, but I finished last year, the second half 8-2, with a low 3 ERA. I felt like I was still at the top of my game and when you walk away when you can still get the job done like Brett Favre can, it’s tough. It really is. You love to take the mound and compete. There’s a big void in your life and it’s a tough transition.” Although his spirit is willing, Byrd wasn’t sure how long it would take him to get ready to join the Sox. “That’s what I didn’t know. I’m at the point where I have to do something quick. Help out in the next couple of weeks or go home. I feel really good. My arm feels fantastic. I’ve never had a stretch of 8 months or so off without having surgery. It feels really strong. I do have to get in shape. I was pitching in the Gulf Coast league and it was like 104 degrees. I felt like I was going to die out there. It’s nice to be up here, get a night start have some fun and face some hitters that are really, really good.” Byrd appreciates his shot at the Red Sox roster and relishes every day at the “yard”. “I love to talk baseball and nobody wants to talk baseball with me at the “Pawtucket Mall” or at the hotel. Hopefully if I can influence some of these younger guys, answer a question or maybe say something that will help them out- Bottom line is I love being at the park, I love baseball.” Byrd bears an uncanny resemblance to actor Kelsey Grammer, TV’s “Frazier”- he hears it all the time. “Frazier’s one of my nicknames. I do get that. It’s kind of funny, when I grow my hair out in the back into a mullet and I shave, it’s even better. It’s a lot of fun.” As I left Byrd in the clubhouse, he was poring over the PawSox media guide so he could learn the names and faces of his new teammates. Even if he is here for a short time, I think he’ll have an impact.