SEE WHAT YOU’VE BEEN MISSING
As the Red Sox follow the advice of Horace Greeley and “go west”, the 2009 playoff roster will have an extremely familiar look to it. Especially if you are a faithful denizen of McCoy Stadium. In what I jokingly refer to as the “Hyder Era” (My time with the PawSox as their radio broadcaster, six seasons, 2004-2009) virtually everyone on the club has played for the PawSox. Some have been at McCoy on rehab assignments (David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, Daisuke Matsuzaka, etc.) but most of the key components are legitimate former PawSox standouts. There are some guys that have never played in a Pawtucket uniform. Josh Beckett, Victor Martinez, Jason Bay and J.D. Drew are probably the most notable “non-alums”. Look first at the pitching staff. Jon Lester, the man who has battled cancer to become the best lefthander in the game. He was a member of the PawSox before his bout with illness and before he became the anchor of the Boston rotation. I vividly recall sitting in a restaurant in Rochester with Jon, eating and talking about his offseason passion, hunting. Clay Buchholz has transformed from a boy to a man right before our critical eyes. Once a novelty act who threw a no-hitter against the Orioles, Buch hs developed into a solid, front of the line starter. His near perfect game on Memorial Day in Louisville is etched forever in my mind. Jonathan Papelbon, the man who has never, ever given up a run in postseason play (25 innings pitched heading into 2009) was a polite, hard-working young man that stopped through Triple A briefly in 2005 on his way to becoming one of the best closers in the game. I remember the work ethic and the drive. Before he became “Pap”, he was a member of the PawSox. Manny Delcarmen was there in the bullpen with him then, and is today, as well. Manny was once called into manager Ron Johnsons’ office and received a tongue-lashing from RJ, admonishing him to “change whatever it was he was doing” and basically not to waste his incredible gift. Manny heeded the advice and has been in Boston ever since. Dainel Bard was plucked from our midst in May. The righthander with the wondrous 100 mile per hour fastball has become a go-to guy for Terry Francona and the Red Sox. Jason Varitek and Victor Martinez will be the catchers for Boston. Tek, who has worn the captains’ “C” on his uniform has continued to lead the club, despite declining skills at the plate as well as behind it. You cannot argue, however the leadership. Varitek played for the PawSox a hundred years ago, after coming over from the Mariners with Derek Lowe. Jason did have a rehab stint during the Hyder Era, as well. Two of the best all-around players in the game were McCoy staples in recent years. Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia, in my mind the faces of the franchise worked hard and made themselves into superstars. Youk burned a path up and down Route 95,but unlike the guy he had been compared to, Lou Merloni, turned out to be perhaps the best all-around player in baseball. His versatility, durability and a boatload of talent and sweat turned him into a guy the Red Sox inked to a long term deal. He will be at one corner or another of the Red Sox infield for a long time. If not for the performance of Dustin Pedroia in 2008, Youk could have just as easily won the MVP award. Pedroia is amazing. The little guy with the big chip on his shoulder will not be denied. From the time he was a young boy growing up in California, he had a goal and he reached it and in fact, blew it away. Pedey will go toe to toe with anyone. When Varitek retires, Pedroia is the next captain of the Red Sox. Jacoby Ellsbury, the greatest base stealer in Red Sox history joined the PawSox shortly after being drafted out of Oregon State. My first impression was “this guy looks like he’s on a high school field trip”. Ells looked so young, but as soon as he put on the uniform, the talent was undeniable. He made a huge splash in the 2007 postseason, and has never looked back. Jed Lowrie, if he can ever get the wrist to heal, is another talented, home-grown kid. Lowrie had the series-clinching, walk-off rbi in the ALDS in 2008 against the Angels at Fenway. There will be others who contribute during the playoffs, but there is no question, the road to Boston and the World Series, runs right through Pawtucket, R.I. and McCoy Stadium.