The day started with a thud in Fort Myers on Friday. I got a text message notifying me that the Sox had released Jeff Natale. Natale, who spent the last couple of seasons in Pawtucket is a career .298 hitter, spending his entire career in the Red Sox chain. Jeff had come to training camp in extremely good shape, and had played very well this month. The signings of Tug Hulett and Kevin Frandsen apparently spelled the beginning of the end for Nat. “I kind of had the sense that this was coming. It’s better than being put on the “phantom DL” (going on the disabled list when you’re not really hurt- a common practice among teams). I hope I can get a fresh start somewhere.” Upon hearing the news, his former manager, Ron Johnson called him immediately. “I told him if any manager or front office guy needed a reference, I’d provide a glowing one. Not just because I like Natale, which I do, but because he can do something with a bat that a lot of other players can’t do.” RJ put his money where his mouth was earlier this spring, when Natale made a trip to Port Charlotte with the big club. While speaking to hitting coach Dave Magadan, RJ summoned Natale over. “Mags” RJ said. “I want you to meet the best hitter in our minor league system, Jeff Natale.” RJ added that he told manager Terry Francona that if he needed to get a run in from third with less than two outs, there was no other guy he’d rather send up than Natale, for his ability to consistently get the bat on the ball.
Baseball aside, Natale has distinguished himself as a great citizen as well. Jeff was always the first one to sign up for visits to schools or hospitals and you could count on him to take part in any clinic or other event the PawSox were holding.
Personally, I will miss Jeff. His sense of humor and caring personality make him a true friend. His pregame interviews with teammates- “At Bat with Nat” became a staple of our broadcasts. If his playing days are over (which I truly doubt), he could make a very smooth transition to the booth. During my time as the voice of the PawSox, I have kept in touch with a very few of our guys, once their playing days were over. Player or not, the man I dubbed the “third member of our broadcast team”, Jeff Natale will always be on my speed dial.