It will be game five of the 2010 season on Monday night at McCoy Stadium. Game time is 6:15 p.m. The weather looks nice today so come on out to the yard and check out the Sox. If things had broken a little differently over the weekend, Pawtucket could have easily swept the Rochester series. Be that as it may, tonight we get our first look of the season at righthander Michael Bowden. Bowden, a workhorse in the gym, took a slightly different approach this offseason. “I still worked as hard as I could, but I tried to “lean out” a little bit. I maintained my strength, but I lost about 12 pounds,tried to come in a little leaner and a little more flexible. I think it’s working for me. I feel more comfortable and more fluid on the mound. I’m excited to see what I’ll be able to do out there.” Bowden says that he and the Red Sox agreed the “new look” was a good idea. “During the offseason I talked with John Farrell and (minor league pitching coordinator) Ralph Treuel. I got to see myself on video a number of times. I looked too mechanical, too robotic. It looked like I was trying too hard on every pitch. I know that’s not what I’m going for. We talked about it and went through a lot of video of other pitchers. I just took what I liked from them, and felt most comfortable with and incorporated those things into my delivery, and that’s just what I went with.” Bowden has even extended the changes to his baseball uniform. He used to wear his pant legs high, a la Jason Varitek. Not anymore. “I am a very traditional player and I never ever thought I’d wear my pants “down”. A lot of guys told me that I looked like a stumpy Little Leaguer, and if I wore the pants down, I’d look a lot taller and intimidating out there. For the first time this Spring Training, I tried it out and it was very comfortable. I’m going to try to go with it this year.”
Bowden joined the PawSox midway through the 2008 season. At age 23 he is still the second youngest member of the club (Josh Reddick is the youngest). With the abundance of starters the Red Sox have, Michael has to bide his time. His maturity and poise come in handy. “Of course I’d like to be up there, that’s my goal, and I believe I will be up there, It’s just a matter of time and being ready when the opportunity strikes. I know I just have to do my job down here and be ready when the chance arises and take advantage of the opportunity.”
With Major Leaguers like Daisuke Matsuzaka and Boof Bonser rehabbing in Pawtucket, it has thrown off the regular rotation. Bowden is chomping at the bit to get on the mound tonight. “It feels like weeks since I last threw. I threw last Tuesday in Fort Myers (in an exhibition game against the Czech National team), I’ve spent five days here, so I’m very excited to get on the mound.” Michael has set a very attainable goal for his first start. “I just want to be efficient enough to last 5 innings and throw 75-80 pitches.”
I know he’s looking forward to the first start of the seaason. I’m eagerly anticipating it, too. Come on out to McCoy tonight and watch, or if you can’t, listen to Dan and me on the PawSox Radio Network, or online @ pawsox.com
After Fridays’ rainout, the PawSox were faced with their first doubleheader of 2010. It looked for a while like the PawSox would sweep Rochester, but had to settle for the split. Game one was important. Not only did Pawtucket win 1-0, but Red Sox star Daisuke Matsuzaka made a great impression. Dice-K, on the disabled list with a strained neck, looked strong and comfortable, firing 5 shutout frames at the Red Wings. He surrendered a mere 2 hits, walked one and fanned three. Matsuzaka was pitch-efficient, throwing 73 bullets in his outing. He notched the win, 1-0, thanks to an rbi single by Aaron Bates.
Dices’ work was far from over. He footed the bill for the post-game “spread” in the Pawtucket clubhouse. As you may know, this is a common practice for a veteran Major Leaguer, when on a rehab assignment. Thursday night, Alan Embree treated the guys to steaks from Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. I don’t know what Dice bought. I made my way through the clubhouse quickly after conducting the on-field post-game interview with game 2 starting pitcher, Adam Mills. Had to get back upstairs to finish the broadcast. I can tell you this- it smelled great and it looked like there was plenty.
Mills was another bright spot on Saturday afternoon. His four shutout innings were a highlight in a 4-2 loss. Mills gave up 3 hits and no walks, with a strikeout. The Rochester trio of Glen Perkins, Matt Fox and Anthony Slama handcuffed the PawSox offense, allowing just 2 hits. Daniel Nava and Bubba Bell each had a hit and an rbi. Manager Torey Lovullo has managed to incorporate all of his position players into at least one game each.
With Boof Bonser and Dice -K currently in the rotation, pitchers like game 2 loser Kris Johnson will be relegated to bullpen duty. Lovullo knows what he has to do. “It’s a priority, getting Boof and Dice ready for Boston. It does make things chaotic at the beginning of the year, but it’s important.” Torey added that we should expect Matsuzaka to make another couple of starts for the PawSox. “It’s exciting to see him up and running. There’ll probably be another (Pawtucket) start or two. We’ll get Dices’ feedback and go from there.
Another positive outing from veteran Alan Embree. The Sox will use him as much as possible between now and the fifteenth. The lefty has an “out” option in his contract, meaning that if he isn’t with Boston by that date, he is free to negotiate with any other club.
The series with the Wings concludes on Sunday afternoon at 1:05 p.m. Yoslan Herrera faces Fabio Castro.
Opening day was a smash hit at McCoy Stadium. 11,306 fans jammed the ballpark to watch the PawSox dismantle Rochester, 11-3. All things are possible on Opening Day. You’re undefeated. You’ve got the best players in the world on your team. Nothing can go wrong. It’s great to feel that for at least one day. Before we get too giddy, we should remember the PawSox have won five straight Opening Day contests. Last year, we finished 21 games under .500, at 62-81. New Pawtucket skipper Torey Lovullo is as excited about the rite of Spring as anyone. “Great hopes, great expectations. Nobody’s won or lost any games. You know, they’re having the same talks in the other dugout, in every dugout in the International League. Everybody has a chance. There’s always great hopes that you’re going to go out and win a championship, you’re going to send a number of players to the Big Leagues, you’re going to do your job in every way, shape and form, and those are the expectations we have right now.”
Unbeaten, at 1-0, the manager that came over from the Indians organization cautions that like his predecessor, Ron Johnson, he knows that development takes priority over winning at this level. “There’s a fine line there. I will never put a player in harms’ way to risk their development. I’m a firm believer that winning is a part of development. It’s a part of sending the player up there to Boston to Tito (Francona) and his gang, with the expectation that they’re going to contribute and they’re ready to help that team win some ballgames. It starts here. We talk about winning, but it’s not the most important thing. Development certainly is.”
Fresh from his first Spring Training in the Red Sox organization, Lovullo sounds like a kid on Christmas morning, excited to try out all his new toys. “There’s a great number of players that are ready to play in the Big Leagues. It’s endless. They talk about winning a World Series in Boston and they really mean it. On top of that, they have great personnel that are making great baseball decisions. I couldn’t be more impressed with the level of talent, whether it’s from a player standpoint, front office standpoint or a staff standpoint that the Boston Red Sox have assembled.”
While this is Toreys’ first go-round with the PawSox, he does have a veteran staff. Former National League All Star Gerald Perry returns to the PawSox, where he served as hitting coach in 1998. Perry spent parts of the last three seasons at Wrigley Field with the Chicago Cubs. Pitching coach Rich Sauveur is back for his third season in a PawSox uniform and that is a comfort to Lovullo. “There’s some newness to us. Rich and I had a chance to bond a little bit at Spring Training, although he was on another ‘planet’, working with pitchers, while I was working with infielders. We united a little bit at the end of Spring Training. I didn’t see Gerald much at all, but we’ve come together from a whole bunch of different areas. One thing we all have in common, is we care about these kids and we want to put them in a good situation to learn.”
Torey got his first real taste of PawSox fans on Wednesday at Kirkbrae Country Club in Lincoln, RI, as the Northern RI Chamber of Comerce hosted the Annual Welcome Home Luncheon for the team. Roughly, 400 fans turned out to show their love and get a first glimpse at the PawSox. “Nothing surprises me about this Red Sox Nation anymore. I learned that at Spring Training, when they are about four or five deep as the players are coming out to stretch. There’s such a great core group of fans that comes out to root for these guys. We were pleasantly surprised at the turnout. I know the guys were excited to get there and get that introduction under their belt, and get the season started.”
The season is undeway. Thursday the offense exploded and the pitching and defense were terrific. Friday, Adam Mills gets his first start of 2010 at 7:05 p.m. and Saturday, Daisuke Matsuzaka is scheduled to pitch for the PawSox at McCoy at 1:05 p.m. Plenty of great seats are available.
Now that I am back in R.I. (and I’d like to take credit for bringing back the nice weather) I am raring to go for Thursdays’ opener against Rochester. It marks the beginning of my seventh season as a voice of the PawSox. For the fifth straight year, I will be paired with my dear friend, Dan Hoard. I look forward to the summer nights we spend together, bringing you PawSox baseball. It seems like we’ve been together for a long time, and we have. My first season, I was paired with Andy Freed, who is now the voice of the Tampa Bay Rays. I had the chance to get together with Andy in Fort Myers as the Rays visitied City of Palms Park for a Grapefruit League game last week. Andy and his current partner, Dave Wills make a good pair. They sound smooth and comfortable together. Andy has never sounded better, strong and relaxed. Mid-season form in late March.
Things are going well for the Maryland native. Earlier this winter, he and his wife Amy welcomed twin daughters to the family. “Knock on wood…life is a roller coaster and this January we had twin babies along with our 7 year old (Sarah). It feels like our family is complete. It feels pretty good. Other than a lack of sleep…the season is about to start. I’m excited”
Andy was at the microphone as the Rays shocked the world in 2008, winning the American League pennant. He wasn’t surprised they were good, but the timing was a little bit ahead of schedule. “My goodness. we did it early. Management felt like 2010 would be our year. It was great. I hesitate to say that 2009 was a disappointment. We won 84 games, it wasn’t like the old days. There is pressure this year for us to get off to a good start. Everyone on our team feels we have what it takes to compete with, quote the big boys.”
Freed said his partner, Wills, warned him about a potential letdown in ’09. “Dave had been through it when he was working with the White Sox. He said the first time you don’t make the postseason after being in it, is a real bummer, and he was right. It just wasn’t the same team. It really makes you respect the teams that are there year after year. I think if we don’t make a run at it this year, it would be considered more disappointing.”
He was honest in his assessment, when asked if there was anything he missed about life in the minors. “No. Not really. I did work with some great people. There is a certain simpicity to minor league baseball that I liked, but it really was a means to an end.” He seems to be a happy man and he’s earned that right. “I don’t want to sound sugary sweet, but life is good. I love my job. I love where we live. It’s a great neighborhood. I’m fond of my partner. Our families socialize. I respect our ownership very much. I enjoy working for them. There’s not a whole lot that isn’t right, and ya knock on wood because the bottom could fall out at any moment. For right now, as long as we have our health, life is pretty good.”
One of the things that bonded Andy and me over our 2004 season, was our mutual love of the “Howard Stern Show”. To this day, most of our correspondence is punctuated by something recent from the program or a “Bababooey!” If you listen to Stern, you’ll occasionally hear a Freed “drop” on the program. A badge of honor that Andy wears proudly. “I think Howard is a brilliant broadcaster and has been able to loosen the airwaves for all of us and I think we all benefit from that.” Andy was given an up close look into the Stern studio, a VIP tour. He keeps in touch with Jason Kaplan, a Stern show producer and admits, as I must as well, that the show and its’ jargon creeps into your vernacular. “We listen to the show every day and it becomes part of your daily life. You might say something that only a Stern fan would understand, and lo and behold, they’ve recorded it and sent it in to Howard.”
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.
Spring Training is winding down and Opening Day is rapidly approaching. Those that have been here since the start in February, seem anxious to get back to the soggy northeast. Why, I can’t imagine. Although most rosters are set, at least in the mind of management, they have not yet been made public. There are rumblings, and some guys have been told their destinations, for example outfielder Ryan Kalish told me this morning that his season will begin at Double A, Portland. Alan Embree and Daisuke Matsuzaka are likely to start the season in Pawtucket. Embree, signed on March 20, very late in the game, and he says he is anything but disappointed to join the PawSox. “No way- I knew I needed to make appearances in order to be ready to help the Red Sox.” Embree, owner of a World Series ring from the Sox, is seemingly truly excited. “It’s so great to be back in this organization.”
Scott Atchison was told that he made the big club. According to Terry Francona, Atchison earned the spot. “Scott can throw strikes. He has the ability to attack the strike zone with all his pitches.” Joe Nelson and Scott Schoeneweis are still awaiting word, although they will both accompany the Sox to Washington for the final tuneup. My guess is that Nelson would pitch for the PawSox and Schoeneweis wouldn’t. Fernando Cabrera, with 22 saves for Pawtucket in 2009, was reassigned to minor league camp today. Junichi Tazawa is essentially done for the year. Francona said the young Japanese pitcher was going to Birmingham, Alabama for Tommy John surgery on Tuesday. Ordinarily, it takes about a year to recover from such a procedure.
Francona was asked about his first impressions of Dustin Pedroia from 2005 and 2006. “He was fat. I mean about 190 pounds. Looking at him now, it doesn’t seem possible. And he was quiet at first, soaking it all in. He’s turned into a great team leader. I wish more guys were like him. There’s a lot there to like. Francona had a wry smile on his face, knowing full well, that the 2008 AL MVP is neither fat nor quiet anymore. As Pedroia made his way off the field after batting practice on Thursday, he was asked by a fan in the stands if Boston had enough to take it all in 2010. The never-shy Pedroia winked at me as he flexed his right bicep. “More than enough” he said. “This is our year.”
Any parent that has ever taken his kids to a swimming pool knows the torture of the never-ending game of “Marco Polo.” Fans in Fort Myers have taken to chanting every time shortstop Marco Scutaro comes to the plate- “Marco…..Scutaro”. Let’s pray that it doesn’t catch on.
Reliever Daniel Bard was not impressed with North Carolinas’ NIT Basketball semifinal win over URI. The Tar Heel alum lamented- “We (UNC) took the year off.”
Learned the origin of Mark Wagners’ propensity for speaking in the third person (“Wags is all about good at bats”). It stemmed from the “Seinfeld” episode where a character named “Jimmy” did the same thing. (“Jimmy’s getting angry!”) Wags’ fondest wish is to have the new scoreboard at McCoy light up with the word “Giddyup”, a signature saying of “Kramer”, each time he hits a home run. KG- can we do it?
Former PawSox manager Ron Johnson was all smiles this morning after learning that his son, Christopher made the Houston Astros’ Opening Day roster. With Lance Berkman hurt, the ‘Stros will shift Pedro Feliz from third to first base, opening the door for CJ to make his first opening day roster. Chris made his Major League debut with Houston last September. He’s earned the promotion, belting six home runs for Houston this spring.