We were greatly disappointed when the Red Sox released Jeff Natale at the end of Spring Training. He is a good friend, a good hitter and he hosted a weekly segment on our broadcast, called “At Bat With Nat’. It was a pre-game interview with a teammate, and the results were usually “gold”. A couple of years prior to that, Bobby Scales had done the same thing. Very different, but both were interesting. We decided we wouldn’t force the issue in 2010, but after a month with this club, I think we may have found a successor. Chad Paronto. The big righthander is a natural entertainer. Very quick, and “over the top”, Chad has agreed to host the segment starting some time this week. There isn’t a day that goes by that he doesn’t have us in stitches, whether he’s dancing to some song, doing his “Jamal the Bear” impersonation or just carving up someone else with his rapier-like wit.
As we did last year, we solicited ideas from listeners for a name for the segment. The very first idea came from Chris, who suggests “Hanging with Chad”. That’s going to be tough to beat. Some others include “Talkin’ Tonto” (Tonto is his nickname among his teammates), “Pow Wow with Paronto” and “The Chad Paronto Feature Featuring Chad Paronto”. A little wordy, but amusing, nonetheless. After Tuesdays’ 5-1 win, Paronto said he had heard some of the suggestions, and he had one of his own. “How about The Greatest Radio Show- EVER?” I think it’s a little early for that. We will continue to take submissions until the end of the game Friday. Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org and if we choose your title, we’ll send you a $25 dollar gift card to Gregg’s Restaurant.
As I passed through the clubhouse last night after my on-field postgame interview with Adam Mills, I lingered for a moment at the buffet table set up in the kitchen area. The sight and smell of the postgame spread provided by Mike Cameron was almost too much to bear. Enormous trays, laden with the most beautiful baked stuffed lobsters you’ve ever seen, a gorgeous looking chicken dish and all the trimmings were waiting for Camerons’ minor league teammates. The Red Sox centerfielder observed the tradition of buying a meal for his team while on a rehab assignment by hiring “Russell Morins’ Fine Catering”. I almost opted to miss the rest of the radio broadcast, just to take in the heavenly aroma.
Great to see two very nice men get fresh starts. Alan Embree, who began the season in Pawtucket, signed with the White Sox and will pitch a few days in Charlotte before he joins Ozzie Guillens’ club. Embree is Red Sox royalty in my mind. The lefty was on the mound when Boston won the ALCS in 2004, defeating the Yankees in the Greatest comeback in the history of sports. Aside from that, he entertained us, and enlightened us in his brief stint in a Pawtucket uniform. Chris Carter, former PawSox MVP who was traded to the Mets for Billy Wagner has been promoted to New York after beginning the season in Buffalo. CC was hitting a robust .336 with 6 home runs at the time of his call-up. He is such a good guy. I hope he gets a shot to play. My daughter Carly is excited. She and her eighth grade class are going to Washington D.C. next week and part of their trip is an excursion to the Mets/Nationals game on Wednesday. Carly is a huge Chris Carter fan. So am I. All the best to Embree and Carter.
The season series with Gwinnett is winding down, and I finally got my first look at first baseman Freddie Freeman. He sounds like a childrens’ TV show character, but believe me, he’s anything but harmless or fun to opposing pitchers. Freeman and his much more famous roommate, Jason Heyward of Atlanta should provide the Braves with firepower for a long time to come. Both are just 20 years old. Heyward is already making space in his trophy case for the National League Rookie of the Year award. The phenom is batting an even .300 with 8 home runs and 27 rbi. Already a legend at age 20, it made me kind of nostalgic and almost sad, thinking back to a Red Sox legend of my youth that was as bright a star as Heyward but never got to live up to his potential. Tony Conigliaro, the kid from Revere, Mass that had his career halted on the night of August 18, 1967 when he was hit in the eye by a fastball from the Angels’ Jack Hamilton. He had several comeback attempts, but was never the same. Hard to believe “Tony C” has been dead for 20 years now. He broke into the Big Leagues at the age of 19 and still holds the record for the most ML homers by a teenager (25). At age 20, he lead the American League with 32 home runs. By his 22d birthday, Conigliaro had amassed 100 of the 166 home runs he would eventually hit. Only Hall of Famer Mel Ott got to 100 dingers at a younger age. It is rare when someone so young can play the game so well. It will be interesting to see if these two Atlanta prospects can live up to the expectations.
Remember the old game show, “The Love Connection?” Host Chuck Woolery would determine if a couple made the love connection after hearing both sides of a story after a date. I feel a little like old Chuck and I’ll tell you why. The last couple of days in Charlotte, I’ve left tickets for friends. The procedure is to go down to the clubhouse and sign the sheet. You include the name of your guest, the number of tickets needed and your name. Being the investigative journalist that I am, I noticed that one of our players had left a ticket for a young woman, a famous young woman both days here in the Carolinas. The player- Daniel Nava. The woman- Erin Andrews of ESPN and the TV show “Dancing With the Stars.” I admit, my curiosity got the better of me. Does Nava know the good-looking blonde reporter, who got more attention than she wanted when she was videotaped through a peephole in her hotel room? Inquiring minds want to know. Nava laughed when he was asked if he knew her. “I wish I did.” He explained that it is a long standing tradition of his, dating back a couple of seasons. He got the idea from a certain Dallas Cowboys quarterback. “Tony Romo used to put Jessica Simpsons’ name down, even though he didn’t know her at the time. Word got out and for a while, Romo and Simpson were an item.” Is Nava hoping for lightning to strike twice. “I’m not counting on it, but it’d be great.” I asked what it would mean to him if Hyder and Hoard were able to spread the word and make something happen. “I’d owe you guys, big time, I guess.” While he’s not holding his breath that anything will happen, you just never know. If anyone reading this knows Erin, tell her Nava’s a great guy and she can reach him through my email at email@example.com
I was also able to unravel a mystery that has had me vexed for many years. As a boy growing up in Newport, RI, I had heard a rumor that Charlotte Knights manager Chris Chambliss had attended my high school, Rogers, in Newport. I had also heard he’d been cut from the baseball team by the late, legendary coach, Louis “Duke” Abbruzzi. I had the opportunity to speak to the former Yankees hero and set the record straight. “No, no, I never actually lived in Newport, my parents did, for a year around 1970.” His dad, Capt. Carroll Chambliss (USN, ret.) was a Navy Chaplain for 30 years. They were stationed in the “City by the Sea”. “I did visit for Christmas that year. I spent three days in Newport. Don’t remember much about the city.” Chambliss himself, was in the Navy Reserves for 6 years, following in his dad’s footsteps. “No.” he added. “I graduated from Oceanside High School, in California, 3000 miles away. Other side of the country!”
Manager Torey Lovullo won’t be with the team on Saturday or Sunday. The skipper is in California, for the confirmation of his son. In his absence, roving infield instructor, Bruce Crabbe will manage the PawSox. “I managed a bit in Spring Training, and last season filled in for Arnie (Beyeler) in Portland for three days. Before that,” Crabbe added, “It’d been a while”. Lovullo is expected to rejoin the PawSox on Monday at McCoy. Red Sox field coordinator, David Howard is also in the Pawtucket dugout.
There is something very comforting being back with the ballclub. Familiar faces, old and tired jokes and just the everyday rhythm of the season. The off day, Wednesday, was made special, thanks to the generosity of PawSox owner, Ben Mondor. Mondor gave Torey Lovullo a wad of cash to take the entire team out to dinner. Fortunately for me, I was included. We went to the LongHorn Steak House and the entire team and staff dined on ribeyes, sirloins, chops and ribs. Of course appetizers, sides and for those who could handle it, dessert was included. We always get the same reaction from players who are new to the team. “You mean Mr. Mondor does this just to be nice??” We always tell them the same thing.”Absolutely!” Stuffed to the gills, the fellas retreated back to the hotel for a good rest. I guarantee you, there is not another guy in baseball that does what Ben does for us.
Back on April 20, the Red Sox traded lefty, Andrew Dobies to the White Sox for a player to be named later. On May 6, Dobies pitched for Charlotte, against many of his former teammates. Dobies retired the first two hitters he faced before walking, in succession, Bubba Bell, Josh Reddick and Daniel Nava. Dobies was promptly lifted from the game. Nava was surprised his friend and former teammate was so wild. “That is so unlike Andrew.” Nava said. “His control is usually much better.” Nava said the two became well acquainted while they were rehabbing in Fort Myers, last season. Nava said Dobies told him he was excited about getting a fresh start “There are so many opportunities in the Chicago organization.” That was the message Dobies gave Nava. Nava added that Dobies was a great guy and a hard worker and that his wildness on Thursday was an aberration.
Had an entertaining lunch today with Dan Hoard and Daniel Nava. Nava was extremely enthusiastic as he described the differences between lower level minor leagues and the International League. “Like night and day.” For my money, and I think strength coach Mike Roose would agree, Nava is the most highly conditioned athlete on the team. At least in the top two or three. Well toned, and muscular, Nava says that compared to his father Don, age 56, he’s a slouch. “My dad is in unbelievable shape. He’s a physical trainer and he looks great.” A clubhouse phenomena has been born of Daniels’ admiration of his dad. “Ever since I was a little kid, my father could make his pectoral muscles ‘dance’.” You’ve seen the body builder types who can make their chest muscles move up and down. It’s, for some strange reason, very entertaining. Nava says he has been perfecting the move himself, for years. He says that a day doesn’t go by without one of his teammates asking for a command performance. When a veteran tells a rookie to do something, they must comply. As “Larry the Cable Guy” might say…”That’s funny. I don’t care who you are!”
Adam Mills was hoping for a triumphant return to Charlotte, where he starred collegiately at UNC-Charlotte. Mills looked great early on but the Knights eventually got to him, beating the PawSox, 6-3. Mills had the chance to go to the home he owns and relax a bit with teammate TJ Large. Large described the idyllic setting. “Beautiful home with lots of land and a creek running behind the house. It’s really nice.” While they were in the back yard the pair took archery practice. It was a first for Large. “He set up a big target. It was fun.” Luckily, no William Tell action was involved.
Just wrapped up my participation in the 51st annual National SportsCasters and SportsWriters Association convention in Salisbury, North Carolina. I was very pleased to accept the Sportscaster of the year award for the state of Rhode Island. The folks down south deserve a ton of credit. They rolled out the red carpet for everyone. Whether you are Hall of Famer Peter Gammons, or just plain old Steve Hyder from the Pawtucket Red Sox, you are treated like royalty.
I never put too much into winning this award. I know that there are so many talented people out there. I guess it’s just my turn. It all changes when you get there though, and mingle with the likes of Marty Brenneman and the Durhams, (father Woody and son Wes). Marty, who always has great things to say about Dan Hoard is in his 37th year as voice of the Reds. Woody Durham is a legend in North Carolina. For the last 40 years he has served as voice of the UNC TarHeels. His son, Wes is the play by play man for the Atlanta Falcons, as well as Georgia Tech. It is humbling to stand with these accomplished men and women and for at least one night, say I won the same recognition as Furman Bisher, Dan Shaughnessy or Bruce Beck.
For the most part, the winners are an anonymous bunch, known only to their listeners, viewers or readers. People, believe me, there’s a lot of talent out there. Broadcasters such as Mike Murphy of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats or Phil Elson of the Arkansaas Travelers get a moment in the sun for their work in minor league baseball. Men like Greg Papa of the Oakland Raiders and Mick Mixon of the Carolina Panthers hobnob with the “common folk”. They’re maybe a rung or two ahead of most, but you’d never know it.
Having Gammons ask my opinion about Lars Anderson or Bob Ryan approach me and ask about PawSox owner Ben Mondor really boosts the ego. Socializing with them and hearing their stories is an incredible amount of fun. I very rarely feel intimidated, but I have to say, I was sitting around a big table late on Monday night swapping stories with Ryan and a bunch of other journalists. I was almost afraid to try to match stories with Ryan, the quintessential American Sportswriter. I dipped a toe in the pool and got good response when the subject of John Calipari came up. Ryan referred to him as a “charming rogue” and I pledged my allegiance to Coach Cal for the many kindnesses he has shown me over the years. We were in the minority, but man, was I in good company! I almost felt like a studio audience member at a taping of “The Sports Reporters.”
They wined and dined us, taking us to The Lowes Motor Speedway for a dinner dance on Sunday night. Rain ruined the golf outing on Monday, but it couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the folks attending the Awards Ceremony. It’s held in an old train depot. The same one where much of the George Clooney movie “Leather Heads” was filmed. There were some tremendous speeches made that night. The great Arnold Palmer presented the National Sportscaster Award to his good friend, Jim Nantz, of CBS. The place was as quiet as a church as the 80 year old golfer told stories and bragged a bit on his “son”, Nantz. When Nantz took the stage, he regaled us with tales of a State Dinner he attended at the White House with Palmer. He was seated at table #11, with among others, President George W. Bush and Queen Elizabeth of England. Nantz may be one of the best and most natural storytellers I;’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. No note cards or any help from a teleprompter, just genuine Jim. As the state winners received their awards, he made it a point to tell some of us “Look, down there- Arnold Palmer is clapping for you.”
Peter Gammons and Bob Ryan started at The Boston Globe on the same summer day in 1968. Along with Leigh Montville, the late Will McDonough and others, they formed the “Mount Rushmore” of sportswriters and made the Globes’ sports section, the best ever.
As you can probably tell, I’m pretty excited about being there and I really don’t get too excited about much. The executive director of the NSSA is Dave Goren. Goren is a native of Taunton, Mass. and used to come out to McCoy Stadium, when he worked at WJAR Radio back in the 1980s. Dave and his staff are to be thanked and commended for the job they do.
I am back with the club, starting with Thursdays’ game here in Fort Mill, SC.
Apologies for no blog the last couple of days. My laptop was sick and I was without it. (amazing how you come to rely on technology). Anyway, we’ve been reunited. That being said, I’m going to miss the series in Gwinnett. Thanks to the kindness of Ben Mondor and Mike Tamburro, I will be attending the National Sportscasters and Spportswriters Association convention in North Carolina. They have graciously allowed me to skip the trip to Georgia, so that I may pick up my award for 2009 Rhode Island Sportscaster of the Year.
I’ve been fortunate enough to win the honor three times in the last four years. It wouldn’t be possible without the PawSox, or my partner Dan Hoard, who makes a great job even better with his friendship and good humor. Although RI is the smallest state, there are some very talented people in the business. Besides Dan, my friend, John Rooke and men like Ken Bell, Frank Carpano and Patrick Little come to mind. Don’t let me forget Steve McDonald, either. I’ve won and not won in the past. Take it from me, winning is much better.
I will spend the next three days with other statewide and national winners. One regret is that Joe McDonald the 2009 RI sportswriter of the year, can’t be here. “Joey Mac” no longer writes for the Providence Journal. He is covering the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for Espnboston.com. I will crack open a nice cold Diet Pepsi in his honor. Scheduled to be on hand- John Madden, former Raiders coach who revolutionized football commentary. We’ll see if the Madden Cruiser is in the parking lot when I arrive. Madden is famous for not flying. He travels in a custom built bus. Arnold Palmer is also supposed to be there, presenting the National Sportscaster of the year Award to Jim Nantz of CBS. Legendary baseball guru, Peter Gammons will also grace the head table. To this day, one of my greatest professional highlights was the day Gammons told me he enjoyed listening to me. Imagine that.
The NSSA rolls out the red carpet and makes us feel like big shots for a couple of days. I won’t lie to you. I’m glad I’m going, but it does take you out of the steady rhythm of the season. I’ll keep you posted while I’m there. Special thanks again to the PawSox for letting this happen, and to Dan for picking up the slack while I’m away. I’ll rejoin the club on the off day, Wednesday in Charlotte, and I’ll be back with my partner in crime for Thursdays’ broadcast from Knights Stadium, in Fort Mill, South Carolina.
ps- Just found out that Madden won’t be coming due to a schedule conflict. Bummer!