Life is funny. It can change in a heartbeat. Sometimes for the best. When Ryan Kalish woke up on Saturday morning, very early to return from the PawSox road trip in Ohio, he was just another minor leaguer. A good one, mind you, but relatively anonymous to most of the world. After a bus ride from Toledo to Detroit, a flight to Baltimore, a two hour layover, a flight to Providence and a bus ride to McCoy, Kalish was probably going to catch a quick nap, before he and the PawSox opened a series against Durham. As we got off the bus, I heard manager Torey Lovullo summon Kalish. Naturally, with the trade deadline looming, I figured he might have been dealt to another club. I immediately felt a twinge of sadness. Aside from being a tremendous player, Kalish is a great young man. The 22 year old New Jersey native with the linebackers physique, possesses all the tools to be successful, including a brain and a vivacious personality. I was very relieved to learn that he hadn’t been traded, but promoted to Boston.
This has been a recipe for success already this season. Darnell McDonald in April and Daniel Nava in June both made successful debuts with Boston and stuck around to lend a hand. D-Mac is still up there and since Jeremy Hermida has been designated for assignment, it looks like McDonald will spend the entire season with Boston. Kalish, unlike Nava and Darnell, is not an underdog. He is expected to be successful. He began the year at Portland in Double A and since his promotion to the PawSox, he’s been awesome. Even before that, with the Sea Dogs, Kalish hit .293 with 8 homers and 29 rbi and 13 steals. A level higher, he’s batting .294 with 5 home runs and 18 rbi. Kalish spent about 10 days on the disabled list with a hip issue, but that’s a distant memory, now. Kalish has had multiple hits in 13 of his last 24 games, hitting .343 over that stretch. He has lived up to the hype of being named the #5 prospect in the Red Sox organization, by “Baseball America” before the 2010 season.
Saturday around 2:00 p.m., we arrived at McCoy. By 4:10 p.m. Kalish was starting in left field. On the Fox broadcast on Saturday afternoon, the great Dick Stockton announced the Red Sox starting lineup. when he got to the eighth spot in the lineup, he said “hitting eighth, Ryan Kalish, the 22 year old, just up from Triple A Pawtucket.” He wasn’t kidding. Literally, just a couple of hours before, Kalish was a minor leaguer. Forever more, no matter what, no one can take away the title from Ryan Kalish. Major Leaguer.
Talking with All Star outfielder Bubba Bell today, it’s apparent that his strained right quadriceps muscle isn’t responding as quickly as he would like. Originally, it was thought that Bell might be out for a week. It now looks like it could be two weeks and Bell is frustrated. “It’s getting better but not at the rate we were hoping for. We’re just trying to get to the bottom of it and trying to figure out exactly what it is and the best way to treat it. I think we’ve taken steps in the right direction, I just wish the process would be quicker than it has been.” Bell explained the nature of his injury. “It’s been classified a muscle strain. I guess it depends on how bad the strain is, as to when it heals up. We all figured that a week would do the trick, but it obviously hasn’t. I guess we are going to have to take our time with it.” A seemingly resigned to the fact Bubba, added “I really have no idea when I’ll be back,I can’t put a finger on it. It’s a slow process in the beginning, but once it starts healing, it’s a little bit quicker. I can say maybe anywhere from a couple of days to another whole week. I’m not sure.”
Bell, who is hitting .294 with 5 homers and 39 rbi had been healthy this season. Previously he had said that his good health was clearly the key to his success in 2010. He didn’t take it for granted. “It’s a little disheartening. I’ve worked so hard to get healthy and stay healthy. It was finally showing in my numbers. I was having a really good time. I’m doing my best to not let it get to me, and not get frustrated. It’s hard because I’ve been out for a week and I feel like I’ve missed a month already. Who knows how I’ll respond when I step back into the box and see some live pitching after an extended period of being away. It’s one of those things that in the past, I’ve tried to rush myself back and I’ve hurt myself for the rest of the year because of it. I want to make sure that we get this one right so I feel good. It rejuvenates you when you are healthy. You feel good and you’re running around out there 100% healthy. When you’re not, you run around cautiously, limping a little bit.”
Despite the temporary obstacle, Bell is optimistic about his return. “I know I’ve put myself in a good position and I’m really excited to get back to that. It would be one thing if I wasn’t having a good year, if my numbers were down, it would be really hard to keep myself going. Since I’ve had a good season and I’ve got some things in the future to keep me going that could work out in my life and be great, it’s made it a lot easier.” Bell also credits teammates for keeping his spirits up. “You’ve been around (Chad) Paronto and other guys and they do a good job of keeping me loose. Guys like Chad and my roommate Aaron Bates.”
Bell mentioned Paronto so I had to ask him if he’d ever seen teammates buy a guy a cake on his birthday, as they’d done for Chad earlier in the week. “He is one of the funniest people I’ve ever been around. I told him that I had never seen a guy get a cake from teammates, much less two, as he got the other day. He got two. Two different guys got him cakes, personalized. It’s unbelievable. I would say he is the best teammate I’ve ever had. He’s hilarious. He keeps it loose and fun in the clubhouse, no matter what’s going on. He reminds me of the late Chris Farley. Physical comedy. He just throws himself around. He’ll do anything for a laugh and that’s what we all love about him.”
Before I begin this blog entry, let me just say, the three home run performance by Mike Lowell on Tuesday night in Toledo is one of the most impressive things I’ve seen in baseball. I don’t care what level you are at, simply awesome. In his 4 game rehab stint so far, the 2007 World Series MVP has three homers and three doubles and is hitting a white hot .471 for Pawtucket. He carries himself with dignity and class and I hope he gets whatever he wants.
Now with Lowell at third base on Tuesday, it left the newest member of the PawSox on the bench. Jack Hannahan, the third baseman, who went to high school in Minnesota with Joe Mauer, came to the PawSox from Seattle on July 23 for cash or a player to be named later. Hannahan, who was hitting .228 with 5 hr and 33 rbi in Tacoma was excited by the prospect of a fresh start with the Red Sox. “It was great. The Red Sox organization speaks for itself. Any time you get a chance to contribute and maybe get called up by the Red Sox, it’s awesome.” Hannahan was unfazed, starting with a new club in late July. “Anytime you’ve been anround this long, a new team isn’t that big of a thing. It’s a great group of guys here. It’s been an easy transition.”
So far, Hannahan is 3-10 with three walks for Pawtucket. He regards himself an every day player, but didn’t mind sitting to watch Mike Lowell perform on Tuesday. “The reason you play this game is to get into the lineup every day and contribute. Today I get to watch a Gold Glover and a 14 year vet play third base.”
Hannahan is making a return to the city where he helped the Mud Hens win a pair of I.L. championships. Toledo won the Governors’ Cup in 2005 and 2006 and Jack was a key cog. “It’s weird going into a different clubhouse and dugout. We had good seasons in ’05 and ’06 winning this league.” Hannahan still savors the championships. “The team chemistry we had in ’05 and ’06, the celebrations we had. It was always fun showing up to the ballpark, winning and doing those little things tht help you win one run ballgames.”
Hannahan treasures the memories of winning minor league titles, but his big league memories supercede anything else. “Getting called up. Coming up in the Tigers organization. Getting traded over to Oakland. My first Major League hit was special. Those are things I’ll always remember.”
Jack played in the I.L.with Toledo from 2005-2007. He says he looks forward to returning to McCoy as a member of the home team. “Great stadium, great fans. It’s a fun atmosphere and I look forward it.” Hanahan’s brother Buzz was a player in the Phillies organization for 9 years. Jack says his brother retired from baseball and is in medical sales. “He walks around the hospital in scrubs with a pager.” Jack joked “He thinks he’s a doctor,”
The 30 year old infielder recently got married. He says he was never one of those “I’ll never get married” types. “I’ve always wanted to get married and have a bunch of kids running around. I tried to wait as long as I could, being a baseball player. Travelling around, it’s real hard on a family. You don’t get to see them a lot, so I waited. I dated Jenny for about three and a half. years. I waited for “Mrs. Right” and I married her.”
A trip to Toledo isn’t complete without a pilgrimage to Tony Packos’ for their Hungarian hot dogs. Packos’ was made famous on “M*A*S*H*” by Maxwell Q. Klinger, the cross-dressing corporal, brilliantly portrayed for the entire run of the series by Toledo native Jamie Farr. I had the honor of interviewing Farr several years ago when we were in his home town. The feast is always great and today was no exception. Now I know why Max was so eager to get home from the 4077th.
I used to live in Columbus, Ohio. Just before I moved back to R.I in 2003, the capitol of Ohio was my home. I don’t have particularly fond memories of my time here. It was not an especially good time in my life. I do however, look forward to the trip, simply because my daughters live there. I was walking down memory lane by myself earlier today and I did remember a couple of laughs I had here. Before I begin, just let me say that I was very disappointed with the ten thousand plus fans at Huntington Park on Saturday night. When former Clipper and World Series MVP Mike Lowell was introduced, he was barely acknowledged by the fans in Ohio. How about a little baseball knowledge, people? A thank you for his work as a Yankees farmhand in the late nineties? Or just a round of applause for the 1500 Major League games he’s played since? Lowell went 4-4, with three doubles and when he was lifted for pinchrunner Tug Hulett, he did get a more fitting tribute, yet nothing to write home about. Don’t ever take for granted the loyal and extremely smart baseball fans of New England.
When I was a resident of Columbus, I hosted the morning show on the all sports radio station, WBNS, known as “the Fan”. My co-host was a teriffic guy named Raymont Harris. Harris, the former Buckeye running back, played in the NFL for the Bears. He also was a member of the Patriots for a very brief time, but never played a game for the Pats. In football-crazy Columbus, we spent the brunt of the time talking OSU football. We had a good chemistry and worked together well. A lot of our relationship was based upon busting each others chops, both on and off the air. Raymont was a worthy friend/foe. As a former Buckeye, he was very in tune with the program. Other hosts on the “Fan” included Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Spielman, both ex- Buckeye stars. There was a running gag among us. They teased me to no end when they found that I never played football. They turned it up several notches when they found out I was in the band. I was truly fascinated by everything to do with the Ohio State football program. The year I was there, OSU won the National Championship.
I was even caught up with the Buckeye Marching Band. My favorite moment each Saturday was when the tuba player would prance out onto the field and “dot the i”. It is a ritual in Columbus. I talked about it every week, partly because I thought it was so cool and partly to get Raymonts’ goat. One week, we heard from the director of the OSU band. He invited us to come to rehearsal and was going to let us “dot the i” in practice. Raymont wanted no part of it, so I didn’t go either. I will always regret that.
He and I would attend the games together, and with our credentials, we were allowed on the field before the game. One Saturday, as we were walking down the sideline, he wasn’t paying attention. Raymont, who still holds the alltime rushing record in the Holiday Bowl, was yapping at me as the Drum Major raised both his hands to start a song. As he did, Raymont walked into his right hand and it caught him in the jaw. He didn’t expect it and it buckled him. Caught him flush in the face and it brought him to his knees. I nearly died laughing. He got up slowly, looked at me sheepishly and he knew that he was mine. I could not wait for the rest of the weekend to pass so I could torture him on Monday morning. “The big running back got ko’ed by a scrawny drum major, while I, the ex-trumpet player laughed hysterically.” Word spread as I absolutely lambasted him for a couple of days. Tuesdays at noon, we would go to Coach Jim Tressels’ weekly news conference/luncheon. That week, as we were preparing to tape some interviews, Coach Tressel, a buttoned down, no nonsense type approached us. “Raymont” he said. “Yes Coach?” Harris replied. “You OK?” countered Tressel. Raymont had a puzzled look on his face. “Sure, I’m OK, why?” With tongue planted firmly in cheek, the coach said simply. “No reason. Heard you got knocked out by a drum major.” Tressel winked at me and just walked away. As I picked myself up off the floor, shaking with laughter, I knew that I had won that round.
Raymont and I shared many good laughs over the years, but none was better for me than that one. The moral of the story is simple. Respect the Band Geeks!!!
It didn’t take Daniel Nava long to make an impact upon his return to Pawtucket from Boston. After the Red Sox optioned Nava to the PawSox, he took a quick snooze, hit a three run homer and scored the game winning run in the tenth on Thursday night at McCoy. Of course, by now, we’re not surprised by anything Nava does. After spending more than a month with the Red Sox (.286, 1, 16) Nava relishes the experience. “I learned a lot while I was up there. It was a great experience. I am grateful to have that experience. On the field, off the field, guys really want to win up there. That was apparent the first day I got there. You put your own numbers on the back burner. Let’s just win. It was really cool to be a part of it.”
Nava spoke of his evolution. He’s gone from the quirky minor leaguer who leaves tickets for Erin Anfrews of ESPN, to a valued member of Red Sox Nation. “It feels good. I’m back down, I’ve got stuff I’ve got to work on. By no means am I content. I know baseball and there’s always something to be worked on. It does feel good to know that I was able to contribute and help the team win.”
Whether he’s telling the truth or not, Nava says that there is consolation in knowing the reason for his demotion wasn’t poor performance, it’s just a numbers game with Jeremy Hermida coming off the disabled list. “Of course, it’s an encouragement for sure. Like I said I am back here to work on things and I’ll make the most of this opportunity.”
By now, everyone knows the story of the “little engine that could”. Nava, who just a few years ago had to wash the laundry of the baseball team at Santa Clara will forever more be known as a Major Leaguer. His historic grand slam off Joe Blanton on the very first big league pitch he ever saw, is still fresh in his mind. “Off the bat, I didn’t think it was gone. I thought it might be a good ball into the gap. I really wasn’t watching the flight of the ball, I was watching Jayson Werth in right field. He took two or three steps and stopped and that’s when I realized that it was gone. I just wanted to make sure I touched all the bases and didn’t trip.” One pitch, one swing and one step into Red Sox lore. “It was surreal.” said Nava. “I didn’t want to go out for a curtain call. I have a lot of respect for the guys that have been there. The only way that happened was because someone pushed me up the steps. It was really cool that it happened. I guess I didn’t grasp it at the time. It did eventually dawn on me that it was pretty cool.”
Daniel said that despite his heroics in front of a packed Fenway and a national TV audience, he was able to get around pretty easily in Boston. “The next day, I was able to walk to the ballpark and no one knew who I was. It was a good moment, but I didn’t need bodyguards. There was no paparazzi following me around.”
Something else that pleased Nava was the fact that he played and produced the entire time he was there. It wasn’t just some fluke grand slam. “That felt very good being in the situation I was in. Going day to day, I was fortunate to be able to stay up there as long as I did. It felt good to contribute to winning. I really mean that.” Since he was unsure of how long he’d stay with the club, Nava never allowed himself to take a breath, pinch himself and make sure this all was really happening. “I never let it sink in, just because I was going day to day. I was afraid if I did, I might relax a bit and lose my edge. Maybe in the offseason, but not yet. I still have a job to do today.”
He did the job yesterday and after a good night sleep, I can’t wait to see what he does today.
One of the highlights of the season every season is to see Toledo radio broadcaster, Jim Weber. Weber is in his 36th season as voice of the Mud Hens. Remarkably, he still has as much enthusiasm for his job as he has ever had. I first met the “Webman” back in the ’90s when I was with Syracuse. He and I bonded over our mutual love of the gaudy Hawaiian shirts we both used to wear. Mercifully, we’ve both toned down our wardrobes. Weber is making his 36th trip to McCoy this week and vividly remembers his first encounter with PawSox owner, Ben Mondor. “Ben, at the time was just trying to save the team. I don’t think even he thought that things would turn out so successfully. One day I was down in his old office. In it, there was a shower stall that probably hadn’t been used in 30 or 40 years. He pulled open the curtain and asked me what I liked to drink. I told him ‘ I don’t mind having a rum and coke every now and then,’ He reached in and pulled out a half gallon of Bacardi’s Rum. He handed it to me and told me to go have some fun.” Weber laughs at the memory. “I’ll never forget that. Here I am on the road trying to haul a half gallon around. I’m not sure what happened to it. I think I shared it with some of the team.”
No need to wonder any longer about what my most embarassing moment of the season will be. Happened on Monday afternoon. The annual team picture was scheduled to be taken at 3:45 p.m. Wet field conditions postponed it until 4:20 p.m. In my mind, I thought it was 4:45, so anyway, I’m flitting around the ballpark, doing my thing and at 4:30 I decide that I’ll go out there and be early! Imagine my horror when I walk onto the field at McCoy and everyone, including Mr. Mondor, is posed and ready to be shot. I have to run across the field much to the delight of the assembled PawSox players and staff. Now, I am not fast and no one was going to confuse me with Usain Bolt. I start booking as fast as I can on my knee that was arthroscopically repaired in March and it had to be ugly. I can hear laughter, jeers, barbs and insults. Luckily, the photographer, Dave hadn’t started snapping yet. Just glad I made it in time. Almost as embarassing as when I didn’t recognize Josh Reddick last winter at the Boston Baseball Writers dinner. Sincerely, being included in the annual team photo is always a special treat. Unfortunately, in this age of video, I’m sure that the footage of me plodding across the turf is going to surface somewhere. My fault for being late. It goes to prove the theory that I’ve always had…They never will wait for the radio guy, so the radio guy can never be late.
As much as I hate the Yankees, I have to concede I was touched by the deaths this past week of George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard. Torey Lovullo played a while in the Yankees organization and shared these stories with me the other day as we spoke of the passing of the Yankees owner and legendary public address announcer. When he first joined the Yankees, he was approached by an elderly gentleman. “I’m thinking to myself, who’s this guy and what does he want with me?” Turns out it was Sheppard and he wanted to make sure he had the proper pronunciation of Toreys’ Italian surname. The regal Sheppard said hello to the young ballplayer and in that familiar stately voice, asked “Lovullo…is it pronounced like ‘jello’?” Torey smiled and nodded in agreement. His encounter with “Big Stein” wasn’t as friendly. It wasn’t even face to face. “Steinbrenner was a great boss if you were in his circle. If you were on his bad side…forget it.” Lovullo remembered a day that George noticed him. “There was a pitching change. I’ve always had a bad back. I’ve since had back surgery. Anyway, I was down on one knee. It looked like I was genuflecting, just to stretch my back out. From the owners box, Steinbrenner made a mental note and later passed word onto Torey that “Yankees players act in a certain way. Kneeling down on the field for any reason makes the New York Yankees look like a tired team. The Yankees are not a tired baseball team.” Message received. Torey said he never did it again. “Hey, I was amazed he even knew who I was, let alone my name!”
I am calling for a moratorium on all trivia contests held in the ballpark. In the old days, it was fun to test your knowledge. Now, every one has a phone or a blackberry or something with internet access, so answers are just a click away. If you’re going to play, be legit. Don’t look it up. I know that’s not possible. Everyone needs to get that free haircut or 6 pack of soda. Just kind of seems that it has lost its’ original intent. Ah, the good old days!
Today I asked manager Torey Lovullo if he was a Star Trek fan. He looked at me quizzically. I quickly explained my analogy. The PawSox are the Starship Enterprise. Torey is Captain James Tiberius Kirk and everything the Sox are doing these days is done in “warp speed.” Examples? Dusty Brown being taken off the disabled list and being “fasttracked” to Boston. Michael Bowden being switched to a reliever from a starter and being promoted on Sunday. Bowden, by the way retired the Rangers in order in the ninth, with 2 strikeouts in his first M.L. appearance in 2010. Lovullo bought into my theory, almost embracing it. “I think it’s a good analogy. In Dustys’ case, he was needed, they wanted to see what he could do, and out of necessity they came and got him. Was he 100% ready? He was pretty close. That’s just the way this year has been going. Everything has been going pretty quickly. The conversations we have with the front office are quick and swift. They move at a pretty good pace because they have to. We’ve been very proud of the reinforcements we’ve sent them. Hopefully the pace will slow down..”
As far as Michael Bowden is concerned, Lovullo has no worries. “I couldn’t be more pleased. He is going to get some great opportunities coming out of the bullpen. The more he continues to shine and blossom, the more chances he’ll get in the Big Leagues. What we’re tryng to do, is give Michael a little bit of diversity. Boston’s strength is their starting five and with Beckett and Buchholz returning, the best chance for Michael to help the Red Sox is to shift him to the bullpen. His day will come. He’s going to be a good Major Leaguer whether it’s as a starter or coming out of the pen.”
Torey doesn’t think the Red Sox are pushing the panic button and he agrees that the Sox wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize a players’ health, but he realizes this time of year is not for the faint of heart. “Like you said, everything is at warp speed. It’s the dog days, the dog days of baseball and they need some healthy bodies that are going to contribute at a championship level. At times you can rush a guy, but under no circumstances would we do it for example with Dusty Brown if we didn’t think his hand was ready. If he couldn’t catch 100 pitches in a game. Desparate? Maybe. Moving quickly? Definitely. These are the right pieces of the puzzle and we need to get them in there as quickly as possible.”
Torey also recognizes the travails of talented Jed Lowrie. The Sox could use a middle infielder who can hit and Lowrie fills the bill. Could Boston try to hurry his progress? “He’s had a tough run of it. He’s been through the wringer” Lovullo said sympathetically. He quickly added “He’s exactly where he should be right now. He’s healthy, he is strong, his spirit is good and I think that is the most important thing for Jed, because when he is on, he’s a pretty spectacular player.”
These days in the “nation” you really have to pay attention. As the old saying goes…”you can’t tell the players without a scorecard.”
As we boarded the bus Thursday morning at McCoy for the trip to Syracuse, I did a double take when I saw Jed Lowrie. I knew the middle infielder was to accompany us to central New York, but after three days off, it nonetheless surprised me to see him. He has battled mononucleosis all Spring, yet looked surprisingly healthy. Relaxed on the clubhouse couch, feet up, golf cap perched on his head. We’ve known each other for a while. This will be the fourth straight year he has played at least part of a season with Pawtucket.
Later that day, at Alliance Bank Stadium, Lowrie was philosophical and upbeat when he talked about wearing the PawSox colors again. “Hey, I’ve got to start somewhere. I played a few games at Lowell, trying to get in shape and now I’m here. It’s all good!”
Jed learned that mononucleosis is not an affliction that strikes just teenagers. The 26 year old explained how it hit him. “After surgery the risk is always higher, your immune system is compromised and viruses are opportunistic creatures and I was an opportunity with a weakened immune system. How I got it, I have no idea. Supposedly, it’s transmitted through saliva. I really can’t tell you.” While Lowrie labored in Fort Myers, we had heard horror stories about how much weight he had lost. Sitting in the dugout in Syracuse, he looked great, but didn’t argue about those stories. “I think all those were true.” he admitted. “I lost quite a bit of weight. My energy was…I felt like a zombie. I feel like I’ve turned the corner with it. I feel healthy. Baseball aside, my most important goal was to get healthy. Baseball had to take a back seat during this, my focus was my health.”
Jed has been sidelined by wrist problems for the last couple of years and now the mono. He said that his various ailments have taught him something important. “With the wrist and now the mono, I’ve tried to convince myself that I was OK when I didn’t feel real well. I think that caught up with me. I had to take a step back from the game and get healthy.” When asked for a possible timeline for a return to Boston, Lowrie had an answer ready. “I’ve been asked about percentages and time lines so many times in the last couple of years. I can’t really put a finger on it. I’m happy with being healthy and I’ll leave it at that.”
Lowrie hit .400 in 6 games with the Spinners and he’s ready for a higher level of competition. Thursday night, he DH’ed and had a sacrifice fly that scored a run and blasted a double to the alley and scored. He looked good. “I’m here to face guys who know how to play, how to pitch. It’s all part of the progression.”
Lowrie was wearing his familiar #2, worn for the last few weeks by super prospect Ryan Kalish. Jed said Kalish willingly surrendered the jersey, and wanted no compensation. “No, Ryan was cool about it. he doesn’t want anything, but I will definitely take him out to dinner.” Incidentally, wearing #12, Kalish had another multi- hit game for Pawtucket in the 8-2 win. As I pointed out on the broadcast, he could have a ? on the back of the jersey and still get a couple of knocks.
Jed is no stranger to the disabled list. When asked about the recent flap over teammate Jacoby Ellsbury and his decision to rehab away from the team, Lowrie was diplomatic. “I don’t want to comment on what Jacoby did. That’s his personal situation. I’ve had to make decisions that were right for me and he has to do the same, as does everyone else out there. If I’ve learned anything over the last couple of years, it’s your career and you need to do what’s right for you.”
Although hampered by the wrist and mono over the last couple of seasons, Jed smiled when his Series clinching hit against the Angels in the 2008 ALDS was brought up. “I saved the champagne bottles from the celebration, the ticket stubs and whatever I else I could and I made a nice plaque out of it. That’s a great memory, especially as a rookie. You’re just trying to get your feet wet. Those are the memories you hold on to for the rest of your life. It was obviously a big moment, one I’m looking forward to repeating.”
There’s no doubt that a healthy Jed Lowrie is more than capable of letting history repeat itself.
The All Star break is upon us in the International League. It’s a nice three day break, unless you are taking part in it. For the good people of Lehigh Valley, it’s the culmination of years of preparation. The I.L. and the Pacific Coast League alternate hosting the midsummer classic. Stars from both leagues gather and strut their stuff for a night in the spotlight. Bubba Bell will be the lone PawSox representative, since Robert Manuel is up with Boston. The game was held at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket in 2004. It was my first year back with the PawSox and it was amazing to watch all the hard work pay off so handsomely. Playing in the game doesn’t guarantee baseball immortality, however. I took a look back at the rosters of the 2004 All Stars, with the research help of Adam Giardino. Thought you’d be interested to see where some of the stars wound up. We’ll start with the I.L.
Buddy Bailey, manager- Buddy was fired by the Red Sox at the end of that 2004 season. He continues to work in the Cubs organization and is a legend in Venezuela, wher he manages winter ball.
Mike Griffin, pitching coach– Griff is the pitching coach for the Norfolk Tides. Luckily, we get to see him a couple of times a year. He was the longest tenured pitching coch in PawSox history.
Tim Kester, rhp- Kester is retired from baseball and works for the federal government in South Florida.
Earl Snyder, 3b- Snyder had a magical 2004 season, setting many PawSox records along the way. Snyder earned a World Series ring for his appearances in Boston that year. The native of Connecticut played in a total of 19 M.L. games.
Andy Dominique, c- “Dommer” wound up playing in 9 M.L. games for Boston.
Jesse Crain, rhp- set Minnesota record for most consecutive wins for a relief pitcher before a loss (12). pitched for Canada in the WBC in ’06 and ’09.
Dan Giese, rhp- The former Red Sox draftee (1999) was traded to San Francisco in 2002 for Alan Embree. Briefly quit baseball to sell cars. pitched for Yankees, A’s and Giants.
Alex Graman, lhp- Closer for the Seibu Lions.
Matt Whiteside, rhp- Once served as a judge for MIss USA pageant. in 2005 was suspended for violating minor league steroid policy.
Dane Sardinha, c- continues to play. currently with Philadelphia. Has also played for Reds and Tigers.
Jorge Cantu, if- successful M.L. career. Tampa Bay ’04-’07, Reds ’07, Fla ’08-present. June 23, 2010- hit his 100th M.L. home run. In 2008, he combined with Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla and Mike Jacobs to become the first infield ever with at least 25 HR each. Has 10 HR and 50 rbi so far in 2010.
Justin Morneau, 1b- became Twins starting 1b when Doug Mientkiewicz was traded to Boston. 4 time American League All Star and 2006 A.L. MVP. Won All Star game HR derby in 2008.
Andy Phillips, 1b- MVP of the 2004 Triple A All Star game. Yankees farmhand hit walk off home run to win it. During postgame interview, I told him that it would be the only time he’d ever be cheered at McCoy. He laughed. A few weeks later he and the Clippers came to to McCoy and he was loudly booed. Played parts of 5 years in MLB.
Corey Hart, of- 2 time member of 20/20 club (’07, ’08) and two time N.L. All Star (including 2010).
Pacific Coast League
Scott Atchison, rhp- Currently in Red Sox bullpen. Gave up game winning homer to Phillips. When he arrived at McCoy this spring, said it was the first time he’d been back since.
Dan Haren, rhp- PCL starting pitcher in ’04 ASG. Former A’s pitcher, three time N.L. All Star with Diamondbacks
Wil Nieves, c- 7 ML seasons with Padres, Yankees and Nationals. In 2007, was Mike Mussina’s “personal catcher”.
Clint Barmes, ss- Was a PCL All Star in ’07, as well. in April 2005, hit .410 (3d rookie in ML history) On June 5, 2005 he broke his collarbone, falling down the stairs while carrying a package of venison that was a gift from Todd Helton.
Bucky Jacobsen, 1b- Winner of the Triple A All Star game home run derby at McCoy. Hit a ball through the windshield of a WPRI TV 12 news truck. Injuries derailed his career. The behemoth is on Seattle TV as part of the Mariners broadcasts.
John Gall, of– Parts of three seasons in ML baseball. Hit a home run for the US in the 2006 Olympics against Taiwan. Led to an appearance on Oprah and an invitation to the White House. Was also a guest of honor to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
Adam Riggs, of- one of dozens named in the Mitchell Report for alleged steroid use. In 2003, wore an Angels jersey with the team name spelled incorrectly on the front “Angees”.
There’s a look at some of the participants from that great day in July of 2004. Six years ago in some ways, in other ways- a lifetime.
The Boston Red Sox had to make a decision recently. They moved Michael Bowden out of the PawSox starting rotation and into the bullpen. The Sox do not just go around willy-nilly making decisions on a whim. Given the state of their pen (battered and bruised) and given the way Michael has been pitching (very well), it seems to make a lot of sense. For the season, Michael Bowden had gone 4-3 with a 3.77 ERA (before Wednesdays’ relief appearance). Sounds OK, right? Consider these numbers. In his last 7 starts, he was 3-1 with an ERA of 1.83, allowing just 9 earned runs in the last 44 plus innings. His last start was an absolute gem. He allowed one run on one hit (home run by Scrantons’ Juan Miranda) in 7.2 innings. He made his relief debut for 2010 Wednesday ajnd didn’t disappoint. In 2 innings, he allowed just one hit and had a strikeout and no walks. His effort helped the PawSox cement a win in Lehigh Valley, 4-2.
Michael and I sat down before the game and talked about his “new job”. “Two days ago, I got the information from Torey (Lovullo) that I am now a permanent member of the PawSox bullpen.” The 23 year old righthander, who is rock solid in every way, recognizes that this is not a demotion and could lead to big things. “When he told me, I was actually very excited. My little bit of time in the bullpen last year in the Big Leagues- I learned a lot. I really liiked knowing that I had the opportunity to go out every day and pitch. I just have to change my mindset. Like I said, I was very excited. I think there is a reason behind everything the Red Sox do and hopefully, in the grand scheme of things, it gets me to the Big Leagues faster and I stay there and help the ballclub win.”
Although Michael has been with Pawtucket for parts of three seasons now, almost 2 full years, he never shows his emotions in public. If he’s frustrated, you’d never know. His maturity shines through consistently. He does not expect anything he hasn’t earned. “That’s part of the game. There are many ups and downs. I started the year badly and therefore I didn’t expect to get a promotion any time soon. I’m a guy who feels like you have to earn it, and I didn’t feel like I had at the beginning of the season. I’m throwing better now and I’m in the bullpen and hopefully the transition goes smoothly and everything will fall into place.”
Michael understands that there will be adjustments to be made, both physically and mentally. He is prepared to handle the task. “Starters on the PawSox staff try to be very efficient with the pitch count. We try to induce early contact, hit corners, hit our spots, hoping that we put the ball in play early, wanting to go further into games. In relief, I can let it go a little bit. I can do my job, knowing that I don’t have to face the hitters 2 or 3 times in a ballgame. I can go out for an inning or two, go out there and give everything I’ve got, and do eveything I can to get three outs.” Bowden adds that it isn’t all physical. “Definitely, mentally, in the bullpen you have to a lot more aggressive, know the situations, know the score, clean innings. Yeah, overall, it’s a different mindset. You just have to be aggressive and go after hitters.”
Michael Bowden can pinpoint the moment that his season turned around and he started throwing like the “old” Michael again. “I worked on a lot of mechanical issues during the offseason and at Spring Training. I’ve had a lot of repitition, going out there and trying to make it feel very good every day. I started developing some bad habits with my right arm, just getting a little bit ‘long’ , so therefore I was opening up and my head wasn’t staying on line. I was developing bad habits. My mechanics stayed the same, I just shortened up my arm path, getting in a better position to throw, and that enabled me to throw the ball a lot better.” Bowden admits that things turned around for him at that point. “Me, and Rich (Sauveur) and Dusty Brown were talking. I had one bullpen session where I worked just on the different arm path, and my very next start, was at that point, my best start of the season. After that, I started throwing the ball much better. It actually clicked pretty quickly. I am glad about that, but now it’s about getting the repititions and be as consistent as possible.”
Bowden is a quick study. Nobody outworks him. My bet is that he joins the bullpen and former starters like Daniel Bard and Dustin Richardson, and helps Boston get to the postseason.