Drafting in any sport is such an inexact science. The Super Bowl is this coming Sunday. Quarterback Tom Brady was the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL draft, from the University of Michigan. Is there any doubt now that if those “experts” had crystal balls back then, that Brady would have gone 198 picks sooner? ESPN touts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay as experts. If I ever had the time or desire, we would all have a good laugh thumbing through their picks. The “can’t miss” guys who turned out to be busts and conversely the Brady types, who were greatly undervalued.
Same holds true in baseball. “Baseball America” puts out an annual list of the top prospects in all the organizations. It is uncanny how quickly those prospects are jumbled. The 2012 list has third baseman WIll Middlebrooks listed as #1. Will is followed by shortstop Xander Bogaerts, Catcher, Blake Swihart, righty Anthony Ranaudo, and outfielder Bryce Brentz at #5. Rounding out the top 10- outfierlder Brandon Jacobs, 3b Garin Cecchini, righthander Matt Barnes, Catcher Ryan Lavarnway and of Jackie Bradley. A quick look back just one season shows an amazing amount of change in the top 10.
1. Casey Kelly (rhp) currently #3 San Diego prospect Adrian Gonzalez deal)
2. Jose Iglesias (ss) hit .235 for PawSox in 2011. 31 rbi, 12 errors, turned 22 on 1/5/12
3. Anthony Rizzo (1b) currently #1 San Diego prospect (Gonzalez deal)
4. Anthony Ranaudo (rhp) currently #4 Red Sox prospect (9-6, 3.97 at Salem/Greenville in 2011)
5. Drake Britton (lhp) after 4 years in organization 4-18, 4.82 ERA, in 2011 1-13, 6.91
6. Reymond Fuentes (of) traded to Padres (Gonzalez deal) .275, 5, 45rbi, 41 sb (A ball)
7. Josh Reddick (of) traded to Oakland for Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney. In 184 games over parts of 3 seasons, Reddick had 32 home runs and 107 rbi for Pawtucket. He will be 25 on Opening Day
8. Felix Doubront (lhp) Doubront suffered through an injury plagued 2011 season, he was 2-5, with a 4.22 ERA for the PawSox.
9. Stolmy Pimentel (rhp) went a combined 6-13, 6.79 (A/AA)
10. Garin Cecchini (3b) in 32 games at Lowell, the 20 year old hit .298, 3, 23 with 12 SB
Just a thumbnail sketch of how quickly things can change. It is a lot of opinion and conjecture. You can form your own opinions by coming out to the park and watching the PawSox.
I’ll start with Steven Tyler. The Aerosmith front man and American Idol judge sang the national anthem at Gillette Stadium on Sunday before the Patriots’ 23-20 win over Baltimore. It wasn’t perfect, but because it was Steven, I loved it. I didn’t think much more about it until Monday when I started reading the reviews. I found the criticism to be a little harsh. Tyler, decked out in a very shiny Patriots scarf, is our guy. The only “real” rock star from New England (with all due respect to Tom Brady). Maybe the voice isn’t as powerful as it once was, but it is unmistakable.
It reminded of one the best days I ever had. My brother Luke and I were able to secure tickets to Game 1 of the 2004 World Series. We were like a couple of little kids as we made our way to Fenway. There to throw out the first pitch was one of our childhood heroes, Carl Yastrzemski. Yaz was right on target. Tyler, who lives in Marshfield Mass., belted out the anthem and later that evening, American Idol, season 1 champion, Kelly Clarkson sang “God Bless America.” I guarantee you, Kate Smith never looked so good, even on her best day. Yaz, Steven and Kelly made it a special night. Oh yeah, the 11-9 win over St. Louis was pretty special, too. I don’t care if they have to wheel Tyler out there on a stretcher, the guy is a star. By the way, where can I get one of those scarves? I’d definitely wear it.
Boston Bruins goalie, Tim Thomas was not with the team as they visited President Obama to celebrate last seasons’ Stanley Cup championship over Vancouver. The Bruins trekked to the nations’ capitol to visit with the President. Thomas and defenseman Steven Kampfer were the only Americans on the squad. On one hand, I find it to be disrespectful As the sayng goes, “you don’t have to respect the man, but you must respect the office.” Looking at the flip side, that is what’s great about being an American. Freedom of Choice. Bruins President, Cam Neely defended his star goalkeeper. “Everyone has their own opinions and political beliefs and he chose not to join us.” Such an occurence is not without precedence. When the Red Sox travelled to Washington after the 2007 win over Colorado, Manny Ramirez was a “no show.” George W. Bush acknowledged his absence, quipping “I guess his grandmother died again.”
There is a strange phenomena in minor league baseball. I will call it the “Second Year Syndrome.” This is how it works. When a player, coach or manager returns for a second season to a team, for example, the PawSox, there is an automatic rise in the friendliness level towards the radio broadcaster. Even if you weren’t especially close with the guy the previous season, it happens most of the time. This unfolded on Friday night at McCoy Stadium during the annual Hot Stove event. Hundreds of PawSox fans braved the cold to meet manager Arnie Beyeler and players Luis Exposito, Alex Wilson, Brandon Duckworth and Alex Hassan. Expo and I got along well in 2011, but I was surprised when “Dapped me down” when we first saw each other. A “Dap” is when you shake hands and put the other hand on the other persons back, pull them in closer to you and pat them on the back. I was taught that term by former broadcast partner Raymont Harris, a running back from Ohio State who went onto a fine career with the Chicago Bears.
It was great to see Arnie Beyeler again. The skipper did a really good job in 2011, leading the PawSox to the I.L. North Crown. He feels he has a decided advantage heading into this season. “Familiarity. It’s been a lot more comfortable coming in here, knowing the people, knowing you, knowing the setup and just knowing what you are getting into. Last year was new and all the challenges of everybody telling me how difficult it was going to be, Triple A with the older players. I just hope we can duplicate the type of season we had last year. It was a lot of fun.”
Arnie hasn’t had much time to relax this offseason. He managed in the prestigious Arizona Fall League, but he’s not complaining. “I had a good time out at the Fall League. That goes through the end of November. Usually I get a little more “down time”. Get into shape, That hasn’t happened, but I had a great time out there, developing relationships with players and other people was great. We had some good players out there. Top prospects from other organizations. We had a good team. We didn’t play too well, but it was a lot of fun”
As the Triple A manager for the Boston Red Sox, Beyeler worked closely with Terry Francona. He hasn’t really had the opportunity to work yet with Bobby Valentine, but looks forward to the chance. “Haven’t spoken with him yet. I don’t even really know him. I met him briefly last year while he was working an ESPN game, but that was it. I’m really looking forward to developing a relationship with him and his new staff, working with those guys and learning from them, just like we did with Tito the last few years. I’m going to miss Francona, because of the familiarity I had, but it’s going to be great picking a new guys brain and hopefully, broadening my horizons.”
Beyeler is looking forward to Spring Training and the team he will bring up north for the season opener. “I think we’ll be pretty much the same team we ended up with last year. There’ll be new guys in town, free agents and guys like that. These guys will get the chance to make a new first impression with the new staff in Boston. Hopefully, these guys can repeat what we did last year and they can be successful, get the opportunity to go to the Big Leagues. That’s what it’s all about.”
I have been happily reunited with my laptop computer, rescued and brought back from near-death by the good folks at NetCenergy. How did our ancestors survive without laptops?
First, let me thank the great people affiliated with the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association in Saulsbury, North Carolina. Executive Director Dave Goren, who incidentally used to cover the PawSox telephoned the other night to tell me that I had been named the Rhode Island Sportscaster of the year for 2011. It is the third year in a row and the fifth time in the last 6 years I have won. Very humbling, especially when you gather with the other winners at the annual convention in the Spring. I want to congratulate my friend and colleague, Brendan McGair of the Pawtucket Times. “B-Mac” won his second consecutive Sportswriter of the year honor. Thanks also to my I.L. broadcasting brethren who have called and sent notes. Appreciate it.
Was thrilled to see the Sox bring catcher Kelly Shoppach back to the organization. “Shop” was an I.L. All Star with the PawSox in 2004 and 2005. He’s been in the Big Leagues since then. Kelly is a talented hitter and very good defensive catcher. He’s tough and has a nasty streak in him that should serve the Red Sox well.
In 2004, we were playing the Norfolk Tides and Scott Erickson was pitching for the visitors. I mentioned on the air that he was in a relationship with former New England Patriots cheerleader and ex-Monday Night Football sideline reporter, Lisa Guerrero. I also noted that she was once involved with former Pats quarterback, Hugh Millen. No big deal, and common knowledge to any local sports fan. I thought nothing of it until batting practice the next day. I was sitting in the home dugout at McCoy when Shoppach and fellow catcher, Andy Dominique started harrassing me. “Man, Hyder, that was some messed up stuff you were talkinjg about last night on the radio.” Shoppach confronted me. I had no idea what he was talking about. Dominique chimed in “I better never hear you talking about any of our wives that way.” I figured that one of them must have been in the clubhouse while I was talking about Erickson and Guerrero. “You guys are nuts.” I defended myself. “I didn’t say anything negative and it was all things that have been in the public.” By now, a crowd of PawSox players began to gather around our argument and I knew I had better be able to defend myself, and win the argument or it could be a long season. With baseball players, there’s a “pack” mentality involved, and a guy who wouldn’t say “boo” ordinarily, finds strength in numbers, so slowly the noise level began to escalate.
Shoppach continued. “Seriously, Hyder, you better never even mention my girls’ name on the air.” I had a quick retort. “You mean after last week when you had me say ‘hi’ to her during a game?” That started the others laughing and teasing the burly catcher. Shoppach replied. “Y’all can laugh all ya want” he said as he dug in his heels. “But I guarantee if I hear it, no way you’ll be able to broadcast the next night.” The absurdity of his threat made me want to laugh. No time to back down, now. I had to win his respect and the respect of his teammates. Every now and then you come up with the right answer at just the right time. “Shopp- that may be so, but I guarantee you something, as well. Ain’t no way you’ll be able to catch that night, either.”
Everyone, including Kelly, broke into laughter, diffusing the situation. Our relationship was solid from there on out. As I said before, I am glad he’s back.
RIP Rick Hole. The former head baseball coach and Athletic Director at my alma mater, Rogers High School in Newport RI passed away on Sunday after a long and courageous battle against illness. Rick was my gym teacher who turned into a lifelong friend and mentor. Every year the highlight of my trip to Spring Training in Fort Myers, was the time I’d spend with him and his wife Jackie. I am really going to miss him.