Mike Roose is a Pawtucket native, born in the shadows of McCoy Stadium on the night of the longest game in professional baseball history. He served 4 tours of duty with the United States Air Force, in Iraq and Afghanistan. For two seasons, he was the strength and conditioning coach for the PawSox, and now serves as the coordinator for the entire minor league system. His “office” is a gleaming, state of the art facility at jetBlue Park in Fort Myers. Recently, Roose joined the PawSox on the road and we had the chance to catch up.
Roose is grateful for his new opportunity. “It feels great. It makes me realize that working hard and putting the extra time in taking care of guys, eventually pays off. I’m working on a larger scale now, but a lot of people had my back. Arnie (Beyeler), JJ (Trainer John Jochim), the coaches. They all put in a good word for me. They are the ones who thrust me into this position and I appreciate it.
Instead of working with 24 or 25 players, Roose is charged with the responsibility of coordinating the whole system. “I work with all 7 affiliates. 4 are playing right now. I’ve got a bunch of guys in Fort Myers, It’s a great responsibility, but I’ve got a lot of good people that do a great job. All the trainers at every level are really good at what they do.” While the workload is greater, Roose fondly recalls his years with the Pawsox. “It was great. I was near my family and got to spend time with my buddies. It was a lot of fun.”
Roose says his military background has been integral in helping him with his career in coaching. “Oh Yeah. It was the biggest experience of my life. The discipline. Learning to work in some less than ideal environments, you make adjustments. Pushing guys, motivating them, even when they’re tired…that all came from my military background.” Roose will try to relate his experiences to his players. He knows that a 7 hour bus ride or the heat of Fort Myers aren’t the worst things that can happen to you. “That stuff is luxurious compared to being in the desert. I know it’s a long season, but there’s definitely worse places to be than on a bus going to play another baseball game.”
The Red Sox spent a lot of money on their new facility in Fort Myers and with Mike Roose running it, they’ll get the most out of it.
When the Scranton Wilkes Barre Yankees came to McCoy this week, I was very excited about one thing. Seeing Manny Delcarmen, the kid from West Roxbury, who realized a dream. Manny grew up a Red Sox fan and always wanted to wear the Boston uniform. He was drafted by the Sox and worked his way through the system, of course pitching for the PawSox, before earning the promotion to Boston. Manny eventually won a World Series ring in 2007. Now he’s pitching for the “enemy”, trying to get a spot in the bullpen in the Bronx.
I was on the field, talking to strength coach Lee Tressel of the Yankees. Lee is the nephew of former Ohio State football coach, Jim Tressel. I asked him where Manny was and he told me he was running in the outfield. A short while later, Tressel told me “Here he comes.” I turned around to greet my old friend and extended my hand in friendship. By then, it was too late. Manny said hi. “I’m Manny Banuelos.” He shook my hand. I quickly apologized and got more specific. “Oh, I’m sorry, I meant Delcarmen.” I found out that Banuielos is the Manny in the Yankees minor league system. Delcarmen finds it ironic that again, he’s the other Manny. With the Sox, he played in the shadow of Ramirez, now he toils as the second most popular Manny on his team , again. “Tell the PawSox fans that I’m really the original Manny.” he joked.
Manny looked different sitting in the visitors’ clubhouse with the Yankees t-shirt on and the pinstripe uniform hanging in his locker. He seemed to be happy to be back in somewhat familiar surroundings. “This is great. I’m really happy to be here.” Delcaarmen spoke about the adjuwstments he had to make after leaving the Sox. “When I first got traded it was a little shock to me. I had to go through this transition after being with Boston so long. Plus they traded me to the Rockies, on the other side of the country. It was a tough adjustment. A couple of years went by and now I’m back on the east coast with the Yankees. Being born and raised in Boston, I always said I wanted to start and end my career in Boston. I never saw myself playing with the Yankees but, here I am now trying to get back to the big leagues. It’s a privilege and I’m excited to be here.”
Even though he is now on the “dark side”, Manny fondly recalls the early days of his career. “I think it’s every kids dream to play with the team he grew up rooting for. I made that happen, and not too many guys can say that. We won the World Series and I got a ring. It was pretty much, the best time of my life.”
Manny has watched with interest as the Sox have gotten off to a poor start again in 2012. He keeps in touch with a lot of the guys. “I talk to Papelbon from time to time. I stay in touch with Bard and Buchholz. Watching the way they ended up last year was tough to watch. Again, they’re going through a lot of stuff right now. New management, players banged up. They’re the Red Sox and they can spark it up at any second, win ten in a row and then you’re looking at the whole team completely differently.”
Manny didn’t pitch in the series. He is currently on the disabled list with an injured quad muscle. He feels he’s about ready to get back at it soon. “I’ve been doing everything to get healthy. Ice, heat etc. I’m going to start playing catch in a couple of days and hopefully, I won’t miss too much more time.”
Manny joked about coming into the ballpark, one that he once called home. “I almost went in the home clubhouse. It’s great to be back here. I wish I was playing just to see how the fans would react and to see if they still remember who I am.”
I suspect they’d remember.
The early season success of the PawSox isn’t all that hard to figure out. Explosive offense, good defense and incredible pitching. The man who has set the pace on the mound for Pawtucket is right hander Aaron Cook. Cook, the Colorado Rockies all time wins leader (72) signed with the Sox as an option to be a fourth or fifth starter. Cook seems pleased with his early season progress. “Everything feels good right now. My mechanics, my pitches are doing what I want them to do. I’m really comfortable with the way things are going.”
Aaron seems to think that good pitching, like good hitting, can be contagious. “Guys tend to feed off each other. We have a real positive enegy working right now. Starting pitchers go out there now and don’t want to let anybody down. The bullpen is doing the same thing. It’s been fun to watch. Really good.”
With his 2-0 record and 1.35 ERA, Cook is certain to attract the attention of the front office in Boston. “More than what the stats are saying, my mechanics…I’m healthy and able to throw the ball where I want. That’s something I haven’t been able to do for two years with all the injuries I’ve had. That’s the thing I’m most impressed with myself about. I’m healthy, I can repeat my delivery I can throw the ball where I want, and the stats are proving that right now.”
Cook comes from Fort Campbell, Kentucky and went to Hamilton High School in Ohio. His biography on Wikipedia says he surrendered just one home run in high school, to a man who is beloved in the Nation. Aaron sets us straight. “I gave up more than one, but in my senior year I gave one up to Kevin Youkilis. That’s something I’ll neve forget. We played together on the same team when we were 13, 14, 15, and competed against each other all through high school. I definitely remember that. Cook smiled. “I gave up more than one. That’s for sure.”
As a starter for the Rockies, Cook was caught by Rhode Islander, Chris Ianetta. Aaron has a lot of respect for Ianetta. “He’s a great catcher. He works his butt off, day in and day out. He receives the ball well and more than that, he studies scouting reports more intensely than anybody I know. When he’s back there, you know he’s calling the game for the right reason. He very rarely makes mistakes and that makes it easier for a pitcher to just go out there and worry about executing pitches.”
Despite being on the losing end of the 2007 World Series, Cook has fond memories. He started game four and was opposed by Jon Lester. “It was awesome. Even though we didn’t win a single game in the Series. To make the playoffs, winning 21 of 22, for me pitching in the World Series is something I’ll never forget. I wish the results could have been different, but there are so many great players, so many Hall of Famers that never played in the World Series, and that is something that I don’t take lightly.”
On the bus ride home from Syracuse the other day, I was sandwiched in by National League All Stars. Cook (2008) sat behind me, while Gerald Perry, who was recognized 20 years earlier, sat in front of me. Aaron recalled his experience at old Yankee Stadium. “I came in, we had extra innings. It was 12:05 a.m. My wife was pregnant, sitting in the stands, about to give birth to our third child. Two minutes later, I had loaded the bases, with no outs. Russell Martin, who catches for the Yankees, was with the Dodgers then. He came out and said ‘well, what do you think?’ I told him I wasn’t a strikeout pitcher and that we’d have to get ground balls to third and short. I somehow got out of that, and when all was said and done, I pitched three innings and didn’t give up a run. Again, something I’ll never forget.”
Cook has an “out clause” in his contract, meaning that if he isn’t promoted to Boston by May 1, he has the option to leave and look for work elsewhere. Right now, he says that’s the furthest thing from his mind. “I’m here in Pawtucket and I know I’ve got a couple of starts left before May. It’s something I’m trying not to think about. I just want to go out and try to repeat the things I’ve been doing.”
Tony Thomas was an important part of the 2011 North Division champion PawSox. He decided to return to the organization this year for another go-round. Thomas found himself on the disabled list as the season began. Jacoby Ellsbury got hurt and through the domino effect, the Sox activated the second baseman for duty with Pawtucket.
On Monday night in Syracuse, Thomas exploded onto the scene, belting a pair of home runs and powering the PawSox to a 4-3 win over the Chiefs. Ironically, I had spoken to Thomas before the game and he was taking things in stride. “It was very frustrating. I worked hard all Spring Training.” Thomas managed to stay sharp while taking batting practice and fielding grounders. “You just go out there every day, as if you were playing. You don’t want to change your routine.”
Thomas hit 8 home runs last season for the PawSox. The minor league free agent decided that he wanted to remain Red Sox property. “I love the organization here as a whole. The people, the players the coaching staff, it’s like a big family over here. Everybody treats you the same and they welcome you with open arms.” Thomas has been around long enough to know that the Opening Day roster is certain to change, so you can’t worry. “It’s something you can’t control. Obviously, anything can happen. Being here in Pawtucket, you’re just a phone call away from dreams coming true.” Thomas admits that his Big League dream is always there. “Oh yeah. You can’t help but think about it. That’s why you come to the ballpark and work hard every day. Any time, any second of the day, they are making moves. You’ve got to be physically and mentally ready all the time.
Thomas, an extremely gifted athlete, who was courted by many of the top college football programs in the country as a high schgool standout in Florida has already proved that he is, indeed ready at a moments’ notice.
One of the few distasteful things about my job is the weather. Obviously, there’s nothing we can do about it, but it is a pain. It’s been steadily raining in Buffalo on Sunday since I got up. Nonetheless, we are required to be at the park, prepare for a broadcast and keep our “game face” on. Inside the clubhouse, guys play cards, stare at “Sportscenter”, talk on the phone and listen to music. Manager Arnie Beyeler has to make certain that the players stay sharp and are ready if the weather clears up. The players are human, they have access to the weather channels and have all been around. Sometimes, inevitably, they shut it down.
The other thing I really hate are player moves. Not the good ones. I’m thrilled when one of our guys gets promoted to Boston, especially for the first time. It’s the corresponding moves that are upsetting. For example, It breaks my heart that Jacoby Ellsbury suffered a shoulder injury and his season is in jeopardy. Ells came back from broken ribs in 2010 to post a MVP-type season in 2011. He has taken his place among the elite players in the game. Hopefully, it isn’t too serious. But for every transaction, there has to be a counter move. This is a business, and sometimes in business, your friends get the short end of the stick. No matter how long you’ve been in the game, it stinks.
Made a pilgrimage to the Anchor Bar after Saturdays’ game. For those who don’t know, it is purported that the Buffalo Chicken Wing was invented and developed at the establishment. True or not, it is a hit or miss proposition. Inconsistent, at best. It was Aarons’ first trip to the city, so I thought he’d enjoy it. He seemed to. The real wing feast comes this week in Syracuse. The Change of Pace, owned by my dear friend, Steve Grilli, who was the losing pitcher in the longest game in baseball history as a Rochester Red Wing, makes the best wings I have ever had. If you have read this blog before, you already know that.
Tarp is still on field, no sign of any good weather on the radar, but I’m going to do a few pregame calisthenics to stay ready. They say we’re going to play. I’ll believe it when I see it
I guess when you’ve been in the Intenational League as long as I have (12 years), you know a lot of people. The other day I told you about my encounters with former Pawtucket players like Bobby Scales and Fernando Cabrera. Here in Rochester, ex-Red Sox first baseman and PawSox standout, Aaron Bates is playing for the Red Wings. Bates was released by the Sox on March 31, 2011 and was subsequently scooped up by the Twins. He was pleased. “It’s a great organization. It’s been a pleasure. I’ve been fortunate to be with two first class organizations, Boston and the Minnesota Twins. Spring Training went well and I’m just looking to get the season underway.”
Bates took his release from Boston in stride. He’s a smart guy and he understands how things work. “It was just one of those things. I’m still close with everyone over there. I had had my best Spring Training ever that year, but I didn’t have that good of a year in 2010. I knew coming in that the odds were stacked against me a little bit. I’m still close with (assistant General Manager) Mike Hazen. I got a lot of opportunities with Boston. They gave me my Big League debut. The biggest thing is that I have so many friends over there. As far as the business end of it, I know how baseball goes and I appreciated the opportunity I had.”
It may be a little strange for Bates to be sitting in the Rochester dugout, with a former mentor of his across the field. “Arnie Beyeler is, if not THE, definitely one of the best managers i ever played for. I played for him a long time. I remember when I got called up to Double A (Portland) in 2007, I really didn’t know what to expect from Arnie. You get your work done with him. He gets you going. He makes you earn your stripes a little bit. As a younger guy, you don’t know what to expect from him, but once you show him that you play hard every day and go about your business the right way, he’ll do anything for you. He’ll break his back for you. I was so fortunate to have him coming up in the system. He taught me so much about baseball. How to play and how to prepare.”
Aaron is certain that his time in the Red Sox chain hasd helped him with the Twins. “Both teams are really big on preparation. The Sox helped me develop from a very young age and when you come over to this organization, you’re ready to play. I’m just fortunate that Boston does such a good job developing players. When I got here, I wasn’t like a fish out of water. I know how to play the game.”
After a long Spring in Fort Myers, facing the PawSox at least once a week, Bates is re-acquainted with his former teammates, but it’s still fun to see the guys in this setting. “It’s a lot of fun. I remember last year the first time we played the PawSox at McCoy, it was great. Lars (Anderson) and I were drafted the same year. (Ryan) Kalish is rehabbing. I know he’ll be back soon. I’m real close with him. It’s like seeing old friends. It’s like a reunion. You see all your buddies and it’s just fun to compete agsinst them.”
Bates took on as new “teammate” this offseason, the former Miss Massachusetts, Lacy Wilson. “I got married December 17th. It was a lot of fun. We’ve been together for a really long time and she’s been great. It was a fun offseason.” Bates is a player with some power in his bat, but he knows that this may be the biggest home run he’s evr hit. “We met right before I transferred to N.C. State and she’s been there all along, supporting me. It’s a good team, we’re a good team. She makes it really easy on me. It was a no- brainer. I’m just really fortunate to have her in my life.”
First let me say that I have never been a fan of Ozzie Guillen. From his days as a loudmouth player with the White Sox, all the way through to today as a loudmouth manager of the Marlins. He is one of those guys who just doesn’t have a filter. He says whatever pops into his head, a trait that most of us shed at about age 8. By now you’ve heard of the flap he caused by extolling the virtues of Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro. Something compelled Guillen to say, among other things that he “loved” Castro. Dan Lebatard, a successful columnist and ESPN host, happens to be a Cuban- American and likened Castro to Hitler. Imagine how youi’d feel if someone came out and expressed their love for Adolph.
The Marlins have acted swiftly. They had to because it’s a P.R. nightmare. Guillen was hired to be the face of the franchise, in a new ballpark in an area that is heavily Hispanic, and predominantly Cuban. Really Ozzie? Are you thast stupid or just careless and a little stupid? Guillen was quick with the “mea culpas”, but raise your hand if you believe the guy. Another P.R. move to try for damage control. The Marlins can ill-afford to lose such a vast portion of their audience. The crocodile tears and all were a nice touch, but Ozzie, you’ve got to wear this one. A five game suspension seems about right.
Jose Iglesias is a Cuban. In fact, the 22 year old defected from his country and the Castro regime to pursue his dreams of Major League baseball in the United States. Iglesias was diplomatic in his assessment of Guillens’ comments. “It’s his decision. I don’t really care what he says. We’re here to play baseball, or manage, not for politics. Thaat’s not our business. Playing the game. That’s what I’m here for. I’m not here because I hate Fidel. I’m here because I love baseball.”
Iglesias thinks there could be an impact at the ballpark in South Florida. Maybe a Cuban boycott? “Probably. There are a lot of Cuban people in Miami. If they hear that (Guillens’ comments), they’re going to be sad. A lot of bad has happened in the last 50 years. ” Iglesias feels fortunate, but he knows the people of previous generations, like his father and grandfather didn’t have it so easy. “I had a normal time in Cuba. Back in the old days, it waws more difficult for everybody.”.
I think Joses’ comments were on the mild side and that Guillen has created a furor, not only with the Cubans, but also with anyone that cares a whiff about humanity.
As I have stated so many times before, the best thing about my job is the friends that I make. It’s always fun to check an opposing roster and see if there are any former members of the PawSox still in action. This Spring I ran into shortstop Chris Woodward, back in the Blue Jays organization. He was with Boston for a short time a couple of seasons ago. I go back to the late ’90s with Woody, when we were together with the Syracuse Chiefs. Really, it doesn’t matter how long ago it was, if there was ever a bond, it should always be there.
In the first couple of series this season, the PawSox have faced Buffalo and Lehigh Valley. Former luminaries like Joe Thurston (2008), Hector Luna (2011) and Kevin Frandsen (2010) are all on the IronPigs roster. For Buffalo, Fernando Cabrera (2009,10) earned a save in the series finale and I spoke to him for the post game, on field interview. Certainly not the first time he earned a save at McCoy. The biggest kick for me, so far (besides chatting with “American Idol” finalist, Erika Van Pelt) was catching up with my old friend Bobby Scales, of the Bisons. Bobby played for the PawSox, under manager Ron Johnson, in 2007. Hard to imagine that it was that long ago. With his ever-present smile, Scales reflected. “It’s been a while, Steve. It’s fantastic. Pulling up here to the ballpark yesterday on the bus, even though it was late, it was a nice feeling. I really enjoyed the 2007 season here in Pawtucket R.I. Obviously, you want to be in the Big Leagues. That’s the goal. But I’ve told many people, if you’ve got to be in Triple A, Pawtucket is a great place to be.”
Scales finally realized his goal of playing Major League Baseball, with the Chicago Cubs. “Getting called up is why I play. It’s why everybody on this team plays. To get the call and for it to be real…It is a special day.” Scales says he was warmly received. “It was great, walking into the clubhouse and seeing all those guys. They all knew how long I had waited. I was 31 years old at the time. They were as happy for me as I was for myself. When I think about it, I still get the ‘warm and fuzzies’.”
Scales quest to return to the Majors has taken him to the Mets organization, where admittedly, he feels he’s fairly deep on their bench. It reminded me of 2007. Scales began the season in Pawtucket as the 24th man on the roster and wound up being one of the most important men on the club that year. He takes it all in stride. “It’s been a common theme throughout my career. It’s funny. It’s no different than any other time in my career. I’m just hoping that the opportunity comes, where ever it may be. Second, third, outfield. It doesn’t matter. I know I still have a lot to offer.”
After being the Cubs’ last cut in 2011, Scales began the season at triple A, Iowa, where he did what he always does, play well. His fate changed one day, when he was spotted by a Japanese scout. “There were these Japanese scouts in the stands and their second baseman had broken his leg. I happened to be the right guy at the right time. I was hot so they extended me an offer. The Cubs allowed me to be purchased, so I went to Sapporo, Japan and became a member of the Nippon Ham Fighters.”
While in Japan, Scales was teammates with Yu Darvish, the acclaimed pitcher signed by Texas this offseason. Scales says the 25 year old right hander is the real thing. “Stufff-wise, he’s got ‘plus’ stuff. Great fastball. Several kinds of breaking pitches. A cutter. It was devastating as he worked on it last year. He’s got the correct mindset, too. He’s a great guy and once he learns more about the culture here, he will be fantastic. Once he adapts, he’ll be dominant.”
Scales’ familiarity with Darvish helped him land another gig this offseason. With The MLB Network. “I had become friendly with Harold Reynolds. He called me to ask me about Darvish, if I had ever faced him, etc. I told him I hadn’t because we were teammates. That intrigued ‘HR’. Reynolds soon called him back and invited Scales to appear on the Network. They flew him up to Seacaucus, New Jersey, and for one night, Bobby Scales was on national television. “It was awesome. I really enjoyed the opportunity. They do a great job there. In front of the camera and behind the scenes. It was really fun.”
I reminded Bobby about where his “on air” career began. Back in 2007, Scales confided that he might like to try broadcasting when his playing days were over. He began “Weighing in with Bobby Scales”, a weekly pregame interview with one of his teammates. That spawned a cottage industry at McCoy. Since then, Jeff Natale (At Bat with Nat), Chad Paronto (Hanging with Chad) , Josh Reddick (The Chronicles of Reddick) and Tommy Hottovy (The Hott Corner) have followed in Scales’ footsteps. ” It’s good. I think it’s good that the listeners see that we are not just these baseball playing machines. We don’t just sit around all day watching TV. Guys have some depth to them. We’re funny, we’re insightful. Besides being fortunate enough to play this game, it’s nice for people to know we can think. The fans who work hard and spend their money to come to the park, get to know us on a personal level.”
Anyone who gets to know Bobby Scales on a personal level should consider themselves fortunate.
PawSox alum Kevin Youkilis has turned himself into one of the best all-around players in the game. A far cry from the days of Youk riding the “Lou Merloni Highway” up and down route 95 between McCoy Stadium and Fenway Park. To his credit, every time he was sent back to the PawSox, Kevin put his nose to the grind stone and produced. I caught up with the All Star in Fort Myers and he is excited about the prospects for the 2012 season. “I feel good. The change of venue, this whole new Spring Training facility has been great. Guys have adapted well to it and really enjoyed it. I think we’re real excited to start the year here. We’ve got some things to work on, but we’re excited to put all 25 guys together, and go out there and play Detroit.”
Youk felt that one of the biggest differences at camp this year as opposed to the past, was the number of roster spots up for grabs. “It’s definitely a little different this year. There are new guys in here and new coaches. You kind of get used to it. You have to adapt. This year it is all about whatever 25 guys are out there trying to win a championship and that is our goal.”
Kevin says the bitter taste of last September has been washed away, as far as he’s concerned. “The players don’t think about that anymore. People keep bringing it up, but we’re focused on what we have to do every day to win. That’s ancient history to all the players and hopefully, everyone else can get over it and move on. Taste winning, and finish in first place this year.”
Youkilis is enjoying his role as one of the “elder statesmen” on this club. It seems like only yesterday he was fighting for a Major League spot. “It’s a long way from 2004. There’s still a lot of ball to be played, and for me, I enjoy playing for the Red Sox, taking the field with these guys. For me, it’s such a luxury to be playing this game, and for so long. Most guys don’t get to enjoy it as long as I have. I look at it as a blessing every day I get to play in the Major Leagues and for the Boston Red Sox.”
Youkilis grew up in Cincinnati and still has a home there. He is a University of Cincy alum and has spent many enjoyable hours listening to my former braodcast partner, Dan Hoard. This past Winter, Dan added Cincinnati Bengals games to his duties in addition to his job as voice of the BearCats. “Dan’s a great guy. It’s exciting to see what he’s doing. I usually watch on TV, but I did get to listen one time. To hear him and (Dave) Lapham do the games is fun. He’s definitely a great guy ad a great announcer and I’ve heard him for years doing the BearCats. It’s cool to have him there and I wish him a lot of success.” I know a lot of people who are wishing for that same continued success for Kevin Youkilis.