I have broadcast thousands of baseball games over my career. Somewhere between 1700-1800 nights at ballparks all across the fruited plains. Every season has ultimately ended in a loss, until Thursday night, September 13, 2012. That was the night the Pawtucket Red Sox ended a 28 year drought. For the first time since Ronald Reagan occupied the Oval Office, The PawSox reign as the champions of the International League. Being there was a surreal experience.
As a broadacster, you’re really not part of the team itself, but you are recognized as a part of the entourage. You stay in the same hotels, eat at the same restaurants, ride the same busses and hang on every win and loss. One of the greatest things I’ve ever seen was the final out, a sharply hit ground ball hit up the first base line, smothered by Andy LaRoche. Andy waved off pitcher Josh Fields, stepped on the bag and the celebration began.
International League President, Randy Mobley made the presentation of the Governors’ Cup, symbolic of the I.L. championship to PawSox President, Mike Tamburro, General Manager, Lou Schweccheimer, Manager, Arnie Beyeler, and Red Sox Director of Player Development, Ben Crockett. As the trophy was being hoisted, PawSox players orchestrated a well-choreographed attack of champagne on the brass. The air was filled with foam and bubbles and plenty of smiles. Over the course of a 144 game season, there are a lot of games that don’t matter. This one clearly did. I know a lot of the people there thought about Ben Mondor, the late owner of the PawSox, Arnie Beyeler mentioned him, saying he appreciated the help Ben must have given his club, smiling down from above.
There has to be a catchy nickname for the Champion PawSox. This club, lead by Nelson Figueroa, who won the clinching game in the regular season, the first round of the playoffs and in the championship round, as well, defied the odds. A team decimated by promotions and defections and trades, had no business contending. Portland Sea Dogs, veteran free agent types and a few remaining from our opening day roster, banded together and won it all. In the long and storied history of the Pawtucket Red Sox franchise, these guys will forever be known as the PawSox team that won it all. For some, it may be the highlight of their career, for others, perhaps a stepping stone to greater heights. It can never be taken away.
The PawSox rampaged through the I.L. playoffs, going 6-1. That includes the first sweep in franchise history in the playoffs, taking three in a row from the completely overmatched Cahrlotte Knights. There is a bit of unfinished business. Tuesday night, the PawSox will face the winner of the Pacific Coast League title, either Omaha or Reno. It’s a one game, winner take all event, the Triple A National Championship. It will be played in Durham, North Carolina. Win or lose, this has been a special season. We are the Champions!
This is the latest version of “The Catch”. If you’re a Willie Mays fan, it may have come in 1954. If you are a San Francisco 49er fan, it may have been Montana to Clark. If you are PawSox fan, this might be your Holy Grail. Jason Repko made the catch of the season the other day at McCoy, leaping over the leftfield wall to rob Kosuke Fukudome of a Grand Slam. It was a miraculous play by a very gifted defensive player. “The Catch” got, not only our attention, but the attention of the folks at the “Today Show”, “Good Morning America” and ESPN, to name a few. Repkos’ gem is currently a three time winner of the SportsCenter Top Ten, Best of the Best. This means it has been deemed the best play in sports for three days in a row. That includes ML baseball, NFL, US Open Tennis, Golf, Soccer and the 2012 Paralympics. Very impressive.
Repko takes us through what he saw off the bat of Fukudome. “I knew it was going to be somewhere in the vicinity of being near the wall. I didn’t know it was going to be a homer. I had a pretty good read on it. Running back, I knew I was going to try to make a play on it. I was running pretty quick and jumped up. Instantly, as I was catching the ball, I looked to see where I was. I was already up on the wall. I knew I was going over. Luckily, I stretched my right hand over to brace myself and I was able to twist myself onto my feet. Not hurt…so it was good stuff.” Repko scratched his arm on the play, so he checked that as he realized there were runners on base and that was the first out. He still can’t explain why he jumped back onto the playing field before making his throw. One run scored, but only one as he got a thunderous ovation at McCoy.
A great defensive player, Jason ranked his heroics. “That’s right up there with some of my best, I think. I’ve made catches like that before, but the wall has never been four and a half feet high, so that adds to it, flipping over into the bullpen.” What flashes through your mind at a moment like that? “More than anything, it was trying to prevent myself from falling on my face. As funny as it sounds, I’ve looked behind that fence before to see if anything was back there. Pre-planning in my head. This was months ago when I first got here. If something like this happens, am I safe doing what I did. Everything looked good back there, so that’s what made me feel free about going for it.”
Repko says the acclaim and notoriety has resulted in tons of tweets, texts and facebook messages. “It’s been pretty cool.” Repko isn’t the first PawSox player to make the coveted top 10 in 2012. In May, Lars Anderson peaked at #4 when his home run hit his picture on the giant video board at McCoy. Repko has taken it to a new level. Already a three day winner, this could receive an ESPY nomination as play of the year.
As a conspiracy theorist and a guy who likes a little controversy now and then, I jokingly asked Jason if he really made the catch. His eyes bugged out and he quickly and emphatically replied. “Of course I did. The umpire asked me the same question.” If you don’t believe Jason, just check out the bullpens’ reaction. In unison, they raised their arms. You can’t stage that.
In the end, “The Catch” may be overwhadowed by the Governors’ Cup playoffs and a possibhly an I.L. crown, but those who saw it, won’t soon forget it.