While the PawSox are swinging through Louisville and Indianapolis, the Red Sox are hosting the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway. Toronto is managed by former Boston pitching coach John Farrell. One of the first things Farrell did upon his hiring, was hire former Big Leaguer,Torey Lovullo to be his first base coach. Torey had just finished his first season as manager of the PawSox. We are prone to superlatives in this world. “The greatest this, the best that…” I can tell you that there is no one baseball that I respect more, or like better than Lovullo. “The one year spent in Bostons’ organization, I made some great friends. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for Hydes.”
Lovullo is sitting the opposite dugout these days, but he’s especially proud of one of his former players. “I have had a chance to visit with Daniel Nava and see him and watch what he’s turned into. He was a starry-eyed triple A player the year I was there. He got called up. It did get to be a little too much for him towards the end, but I’m watching him now, running around leftfield. he’s playng the ‘monster’ as good as anyone in the American League. He’s having great at bats and that’s fun for me. I’m very proud of all those kids. Kalish, Anderson…the year I spent wiht them, I became very close with them. If I was able to help any of them, I am able to look back very pridefully on our time together.”
After his first year in Toronto, the Red Sox made a call to Torey to see if he’d like to interview for the seat vacated by Terry Francona, and eventually filled by Bobby Valentine. “Anytime you get a chance to sit in that chair, it’s an honor. It’s a great honor. I sat with some great leaders of the franchise and share some of my thoughts and visions for the future. I was honored that they considered me and I got the 7-1/2 or 8 hours to express myself. It was a great baseball conversation. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the nod. It’s all about timing and if the situation arises again, I will be ready.”
Lovullo grew up in California and attended the same high school as Cher and Michal Jackson (not at the same time). He starred at UCLA and eventually was ijnducted into the schools’ Hall of Fame. His father is Sam Lovullo, the Executive Producer of the old TV show, “HeeHaw”. I made Torey tell me my favorite story, his encounter with music royalty, a man known as the “King”. “The story has turned into folklore and certain people love to hear about it. My dad was on a trip from Nashville to L.A. where they produced the show. A man got into first class and sat next to my father. It was Elvis Presley. He and my dad struck up a conversation and he eventually invited us all back to his place in Palm Springs.” Torey continued. “My sisters say I get the story wrong every time I tell it, but hey, I was only 5 or 6. I remember the excitement when we got out of the car and arrived at Presleys’ home. Everyone was very excited. To me, it was a chance to play some basketball and I couldn’t wait to get out there. I don’t remember the details, but I know I played some basketball with him and I got the chance to meet him in a way most people don’t get to.” Torey joked. “I guess it doesn’t really matter. In ten years from now, I’ll be saying I was up on stage with him, and one of his best friends.”
I suspect that in ten years from now, he’ll be better known as a top flight major league manager, rather than a guy who shot hoops with the “King.”
Come out to the ballpark and it’s almost guaranteed that each and every day, you’ll see something different or out of the ordinary. That would have been the case on Sunday at McCoy, when third baseman, Andy LaRoche pitched the top of the fourteenth inning for the PawSox and WON. LaRoche allowed a hit, but no runs in the 5-4 victory over Buffalo. LaRoche laughed when he was introduced as Sundays’ winning pitcher. “It’s a little funny, but good to hear, because I was 0-5 in the game. It’s good that I was able to help us win.”
Andy had pitched and won a game once before, in 2011 with Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League. He says he could have continued longer if Nate Spears hadn’t homered to end the marathon. “I had one more inning for sure left in me. If they needed me after that, I probably could have just thrown it up there. But I could’ve actually pitched one more inning.” Despite the smile on his face, LaRoche admitted that he was more sore than usual. “Pretty sore. My back and shoulder are more sore than usual. Last year, in the same situation, I could barely move for about two or three days. I took precaution yesterday, sat in the ice bath for about twenty minutes after the game.”
Athletes want to sing. Singers want to act. Actors want to play ball. Do position players want to be pitchers, and vice versa? “I’m happy being a position player, but it’s always fun to go out there and pitch. It’s like it’s fun for a pitcher to play a position or hit. You don’t always want to do the other job, but it is fun to get the opportunity.”
Earlier in the game, LaRoche was involved in a play at third that eventually lead to the ejection of manager, Arnie Beyeler. Bisons centerfielder, Matt den Dekker was called safe at third on a play that all 7103 fans at McCoy saw the other way. Beyeler argued vehemently. LaRoche agreed with his skipper. “I just think the umpire had a bad angle so he couldn’t really tell. The replay showed he was out, but umpires are human and they’re going to make mistakes. It was a big play in the game, but it could have hurt a lot worse.”
LaRoche was involved in the trade that sent Manny Ramirez to L.A. and Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen to Pittsburgh. Andy wound up being teammates with Moss and Hansen, but he was excited about the deal for other reasons. “It was amazing. My favorite part was going to Pittsburgh to play with my brother (Adam). I guess I can always say I got traded for Manny Ramirez. It’s nice to know you’re going to a place that is willing to give someone up for you.”
Not only is Andys’ brother a Big Leaguer. Their dad, Dave, was a successful Major League pitcher with the California Angels in the ’70s and ’80s. He says it was a competitive family. “My dad actually retired the year I was born (1983) but immediately got into coaching. It was great growing up around the game in that atmosphere. It taught us a lot about the game and got us prepared for life in pro ball.”
While a young Andy LaRoche was hanging around the White Sox clubhouse, it wasn’t a pitcher he looked up to. “I grew up idolizing Frank Thomas. He was always my favorite player and so nice around the clubhouse. When I got a little older, it was Craig Biggio. Just the way he played the game. I liked the Astros. I was living in Houston at the time. He was a “dirtbag” kind of player. Biggio was always one of my favorites.”
Mike Hazen, the assistant general manager of the Boston Red Sox is in town to take a look at the PawSox. He was kind enough to sit down and discuss baseball matters today at McCoy. Hazen says that despite the crazy nature of the 2012 season, everything is just fine. “It’s been a challenging first half of the season. It’s fun. We’re grinding away. We’re looking forward to the big club taking off and having a great second half of the season. The biggest thing is watching these guys from Pawtucket go up and help Boston. A lot of guys have made the most of it. It’s fun to see.”
Hazen says thing haven’t really changed with the departure of Theo Epstein to the Cubs. His replacement, Ben Cherington has a similar management style. “It’s always been very much a group effort. A lot of people help make decisions, but the general manager makes the final decision. There’s a wide array of voices and opinions helping in the decision process. No one is right every time on every decision, so it’s good.”
As the non-waiver trade deadline approaches, Hazen says there is one simple factor that decides whether the Sox will be buyers or sellers in a couple of weeks. “You determine that based on your chances to make the playoffs. Given the team and the talent we have, that is still the focus. We’re in the hunt, especially given the second wild card spot. With our team, we feel very strongly that this team is going to go on a run and contend in the second half. We can certainly get to the playoffs and challenge for another World Series.”
Hazen says that injuries are a part of the game and are not an excuse for what has gone on. “Everyone has injuries. The role of the minor leagues at this level is to provide support. It’s unrealistic to expect a lot of kids to go up there and have a big impact. Some guys, like (Will) Middlebrooks do. It’s sometimes unfair to expect the kids to replace the superstars, but a lot of the time, they do a really good job.”
Hazen was also happy to single out the effort of Daniel Nava, the young man who wasn’t even invited to M.L. camp this February. “Daniel Nava has not only stepped in as a fill-in, but he’s become an every day player. He has far surpassed the expectations of everyone in terms of what he’s done for the club. It’s great to see. I think Daniel took a step back and assessed the way he’d approach things if he got another Major League opportunity. He’s stepped right in and executed his plan. His maturity has helped and entrenched him with the big club for now.”
I’d like to tell you that I’m sipping a tropical drink on a beach in Tahiti, but in reality, I’m sitting in my driveway on a folding chair, choking down a warm beer. It’s giving me plenty of time to ponder the first half of the 2012 season. Actually, “first half” is a misnomer. The PawSox have about 50 games remaining on their regular season schedule. Nonetheless, I thought I’d share some of my most vivid memories.
Most pleasant surprise- In my mind, it’s Daniel Nava. All but forgotten, Nava didn’t even receive an invitation to Major League camp this Spring. I shudder to think where Boston would be without him. Now Bobby V and all of the Nation realizes that Nava is a vastly improved player. He isn’t the novelty that hit the grand slam off Joe Blanton in 2010. Furthermore, if I had a son, I’d want him to be Daniel Nava.
Will Middlebrooks- The young man has lived up to the hype. Will tore up the I.L. in April and has done so well in Boston, that Kevin Youkilis became expendable. The 23 year old should become a fixture at third base for a long time. His future is so bright, he needs sunglasses.
Good signs- The Red Sox did an amazing job signing veteran free agents this year. Easily the best I’ve seen in my nine years at McCoy. Mauro Gomez, Pedro Ciriaco and Justin Germano were all named to the I.L. All Star team. Aaron Cook and Ross Ohlendorf were valuable contributors.
The evolution of Ryan Lavarnway- Ryan is also an All Star. He is among the league leaders in batting average. Despite a drop in power numbers, Lavarnway is driving the ball to all fields. He is getting his doubles and he is knocking in runs. He is also catching every day for the first time in his career, which could explain the diminished power. His defense is greatly improved. I challenge anyone who thinks otherwise, to come and watch him play. You are wrong.
Jose Iglesias- the 22 year old shortstop will someday be a perennial M.L. All Star. His defense comes from another world. He’s a magician. Quick feet, strong arm, great range and a knack that just can’t be taught. The bat has improved. He was set back by a month off with a back problem. He also happens to be the most loveable guy you’ll ever meet. He enjoys life.
Brandon Duckworth- ace of the Pawtucket staff. Look up the word “pro” in the dictionary. You’ll see his picture. He gives you a real chance to win every five days and he’s a leader. I’d like to clone him.
Alex Hassan- after an 0-17 start in April, Alex hit the ground running. He is a solid outfielder and a hitter who will continue to get better. Great first year in the I.L. Like Middlebrooks, Hassan needs shades.
Daniel Bard- the talented righty continues to show signs of the brilliance that made him one of the top relievers in the Bigs for the last few years. He has also labored at times. Daniel has handled everything professionally and politely. You can’t help but root for him.
The PawSox will be back at it on Thursday, trying to add to their modest, yet encouraging 2 game winning streak. Until then, enjoy the All Star break and have a warm beer on me. Thanks for hanging out. Hydes
The PawSox have turned the page on the month of June. The club limped to the finish line, losing 11 of the last 13 June games. They did finish with a bang on the 30th, crushing Lehigh Valley 14-1, behind Justin Germano’s 8 inning effort and an explosive offense that erupted for19 hits in the most lopsided victory of 2012. While we ponder whether Germano will exercise his opt out clause or not, (I’m pretty certain he will) we caught up with manager Arnie Beyeler, who has a great poker face. You’d never know if he’d won the lottery, or just drank some sour milk. The second year skipper of the PawSox was obviously pleased with the results of the Saturday game. “Any time you get a win, it’s just what the doctor ordered, but the guys swung the bats well, we hadn’t done that in a while. It was nice to start the road trip off on a good note.”
Arnie had cautioned me exactly two weeks earlier not to get too excited when the PawSox were 20 games over .500, and five games up in the I.L. North. He was right on the money. “We had taken four straight from Buffalo and I don’t think we won a game for aweek and a half after that. It’s a game of streaks,a long season. The guys come out every day and do the same things to prepare. It goes back to the old adage of only being asd good as your starting pitching. We didn’t pitch well for a while. When you’re not pitching and you’re not hitting, it’s tough to compete.”
The revolving door of players usually begins around the first of August. This season it began in late June. You really do need a program to identify the guys. Arnie explained. “A lot of guys have ‘outs’ in their contracts. You have to deal with that. We just let the guys throw and see what happens. We’ve got a good group of guys here. You let the players and their agents do their thing and see what happens.”
Arnie enjoyed the complete offensive barrage his team shelled out on Saturday. Hitters #4-#8 combined to go 17-25. “We’ve been waiting for a game like that all season. We didn’t know who’d be here, especially Andy Laroche (7-9, HR, 4 RBI in his first two PawSox games) That’s baseball. You never know. We’ll go out there today and see what happens. You ‘ve got to enjoy it while you’ve got it.”
The Iron Pigs are scheduled to have former National League MVP Ryan Howard in their lineup for the Sunday night game. Arnie had a seemingly simple solution to prepare for the Philadelphia slugger. “You try to get him in and out of there as quick as you can. Hope he’s not too healthy yet. You try to nwork around him a little bit and hope he doesn’t do too much damage. He’s up here for a reason. Trying to get his work in. Hopefully, we’ll keep the ball in the ballpark and be OK.”
This is a strange week as far as the schedule is concerned. After three games here in Allentown in two days, the Sox return to McCoy for a pair against Rochester and then hit the road for three in Rochester. Not really convenient, but Beyeler has prepareed his troops. “It’s just a grind. it’s a tough situation. You let them know ahead of time and talk about it. Tell them to get their rest, their sleep. It is what it is. You have to do it. You make those adjustments. Nobody likes it. You can’t control it. Just go out and try to play a couple of good games.”
It’s that time of year when All Star Games are going to be played and that includes the Triple A extravaganza in Buffalo, New York. The PawSox will be well represented. Along with Charlotte, the Sox are the only team to have 4 players elected to the game. Ryan Lavarnway, Mauro Gomez, Pedro Ciriaco and Justin Germano, along with manager Arnie Beyeler, will not get the three days of rest that the rest of us are looking forward to. Former PawSox pitchers Fernando Cabrera of the Bisons and Tommy Hottovy of Omaha of the Pacific Coast League will be there along with ex-Pawtucket infielder Kevin Frandsen of Lehigh Valley.
I had the chance to chat with Lavarnway, shortly after he found out about the honor. “It’s kind of a pat on the back for a job well done so far this year. It’s a benchmark in the middle of the season, that I’ve been as good or better than the other catchers in the league. I appreciate the vote of confidence.” This isn’t the first nod for Ryan. “I was a Carolina League All Star with Salem and I played in the “Rising Stars” game in the Arizona Fall League.” Lavarnway is grateful, but he wouldn’t have minded the R and R over the break. “Since I’m catching more than ever this year, I could have used the time off to let my body catch up, but I’m honored and excited to go. It’s going to be a great experience. I’m really looking forward to watching the home run derby.”
Last year, Lavarnway hit 34 home runs combined in Portland, Pawtucket and Boston and would have been a shoo-in to be a home run derby contestant. So far in 2012, he’s hit 7, but is currently in second place in the batting race with a .320 average. “I try not to give it too much thought. I’m hitting the ball really well and I’m happy with it. I try to be a complete hitter all the time and right now I’m driving the ball to all fields. It’s not going over the fence, but I’m getting my doubles, driving guys in and getting on base.” Lavarnway clarified about his status regarding the home run contest. “I haven’t been asked. In my Salem year, I was leading the league in homers at the break and the Red Sox urged me not to participate in the derby. I hope Gomez can take part. I watch his batting practice every day and it’s pretty impressive.”
Lavarnway is excited to go with his three teammates and his manager, Arnie Beyeler, who will be on the staff of manager Mike Sarbaugh of Columbus. The other coach is Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg of the Iron Pigs. “It adds to the fun to have Arnie there. The level of familiarity is higher. We’ll have a good time. Arnie’s a great coach. I’ve had him for a few years now.”
The knock on Ryan had been that he was a defensive liability. Watching him every day, I can tell you that is false. He has worked very hard to become a very good catcher and dispel the rumors. “First impressions are pretty hard to shake. It’s been a couiple of years, but I’m really happy with the way I’ve performed back there on a nightly basis. I think my pitchers have confidence in me. Arnie says that I go out there and catch the ball and bklock the ball and thhrow the ball every day, and that’s good enough for me.”
Ask me. I think Ryan Lavarnway is an All Star in every way.
Here is part two of my conversation with Red Sox Hall of Famer, Rico Petrocelli. While Rico was at McCoy for Legends Night last Friday, he spoke about the differences in the game , comparing now, to his day as an All Star. “Free agency is one thing. Salaries. Marketing has changed greatly, too. The Red Sox paid a lot of money for the club. They spend more on advertising for the team. Inside and out of the ballpark. There’s a lot more media. National coverage and local coverage. every time a player makes a mistake, or does something the wrong way, on or off the field, it’s big headlines. We had some of that, there’s no doubt about it, but not like today. There’s a lot of pressure on these guys and we expect a lot from them. It’s probably because of the money. They’re not going to have great years every single year. Sometimes you have to be patient.”
Petrocelli scoffed at the notion that todays’ Red Sox clubhouse was “toxic”. He thought back and remembered the reports that he and his teammates didn’t get along. Rico was quick to dispel the rumor, that in his day, the Sox were dysfunctional. It was not ’25 guys, 25 cabs’. “No. Somebody made that up. Somebody got mad at Rick Burleson one day in the clubhouse and the 25 cabs thing came out the next day. Burleson was a fiery guy, kind of emotional. They came in and someone tried to ask him a question. He lost it and threw his glove and his helmet. He cursed at him and the next thing you knew, he had cleared the clubhouse. The next day, the cabs thing started. Listen, I would tell you if it was true. It was a lot of bull. There were past years where there were problems in the clubhouse, but not with these guys. That was foolish. These guys eventually became the 1975 team. We were very close. Many of those guys- (Carlton) Fisk, (Rick) Burleson, (Fred) Lynn, (Jim) Rice, (Dwight) Evans. They all came up together through the Red Sox minor league system. They were good friends.”
After enduring two World Series losses himself (1967, 1975), Rico was thrilled when the Sox reversed the curse in 2004. “It felt great. I really was happy, as were all the other former players I talked with. When they had the celebration after they won, nearly every guy, including the ownership said it was not only for this years’ team and fans, but also for the teams and players of the past who came so close. There were great teams and great players. This was also for them. So I said My God. I got chills. I couldn’t believe it. To include us in it was fabulous.”
Some of his fondest memories included the silent leadeship of Carl Yastrzemski and the train trip to Kansas City that was necessitated by an airline strike. “We had laughs. Jose Tartabull and Jose Santiago…we were singing, going from car to car like little kids. It was great. It was a riot.” Singing wasn’t Petrocellis’ only musical skill. He once played the drums on a record album recorded by late Red Sox organist, John Kiley. “I didn’t know it was going to be recorded. We went in to have a little fun. John started playing these songs and I was banging on the drums a little bit. It wasn’t even a full set, no cymbals, or anything. the next thing I knew, an album was out, with a cover and everything. They sold it at the ballpark. It was a thrill to play with him. He was a great musician. I played the drums for about 25 years. Now I play piano. I always loved piano.” I can say with absolute certainty, that at least one album was sold. I bought it at the souvenir stand at Fenway Park at least 40 years ago.