May 2009

A Field Trip In Louisville

You know the Heineken commercial where a group of women is excited to see a large walk-in closet with nice clothes and shoes, only to be topped in their giddiness by a group of guys who step into a refrigerated closet filled with beer?

(If you haven’t seen it, you can do so here).

I imagine a group of PawSox players had a similar reaction when they made a field trip on Thursday to the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory.

Chip Ambres, Paul McAnulty, Jonathan Van Every, Iggy Suarez, Sean Danielson, Rocky Cherry, and Chris George were among the players who took advantage of a private tour.

They got to see the step-by-step process of how a bat is made, and saw an area where the best pieces of wood are stashed away for superstars like Albert Pujols, Ken Griffey Jr., and Derek Jeter.

But the highlight was a shopping spree courtesy of the Red Sox.

The players were taken into a room that sounded like the “bargain basement” of a department store.  It was filled with bats that weren’t quite right for the major league players they were intended for, and the Pawtucket players were free to search through the bins and keep whatever they wanted.  The Red Sox offered to pay for 6 bats for each player — a nice gesture since they go for about $30 each.

As I talked to Chip Ambres about the adventure, he shared a great story that become the subject of my Fantastic Fun Fact (or Triple-F if you prefer) on last night’s broadcast.

When Chip was in high school and still using an aluminum bat, he saw a feature story on ESPN about Ken Griffey Jr. and his dad.  At some point during the story, they zoomed in tight on Junior’s bat, and Chip noticed that the model number was C271.  Even as a teenager, Chip has the presence of mind to think that if he ever had the opportunity to choose a model number, that would be the first one he would try.

A decade later, Chip has only used one bat as a pro baseball player — a Louisville Slugger model C271 (although his is a half-inch shorter than Griffey’s).

Pretty cool huh?

* * * * *

Relief pitcher Marcus McBeth was our guest on the pre-game show on Thursday, and one of the topics of conversation was his piano playing ability (whenever we see a piano in a hotel lobby, Marcus puts on an impromptu recital).

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“I’ve been playing since I was 4 or 5 years old,” Marcus told me.  “I used to bang around on it and my mom told me that if I was going to keep banging around on the piano, then she was going to make me take lessons.  My mom was an accomplished pianist — she plays at a few churches back home — and admiring her talent and wanting to follow in her footsteps, I started to take lessons and she taught me a little bit after that.  It’s something I enjoy doing, and knowing that other people enjoy it too makes me feel good.”

I wonder if it’s possible to roll a big piano out on to the field at McCoy Stadium.  That would be a pretty cool national anthem.

* * * * *

There was good news and bad news in the final game of the Louisville series.

The good news is that the PawSox had 14 hits — their highest total in more than two weeks.

The bad news is that they left 14 runners on base and had two guys thrown out at the plate in a 5-2 loss to the Bats.

Jonathan Van Every had a single and double in his first two at-bats before coming out of the game in the fifth inning.  We weren’t able to get an update on what happened during the broadcast, but it turns out that he has a sore knee.  He’s been dealing with it for a few days, but elected to come out of the game last night.

* * * * *

Tonight the PawSox open a 4-game series in Indianapolis with Enrique Gonzalez looking to become Pawtucket’s first 6-game winner.  I hope you’ll join us for the radio call, beginning with the pre-game show at 7:00 on the PawSox radio network and PawSox.com.

I’d love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Days in Kentucky

I’ve come up with a new nickname for Mark Kotsay.

 

He’s the Fonz.

 


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Since “Happy Days” aired from 1974 to 1984, most of the PawSox players are probably too young to even know who I’m talking about.  Shoot, Travis Denker and Michael Bowden weren’t even born by 1984.

 

But for those of us who grew up in the 70′s and 80′s, Fonzie (played by Henry Winkler) was the epitome of effortless cool. 

 

Kotsay has similar charisma.

 


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(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

In his short rehab stint with the PawSox, he’s become the team’s social director.  Instead of complaining about being back in the minors, he’s doing his best to enjoy it – and making sure the rest of us enjoy it with him.

 

“I think it’s great,” Kotsay told us on the pre-game show.  “If you haven’t been to Louisville I would recommend it, even though I wouldn’t have recommended it before coming here.  I think it’s a great town.  There’s a lot to do.”

 

Following the first game of the road trip, “The Fonz” picked up the tab for about 25 of us to go bowling in downtown Louisville.  And following the game tonight, he apparently has something fun planned for the two hour bus ride to Indianapolis.

 

“I’m looking forward to my first bus ride in a long time with the fellas – hopefully we’ll have some good times,” Kotsay said.  “But Monday’s bowling event I think will top the time spent in Triple-A.”

 

After having back surgery in January to repair a displaced disc, Kotsay has been gradually working his way back to Boston.  If there are no setbacks this weekend in Indianapolis, he should be ready next week.

 

“The time frame depends largely on my health, and the calf has responded quite well since pulling it in early May at Pawtucket,” Kotsay said.  “The Red Sox go to Detroit after they venture up to Toronto this weekend, so Monday or Tuesday I hope to get back to the big league team and start contributing to a World Championship team.”

 

Kotsay has a career .281 average in 1450 major league games, and says he can help the Red Sox as a jack-of-all-trades off the bench.

 

“I think my role is to give guys days off when they need ‘em,” Kotsay said.  “Mike Lowell is playing quite a bit right now and could probably use a day off here and there, and I can play first base with Youkilis swinging over to third.  I can give J.D. Drew days off and possibly Ellsbury too.  So whatever way Tito sees to use me, hopefully I can contribute in a positive manner.”

 

I’m sure he will – on and off the field.

 

Here’s one more note on Kotsay. 

 

In 2006 on Mother’s Day, Mark used a pink bat as part of baseball’s annual Breast Cancer Awareness Day and homered off of the Yankees’ Randy Johnson.  It prompted Oakland teammate Nick Swisher to remark, “If going yard off ‘Big Unit” at Yankee Stadium with a pink bat doesn’t make you a stud, I don’t know what does.”

 


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Sounds like something the Fonz would have done.

 

* * * * *

 

On Wednesday afternoon, Charlie Zink, Jose Vaquedano, and Fernando Cabrera combined on a 1-hit shutout as the PawSox beat Louisville 2-0.

 

It was Pawtucket’s second 1-hitter of the season (both in the last three days) and PawSox pitchers have also had three 2-hitters and three 3-hitters.

 

The shutout was Pawtucket’s league-leading ninth, and they’ve also had two games in which neither team scored in the first nine innings.

 

Despite being next-to-last in the IL in runs scored, the PawSox are 25-20 and only 4.5 games out of first place.

 

* * * * *

 

The Louisville series concludes on Thursday night at 7:05 with Michael Bowden facing Homer Bailey.  I hope you’ll join us for the radio call beginning with the pre-game show at 6:50 on the PawSox radio network and PawSox.com.

 

I’d love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

 

 

My Claim To Fame

Who is the only announcer in minor league baseball to have a character on “The Simpsons” named for him?

That’s right, it’s yours truly.

If you’ve ever noticed “Dan’s Favorite Links” on the right side of this page, one of the three things listed is “Ken Levine’s blog.”

Ken is an Emmy Award winning screenwriter, director, and producer who has written for such shows at M*A*S*H*, Cheers, Frazier, and The Simpsons.  He has also been a play-by-play announcer for the Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners, and San Diego Padres, and he is currently one of the hosts of “Dodger Talk” after every LA Dodgers game on 790 KABC in Los Angeles.

Not a bad resume huh?

But I’m sure the job he is most proud of is spending the summer of 1988 as my broadcasting partner with the Syracuse Chiefs.

Hollywood screenwriters were on strike that summer, so Ken lugged his wife and two kids to Syracuse to pursue his love of broadcasting baseball games.

Remarkably, Debby didn’t divorce him. 

We had a ton of laughs that summer — unfortunately, the ones we had on the air were only heard by the person running the show back at the station (it had such a weak signal that we were convinced it was powered by a hamster on a treadmill).

That became one of our running gags as each night we welcomed listeners in distant locations like Borneo.

I made a lifelong friend and I will always be grateful to Ken for writing me into an episode of the “The Simpsons.”

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It’s from the second season and called “Dancin’ Homer.”  The plot involves Homer Simpson having one too many beers at the local minor league baseball game and making a fool of himself by dancing on the dugout.  However, his dance fires up the crowd and inspires the Springfield Isotopes to snap a long losing streak.  Homer is then offered a job as team mascot and eventually makes it to the big leagues.

In any case, Springfield’s broadcaster in the episode is named Dan Hoard (my buddy Ken provides the voice) and this was his best line:

“Here comes Springfield slugger Big Bill McCloskey to the plate.  As soon as he pops up we’ll get right to the post-game show.”

If you would like more nuggets about the episode, here is a portion of the script from Ken’s blog.

And here is all sorts of stuff about the episode from wikipedia.

The episode gets played several times a year in syndication.  Whenever it does, I hear from several people who ask, “did I just hear your name on The Simpsons?”

Now you know the answer.

* * * * *

Wanna see John Smoltz pitch at McCoy Stadium?

Then circle Friday, June 5th on your PawSox schedule.

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(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

Last night, Smoltz made his first appearance for Double-A Portland and told reporters after the game that he expects to pitch 5-innings for Class-A Greenville on Sunday before joining the PawSox for 2 starts.

If he stays on a normal 5-day schedule, that would put him on the mound at McCoy against Louisville on June 5th.

The PawSox do not have a game on June 10th, so if he stays with Pawtucket, his second start would be on June 11th at Syracuse when the PawSox are scheduled to play a doubleheader.  (I wonder if he’ll want to join Hyder and me for the world’s best chicken wings at the famed “Change of Pace” restaurant). 

If all goes well, his first start for Boston would be on June 16th at Fenway against the Florida Marlins.

* * * * *

Everybody at Slugger Field on Tuesday was still talking about Clay Buchholz’s near-perfect game from the night before.

Buchholz retired the first 24 batters before allowing a leadoff single in the 9th inning to Louisville’s Danny Richar.

I asked catcher Dusty Brown if he had ever been behind the plate in a game like that and he told me that he and Buchholz had teamed up on a similar effort in Double-A in 2007.

He then laughed and added ,”Buchholz shook me off that time too.”

In Monday’s masterpiece, Brown called for a changeup on the first pitch of the 9th inning, but Buchholz elected to throw a fastball to Richar who slapped it the opposite way for a clean base hit.

In 2007 with Portland, Buchholz took a no-hitter into the 7th inning against Bowie, shook off Brown, and then gave up a single to the immortal Paco Figueroa.

Clay did exactly what Brown told him to do AFTER he allowed the 9th inning hit a couple of days ago.  Once the perfect game was gone, manager Ron Johnson had closer Fernando Cabrera start warming up in the bullpen and directed Dusty to go to the mound to kill some time.

Brown says he told Buchholz that, “I want you to finish this game — don’t let RJ take you out.  You deserve to go the distance.”

Buchholz got the next three batters on 10 pitches to complete the 1-hit shutout.

By the way, it was great to hear from Dusty’s mom Lisa via e-mail during the broadcast on Tuesday night.  She’s excited about becomming a first-time grandmother this summer as Dusty and his wife are expecting a son in mid-July.  His mom tells me the due date is 6 days after her 50th birthday. 

Sounds like the ultimate birthday gift.

* * * *

If Buchholz had tossed a perfect game on Monday, Travis Denker would have been remembered for making a tremendous defensive play to save it.  In the 7th inning, the PawSox second baseman ranged to his right to field a bouncer up the middle and made a great throw to first to nip the speedy Norris Hopper.

Denker spent some time with the San Francisco Giants last year and I asked him how Buchholz compares to Tim Lincecum, who won the National League Cy Young Award last year at Clay’s current age of 24.

“Buchholz is right there with Lincecum,” Denker told me.  “He’s a freak.”

In this case, that’s a compliment.

* * * * *

Tuesday was another tough night for 24-year-old lefty Kris Johnson, who allowed 7 runs (5 earned) in 2.2 IP in a 7-5 loss at Louisville.

After pitching 10 scoreless innings to begin the season, KJ is 1-6 in his last 7 starts with a 10.08 ERA. 

He actually appeared to have pretty good stuff last night, but too threw too many pitches in bad locations.

* * * * *

We’ll report to work bright and early on Wednesday for an 11:05 start against the Bats.  Charlie Zink and Matt Maloney are the starters.  I’ll hope you’ll join us for the radio call beginning with the pre-game show at 10:50.  I should be on my 4th or 5th cup of coffee by then.

I’d love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

 

 

 

A Million Butterflies

“There’s 29,000 people in the ballpark and a million butterflies.”

 

Vin Scully said those words while broadcasting the 9th inning of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game against the Chicago Cubs in 1965 (If you want proof that Scully is the greatest broadcaster ever, here is the verbatim transcript of what he said during the final inning of that game.  Keep in mind he was AD-LIBBING).

 


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(Photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

Yesterday in Louisville, 8,848 fans got to experience that edge-of-their-seat tension as Clay Buchholz took a perfect game into the bottom of the 9th inning against the Bats.  And no one felt it more than the 24-year-old pitcher.

 

“The last two innings felt like they took forever,” Buchholz told me after the game.  “It felt like that took longer than the first six or seven innings.  I’m still a little jittery right now.”

 

Clay, of course, became the only rookie in Red Sox history to throw a no-hitter when he accomplished the feat in his 2nd big league start on September 1, 2007 vs. Baltimore.  But he didn’t think he had no-hit stuff when he took the mound on Monday.

 

“Warming up in the bullpen was terrible,” Buchholz said.  “I hit a woman in the face. . .I was throwing the ball over and I hit her right in the face.  From then on I was like – man, that might be a bad omen right there.”

 

But Clay retired the first 24 batters with only a couple of close calls.  Wes Bankston led off the 5th inning with a long fly ball that Freddy Guzman caught at the left field wall, and Norris Hopper bounced one up in the middle in the 7th, only to be robbed of a hit by PawSox second baseman Travis Denker.

 

Louisville’s leadoff hitter in the 9th was Danny Richar – one of two players the Cincinnati Reds obtained from the White Sox in the Ken Griffey Jr. trade last July.  Buchholz’s first pitch of the 9th was a belt-high fastball over the outer part of the plate, and Richar knocked a hard ground ball to the opposite field for a clean base hit.

 

“(Dusty Brown) called a changeup and I shook him off and went to a fastball,” Buchholz said.  “You can always second-guess it, but fastball is the pitch I wanted to throw in that situation.  It was pretty fun – I’m glad it’s over though, there was a little bit of stress going on there too.”

 

After allowing the hit, Clay struck out Michael Griffin and Brian Peterson, before getting Norris Hopper to ground into a force play that ended the game.  Pawtucket won 3-0.

 

“What stood out for me was in the 9th inning after he gave up the hit,” said Pawtucket pitching coach Rich Sauveur.  “The poise he showed to go out and get the next three guys out on 10 pitches.  There were so many things going through his head – there had to be – to lose a perfect game in the 9th but keep your poise and get the next three guys out is just phenomenal.”

 

“It’s unbelievable,” Buchholz told me.  “I’ve never been a part of a perfect game regardless of who was pitching–whether I was pitching or somebody else.  It was a pretty big thrill.  That’s what baseball is all about.  You’ve got your good days and bad days and today was a good day.”

 

The 1-hit shutout was the second 9-inning complete game of Clay’s professional career (the other obviously being his no-hitter).

 

Buchholz only needed 96 pitches (70 strikes) to go the distance – after throwing 93 pitches in 4.1 IP in his last start.  His fastball reached 97 mph on the stadium radar gun, but was clocked at 95 mph on the PawSox gun.

 

Here was the breakdown vs. Louisville:

 

48 fastballs (36 strikes)

18 curves (11 strikes)

16 sliders (12 strikes)

14 changeups (11 strikes).

 

His 7 strikeouts came on:

 

2 fastballs

2 curves

2 sliders

1 changeup

 

In short, it was a memorable Memorial Day.

 

“The word for eight innings was ‘perfect’ and that’s exactly what he showed,” Sauveur said.  “He dominated the hitters with all four pitches.  His fastball command was ‘plus,’ the curveball was a ‘plus’ major league curveball, the slider was a ‘plus’ slider, and I can’t say enough about his changeup – the arm speed was phenomenal.  That’s what everybody is looking for.”  

 

 

* * * * *

 

Following the afternoon game, nearly everybody on the team attended a bowling party hosted by Mark Kotsay.  The team of Kotsay, Billy Traber, Chip Ambres, Carlos Maldonado, and yours truly proved to be unbeatable (thanks in large part to Ambres improving his score by about 100 pins from the practice game to the ones that counted).

 

My best game was a 167 making me the clear winner in the broadcasting division.

 

* * * * * 

 

I’ve been battling laryngitis for a few days, but my voice is slowly-but-surely returning.  It had better return to full strength soon or I’m going to lose my job to Jeff Natale!  In all seriousness, I thought he did a fantastic job of pinch-hitting over the weekend.

 

The series in Louisville continues on Tuesday night at 7:05 with a pair of lefties squaring off in Kris Johnson and Adam Pettyjohn.  I hope you’ll join us for the radio call beginning with the pre-game show at 6:50 on the PawSox radio network and PawSox.com.

 

I’d love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com

 

 

 

Am I Allowed To Root For The Opposing Manager?

I’ve been covering professional baseball in some way, shape, or form for nearly 25 years and there is no manager I’ve enjoyed working with more than PawSox skipper Ron Johnson.

 

But Scranton/Wilkes-Barre manager Dave Miley isn’t far behind.

 


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I got to know “Miles” when I was hosting the Cincinnati Reds TV pre-game show and he was the Reds manager from 2003 to 2005.

 

Miley was named the Reds interim manager on July 28, 2003 when Cincinnati cleaned house by firing General Manager Jim Bowden and Manager Bob Boone.   It was an extremely popular move within the organization because Miley had spent the previous 23 years in Cincinnati’s system as a player, coach, and minor league manager.

 

But before the 2004 season, the Reds hired a new GM in Dan O’Brien, and he and Miley didn’t seem to mesh.  Miley was fired in June of 2005 after compiling a 125-164 record with Cincinnati.

 

Before Friday’s game at McCoy Stadium, I asked the 47-year-old manager if he would have done anything differently.

 

“This is probably the first time I will answer that,” Miley told me.  “I’ve been asked that question by John Fay (Cincinnati Enquirer) and Hal McCoy (Dayton Daily News) over the years.  I think I would have done it more my way.  It was a situation where I was a first and second-year manager with a new G.M. and different things.  There’s no finger pointing or anything like that.  I just think that if I had done it my way, things may have been different – maybe not, who knows – but I think if that opportunity ever comes again that’s what I will try to do.”

 

I hope he gets the opportunity.  Miley led Scranton/WB to the Governor’s Cup title last year and has an all-time minor league managerial record of 1383-1043 (.570).

 

* * * * *

 

It looks like Charlie Zink has returned to 2008 form when he was named the International League’s Pitcher of the Year.  On Friday night, Zink took a shutout into the 9th inning against the league’s highest scoring team, and eventually gave up one run in a 2-1 win over Scranton/WB.

 

That’s Charlie’s 2nd win in a row after a rocky month of April and it’s no mystery why he’s pitching better – he’s throwing his knuckleball for strikes.  Zink only walked 2 batters in Friday’s game – he entered it averaging 7.4 walks per 9 innings this season.

 

* * * * *

 

This is strictly speculation on my part, but it looks like there’s a chance that John Smoltz could be pitching for Pawtucket as soon as Sunday, May 31st.

 

 


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Smoltz threw 3 scoreless innings on Thursday for Class-A Greenville and is scheduled to make his next appearance on Tuesday for Double-A Portland.  If that goes well and he continues to climb the minor league ladder, that would put Smoltz with Pawtucket 5 days later in Indianapolis.

 

Even if he is not with the PawSox that quickly, it appears highly likely that Smoltz will make an appearance at McCoy Stadium during the next homestand (June 2 to June 9).

 

Smoltz told reporters after his successful outing with Greenville that he hopes to join the Red Sox in mid-June.  It just so happens that Boston hosts the Atlanta Braves from June 19-21 before going to Atlanta the following weekend.

 

Think Smoltz wouldn’t like showing his former employer that there are still a few bullets left in his right arm?

 

* * * * *

 

Did you happen to read that Notre Dame is considering playing a football game at the new Yankee Stadium?

 

Judging by the way baseballs are flying out of the place (75 HR in the first 20 games), if they put the goal post in front of the right field wall it could result in the first 80-yard field goal in football history.

 

* * * * *

 

The PawSox got to miss scheduled starter Chien-Ming Wang on Friday night.  He was driving from New York to Rhode Island on Thursday when Joba Chamberlain was injured during the first inning of the Yankees game against Baltimore.  Yanks officials called Wang on his cell phone and told him to turn around and drive back to New York.  Instead of making a rehab start against the PawSox, he was in the Yankees bullpen as they opened a series against the Phillies.

 

* * * * *

 

Saturday should be a great day at McCoy Stadium.  There’s a free youth clinic from 2:00 to 3:15 featuring manager Ron Johnson and several Pawtucket players, followed by Game 3 of the PawSox/Yankees series at 6:05.

 

The pitching matchup features 31-year-old veteran Casey Fossum vs. the Red Sox top-rated minor league pitching prospect, 22-year-old Michael Bowden.  Bowden leads the I.L. with a 0.86 ERA and the league is hitting a miniscule .136 against him.

 

I hope you’ll join us for the radio call beginning with the pre-game show at 5:50 on the PawSox radio network and PawSox.com.

 

I’d love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

 

 

 

You Can Never Have Too Much Pitching. . .Or Can You?

After pitching 8 scoreless innings on Sunday, Michael Bowden has a 0.86 ERA after 7 starts.

And he’s probably 9th on the depth chart for Boston’s starting rotation.

Right now, the Red Sox rotation includes (1) Josh Beckett, (2) Jon Lester, (3) Tim Wakefield, (4) Brad Penny, and (5) Justin Masterson.

(6) Daisuke Matsuzaka threw a bullpen session at McCoy Stadium this morning and all signs point toward Dice-K returning to Boston this weekend to face the Mets (with Masterson going back to the bullpen).

(7) John Smoltz is expected to pitch 3 innings in an extended spring training game on Wednesday and said in a radio interview a few days ago that he thought he was two starts away from pitching for Pawtucket.  He added that he hopes to join the Red Sox rotation in mid-June.

(8) 24-year-old Clay Buchholz is 2-0 with a 1.03 ERA after 6 starts and is holding International League hitters to a .130 batting average — the lowest opponent batting average for any qualifying pitcher in minor league baseball.

Which leads us to (9) Michael Bowden.

I worked Sunday’s game on TV with former Red Sox catcher and broadcaster Bob Montgomery who came away raving about Bowden

“He’s not a head-turner while you watch him work, but he’s impressive when you add it all up at the end of the game,” Montgomery said.  “He doesn’t blow hitters away — you don’t say, ‘Wow, look at that’ –  he simply gets the job done.”

Monty added that Bowden does not look like a 22-year-old kid in his first full year of Triple-A.

“He does a lot of things that take a long time for most pitchers to learn,” Montgomery said.  “For example, he had a guy walk down the line at third base today and try to draw a balk and he just calmly stepped off the mound.  He had a guy at first leave too early on a stolen base and he calmly stepped off the mound and made the throw.  He does everything that you would like to see a veteran pitcher do, and he does it at a very early age.”   

It’s quite a luxury for the Red Sox to have Buchholz and Bowden in Triple-A.  Speculation is building that they’ll trade Brad Penny in June (they can do so without his permission after June 15) opening up a spot for either Smoltz or Buchholz.

At some point, there will be an injury or two giving somebody else a chance.

For now, we get to watch “The Thriller B’s” in action at McCoy Stadium.

Buchholz makes his next start on Tuesday at 12:05.

But first, Enrique Gonzalez goes for his team-leading 6th win on Monday at 7:05 as Pawtucket looks to take its third straight from Buffalo.

Kevin Youkilis will be the starting DH. 

If you can’t make it to the park, we’ll have TV coverage on Cox Cable throughout Rhode Island or you can listen to the radio call on the PawSox radio network or PawSox.com.

I’d love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

 

 

Youuuukkk!

Kevin Youkilis is coming.

The Red Sox first baseman, who has been out with a sore left oblique, is expected to play for the PawSox on Monday and Tuesday before returning to Boston on Wednesday when he’s able to come off of the disabled list.

Youk won’t need directions to McCoy Stadium.  Between 2003 and 2005 he appeared in 113 games for the PawSox and shuttled back and forth so frequently between the big leagues and Triple-A that they probably should have renamed the highway between Boston and Pawtucket “The Youkilis Expressway” in his honor.

Youk and I have a connection beyond Red Sox nation.  He is a proud graduate of the University of Cincinnati and I am the “Voice of the Bearcats” on radio for football and basketball.

Part of my duties for UC include writing for a publication called the “Bearcat Sports Digest” and I wrote this story about Youk during spring training.  Enjoy!

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It’s April and 2009 has already been a great year for former UC baseball star Kevin Youkilis.

 

On New Year’s Eve, he trekked to Miami to watch his beloved Bearcats play in the Orange Bowl for the first time in school history.

 

In March, he belted 3 home runs in 6 games for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, playing alongside the likes of Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones, and David Wright.

 

And in between those two events he became filthy rich.

 

On January 15th, the Boston Red Sox signed their All-Star first baseman to a 4-year contract (with an option for a fifth year) that will pay the 30-year-old slugger between $40.25 and $53 million dollars.

 

“I don’t live my life any differently other than knowing there are purchases here and there that won’t affect me the way they did in the past,” Youkilis told me when I caught up with him at the Red Sox spring training camp in Florida.  “I’m not going to buy a $10 million dollar home, a boat, and 10 cars or crazy stuff – I’m still the same guy.  The way I look at it is that I have long-term security.  I want to be able to have fun when I’m retired with this game and not have to go to work again when I’m done.  And the best thing of all is being able to help my wife and son and my entire family.”

 

Kevin’s generosity doesn’t stop at home.  He and his wife Enza have started a charitable foundation called “Hits for Kids” that raises money and awareness for children’s programs in New England and Cincinnati.  You can check it out online at Youkskids.org.

 

He’s come a long way since being a lightly-recruited prospect out of Sycamore High School who blossomed into the best hitter in UC history.  In four years as a Bearcat, Youkilis batted .366 and set school records with 53 HR and a .499 on-base percentage.

 

Now he’s among the best hitters in major league baseball, finishing third in the American League MVP vote last year after batting .312 with 29 HR, 115 RBI and .958 OPS.  But the 2007 Gold Glove Award winner insists he can still improve.

 

“I always feel that I can do better,” Youkilis told me.  “That’s my whole philosophy in life – there’s always something that you can improve on and get better at.  For me it’s all-around baseball – defense, running the bases, hitting and being a teammate.  I think there are a lot of things you can get better at as you get older, and if you think you understand the game you’re definitely mistaken because every day you see something new.”

 

One thing Kevin never expected to see was the rise to national prominence of the UC football program.  Unfortunately, the two games he was able to attend last year were Bearcat losses to Connecticut and Virginia Tech. 

 

“I think the coaches don’t like me because I went to nearly every loss that they had,” Youkilis said.  “They’re probably hoping that I don’t ever go to a game again.  But I was there for a lot of great wins in college so my all-time record is still good and hopefully I can bring them some luck in 2009.  Despite the loss in the Orange Bowl, I still had a great time.  A lot of former athletes were there enjoying it and it was quite an experience.  It was pretty wild to say the least with the amount of UC fans that I saw there.  It’s a great thing to see and hopefully the program keeps going forward and doing great things.”

 

And whenever his schedule allows, you can count on Youkilis to be there for the biggest games, just like another star from Cincinnati – pop singer Nick Lachey.  The question is which of those two should be considered UC’s top celebrity fan?

 

“I don’t think Nick Lachey went to the University of Cincinnati so I’m going to go with either Sandy Koufax or I guess we’ve had two Miss Americas recently so it could be one of them,” Youkilis said with a laugh.  “As for me and Nick, hopefully I’m a little bit more popular among Bearcat fans because Nick Lachey isn’t really a UC guy.  He didn’t go to any classes there – I think he went to Miami of Ohio if I’m not mistaken.  We’ll have to check the Wikipedia on that one.”

 

For the record, Youkilis is right.  But he had my vote regardless.

 

I’d love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Feel The Need For Speed

The PawSox are in an offensive draught of Sahara Desert proportions.

Sahara Desert (resized).jpg

They’ve been shutout in their last 3 games and haven’t scored a run in 34 innings.

Well, help has arrived.

Today the Red Sox have announced the signing of veteran outfielder Freddy Guzman, who led the International league in stolen bases last year with 56 (in 101 games with Toledo).

To make room on the roster, OF Jeff Corsaletti has been traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.  It’s not known if he’ll join their Triple-A or Double-A team.  I’m happy for Corso because he was stuck behind a logjam of outfielders in the Red Sox organization.  He’ll get a better opportunity to advance with Pittsburgh.

Here’s info I prepared on Guzman for tonight’s press notes.

FREDDY GUZMAN, OF             .000           0 HR        0 RBI

The 28-year-old outfielder was signed by Boston on May 16th and assigned to Pawtucket, after being released by the Seattle Mariners organization on May 11th.

 

? Joins the PawSox tonight after being signed by Boston as a free agent.  Guzman began the year with Triple-A Tacoma in the Mariners organization, batting .214 (9-for-42) with 0 HR, 3 RBI and 4 SB in 13 games.

? Split last season between Triple-A Toledo and Double-A Erie in the Tigers organization.  Guzman led the International League in stolen bases with 56 and had a combined total of 71 steals to rank 2nd among all minor leaguers.

? Has played in 37 MLB games with San Diego (2004) and Texas (2006-7), batting .213 with 1 HR, 6 RBI and 5 SB.

? Missed the entire 2005 season after having Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

? Led all of minor league baseball with 90 stolen bases in 2003.

? Originally signed by San Diego as a non-drafted free agent on March 21, 2000.

 

 

 

When Is A 6-0 PawSox Loss A Good Thing?

. . .when Daisuke Matsuzaka is brilliant in defeat.

The box score says he was the losing pitcher on Friday night in Toledo and allowed runs for the first time in three Pawtucket starts (5 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 9 K), but make no mistake — Daisuke was sensational and I think it’s safe to say his next start will be in Boston.

“I thought his stuff was explosive,” said PawSox manager Ron Johnson.  “Some of the depth on his sliders and cutters from the side angle. . .I mean those guys were swinging over them by a foot.  And then he started ramping up the velocity in the last few innings.  I thought to myself, this guy is feeling pretty good because that’s kind of his M.O. – if you get him through the first couple of innings then all of the sudden he gets in a groove.  I thought he threw the ball really well.  He was pitch-efficient, his stuff was crisp, he had swing-and-miss stuff. . . I know it was the Toledo Mud Hens and not the New York Yankees but I was impressed.”

In the first inning, Daisuke allowed 2 runs on 3 hits but didn’t really get hit hard.  He allowed a couple of soft singles, and a triple when Jeff Frazier reached for an outside fastball and poked a grounder over the first base bag that rolled down the right field line.

Over his final 4 innings, Matsuzaka didn’t allow a hit while striking out 8 of the 13 batters he faced.  He hit 94 on the stadium radar gun on one pitch, and most of his fastballs were around 90 miles an hour.  In all, he threw 70 pitches (48 for strikes).

A member of the Japanese media told me before the game that Daisuke was enjoying his stint with Pawtucket because it allowed him to understand what players in the US go through on their way to the big leagues.  But he also said that Matsuzaka felt tremendous pressure to get back to Boston because of his status in Japan where the fans take great pride in his accomplishments.

I think Daisuke’s fans can anticipate his return to a major league mound in about 5 days.

* * * * *

There are some really good baseball players that were born on May 15th.

Hall of Famer George Brett.

2006 American League MVP Justin Morneau

2003 World Series MVP Josh Beckett

And future Hall of Famer John Smoltz

Smoltz celebrated his 42nd birthday by pitching in front of about 10 people in an extended spring game in Ft. Myers as he continues to work his way toward a spot on the Red Sox pitching staff.

On Friday morning I caught an interview he did on the Dan Patrick show (you can hear it here – just scroll down the page until you see Smoltz’s picture and click “listen to this segment”).

Patrick asked Smoltz if his next start would be with Pawtucket, and John said that was probably about two starts away.

They also talked about Smoltz’s golf game, and John said that his goal after retiring from baseball is to make a cut on the PGA tour.

Patrick followed up by asking, “If you could win another World Series ring or make a PGA cut, which would you choose?”

Smoltz immediately chose the ring.

Then Patrick asked, “If you could win a PGA tour event or another World Series ring, which would you choose?”

Smoltz laughed and dodged the question.

I can’t wait for Smoltz to join the PawSox on rehab.  I had the opportunity to interview him in spring training and rank him along with Tony Gwynn, Joe Torre, and Jack Nicklaus as perhaps the most enjoyable interviews I’ve ever had the opportunity to do.

(Interviewing figure skater Katarina Witt was enjoyable too, but it had nothing to do with the quality of the questions or answers).

RJ is certainly looking forward to Smoltz’s arrival.  His off-season home in Tennessee is Atlanta Braves country and he figures a couple of autographed baseballs will be good bartering material for things like feed for his horses, firewood, etc. . .

* * * * * .

How ’bout the lovefest for former PawSox Bobby Scales?

He recently made his major league debut with the Cubs after 11 years and 3,303 at-bats in the minors.

So far he’s been tearing it up in his first 6 games, hitting .444 (8-for-18) with 2 doubles, 1 triple, 1 HR, and 5 RBI.

For more, check out this feature story in the Chicago Tribune.

ESPN’s Jayson Stark also had some nice things to say about Scales, including this passage:

At 31 years and 7 months old, he’s the fourth-oldest player to make his major league debut with the Cubs since World War II. Not that that has stopped Lou Piniella from calling him a “kid.”

“That’s fine,” Scales said. “Maybe we can hoodwink him and make him think I’m about 26.”

 * * * * *

The PawSox open an 8-game homestand on Saturday night at 6:05 as Charlie Zink faces former Red Sox pitcher Kyle Snyder.

We’ ll bring you “PawSox Insider” from 2:00 to 3:00 on the PawSox radio network and the guests include Red Sox director of player development Mike Hazen, Daisuke Matsuzaka (thorugh his interpreter), and newcomer John Otness.  We’ll also have “Fantastic Fun Facts” with Paul McAnulty.

The first three games of the homestand are on Cox Sports TV, so I look forward to working with my pals Bob Montgomery and Steve McDonald for a few days.  Steve Hyder (who fell to 13-15 on “Stump Steve”) will be joined on the radio by Mike Logan.

Most of all, I’m looking forward to getting home and seeing the handsome lad for the first time in 9 days.
Backward hat (resized).JPG 

I’d love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

 

Does This Mean Another 7-Game Winning Streak?

If you are REALLY the type of person who sees the glass as half-full, you’ll be happy to know that the last time the PawSox were shutout in back-to-back games (April 31 and May 1), they promptly went on a 7-game winning streak.

Yea I know, it’s a stretch.

After scoring 9 runs on 20 hits on Monday at Columbus, the PawSox bats must have been sprayed with ball repellent.

Pawtucket hasn’t scored a run in 25 innings and has only managed 10 hits during that stretch.  The PawSox struck out 16 times last night!

Help is on the way.  Chris Carter is likely to be back in the starting lineup on Friday night after his cross-country adventure to Anaheim and back. 

(That’s assuming he’s awake by game time).

And Pawtucket might not need more than a run or two to win the final game of this series with Daisuke Matsuzaka on the mound.  He’s pitched 6.2 scoreless innings in his first two rehab starts for the PawSox.

* * * * *

Thursday’s 8-0 loss to Toledo calls for a laugh.  Remember this awesome photo of RJ from the blog a few days ago?

Dice-K in circle (resized).jpg

I finally realized who (or what) RJ looks like in that picture.  It’s this 60-foot statue of Jesus located about half way between Dayton and Cincinnati in Monroe, OH.

Jesus statue (resized).jpg

 That has to be the first time RJ has been compared to a religious figure.

* * * * *

I hope you’ll tune in on Friday to hear if Daisuke is ready to return to Boston.  The pre-game show begins at 6:45 on the PawSox radio network and PawSox.com.

I’d love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

 

 

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