June 2009

Aaron Makes It To Cooperstown

Today the PawSox play at historic Doubleday Field in Cooperstown.

 

Are you ready for a little home run derby?

 

If you think the new Yankee Stadium is a launching pad (3 more HR last night to raise the total to 113), it’s the Grand Canyon in comparison to Doubleday Field.

 

When the PawSox hitters walk on to the field today they will probably need drool buckets because the outfield fence in Cooperstown is only 296 feet down the left field line, 390 feet to center, and 312 feet down the right field line.

 

Aaron Bates doesn’t need the help.  On Saturday night in Syracuse, he hit a pair of long opposite field home runs (his first two in Triple-A) in the PawSox 6-2 win over the Chiefs.

 

Two HR in a game is not a personal best for Bates.  Two years ago he became the first player in the history of the California League to hit 4 home runs in a game while playing for Single-A Lancaster.

 

Aaron was promoted from Double-A Portland this past Monday, and it is obvious why Boston’s minor league coaches and instructors rave about him – he has a tremendous attitude and work ethic.

 

His parents, JoAnn and Mark, deserve the credit for that.  Sadly, his father died when Aaron was only 20-years-old.

 

“We were really close,” Aaron told me.  “It’s coming up on five years since he passed away in 2004.  I go out there and try to play really hard and have some fun because I know he’s up there watching.”

 

When Aaron played college baseball, he wore the initials “MLB” on his cap.  That wasn’t a reference to his dream of playing Major League Baseball – it was a tribute to his father Mark Lloyd Bates.

 

“He worked nights so he was able to take my brother, sister and I to all of our games during the day,” Bates said.  ” In high school we drove an hour and 15 minutes to get there every day and he used to take me a lot and then drive me home so we had a lot of time in the car to talk.  If I had a bad game I knew I was going to hear about it for an hour, but most of the time it was all good.  We really got close in my redshirt year at San Jose State in ’04 – we watched nearly every San Francisco Giants game that year during the Barry Bonds era in San Francisco, so we were talking about baseball constantly.  I was really fortunate that I had a dad like him for 20 years, so I consider myself lucky to have had someone like that in my life and I appreciate it every day.”

 

Here in Cooperstown where the name “Aaron” represents class and dignity, the same terms apply to a 25-year-old member of the Pawtucket Red Sox.

 

* * * * *

 

I hope you’ll join us for today’s broadcast beginning with the pre-game show at 1:45 on the PawSox radio network and PawSox.com.

 

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

 

 

 

A Flat Tire and a Sticky Wallet

I should be depressed after the PawSox got swept in a doubleheader at Syracuse on Friday night, losing each game by a 4-1 score.

 

Ironically, that was also the final in their only previous meeting this year back on April 29th.  Ready for some ugly stats?  Pawtucket is batting .188 (15-for-80) vs. the ‘Cuse with 13 singles and 2 doubles.  The Chiefs have a 1.17 ERA (3 ER in 23 IP) vs. the PawSox this season. 

 

But a tough night at the ballpark isn’t going to get me down after being the beneficiary of some incredibly good luck.

 

On Friday morning I was driving to a golf course when I heard a sound that led me to believe I had a flat tire, so I pulled off at the first exit and stopped at a gas station.  Sure enough, one of my tires was flat as a pancake so I went to the cashier to get four quarters in order to inflate it.

 

As I drove down the highway to the nearest discount tire store, I noticed what appeared to be an explosion of paper coming out of the back of my car.  For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what it was.  None of my windows was open and I hadn’t seen anything on the road that I might have hit.    

 

When I got to a tire shop I realized what it was – the contents of my wallet!  Apparently after getting change for a dollar in order to use the air pump at the gas station, I set my wallet on the roof of my car.

 

Idiot!

 

I trudged back to my car figuring I was going to have to go back to one of Syracuse’s busiest highways and search for my wallet and its contents, but when I glanced at the roof IT WAS STILL THERE.  Somehow the combination of cheap leather and the previous night’s rain had created the ultimate adhesive.  I lost all of my cash and a few relatively insignificant items, but all of the critical stuff like my driver’s license and credit cards were still there.

 

Incredible right?  Still, I don’t think I’ll ever test the wallet-on-roof trick again.

 

* * * * *

 

After the doubleheader last night, Hyder and I joined some friends at the “Change of Pace” for the world’s finest chicken wings.  Good stuff, but I’m oozing grease from every pore.

 

While we were there, we caught the incredible finish to the Yankees/Mets game as the Yanks won when Luis Castillo dropped an A-Rod pop-up that should have been the final out of the game.

 

It led the New York Post to coin a new term on its back page cover today:

 


NY Post resize.jpg 

 

The headline on the cover of the New York Daily News is “Amazin’ Disgrace.”

 

I love the daily headlines on the covers of the New York City tabloids.  Here is my all-time favorite.

 


Headless Body resize.jpg 

 

* * * * *

 

In John Smoltz’s first start with Pawtucket, I didn’t think his stuff looked as good as his stats when he allowed 1 run on 1 hit in 6 IP.

 

On Friday night in Syracuse, it was the other way around as Smoltz allowed 4 runs on 6 hits in 6 IP but displayed exceptional command (70 pitches, 56 strikes) and got more swings and misses.  His splitter had Syracuse batters flailing for much of the night.

 

Two of the runs were the direct result of a misplayed ball in the outfield, and Smoltz allowed a solo homer when he was experimenting with his changeup by throwing several in a row to Kory Casto.  I seriously doubt he would do that in a major league game.

 

His slider still isn’t sharp and most of Smoltz’s fastballs came in at 89 mph on the stadium radar gun.  It’s going to be very interesting to see what the Red Sox do next.

 

* * * * *

 

We’re looking forward to having a busload of PawSox fans in attendance tonight at Alliance Bank Stadium and tomorrow afternoon in Cooperstown.  Michael Bowden takes the mound for the PawSox tonight and is looking for his first win since May 11th.

 

I hope you’ll join us for the radio call, beginning with the pre-game show at 6:45.  And don’t forget “PawSox Insider” on Saturday afternoon at 2:00.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

I Wonder If John Smoltz Likes Barbeque?

John Smoltz is the Rain Man.

 

No, I’m not suggesting that he’s an autistic savant who is fond of Judge Wapner and considers himself an excellent driver.

 

When Smoltz is scheduled to pitch for the PawSox it rains.

 

And we’re talking monsoon.

 

It happened last Friday night at McCoy Stadium (pushing Smoltz’s Pawtucket debut to Saturday) and it happened again tonight in Syracuse.  Smoltz had already gone down to the bullpen to begin warming up when it began pouring, and after waiting for about 90 minutes the scheduled doubleheader was postponed.

 

The two teams will play a doubleheader on Friday at 5:00 pm and Smoltz will pitch in Game 1.  Charlie Zink will start in Game 2.

 

Since the two teams were supposed to play a twinbill on Thursday, they’ll have a game to make up.  Syracuse is already scheduled to play a doubleheader on Monday, so the Chiefs are looking to avoid having three twinbills in four days.  That means we could be looking at a doubleheader on the next-to-last day of the season, when Pawtucket returns to the ‘Cuse.

 

The unexpected night off means that Hoard and Hyder are going to the famed Dinosaur BBQ for an epic feast.  I’ll see if Smoltzie wants to join us.

 

We’ll talk to you Friday night at 4:45.

Chip Ambres Shuffles Off To Buffalo

Following Tuesday’s 2-1 win over the Durham Bulls, manager Ron Johnson called Chip Ambres into his office and informed him that he had been traded to the New York Mets.  He’ll report to their Triple-A team in Buffalo where, oddly enough, Chip will face the Durham Bulls again on Friday night in his first game with the Bisons (I can imagine their guys seeing him before the game and saying, “didn’t we just see you with Pawtucket?”).

 


 
Chip resize.jpg 

With the promotion of Aaron Bates from Portland and the activation of Jonathan Van Every off of the DL, the PawSox have an abundance of outfielders.  I’m guessing that Boston traded Chip as something of a favor to him since his playing time was likely to suffer with the PawSox.  He’s sure to play every day with Buffalo and is more likely to advance to the big leagues with the Mets this year than the Red Sox.

 

Still, trust me when I tell you that Chip will be missed.

 

The 29-year-old outfielder wasn’t having a monster year with a .259 average, 3 HR, and 18 RBI, but Chip is a consummate pro who set a great example for the younger players.  He’s in the mold of former PawSox Joe McEwing, Bobby Scales, and Joe Thurston as a veteran who showed up every day with a great attitude and was a pleasure to be around.

 

Ironically, Chip played a big role in last night’s broadcast.  He was interviewed on the pre-game show by teammate Jeff Natale for this week’s segment of “At Bat With Nat,” and he was also the subject of my 5th inning “Fantastic Fun Fact.”

 

The “FFF” involved his first major league call-up with the Kansas City Royals in 2005.  Chip’s first two big league games were in Cleveland and his parents weren’t able to attend, but when the Royals returned home, his mom and dad were able to make the trip from Texas.

 

According to Chip’s dad Raymond, it took awhile for the reality of having a son in the big leagues to sink in.  It didn’t really hit him when Chip ran on to the field or when he stepped to the plate.  He knew his son was a major leaguer when he went to the concession stand and a beer was $8 bucks.

 

I’m guessing it was the best $8 beer his dad has ever had.

 

I look forward to seeing Chip again when Buffalo comes to McCoy Stadium on July 9th. 

 

Unless, of course, he’s with the Mets by then.

 

* * * * *

 

Did you happen to see what the Tampa Bay Rays did a couple of days ago to fire up the troops?  They removed the back hair of bullpen coach Bobby Ramos.

 

That brings to mind a former major league catcher named Mike Maksudian.

 

Maksudian was famous for eating insects for money in the bullpen, but I also witnessed him getting shaved from head-to-toe on a moving bus.

 

It was with Syracuse in 1991, and Maksudian told his teammates that he would subject himself to their razors for $250.

 

Former American League Cy Young Award winner Willie Hernandez immediately threw in the first $100 and the pot reached $250 in no time.

 

Sure enough, as the bus rolled down the highway, the players took turns shaving their formerly furry teammate.  Every time the bus would hit a bump, Maksudian would wince in pain and 25 guys would erupt in laughter.

 

Mike only had one stipulation – that they didn’t shave his eyebrows.  Maksudian said he didn’t want to scare his kids.

 

That’s right – he ate insects in the bullpen and got a full-body shave on a moving bus, but was concerned that his kids would be traumatized if he didn’t have eyebrows.

 

Sometimes you can’t make this stuff up.

 

* * * * *

 

I’m looking forward to a rare day off on Wednesday before heading to Syracuse.  The handsome lad will probably run me into the ground.


 
Sam running resize.JPG 

Talk to you Thursday at 4:45 from Syracuse.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

My Favorite Announcers

I live in Charlestown, MA so my commute to McCoy Stadium for a PawSox home game is 48 minutes each way with no traffic.

 

(The course record is 43 minutes, but don’t tell the state troopers)

 

Two things make the drive tolerable.  For starters, there are 16 Dunkin Donuts franchises between my house and the ballpark, so there’s never a shortage of caffeine.  But more importantly, I can pass the time by listening to any live major league baseball game on XM Radio.

 

I love listening to the different announcers and try to pick up little nuances that can help me get better behind the mic.  I’m a strong believer that the worst thing you can do is try to copy another announcer, but I also believe that you can improve by finding things you like (and don’t like) in other broadcasters.

 

Last night following the PawSox 3-2 loss to Durham, I listened to the San Diego Padres’ announcers Ted Leitner and Andy Mazur call a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Leitner is something of a polarizing announcer – people either love him or hate him – but he’s one of my favorites.  His style is totally unique – a stream of consciousness that includes play-by-play, comedy, commentary, and some cheerleading for his beloved Padres.  I couldn’t pull it off, but Ted sure does and I really enjoy listening to him.

 

Here’s a quick Top 5 that I love to listen to on XM.

 

Vin Scully (LA Dodgers).  The gold standard and still the best in the business at the age of 81.  I’ve included this link before, but read the transcript of Scully’s call of Sandy Koufax’s 1965 perfect game and you’ll truly appreciate his brilliance.

 

Here’s a Scully story.  A few years ago, I filled-in on a few Cincinnati Reds telecasts in Los Angeles and San Diego.  The road trip began at Dodger Stadium and the final game of the series was not on TV, so I drove to San Diego a day early to play golf with my color analyst Chris Welsh.  On the drive south, we listened to Scully call the final game of the Reds/Dodgers series and his broadcast was filled with interesting information about Cincinnati players that neither one of us knew – despite being about the team every day for years.  Above all, Scully is a master storyteller with total command of the language.

 

Jon Miller (San Francisco Giants).  Sure he does a great job on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, but Miller shines brightest on the radio.  In my opinion, Miller uses his voice better than any other announcer.  It helps that he has a great one, but he plays it like a Stradivarius.  His call of the game is pretty straight-forward, and no one can make the basics of baseball sound so exciting.

 

Miller was the subject of a great story last week on a Washington Post blog.

 

Marty Brennaman (Cincinnati Reds).  The most candid home team announcer in the history of broadcasting.  If the Reds are screwing up, Marty isn’t afraid to say so.  But that’s not the only thing that makes him one of my heroes.  He’s funny, opinioned, quick to poke fun at himself, and an absolute master at making his broadcasting partners sound good.  And I get to work with him next month!  (More on that later)

 

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Marty is that in more than three decades of broadcasting Reds games, he’s never botched a big moment.  WLW-AM, the Reds flagship station, has saved the classic audio of all of the major events during his tenure and Marty nailed every one.  That’s a streak of DiMaggio-esque proportions.

 

Dave O’Brien (Boston Red Sox).  We are blessed in Red Sox nation to have O’Brien behind the mic.  For starters, his voice is magnificent, but Dave is the total package – smart, funny, descriptive, and well-prepared.  I don’t know that anyone sounds better at calling an exciting play than O’Brien.

 

Dave Neihaus (Seattle Mariners).  One thing that all of the greats have in common is that they sound like they’re having a great time, and no one embodies that more than Neihaus.  There is a joyous tone to his voice every night, and the ballpark sounds like a magical place to be when he’s behind the mic.

 

Other XM Radio favorites include Eric Nadel (Texas Rangers), Jerry Howarth (Toronto Blue Jays), Pat Hughes (Chicago Cubs), Howie Rose (NY Mets), and Dan Shulman (ESPN).

 

If I could include favorite TV announcers, former PawSox announcer Gary Cohen (NY Mets), Josh Lewin (Texas Rangers), Dave Sims (Seattle Mariners), Matt Vasgersian (MLB Network) and Sean McDonough (ESPN) would be at the top of the list.

 

* * * * *

 

I have another opportunity to fill-in on a Cincinnati Reds broadcast coming up next month.  I’ll join Hall of Famer Marty Brennaman on the radio on July 27th against the San Diego Padres.

 

The Reds went 2-1 when I filled-in in Pittsburgh last month, so I’ll try to bring them some good luck at Great American Ball Park in July.

 

Perhaps there will be someone on the PawSox disabled list at that point who can take my place in the booth with Steve Hyder.  Jeff Natale was awesome when I had laryngitis.

 

* * * * *

 

Tuesday is a Clay Buchholz Night at McCoy Stadium.  For the season, Clay is 4-0 with a 1.74 ERA and his numbers have been mind-boggling in his last 7 starts:  4-0 with a 1.52 ERA (47.1 IP, 26 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 5 BB, 45 K).  Buchholz has not allowed a walk in his last 23.1 IP.

 

If you can’t make it out to McCoy, I hope you’ll join us for the radio call beginning with the pre-game show at 6:50 on the Pawtucket Red Sox radio network or PawSox.com.

 

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

 

 

 

Aaron Bates Gets The Call

The PawSox starting lineup on Monday night is likely to include Aaron Bates.

 

Bates resize.jpg 

 

The 25-year-old slugger got the news he was being promoted from Double-A Portland to Pawtucket following the Sea Dogs’ 10-3 win on Sunday over Trenton.

 

Here’s what I’ve put together on Bates for the PawSox game notes:

 

? Promoted from Double-A Portland today (6/8).  At the time of his promotion, Bates led the Eastern League in hits (70) and runs (41), and ranked 4th in batting average (.340).

? In 52 games with Portland this year, batted .340 (70-for-206) with 7 HR and 39 RBI (.405 OBP, .505 SLG).

? Named the Eastern League’s Player of the Month for May when he batted .370 with 6 HR and 28 RBI in 28 games.

? Spent all of 2008 with Double-A Portland, batting .276 with 11 HR and 68 RBI. 

? Led all Red Sox farm hands with 28 HR in 2007 (24 with Single-A Lancaster, 4 with Double-A Portland).

? Became the first player in the history of the California League to hit 4 HR in a game on May

19, 2007.

? Attended North Carolina State University.  Was a Cape League All-Star with the Brewer White Caps in 2005.

 

Bates was the subject of the Boston Globe’s minor league notebook last Friday and should provide a boost to the PawSox offensive attack.

 

No word yet on what will be done to make room for Aaron on the PawSox active roster.

 

* * * * *

 

The PawSox bullpen has been phenomenal this year, so Sunday’s 5-4 loss to Durham was a shocker as the Bulls scored 4 times in the 9th to turn a 3-run deficit into a 1-run win.

 

Pawtucket had been 27-0 when leading after 8 innings before Sunday’s loss.  For the season, the PawSox “pen pals” have a 2.78 ERA (50 ER in 194.1 IP) and have converted 21 of 25 save opportunities.

 

The good news is that starter Michael Bowden returned to form, allowing 1 run in 6 IP to lower his ERA to 2.47.

 

* * * * *

 

Speaking of the PawSox bullpen, Sunday’s 5th inning “Fantastic Fun Fact” involved relief pitcher Rocky Cherry who is the answer to a great trivia question:  “Who was the last visiting pitcher to take the mound at the old Yankee Stadium?”

 

Rocky got the final 5 outs for the Orioles in that game, and let the record show that the last Yankee to hit in the old stadium was Derek Jeter.

 

“That was pretty awesome because he’s the all-time hits leader at Yankee Stadium and when he walked up the crowd was going nuts,” Rocky told me.  “He was 0-for-4 going into that at-bat and I threw the first pitch right down the middle.  I wanted to give him the opportunity to do something – I don’t know why, but I felt compelled to.  On the next pitch I threw a breaking ball for a strike and he tried to absolutely hit it out of the stadium.  When he swung so hard he missed it and grounded out to third – he was pretty upset.  Then I saw this year at the new Yankee Stadium that Derek Jeter got the first at-bat for New York so it was kind of cool how everything works out.”

 

Rocky gave his jersey to Major League Baseball officials, but still his hat, cleats, glove, and the ball he used to retire Jeter (grass stain and all).

 

* * * * *

 

Monday night is Cox Legends Night at McCoy as former Red Sox pitchers Bill Monbouquette and Brian Rose will be signing autographs from 7:00 to 8:30 in the Cox Fan Center.

 

If you can’t make it out to the ballpark, I’ll join Bob Montgomery for TV coverage on Cox Sports throughout Rhode Island.  Enrique Gonzalez throws the first pitch at 7:05.

 

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

 

 

 

 

A 1-On-1 With John Smoltz

He hasn’t pitched in the International League for 11 years . . . I think we can wait one more night.

 


 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

I’ve been fired up to see John Smoltz take the mound for Pawtucket since he signed with the Red Sox on January 13th.  I became an even bigger fan of his when I had the opportunity to do a lengthy interview with him in spring training – he’s widely considered one of the best interview subjects in pro sports and will make a tremendous broadcaster when his playing days are finished.

 

When Friday’s night’s game was rained out, I hustled downstairs in hopes of talking to Smoltz again and managed to get a 1-on-1 interview before the other members of the media made it into the clubhouse.

 

We’ll play the interview in it’s entirety on “PawSox Insider” on Saturday afternoon at 2:00 pm and we’ll play a portion of it on the pre-game show on Saturday night at 5:50.

 

Here are a few questions and answers (my questions are in bold):

 

How does your shoulder feel and how do you think you’re throwing?

 

“I’m throwing the ball better each time out.  This is the time to experiment and get your pitches going.  This is really my spring training so I’m looking to establish my pitches, be around the strike zone, and in my mind, I know if the pitches are good enough to get big league hitters out.  Sometimes you get good results down here but you know in your heart that you threw pitches that would have resulted in some damage in the big leagues.  Patience is going to be the key.  For this club with the resources and options that they have, this is really a longevity situation that will pay dividends the longer we go.  I want to come out of the gate as well as anybody as establish that I haven’t lost anything, but there will be a wait-and-see approach and I know that will be some tough moments, but I have been through that in my career.”

 

Nobody wishes for a minor league rehab stint, but have you enjoyed being around young kids who are just beginning their journey to the big leagues?

 

“It’s been a unique experience because nothing has gone the way that we planned it.  We set a schedule and we’ve probably changed it four times.  At each stop I’ve been able to provide dinner and I’ll do that again tonight, but the one thing that I’ve learned from my past rehab stints is that there’s a question that somebody has at some point that can help them in the future, and I want to be readily available for that.”

 

You’ve set attendance records at your first three minor league stops.  Is it meaningful to you to pitch in front of fans that would probably never have the opportunity to see you in a big league game?

 

“To gain the appreciation of the fans coming out to see you pitch that might not get to a big league park has been great.  I do the best I can – I try to sign as many autographs as I can but I am here to do a job.  Some folks would like me to sign autographs in-between pitches, but it’s been a treat everywhere that I’ve gone.  The fans have been great and I’ve tried to pay them back for the respect they’ve given to me.”

 

You hold the major league record for post-season wins with 15.  Is the possibility of returning to the playoffs a major reason why you signed with Boston?

 

“Anytime you’ve been there 14 times, some people think, ‘Well, that’s enough.’  It’s never enough to get to the post-season and I’d love nothing more than to add about 5 wins to that total.  There would be nothing greater in my career than to get to 20 post-season wins which I think would be pretty cool.”

 

This week the Braves released your long-time teammate Tom Glavine when it appeared he was on the verge of returning to the big leagues.  Have you talked to him?

 

“I have.  That’s two bridges they’ve burned now.  They handled that absolutely the worst way you could handle it and I feel badly for Tommy because of the work he put into it and the career he’s had.  To go to the end and know that there was really no chance of pitching for them has to be one of hardest things to take after spending most of his career in Atlanta.  Sometimes this business is cruel and cold but there’s no excuse for being impersonal with some of your great players.  I’m sure it’s going to take a long time for Tommy to get over this move because of the route it took him.  He came back and he worked hard and he wasn’t given the chance to get back on the field.”

 

The tentative schedule has you pitching against the Marlins on June 16th, followed by a start against Atlanta.  Can you even imagine the hype?

 

“I can’t even imagine what that would be like and I’m not going to try to imagine – I’ll think about that down the road.  But it looks like at some point there will be one meeting with my former team.  If it’s not my first game, I’m not too concerned about it because I wouldn’t want my first game back to be like the 7th game of the World Series right out of the block.”

 

You signed a 1-year contract with Boston, but if things go well, do you see yourself doing this a year from now?

 

“I’d like to think so.  I don’t know that I came back to just make a few starts.  I hope that this comeback breeds success for a few more years.  I stopped thinking about what the future holds for me.  Every time I plan something out, there’s a diversion or a fork in the road.  I learned how much I missed baseball over the last year.  I learned how much I enjoy mixing and matching with the guys and being able to do the thing that I love.  I still love what I’m doing.  I don’t think that I’m a point where I’m a broken down old player – I’ve learned that you’re always going to have critics but you have to do what you love.  And as long as I have someone willing to let me do that, I will fulfill that with the utmost character and desire.”

 

There’s plenty more where that came from.  I hope you can tune in on Saturday.

 

* * * * *

 

One thing I try to do as a broadcaster is to help the listener get to know the person behind the uniform and a few years ago I began giving a nightly “Fantastic Fun Fact” (or Triple-F if you prefer) about a member of the PawSox.

 

After 20 years in the majors, there’s a treasure trove of interesting nuggets about Smoltz.  Here are a few that I’ll try to work into the broadcast if appropriate.

 

? His grandfather was a groundskeeper at Tiger Stadium for 38 years.

 

? His dad was a musician who played the accordion.  Thanks to his grandfather’s connections, John’s dad was part of the entertainment at the Tigers victory party following the 1968 World Series.

 

? John (who grew up in Michigan) attended the final game of the 1984 World Series in Detroit as a fan.  He wound up with a chunk of sod from the infield and planted it in his family’s front yard next to a statue of a tiger.

 

? His house in Georgia includes 3 golf holes, a baseball field, tennis court, basketball court, and partial football field.

 

? He’s good friends with Celtics coach Doc Rivers who reportedly told Smoltz he could stay in his apartment while pitching for the Red Sox.

 

I’ll save the rest for the broadcast.

 

* * * * *

 

Smoltz isn’t the only big name guest scheduled to join us on “PawSox Insider.”  We expect to talk to Peter Gammons as well.  The show begins on Saturday afternoon at 2:00 on flagship station 920-WHJJ in Providence and many of our affiliates on the PawSox radio network.

 

Game 1 of the 4-game series against Durham gets underway at 6:05.

 

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

How My Wife Helped Ken Griffey Jr.

I’m not the only member of my family blogging these days.

 

My wife Peg Rusconi, a news reporter for WBZ-TV in Boston, has been covering the fascinating Clark Rockerfeller kidnapping trial and is doing a daily blog for her TV station’s website.  You can check it out here.

 

Peg is not only the talented one in the family – she played a part in baseball history by helping Ken Griffey Jr. have perhaps his best season in a Cincinnati Reds uniform.

 

Seriously!

 

In August of 2004, Junior suffered a complete tear of his right hamstring that required Dr. Tim Kremchek to surgically reattach the tendon back to the bone with three screws.  Griffey was only able to play in 83 games that season.

 

The following year, Junior understandably got off to a slow start.  In April of 2005, he batted .244 with 1 HR and 9 RBI.

 

I was hosting the Cincinnati Reds TV pre-game show at that time on Fox Sports Ohio while Peg was working in Boston, and Junior would occasionally ask me how our two-city marriage was going.

 

One day at the height of his early season slump he asked me about Peg and I mentioned that WBZ-TV had sent her to Rome for several weeks to cover the funeral of Pope John Paul II and the papal succession that saw Pope Benedict XVI installed.

 

Griffey thought about it for a moment and said, “I went to Catholic school at Moeller High School and need a good luck charm.  Do you think your wife could bring me back a Pope T-shirt from Rome?”

 

I got the message to Peg and this is what she brought back.

 


Junior with Pope-T (resize).jpg 

For the rest of that season, Junior either wore the t-shirt under his uniform or had it proudly displayed in his locker.  After big games he would find me in the clubhouse after the game with a huge grin on his face and simply say, “Pope t-shirt!”

 

Let the record show that from May 1st until the end of the ’05 season, Griffey hit .313 with 34 HR and 83 RBI in 85 games. 

 

That year he was named the National League’s Comeback Player of the Year.

 

And in the words of Paul Harvey, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

 

* * * * *

 

Yesterday I blogged about Rick Sauveur’s relationship with future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson.  As it turns out, he’s not the only member of the PawSox with a connection to the “Big Unit.”

 

Chris Carter became friendly with Johnson when they were both in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.

 

In fact, Carter earned Johnson’s respect when he was the only left-handed batter that was willing to face him in spring training.

 

Once after Carter hit a few line drives off of Johnson in BP, a teammate dared him to dish out a little trash talk.

 

Chris took the bait – he approached the “Big Unit” in the clubhouse and said, “Man, I really hit some rockets off of you today.”

 

Johnson gave him the death stare and said, “And you had better never do it again,” before breaking into a big grin.

 

As it turns out, Johnson appreciated the fact that Carter wasn’t intimidated by him in the batters box or the clubhouse.

 

* * * * *

 

It’s a “Clay Buchholz Night” at McCoy Stadium as the 24-year-old Texan faces the team he nearly threw a perfect game against 10 days ago, the Louisville Bats.

 

Buchholz is 3-0 with a 1.47 ERA and was named the International League’s Pitcher of the Week last week for the second time this season.

 

The Red Sox played this afternoon, so I hope you’ll get your nightly baseball fix by listening to the PawSox.  Our coverage begins 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 Best Schilling Story

The upcoming rehab appearance of John Smoltz at McCoy Stadium reminds me of my best story about Curt Schilling.

 

Schill resize.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

Schilling made three rehab starts for the PawSox in 2007, but didn’t spend any significant time with the team beyond his appearances on the mound.  On his day to pitch, he would show up in the clubhouse a couple of hours before the game, pitch his innings, briefly address the media, and then take off before the game was even finished.

 

For reporters, it’s an unwritten rule that you never approach that day’s starting pitcher before a game, so I didn’t have a chance to introduce myself to Curt before his first two outings.  Knowing that his third start was likely to be his last with the PawSox, I decided that I would at least briefly say hello and wish him good luck on his impending return to Boston.

 

The game was in Columbus, so I walked up to his locker in the visiting clubhouse before the game and said, “Curt, I’m Dan Hoard, one of the radio announcers here and I just want to tell you how much I’ve enjoyed watching you pitch over the years and wish you the best of luck tonight and for the rest of the season.”

 

Unfortunately, I didn’t clarify that I was one of the PAWTUCKET radio announcers and based on what happened next, Schilling must have thought I worked for the Clippers.

 

That night, Columbus was having a fundraiser for the family of Mike Coolbaugh, a former member of the Clippers who had tragically died a month earlier when he was hit in the neck by a line drive while coaching first base for the Tulsa Drillers.

 

After I introduced myself to Schilling, Curt shook my hand and then asked me to do him a favor.  He wanted to make a contribution to the Coolbaugh fund, so he handed me a massive wad of cash and asked me if I would deliver it to the appropriate person in the Clippers front office.

 

I never counted the money, but it’s the biggest stack of bills I’ve ever held – I’m guessing it was several thousand dollars.

 

And yes, I did hand it over (even though it would have made a nice start to the Sam Hoard College Fund).

 

* * * * *

 

Following Monday’s 4-2 win over Indianapolis, Hoard and Hyder had an amusing moment when we were approached by a fan who wanted us to autograph our picture from a McCoy Stadium game program.

 

The timing was perfect because as we were signing, Jeff Natale and Chip Ambres walked by.

 

Natale said, “You’ve got to be kidding me,” while Ambres said; “Now I’ve seen everything.”

 

I wonder what they would have said if they had seen me autograph the top of this dude’s head!

 


Autographed head.jpg 

 

Yes, that actually happened after I was the Master of Ceremonies at a big University of Cincinnati pep rally at the Orange Bowl.  I guess I did a good job.

 

* * * * * 

 

Fernando Cabrera tossed a scoreless 9th inning on Monday to improve to 10-for-10 in save opportunities, but I was happy just to see him at the ballpark because that meant he isn’t going anywhere.  Like many minor league free agents with major league experience, Cabrera signed a contract with Boston in December that included a June 1st “out” clause, meaning he was free to look into other offers on that date.  Needless to say, he would have been tough to replace.  In his last 18 appearances, Fernando has a 0.74 ERA (24.1 IP, 10 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 10 BB, 26 K).

 

* * * * *

 

Congratulations to producer Chris Ackerknecht, my broadcast partner Bob Montgomery, and all of my friends and co-workers at Cox Sports Television on winning a New England Emmy Award for “Best Live Sporting Event” for our coverage of PawSox baseball.  This year, our coverage of the PawSox beat Comcast Sports Net’s coverage of the Boston Celtics to win the Emmy.  In previous years, we’ve beaten NESN’s coverage of the Boston Red Sox.

 

Manager Ron Johnson deserves much of the credit as the winning entry featured one of his “Wired” segments, where he wears a live microphone and talks to us in the booth while coaching third base.

 

You can watch one of those segments here.  Just scroll down to the screen with RJ’s picture on it and click play.

 

* * * * *

 

Do you have a friend who always comes through when you need him (or her)?  I’m fortunate to have several, including the PawSox Director of Security Rick Medeiros.

 

Today when the PawSox traveled from Indianapolis to Providence, I was the only person in the traveling party who didn’t receive his luggage.  For some reason, my bags went on a different flight and arrived about 45 minutes after the team landed.

 

Rick was at the airport to help transport the PawSox baseball equipment back to McCoy Stadium, and without being asked, waited until my stuff arrived to give me a lift back to the ballpark.  He also persuaded the fine folks from Southwest Airlines to give me a nice travel voucher for my trouble.

 

Oh, and I almost forgot – he’s battling pneumonia!

 

Now that’s a true friend.

 

* * * * *

 

Tonight (Tuesday) the PawSox will have Michael Bowden on the mound as they open an 8-game homestand.  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.

 

All Signs Point To Smoltz On Friday

There’s still no official word from Boston, but it appears all-but-certain that John Smoltz will be the PawSox starting pitcher on Friday night at McCoy Stadium.

 

Smoltz Fenway resize.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

Last night after tossing 5 solid innings for Class-A Greenville, Smoltz told reporters that he expected his next two starts to be for Pawtucket before tentatively making his Boston debut on June 16th against the Florida Marlins.

 

If Smoltz remains in a starter’s normal 5-day routine, his PawSox starts would be on June 5th at McCoy and June 11th in a doubleheader at Syracuse (Pawtucket is off on June 10th).

 

Last night, Smoltz allowed 4 hits and 1 run in 5 IP, with no walks and 6 strikeouts.  In 3 minor league rehab starts, he has a 1.59 ERA in 11.1 IP with no walks and 10 strikeouts.

 

I had the opportunity to interview Smoltz in spring training and asked him what he thought he could contribute to the Red Sox after coming off of shoulder surgery.

 

“Without me they’re good enough to win the World Series – I know that, I’m not a dummy,” Smoltz told me.  “With me, I hope to be another asset.  An opportunity to win another championship excites me, and I believe that given the proper time frame I will be as good as I’ve ever been – that’s my mindset.”

 

Smoltz is very high on my list of all-time favorite interviews.  He’s funny, interesting, and does his best to make it sound like he’s answering every question for the first time in his life (even if he’s heard it a million times).

 

I concluded my first interview with him by telling him that I had once heard Tiger Woods call Smoltz “the best amateur” he had ever golfed with.

 

“I look at that with a double-edged sword – I don’t know how many amateurs he’s played with,” Smoltz said.  “Hopefully he’s played with thousands.  But every chance I get to play with Tiger is a treasure – he’s the greatest athlete of our generation.  I don’t think anyone looked at golf as an athletic sport until he came upon the scene.  Anytime you come into a sport and change it universally, I think you’ve got to be considered the greatest athlete to play the game.  The sky is the limit if he can stay healthy.  He’ll shatter records and we’ll talk about him for years to come.  But I’m going to beat him – I just want you to know that – I’m going to beat him.  I’m going to wear him down.”

 

Smoltz hopes to make the cut in a regular PGA Tour event when his baseball career is over.  Let’s hope that’s after he earns a World Series ring with the Boston Red Sox.

 

* * * * *

 

A couple of days ago, my blog featured this incredible photograph of pitcher Billy Traber taken by my friend Kelly O’Connor.

 


Sky Traber resize.jpg 

I e-mailed it to Billy and then got the story behind the shot.

 

“Usually when we walk back in from throwing and stretching, I grab a baseball and toss it into the stands,” Traber said.  “I try to get it to a little kid, but since they don’t have the best hands to catch a baseball, it can be a challenge at McCoy Stadium (where the first row of the stands is 12 to 15 feet off the ground).  So in that case, I tried to do a ‘Superman’ act and stepped on one railing while I grabbed the railing on top.  I pulled myself up and handed the ball to a little boy or girl so that they wouldn’t get a face-plant.  It works out much better that way.”

 

One of things I love about that photo is the optical illusion that makes it appear that Billy is leaping high into the air to reach into the first row of the stands.  To me, it looks like the Nike “Jumpman” logo.


Jumpman_logo resize.jpg 

“Some of your best athletes are pitchers,” Traber said with a laugh.  “I don’t claim to be one of those guys, but if it looks like I am leaping. . .then you know what – I guess I am!”

 

* * * * *

 

Tonight the PawSox conclude their 8-game road trip with the finale of a 4-game series in Indianapolis.  It’s been a great stop for me because my wife Peg and my son Sam were here in Indy until this afternoon.

 

We’ve been to the Children’s Museum, the Indianapolis Zoo, and eaten a lot of ice cream.

 

The timing was perfect because today is our 7th wedding anniversary. 

 

And Lou Gehrig’s famous quote definitely applies to yours truly.

 

I hope you’ll tune in to tonight’s game from Indianapolis, beginning with the pre-game show at 6:45 on the PawSox radio network and PawSox.com.

 

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

 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.