November 2009

Torey (Not To Be Confused With Torre) To Manage PawSox

On Monday, the Boston Red Sox named Torey Lovullo as Pawtucket’s new manager for 2010.

 


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Ironically, two years ago, the record book shows that Lovullo was the opposing manager in perhaps the most infamous loss in Pawtucket history – the “Stinko de Mayo” game on May 5, 2007 when Craig Hansen and Manny Delcarmen combined to blow an 8-run lead in the bottom of the 9th inning in a 15-14 defeat at Buffalo.

 

So how did Pawtucket’s new manager inspire the troops to overcome impossible odds and beat the PawSox that night?  He didn’t – Lovullo was back home in California for a family function and missed the game.

 

I’ve always wondered how the conversation went when he called his coaching staff that night:

 

Lovullo:  “So, how did we do tonight guys?”

 

Coach:  “We rallied from 8-down in the bottom of the 9th to beat Pawtucket against their top two relief pitchers”

 

Lovullo:  “Ha, ha.  Very funny.  So what really happened?

 

I don’t know Torey well, but I’ve interviewed him on a few occasions and found him to be extremely personable and well-spoken.  People that worked with him in Buffalo and Columbus (where he managed the Indians Triple-A club) swear by him.

 

I think it’s a great hire by Boston.  Lovullo was one of four finalists for the Cleveland Indians managerial job this year that went to Manny Acta.  A few years ago, he interviewed to be the skipper of the LA Dodgers before they hired Grady Little instead.

 

Although he’s only 44-years-old, Lovullo spent eight years managing in the Indians system and compiled a record of 595-531 (.528).  Additionally, he played in the big leagues for parts of eight seasons with the Tigers, Yankees, Angels, Mariners, Athletics, Indians and Phillies.  Of all the managers he played for, Torey says his biggest influence was his skipper in Philadelphia in 1999.

 

“Terry Francona easily had the biggest influence on me,” Lovullo said recently at a news conference in Cleveland.  “It was his ability to communicate and relate to his players.  He was a friend, but also a teacher.  He knew when to draw a line between the two when he had to.  As a manager, I’m my own guy, but Terry is the guy I would like to most pattern myself after.”

 

Lovullo becomes the 13th manager in Pawtucket’s Triple-A history and probably had the most interesting childhood of any of them.  His father, Sam Lovullo, was the long-time producer of the TV show Hee Haw, so Torey spent his youth hanging around the legends of country music.  A few years ago on one of our pre-game shows, he told Steve Hyder about the time he shot hoops with Elvis Presley.  That’s tough to top.

 

I look forward to speaking to Torey soon about his new job with Pawtucket.  More importantly, I think PawSox fans are going to love having him as their new manager.

 

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

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

A Yankee Legend Calls It Quits

My buddy Hyder hates the New York Yankees with every fiber of his being, but I’m guessing that even Steve was saddened to hear the recent news that a Yankee legend officially announced his retirement this week – Bob Sheppard.

 


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Sheppard – who Reggie Jackson called “The Voice of God” – was the public address announcer at Yankee Stadium for more than 50 years and is one of the most frequently imitated voices in sports.  Close your eyes and imagine a very deep baritone saying the following words with a slight echo:

 

Now batting for the Yankees . . . number two . . . Derek Jee-tuh . . .number two

 

Sheppard, who turned 99 last month, has battled health problems in recent years and has not been behind the Yankee Stadium microphone since late in the 2007 season.  Paul Olden handled P.A. duties at the new Yankee Stadium this year, although Jeter continues to come to the plate to a tape of Sheppard’s introduction.  The Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees had Sheppard record a series of stadium announcements that they play before every game at PNC Field. 

 

By the way, I have a connection to Paul Olden.  When the Tampa Bay Rays were hiring their first radio broadcasting team, they had five or six people come to Florida to do auditions at a minor league game and I was paired with Olden.  One of us got the gig.  It wasn’t me. 

 

If you would like to hear Sheppard announce some of the great names in Yankee history as they come to the plate, there’s a wonderful tribute video on YouTube that you can find here. 

 

Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

I Recommend The Oatmeal Butterscotch

Perhaps the day before Thanksgiving – when most of us gorge ourselves on turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie – is the wrong time to write about this, but I just became aware of the fact that the best cookies I’ve ever tasted are now available online.

 

Meryl Masterson’s oatmeal butterscotch cookies.

 

Meryl is the wife of former PawSox pitcher Justin Masterson who was traded to Cleveland last July in the Victor Martinez deal.

 


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(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

After Masterson’s first appearance for Pawtucket in 2008, I remember going down to manager Ron Johnson’s office after the game to get his thoughts on Justin’s outing.  Eventually we discussed the game, but only after listening to RJ rave at length about the cookies that Justin’s wife had provided for the players and coaches.

 

Hearing RJ sing hosannas about free food was nothing unusual, but he was especially effusive in his praise of Meryl’s oatmeal butterscotch cookies.

 

Naturally that meant there was only one possible thing for your friendly neighborhood radio guys Hoard and Hyder to do:  Shamelessly beg for a special delivery to the radio booth. 

 

Sure enough, Meryl heard us talking about her delicacies during one of Justin’s starts and a shoebox full of cookies was waiting for us the next day.

 

In a word, they were scrumptious.  Had she brought a container of milk too, I might have tried to break up their marriage.

 

When I saw Justin in spring training this year I asked how Meryl was doing and he mentioned that she was looking into starting her own cookie business.

 

And now, I see that she has (it may have been the case for some time, but it’s news to me).

 

It’s called Meryl Masterson’s Home Plate Cookies and here’s the link.

 

She’s selling eight different flavors including the oatmeal butterscotch.  I’m also intrigued by something called “Masterson Monster Cookies” which include peanut butter, chocolate, oatmeal, and M & M’s.

 

Like I said, you probably won’t be tempted this close to Thanksgiving.

 

But Christmas is just around the corner.

Congrats To Jim Tracy . . . From Your Pal Dennis Hoard

I was happy to see Colorado’s Jim Tracy win the National League Manager of the Year Award this week.  The Rockies were 10-games under .500 when Tracy replaced Clint Hurdle, and he led the team to a 74-42 record the rest of the way to win the NL Wild Card.  Tracy also received a 3-year contract to manage the Rockies through 2012. 

 

I got to know Jim when he was managing the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Hamilton, OH native is truly one of the nicest people I’ve come across in baseball.

 

He’s also the source of one of my most embarrassing moments in broadcasting.

 

Several years ago when I was hosting the Cincinnati Reds pre-game show on Fox Sports Ohio we decided to do a big feature story on Tracy to air when the Reds faced the Dodgers.  Since Hamilton is not far from Cincinnati, we traveled there to interview friends and family members.  We even got our hands on old high school yearbook photos.

 

When the Dodgers got to Cincinnati, I sat Jim down for a lengthy one-on-one interview to tell the story of how a kid from a small town in Ohio grew up to become the manager of one of the most storied franchises in baseball.

 

Just before the interview began, Jim asked me to repeat my first name so I said, “It’s Dan.”

 

I knew exactly why he wanted to know.  Jim realized that the interview would sound more personable if he mentioned my name while answering some of the questions.

 

Sure enough, immediately after I asked my first question, Tracy began his answer by saying my name.  But there was one problem – he got it wrong and called me Dennis.

 

I probably should have corrected him before continuing, but I decided to ignore it and keep going.  Wrong move.  After my second question, he referred to me as Denny.

 

The guys in the production truck were laughing hysterically, but after a couple of “Dennys” I didn’t have the heart to correct him.  So that’s how it continued for about 10 minutes.  I would ask my question, and he would begin his answer with some variation of the name Dennis.

 

To this day, one of guys that I used to work with in Cincinnati calls me Denny.

 

It was an honest mistake by Jim Tracy and I’m genuinely happy that he was named the NL Manager of the Year.

 

I just hope they don’t engrave his name wrong on the trophy.

 

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

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

Shopping Season

The day after Thanksgiving is known as “Black Friday” and is often referred to as the start of the Christmas shopping season.

 

As a baseball fan, I’m more interested in this Friday – the start of the free agent shopping season.

 

Boston’s biggest priority is left field and it seems likely that the Sox will either re-sign Jason Bay or spend a similar amount on Matt Holliday.

 

The Red Sox also need to address shortstop since injuries have made it impossible to project Jed Lowrie as an every day player for next season.  The Sox declined their $6 million option on Alex Gonzalez, but could try to bring him back at a lesser price.  I wouldn’t mind seeing Boston try to sign Houston’s Miguel Tejada to a one or two-year deal.  Yes, he’s 35-year-old and has the range of a sumo wrestler, but the 6-time All-Star and 2002 American League MVP can still rake (.313, 46 doubles, 14 HR, 86 RBI in ’09).  Perhaps he can man the position until 19-year-old Cuban signee Jose Iglesias is ready for prime time.

 

It seems that Boston often looks to sign a low risk/potentially high reward player who is coming back from an injury (John Smoltz and Brad Penny last year).  How about 31-year-old pitcher Ben Sheets?  After missing last year with an elbow injury, the 4-time All-Star says he’s healthy.  After never pitching in a playoff game in his 8-years with Milwaukee, Sheets is probably eager to join a contender – especially one with a history of giving good deals to pitchers with recent medical problems. 

 

While major league free agents get all of the attention, the Red Sox will also be active in the minor league free agent market to build organization depth, and give the PawSox a few veterans with proven records at the Triple-A level.  Last year, the team signed Nick Green to be Pawtucket’s second baseman and he wound up being Boston’s shortstop for much of the year.  Fernando Cabrera was also picked up as a minor league free agent last winter, and was Pawtucket’s Most Valuable Pitcher, going 22-for-22 in save opportunities with a 1.71 ERA.

 

Green and Cabrera are free agents again this year along with several key Pawtucket players including Jeff Bailey, Marcus McBeth, Billy Traber, Devern Hansack, Jose Vaquedano, Charlie Zink, Travis Denker, Angel Chavez, and Gil Velazquez.

 

Other familiar former PawSox in the minor league free agent market include David Pauley, Paul McAnulty, Chad Spann, Matt Ginter, Alejandro Machado, Rocky Cherry, Eric Hull, Bryan Corey, Jason Lane, and Jon Spitzer.

 

Baseball America published a lengthy list of more than 500 minor league free agents that you can find here.  Be sure to scroll past the team-by-team rundown to see a list of players who became free agents after being removed from their team’s 40-man-rosters.  Those players are the ones that would most likely appeal to Boston as candidates to join Pawtucket next season. 

 

Some of the most attractive names from other organizations include Brad Eldred, Kevin Barker, Mitch Jones, Ryan Freel, Jason Grilli, Winston Abreu, and Jason Childers.

 

One name that does not appear on those lists is George Kottaras who was released by the Red Sox on Wednesday.  With Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek under contract, there isn’t room for George on the major league roster next season and he’s out of minor league options.  Kottaras is only 26-years-old and should have no trouble finding a team that will give him an opportunity to make the major league club in spring training.

 

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

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

Top of the List

Last Thursday, Baseball Prospectus released its list of the Red Sox Top 15 minor league prospects.

 

Number one on the list – Rhode Island’s own Ryan Westmoreland. 

 


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(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

The Portsmouth, RI native had an outstanding first professional season with Single-A Lowell, batting .296 (.401 OBP/.885 OPS) with 7 HR, 35 RBI and 19 SB (without being caught) in 60 games.

 

Unfortunately, the 19-year-old outfielder’s season ended on August 28th when he broke his collarbone while making a diving catch.  Westmoreland had surgery in September and is almost completely recovered according to the Providence Journal.

 

“He’s doing great,” Red Sox director of player development Mike Hazen told the Projo’s Joe McDonald. “He has no pain and his range of motion is back 100 percent.  Everything went really well and we have no concerns right now physically.”

 

I’m really looking forward to eventually watching Westmoreland play.  While I’ve never seen him on a baseball diamond, I had the opportunity to broadcast one of Ryan’s high school basketball games a few years ago on Cox Sports TV and it was obvious that he is a tremendous athlete.

 

If you would like a sneak peak at Westmoreland’s smooth left-handed swing, here is YouTube video of one of his home runs for Lowell (be patient, it’s the entire at-bat and he doesn’t hit the HR for about 2 minutes).

                                                                                              

According to Baseball Prospectus, the Red Sox have two five-star prospects:  Westmoreland and pitcher/infielder Casey Kelly.  Neither one is projected to play for Pawtucket this year, but several of the website’s Top 15 are good bets to spend time with the PawSox in 2010 including:

 

#3 Josh Reddick

#4 Ryan Kalish

#7 Junichi Tazawa

#8 Michael Bowden

#9 Lars Anderson

 

To see the Baseball Prospectus article click here.  Much of the content is restricted to subscribers, but you can see the entire Top 15 list and read their in-depth scouting report on Westmoreland. 

 

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

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

Greg Gets A Big League Gig

The hardest working person on a minor league baseball team is the athletic trainer.

And it’s not even close.

In addition to the “trainer” part of the job (evaluating injuries, overseeing rehabilitation, taping ankles, etc), the minor league trainer also helps to coordinate team travel, monitor strength and conditioning, and even occasionally drive the team van on the road.

For the past five years, Greg Barajas has done all that and more for the Pawtucket Red Sox, but we won’t have him to depend on next season. Earlier this week Barajas was named Assistant Trainer for the Boston Red Sox under Mike Reinhold.

“I was shocked,” Greg told me a few days after receiving the news. “Not in the sense that I don’t think that I can do the job – but shocked in the sense that I’ve finally realized one of my dreams. From the very beginning as an undergraduate I said, ‘If I’m going to do athletic training, I’d like to do major league baseball.’ It’s been a process of 13 to 14 years to get to the point where now I can say that I’m a major league baseball athletic trainer. I don’t know if it will fully sink in until I get to Fenway for the first game.”

I often joke with Steve Hyder about how crazy we are to pursue major league baseball broadcasting jobs. By my count, there are roughly 80 English-speaking broadcasters in the big leagues who are not former MLB players. It’s an exclusive – and difficult – club to join.

But it’s probably even tougher for an athletic trainer. There are generally two trainers on each of the 30 MLB teams for a total of 60 jobs.

“It’s definitely a hard job market to break into and some guys never do it, so I feel very honored that I’ve made it this far,” Barajas said. “It’s almost like hitting the lottery, but you know that you put in the time and the effort as well.”

“I started with the Milwaukee Brewers organization in rookie ball in Helena, Montana. It was a short season team that starts in June and ends at the beginning of September. The stadium probably had probably 3,000 seats and there were probably 10 people in the stands for some games and half of them were selling souvenirs. To go from that to working at Fenway Park for one of the most-watched teams in the world . . . you probably can’t find two more opposite settings.”

And now that he’s reached the big leagues, Greg’s job title will finally be accurate.

“Now all I am responsible for is athletic training, and that’s going to be a big relief during the season,” Barajas said. “All I have to concentrate on is what I actually went to school for. Athletic training in the minor leagues requires you to do a whole bunch of jobs just so you can do the job that you love. I definitely won’t miss having to deal with airline ticket desks at 6:30 in the morning after getting two hours of sleep.”

One More Year For A Personal Favorite

I was happy to read that Ken Griffey Jr. signed a contract on Wednesday to play one more season with the Seattle Mariners.

 


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(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

Griffey, who turns 40 later this month, ranks fifth in major league history with 630 home runs, and will begin his 22nd big league season in April.

 

“I’d like to thank the Mariners organization for inviting me back to play in 2010,” Griffey said in a statement.  “While 2009 was an awesome experience for me, my ultimate goal is for the Mariners to get to and win the World Series.”

 

I had the pleasure of getting to know Junior pretty well during the years that I hosted the Cincinnati Reds pre-game show on Fox Sports Ohio and he’s high on my list of all-time favorite professional athletes. 

 

I’ve blogged about Griffey before including:

 

How my wife helped him win the National League Comeback Player of the Year award.

 

Junior’s remarkable ability to pay tribute to his parents.

 

Here’s a Ken Griffey story that I haven’t written about.

 

I moved from Cincinnati to Boston in March of 2006 and before broadcasting my first game for Pawtucket, the team sent me to spring training for a week to get to know the players and coaches.

 

One afternoon in Ft. Myers my cell phone rang and the word “unavailable” appeared where the incoming phone number is usually displayed.  When I answered, the caller didn’t identify himself and I was too embarrassed to admit that I didn’t recognize the voice.

 

(You’ve done that before haven’t you?  Where you waste time trying to figure out the person on the other end of the line instead of simply saying, ‘Excuse me, but who the heck is this?’)

 

In this case, the caller asked me about my new job, where I was going to live, how my expectant wife was doing (Sam was born about 6 weeks later), and wished me luck.  It was only moments before we said goodbye that I realized the caller was Ken Griffey Jr.

 

The Mariners will be at Fenway next season on August 23, 24, and 25.  Take advantage of the opportunity to see a great player – and person – one last time.

Can Varitek Stomach A Pay Cut And A Bench Role?

Jason Varitek has five days to decide if he wants to finish his career with the Boston Red Sox.

 

Are you hoping he stays or goes?

 


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(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

On Monday, the Red Sox picked up Victor Martinez’s $7.5 million option for next season and G.M. Theo Epstein made it clear that Victor is expected to be Boston’s primary catcher.

 

“We’re going to really look for Victor to be an everyday catcher for us next year,” Epstein told reporters at the General Managers’ meetings in Chicago. “We feel like that puts us in the best position to win with Victor catching as much as he can. The other spot we’ll have available is for more of a traditional backup. We’ll see what Tek’s decision is before we move forward.”

 

The Sox notified Varitek that they will not pick up his $5 million option for 2010, but the 37-year-old captain has a player option to return for $3 million.  Tek has already made more than $62 million in his big league career so money shouldn’t be an issue.  The question is, can Varitek stomach the thought of being a backup?

 

For most of the past 12 years, Jason has been a great player and leader for the Red Sox.  He’s a 3-time All-Star, a Gold Glove Award winner, and the only catcher in baseball history to be behind the plate for four no-hitters. 

 

He still does a solid job behind the plate, but he’s become a liability at the plate.  This season Varitek batted .209 with 14 HR and 51 RBI.  After the all-star break, his numbers were atrocious as Tek batted .157 with 1 HR in 42 games.  At times it was painful to watch.

 

Who knows, perhaps in a reserve role there will still be some life in Varitek’s bat at the end of the season. 

 

I suspect that Varitek will exercise his $3 million option and stay with Boston for one more year.  For starters, he’s not likely to make more money elsewhere and I can’t think of a contending team that would make him its primary catcher.

 

For more than a decade, Varitek has received consistent raves for his ability to call a good game. 

 

This seems like a simple call to me.

The Smartest Man In Baseball

In my four years as a PawSox broadcaster, it would be hard to pick a favorite player.

 

But smartest player?  That’s easy – Yale University grad Craig Breslow.

 

 


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(photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

Craig usually had a book in his hands on the long bus trips and I used to get a kick out of asking him about his latest reading material.  One season he decided to study the greatest speeches in history from the likes of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Winston Churchill.  Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal named him “The Smartest Man in Baseball.”

 

Oh yea, he’s also a terrific pitcher.

 

Breslow pitched for the Pawtucket in 2006 and 2007 and was chosen for the Triple-A All-Star Game each season.  After appearing in 13 games for Boston, he’s pitched for Cleveland, Minnesota and Oakland over the past two years.  This season he made 77 relief appearances to rank second in the American League and posted a 2.60 ERA in 60 games with the Athletics.

 

I’m writing about Craig today because on Saturday night (November 7th) he’s hosting “The 2nd Annual First Pitch Celebrity Gala” at the Omni Hotel in New Haven, CT.  Nomar Garciaparra is the guest speaker and several major leaguers are scheduled to attend.

 

 

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For more information, check this link or call 203-502-0007.

 

When Craig was 12-years-old, his older sister Lesley was diagnosed with cancer.  Thankfully, she underwent successful surgery and has been cancer free for 16 years.  But the memory of the ordeal his family went through helped inspire Craig to form “The Strike 3 Foundation” which raises funding for childhood cancer research.

 

“The visionary in me sees the day when all cancers are eradicated,” Breslow writes on the foundation’s website.  “The realist understands that the first steps toward this feat are to heighten awareness, raise support, and encourage cancer research. To that end, I am excited by the prospects that our partnership with some local cancer treatment centers offers. United in our goal, we hope together to hasten the arrival of the day when no child with cancer goes uncured.”

 

Last year’s gala raised more than $100,000 and Breslow is hoping to raise even more money this year.

 

If you live in New England and don’t have plans on Saturday night, you should consider making the trip to New Haven and supporting a great cause.

 

Say hi to Craig for me.  And ask him what he’s reading these days.

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