May 2010

Me and El Tiante

I got to mingle with Red Sox royalty on Tuesday:

 


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The legendary Luis Tiant.

 

For the second year in a row, the BoSox Club – the official fan club of the Boston Red Sox – invited me to serve as master of ceremonies at one of the eight luncheons that they hold during the season (click here for the schedule).

 

The featured guests at the Westin Waltham included Toronto Blue Jays broadcaster Alan Ashby, Jays’ 1B/DH Randy Ruiz, Red Sox outfielder Darnell McDonald and the great El Tiante.

 

This is the 35th anniversary of the Red Sox 1975 World Series team and that Fall Classic featured Tiant at the height of his powers.

 

Facing the Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” lineup of Rose, Morgan, Bench, and Perez, Tiant started all three games that Boston won in the ’75 Fall Classic.

 

In Game 1, Tiant pitched a 5-hit shutout in a 6-0 win.

 

In Game 4, Luis threw 163 pitches and went the distance again in a 5-4 victory.

 

In Game 6, he pitched into the 8th inning and the Red Sox eventually won 7-6 in 12 innings on Carlton Fisk’s famous home run.

 

At Tuesday’s luncheon, I asked Tiant if it felt like his arm was going to fall off at the time.

 

“My arm?  No.  Maybe the rest of my body,” Tiant said with a laugh.  “That World Series was the greatest thing that ever happened to me because my mom and dad were there from Cuba.  It was the only World Series that I played in during my 19 years in the big leagues.  The fans really cheered for me, ‘Looie, Looie, Looie,’ and I gave it my best.  I thank God for giving me the ability to come through in those games.  I didn’t get tired because that’s where I always wanted to be.  Even though we lost, I think it was a great World Series – maybe one of the best.  I think if we would have had Jim Rice it could have been a little different.  It really was a great moment in my baseball career.’

 

I distinctly remember watching that World Series on TV and marveling at Tiant’s crazy corkscrew delivery.  The great baseball writer Roger Angell broke it down into six stages in his book “Five Seasons.”

 

1) Call the Osteopath: In midpitch the man suffers an agonizing seizure in the central cervical region, which he attempts to fight off with a sharp backward twist of the head.

2) Out of the Woodshed: Just before releasing the ball he steps over a raised sill and simultaneously ducks his head to avoid conking it on the low doorframe.

3) The Runaway Taxi: Before the pivot, he sees a vehicle bearing down on him at top speed, and pulls back his entire upper body just in time to avoid a nasty accident.

4) Falling Off the Fence: An attack of vertigo nearly causes him to topple over backward on the mound. Strongly suggests a careless dude on the top rung of the corral.

5) The Slipper-Kick: In midpitch, he surprisingly decides to get rid of his left shoe.

6) The Low-Flying Plane (a subtle development and amalgam of 1, 3, and 4. above): While he is pivoting, an F-I05 buzzes the ball park, passing over the infield from the third-base to the first-base side at a height of eight feet. He follows it all the way with his eyes.

 

At the BoSox Club luncheon, I asked Tiant where he came up with his bizarre pitching motion.

 

“I was pitching for Boston in 1972 against Cleveland,” Tiant said.  “It was about the 4th inning and when I got to two strikes on the batter I decided to try something different.  So I spun and I looked into center field . . . then I looked into the stands . . . and when I finally threw the ball, I could see that the batters eyes got THIS BIG as he moved away from home plate and I threw the pitch for strike three.  He asked Fisk, ‘What’s the matter with him – what was that?” and Carlton said, ‘That’s a new pitch.’   It really worked for me because from that point on I won 172 games.  People try to say that you have to look at the mitt – well, that didn’t work for me.  The most important part of pitching is the point of release – I don’t care what you do before that.  I practiced and practiced to be able to throw like that and that’s how I was able to do it for all of those years.  I looked toward center field . . . I looked at the girls . . . I looked up and down . . . and then I said, ‘OK, let me get this guy out.’  Hey, it worked for me.”

 

It certainly did.  Tiant finished his career with 229 wins – more than Hall of Famers Catfish Hunter, Jim Bunning, Don Drysdale, and Bob Lemon.

 

* * * * *

 

It was also fun to catch up with Darnell McDonald who wanted a complete rundown on how his former Pawtucket teammates were doing.

 


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(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

The 31-year-old outfielder got a huge round of applause from the fan club members in attendance and said he has a greater appreciation for all of the attention he has received over the last few weeks after toiling in the minor leagues for the last 12 years.

 

“If I was 21 or 22, I probably wouldn’t have the same appreciation that I have now,” McDonald said.  “Playing a lot of games in the minor leagues has helped me appreciate this time and it feels better to be able to have some success after going through the things that I’ve been through.  To get so many texts messages from the guys that I’ve played with that know the grind, and the struggle, and the bus rides means a lot.  Everybody that plays in the minor leagues wants to be in the big leagues and it’s been a great experience.”

 

It’s been good for Darnell and the Red Sox.  Boston is 13-7 in the 20 games that McDonald has played in for far.

 

* * * * *

 

Adam Mills pitched a gem on Tuesday night at McCoy Stadium, tossing 7 innings without allowing an earned run in a 5-1 win over Gwinnett.  Aaron Bates and Dusty Brown belted 2-run homers, and Josh Reddick added an RBI single.

 

The PawSox will try to equal their longest winning streak of the year at two in a row on Wednesday when they host the Braves at 6:15.

 

I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 6:00 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.

 

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

Mike Cameron Makes History

Mike Cameron is one of 15 players in major league history to hit four home runs in a game, but on Monday afternoon at McCoy Stadium he did something that no man has ever done – he said he was thankful to have had a kidney stone.

 

“I guess I should rephrase that,” Cameron said with a laugh.  “The blessing and the beauty of it is that it stopped me from possibly hurting myself even more.”

 


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(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

After missing a game on April 15th, Cameron passed the kidney stone on the following morning and played that night in Toronto.  But pain in his groin continued, and after playing in three games, the 37-year-old outfielder went in for more medical tests.  Doctors found a tear in his lower abdominal muscles.

 

“I thought that (the abdominal tear) was just the soreness from the kidney stone, and it probably had been maturing over the course of time,” Cameron said.  “Fortunately, I got just a little bit of pain where my body completely shut down on me.  Otherwise I would have still been trying to play with the soreness.  That stopped me in my tracks – my body said, ‘It’s done.  I’ve had enough.’  I had to shut it down and find out what was going on.

 

“I had a little tear in my lower abdominals.  It was like a piercing, burning pain that no one wants to go through – I don’t think any man wants to have any pain in that area.  I’ve had to go through a lot of poking and prodding and everything else to get to where I’m at now, and I’m glad that’s over with because rehab is much tougher than playing baseball.”

 

Cameron has been taking batting practice for about a week and will be Pawtucket’s DH tonight in a 6:15 start vs. Gwinnett.  Radio coverage starts at 6:00 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.

A Fan Favorite Returns To McCoy

On Monday night, the PawSox return home after a nine day road trip.

 

It also marks the return of Joe Thurston to McCoy Stadium.

 


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(photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

Two years ago, Thurston was a key member of perhaps the best team in Pawtucket history as the PawSox set a franchise-record with 85 regular season wins and led the league in runs scored.  Joe topped the I.L. with 160 hits, tied for second in batting average at .316, and was one of four PawSox to earn All-League honors at the end of the year.

 

I asked Joe what stands out about his summer in Pawtucket.

 

“The team we had,” Thurston said.  “Just coming to the ballpark every day knowing that win or lose we were going to have fun and play the game the right way.  Our manager RJ (Ron Johnson) was awesome – he let us go out there and do our thing.  And the fans were great.  They love their PawSox and their Red Sox and whether it was the big leagues or Triple-A they treated you well.  It was a nice ballpark to play in and the fans really made me feel comfortable.”

 

After playing for Pawtucket and Boston (4 games) in 2008, Joe spent all of last season serving as a jack-of-all-trades for Tony LaRussa with the St. Louis Cardinals and batted .225 in 124 games.  That gave Thurston his first opportunity to appear in the major league postseason, and also allowed him to play with future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols.

 

“It was an awesome experience,” Thurston said.  “The organization was first class.  Tony LaRussa uses everyone and he knows how to use everyone the right way.  We were put in situations where we could be successful for the most part. 

 

“It was a very good experience just to see how (Pujols) worked, how he took care of himself, and how he focused on every single at-bat.  Just the way he went about the game in general was awesome to see every night.”

 

It was a pleasure to watch Joe Thurston every night in 2008.  If you make it to McCoy Stadium during the Gwinnett series (Monday to Thursday), be sure to give him a well-deserved round of applause.

 

* * * * *

 

The PawSox will have a former major league All-Star and a 3-time Gold Glove Award winner in their lineup on Monday night as Mike Cameron begins a rehab stint at McCoy Stadium.

 


Mike Cameron re.jpg 

 

Cameron is expected to be the DH on Monday and play center field on Tuesday as he tests the lower abdominal strain that has kept him out of action since April 18th.

 

“I need to see where I’m at, more than anything else,” Cameron told the Boston Herald.  “It’ll give me a true feel for where I’m at. Instead of just running around, I’ll go play the game. Once the game actually starts, I’ll have to go full speed – run around, dive, everything else – and just see what it feels like.”

 

I got to know Mike in 1999 when he played for the Reds and I was working as a TV sports anchor/reporter in Cincinnati.  That season, Cameron helped the Reds win 96 games as he batted .256 with 34 doubles, 9 triples, and 21 home runs.

 

The following February, he was one of four players traded to Seattle for Ken Griffey Jr.

 

“I’m sure that’s going to be a very big part of my legacy – the guy who got traded for Griffey,” Cameron told me in spring training.  “That’s not a bad thing to ride on.  That’s a guy that I looked up to.  He’s not much older than me, but he was in the big leagues at such an early age that I got a chance to watch him play a lot and compete against him too.”

 

One year after the trade, Cameron was an All-Star in his home ballpark, helping the American League beat the National League in Seattle 4-1.

 

* * * * *

 

The PawSox beat Charlotte 8-3 on Sunday and the headliners included Daniel Nava, who drilled a 3-run HR, and Michael Bowden who pitched 5.2 solid innings to earn his first win of the season.

 

But perhaps the most impressive performance was turned in by reliever Joe Nelson.

 

The 35-year-old righty retired all 6 batters that he faced to lower his ERA to 1.93, and struck out 4.  In his last 9 outings, Nelson is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA (13 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 7 BB, 14 K).

 

* * * * *

 

The Syracuse Chiefs were rained out on Sunday, but don’t worry, that is not expected to alter the schedule of uber-prospect Stephen Strasburg.  The top pick in last year’s draft is slated to pitch on Wednesday in Syracuse vs. Norfolk, before facing the PawSox at McCoy Stadium next Monday (May 17) at 12:05.

 

Pawtucket opens an 8-game homestand on tonight at 6:15 vs. the Gwinnett Braves.

 

I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 6:00 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.

 

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

Be Afraid Red Sox Fans . . . Be Very Afraid

Are you ready for some bad news Red Sox fans?

 

Boston is already 7 games behind the Tampa Bay Rays and the best pitcher in the International League so far this year is a Tampa Bay prospect.

 

Allow me to introduce you to 23-year-old Jeremy Hellickson.

 


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In his first 6 starts for the Durham Bulls, Hellickson is 5-0 with a 2.57 ERA.  In 35 IP, Jeremy has 35 strikeouts and only 7 walks.

 

Yea I know, it’s only Triple-A.  But PawSox relief pitcher Joe Nelson was Hellickson’s teammate in Durham late last year, and Joe has the following advice for Red Sox nation:  Be afraid, be very afraid.

 

“Last year when I got sent down, I think he had been in Durham for 4 or 5 starts and he was 21 or 22 years old – he could fit in 29 teams’ starting rotation,” Nelson told me.  “He’s not intimidating – he’s about 5’11” and 180 pounds soaking wet.  Probably more like 165.  But he throws 93-94 mph with pinpoint control and his changeup is fun to watch because he can throw it on any count.  It’s not fair, because when he’s sitting 93 mph and just dotting both sides of the plate and then he throws the changeup – guys think they’re on it and miss it by two feet.  He’s a guy who has no-hit stuff – he reminds me of Buchholz in terms of stuff and his makeup is off the charts.  He’s an unassuming kid from Iowa who doesn’t say a whole lot and doesn’t have to.  If he stays healthy he is going to be a perennial Cy Young Award candidate in the big leagues – he’s that good.”

 

Tampa Bay’s current rotation of Matt Garza, James Shields, Jeff Niemann, David Price, and Wade Davis has a major league-best ERA of 2.48.  It has to be pretty comforting to Rays’ management to know that if one of them gets hurt, Hellickson is waiting in the wings.

 

Again, it’s only the minor leagues, but Hellickson’s career record is 42-13 for a winning percentage of .764.  To put that in perspective, Pedro Martinez’s record in 7 years with the Red Sox was 117-37 for a winning percentage of .760.

 

Nelson has additional advice for the Red Sox.

 

“Trade for him,” Joe said with a laugh.  “He’s special.  He’s a competitor on the mound, but when he walks off you don’t know if he gave up 5 runs or struck out 3.  His makeup is what puts him over the top for me – he’s a bulldog on the mound and he’s going to have a lot of success.”

 

Just what you wanted to hear, right?

 

* * * * *

 

If you listened to our broadcast on Saturday night, you heard Hoard and Hyder describe Charlotte’s pink-and-black striped jerseys which the Knights wore to raise breast cancer awareness.    

 

A picture is worth a thousand words so here you go:

 


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It led to an amusing discussion with relief pitcher Robert Manual about the ugliest uniforms in baseball history.

 

Robert chose the late 70’s “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates with the interchanging black, yellow, and pinstriped combos with the circular hats.

 


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I selected the slow-pitch softball uniforms that the Chicago White Sox broke out on August 8, 1976 that featured shorts and big collars.  The Sox wore them in the first game of a doubleheader . . . and never wore them again.

 


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* * * * *

 

I told Daniel Nava that rumor has it that Erin Andrews plans to wear a Pawtucket #33 jersey next week on Dancing With The Stars.

 

Nava has been leaving a ticket on the pass list for the ESPN sideline reporter for the last three years.  Unfortunately for the PawSox outfielder, Erin hasn’t taken advantage of his generous offer – at least not yet.

 

Perhaps they will cross paths when Daniel gets to the big leagues which seems more inevitable by the day.  Nava extended a hitting streak to 8 games during Saturday’s 8-4 loss at Charlotte.  During the streak he’s 10-for-31 (.323) with 2 2B, 3 HR, and 8 RBI.  In his last 17 games, Nava is 21-for-60 (.350) with 5 2B, 3B, 4 HR, and 17 RBI. 

 

* * * * *

 

The PawSox conclude their 9-day, 8-game road trip on Sunday at 2:15 with Michael Bowden on the mound.

 

I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.

 

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

The Circus Comes To McCoy On May 17th

Get your tickets now.

 


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21-year-old phenom Stephen Strasburg is scheduled to pitch for Syracuse at McCoy Stadium on Monday, May 17th at 12:05 pm, and if his Triple-A debut is any indication, it will be a memorable afternoon.

 

Well, maybe not so much for Pawtucket’s hitters.

 

On Friday night, Strasburg drew a crowd of 13,766 to Alliance Bank Stadium – the largest recorded attendance figure in the 135-year history of baseball in Syracuse.

 

“This is off the charts,” Chiefs general manager John Simone told the Syracuse Post-Standard.  “I can’t believe how much Washington Nationals’ stuff people are wearing.  “He’s made Washington fans out of people here.  He’s LeBron-like.”

 

And not only in his ability to sell tickets.

 

Strasburg, the #1 pick in last year’s draft, threw 6 scoreless innings in his Triple-A debut and the Gwinnett Braves never hit a ball in the air.  Strasburg had 6 strikeouts and recorded 12 ground outs while throwing 45 of his 65 pitches for strikes.  The only hit he allowed was on a ground ball single up the middle by Gregor Blanco.

 

Strasburg’s first pitch of the game was a 96 mph fastball for a called strike, and he topped out at 99 mph on the stadium radar gun.  His catcher was Carlos Maldonado who played for the PawSox last season.

 

“He was amazing,” Maldonado told the Washington Post. “I’m just glad he was on my side.”

 

The color analyst on the local telecast was former major league pitcher Steve Grilli who happens to be the losing pitcher in the longest game in baseball history.  He’ll be our guest on “PawSox Insider” which begins at 2:00 pm on Saturday.

 

Feel free to listen while ordering tickets for May 17th at McCoy.

 

* * * * *   

 

On Friday, the Chico Outlaws held a news conference to officially announce that 18-year-old female knuckleballer Eri Yoshida will pitch for the team this season.  The Japanese teenager taught herself how to throw the knuckler while watching videos of Tim Wakefield.

 

Yoshida will immediately become the most well-known player in franchise history. The Outlaws have received requests for Eri to appear on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric and on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

 

Yoshida is a long shot to make the majors, but it appears increasingly likely that a former Outlaw has a big league future – PawSox outfielder Daniel Nava.

 


Nava hitting re.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

Nava belted a long HR in Friday’s 12-4 victory at Charlotte to extend his current hitting streak to 7 games.  He’s hit safely in 15 of his last 16 games, going 19-for-56 (.339) with 5 2B, 3B, 4 HR, and 17 RBI. 

 

For the season, Daniel is .305/.400/.505 in 27 games.  In 173 career games in the Red Sox organization (Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A), Nava is hitting .340 (219-for-645) with 54 doubles, 4 triples, and 19 HR. 

 

The guy can flat-out hit.

 

* * * * *

 

The PawSox will try to equal their longest winning streak of the year at two in a row on Saturday when they face Charlotte at 7:15.

 

I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning at 7:00 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.

 

And don’t forget “PawSox Insider” from 2:00-3:00.

 

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

Richardson Is Rolling

The PawSox dropped the opening game of a 4-game series in Charlotte on Thursday night 6-3, but one of the hottest players on the team had another outstanding performance – relief pitcher Dustin Richardson.

 


Richardson re.jpg 

(photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

The 26-year-old lefty retired all four batters he faced, striking out two, to reduce his ERA to 2.40.  In his last six outings, Richardson has allowed 1 ER in 9.2 IP (0.93 ERA) with 15 K’s.

 

“The stuff is there, he has performed pretty well,” Red Sox farm director Mike Hazen told the Boston Globe. “There is room for improvement with overall command. But we’ll be relying on this guy [in the majors] at some point this season.”

 

While Richardson has been on a roll, Fernando Cabrera continues to struggle.

 

On Thursday, Cabrera allowed doubles to two of the first three batters he faced, and allowed 1 ER in 1 IP to keep his ERA at 9.00.  He’s already allowed 10 ER in 11 outings this season, equaling his total in 43 appearances for the PawSox last season.  Fernando has allowed at least 1 run in 5 of his last 6 outings, going 0-2 with a 15.19 ERA (5.1 IP, 13 H, 10 R, 9 ER, 3 BB, 5 K).

 

Robert Manuel was used in Pawtucket’s last save situation and it appears that the PawSox are going with a “closer by committee” approach for now.

 

* * * * *

 

Red Sox outfielder Mike Cameron could be joining the PawSox as soon as this weekend.

 


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Cameron, who has not played since April 18th since passing a kidney stone and then being diagnosed with a sports hernia, is expected to be examined by doctors in Boston on Friday. 

 

The 37-year-old outfielder told reporters that he has no problem returning to the minor leagues for a few games.

 

“You can’t sit out for three weeks and come back to play major league baseball,” Cameron told Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston. “The only guy I ever saw who did that was Barry Bonds.”

 

* * * * *

 

The adventures of “The Chicken Man” continue.

 


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Before Thursday’s game, Joe Nelson bolted out of the dugout wearing his chicken mask and terrified a group of Little Leaguers who had gathered to get autographs.  After their screams turned to laughs, Joe signed for all of the kids.

 

Wearing the mask, of course.

 

* * * * *

 

Since the PawSox played at the same time as the Red Sox on Thursday, I didn’t see Daisuke Matsuzaka’s 39-pitch first inning, but I’m guessing that at some point pitching coach John Farrell went to the mound for a visit.

 

I’m also guessing that he didn’t speak to Daisuke in Japanese.

 

PawSox manager Torey Lovullo did.

 


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On April 21st in Matsuzaka’s last rehab start for the PawSox, he ran into trouble in the 6th inning so Lovullo ran out to the mound.  Since Torey played in Japan in 2000, he decided to take advantage of his limited Japanese language skills.

 

What did he say and what did it mean?

 

“Dy-zhobe day-ska . . . I know that’s just a quick phrase, but I was asking him, ‘Are you OK?’ Lovullo told me.  “That’s the translation and he laughed.  I know I caught him by surprise and we laughed about it afterwards.”

 

Unfortunately, the next batter hit a 2-run single.

 

* * * * *

 

Boof Bonser returns to the mound for the first time since April 13th when the PawSox face Charlotte on Friday night at 7:15.

 

I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage 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.

 

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

What Ernie Harwell Meant To Torey Lovullo

In 1989 after Torey Lovullo excelled in spring training with the Detroit Tigers, Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson called him “the finest young player I’ve seen since Johnny Bench.”

 

Anderson made Lovullo his starting first baseman on Opening Day and told reporters that “I’ll die before he comes out of the lineup.”

 

Lovullo began the season 0-for-20. 

 

By the middle of May, Torey was hitting .115 when he was finally pulled from the starting lineup.  Sparky Anderson didn’t die, but the ordeal was killing Lovullo.

 

One of the reasons he got through it was Tigers radio announcer Ernie Harwell.

 


ernie-harwell.jpg 

“I was a young player on a very veteran team with a veteran manager in Sparky Anderson and Ernie sensed that I was kind of by myself as a young rookie,” Lovullo told me.  “So he would invite me out to dinner on the road and invite me up to his home to have dinner with his wife Lulu.  I took him up on it.  I didn’t realize just how special that was until I was out of Detroit and people would ask, ‘What do you think of Ernie Harwell, is he a good guy?’ and I would say, ‘He’s one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met.’  He was like my baseball dad.  I’ll never forget that.

 

“He was probably in his late 60’s or early 70’s and I was a 23-year-old rookie, but he could talk enough about my generation to make me feel comfortable.  I went over to his house for dinner and felt comfortable doing it.  In most instances at that age, if an older man asked you to dinner you might feel intimidated, but that was not the case with Ernie.  My appreciation for him has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 20 years.  At the time I just needed a friend and that’s all that mattered.”

 

Ernie Harwell died on Tuesday at the age of 92. 

 

“There was warmth in this man’s heart and you felt it as a player,” Lovullo said.  “I’m really going to miss him.”

 

* * * * *

 

Perhaps it’s not saying too much since the PawSox have only won 10 games so far, but Tuesday’s victory at Gwinnett was the most enjoyable of the season to date.

 

It looked like the PawSox were going to drop all four games at Coolray Field for the second straight year when they entered the 9th inning trailing 5-4.

 

But Aaron Bates and Lars Anderson ignited a comeback when they began the ninth with back-to-back walks.

 

After a bunt by Dusty Brown advanced the runners. Bubba Bell drove in the tying run with a sac fly, and Josh Reddick knocked in the winning run with a clutch two-out single.

 

It certainly made the 4-hour bus ride to Charlotte more enjoyable.

 

In addition to the 9th inning rally, it was a treat to see Lars Anderson’s first Triple-A homer – a majestic blast that landed 20 to 30 feet beyond the wall in right field.

 

Lars has a hit, walk, or HBP in all 5 starts for Pawtucket, and a .500 OBP since being promoted to Triple-A.

 

* * * * *

 

On Wednesday, the PawSox will enjoy their first scheduled off day of the season.

 

It’s about time!

 

Since the team is on the road and the guys won’t be able to spend the day with their wives and girlfriends, PawSox owner Ben Mondor is determined to make sure that everybody has a great time.  He is footing the bill for a team dinner at a local steakhouse beginning at 7:00 pm.

 

I can’t tell you how many times he’s done something like that since I’ve worked for the team.  You couldn’t work for a better boss. 

 

I won’t be able to attend the party because I am heading back to Boston for the day for a belated birthday celebration for my son Sam.

 


Sam in sand.JPG

 

I love a free steak, but I can’t wait to see the handsome lad.

 

* * * * *

 

Pawtucket opens a 4-game series on Thursday night at Charlotte beginning at 7:15.

 

I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage 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.

 

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

An Invitation To The White House

Coolray Field in Lawrenceville, GA is only 31 miles from Turner Field in Atlanta.

 

It is 134 miles from Jimmy Carter’s hometown of Plains, GA.

 

I point out that out because PawSox manager Torey Lovullo has a connection to the 39th President of the United States:  Jimmy Carter actually invited his parents to the White House.

 

“My dad is in country music (he produced the TV show “Hee Haw”) and Jimmy Carter was a huge “Hee Haw” fan,” Lovullo told me.  “His brother Billy Carter was an even bigger country music fan.  They invited my parents to the White House when they had a big country music fest and my dad and mom were able to go.”

 

Torey’s parents had no idea how that impacted their son.

 


Torey Lovullo re.jpg 

(photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

In 2001 after his playing career ended, Lovullo interviewed for a job with the Cleveland Indians.  Torey was being considered for a variety of front office or on-field roles when he told the team that he wanted to manage.

 

“I sat down with Mark Shapiro, the general manager of the Cleveland Indians, and during the interview he asked, ‘What’s your dream?’  I told him that ‘Shaking hands with the President at the White House after winning the World Series is my dream,’ Lovullo said. 

 

Lovullo wasn’t just trying to project confidence in a job interview.  That really is his dream.

 

“My parents had the opportunity to go to the White House,” Torey said.  “They got an invitation sent to their home in California and my mom framed that.  She also plucked a cherry blossom from a tree on the White House lawn and made a beautiful framed keepsake.  I saw that every day as a kid and I thought, ‘How spectacular would it be if I could ever get an invitation.’  Here I am in an industry where that is possible.  They reward the best team with a celebration at the White House and that’s something that motivates me and gets me out of bed every day.”

 

* * * * *

 

Nasty thunderstorms rolled through Gwinnett County, GA for much of the day on Monday and wrecked havoc on Coolray Field.  The video board in right field was completely wiped out for that night’s game against Pawtucket, and the scoreboard in left field was barely functional.

 

Unfortunately, the power outage extended to the PawSox dugout. 

 

Pawtucket’s scoring consisted of a 2-run double by Bubba Bell in the 7th inning and the PawSox dropped their third straight game to the Gwinnett Braves 4-2.

 

The PawSox are 0-7 all-time at Coolray Field, and Tuesday’s game will be their last chance for a win in Georgia in 2010.

 

* * * * *

 

Now time for the Joe Nelson humorous anecdote of the day.

 

Joe and some teammates ordered a pizza the other night.  When the pizza delivery man arrived, Nelson opened the hotel room door wearing his chicken costume.

 

That is what’s known as simple but funny.

 

* * * * *

 

I have a new nickname for Angel Sanchez.  I call him “The Copy Machine.”

 

 


Angel Sanchez re.jpg 

Sanchez is batting .337, and of his 28 hits, I would guess that at least 20 have been singles between the first baseman and second baseman.  Angel’s inside-out swing consistently produces hits that look exactly alike.

 

So when you hear me refer to him as “The Copy Machine” you’ll know why.

 

* * * * *

 

Coolray Field is not only the home of the Gwinnett Braves . . . it is the birthplace of the Knucksie Sandwich.

 


Knucksie re.jpg 

The Knucksie — named in honor of Atlanta Braves legend Phil Niekro — is an open-faced sandwich with a corn muffin base, a pile of barbecue pork, carmelized onions, pickles, cole slaw, two sauces and green onions.

 

The chef who created the Knucksie calls it “a big mountain of goodness.”

 

It definitely gets the Dan Hoard seal of approval.

 

The sandwich was such a big hit in Gwinnett that they are now selling it at Turner Field in Atlanta.

 

That makes the Knucksie the first sandwich to ever be promoted to the big leagues.

 

* * * * *

 

The PawSox will try to avoid a 4-game sweep when they face the Braves on Tuesday night at 7:05.

 

I hope you’ll join me for radio coverage 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.

 

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

Boof Bonser, Joe Nelson, and the Immortal Ricky Bambino

The Gwinnett Braves are not exactly an offensive juggernaut.

 

They were no-hit on Wednesday by Norfolk’s Chris Tillman, and entered the 4-game series against Pawtucket with the worst team batting average in the I.L. at .229.  The Braves were next-to-last in runs scored.

 

PawSox pitching was apparently just what the doctor ordered.

 

After rallying for 3 runs in the 9th inning to beat Pawtucket 7-6 on Saturday, the Braves destroyed the PawSox on Sunday 11-2.  Gwinnett is batting .397 (29-for-73) with 11 extra-base hits in the first two games of the series.

 

As a result, the PawSox now have the worst team ERA in the I.L. at 5.52.  Perhaps the biggest problem has been lousy control as Pawtucket has walked 105 batters in 24 games – 12 more walks than any other team (the league average is 82).

 

Some help could be on the way soon.

 


Boof re.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

Opening night starter Boof Bonser, who has been out of action since April 13th after experiencing some pain in his shoulder, threw a 3-inning simulated game on Sunday as he pitched to teammates Ryan Khoury and Niuman Romero.  Bonser threw 15 pitches in each inning with 5 minute breaks in-between.  His fastball reached 91 mph  

 

“We wanted to see him turn it up a notch instead of just throwing in the bullpen and see how he felt,” PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur told me.  “I saw good velocity and I thought he was throwing the ball very well.  His command was surprisingly good today.  I thought he threw some very good pitches.  The curveball was there and it hasn’t been in the bullpen – he had been struggling with that.  He’s just working on getting healthy right now and we were very happy today.”

 

“His pitches really sink,” said catcher Gustavo Molina, who was behind the plate for the simulated game.  “I don’t care what the velocity is, there aren’t many hitters that can get on top of his sinker and really drive it.”

 

The Red Sox will determine when Bonser will return to game action, but it could be as soon as Pawtucket’s next homestand.

 

“We take it day by day with Boof,” said manager Torey Lovullo.  “There’s no timetable because we don’t want to put any restrictions on him or push him too fast.  We’re probably looking at another 10 days before he’s in an actual game.”

 

Perhaps Bonser will get a chance to slow down the Braves.  Gwinnett comes to McCoy Stadium to open the next homestand with a 4-game series that begins on May 10th.

 

* * * * *

 

Joe Nelson cracks me up.

 

One day after dressing up in a chicken costume to scare the living you-know-what out of his teammates when they arrived at the ballpark for an early morning bus ride, Nelson was at it again on Sunday.

 

As the players straggled into the clubhouse around 10:00 am – still smarting from a gut-wrenching loss the night before – Nelson made it his mission to try to fire up the troops.  He requested the 1982 song “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky III on the clubhouse stereo, and went shadowboxing from locker to locker to get his teammates into a fighting mood.

 

OK, it didn’t exactly produce great results on the field, but I got a nice laugh out of it.

 

Nelson has two claims to fame.  First and foremost, his “Vulcan-salute” changeup where he spreads his hand like Dr. Spock and wedges the baseball between the middle finger and ring finger.

 

Joe Nelson grip re.jpg 

“It’s something I came up with in college when my coach told me that I needed to develop some sort of off-speed pitch,” Nelson told me.  “It’s taken me a long time to master it and I wouldn’t be playing today if I didn’t develop it because my breaking stuff is not really part of my repertoire anymore.”

 

The “Vulcan” has help Nelson “live long and prosper” as a pitcher, but he hasn’t been able to profit off of the field.

 

“A long time ago, my agent told me, ‘Hey, this is a marketing dream.’  He just didn’t think it would take 14 years for anybody to market this,” Nelson said.  “I got a text last year from the guy who played Dr. Spock in the new Star Trek movie (Zach Quinto).  They were doing a couple of tie-ins and told me that when we got to Anaheim, they wanted to have him come down and take batting practice or play catch.  I ended up getting sent down before we made the Anaheim trip so it didn’t work out.”

 

Joe Nelson’s other claim to fame is that he played high school basketball with 10-time NBA All-Star Jason Kidd.

 


jason-kidd re.jpg 

“I was playing with the best player in the country,” Nelson said.  “He was the USA Today and Gatorade Player of the Year and he was a class guy.  It was a learning experience for me.  He was 18 and I was 17, and I would look at him and say, ‘How is this guy able to handle all of this?’  The media scrutiny, the attention – once you get to the big leagues you realize what that’s all about – but as a teenager there’s no way I could have handled that.  I am thankful that I got to see that at a young age and observe how superstars handle themselves, because he really did carry himself well.  I love the guy.”

 

* * * * *

 

Do the newest member of the PawSox a favor when he steps to the plate at McCoy Stadium.

 

Don’t yell out, “Hello Niuman.”

 

Niuman Romero told me that he hears at least one fan say that every time he comes to the plate.  The 25-year-old from Venezuela has seen Seinfeld and is familiar with the running joke – it’s just not that funny to him after hearing it for about 2000 consecutive at-bats.

 

Romero made his Pawtucket debut on Sunday and went 1-for-3 with a walk in the 11-2 loss to Gwinnett.

 

“He’s a special guy – his makeup is off the charts,” said Torey Lovullo – who managed Niuman last year in Columbus.  “He will go out there and do anything he can to help his team win a ballgame.  On top of that, he’s a pretty good little baseball player.  He’s fundamentally sound, a switch-hitter, and a good middle infielder.  He got to the big leagues last year with Cleveland because of all of those things that I talked about.  As the season unfolds, I think the fans in Pawtucket will see a good, fundamentally sound baseball player.”

 

* * * * *

 

I had a chance to grab dinner with Daniel Nava on Sunday night and heard some great stories about life with the Chico Outlaws in the independent Golden Baseball League.

 

I’ll save most of the material for another time, but I have to share this:  One of Daniel’s teammates had the greatest baseball name I have ever heard.

 

Chico’s catcher was named Ricky Bambino.

 

How awesome is that?

 

* * * * *

 

After dropping the first two games of the series, the PawSox are 0-6 all-time at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville, GA.  They’ll try to end the streak on Monday night at 7:05 with Michael Bowden on the mound.

 

I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 6:50 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.

 

PS.  Happy 4th Birthday to Sam Hoard who has been delightful every day of his life . . . a DiMaggio-like streak that has reached 1,461 days!

 


Smiling Sam smaller.JPGI’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

The Man in the Chicken Suit

When the PawSox arrived at McCoy Stadium in darkness for a 4:30 am bus to the airport on Saturday morning, Joe Nelson was ready and waiting . . . in a chicken suit.

 


chicken man.jpg 

The 35-year-old veteran put on the full costume and hid before jumping out and shocking his sleepy teammates.  The “chicken man” provided an early morning jolt – and laugh – that even the strongest cup of coffee could never administer.

 

Unfortunately, an even bigger shock was still to come.

 

Pawtucket dropped the opening game of its 8-game road trip on Saturday when Fernando Cabrera blew a 2-run lead in the bottom of the 9th inning in a 7-6 loss to the Gwinnett Braves.  After retiring the first batter he faced, Cabrera allowed four straight singles followed by a pair of walks to give the Braves a dramatic win.

 


Cabrera re.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

It was the second blown save in four days for Cabrera who is off to a rocky start in 2010.  After posting a 1.71 ERA and going 22-for-22 in save chances last season, Fernando is 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA in his first 10 outings this year.  He has already allowed 9 earned runs after giving up 10 ER all of last season with Pawtucket.

 

The loss was especially painful because the PawSox had the lead all night after getting off to the following start:

 

Josh Reddick tripled.

Daniel Nava doubled to make it 1-0.

Angel Sanchez singled.

Tug Hulett tripled to make it 3-0.

Aaron Bates walked.

Lars Anderson singled to make it 4-0.

 

Six straight batters reached base before Jorge Jimenez was retired for the game’s first out.  Jorge made up for that with a 2-run single in the 6th inning that gave Pawtucket a 6-3 lead.

 

Unfortunately, the PawSox simply do not score after the 6th inning.  Of their 101 runs this season, only 7 have come from the 7th inning on.

 

Before Cabrera’s rough inning, Joe Nelson had a terrific outing as he pitched 1.2 hitless and scoreless innings with 3 strikeouts and Joe has not allowed an earned run in his last seven appearances.

 

He did not enter any of those games wearing the chicken suit.

 

But rumor has it that the suit made the trip to Georgia.  It’s possible that a certain highly-touted prospect that recently made his Triple-A debut could be forced to wear it at some point on his first Pawtucket road trip.

 

* * * * *

 

Hello Niuman.

 

The PawSox added an infielder on Saturday as Boston acquired 25-year-old Niuman Romero from the Cleveland Indians for cash.  Romero played for Torey Lovullo in Columbus last year before earning a September promotion to Cleveland where he batted .143 (2-for-14) in 10 games.

 


Niuman re.jpg 

According to Lovullo, Romero is an excellent defensive shortstop who is versatile enough to play any infield position.  He gives Pawtucket infield depth after Kevin Frandsen was claimed on waivers by the Los Angeles Angels.

 

To make room for Niuman on the PawSox roster, outfielder Matt Sheely was sent to Double-A Portland.

 

* * * * *

 

I sat next to Torey Lovullo on a flight from Boston to Philadelphia on Saturday and learned a tremendous tidbit about him.

 

The PawSox manager was in the crowd at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on November 6, 1993 when the “Fan Man” tried to land in the ring in the middle of a heavyweight championship fight between Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe (you can see the video here).

 


Fan man.jpg 

Torey says he and a buddy were sitting about 15 rows from the ring when his friend pointed out the “Fan Man” while he was still high in the air.  But they didn’t realize his goal was to land in the ring, and they forgot about him until the “Fan Man” crashed into the ropes.

 

Fox Sports Net ranked it as the #1 “Most Outrageous Sports Moment”.

 

And Torey Lovullo was there.

 

I told him that it tops my Tiger Woods story.

 

* * * * *

 

The PawSox will look to bounce back from Saturday’s loss as they face the Braves on Sunday afternoon at 2:05.  I hope you’ll join me for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 1:50 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.

 

I’m going solo in this series as Steve Hyder is being recognized as the co-Sportscaster of the Year in the state of Rhode Island along with my Cox Sports colleague Steve McDonald.  Congrats to two great friends and broadcasters!

 

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

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