March 2011

Bell Departs, McKenry Arrives, and Navarro Goes Off

When Bubba Bell called me on Thursday morning, he was about two hours into an 18-and-a-half hour drive (according to Google maps) from Ft. Myers, FL to Columbus, OH. 

Photo courtesy of Kelly O'Connor

 

But the 28-year-old outfielder was definitely not complaining about the trek after being traded to the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday for cash considerations.

“I’m excited to say the least,” Bubba told me.  “I left the field yesterday and was going to a sushi place with Josh Reddick when (Red Sox farm director) Mike Hazen called and said, ‘You need to turn around – you’re going to be a Cleveland Indian.’  I spent the rest of the day packing up my locker and packing up my house and I’m on the road now.”

The 2007 California League MVP who also was also an All-Star in the Eastern League (2008) and International League (2010) had been told several weeks ago that the Red Sox would try to trade him if he wasn’t likely to get much playing time in Pawtucket.

“I knew that if they couldn’t get anything done, there was a good chance that I was going to get my release,” Bell said.  “We were getting down to that point with only a few days left in camp and it seemed like all of the starting outfielders were healthy and (Juan Carlos) Linares was going to take my spot as the fourth outfielder in Pawtucket.  I talked to Mike Hazen yesterday before any of this went down and he asked me if I wanted my release.  I said that I wanted to wait just a little bit longer to see if anything worked itself out and sure enough, a couple hours later I got the call from him about the trade.”

“We wish Bubba nothing but the best of luck,” Hazen said.  “We gave the Indians a good player, and hopefully he gets his opportunity over there.”

“To be honest with you, I don’t know a whole lot about their outfield depth, but it has to be better than what I was facing with the Red Sox,” Bubba said.  “Especially name-wise and money-wise.  I’m looking forward to being somewhere where hopefully I’ll have a little bit better opportunity to get to the big leagues.”

Unfortunately, the news was not as good for three of his former Pawtucket teammates as Aaron Bates, Ryan Khoury, and Adam Mills were released by Boston on Thursday morning.

“These are the worst days of camp and cutting guys is something that we’re not very proud of,” Hazen said.  “We had to make tough decisions with guys like Aaron Bates and Adam Mills – guys that we’ve invested a lot of time into and they are good players.  We would like to do (what we did for Bubba Bell) with every one of these guys, but it doesn’t always work out.” 

* * * * *

While Bubba Bell was leaving Ft. Myers on Thursday, the newest member of the Boston organization took the field in a Red Sox uniform for the first time – catcher Mike McKenry.

 

The 26-year-old was acquired by Boston from Colorado on Tuesday in a trade for minor league pitcher Daniel Turpen. 

“I got the news from my wife actually,” McKenry said.  “I heard some rumors and then my wife came to the park with tears in her eyes and I knew that it was definitely true.  They took me out of the game and there were a lot of difficult goodbyes.  That’s a first-class organization and I can’t say enough good things about them.  But the welcome that I’ve received here on my first day has been a blessing.”

McKenry is a career .265 hitter in five minor league seasons with a single-season high of 22 HR.  But he’s best-known for his defensive ability having gunned down 37% of opposing base stealers.

“I’ve been labeled as a defensive guy and I’m going to run with that, but I’m going to work my tail off on both ends,” McKenry  said.  “I take a lot of pride in my hitting too.  But I grew up as a catcher in college and my college coach said, ‘It’s better to call a shutout and go 0-for-4 than go 4-for-4 and lose.’  That’s my mentality.” 

“He’s a really steady catch-and-throw defender that has performed offensively in the past as well,” Mike Hazen said.  “We’re always looking to maximize our depth and he seems to be a ‘bulldog’ with good energy.  Our first look at him was really favorable.”

McKenry is scheduled to open the season with Pawtucket where he’ll share catching duties with Luis Exposito.  After making his major league debut with the Rockies last year, McKenry would appear to be first catcher in line for a promotion to Boston in the event of an injury to Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Jason Varitek. 

“I just control the controllable and put the rest in God’s hands,” McKenry said.  “Whatever they need – I’m ready to go.  Whether I’m in Pawtucket, Boston, or wherever, I’m going to play hard and see where it takes me.”

After traveling cross-country on Wednesday, McKenry was behind the plate for a 10 am game against Rochester on Thursday and went 1-for-5 in Pawtucket’s 11-10 win.

“I think I was running on pure adrenaline,” Mike told me.  “I didn’t get any sleep last night or the night before.  I had an early flight yesterday and last night my body clock was all messed up, so hopefully, I’ll get home and get some good rest.”

* * * * *

I’ve been joking that the PawSox are so loaded that a 144-0 season is a possibility.

That obviously won’t be the case, but Pawtucket is 3-0 in the three spring training games I’ve seen since arriving in Ft. Myers.

Photo courtesy of Kelly O'Connor

On Thursday, the star was infielder Yamaico Navarro who had the best spring training game I’ve ever seen as he went 5-for-5 with a single, two doubles, and two HR – including a 3-run blast in the bottom of the ninth inning that gave Pawtucket the win.

Normally, that would have been a walk-off blast and Navarro would have been greeted by his teammates at home plate, but minor league spring training games are different to say the least.  The game continued after the home run in order for Rochester’s pitcher to get his scheduled work in.  I think I was the only person in attendance that realized that Yamaico’s bomb gave Pawtucket a one-run win.

19-year-old Garin Cecchini, who was drafted by Boston in the 4th round out of high school last year, started at third base for Pawtucket and doubled in his first two at-bats to drive in three runs.  It was an impressive showing for a highly touted prospect that is expected to begin his first professional season at the Class-A level.

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

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Whatever Happened To Zach Daeges?…and Bye-Bye Bubba

Two years ago, outfielder Zach Daeges appeared to be on the fast track to the big leagues.

Photo courtesy of Kelly O'Connor

After being drafted by Boston out of Creighton University in the 6th round in 2006, Daeges excelled at his first three minor league stops earning All-Star honors at Single-A Lowell in 2006, Single-A Lancaster in 2007, and Double-A Portland in 2008.  In 299 minor league games, Zach has a batting average of .311 with 101 doubles and 31 HR (.411 OBP/.497 SLG/.909 OPS).

But two weeks into his first season with Triple-A Pawtucket in 2009, Daeges went on the disabled list with an ankle injury.  He hasn’t played since.

“They thought it was a sprained ankle and it ended up being a rare injury called Os Trigonum Syndrome which is basically an extra bone that I had to have taken out of my ankle,” Daeges said.  “The rehab for that wasn’t too bad – it ended up being about two months and I don’t have any problems with the ankle now.  But I got unlucky with my shoulder.”

Zach’s right shoulder began giving him problems last year in spring training and required surgery in April of 2010.

“The surgery that I had was not the most common shoulder surgery, so I’ve been on a roll with these uncommon surgeries,” Zach said.  “I had what’s called a posterior capsular shift.  Most guys either have their rotator cuff or labrum done and for a position player, you can be back in six to eight months pretty easily.  With this, they tightened the ligaments in the back of my shoulder and it’s been tough getting the range of motion back.  The point of the surgery was to tighten everything down.  It’s pretty rare to do that for a baseball player because for throwing, you want your shoulder to be loose.  Mine is tighter now and I’ve had to work to get that range of motion back.  Trying to throw has been a difficult process.”

Zach hoped to be back in action for the start of this season, but is still having problems with his shoulder.

“I was taking batting practice about a week ago,” Daeges told me.  “I had been hitting for about three weeks and throwing from 90 feet and then I had a little bit of a setback throwing.  My shoulder flared up on me a little bit.  For the last couple of days, I’ve just been resting it and hopefully I’ll be back to hitting and throwing soon.

“I expect to play this year, but I don’t know when.  They’ve told me that it can take 12 to 18 months after surgery before it starts feeling pretty good.  I’m pretty close to 12 months now, so I’m starting to get a little impatient with it and at times it feels like I don’t know if I’m going to get better or not.  But I’m hoping that I can turn the corner sometime early in the season and at least start getting some at-bats.”

It’s been more than 700 days since Zach appeared in a game, and that’s helped him appreciate how much he loves playing baseball.

“Just taking BP this spring… you don’t realize how fun it is until you don’t get to do it for two years,” Daeges told me.  “I try to remind guys that you don’t realize how much you take stuff for granted when you’re playing every day.  When you’re injured, it’s like, ‘Man, I wish I could just go out there and play catch.’  You feel lost when you’re hurt and lose your sense of worth. 

“I feel like at some point I’m running out of time and that this is a big year for me.  I’ve missed basically two full seasons and I’m 27 now.  I kind of feel like I’ve got to figure out a way to get healthy whether I end up playing or not.  If it doesn’t get better, I guess it doesn’t get better, but I’m looking forward to playing this year and I really hope to.” 

* * * * *

A few weeks ago in this blog entry about Bubba Bell, the PawSox outfielder told me that he thought there was a good chance that the Red Sox would trade him before the start of the season.

“They’ve been pretty vocal about telling me that if the opportunity presents itself and they have a chance to get me into a better situation with another team they would want to do that for me,” Bell said at the time.  “I get the feeling that if that’s going to happen they would want to wait a little bit closer to the end of spring training just to keep on eye on the players that are ahead of me in case something happened to any of them.”

That’s exactly how it played out.

Photo courtesy of Kelly O'Connor

After starting in left field and delivering an RBI double in Pawtucket’s 6-1 win over Norfolk on Wednesday, Bell was informed that he’s been traded to the Cleveland Indians.  He’s expected to join their Triple-A team in Columbus. 

The 28-year-old was a Triple-A All-Star last year and was named the PawSox MVP.  He’ll be missed in Pawtucket, but I look forward to the day when Bubba makes his big league debut in a Cleveland uniform.

* * * * *

Alfredo Aceves told me on Wednesday that he will be Pawtucket’s Opening Night starter on April 7th at McCoy Stadium.

 

Based on how he looked in his final spring training outing, the PawSox should be in good hands.  Aceves tossed five perfect innings against Norfolk, and struck out 9 of the 15 batters he faced.  He threw 44 of his 61 pitches for strikes.

The 28-year-old right-hander was one of Boston’s final two spring training cuts, but he says he considers it an honor to start the season opener at McCoy Stadium.

“Of course,” Aceves said.  “It’s really nice for me to be the Opening Night starter.  I feel a responsibility to do a good job and get Pawtucket off to a good start.  I like this team.  There are a lot of good players out there and I think we can deal.”

The PawSox have two exhibition games remaining against Rochester on Thursday and Friday before breaking camp on Saturday.

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

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“The Animal” is a Bull

As I sat down to watch my first PawSox spring training game on Tuesday, I was pleasantly surprised to see one of my favorite former Pawtucket players in the starting lineup for the Durham Bulls:  2008 International League All-Star Chris Carter.

 

(This 2009 blog entry helps explain why Carter will always be one of my favorites)

Photo courtesy of Kelly O'Connor

Chris spent nearly all of last year with the New York Mets, and I was not aware that he had signed with the Tampa Bay organization in early January.

“I did well as a pinch-hitter in the NL East and I thought that I could pinch-hit or even get a chance to start with Tampa Bay,” Carter told me.  “I thought the opportunity was wide-open at the time.  Then about four days after I signed, Tampa Bay added Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon so it didn’t work out that way.  It was rough, but that’s baseball.”

Chris did spent most of this spring in the Rays’ major league camp, batting .303 (10-for-33) in 22 exhibition games.

“I just got sent down three days ago,” Carter said.  “I did well – I hit over .300 and played the 7th, 8th, and 9th inning of every game.  I kind of had the attitude of, ‘Whatever happens, just make the most of it.’  I was happy with how I did.”

The 28-year-old outfielder/first baseman, opened last season in Buffalo and was batting .336 when he got promoted to the Mets on May 11th.  In his first game with New York, Chris delivered a game-winning pinch-hit double and wound up on the back page of both New York tabloids.

 

“That whole at-bat I was thinking, ‘God…I didn’t get any sleep last night,’” Chris said with a smile.  “I was eight or nine Red Bulls deep and I thought my heart was going to explode.  It ended up working out for the best.”

Carter batted .263 with 4 HR and 24 RBI in 100 games with the Mets, including a .328 average as a pinch-hitter.  He also earned a new nickname from manager Jerry Manuel for his hyperactive personality:  “The Animal.”

“The manager said it was because I worked hard and had great intensity,” Carter said.  “It was good for me, it was good for the fans, and I really enjoyed it.

“I had such a great time with the Mets.  I wouldn’t change it for the world.  I loved New York, I loved the fans, and we did well in the first half.  Even when we started losing, I still appreciated every moment that I was there.”

Photo courtesy of Kelly O'Connor

 

Carter also has fond memories of the two-plus years he spent with Pawtucket – especially since it’s where he met his wife Emily.

“She’s from Cape Cod but she went to the University of Rhode Island,” Carter said.  “I’ve got a lot of ties to Rhode Island and I had such a great time playing in Pawtucket. It’s where I found my wife and it was really a great situation for me.”

It was great to see Chris today.  Here’s hoping that the next time that I see him, it will be on TV in a Tampa Bay Rays uniform.

* * * * *

Here’s the lineup (and batting order) that took the field for Pawtucket on Tuesday in Ft. Myers in a 7-2 win over Durham:

Yamaico Navarro – 3B

Josh Reddick – RF

Ryan Kalish – CF

Luis Exposito – C

Lars Anderson – 1B

Juan Carlos Linares – LF

Jose Iglesias – SS

Aaron Bates – DH

Ryan Khoury – 2B

Felix Doubront – Starting Pitcher

Can you say 144-0?

OK, so the PawSox aren’t going to go undefeated, but that’s a pretty formidable Triple-A lineup and it figures to get even stronger by Opening Night at McCoy Stadium (April 7).  Nate Spears and Drew Sutton are still with Boston, but one of them is likely to be Pawtucket’s starting second baseman.  Additionally, outfielder Daniel Nava should be back in action soon after recovering from a sprained ankle.

Doubront looked strong on Tuesday as he tossed two scoreless innings with a pair of strikeouts.  Felix experience elbow discomfort early in training camp and is expected to stay behind in Florida when the PawSox head north.  He’s likely to spend an extra week or two in Ft. Myers before joining Pawtucket.

There was sad news at camp on Tuesday as Boston released former PawSox Lenny DiNardo and Jorge Jimenez. 

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

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Is Rich Hill Potentially The Best Lefty In Boston’s Bullpen?

On Monday morning, a few of the Red Sox biggest stars took part in a simulated game at the team’s minor league complex in Ft. Myers including Carl Crawford, Kevin Youkilis, Jonathan Papelbon, and John Lackey.

But the biggest “oohs and aahs” that I heard from the players, coaches, and front office types that gathered to watch were reserved for a pitcher who will begin the season in Pawtucket – Rich Hill.

Courtesy of Kelly O'Connor

The 31-year-old left-hander known for his great curveball has altered his motion this spring and become a full-time sidewinder.  That typically results in a loss of velocity, but Hill is actually throwing slightly harder as he’s hitting 92 mph on the gun.

“The hitters tell me that when the ball is coming in, it really jumps and they have a hard time seeing it,” Hill told me.  “They say my motion looks so smooth and easy and then all of the sudden when the ball comes out of my hand; it disappears because it comes out with a lot of life. 

“I did a few things to tweak my mechanics and generate a little more power,” Hill told me.  “One was to bring my arm slot up just a hair – it’s not very noticeable because I’m still throwing sidearm – but I wasn’t getting a downhill plane before.  I’ve also added a little bit of a Luis Tiant twist and it has really generated a lot of momentum toward the plate and the velocity has gone up a lot.”

Catcher Mark Wagner wasn’t even on the receiving end of Hill’s pitches when he noticed the difference.

“I heard a ‘pow’ and I said, ‘Damn, is that (Daniel) Bard warming up?’” Wagner said.  “It was Rich Hill.  I said, ‘Man, he’s on to something.’”

Hill has been a starting pitcher for most of his nine professional seasons and would occasionally drop down to the side against tough left-handed hitters.  Former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell suggested that Rich become a full-time sidewinder when he was pitching in relief for Boston last September.

“It feels like the ball just pours out of my hand,” Hill said.  “It’s almost like when a hitter hits one right on the barrel of the bat and doesn’t really feel anything – that’s what it’s like for me on the mound.  There’s no effort or trying to over-throw, it really feels very easy.”

With his new motion, Hill is no longer throwing his “nose to toes” curveball, but it’s been replaced by a sidearm slider with serious bite.

“The slider – it’s more of a slurve really – is just as big and it’s probably a few miles an hour harder, but I do miss that big 12-to-6 breaking ball every now and then,” Rich said with a smile.  “I may mix it in because I know that it’s unhittable when I throw it well.”

“He was a hell of a pitcher before, but throwing from down there allows him to do anything that he wants to a batter,” Wagner said.  “He can blow it right by guys or have a slider break four feet and make you look stupid.  It’s impressive.”

On Monday morning, the Red Sox announced that Dennys Reyes would begin the season as the lone left-hander in their bullpen and that former All-Star Hideki Okajima was being optioned to Pawtucket.  Statistically, Hill outperformed both lefties in Boston’s exhibition games as he did not allow a run in seven relief outings (8.2 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 6 K).

“I couldn’t have had a better spring training statistically, but I can’t get down about not making the big league team,” Hill said.  “It’s obviously disappointing, but at the same time, there are 29 other teams out there and you’re showcasing yourself a little bit.  But being from Boston, I want to play for the Red Sox.  That’s really a goal for me.

“It was tough because there wasn’t much that they could say.  I was disappointed and I didn’t hide that from them – I told them that I was not happy with the situation.  It could be very easy to come down here and feel sorry for myself, but that’s not my makeup.  I’m going to keep working hard.”

Hill worked diligently on strengthening his shoulder three days a week at Fenway Park in the off-season and says he’s hasn’t felt this strong since 2007 when he was in the Cubs’ rotation and started a playoff game.

“A couple of years ago, my wife and I went on a vacation to the Galapagos Islands,” Hill said.  “But this off-season it was all about working out and getting strong and ready for this year.  It’s paid off big time.  The Galapagos Islands were great, but I’d rather be pitching in Fenway.”

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

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

And I’ve finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

Rich Hill Earning Rave Reviews In Ft. Myers

On Monday morning, a few of the Red Sox biggest stars took part in a simulated game at the team’s minor league complex in Ft. Myers including Carl Crawford, Kevin Youkilis, Jonathan Papelbon, and John Lackey.

But the biggest “oohs and aahs” that I heard from the players, coaches, and front office types that gathered to watch were reserved for a pitcher who will begin the season in Pawtucket – Rich Hill.

Courtesy of Kelly O'Connor

The 31-year-old left-hander known for his great curveball has altered his motion this spring and become a full-time sidewinder.  That typically results in a loss of velocity, but Hill is actually throwing slightly harder as he’s hitting 92 mph on the gun.

“The hitters tell me that when the ball is coming in, it really jumps and they have a hard time seeing it,” Hill told me.  “They say my motion looks so smooth and easy and then all of the sudden when the ball comes out of my hand; it disappears because it comes out with a lot of life. 

“I did a few things to tweak my mechanics and generate a little more power,” Hill told me.  “One was to bring my arm slot up just a hair – it’s not very noticeable because I’m still throwing sidearm – but I wasn’t getting a downhill plane before.  I’ve also added a little bit of a Luis Tiant twist and it has really generated a lot of momentum toward the plate and the velocity has gone up a lot.”

Catcher Mark Wagner wasn’t even on the receiving end of Hill’s pitches when he noticed the difference.

“I heard a ‘pow’ and I said, ‘Damn, is that (Daniel) Bard warming up?’” Wagner said.  “It was Rich Hill.  I said, ‘Man, he’s on to something.’”

Hill has been a starting pitcher for most of his nine professional seasons and would occasionally drop down to the side against tough left-handed hitters.  Former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell suggested that Rich become a full-time sidewinder when he was pitching in relief for Boston last September.

“It feels like the ball just pours out of my hand,” Hill said.  “It’s almost like when a hitter hits one right on the barrel of the bat and doesn’t really feel anything – that’s what it’s like for me on the mound.  There’s no effort or trying to over-throw, it really feels very easy.”

With his new motion, Hill is no longer throwing his “nose to toes” curveball, but it’s been replaced by a sidearm slider with serious bite.

“The slider – it’s more of a slurve really – is just as big and it’s probably a few miles an hour harder, but I do miss that big 12-to-6 breaking ball every now and then,” Rich said with a smile.  “I may mix it in because I know that it’s unhittable when I throw it well.”

“He was a hell of a pitcher before, but throwing from down there allows him to do anything that he wants to a batter,” Wagner said.  “He can blow it right by guys or have a slider break four feet and make you look stupid.  It’s impressive.”

On Monday morning, the Red Sox announced that Dennys Reyes would begin the season as the lone left-hander in their bullpen and that former All-Star Hideki Okajima was being optioned to Pawtucket.  Statistically, Hill outperformed both lefties in Boston’s exhibition games as he did not allow a run in seven relief outings (8.2 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 6 K).

“I couldn’t have had a better spring training statistically, but I can’t get down about not making the big league team,” Hill said.  “It’s obviously disappointing, but at the same time, there are 29 other teams out there and you’re showcasing yourself a little bit.  But being from Boston, I want to play for the Red Sox.  That’s really a goal for me.

“It was tough because there wasn’t much that they could say.  I was disappointed and I didn’t hide that from them – I told them that I was not happy with the situation.  It could be very easy to come down here and feel sorry for myself, but that’s not my makeup.  I’m going to keep working hard.”

Hill worked diligently on strengthening his shoulder three days a week at Fenway Park in the off-season and says he’s hasn’t felt this strong since 2007 when he was in the Cubs’ rotation and started a playoff game.

“A couple of years ago, my wife and I went on a vacation to the Galapagos Islands,” Hill said.  “But this off-season it was all about working out and getting strong and ready for this year.  It’s paid off big time.  The Galapagos Islands were great, but I’d rather be pitching in Fenway.”

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

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

And I’ve finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

The Number One Book On My Summer Reading List

Dan Barry is not a sportswriter.  He is a Pulitzer prize-winning columnist for the New York Times who has tackled subjects like Hurricane Katrina and the World Trade Center attacks.

Author Dan Barry

 

But for the last two and a half years, he’s been working on a book about baseball.  More specifically, a book about the longest game in baseball history played in Pawtucket 30 years ago.  His soon-to-be-released book is titled, “Bottom of the 33rd:  Hope, Redemption, and Baseball’s Longest Game.”

 

“First of all, it’s a great story and I’m drawn to great stories,” Barry told me.  “Secondly, I worked at the Providence Journal for several years and for four of those years, I lived in Pawtucket where I could hear the cheers of the fans at McCoy Stadium.  So it’s a part of my DNA.

“A few years ago, I was at a friend’s house in Providence and he had a copy of Steve Krasner’s children’s book about the longest game that came out about 20 years ago.  It’s a basic and charming book about the game, but it didn’t really get into the players and who they were and where they were going.  It just dawned on me that this was an amazing story, and what drives the story is all of these men who took the field on that cold April night with almost nobody watching.  They came from all over the country and all of them want to make it to the major leagues.  Some will, but many won’t.”

25 of the 41 participants earned at least a brief stint in the big leagues and two players made it to the Hall of Fame:  Wade Boggs for Pawtucket (4-for-12) and Cal Ripken Jr. for Rochester (2-for-13).

“We know those names so well now, but back in 1981, Boggs wasn’t really thought highly of by the Boston organization,” Barry said.  “He was considered a punch-and-judy hitter when people thought that third base should be a power position.  There were people that didn’t think he would go very far which seems funny now.  Ripken was 20 years old and considered an up-and-comer in the Baltimore organization, but you never know in Triple-A.  Ripken had a temper that he had to deal with and it flared that night, but as we all know, he certainly got his act together and became a legend.  But I was more drawn to the others – the guys that were trying to get there and how there is honor in that too.”

One such player was Pawtucket’s Dave Koza who singled in Marty Barrett with the game-winning run in the bottom of the 33rd inning.

Marty Barrett Scores Winning Run

“Dave Koza still lives in Pawtucket and couldn’t have been more generous in remembering what it was like,” Barry said.  “He was a power hitter and a very gifted first baseman, but when he was playing in the Red Sox organization, Boston had four first baseman so he faced a very tough challenge to get to the major leagues.  Unfortunately, he never made it and he was very giving in telling me what that was like – how hard it is to become a major league baseball player.  You have to be extremely gifted just to play at the Triple-A level and sometimes you’re just not good enough.

“I’ve thought about what does it mean to be a hero?  Are you a hero because you drove in the winning run in the longest game in baseball history, or are you a hero because you work hard, you deal with some of your own demons, and you become the best father that you can be?  I think that’s as heroic as any feat on the baseball field.” 

In my first year as a PawSox broadcaster, the team celebrated the 25th anniversary of the longest game and I had the opportunity to interview many of the participants at the reunion.  But in researching his book, Barry went beyond the players and coaches and even talked to many of the fans who stayed until the game was postponed after 32 innings at 4:07 in the morning.

“There were about 20 fans and I was lucky because the Pawtucket Red Sox back in 1981 recognized instantly that this was historic and collected the names of all of the people that were in the stands and I was able to track them down,” Barry said.  “One of them was a 9-year-old boy named Danny Card who stayed until the bitter end that night freezing next to his father.  It became a transformative moment in his childhood that he remembers to this day.  His father has passed away but he has that moment that lasts forever, and he’s imparted his father’s love of the gave to his own son now.” 

Nobody would have been more excited about the publication of Barry’s new book than legendary PawSox’ owner Ben Mondor who passed away last October. 

“He was ecstatic about the book and it was as though he knew all along that this was a story worth sharing nationally,” Barry said.  “Before he passed away, he was able to read much of the book in manuscript form, and I take great comfort in knowing that he knew what the story would be.

“The people of Pawtucket rallied around the team and McCoy once Ben Mondor took over the franchise in 1977 and showed that we could really turn this into something.  Ben came in and said, ‘We can provide baseball games at a decent price for families.’  It sounds like such a simple marketing idea, but that’s what he did and it’s become a gem in the crown of Rhode Island.”

I get quite a bit of reading done during the summer on the PawSox’ late night bus trips.  I don’t know about Oprah, but Dan Barry’s book is at the top of my must-read list.

“It comes out on April 12th,” Barry said.  “You can order it on Amazon and it comes out in all sorts of stores.  I have a reading in Concord, Massachusetts on Wednesday, April 13th, and there’s another reading at Books on the Square in Providence on the 14th.  Then on April 17th, I’ll be at McCoy Stadium where it all took place to sign books if anyone wants a signed copy.”

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

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

And I’ve finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

Deadpanned Dusty Sets Sights On Pittsburgh

Chad Paronto:  “You’ve got incredible hair – we all know that.  I’ve heard through the grapevine that you like to wash your hair with assorted berries, lemon juice, and natural rainwater.  Is that true?”

 

Dusty Brown:  “Absolutely true.  When you’ve got a head of hair like this, you have to take care of it as best as possible.  And what better way than natural juices and berries and such.”

–Excerpt from a “Hangin’ with Chad” interview on PawSox.com.  You can watch it here.

After spending the first 10 seasons of his pro baseball career in the Boston Red Sox organization, catcher Dusty Brown signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates as a minor league free agent last December.  So naturally, when I caught up with Dusty recently at spring training, I had to know if the Pirates’ clubhouse had all of the necessary hair products for his flowing locks.

“I’ve been having to go a little bit au naturel,” Brown deadpanned.  “They’ve got the Pert Plus assortment going on, but if I happen to make the team, I’ll make sure they take care of that.”

Dusty’s dry sense of humor will be missed in Pawtucket this year – not to mention his playing ability. 

Although he had an injury-plagued season in 2010, Brown still earned two call-ups to Boston where he went 3-for-12 (.250) in 7 games.  But even though the Red Sox have unproven Jarrod Saltalamacchia slated to be their starting catcher this year, Dusty decided it was time to move on.   

“I went with Pittsburgh because it was my best opportunity to make a big league team,” Brown told me.  “Really, that was the biggest factor.  I had quite a few offers to choose from and I thought this was my best shot.”

(photo courtesy of Kelly O'Connor)

 

Brown was a 35th round draft pick by Boston in 2000 and began playing minor league ball at the age of 19.  He spent part of four seasons with the PawSox (2007-10) and made his big league debut with the Red Sox in 2009.

“I’ve really spent all of my adult life with the Red Sox,” Dusty said.  “Boston was a first-class organization the whole way and I enjoyed all of my time there.  I would have liked to have seen things work out a little differently, but the time that I spent in Boston over the last couple of seasons is something that I’ll never forget, and being able to play at Fenway Park is something that not a lot of guys get to do.  Even though my time there is done, I’m glad that I got to experience it.”

Brown is batting .321 this spring and appears to have a legitimate chance to open the season with the Pirates.  Chris Snyder is Pittsburgh’s projected starting catcher, and the team is reportedly trying to trade Ryan Doumit.  Dusty is battling for a roster spot with Jason Jaramillo.

“It’s a weird situation right now,” Brown said.  “They’re not sure how they’re going to make up the bench.  They might carry three catchers, they might trade Doumit, so there are a lot of things that might happen between now and the start of the season.  It looks like I have a shot and I’m just going to go out and play my best and see how everything falls into place.”

It will be strange not to see Dusty in Pawtucket this year, along with his wife Jordan and their son Jude who was born in July of 2009.

“(Jude) is awesome,” Brown said.  “He’s enormous and getting bigger every day.  He’s a giant.  He might be able to take you in a fight right now…and he’s only 19 months old.”

Like I said, Dusty has a great dry sense of humor.

At least I think he was joking.

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

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

And I’ve finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

Aaron Bates Praises Red Sox Off-Season Moves

Someday when his playing days are finished – and hopefully, that’s many years from now – Aaron Bates would like to work in the front office of a major league team.  So what did this aspiring talent evaluator think of Boston’s off-season acquisitions of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Bobby Jenks?

 

“If you have the money to spend, it’s hard to disagree with the moves that they made,” Bates told me.  “The money that they spent is unbelievable, so if you have it, there’s nothing wrong with spending it.”

 


Bates Sox uni resize.jpg 

(photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

But Aaron wasn’t simply impressed with the Red Sox willingness to splurge.  One of the reasons why Bates hopes to eventually work in a front office is that he thinks his playing experience gives him an understanding of clubhouse dynamics.  He says the Red Sox not only added All-Star players, but good teammates as well. 

 

“I think that’s almost more important than pure talent,” Bates said.  “You have to have good players, but how the clubhouse interacts and how the veterans take the young guys under their wings is a big key.  There’s not one right way to do it – you can have a team with a bunch of young guys or a bunch of crazy guys like the Red Sox in 2004, but the make-up of the team is so important.  If you’re going to have a good team, you have to care about the guy next to you. 

 

“The guys they added are already fitting into the clubhouse.  When you have veteran guys that have been there for awhile, you don’t want to disturb things.  I think the Red Sox did an amazing job of researching those players.”

 

Aaron’s best position is first base, and he can also play left field.  As a result, the acquisitions of Gonzalez (1B) and Crawford (LF) did not help his chances of eventually being an everyday player in Boston.  Additionally, with Lars Anderson expected to be the primary first baseman in Pawtucket this year, and Ryan Kalish, Josh Reddick, and Daniel Nava projected to begin the season in Triple-A, the PawSox outfield appears crowded as well.  But Bates says he isn’t worried about what he can’t control.

 

“I think it’s going to be a great year for me,” Aaron said.  “I’m really relaxed and I have a good mindset and I’m not worried about any of the other things.  I don’t know (about my role) – we’ll see what happens with the big league club and how it trickles down.  I’m probably a little bit farther down the depth chart than I was at this time last year but that’s the way it goes.  I feel good about this year and whatever my role may be now, I think at some point during the season the roles always change.  I’m still young so I’m going to play wherever they want me to play, and I just have a lot of confidence and feel good about things.”


Bates Fenway resize.jpg 

 

Last year was Aaron’s first full-season in Triple-A and he batted .240 (.338 OBP) with 12 HR and 54 RBI.  The 27-year-old showed improvement during the season as he batted .281 (.376 OBP) after the All-Star break.

 

Six weeks after Pawtucket’s season ended, Bates headed to Puerto Rico to play first base for Criollos de Caguas.  He wound up playing winter ball until February 8th, as Caguas won the league championship in Puerto Rico and advanced to the Caribbean World Series

 

“When we won the title in Puerto Rico, it was probably one of the better things that I’ve ever been a part of,” Bates said.  “It was a seven game series and every game was sold out.  It was the loudest crowd that I’ve even played in front of with the horns and Japanese thundersticks.  Alex Cora was our second baseman and he said it was louder in these games than playing in the World Series in Colorado when he was with the Red Sox.

 

“Playing in the Caribbean World Series helped me out because I came down here ready to go.  I joked with our strength coordinator that I’m in mid-season form already.”

 

Shortly after returning to the US from Puerto Rico, Aaron got engaged to his girlfriend Lacey Wilson who represented Massachusetts last year in the Miss USA Pageant.  Last October, they attended the funeral of Ben Mondor, and Aaron says he’ll miss the beloved PawSox owner when he returns to Pawtucket this season.

 

“He was an unbelievable owner and it’s really weird that he’s not going to be around to be honest with you,” Bates said.  “The things that he did for his players, and all that he did for the franchise was unbelievable.  I think he was fan-friendly and just a guy that got it.  He understood how to bring the fans together and he wasn’t just about making a dollar.  It was more about the fan experience and the end result was that he probably made some money too.  But the experience of going to see the Pawtucket Red Sox is why the place is packed in the summertime and Ben understood that kind of stuff.” 

 

Bates is not on the Red Sox major league roster this spring, but he has appeared in four of Boston’s exhibition games and had a triple last Friday in a 9-3 win over Houston.

 

“I had a triple and Wags (Mark Wagner) had two triples,” Bates said.  “I actually used his helmet, so it had three triples in it which is kind of sweet.  I’ve been swinging the bat really well.  I’m just relaxing and having fun playing baseball.”

 

The front office job can wait.

 

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

 

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

 

And I’ve finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

Will Iglesias Make A Short Stop in Pawtucket?

“While much of the talk this spring in Boston revolves around the big league shortstop battle between Marco Scutaro and Jed Lowrie, the winner will just be holding the fort for Jose Iglesias in 2012.”

–Kevin Goldstein from Baseball Prospectus

 


Iglesias smile.jpg 

(photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

The Boston Red Sox have not announced whether 21-year-old shortstop Jose Iglesias will begin this season in Portland or Pawtucket, but it certainly appears likely that the team’s top-rated prospect will make his Triple-A debut at some point in 2011.

 

In the now-trademarked words of Jets linebacker Bart Scott:  “Can’t wait!”

 

Like many Red Sox fans, I have been following Iglesias’ progress ever since the Red Sox signed the slick-fielding Cuban defector to a 4-year, $8.25 million contract (including a $6 million signing bonus) in 2009.

 

“You’d love to have a kid like this,” a scout told the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo.  “He reminds me of a cross between Rey Ordonez and Omar Vizquel.  He can make the sensational play, but what it comes down to is making the routine play and not turning the routine play into an ESPN highlight video.”

 

You can see video of Jose Iglesias here.

 

Iglesias began playing in Cuba’s National Series (its version of MLB) when he was 16 years old.  In July of 2008, Jose defected from Cuba’s Junior National Team while playing in a tournament in Canada and he signed with Boston the following summer.

 

“I’ve realized part of my dream, which sadly I couldn’t do while living in my home country,” Iglesias told ESPN’s Jorge Arangure Jr. at the time.  “Everything would be perfect if I could bring my family over here some day. I thank God every day for this opportunity. The most difficult thing for me right now is not having my family. But this is such a place of opportunity for those who look for it.”

 

Since that interview, his father and brother have joined him in the United States, and Iglesias has established an off-season home in Florida.  This winter, he spent time training with Scutaro and Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez who both said that the kid is a future big leaguer – perhaps as soon as next year.

 

“It depends on him,” Scutaro told Ian Browne from mlb.com. “But I think if he goes down there [to the minors] this year and gets 400 or 500 at-bats and he plays good, I think he should be ready for 2012.”

 

“That kid is going to be sensational,” Rodriguez told the Globe’s Cafardo.  “I was so impressed with him.  He works hard and he’s such a good kid.  Red Sox fans should be very excited to see this kid in the future.”

 


Iglesias swing.jpg 

Last year, Iglesias not only earned rave reviews for his defense, but batted .285 (.315 OPB/.357 SLG) in 57 games with Double-A Portland.  So far this spring, Jose is batting .400 (6-for-15) in 8 exhibition games with Boston.

 

“I think he’s getting more comfortable and getting used to everything – the country, the guys,” Dustin Pedroia told mlb.com’s Browne.  “He looks good.  He’s working hard.  He’s getting older and getting stronger, so that’s going to help him out offensively.  Defensively, we’ve all seen [what he can do].  He’s ready defensively.  He just needs time to get stronger and stuff like that.”

 

I’ll be heading to Boston’s spring training camp on March 26th, and Iglesias is the player I am the most eager to see in person.

 

It appears that PawSox fans will have that opportunity this summer at McCoy Stadium.

 

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

 

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

 

And I’ve finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

Bubba’s Off-Season was a “Great One”

Don’t be surprised if there’s a #99 hockey jersey hanging in Bubba Bell’s locker this season.  This winter, Bubba become buddies with The Great One.

 


gretzky_jersey_2.jpg 

“I got to give Trevor Gretzky – Wayne and Janet Gretzky’s son – hitting lessons while I was training in California,” Bubba told me.  “I had a chance to get pretty close to the Gretzky’s and got to go over to their house for dinner and hang out with them which was an unbelievable experience.  One of my really good buddies who used to be in this organization – Dustin Kelly – his fianc is the Gretzky’s personal assistant.  Dustin was working with Trevor but his job limited him to weekends, so they asked me if I would like to help out during the week.  I said absolutely and ended up developing a great relationship with Trevor.  He’s going to get drafted in June – hopefully in the first couple of rounds – so it was fun to be able to work with him and get to know his family.”

 

Not bad huh?

 

But Bubba’s excellent off-season adventures didn’t end there.

 


Nelly.jpg 

“A friend of mine drives the rapper Nelly‘s tour bus,” Bell said.  “He was in Vegas on New Year’s Eve and I ended up being there too, and I hung out with Nelly.  I went to the party that he hosted and got to kick it with him.  That was my first Vegas trip and that’s going to be a tough one to beat.  Then for the Super Bowl, I got invited to hook up with them again in Dallas.  I got some cool video backstage at a concert that I can show you.  He was a baseball player, so that was our connection.” 

 

When he wasn’t hanging out with the greatest hockey player in history or a three-time Grammy award-winning musician, Bell was looking to build on his outstanding 2010 season with the PawSox.

 


Bell in box.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

Last year, the 28-year-old outfielder played in the Triple-A All-Star game and was named Pawtucket’s MVP after batting .293 (.366 OBP) with 6 HR, 49 RBI, and 13 SB in 104 games.  That led to an opportunity to play for Caracas in the Venezuelan Winter League, and Bell overcome a 2-for-17 start to bat .290 (.402 OBP) in 25 games.

 

“I was getting booed by 25,000-plus and then about five or six games in, I had a big game where I went 4-for-5 against one of the rival teams and they loved me from then on,” Bell said with a laugh.  “People told me that they drew good crowds and were loud, but I’m telling you, it sounded like World Cup soccer games with horns and chants and everything.  I saw some of the craziest things with fights in the stands and people running out on to the field.  It’s intense, but it’s a good intense.  It’s crazy from the first pitch on.  When you see their passion for the game and some of the stuff that goes on there it’s incredible.  I’m looking forward to going back next season.”

 

After spending two months in Venezuela, Bell went home to Texas for about a week, before heading to California to work out at a high-tech training facility called Peak Performance Project or P3.  Bubba also trained there prior to last season, and said it was a major reason why he was able to avoid leg injuries. 

 

“I got to spent a little more than two months there this year,” Bubba told me.  “I can’t say enough about that place.  My body feels great right now and I’m looking forward to seeing how it translates out on to the field.  I spent a month there last year and was able to stay pretty healthy for the entire season, so I’m excited to see what two months is going to do for me this season.”

 

Baring spring training injuries among Boston’s outfielders, it appears that Ryan Kalish, Josh Reddick, and Daniel Nava will begin the season as Pawtucket’s starting outfield.  That makes Bell an extra outfielder and designated hitter for the PawSox unless he gets dealt to another organization. 

 

“It’s similar to the start of last year, but when you’re coming off a great season you almost feel like – where’s the reward?” Bell said.  “They’ve been pretty vocal about telling me that if the opportunity presents itself and they have a chance to get me into a better situation with another team they would want to do that for me.  I get the feeling that if that’s going to happen they would want to wait a little bit closer to the end of spring training just to keep on eye on the players that are ahead of me in case something happened to any of them.  But it’s definitely something that could take place in the next couple of weeks.”

 

After spending his first six professional seasons in the Red Sox organization, Bubba has developed life-long friendships and has been a fan favorite wherever he’s played.  But Bell would welcome a trade.

 

“It sounds bad to say that, but the ultimate goal is to get to the big leagues obviously,” Bubba told me.  “I definitely have loyalty toward the organization, but if I’m not going to get a shot, what sense does that make for me and my career?  But I can’t worry about what I can’t control – something is going to happen.  Somebody will go up or things will get shifted around where I get to play but it’s not necessarily the ideal situation that I’d like to be in.”

 

For Bubba’s sake, I sincerely hope he gets the opportunity that he’s looking for.  But if he winds up in Pawtucket this season, I’ll look forward to plenty of Gretzky stories. 

 

“His wife still texts me every couple of weeks to check in to make sure that everything is going good, and they want me to work with Trevor again next off-season if I’m in California,” Bell said.  “It was great off-season with a lot of cool experiences, so I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the year has to offer.”

 

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

 

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

 

And I’ve finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

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