April 2011

Weiland Follows The Words of Warren

“Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing.”

–Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn

 

Warren Spahn was a 17-time All-Star who won 363 games in his career.  In 1963, he went 23-7 when he was 42-years-old.

In other words, he kinda knew what he was talking about.

Disrupting a hitter’s timing is one of the biggest keys to pitching, and Kyle Weiland did it masterfully in his last start.

Photo courtesy of Kelly O'Connor

The 24-year-old righty struck out 10 batters in 4.2 IP last Thursday at Syracuse and what stood out was how he recorded those strikeouts:  5 on curveballs, 3 on changeups, and 2 on fastballs that peaked at 93 mph.

“It was one of those outings where everything comes together,” Weiland told me.  “(Catcher Luis Exposito) and I had a good conversation before the game and wanted to get a good mix going early in the ballgame.” 

Weiland, a third round draft pick out of Notre Dame in 2008, threw 83 pitches (52 strikes) and here’s a closer look and how he used his entire repertoire:

41 fastballs (30 strikes)

20 curveballs (10 strikes)

13 cutters (5 strikes)

9 changeups (7 strikes)

“It was one of those days where I had all of my pitches working and I’ll obviously take it,” Weiland said.  “It was definitely one of my better performances.  It’s fun when you take your mind out of it and just let your stuff work.”

His curve was especially nasty as all five curveball strikeouts came on swings-and-misses.

“I learned this curveball in college – it’s the spike – and I learned it over Christmas break my freshman year from a guy named Christian Parker who went to my high school and attended Notre Dame as well,” Weiland said.  “He got drafted and was in professional baseball for a long time before getting plagued by injury.  I kept in contact with him through college, and every time I would go back home, I would work with him and he taught me the spike curveball which really came naturally with my arm slot.  It was an easy pitch for me to throw and that’s where it all started.  It became a very effective pitch in my first year in college.”

Weiland was a closer for the Fighting Irish and still holds the school’s all-time record for career saves.  But in his four years in the Red Sox organization, Kyle has been used almost exclusively as a starter (68 games, 63 starts).

“I talked to a lot of the scouts when I was in college and they told me that they saw me as a starter because I did have a third pitch that could play – the changeup,” Weiland said.  “So I had an idea that I might go into professional baseball as a starter.  I’ve learned to love this role and it’s great to go out there for more than an inning.”

He’ll take the mound on Tuesday night at McCoy Stadium and since the Red Sox are in Oakland, it’s a great opportunity for Sox fans to come to Pawtucket and see a good young pitching prospect in action.

In other words, the timing is perfect.

* * * * *

Matt Albers is also scheduled to make his second (and final) rehab appearance on Tuesday.  The hard-throwing righty tossed a perfect inning with one strikeout on Sunday, throwing 8 of his 11 pitches for strikes.

Photo courtesy of Kelly O'Connor

Albers is the first Boston player to join Pawtucket on an injury rehab this year and he followed baseball protocol by treating his minor league teammates to a post-game feast.

Following Sunday’s game, the home clubhouse was filled with the delicious aroma of LJ’s BBQ in Pawtucket as Albers treated the boys to ribs, chicken, pulled pork and a wide variety of side dishes.

Last year, a total of 15 Boston players were sent to Pawtucket on rehab assignments, meaning the players ate like kings for much of the season.

I named Mike Lowell last year’s MVRP.

* * * * *

The PawSox go for their 5th straight win on Tuesday night as they host Syracuse 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.

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

The Sunday Gospel With Arnie Beyeler

Every Sunday, we interview Pawtucket’s manager for our pre-game show.  It’s called ‘The Sunday Gospel with Manager Arnie Beyeler” and here were a few of his thoughts going into Sunday’s games at McCoy Stadium.

Photo courtesy of Kelly OConnor

April means cold, raw, windy nights in New England.  What’s the biggest effect on the players?

“Everybody has got to play in it – it works on both sides – but it’s not much fun to play baseball on a wet field when it’s spitting rain and windy and cold.  Your body doesn’t react very well, it’s hard for the pitchers to get a feel for the ball, and it’s hard to feel the bat from a hitter’s standpoint.  Baseball is not meant to be played in conditions like that, but they often play the World Series under those conditions so you have to deal with it and it’s part of player development.”

It’s early, but a couple of really good hitters in Daniel Nava (3-for-33) and Ryan Kalish (9-for-42) are off to slow starts.  Have you noticed anything specific with those two guys?

“It’s nothing more than getting off to a slow start.  They both swung the bat fairly well in spring training, but when you come up here and the lights go on, it’s a different ballgame.  They just have to get back on track.  Like all young guys, they’re going to have their ups and downs, and we just work with a plan for them every day.  They’ll get it going – a lot of it is just confidence.  That’s a big factor in this game.”

Josh Reddick, on the other hand, is off to a great start.  He’s batting .500 since you moved him from the leadoff spot to number three in the order.  He would prefer not to bat leadoff.  Does the organization consider a player’s preference when making out the lineup?

“We did consider that and we knew coming in that he didn’t like hitting leadoff.  We talked about it and discussed it, but that’s kind of where he fit and he’s going to do what’s best for the team.  But we decided to flip-flop some things to shake the lineup up a little bit.  I’m all about putting guys in favorable positions and he’s doing well there so there’s no sense in moving him around again.  I think part of our job in development is to see where these guys flourish.  Along the same lines, Lars Anderson has always been a guy that has hit well in the five-hole.  But it’s all relative.  You’re only the leadoff hitter once, so a lot of it is psychological.  I think some guys like to hit in spots where they’ll have more RBI opportunities, but look at Tony Thomas – he’s been hitting ninth and he leads our team in RBIs.  It all comes down to who is getting on base around you.”

Kris Johnson pitches today.  He’s obviously struggled at the Triple-A level, but he pitched very well for you in 2008 at Portland.  If you could pinpoint one thing that K.J. needs to do better to have success at this level, what would it be?

“I haven’t seen him much at this level, so I really don’t know.  He’s been throwing strikes and going after hitters aggressively, so maybe it’s just a matter of finishing hitters off.  Finding a pitch or a location that allows you to finish guys off when you get ahead.  That’s what all successful pitchers do – when they get ahead in the count, they work to contact with quality strikes.  To be fair to him, I really haven’t seen him enough up here, but a few years ago, he was finishing hitters off and working to contact with quality strikes.”

People wondered how Hideki Okajima would react to starting the year in Triple-A.  He’s pitching very well as he has not allowed an earned run in 5 outings – how much communicating have you done with Hideki through his translator Jeff.

“We talk with him, but he’s a veteran guy and he knows what he has to do.  The veterans in our bullpen understand what they’re here for and they’re down here to perform and keep themselves in a favorable position so if something happens in Boston, they’ll have an opportunity to get back to the big leagues.  All of these guys are smart enough to realize that, and they’ve come out and worked hard.  They are the leadership group of our team and they know how to go about their business.  There’s not a lot of maintenance that needs to be done with those guys because they’ve been there before and they get it.”

* * * * *

The PawSox and Buffalo Bisons continue last night’s suspended game (tied 1-1 in the 9th inning) on Sunday at 1:05, followed by the regularly scheduled game.

I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 12:50 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.

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.

Reddick’s Still Rolling and The Best Letter Ever

The Boston Red Sox have the worst record in major league baseball at 2-10.  Perhaps they need a pep talk from Josh Reddick’s dad Kenny. 

Photo courtesy of Kelly OConnor

Last year with Pawtucket, Josh struggled for the first three-and-a-half months of the season.  When the All-Star break arrived in mid-July, Reddick was batting .207 with a .255 OBP in 71 games.

“I went home and just enjoyed the time with family and friends,” Reddick said.  “I literally turned my phone off for two days – I didn’t want to even think about baseball.  Me and my dad sat down and talked and he said, ‘Stop caring so much.’  That was the biggest thing for me.  I stopping worrying about the results and that’s when things turned around for me.  I’m trying to keep that same mindset.”

After the All-Star break, Reddick batted .351 with 10 HR in his final 43 games.  In his first 8 games this year, the 24-year-old outfielder is batting .367/.486/.567 with 3 doubles, 1 HR, and 4 RBI.

“I’m not worrying about the power numbers and I’m not trying to hit the long ball as much,” Reddick told me.  “Even the walks are up a little bit which is a good sign.  I’m just trying to do whatever I can do to take my mind and the fans’ minds off that horrible start that I had last year.”

Josh batted leadoff in his first three starts this year and went 2-for-12.  Since being moved to the third spot in the order, Reddick is 9-for-18 (.500) with 5 walks (.609 OBP).

“My biggest comfort zone is getting out of that leadoff spot,” Reddick said.  “I was never really a fan of the leadoff spot, but what can you do if the Red Sox want you to get more at-bats?  I’m feeling a lot more comfortable in the three-hole, so maybe that’s got a little bit to do with it.” 

Photo courtesy of Kelly OConnor

While it has been widely speculated that Ryan Kalish will replace J.D. Drew as the Red Sox right fielder next year when Drew’s contract expires, Reddick is also a legitimate candidate to win the job.

“I hope so,” Josh said.  “I can’t get my mind set on it too much, but hopefully I can show those guys up in Boston that I’m ready.  I feel like I’m ready to be up there every day, whether it be with them or somebody else.  But right now, I’m trying to not look too far ahead and I’m just trying to swing the bat well down here.”

Mission accomplished so far.  Kenny Reddick’s words of wisdom continue to pay off.

* * * * *

Friday was the final day of the PawSox 7-game road trip.  Early in the week, my 4-year-old Sam asked my wife Peg the following question:  “If I wrote Daddy a note, could we send it to him on the road?”

She said sure and the note arrived on Thursday at our hotel in Syracuse.  

 

As you can see, Sam hasn’t quite grasped the concept of writing in sentences yet, so the note is basically a long strand of letters.  But I took a pen and paper and was able to decipher the code.  Here goes:

Hey Daddy.  I am sending a note to you.  Do you know how many years old Yoda is?  I will tell you.  900.  Love, Sam.  How is your trip?  May you bring me a surprise? 

How great is that?  The best letter that I’ve ever received. 

* * * * *

The PawSox snapped a 3-game losing streak with an 8-2 win at Syracuse on Thursday.  Home plate ump D.J. Reyburn had a tight strike zone and the PawSox took advantage by drawing 11 walks. 

Photo courtesy of Kelly OConnor

That helps explain why Andrew Miller’s control was better than his stats indicated.  The PawSox starter worked 4 shutout innings, allowing 1 hit with 4 walks and 3 strikeouts.  He left the game after throwing 82 pitches, but would have lasted more than 4 innings if the strike zone had been more generous.  The 25-year-old lefty hit 96 mph on the stadium radar gun.

Pawtucket opens a 6-game homestand on Saturday night at 6:05 with the start of a 2-game series against Buffalo.  I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 5:50 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.

And don’t forget “PawSox Insider” on Saturday afternoon from 2 to 3.  This week’s guests include PawSox hitting coach Chili Davis, former major league pitcher Steve Grilli (the losing pitcher in the longest game in baseball history), and former PawSox pitcher Charlie Zink.

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.

Why I Root For Michael Bowden

One of the best things about being a minor league broadcaster is that you really get to know the players.  For starters, the radio guys are the only members of the media that are around the team every day – home and away.  Additionally, since you travel with the players, you share some of the misery on the late night bus rides and crack-of-dawn flights.

As a result, you wind up feeling like you have a stake in their success, and one of the players that I really root for is Michael Bowden.

Photo courtesy of Kelly OConnor

The 24-year-old pitcher is off to a good start in 2011.  Bowden pitched 3 scoreless innings in his last relief appearance on Tuesday in Buffalo, and in his first 3 outings has only allowed 2 hits in 6 innings with 5 strikeouts.

“I feel great – I’m throwing the ball really well,” Bowden told me.  “In my second outing, I gave up a 2-run home run (Buffalo’s Jason Pridie), but it was a 0-2 pitch and I thought it was a good pitch and he got the barrel on the ball.  But other than that, I’m healthy and throwing strikes and I feel good.”

Bowden’s first outing was on Opening Night at McCoy Stadium and he pitched a perfect 9th inning to record his second career save in the PawSox 2-1 win.  In that game, he threw several fastballs that hit 94 mph on the stadium radar gun.

“I feel very strong right now,” Bowden said.  “I feel healthy, I’m throwing the ball with confidence, and I don’t think I hit 94 mph all last year.”

After being a starter for his first five professional seasons, Bowden was moved to the bullpen in early July last year, and was quickly promoted to Boston.  He wound up having three separate stints with the Red Sox, going 0-1 with a 4.70 ERA in 14 appearances.

Does he have a preference between starting and relieving?

“There are pros and cons to both, but I like going to the ballpark every day knowing that I have a chance to pitch,” Bowden said.  “You really feel like a part of the team when you are able to do that.  It’s a lot of fun when you go into the game in important moments and have to execute your pitch.”

This is Michael’s 4th year with Pawtucket after getting promoted from Double-A Portland in July of 2008.  Following that season, Bowden was rated the #1 pitching prospect in the Red Sox organization and he’s pitched very well for Pawtucket posting a 3.37 ERA with an opponent batting average of .228 in 278 Triple-A innings.  But even though he is the same age as fellow pitching prospects Kyle Weiland, Alex Wilson, Jason Rice, and Junichi Tazawa, Bowden seems to have slipped under the radar.

“I try not to pay attention to that,” Bowden said.  “It’s just like it is in Boston– you could throw five great games in a row and if you have one bad outing, people are all over you.  That’s just the way it goes.  But if you don’t worry about that stuff and just keep pitching, things fall into place.”

Photo courtesy of Kelly OConnor

Bowden is the type of kid we all root for.  He’s friendly, polite, and totally dedicated to becoming the best pitcher he can possible be.  His mother Nancy raised a great young man, and Michael gets tremendous support from his mom, his two sisters, and wife Markella whom he married last November.   

“We’ve known each other since our freshman year of high school, so she was always there supporting me,” Bowden said.  “We didn’t start dating until her sophomore year of college, but she’s been with me since my second full season of pro ball.  She’s been in it almost as long as I have and you have to give credit to the spouses, family, and friends, because they’re the ones that are traveling to come see us, and they’re the ones that have to deal with our lifestyle.”

Michael has earned a call-up to Boston in each of the last three seasons, and I have little doubt that he’ll earn another this year.

Trust me – nobody will work harder to make it happen.

* * * * *

Thursday was a lousy day for the PawSox as they got swept in a doubleheader in Syracuse.  Bad defense cost them game one as Pawtucket committed four errors including three by Yamaico Navarro at third base.

Photo courtesy of Kelly OConnor

But the day wasn’t a total loss.  Kyle Weiland was sensational in his second Triple-A start, striking out 10 batters in 4.2 IP.  Robert Coello was the only Pawtucket starter to have a double-digit strikeout game last year as he whiffed 10 batters at Scranton/WB on June 22.

Rich Hill, Jason Rice, Clevelan Santeliz, and Hideki Okajima were excellent out of the bullpen as they combined to pitch 7.2 innings without allowing an earned run. 

Okajima has been “lights out” in his first 4 appearances (4.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K), and Santeliz has not allowed a hit in his first 5.2 IP.

The PawSox 7-game road trip concludes on Friday at 7:00 pm with Andrew Miller making his 2nd start in a Pawtucket uniform.  I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage, beginning with the pre-game show at 6:45 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.

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

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.

Rainy Day Thoughts In The ‘Cuse

Photo courtesy of Jim Commentucci/Syracuse Post-Standard

It was the home opener in Syracuse on Wednesday, and before the PawSox and Chiefs were rained out, Syracuse’s Executive Vice President Anthony “Tex” Simone – a member of the International League Hall of Fame – was featured prominently in the pre-game ceremonies.

 

I was a senior at Syracuse University when Tex hired me to be the Chiefs radio broadcaster about a month before graduation (that black-and-white picture of me with lots of hair hangs in the press box at Alliance Bank Stadium).  It was an incredible opportunity for a 21-year-old kid and I’ll always be grateful to Tex and his son John (now the team’s General Manager) for giving me my first big break.

I’m also grateful that they didn’t fire me after my first broadcast.

Since I was the youngest announcer in the league at the time, I was determined to prove that I was ready for the opportunity.  So before our opening game, I did more prep work than any announcer in history.

You name it – I knew it.  There was no stat or biographical tidbit too obscure for me to have researched and memorized.  Unfortunately, by the time my first broadcast arrived, my brain was so overloaded with minutia that I had a hard time spitting anything out.

For example, our Opening Day pitcher was Tom Filer and since he was given that assignment, I attempted to refer to him as the “ace of the pitching staff” at the top of the broadcast.  Unfortunately, I garbled that phrase and called Tom the “ass of the pitching staff.”

I was just getting started.

A few innings later when Tom started to tire, I noticed that reliever Don Gordon was starting to warm up in the bullpen.  I could have used those words or said that he was throwing in the bullpen.  Instead, I combined the two expressions and told my listeners that reliever Don Gordon was “throwing up in the bullpen.”

I had to clarify to make sure that nobody thought poor Don was sick.

I was pretty frazzled by the time that left-handed reliever Gibson Alba began getting ready to pitch in the late innings.  In my research about Alba, I had discovered that he was capable of pitching with either hand.  The best word to describe him was obviously “ambidextrous,” but after my earlier stumbles, I figured that too many syllables would be risky.  Instead, I brilliantly told my radio audience that Gibson Alba was a “two-handed pitcher.”

At least I distinguished Alba from former major league standout Jim Abbott.

Eventually the jitters went away and I was the Chiefs’ primary radio announcer for eight years before becoming a TV sports anchor.  That led to other opportunities including the chance to broadcast some major league games for the Cincinnati Reds, New York Mets, and Toronto Blue Jays.

I owe it all to Tex Simone. 

* * * * *

 

One of my broadcasting partners in Syracuse was former Chiefs pitcher Steve Grilli, who pitched at the big league level with the Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays.  Steve remains a good friend and has a tie to the PawSox because he was the losing pitcher for the Rochester Red Wings in the longest game in baseball history, played at McCoy Stadium 30 years ago.

Additionally, he is the father of former Tigers, Rockies, Marlins, Rangers, and White Sox pitcher Jason Grilli, who is currently pitching for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs after missing last season with an injury.

But none of those things are Steve Grilli’s true claim to fame:  He is the owner of the Change of Pace sports bar in Syracuse that serves the world’s finest chicken wings.

Wings at the Change of Pace

Trust me, I grew up near Buffalo where wings were supposedly invented and next to my man Steve Hyder, I’ve probably eaten more wings that anyone on earth.

 

That includes a heaping portion after the PawSox rainout on Wednesday.  If you’re ever in Syracuse, make a pilgrimage to the Pace.  It’s located near Alliance Bank Stadium at 1802 Grant Boulevard.

* * * * *

38-year-old Carlos Delgado announced his retirement on Wednesday.  As it turned out, his playing career ended in a Pawtucket Red Sox uniform as he struck out in his last at-bat on August 15th, 2010 at McCoy Stadium.

 

Delgado was trying to battle back from a hip injury when he joined the PawSox last August, but he was never able to get healthy and only appeared in five games, going 3-for-13 (.231).

Carlos was a 2-time All-Star who finished his major league career with a line of .280/.383/.546 and belted 473 home runs to rank 30th all-time.

Is he a Hall of Famer?  I asked Delgado that question last August.

“If you ask me, I’ll say yes, but I don’t get to vote,” Delgado said.  “I guess we’re going to have to wait a few years for that.  It’s completely out of my hands, but it would be an honor – I’m not going to lie to you.  If I get that call it would be a phenomenal honor and privilege.”

You can read my full entry on Carlos Delgado here.

* * * * *

The PawSox will play their first doubleheader of the season on Thursday as they face the Chiefs in Syracuse at 2:00.  Kyle Weiland will start the opener for Pawtucket, and Matt Fox will pitch in game two.

I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 1:45 on the PawSox radio network, pawsox.com, and 920WHJJ.com.

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.

Sightseeing With Top Prospect Jose Iglesias

On his first road trip as a member of the Pawtucket Red Sox, Jose Iglesias has already seen one of the world’s great natural wonders. While the PawSox were in Buffalo, he visited Niagara Falls with fellow Cuba native J.C. Linares.

“It was a great experience and so beautiful,” Iglesias told me. “I like Buffalo — it’s freezing, but I’ve enjoyed playing here.”

Niagara Falls was an appropriate place for Iglesias to visit because it straddles the international border between Canada and the United States — the two countries where Iglesias has found freedom.

“In July of 2008, I went to Canada with the Cuban National Team,” Iglesias said. “We were in Edmonton, and when everybody was asleep, me and one of my teammates (Noel Arguelles) snuck out of our hotel. It was a chance to make a new future, so I defected. We went looking for a cop so we could say ‘political asylum’ because when you’re from Cuba you get priority and they take care of you.”

Arguelles’ father eventually helped the pair cross the Canadien border into the United States, and a little less than three years later, the 21-year-old shortstop has embraced life in America. Iglesias has llearned how to speak English and currently makes his off-season home in Miami.

“Everything is different here in the USA — the weather, the food, the language. But I feel much more comfortable this year. I feel like this is my home now. Last year my roommate in Double-A was Nate Spears and he taught me a lot. He only speaks English, so I had to speak English. He helped me a lot, but I also learned by watching TV and by paying attention to everything the coaches say.”

Iglesias has already made some famous friends in his adopted home. He worked out in the off-season with Alex Rodriguez and struck up a friendship with pop music sensation Enrique Iglesias (no relation).

“I was a little bit surprised by how hard A-Rod works,” Iglesias said. “He’s one of the most talented players in the game, but he really works at it. I really tried to learn by focusing on him.

“I met Enrique Iglesias through a mutual friend. He is a very humble guy. I’m very excited about music and I’ve seen him a couple of times in Miami. He’s not a baseball fan though — he likes soccer.”

Photo courtesy of Kelly O'Connor

The Red Sox top-rated minor league prospect is off to an excellent start with Pawtucket. Iglesias is batting .308 (.400 OBP) in his first four games, despite dealing with a sore thumb that forced him to miss the first two games of the Buffalo series.

“The last game in Pawtucket I jammed it, and it’s a little sore — especially in this weather,” Iglesias said. “But it’s getting better every single day and I am fine to play. My goal this year is to stay healthy and play every day. If it’s a little sore that’s alright because I have to push myself.”

* * * * *

After handing Buffalo a 15-1 loss on Monday — the Bisons’ most-lopsided defeat in the history of Coca-Cola Field — the PawSox got a taste of their own medicine on Tuesday as they fell to the Bisons 8-1.

It was a rough 2011 debut for LHP Kris Johnson. After retiring the first batter of the game, Johnson surrendered five straight hits, and he eventually gave up 7 runs (6 ER) in 2.1 IP.

In 2-plus years with the PawSox, Kris is 9-27 with a 5.68 ERA (146 ER in 231.1 IP).

* * * * *

The Boston Red Sox are in last place in the A.L. East with a 2-9 record after Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to Tampa Bay.

I know it’s been ugly, but a great season is still possible – just ask PawSox hitting coach Chili Davis.

In 1991, Davis played for the Minnesota Twins when they opened the season 2-9. The Twins finished that season with 95 wins before beating the Atlanta Braves in 7 games to win the World Series.

I asked Chili how the ’91 Twins turned their season around, and what advice he would give to the Red Sox.

“We knew that we had a good team coming out of spring training, but it just takes a little while to gel,” Davis said. “The Red Sox have Crawford, Gonzalez, and a few other new faces and they’re learning how to play together. With the Twins it was the same way. We throught we were gelling in spring training because we had a close-knit team just like the Red Sox do, but once the season started we still had to figure out how to click together. We eventually started putting wins together and had some long winning streaks, and I think the Red Sox have the ability to do that this year.”

Let’s hope he’s right.

* * * * *

The PawSox are scheduled to open a 3-game series in Syracuse on Wednesday afternoon at 2:20. It’s the Chiefs’ home opener, but the weather forecast is lousy calling for a 60% chance of rain with the temperature in the 40’s.

If there is a game, we hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pregame show at 2:00 on the PawSox radio network, pawsox.com, and 920 WHJJ.com.

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.

Yea, But What About Sunday?

Tony Thomas hit a grand slam on Saturday and another on Monday, but he is not in Pawtucket’s starting lineup on Tuesday night here in Buffalo.

It comes with the territory in minor league baseball.

Here’s the PawSox lineup and batting order:

Kalish-CF, Nava-LF, Reddick-RF, Navarro-3B, Anderson-1B, Sutton-DH, McKenry-C, Spears-2B, Iglesias-Ss

Kris Johnson makes his first start of the year.

Game time is 6:05.  I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning at 5:50 on the PawSox radio network, pawsox.com, and 920WHJJ.com.

Another Day, Another Grand Slam For Tony Thomas

There have been 945 players in the Pawtucket Red Sox 39-year history and I can’t imagine that any of them has gotten off to a better start with the franchise than Tony Thomas. 

Photo courtesy of Kelly O'Connor

On Saturday night in Buffalo, the 24-year-old infielder hit a grand slam in his first at-bat in a PawSox uniform and finished his first start with 5 RBI.

As it turns out, Tony was just getting warmed up.

On Monday night, Thomas hit another grand slam – his 2nd in three starts for the PawSox – as Pawtucket destroyed Buffalo 15-1.

“Before this, I had only hit two grand slams my whole life and I’ve been playing since I was about four years old,” Thomas told me.  “To do that twice within three games is something that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.”

Thomas hit his first grand slam in his junior year at Florida State University and belted another one last year while playing for Double-A Tennessee in the Cubs organization.  He’s hit two in 11 at-bats as a member of the PawSox, but when he reached the dugout after Monday’s blast, his teammates tried to pretend that was no big deal. 

“They were saying, ‘Oh, Thomas hit another grand slam – what a shock,’ Tony said with a laugh.  “I think I’m going to get teased about that for the next couple of days.”   

Thomas wasn’t even in Pawtucket’s starting lineup for the first two games of the season, but he’s currently tied for the league lead in RBI with 9.  The Red Sox acquired him from the Chicago Cubs on February 15th in a trade for former PawSox pitcher Robert Coello.

“I was ecstatic,” Thomas said.  “The Cubs are a great organization and I thank them for giving me the opportunity to play pro ball, but I feel like I have a better future here with the Red Sox.  The fan base is amazing and to play on TV for the Boston Red Sox would be a dream come true.”

* * * * *

ESPN blew it on Sunday night.

Don’t get me wrong, the resources that the network devotes to its coverage of Sunday Night Baseball guarantees exceptional coverage of the action, but I can’t believe they didn’t show us video of Bridget Johnson throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.

 

Bridget is the 11th-year-old daughter of former PawSox manager Ron Johnson (now the Red Sox first base coach).  Last summer, she was involved in a horrific accident near the family’s home in Tennessee when the horse she was riding was struck by a car.  Bridget spent 34 days in the hospital and eventually had to have one of her legs amputated. 

But you would never know it now.  Bridget’s been fitted with a prosthetic leg and is even riding horses again.  In fact, she was given a new pony by Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis who was on the receving end of her ceremonial pitch on Sunday.

Bridget’s new horse is named “Youkie.”

It’s an incredible story.  Too bad that ESPN missed it on Sunday.

* * * * *

21-year-old shortstop Jose Iglesias is such a slick fielder than Lars Anderson jokingly calls him “Domingo.” 

Photo courtesy of Kelly O'Connor

It’s a reference to Domingo Ayala of YouTube fame – the star of a series of humorous instructional videos in which he shows the proper fundamentals of playing the game. 

Well, sort of.

Here are a few tips on playing the infield from our man Domingo.

Enjoy.

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 Violin Can Wait For Ryan Kalish

Ryan Kalish remembers exactly where he was when he learned that the Red Sox had signed Carl Crawford to a 7-year, $142 million contract. 

Photo courtesy of Kelly O'Connor

“I was in Arizona,” Kalish told me.  “I was actually playing the videogame ‘FIFA 2011’ and I started getting text messages on my phone letting me know that it had happened.”

Did those messages come from friends or from the Red Sox front office?

“The texts were from friends – the Red Sox don’t need to text me,” Ryan said.  “They understand that I get it.  If it was me, I would have gotten Crawford too.  I’ve been watching him for years and he’s someone that I want to be like.  A guy that has speed, power, hits for average, and plays the game hard.  That’s what I strive for.” 

Photo courtesy of Kelly O'Connor

Kalish knew immediately that the acquisition of Crawford probably meant that he would begin this season in Pawtucket – despite being named the Boston Red Sox Rookie of the Year last season.

“Just looking at the scenario, it was pretty easy for me to figure out that I was probably going to come here,” Kalish said.  “This game is too fun to be mad about something like that.  I’ve spent a lot of time with Darnell McDonald, and just knowing his story – for me to be upset would be ridiculous.”

McDonald spent nearly 12 full seasons in the minors before sticking with the Red Sox last year.  The 23-year-old Kalish isn’t likely to require that much minor league seasoning, but Ryan says he’s still has plenty to learn.    

“Baseball is a game of failure and I get frustrated pretty easily,” Kalish said.  “I keep it hidden so nobody can really tell, but you have to play this game day-in and day-out and keep an even keel.  Sometimes you’ll feel really good and feel like you can get a hit every time up and then the baseball gods will let you know that you can’t.  The best players don’t get too high and don’t get too down and that’s something that is very impressive to watch.” 

Photo courtesy of Kelly O'Connor

One benefit of returning to Pawtucket is that it reunited Kalish with his pal Lars Anderson.  They’ve been teammates in each of the last two seasons, and they spent time together this past off-season traveling to Puerto Rico.

“Me and Lars saw the whole country – that’s for sure,” Ryan said.  “We were in the capital for two days and decided that there’s too much to see, so we rented a car and drove all over.  We started on the coast and then drove through the mountains and we saw everything.  For us, that’s what a vacation is – it’s not just going and sitting on a beach and having some drinks.  It’s getting out and seeing different things.  That was a lot of fun – we had 10 days of wild adventures.”

Last year, Kalish sported a tattoo on his calf that served as a reminder of a previous vacation to Costa Rica.  Now he’s added some ink to represent the Puerto Rico trip.

“The Puerto Rico tattoo is of something called a bioluminescent bay where you swim at night and wherever you touch glows green,” Kalish said.  “It’s an amazing thing – you go out there at 10 o’clock and night and it’s a magical experience to say the least.  It’s something that you can only find in certain places throughout the world and that’s what stuck with me the most so I have an image of that on my leg.

“Every off-season I want to try to go somewhere, and I’d like to get a tattoo to represent that.  It’s pretty much the image that sticks with me.  I have no idea what it’s going to be before I go – it’s something that I think about when I get home and there’s usually always something that sticks out.”

Between the trip to Puerto Rico and the time he spent working out at API (Athletes’ Performance, Inc) in Arizona, there was one thing that Kalish didn’t get around to in the off-season – learning how to play the violin that he purchased last season (you can read the full story here).

“The violin is something to be done inside and I was spending so much time outside in nature that I didn’t have time,” Kalish said with a laugh.  “But now that you bring it up, I really wish I had done something with it.  Maybe one day when I feel like it, it will come out of the case, but right now I’ve got a lot of stuff that I want to do.”

* * * * *

I’m thinking that Mike Buczkowski, the longtime General Manager of the Buffalo Bisons, is not a big Josh Reddick fan.

Last year, Reddick batted .327 with 4 home runs and 10 RBI in 12 games against the Bisons, and on Saturday, Josh homered in his first game against Buffalo in 2011.

But the Buffalo G.M. has a more personal reason for being annoyed by Reddick – on the pitch immediately before hitting his home run, Josh drilled a long foul ball that cleared the right field fence and shattered the windshield of Buczkowski’s car.

 

The two had a peace summit on Sunday as they shared a laugh about it near the indoor batting cage. 

Photo courtesy of Ben Wagner

Reddick, by the way, has a track record of foul ball destruction.  In 2009 he lined one back into the press box at Fenway Park that destroyed the laptop of ESPN Boston columnist Joe McDonald.

* * * * *

The PawSox have split the first two games of a 4-game series in Buffalo, winning the opener 8-3 on Saturday as Tony Thomas belted a grand slam and finished with 5 RBI.  The Bisons answered with a 2-1 win on Sunday as five Buffalo pitchers combined on a 4-hitter.

The series continues on Monday night at 6:05 as RHP Brandon Duckworth makes his PawSox debut.  I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pregame show at 5:50 on the PawSox radio network, pawsox.com, and 920WHJJ.com.

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.

Who Is This Year’s Under-The-Radar Red Sox Prospect?

I’m not exactly Brad Pitt, so I hesitate to critique another man’s physique, but Juan Carlos Linares does not look like a professional athlete.

Photo courtesy of Kelly O'Connor

 

The PawSox outfielder is listed at 5’11”, 190 pounds but looks shorter and heavier.

Until you see him in action.  Then he looks like a legitimate big league prospect.

On Thursday night, the 26-year-old from Havana, Cuba drilled a 400-foot triple off of the center field wall to drive in both Pawtucket runs in a season-opening 2-1 win over Rochester.  That followed an eye-opening performance in Boston’s major league spring training camp in which Linares batted .320 in 13 games. 

“The more we see him, the more we like him,” said Boston’s minor league hitting coordinator Victor Rodriquez.  “It’s a pleasure watching him play every day because he gives you all he’s got.  You look at him and you don’t see an athlete.  But when he’s on the field, he runs well, he’s got a good arm, and he’s got some line-drive power.” 

“I don’t know if they penciled him in for Triple-A right away but he earned it,” said PawSox hitting coach Chili Davis.  “I think he’s going to be an exciting player to watch.  I see a huge amount of love for the game in him.  You look at the body and think that he can’t really run, but they stuck him in center field in big league camp and he got to some balls where I said, ‘How the heck did he get over there?’  He’s a very hard worker and it’s going to pay off for him.”    

Photo courtesy of Kelly O'Connor

After playing professionally for minimal pay for eight years in Cuba – a reported $8 a month – Linares escaped the island by boat and established residency in Mexico before signing as an international free agent with Boston last July.  After batting .246 in 17 minor league games late in the season, Linares was sent to the Arizona Fall League where he ranked 2nd in the league in batting (.397) and 4th in slugging percentage (.662).

“He had a really good fall league and he’s a very intriguing player,” said Red Sox farm director Mike Hazen.  “He plays all three outfield positions well, he’s got a good swing, and we want to see what we’ve got at Pawtucket.  It will be a challenge for him early on, but he is an older kid and he’s played professionally in Cuba for a long time and he’s a pretty intriguing player.  Being a right-handed hitter is a big asset for him and in the small window of opportunity that he’s had, he’s performed.  This will be a good test for him and we’re excited to see him play.”

Linares, who requested to go by the initials “J.C.” instead of Juan Carlos, gives the PawSox a “Cuban Connection” along with 21-year-old shortstop Jose Iglesias who went 2-for-3 in his Triple-A debut.

“Linares is a great player,” Iglesias told me.  “It’s difficult for anybody when you come from a different culture, but he understands what he has to do.  He’s did a good job this spring and I’m very excited about him.”

Iglesias and Linares were teammates previously on the Cuban National Team, but as it turns out, that was not J.C.’s only connection to the Red Sox organization.

“A few years ago, my son was on an All-Star team from Miami that played in a tournament in Italy and while they were there, they played Team Cuba,” said Victor Rodriquez.  “Linares was on that team and my son ended up giving him some batting gloves and bats.  In return, Linares gave my son his uniform.  This year in spring training, Juan Carlos came to my house and I showed him the Cuban uniform with his name and number.  He was pretty excited.  You know what?  That shows you that the world is small.”

So is Linares.  But don’t let it fool you.

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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