May 2011

PawSox Coach Puts Memorial Day In Perspective

(This blog entry originally appeared on Memorial Day 2010)

PawSox strength coach Mike Roose is not only a native of Pawtucket – he was born on perhaps the most important day in PawSox history.

 

“I was born at Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket on June 23, 1981 – the day they finished the Longest Game in Baseball History,” Roose told me.  “It was something that I thought was really cool as a kid and it made my love for baseball grow even more.  How ironic is it that I was born on that day a few hundred yards from McCoy Stadium and now I’m working for the team?  There are a lot of signs that God puts in front of you – maybe I was destined to be in baseball.”

But Roose took an unusual path to working in the Red Sox organization.  In 2002, he joined the Air Force and spent four years serving our country.

“It was 9/11 – that’s what inspired me to serve,” Roose said.  “I was going through a time in my life where I felt like I wasn’t making a difference and the timing was right.  It just kind of clicked and I felt like that was the right thing to do at that point in my life.”

Roose was 21-years-old when he reported to basic training in San Antonio.  After being stationed in Valdosta, Georgia he was sent to Iraq for the first time.

“I was in my unit for four or five days and I didn’t know anybody, and they said, ‘You’re going overseas.’  My head was spinning.  Everything happened so fast and when we hit the ground we were actually in an undisclosed location setting up for the invasion.  We went in and ended up guarding an airfield in Western Iraq.  As far as the eye could see it was desert.  We ended up staying there for about a month and after that we went to Afghanistan.  We ended up staying there for about six months.  That was my first tour.  It was a great experience – the best thing I ever did.  I wouldn’t take anything back because I learned a lot about life and learned to appreciate everything.  When you go without running water, a bed, and the bare necessities that we don’t think about here in the States, you put things in a different perspective.  It makes you realize what’s really important.  And when you have missiles and land mines blowing up all around you, you think about things a little bit differently.”

Mike served four tours of duty in Iraq and was in Baghdad when U.S. forces captured Saddam Hussein.

“It was surreal,” Roose said.  “It’s one of those things that you think is mythical.  It’s like the Pyramids of Egypt – until you see them they don’t seem real.  But Hussein is just a man.  He’s flesh and blood and I saw emotions like fear and cowardice.  It’s something that I’ll never forget and I’m glad we took care of him, but there’s a lot more stuff over there that needs to be done.”

Two soldiers that served with Mike in Iraq attended a PawSox game in Durham and told me that he was legendary in their unit for his love of baseball.

“It’s what I’ve loved my whole life,” Roose said.  “I used to come to McCoy Stadium as a little kid.  We moved away for a little while during my adolescence, but baseball has always been there for me.  You have to be tough to play this game and people in New England pride themselves on being tough.  Overseas when we were in the desert, that was the one thing that kind of kept me going.  I would check the box scores when I had access to the internet and when I got to see some highlights I was pumped.  I even put some sandlot games together – literally sandlot in the middle of the desert.  We used ax handles for bats and made a ball out of tape and got as many guys as we could.  That’s an awesome memory.”

It’s one of many memories that will undoubtedly cross his mind on this Memorial Day as we pay tribute to the men and women who died while serving our country.

“Memorial Day means everything for this country – and not just because of the guys that have served recently,” Roose said.  “We have previous generations that served in World War I, World War II, Vietnam . . . without those guys we wouldn’t have what we have today.  It gets me up in the morning – maybe I don’t think about it every morning – but on Memorial Day morning I’m definitely going to try to live the right way and live in their honor.”

A PawSox Opponent Can Thank Lar Anderson’s Dad

(Photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

Lars Anderson leads the International League in walks and has a .397 OBP.

 

John Bowker from Indianapolis  is batting .329 with a .388 OBP.

And George Anderson – Lars’ father – deserves some of the credit for each player’s success.

For the past four off-seasons, Anderson and Bowker have spent countless hours working on their swings in the batting cage that George built in the Anderson’s backyard when Lars was in high school.

(Photos courtesy of George Anderson)

“My dad is quite handy with tools and building stuff,” Lars told me.  “Me and my dad both love to hit and we were going down to this raggedy batting cage down the street.  Finally my dad said, ‘You know what?  I’m going to build a batting cage.’  We had a little spot in the backyard between some berry bushes and some apple trees and he built it there.  I didn’t have to mow that part of the yard anymore so it was sweet.”

“It’s a really nice cage,” Bowker said.  “In the Sacramento area you get a lot of rain in the off-season and George keeps it in really good shape.” 

Anderson and Bowker met through a mutual friend.

“I played with his cousin Mike Metzger in high school – he was a senior when I was a freshman – and he’s one of my all-time favorite teammates,” Lars said.  “In my first off-season, Mike was home for Thanksgiving break and said, ‘Hey man, can I come over and take BP?’  I said, ‘Sure man, come on over.’  And he said, ‘Is it cool if I bring my cousin?’  I said, ‘Sure, bring him over.’  I knew that his cousin (Bowker) played for the Giants organization, so he came over and hit and we had a good time.  Mike went back to college and John basically just kept coming over.  He’s a workhorse and hits as much as you want to hit.  He’s a lot of fun to watch.”

It should be pointed at that there’s no pitching machine in the Anderson’s batting cage – unless you want to refer to George Anderson as a “machine.” 

“His dad has one of those arms where he can throw for hours at a time and doesn’t complain,” Bowker said.  “So usually we’ll all hit and then we’ll throw to his dad afterwards because he still plays in adult leagues and likes to get a little batting practice in.  It’s a lot of fun working out over there.”

“My dad used to throw batting practice to our entire high school team – that had to be a few hundred pitches – then he would pitch 7 innings in his men’s league,” Lars said.  “Then the next day he would be throwing again.  He always says that he’s hoping to be signed – I really think that the Red Sox should let him throw some BP.  His left-handed BP is the best that I’ve ever seen.”

George’s rubber arm and the batting cage that he built have clearly been beneficial to both players in the off-season.  But Bowker says that’s not the only reason he enjoys working out at the Andersons’ house.

“The most fun part is listening to Lars and his dad go back and forth because they’re pretty funny to listen to,” Bowker said.

* * * * *

 

(Photo courtesy of Josh Whetzel)

A couple of days ago, I mentioned to PawSox General Manager Lou Schwechheimer that the Rochester Red Wings recently unveiled the “Whetzel Pretzel” in honor of broadcaster Josh Whetzel.

I jokingly asked Lou if there would soon be concessions items at McCoy Stadium named for the broadcast team of Hoard and Hyder.

Leave it to Lou to immediately race right to McCoy Stadium’s executive chef Ken Bowdish.

“He told me to make the most awesome sandwich for our best broadcaster and that’s what I tried to do,” Bowdish said with a laugh.

His creation is a humongous sandwich called “The SmorgasHoard.”

 

“It has three different layers,” Chef Bowdish said.  “The top layer is a vegetarian layer with grilled zucchini, grilled squash, and onions.  The next layer is barbeque chicken with provolone cheese.  And the third layer contains deli meats like ham, roast beef, and turkey – plus cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onions.”

The SmorgasHoard is not recommended if you’re on a diet.

“It probably weighed about five pounds,” Bowdish said.  “Plus, it was garnished with lots of fried stuff.  Onion rings, fries…you know, all of the healthy stuff.  I couldn’t even guess how many calories.”

But Ken was willing to guess a price if The SmorgasHoard is ever put on the concessions menu at McCoy.

“It would be about a $48 dollar sandwich,” Bowdish said.

My broadcast partner Steve Hyder was not forgotten.

The following night, Ken presented a tower of tasty delights known as “Hyder Slyders.”

 

The contents included the following:

A turkey burger with bacon, lettuce, and tomato.

A cheeseburger with cheddar and onion.

A buffalo chicken sandwich.

A salami and provolone sandwich.

And a sausage and peppers sandwich.

For good measure, the “Hyder Slyders” were topped with a chocolate cupcake and held upright by a bucket filled with deep-fried macaroni-and-cheese balls.

I hope they alerted the paramedics before dinner was served.

By the way, if the rest of the International League wants to borrow the concept, here are a few more I.L. broadcaster-inspired menu items:

Benetti Spaghetti (Jason Benetti, Syracuse Chiefs)

Vander Woude-grilled Pizza (Mike Vander Woude, Scranton/WB Yankees)

Socci Sushi (Bob Socci, Norfolk Tides)

Schaeffer’s Wafers (Jon Schaeffer, Lehigh Valley IronPigs)

Neil Parmesan (Neil Solondz, Durham Bulls)

The Weber Grill (Jim Weber, Toledo Mud Hens)

* * * * *

The PawSox have dropped 3 straight games to Indianapolis, and the last two losses were among the most difficult to digest (with or without Ken Bowdish’s culinary creations) of the 2011 season.

On Friday, the PawSox took a 3-1 lead to the 9th inning only to see Michael Bowden surrender a grand slam to Andy Marte in a 6-3 loss.

On Saturday, the PawSox built a 7-0 lead in the first two innings, before Indy stormed back for a stunning 9-7 win.

Pawtucket will look to salvage the final game of the 4-game series on Sunday night at 6:05, followed by a gigantic Fireworks Show.

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.

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 have finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

Yes, Carl Crawford Can Hit. And So Can Daniel Nava.

So as it turns out, Carl Crawford isn’t the worst hitter in baseball history.

 

(Photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

After the Red Sox $142 million man batted .155 with a .431 OPS in April, there was rampant speculation that he couldn’t handle the heat in Boston. 

Now that Crawford is hitting .333 with a .864 OPS in May, the panic level has dropped considerably.

The bottom line is that when a player has an established track record, his statistics will eventually trend toward his career averages.

And that’s what is about to happen with Daniel Nava.

 

The 28-year-old outfielder can flat-out hit.  In 333 minor league games, Nava is batting .321/.418/.502.  Last year in his first taste of major league action with Boston, Daniel hit .242 in 60 games with a very respectable .351 OBP. 

But this year has been a 7-week struggle.  Nava was batting .189 with 0 HR in 132 at-bats when the Red Sox designated him for assignment last week to make room on the 40-man roster for Drew Sutton.

“When I got to the field (in Columbus) last Friday, Arnie told me that the Red Sox had some roster moves that he needed to fill me in on,” Nava said.  “He told me what was going on and it was a situation out of my control.  It’s a business and you understand that anything can happen, so you just have to roll with it, and try to make the best of it.”

When the PawSox traveled from Columbus to Toledo for a 4-game series against the Mud Hens, Nava returned to Pawtucket to wait and see if he would be claimed by another organization or clear waivers and return to the PawSox.  But it was not a mini-vacation as Daniel worked on his swing at Ron Westmoreland’s “In the Zone” baseball academy in Fall River, MA.

“I hit with Ryan Westmoreland’s dad,” Nava said.  “I went to his batting cage and he threw me some rounds of batting practice.  I was looking at it as an opportunity to work on some stuff that I felt I needed to work on and he was very gracious to offer his time and allow me to do that. 

“I looked at it as an opportunity to have a little time away – almost like the All-Star break where you get a chance to regroup.  I tried to do that and look at it as an opportunity to get my mind right and come back with a renewed focus.” 

Nava returned to the PawSox on Thursday and promptly had hits in his first two at-bats before finishing 2-for-4 in a 4-3 loss to Indianapolis. 

“I know that what has worked in the past can lead to results now,” Nava said.  “It’s a matter of trusting that and allowing myself to believe that and not get too frustrated when I’m not doing what I want to do.”

Carl Crawford has 8 hits in his last 9 at-bats.  Don’t be surprised if Nava gets hot too. 

Make that when Nava gets hot.

* * * * *

Chad Paronto’s debut with the independent Pittsfield Colonials did not go as well as hoped, as the former PawSox team comedian dropped an 8-4 decision to the New Jersey Jackals on Thursday.

 

After pitching a perfect first inning, Paronto allowed 5 runs on 5 hits in the second inning before settling down and pitching 4 scoreless frames (6 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 3 K). 

In his first start in 10 years, Chad threw 97 pitches.

I hope he can still lift his right arm.

* * * * *

How about Rich Hill?

 

In 7 relief outings for Boston, the 31-year-old lefty has pitched 7 scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts.  He’s holding left-handed batters to a .083 average and right-handed batters to a .182 average.

I hate to say I told you so, but…

* * * * * 

Bobby Jenks will join the list of former major league All-Stars to wear a PawSox uniform when he makes a rehab start at McCoy Stadium on Friday night.

 

Here are some nuggets about Jenks that will appear in tonight’s game notes:

► Expected to pitch the first inning on a rehab assignment.

► Placed on the 15-day disabled list by Boston on May 5th (retroactive to May 2nd) with biceps tendonitis.

► Is 1-2 with a 9.35 ERA in 11 outings for Boston this season (8.2 IP, 13 H, 10 R, 9 ER, 9 BB, 10 K).  Started the year by pitching 4 scoreless innings in his first 4 outings, but had a 17.36 ERA in the 7 appearances that followed.

► Is 15-20 with 173 saves and a 3.55 ERA in 340 MLB games with Chicago-AL (2005-10) and Boston (2011).

► Is a 2-time American League All-Star (2006 and 2007).

► Is 1 of 4 pitchers to collect at least 25 saves in each of the last 5 seasons (Jonathan Papelbon, Mariano Rivera and Francisco Rodriquez).

► His 173 saves ranks second in White Sox history behind Bobby Thigpen (201).

► Retired 41 consecutive batters (42 outs) in 2007 to tie San Francisco’s Jim Barr (1972) for the second longest streak in major league history.  Mark Buehrle holds the record at 45.

► Originally selected by the Angels in the 5th round of the 2000 draft.

► Jenks, 31, is in his 12th professional season and first year in the Red Sox organization after signing a 2-year deal as a free agent on December 21, 2010.

Friday’s game starts at 7:05.  I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 6:50 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.

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 have finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

“It Was Either This Or Fat Man’s Softball”

Does a WWE championship belt clash with a turn-of-the-20th-century baseball uniform?

I guess the Pittsfield Colonials are about to find out.

 

(PawSox photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

Former PawSox relief pitcher Chad Paronto – who was given that belt by his Pawtucket  teammates last year for his general awesomeness (you can read all about it here) – will be wearing the Colonials vintage uniform this summer in the independent Can-Am League. 

 

(Photo courtesy of iBerkshires.com)

“The uniform is big and baggy and old-time,” Paronto said.  “I got into a big argument with management because I want to cut the sleeves off of my jersey.  They said that I couldn’t do that, so I’m going to have to pitch with sleeves, which is a little disappointing for me and certainly for my fans.”

The 35-year-old pitcher, who has appeared in 177 major league games with the Orioles, Indians, Braves, and Astros, has agreed to come out of retirement to be a player/coach for the Colonials. Chad lives in Pittsfield with his wife and two children. 

“I really wanted to coach-slash-teach,” Paronto said.  “I guess I’m called the pitching coach, but I just want to teach guys how to pitch a little bit, and share some of the ideologies that I’ve come across in the 16 years that I’ve played.  I think it’s going to be exciting…and the stadium is only about eight-tenths of a mile from my house.”

 

Paronto was 3-5 with 2 saves and a 4.22 ERA in a team-leading 54 relief outings for the PawSox last year.  But when the Colonials open their season on Thursday night, he will be the starting pitcher – his first start since 2002.

“I went down a laundry list of things that had to coincide with my schedule and they were so accommodating and made it impossible not to play again,” Paronto said.  “Then the G.M. said, ‘We would like you to start.’ I said, ‘It’s been 10 years since I started, but OK.’  Then he said, ‘And we would like you to start on Opening Night.’  So I said, ‘I guess I’m starting on Opening Night then.’”

Paronto was interested in returning to Pawtucket this year, but when the Red Sox did not make an offer early in free agency process, Chad told his agent not to actively pursue other options.

So what happens if he dominates independent ball and a scout from a major league team approaches him about making a full-time comeback?

“I still feel like I’ve got good enough stuff to pitch at the major league level,” Paronto said.  “If I pitch great and somebody came and said, ‘Hey, we’d like to sign you.’  I would say, ‘Absolutely not…unless there are a couple of million dollars guaranteed.’  Then I would run to Los Angeles if I had to.”

Thursday’s start will take place in Chad’s adopted home town as the Colonials open at home against the New Jersey Jackals.

“I’m not originally from Pittsfield so there are a lot of people that don’t exactly know who I am, but there has been a huge public outcry since the news broke here,” Paronto said.  “I’ve heard from hundreds of people that will be going to the game and that’s part of the plan that the Colonials have.  It’s a good way to sell tickets.  Hopefully I won’t give up 20 runs in a third of an inning and people will come out to my next start.

“I’m stating to get a little bit nervous because there will be so many people there that I know and I just want to do so well.  The biggest thing that I miss about playing baseball is being in the clubhouse and being with the guys.  So it was either this or fat man’s softball.” 

* * * * *

After a heartbreaking loss on Saturday night that saw the PawSox squander a 4-0 lead in the 8th inning, Pawtucket rebounded for a 2-1 win on Sunday afternoon in Toledo.

 

The hero was Tony Pena, Jr. who was forced to make a spot start since the PawSox had played 2 doubleheaders in the previous four days and an 11-inning game the night before.  Pena took a no-hitter in the 5th inning and left the game after pitching 6 shutout frames.  His longest previous outing since being converted from an infielder to a pitcher in 2009 was 3.2 IP.  21-year-old Dennis “Hello” Neuman allowed 1 ER over the final 3 innings to pick up his second save.

Tony Thomas had a double and home run and scored both Pawtucket runs.

Game 3 of the 4-game series is on Monday night at 6:30.  I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 6:15 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 have finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

Now I Have To Rent “The Open Road”

In case you missed it, the Boston Red Sox added Stephen Drew to the roster on Friday — but not J.D.’s younger brother.

I’m referring to Stephen Drew Sutton who goes by his middle name.

 

(Photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

“I think it was my mom’s idea to call me by my middle name and she should know better because she’s an English teacher,” Sutton said.  “She should have known that on the first day of school, I was always called by my first name and had to correct the teacher all the way from kindergarten through college.  I blame that one on my mom.”

Imagine how his Aunt Sally felt when she saw on TV that the Arizona Diamondbacks first round pick in the 2004 draft was Stephen Drew… only to be disappointed when they put his picture on the screen and she realized it was not her nephew.

Drew Sutton was not a first round pick in the ’04 draft (he was taken in the 15th round by the Astros), but he does have an interesting claim to fame:  He was Justin Timberlake’s body double in a movie.

 

I’ll let Drew fill-in the blanks:

 

“When I was playing in Corpus Christi, Texas in 2008, Justin Timberlake was making a movie called ‘The Open Road.’  You’ve probably never heard of it.  I don’t think it made it to the theaters and it’s probably even hard to find at Blockbuster.  Justin was in the movie with Jeff Bridges and played a Corpus Christi Hooks baseball player.  There was a part in the movie where he’s hitting and flies out and I was asked to be his body double.  They shot it from a helicopter where his character is hitting, but I am actually the one swinging.”

 

And yes, Sutton did get to meet the star who “brought sexy back.”

“He walked over to me and said, ‘Hey man, I’m J.T. – how’s it going?’ Sutton said.  “To come up and introduce himself when I was just a random minor league baseball player was pretty nice.  All of my teammates loved it because Jessica Biel was his girlfriend at the time and she was always sitting in the dugout.”

Too bad Jessica wasn’t in the movie.  They might have needed a body double for the love scenes. 

* * * * *

Jose Iglesias returned to the PawSox on Friday after getting his first taste of major league baseball and did not sound disappointed about returning to Triple-A.

“I need to play and learn every single day,” Iglesias told me.  “I’m happy to be back with the PawSox and back with my teammates again.”

 

The 21-year-old shortstop got into 6 games with the Red Sox, going 0-for-4 at the plate.  His most memorable highlight was scoring the winning run on a 11th inning double by Carl Crawford in a walk-off win over the Twins.

 

“Every game was special,” Iglesias said.  “I was there for 11 games and I think we won 9, so I feel like a lucky charm and that’s a good thing.  If the team wins, everything is good.”

* * * * *

The PawSox split an unofficial doubleheader on Friday, beating Columbus 5-2 in the conclusion of Thursday’s suspended game before losing the regularly scheduled game 3-0.

 

The most impressive performance was turned in by Jason Rice who pitched 3.2 hitless innings to earn his first Triple-A save in the opener.  Rice has pitched 11 consecutive scoreless innings in his last four outings. 

RHP Miguel Gonzelez had an impressive PawSox debut in the nightcap, allowing 1 run on 2 hits in 5 IP against the league’s highest-scoring team.  Unfortunately, Gonzalez took the loss as the PawSox were shutout on 3 hits by Zach McAllister.

After splitting the 4-game series in Columbus, the PawSox open a 4-game series on Saturday night at 7:00 in Toledo.

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.

And don’t forget to join us for “PawSox Insider” on Saturday afternoon from 2:00 to 3:00 on several of our network affiliates or online at 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 have finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

Lars Anderson and the Baseball Gods

If you haven’t attended many PawSox games this year or watched the team on the internet, you’ll have to trust me when I tell you that Lars Anderson has hit into extraordinarily rotten luck.

Nobody on the team has hit more Atom Balls (as in “right at ‘em”) than the 23-year-old first baseman.

“A few days ago after a tough game, I cursed the baseball gods and Ryan Kalish and my good friend Paul Hoover witnessed it,” Lars told me with a laugh.  “Paul looked up toward the sky and said, ‘No, he doesn’t mean that.’  I proceeded to line out about six times in six at-bats.  So after that game, I knelt on the ground and said, ‘I take it back!’”

 

(Photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

Apparently the baseball gods were appeased.  On Wednesday night in Columbus in his 128th at-bat of the year, Anderson finally hit his first home run.  Two at-bats later, he crushed his second (here is video).

“It was nice,” Anderson said.  “My dad sent me an e-mail saying, ‘How does it feel to no longer have that huge monkey on your back?’  I was surprised by the first home run because I didn’t hit it all that great, but we were tied at the time so it was a nice boost for myself and a nice boost for the team.  I knew the second one was gone and it felt equally nice.”

“It was nice to see him hit the first one to the opposite field because that validates that he can drive the ball that way,” said PawSox hitting coach Chili Davis.  “Then in the next game, he turns on one and hits a monster bomb.  The thing that I want him to continue to do is keep hitting line drives.  He’s got a great swing – I love his swing – and he’s very disciplined at the plate which is key.”

Through 38 games, Anderson has a decent batting average at .273 and an excellent OBP at .405.  He is tied for the league lead in walks (29) with Cord Phelps of Columbus.  But Lars has mostly hit line drives and ground balls, minimizing his opportunities for home runs. 

“He’s just not getting the trajectory that he wants,” Davis said.  “It’s something that you can work on and we’ve worked on his swing path a little bit, but in doing that, I don’t want him to become lift conscious.  Stay on the ball and drive through it and when you hit it in the air, you can hit it out of any part of the ballpark.” 

 “I’ve lamented a few times about not driving the ball in the air more often, but at the same time, if I think about the last two or three weeks, I’ve felt as good as I ever remember feeling at the plate,” Anderson said.  “There’s a fine line between wanting to improve and continuing to do what you’re doing.  Obviously you always want to improve, but the question is, do I change something or do I stay with the path that I’m on?  I’m going to stick with what I’m doing because I feel pretty good at the plate and whether I hit 2 home runs in that game or not, I think I would be doing the same thing.”

“I’ve been telling him, ‘You’re hitting the ball hard, you’re patient at the plate, you’re hitting left-handers as well as right-handers…the numbers aren’t showing how hard you’re hitting the ball,’” Davis said.  “He’s hit into some hard luck.  I hit a few home runs in my career (350) and I keep telling him that they come in bunches.” 

Anderson’s first two homers came just in time for his good buddy Ryan Kalish to be the first person to greet him in the dugout.  Kalish left Columbus the following morning for Ft. Myers to intensify the rehab program on his injured left shoulder.

 

“He was pretty excited about my success which was cool,” Anderson said.  “He turned into quite the cheerleader and was pretty rowdy in the dugout – I’m going to miss that.

“I said goodbye to him today and hopefully he’ll be back soon.  We’re all pretty encouraged with his progress and it would be nice if he can rehab it and get back to where he was without having surgery.  He deserves it.”

A little prayer to the baseball gods probably wouldn’t hurt.

* * * * *

The PawSox and Columbus Clippers managed to get in 3 ½ innings on Thursday night before being suspended by rain.  Pawtucket took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on Josh Reddick’s team-leading 11th home run, but the Clippers answered in the bottom of the inning when the first two batters – Jason Kipnis and Cord Phelps – homered off of  Brandon Duckworth.

The game will be resumed on Friday at 5:05 with Columbus leading 2-1 in the 4th.  After that 9-inning game is completed, the regularly scheduled game will be 7 innings.

I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 4:50 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 have finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

The John Smoltz Rule and Lars Launches At Last

I don’t have a vote, but in my opinion, John Smoltz is a no-doubt Hall of Famer.

 

(Photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

He’s the only pitcher in big league history with at least 200 wins and 150 saves, as Smoltz finished his 21-year career with a 213-155 record, 154 saves, and a 3.33 ERA.  He ranks 18th all-time in strikeouts (3,084), won a Cy Young Award in 1996, earned eight All-Star selections, and was one of the most dominant post-season pitchers in history, going 15-4 with a 2.67 ERA. 

If that’s not enough, Smoltz also was personally responsible for a change in minor league policy while pitching for the Pawtucket Red Sox in his final professional season.

In 2009, the Boston Red Sox signed Smoltz hoping that he could rebound from shoulder surgery and give their rotation a boost in the second half of the season.  The former Atlanta Braves ace made his first minor league rehab start at Single-A Greenville in late May, and reached Pawtucket  on June 6th, where 12,299 fans turned out at McCoy Stadium to see what was left in his 42-year-old arm.

But there was serious behind-the-scenes drama before Smoltz made it to the mound that night against the Durham Bulls.

John arrived at McCoy Stadium carrying boxes of major league baseballs and notified the PawSox that he wanted to use them instead of the International League ball.  That led to a flurry of phone calls between the PawSox, Boston Red Sox, Durham Bulls, umpires, and International League President Randy Mobley who was not in favor of giving Smoltz preferential treatment.

“It’s my position that everyone playing the game should be using the same equipment,” Mobley said.  “If you’re using two different baseballs, even though they have the same specifications it simply goes against my grain and what I believe my responsibility is to uphold the integrity of the game.”

Consider the can of worms that would be opened if Smoltz were allowed to use major league baseballs.  Should pitchers from the other team be allowed to use them?  What if any of the hitters objected?  But after considering all opinions, Mobley reluctantly agreed to allow it.    

“Teams at the Triple-A level want to accommodate the major league rehabbing players as much as they possibly can,” Mobley said.  “I’m a little bit out there on my own on this issue, but for lack of a better term, ‘It is what it is.’”

Major league baseballs are more expensive than International League balls by $40 a dozen, but aside from the price, there does not appear to be much of a difference.

“In speaking with the Rawlings folks, they tell me that they’re made to the same specifications,” Mobley said.  “It’s also my understanding that in the winding process, one of the yarns might be a little bit different.  Some maintain that the seams on one ball are a little higher than the seams on the other ball.  They’re made in two different plants, but in essence they are the same.” 

 

(Photo courtesy of Tom Perreira)

That night, Smoltz threw 6 innings of 1-hit, 1-run baseball in a win over Durham, and in 3 rehab starts for Pawtucket, he went 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA.  Unfortunately, he was a disaster after being promoted to Boston, going 2-5 with an 8.33 ERA in 8 starts before being released.  John finished the 2009 season – and his career – with St. Louis, going 1-3 with a 4.26 ERA.

The poor finish didn’t tarnish a great career, but Mobley admits that his opinion of Smoltz was impacted by John’s insistence on using major league balls in a minor league game.

“I was disappointed that it was as important to him as it obviously was,” Mobley said.  “To me, it seems that when you take that position, you think that you’re a little bit different than somebody else.  If you take that another step, you think that you’re a little bit better than somebody else if you deserve special accommodations.  I don’t think there is any question that he is probably a Hall of Famer, but from the chair that I sit in, I certainly respect that but I’m not sure that I should treat him any differently on the field than anybody else.”

Following the 2009 season, minor league baseball and the MLB Commissioner’s Office came to an agreement on what should be called “The John Smoltz Rule.”  It stipulates that a pitcher can use the major league ball while on a rehab assignment in a minor league game.  Other pitchers in the same game are not permitted to use the MLB ball.

That leaves an obvious question:  What about rehabbing hitters?  Have any requested having the opportunity to hit the major league ball?

“No, I have not experienced that one yet,” Mobley said.  “But that was one of the scenarios that I laid out there when arguing that we should not go this route.  That might be what we see next, but fortunately to this point, we have not.”

* * * * *

After back-to-back rainouts, the PawSox were able to get in a doubleheader in Columbus on Wednesday night. Pawtucket won the first game 7-2, before the Clippers earned a split by beating the PawSox in the nightcap, 8-3.

The good news for the PawSox is that Lars Anderson’s home run drought ended after 127 at-bats as he belted a 3-run opposite field HR in the opener.

 

(Photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

I’ve been saying for weeks that once Lars “got off the schneid” and hit his first HR, he would probably hit several in a short period of time.  After his home run in Wednesday’s opener, I tweeted the following:

“Lars Anderson leads the IL in walks and has a .403 OBP, but hasn’t hit for power yet this year. I bet he hits a few HR this week.”

 I don’t claim to be Nostradamus, but sure enough, Anderson drilled a towering HR to right field in his first at-bat of the nightcap. 

The timing was good since his close pal Ryan Kalish was in the dugout to greet him after both home runs.  Kalish left Columbus for Ft. Myers on Thursday morning to intensify rehab on his injured left shoulder.  Ryan told me that he still hopes to play this year.  It’s been 28 days since the injury.  His original goal was to return to action in one month.

The PawSox face Columbus again on Thursday night at 6:35.  I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 6:20 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 have finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

A Return To The Buckeye State For “Mr. Incredible”

Pawtucket’s yearly trip to Columbus, OH is definitely one of the highlights of the season because it fits the Triple Crown of Triple-A travel:  Awesome ballpark, fun city, and excellent hotel.

 

(Photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

But Matt Fox has another reason for enjoying it.  The PawSox pitcher was born in Columbus and it is the home of his beloved Ohio State Buckeyes.

“If you’re from Columbus, you’re a diehard Buckeye fan,” Fox said.  “I was born there and only lived there for four or five years before moving down to South Florida, but my whole family grew up rooting for the Buckeyes and I never lost that passion.”

Fox is in his first full year in the Red Sox organization after spending six years in the Minnesota Twins system.  After going 6-9 with a 3.95 ERA for a bad Rochester team last year, Matt made his major league debut on September 3rd at Target Field, allowing 2 runs in 5.2 IP in a 4-3 win over the Texas Rangers. 

“Last year I got off to a good start and then in the month of July I struggled big-time,” Fox said.  “But I learned that it’s a long season and you’re going to have good and bad stretches.  When I finished strong, the Twins gave me a chance in September when they needed a spot starter and I told myself just to go out there and enjoy it and not worry about what happens after.  I had Joe Mauer catching me and I decided to just follow him and try to enjoy it and not put too much pressure on myself.  It was a great experience and something that I’ll never forget.  Luckily, my family was able to be there – I got the call at 3:00 in the morning and they were able to fly up there.  That made it all the more special.”

But it turned out to be his only appearance for the Twins. 

“I got designed for assignment two days later and assumed that my season was over and that I was going to be a free agent,” Fox said.  “But then I got a call when I was home with some family in Ohio and learned that Boston had picked me up.  That was special – it was the Red Sox, you know what I mean?  I was excited and got to spend the last month with Boston.  To this day, it was the best experience that I’ve had.  I didn’t get a chance to throw a lot, but just being around all of those proven veteran stars was a great experience.”

Fox allowed 2 ER in 1.2 IP in three relief appearances for Boston, but his most memorable moment probably occurred off of the field.  As the Red Sox left Fenway Park for their final road trip of the year, Matt was subjected to some good-natured rookie hazing (you can see video here).

 

“It was a road trip to New York where we took the train,” Fox said.  “We came into the clubhouse that morning and they had a brown paper bag for each rookie with a costume in it.  My costume was ‘Mr. Incredible.’  It was a lot of fun.  They way they handle it is not bad at all.  They dropped us off a couple of blocks from the hotel in New York City and we all walked through Times Square in our costumes.”

 

While Fox hasn’t been a superhero for Pawtucket, he is pitching very well.  The 28-year-old righty is 4-2 with a 3.65 ERA and recently had a streak of 15 consecutive scoreless innings.

“With me, it’s always a matter of getting ahead in the count,” Fox said.  “When I get into trouble, I’m usually getting behind and giving the hitters too much credit instead of trusting my stuff.  Recently I’ve been able to get the first pitch over for a strike, and once I get ahead, I can put ‘em away with a cutter or curveball.  More than anything, throwing strikes with all of my stuff is the key.”

* * * * *

Kudos to Frank Deford and HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel for the story on former PawSox manager Ron Johnson and his 11-year-old daughter Bridget that aired on Tuesday night’s episode.

 

If you missed it, I strongly encourage you to catch it when it airs again.  You can see a shorter version here.

Last summer, Bridget was involved in a horrific accident near the family’s home in Tennessee when the horse she was riding was struck by a car.  She 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.

On April 10th, Bridget threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park before a Sunday night game against the New York Yankees.  ESPN did not show it on its coverage of the game that night, but the Boston Red Sox video department was nice enough to share the raw footage with me.  PawSox video editor Matt Volpini put it together, and Director of Media Creation Kevin Galligan has posted it on our website.

You can see Bridget’s first pitch here.  No matter what happens during the rest of the 2011 season, it will be my favorite highlight of the year. 

* * * * *

I have to thank Steve McDonald for the great job he did while filling-in for my broadcasting partner Steve Hyder over the weekend.  They were named the co-Sportscasters of the Year in the state of Rhode Island last year, and while Steve H. was in North Carolina accepting his award, Steve M. elected to stay home and call a few PawSox games.

I’m lucky to work with both of them.

Steve Hyder is a 4-time winner in his home state and Steve McDonald is a 5-time winner.  The Ocean State is fortunate to have them. 

Congrats also go out to Brendan McGair from the Pawtucket Times who was named the Rhode Island Sportswriter of the Year. 

* * * * *

After back-to-back rainouts, the PawSox are scheduled to play a doubleheader in Columbus on Wednesday at 4:35.  I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 4:20 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 have finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

Tommy Hottovy Is (Mostly) Looking Good

Relief pitcher Tommy Hottovy is sporting a new look in 2011. 

And no, I’m not referring to the cheesy black mustache that doesn’t match his hair color.

 

(Photo courtesy of Ken Babbitt)

“I will say that the color is not 100% natural,” Hottovy said with a laugh.  “The problem is that I had some blonde hairs coming in that didn’t look good so I decided to go dark.  In Portland we decided to grow mustaches and call it, ‘Mustache May.’  It turned into a pretty big deal when we did it as a fundraiser for the Maine Children’s Cancer Center up there.  It’s been awesome.  People have really taken to it and I promised that I would keep mine through May as long as I keep getting pledges.”

Hottovy’s more significant new look will not change at the end of May.  After using an over-the-top pitching motion for his first seven pro seasons, the 29-year-old lefty is throwing sidearm this year.

 

(Photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

The switch has produced dramatic results.  Hottovy did not allow a run in spring training and posted a 1.93 ERA in 8 relief appearances with Double-A Portland.  That led to a promotion to Pawtucket where  Hottovy tossed 2.1 scoreless innings against an all right-handed lineup in Saturday’s 10-2 loss to Scranton/WB. 

“I had a really good spring,” Hottovy said.  “I didn’t allow any runs and I’ve been able to carry that on.  You get to a mindset where you’re having success and seeing what pitches are working for you and you stick with it. 

“Coming back from (Tommy John) surgery in 2008, it was a process of trying to find what felt comfortable.  I was never really able to get back to where I used to be throwing over the top.  I started throwing this way last year and worked on it in the off-season and in spring training and it’s been great.”

 

(Rich Hill photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

Hottovy’s story is remarkably similar to Rich Hill’s.  The lefty from Milton, MA has also become a full-time sidewinder this season, and after going through spring training without allowing an earned run, Hill posted a 1.13 ERA in 10 outings for Pawtucket before earning a promotion to Boston.  In his first 4 outings for the Red Sox, Hill has pitched 4.2 scoreless innings while holding American League opponents to a .133 average.

“Rich and I got to know each other really well last year,” Hottovy said.  “He’s a great guy and we kind of went through the same thing.  He was an over-the-top guy and has found a new arm slot – I’m a little lower than he is – but it’s the same concept.  It’s exciting for me to see him succeed, because – not to take anything away from him – but I feel like my stuff is as good as his.  It excites me to see him do well because that gives me confidence.

“You don’t see a lot of lefty sidearm guys.  I’ve received some feedback from people in the Red Sox organization saying that they feel like I’m a 25-year-old pitcher again.  After surgery and missing some years, my arm feels great.  I feel like I could do this for a long time.  I have places where my body used to ache when I threw over the top that I don’t even feel anymore.  I feel great and just want to keep rolling and see what happens.”

Hottovy spent the last two months of last season in Pawtucket, but was forced to begin this season back in Portland since the PawSox already had veteran lefties Hill, Hideki Okajima, and Randy Williams on the roster to begin the season.  It’s the 6th straight year that Hottovy has spent at least part of the season in Double-A but he says he wasn’t disappointed.

“I was coming into this spring training not guaranteed anything, so I was excited to have an opportunity and to know that they still wanted me in the system,” Hottovy said.  “I knew that if I took care of business that I probably wasn’t going to be there for very long.  I didn’t mind being there because my goal is not to be in Pawtucket– my goal is to be in the big leagues.  So whether I’m in Portland, or Ft. Myers, or here, I’m still working toward that goal.”

So far, everything is looking great. 

Except for the mustache.

* * * * * 

Saturday’s 10-2 loss to the SWB Yankees was Pawtucket’s 5th in a row as the PawSox fell to 18-18. Pawtucket has scored a total of 6 runs during the 5-game losing streak.

It was a brutal night for starter Kris Johnson who allowed 5 ER in the first inning.  Johnson’s ERA rose to 12.63 after 8 outings and International League hitters are batting .410 against him (41-for-100) with 7 HR.

Josh Reddick drove-in both Pawtucket runs with his team-leading 10th HR.  Since August 2nd of last year, Reddick has drilled 20 HR in his last 68 Triple-A games.  That’s slightly less than half of a 144 game International League season.

The PawSox will look to get back on the winning track on Sunday afternoon as they host the Yankees at 1:05.  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 have finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

Doubront Scratched For Saturday’s Start

When it rains, it pours.

As if injuries to Ryan Kalish, Yamaico Navarro, and J.C. Linares weren’t bad enough, on Friday, the PawSox added Felix Doubront and Nate Spears to their list of walking wounded.

 

(Photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

Doubront strained his left groin while throwing in the bullpen in-between starts.  The 23-year-old lefty has been scratched from Saturday’s scheduled start against Scranton/WB and will be replaced by Kris Johnson.

“I felt it in my left groin when I pushed off,” Doubront told me.  “I felt a little tightness in there, so they checked me out.  They say it is minor – I think I’ll miss maybe two starts.  It’s not a big deal, but I want to take care of myself so I finish the season strong.”

Doubront missed most of spring training after experiencing tightness in his elbow and was just starting to resemble the pitcher who was named the Red Sox Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2010.  In his last two starts, Felix had 13 strikeouts in 7.2 IP.

“I just was feeling good about myself,” Doubront said.  “I’m trying to be ready for the big leagues and I was feeling pretty comfortable on the mound in my last couple of outings.  Tomorrow I’ll probably be pretty upset when I’m not pitching, but these things happen.”

 

Nate Spears suffered a lacerated and bruised left index finger on Thursday when he was hit by a pitch while trying to bunt.  His finger is not broken, so Spears isn’t likely to be out for an extended period.

He’s been replaced on the PawSox roster by INF Brent Dlugach who has been on the disabled list all season after injuring his left shoulder while playing for Boston in a spring training game.

“In the third game of spring training, I was playing third base and a left-handed batter popped one up in foul territory,” Dlugach said.  “I dove and dislocated my left shoulder.  The Red Sox were pretty positive with me the whole time that since it was my left shoulder, I’d be able to rehab it and get through it without surgery.  Knock on wood, it feels 100% now.”

Dlugach, an International League All-Star in 2009 with Toledo, started playing in extended spring training games last Saturday. 

“I think I can do alright,” Dlugach said.  “Baseball is a tough game – I don’t care if you’re Barry Bonds or a Little Leaguer – when you take time off there is going to be a little bit of an adjustment phase.  We’ll see how it goes.”

The PawSox open a 4-game series with Scranton/WB on Friday at 7:05.  I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning at 6:50 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 have finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

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