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.

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