Pittsburgh Peppered With PawSox
Greetings from the magnificent Omni William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh where tonight (weather permitting) I’ll begin a 3-game fill-in stint as the radio play-by-play man for the Cincinnati Reds.
One of the great things about this opportunity is that it gives me a chance to visit with a couple of former PawSox that were traded to Pittsburgh as part of the Manny Ramirez deal last year — Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen.
(Moss is the subject of one of my all-time favorite Fantastic Fun Facts: His hometown of Loganville, GA is where Burt Reynolds and Loni Anderson lived during the brief time they were happily married. Mossy says the locals call Burt and Loni’s former mansion “Tara.” You can see a slide show here.)
Moss and Hansen were with Pawtucket during my year’s in the booth, but the PawSox connections certainly don’t end there.
Freddy Sanchez, who was with Pawtucket in 2002-03, won a National League batting title with the Pirates in 2006, and is off to an outstanding start this season. He’s 7th in the league in hitting at .337, and leads the NL with 10 doubles.
Dick Pole, whom Ben Mondor calls the greatest pitcher in PawSox history, is in his 3rd year as the Reds pitching coach. He still holds Pawtucket records for most strikeouts in a game (19), and most complete games in a season (16).
And then there’s tonight’s starting pitcher for Cincinnati — Bronson Arroyo — who was named the International League’s Pitcher of the Year in 2003 after going 12-6 with a 3.43 ERA for the PawSox.
On August 10th of that year, Bronson threw the fourth 9-inning perfect game in International League history, as the PawSox beat Buffalo 7-0 at McCoy Stadium.
I discussed that performance with Arroyo several weeks ago at spring training.
“I was on my way to the stadium and I couldn’t get the gate to open at the place where I lived in downtown Providence – the magnetic card wasn’t working,” Arroyo told me. “So I walked around to the other side and I wound up bashing my elbow on this metal box, and I could immediately feel my elbow swelling up and feel the tightness in there. I was thinking, ‘Geez, this is all I need today when I’m supposed to start.’ But when I got to the park and started warming up it felt OK. Most of the game felt pretty average until about the fifth or six inning when I realized that nobody was talking to me on the bench, and if they did talk to me, they said the same things they had been saying for the previous three innings. It was definitely a weird vibe, and around the eighth inning I went in to get a cup of coffee and I could hear the crowd just buzzing out there – I’ve never heard that in a minor league stadium before. I still say to this day, after pitching in the World Series and starting Game 3 of the ALDS against the Angels in ’04, I’ve never been more nervous than when I took the mound in the 9th inning in Pawtucket that day. I struck out the first guy on three pitches. Then I struck out the second guy on three pitches, and it was like, ‘Wow, I’ve got a chance to do this.’ The last batter hit a ground ball to Andy Abad – one of my good buddies – and the rest is history.
Bronson still has his hat, glove, and spikes from that game, and the pitcher’s rubber was immediately dug up by the ground’s crew and is now mounted on the wall just outside of the PawSox home clubhouse.
“I’ve been back to the park a couple of times since then,” Arroyo said, ” but it’s been a long time and I’d like to get back there one of these days. I remember walking into the stadium and seeing all of the murals they have of the guys who have come through Pawtucket, and you never imagine yourself being one of those guys. It’s funny now to think that people go to McCoy Stadium and probably say, ‘I remember when Arroyo pitched here.’
Bronson won a World Series ring with the Red Sox in 2004, and pitched in the All-Star Game as a member of the Reds in 2006. But his 101-pitch masterpiece with the PawSox remains one of his greatest memories.
“The perfect game – without question – is one of the highlights of my career and ranks up there with winning the World Series in ’04,” Bronson told me. “Pawtucket was the best place I played in the minor leagues. It’s so close to Boston that the fans bring that excitement and atmosphere that you don’t find anywhere else other than Fenway Park. Ben Mondor runs a great ship there. They don’t bring in a lot of the antics that you find at other minor league parks and they don’t need to because they fill that place up every day as long as it’s not snowing. My time there was as good as it gets in the minor leagues and every time I drive by Providence going to play a show at Mohegan Sun (Arroyo is a musician), I always think about that ballpark and the great times I had there.”
Since the Pawtucket game starts at 6:15pm tonight, the Reds and Pirates will probably still be playing when the PawSox are finished. There’s a good chance you can hear the broadcast wherever you live on 700-WLW. It’s one of the nation’s most powerful radio stations and can be heard in 38 states on a clear night.
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