He hasn’t pitched in the International League for 11 years . . . I think we can wait one more night.
(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)
I’ve been fired up to see John Smoltz take the mound for Pawtucket since he signed with the Red Sox on January 13th. I became an even bigger fan of his when I had the opportunity to do a lengthy interview with him in spring training – he’s widely considered one of the best interview subjects in pro sports and will make a tremendous broadcaster when his playing days are finished.
When Friday’s night’s game was rained out, I hustled downstairs in hopes of talking to Smoltz again and managed to get a 1-on-1 interview before the other members of the media made it into the clubhouse.
We’ll play the interview in it’s entirety on “PawSox Insider” on Saturday afternoon at 2:00 pm and we’ll play a portion of it on the pre-game show on Saturday night at 5:50.
Here are a few questions and answers (my questions are in bold):
How does your shoulder feel and how do you think you’re throwing?
“I’m throwing the ball better each time out. This is the time to experiment and get your pitches going. This is really my spring training so I’m looking to establish my pitches, be around the strike zone, and in my mind, I know if the pitches are good enough to get big league hitters out. Sometimes you get good results down here but you know in your heart that you threw pitches that would have resulted in some damage in the big leagues. Patience is going to be the key. For this club with the resources and options that they have, this is really a longevity situation that will pay dividends the longer we go. I want to come out of the gate as well as anybody as establish that I haven’t lost anything, but there will be a wait-and-see approach and I know that will be some tough moments, but I have been through that in my career.”
Nobody wishes for a minor league rehab stint, but have you enjoyed being around young kids who are just beginning their journey to the big leagues?
“It’s been a unique experience because nothing has gone the way that we planned it. We set a schedule and we’ve probably changed it four times. At each stop I’ve been able to provide dinner and I’ll do that again tonight, but the one thing that I’ve learned from my past rehab stints is that there’s a question that somebody has at some point that can help them in the future, and I want to be readily available for that.”
You’ve set attendance records at your first three minor league stops. Is it meaningful to you to pitch in front of fans that would probably never have the opportunity to see you in a big league game?
“To gain the appreciation of the fans coming out to see you pitch that might not get to a big league park has been great. I do the best I can – I try to sign as many autographs as I can but I am here to do a job. Some folks would like me to sign autographs in-between pitches, but it’s been a treat everywhere that I’ve gone. The fans have been great and I’ve tried to pay them back for the respect they’ve given to me.”
You hold the major league record for post-season wins with 15. Is the possibility of returning to the playoffs a major reason why you signed with Boston?
“Anytime you’ve been there 14 times, some people think, ‘Well, that’s enough.’ It’s never enough to get to the post-season and I’d love nothing more than to add about 5 wins to that total. There would be nothing greater in my career than to get to 20 post-season wins which I think would be pretty cool.”
This week the Braves released your long-time teammate Tom Glavine when it appeared he was on the verge of returning to the big leagues. Have you talked to him?
“I have. That’s two bridges they’ve burned now. They handled that absolutely the worst way you could handle it and I feel badly for Tommy because of the work he put into it and the career he’s had. To go to the end and know that there was really no chance of pitching for them has to be one of hardest things to take after spending most of his career in Atlanta. Sometimes this business is cruel and cold but there’s no excuse for being impersonal with some of your great players. I’m sure it’s going to take a long time for Tommy to get over this move because of the route it took him. He came back and he worked hard and he wasn’t given the chance to get back on the field.”
The tentative schedule has you pitching against the Marlins on June 16th, followed by a start against Atlanta. Can you even imagine the hype?
“I can’t even imagine what that would be like and I’m not going to try to imagine – I’ll think about that down the road. But it looks like at some point there will be one meeting with my former team. If it’s not my first game, I’m not too concerned about it because I wouldn’t want my first game back to be like the 7th game of the World Series right out of the block.”
You signed a 1-year contract with Boston, but if things go well, do you see yourself doing this a year from now?
“I’d like to think so. I don’t know that I came back to just make a few starts. I hope that this comeback breeds success for a few more years. I stopped thinking about what the future holds for me. Every time I plan something out, there’s a diversion or a fork in the road. I learned how much I missed baseball over the last year. I learned how much I enjoy mixing and matching with the guys and being able to do the thing that I love. I still love what I’m doing. I don’t think that I’m a point where I’m a broken down old player – I’ve learned that you’re always going to have critics but you have to do what you love. And as long as I have someone willing to let me do that, I will fulfill that with the utmost character and desire.”
There’s plenty more where that came from. I hope you can tune in on Saturday.
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One thing I try to do as a broadcaster is to help the listener get to know the person behind the uniform and a few years ago I began giving a nightly “Fantastic Fun Fact” (or Triple-F if you prefer) about a member of the PawSox.
After 20 years in the majors, there’s a treasure trove of interesting nuggets about Smoltz. Here are a few that I’ll try to work into the broadcast if appropriate.
? His grandfather was a groundskeeper at Tiger Stadium for 38 years.
? His dad was a musician who played the accordion. Thanks to his grandfather’s connections, John’s dad was part of the entertainment at the Tigers victory party following the 1968 World Series.
? John (who grew up in Michigan) attended the final game of the 1984 World Series in Detroit as a fan. He wound up with a chunk of sod from the infield and planted it in his family’s front yard next to a statue of a tiger.
? His house in Georgia includes 3 golf holes, a baseball field, tennis court, basketball court, and partial football field.
? He’s good friends with Celtics coach Doc Rivers who reportedly told Smoltz he could stay in his apartment while pitching for the Red Sox.
I’ll save the rest for the broadcast.
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Smoltz isn’t the only big name guest scheduled to join us on “PawSox Insider.” We expect to talk to Peter Gammons as well. The show begins on Saturday afternoon at 2:00 on flagship station 920-WHJJ in Providence and many of our affiliates on the PawSox radio network.
Game 1 of the 4-game series against Durham gets underway at 6:05.
I’d love to hear from you. The address is firstname.lastname@example.org.