10,000 people packed McCoy Stadium on Wednesday night to see John Smoltz face the Charlotte Knights, but Smoltz’s biggest fan might not have been sitting in the stands.
He just might have been watching from the PawSox bullpen.
(photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)
Relief pitcher Marcus McBeth says that Smoltz was his childhood hero and he can hardly believe that for the past two weeks, the future Hall-of-Famer has been his teammate.
McBeth grew up 3 ½ hours from Atlanta in South Carolina and vividly remembers watching the Atlanta Braves on WTBS with his father and grandmother. For more than a decade, Smoltz has been his favorite athlete in any sport.
Marcus told me a great story that shows the extent of his admiration for Smoltz. In 1988 when Smoltz was coming back from an elbow injury and made a rehab appearance for the Class-A Greenville Braves, McBeth and his best friend made the 30-minute trip to watch him pitch. They found a spot in the first row down the right field line, and as Smoltz was jogging off the field after his outing, he stopped to shake both of their hands.
Marcus went home that night and told his dad that he was “never going to wash that hand again.”
It’s been 11 years. That’s one filthy hand.
The soft-spoken McBeth is too embarrassed to share that story with Smoltz (that’s what I’m here for), but he did muster up the gumption to ask Smoltz if he would sign a couple of baseballs – one for his dad and one for himself.
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Smoltz is a frequent guest on Dan Patrick’s radio show and the two of them had some hilarious exchanges when Smoltz appeared on Monday.
You can listen to the interview here. Just scroll down the page until you see Smoltz and click “listen to this segment.”
Among other things, Patrick told Smoltz that he was “baseball’s version of Brett Favre – the guy who wouldn’t go away.”
Smoltz chuckled but reminded Patrick of a key difference – unlike the quarterback, he has never announced plans to retire.
They also discussed Smoltz’s recent wedding. After expressing his disappointment over not being invited to the ceremony, Patrick asked the newlywed to “rate his stuff on his wedding night.”
Smoltz said, “I was locked in and went long enough to get the win.”
I think it’s safe to assume that there was no need for a reliever.
Smoltz will make his Boston debut in one week in a start against the Washington Nationals. According to Patrick, the Nats are so bad that the win shouldn’t count toward Smoltzie’s career total.
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It didn’t take long for the hustling Billy Wayne “Bubba” Bell to become a fan-favorite at McCoy Stadium as he received loud cheers before each of his at-bats on Wednesday.
Bell is an outstanding all-around athlete who played a little quarterback in high school, but he wasn’t able to crack the starting lineup.
There was a good reason – he was stuck behind J.P. Losman who went on to star at Tulane before being a first-round draft pick by the Buffalo Bills.
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It looks like the PawSox are going to be without outfielder Jonathan Van Every for awhile. Manager Ron Johnson says that JV will have arthroscopic knee surgery in the next week. The hope is that it’s a meniscus tear which would not be a season-ending injury.
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We’ll be keeping an eye on the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs on Thursday after reading that old buddy Kason Gabbard will be their starting pitcher.
Gabby pitched for Pawtucket in 2006 and 2007 before being traded to Texas in the Eric “The Human Forfeit” Gagne trade in July of ’07. He was traded back to Boston two months ago for cash considerations.
The 27-year-old lefty battled elbow trouble last year and has been rehabbing in Florida since returning to the Red Sox organization. Here’s hoping for a triumphant return tonight.
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Charlie Zink will take the mound tonight as the PawSox conclude their 4-game homestand against Charlotte before heading to Durham. I hope you’ll join us for the radio call 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.