One of the joys of being a broadcaster for the PawSox is spending time every day with manager Ron Johnson.
(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)
He’s hysterically funny, extremely generous with his time, and about as close to universallly well-liked by his players as a Triple-A manager can be.
And don’t let the PawSox lousy record in 2009 fool you – he’s an outstanding manager. Since the Red Sox emphasize player development over winning in the minor leagues, RJ’s hands are tied when it comes to lineups and game strategy. I hope he eventually gets the opportunity to manage in the big leagues where every decision is geared toward winning that night’s game.
This is RJ’s 31st year in professional baseball and 18th as a minor league manager. Along the way he’s played with Hall of Famers, and managed some of the biggest stars in the game.
Recently, I reeled off a series of names from his past and asked RJ to say the first thing that came to mind.
George Brett (a teammate in Kansas City in 1982-83)
“Gamer. The biggest gamer I ever saw – every inning and every at-bat. He got after it on the field . . . he got after it off the field (laughs). He was the best pure hitter I ever saw.”
Gaylord Perry (a teammate in Kansas City in 1983)
“Scary. He scared the heck out of me one night when I was playing first base. There was a throw to me for the final out of the inning. Nowadays, guys flip the ball into the stands when the inning is over, but back then, when you caught the third out you would flip the ball to the umpire. By the time I got to the dugout, Gaylord was airing me out. I think it had something to do with the substance on the ball. I could barely get it to the ump because it was so sticky.”
Pete Rose (a teammate in Montreal in 1984)
“Tenacious. I never saw a guy who was so consumed by baseball. He was 44-years-old and diving for the balls on the turf in Montreal at about 2 o’clock in the afternoon during batting practice. Unbelievable.”
Hanley Ramirez (played for RJ in 2004)
“Physical phenom. I had him for 30 games in Portland and he’s gotta be up there for the best player I’ve ever coached.”
Johnny Damon (first played for RJ as an 18-year-old minor league rookie)
“Nicest kid I’ve ever been around for a player that’s great. And he’s always been that way. I guess ‘winner’ would be an even better thing to say because Johnny’s a winner. Every team he was on in the minor leagues with Kansas City we won. He went to the big leagues, came to Boston, and they won a championship. Johnny’s a winner.”
Dustin Pedroia (played for RJ in Pawtucket)
“He’s going to really get upset with this but ‘delusion gamer’ because he sees himself as Brad Pitt and Arnold Schwarzenegger. God bless you kid, because you are.”
Jon Lester (pitched for RJ in Pawtucket)
“My hero – no doubt. When things go bad on the baseball field, I think of Jon Lester. To overcome the things he had to deal with and do what he’s doing now . . . feel-good story Jon Lester – my hero.”
Curt Schilling (pitched for RJ in Pawtucket on rehab)
“Like watching a professor pitch. Even down here on rehab, this guy had every hitter on the Triple-A rosters dissected prior to his rehab starts. Phenomenal.”
Bo Jackson (saw him in spring training with Kansas City)
“The greatest athlete I ever saw. The most impressive man I ever saw. The first time I ever saw him, he was walking through a hotel lobby in jeans, boots, and a cowboy hat. That’s why I go with that look – I’m trying to look like Bo.”
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I’m actually kind of proud of this, but I apparently don’t know my boy bands. I recently blogged about Sunday night’s karaoke outing to celebrate Jeff Natale’s birthday, and wrote that the boy band of Natale, Travis Denker, Bubba Bell, Brian Anderson, and Sean Danielson got on stage together to sing “Bye, Bye, Bye” by the Backstreet Boys.
Whoops. That pop classic was actually performed by *NSYNC. Here’s a link to Justin, JC, Lance, Joey, and Chris singing it. Unfortunately, I do not have video of the PawSox version.
Speaking of Brian Anderson, his experiment with contact lenses ended after 2 games (and 2 “o-fers”). They were too difficult to adjust to this late in the season. Brian will consider having lasik surgery in the off-season.
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The PawSox conclude their 11-game homestand on Thursday night as Adam Mills faces former Boston and Pawtucket pitcher Kyle Snyder. I hope you’ll join us for the radio call beginning with the pre-game show at 6:50 on the PawSox radio network and PawSox.com.