September 2009

These Guys Look Familiar

I spent Tuesday afternoon at Fenway Park and except for the smaller clubhouse; it wasn’t a heck of a lot different from walking into McCoy Stadium this year.


The Red Sox currently have a total of 37 active players and 18 of them played for Pawtucket at some point this season.


By the way, can you name the three players on the 40-man roster who are not currently active?  The answer is below.


I was pleasantly surprised and extremely happy to see Fernando Cabrera when I walked into the Red Sox dugout. 


Cabrera re.jpg

(photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

The PawSox Pitcher-of-the-Year (22-for-22 in save opportunities with a 1.71 ERA) was not among the players called up at the beginning of September and went back home to Puerto Rico.  Fernando finally was added to the team Tuesday and had an ear-to-ear grin when we spoke.  When Cabrera took the field for batting practice, I saw one member of the team point toward him and say, “There is justice in the world.” 

In other words, Fernando should have been one of the first people promoted and not the last. 


The two people I was looking forward to seeing the most were Kevin Youkilis and PawSox manager Ron Johnson.


In Youk’s case, I couldn’t wait to get his reaction to the rise of his beloved Cincinnati Bearcats in college football (he went to school there and I am their play-by-play announcer).  The Bearcats are 4-0 and have risen to #10 in the latest A.P. poll.  They are also the subject of a big feature story in Sports Illustrated this week – you can read it here. 


In RJ’s case, I was eager to hear about his recent trip to Houston to see his son Chris in action for the first time in a major league uniform (Chris was a September call-up by the Astros and is 2-for-21 with 1 RBI so far).


Ron Johnson re.jpg 

“It was unbelievable,” RJ told me.  “It really didn’t sink in until the Sunday game where he got to start.  We flew in on Saturday and the first night in he didn’t play.  The next day he sent me an early text that said, ‘I’m starting.’  So I got to the ballpark early and we’ve got great seats right behind home plate and I’ve got all of my stuff – popcorn, peanuts, soda pop – and then they took the field.  And right then when I saw Miguel Tejada, Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman, Kaz Matsui, and then Chris Johnson, it really hit me.  And then I was like any other foolish dad the rest of the game screaming and hollering.  I am that dad – every screaming guy that I hate in the stands – I was that guy.”


When a player makes his major league debut with the Red Sox, the team generously pays travel expenses to allow immediate family members to be in attendance.  The Astros do not have the same policy, so the Red Sox made sure that RJ and his wife Daphne made it to Houston.


“I was home in Tennessee for a couple of days and I was trying to pick the right time to go see Chris, because I wanted to go when he had the best chance to play,” RJ told me.  “(Director of Player Development) Mike Hazen called and asked, ‘When are you going to Houston?’  I told him I was trying to figure out the best time to go.  The next day he called me back and goes, ‘When are you going to Houston?’  And this time as I started to explain he said, ‘We’re paying for it and we want your wife to go too.  So when are you going to Houston?’  I checked on flights and it was expensive, but when I called (Director of Minor League Operations) Raquel Ferreira she said, ‘RJ, just get on the plane.’  After the fact, I found out that Tito (Francona) had massive involvement in the whole thing which didn’t surprise me a bit.  I work for phenomenal people, I really do.”


* * * * *


The only three players on Boston’s 40-man roster who are not currently with the Red Sox are catcher Mark Wagner, pitcher Felix Doubront, and 19-year-old shortstop Jose Iglesias (a Cuban defector whom the Red Sox signed this year for $8.25 million).

So Long Stan

Several weeks ago I posted this classic photo of Rochester manager Stan Cliburn rockin’ the Fred Flintstone ermine vest at a team function last winter.


Stan's vest.jpg 

Stan is a very funny guy and for the past few years he’s been my favorite opposing manager to talk to.  Typically, when I approached him for a pre-game interview, he would say, “It’s about time I talked to a real radio man!” just loud enough for Rochester broadcaster Josh Whetzel to hear.


(Stan was obviously kidding . . . Josh is one of the best in the business and they had a great relationship).


Stan also has the distinction of having been Tim Wakefield’s first pro baseball manager in Single-A Watertown, NY back in 1988 – a story covered in the New York Times in July.  Wake was a first baseman back then and batted a mere .189 in 54 games.  But Cliburn loved Wakefield’s work ethic was one of the people who helped convince the Pirates to give Tim a shot at becoming a knuckleball pitcher the following spring.


I had a great conversation with Stan about that when Wakefield pitched against Rochester at McCoy Stadium on August 21st.  Unfortunately, it appears that I won’t have the opportunity to talk to Stan next season as he’s been fired by the Minnesota Twins as their Triple-A manager.


“I was shocked,” Cliburn told Jim Mandelaro of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.  “(Twins farm director Jim Rantz) told me I’d lost communication with the players – that they weren’t responding to me like they had in the past.”


“I respect Stan for what he has done for this organization the past 10 years,” Rantz told the Rochester paper, “but I felt something had to be done.  It was time to make a move.  There’s more to managing than wins and losses.”


Former big league catcher Tom Nieto is reportedly the front runner to replace Cliburn as Rochester’s manager after leading Double-A New Britain to the Eastern League playoffs this year. 


The next skipper in Rochester might win more games, but he’ll have a hard time giving us more laughs.


One of my favorite Stan Cliburn stories – which he wasn’t too embarrassed to tell – involved the time he went golfing with Hall of Famer Paul Molitor (now a minor league instructor with the Twins) at Rochester’s famed Oak Hill Country Club.


Apparently, the walls of the clubhouse at Oak Hill are lined with autographed photos of the legendary golfers and celebrities that have played the course over the years and when Cliburn and Molitor finished their round, one of the people from the country club said, “Would you mind autographing something to add to our collection?”


Cliburn said “Sure!” and immediately reached for a sharpie before being politely told that Molitor was the celebrity they had in mind.


I guess 3,319 hits trumps a fur vest.


Best of luck Stan and thanks for the laughs.  We’ll miss you next year.

Have You Seen The Cost Of Parking at Cowboys Stadium?

So I’m reading about the Dallas Cowboys new $1.15 billion dollar stadium in Sports Illustrated and frankly, I don’t know how you do it.


How do folks afford to go to professional sporting events anymore?


We’ve grown used to high ticket prices – the average at Fenway Park is $50 – but here’s the number that floored me.


Parking at the new Cowboys stadium is $75.


Yup, the cost of placing your car between a couple of yellow lines on a vast expanse of asphalt is 75 bucks.


For that price, I half-expect to be carried to my seat by four members of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.


2009 PawSox trivia nugget:  Rocky Cherry’s mom and Chris George’s wife were both former Cowboys cheerleaders.


In any case, according to Team Marketing Report’s Fan Cost Index, the average price for a family of four to attend a game (including drinks, hot dogs, parking, etc) in the Cowboys new palace is $758.58.  That’s easily the highest in the NFL, but it’s not exactly a bargain for New Englanders to watch the Patriots.  Gillette Stadium ranks second on the list at $597.25.


In baseball, the new Yankee Stadium is the most expensive place to watch a game at $410.88 for a family of four.  Fenway Park ranks second at $326.45.


Let’s face it.  For most families, that’s become a once or twice a year splurge.


One of the nice things about working for the PawSox is that the slogan “Big League Fun at Family Prices” is legit.


An adult can get a general admission ticket for $6.  Kids (12-n-under) and senior citizens are $4.  If you’re a really big spender and want to spring for a box seat, that’s $10.


Oh yea, parking is free.


The average cost for a family of four with food, drinks, and souvenirs is undoubtedly less than $60.


So next summer when you’re kicking back on a beautiful night at McCoy Stadium, enjoying a hot dog and a cold drink while watching the future stars of the Boston Red Sox, I want you to remember this:


For a few more bucks, you could be sitting in a parked car in Dallas.

A Box Score Suitable For Framing

Your local newspaper on Friday, September 11th contained something that probably meant nothing to you but means everything to PawSox manager Ron Johnson – a Houston Astros box score.


If you look closely at the details of Houston’s 9-7 loss to Atlanta, you’ll see the following information:


C. Johnson 4 1 1 0


That would be RJ’s son Chris, who made his first major league start and went 1-for-4.  His first big league hit was a single off of Atlanta’s Peter Moylan (you can watch the video here).


Chris batted .281 with 13 HR and 42 RBI for Triple-A Round Rock this year, despite being limited to 104 games by a broken hand he suffered in the first week of the season.  According to the Houston Chronicle, Astros manager Cecil Cooper lobbied G.M. Ed Wade to promote Chris in September.


“Chris was not on the roster, so we had to put him on the roster,” Cooper told the Chronicle.  “And that one I kind of pushed a little bit.”


According to the paper, Chris could be the Astros starting third baseman next year.


I sent RJ a congratulatory text after seeing that Chris got his first big league hit and received the following message back:


“Daphne and I are flying to Houston tomorrow for the weekend – pretty excited!”


I’m sure they’ll have a great time and by the end of the weekend, Chris could be well on his way toward shattering the Johnson family record for career hits.


RJ was 12-for-46 in his cups of coffee with the Royals and Expos.


* * * * *


I missed the PawSox season finale against Syracuse in order to broadcast the University of Cincinnati football team’s season-opening 47-15 shellacking of Rutgers, and I was sorry to hear that the Red Sox dismissed hitting coach Russ Morman after the game.


The stats obviously weren’t good this year as Pawtucket established a new franchise record for lowest team batting average at .234 and scored nearly 200 fewer runs than league-leader Durham.


But Russ didn’t coach any differently than he had the year before when the PawSox led the league in runs, home runs, and walks.  He did the best he could with a young team and no one can question his dedication.


Russ has a ton of friends in baseball and I have no doubt that he’ll have another job soon.  Manager Ron Johnson and pitching coach Rich Sauveur are expected to be back in Pawtucket in 2010. 


* * * * *


Now that the season is over, I won’t be blogging every day, but I do plan to update “Heard it from Hoard” on a frequent basis. 


If you have any questions you would like me to answer on my blog, please send them to

Saying Goodbye — and Thanks — to Chris Carter

For two years, Chris Carter has been one of the best hitters in the International League.  This season, he leads Pawtucket in all of the Triple Crown categories, batting .284 with 15 HR and 59 RBI.


CC smile re.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)


On Saturday night, he’ll play his final home game as a member of the Pawtucket Red Sox.  In case you haven’t heard, Chris is one of the players-to-be-named later in the Billy Wagner trade and will become a member of the New York Mets organization when the season is finished.


I’ve written about Carter’s unsurpassed work ethic and his obsession with getting to the big leagues before, but on the day of his final home game I want to share another side of Chris.  It involves a 7-year-old fan named Dylan Guindon.


A few weeks ago, Dylan was distraught.  His grandfather Bruce soon learned that the reason was Carter’s trade to the Mets.


“He started crying and we were trying to figure out why he was so broken-hearted about it,” Bruce said.  “His problem was that Chris would never get to realize his dream of playing for the Boston Red Sox.  I tried to explain that it’s part of the business of baseball, but he was very devastated thinking that if somebody could ruin Chris Carter’s dream, then at some point in time, somebody could also ruin his dreams.”


Bruce is the official scorer at McCoy Stadium and part of his nightly duties is to go into the clubhouse after each game and give box scores to the coaching staff.  The night after discussing the Carter trade with his grandson, he brought Dylan into the clubhouse with him.


“The first player we ran into was Chris Carter and he said, ‘Hey buddy, how are you doing?’ and rubbed my grandson’s head,” Bruce explained.  “Dylan’s eyes got big and he became speechless.  Chris shook his hand and introduced himself.  As we walked away I noticed my grandson’s bottom lip start to quiver so I asked him what was wrong.  He said that he had one of Chris Carter’s baseball cards and could have had him sign it but forgot to bring it.”


So Bruce trekked back up to the press box where he knew where to find one of the PawSox 2009 baseball card sets.


“I know we’re not supposed to ask for autographs,” Bruce said, “so I went into the clubhouse and explained the situation to Chris and he said, ‘Bring him in.’  So I brought Dylan in and he spent about 8 minutes talking to him, asking him about school, asking him if he played baseball, and stuff like that.  The whole time Dylan’s not speaking.  Then Chris said, ‘Would you like me to sign that card?’ because Dylan was holding it the whole time.  He said, ‘Yes, I would.’  So Chris signed it and said, ‘I bet you’re one of my biggest fans and I’ve got something special for you.’  So he reached up into his locker and got a rookie card, signed it, and gave it to him.  The only word that came out of my grandson’s mouth was ‘Wow!’


The next night I made it a point to find Chris and thank him because it meant so much to Dylan and he said, ‘Is he here tonight?’  I said, ‘He’s in the corridor,’ and Chris said ‘I’ll be right out, I’ve got something for him.’  I had no idea what he was going to do but he walked out with a bat and said, ‘Hey Dylan, do you remember me?”  Again, he becomes speechless – this is from a kid that blabs, you know?  And Chris said, ‘I’ve got this bat that I’ve used – would you like to have it?’  And Dylan just shook his head because he still wasn’t speaking.  Chris signed it:  To Dylan, Best Wishes, Chris Carter.” 


Dylan Guindon has a keepsake that he’ll probably cherish forever.  And Chris Carter received a gift too.


“Dylan is a good boy – not because he’s my grandson – and he wrote a thank you note to Chris,” Bruce Guindon said.  “He plays T-ball and has his own card.  And he signed and put it in the thank you card that he gave to Chris Carter.”


The New York Mets will be getting a great hitter when the Billy Wagner trade is finalized.  And Dylan Guindon is proof that the Mets are getting a great person too.


* * * * *


If you can’t make it out to McCoy Stadium on Saturday night for the home finale, you can catch the game on Cox Cable throughout Rhode Island.  I’ll join former Red Sox catcher and broadcaster Bob Montgomery for the call, with pre-game coverage starting at 6:00.


* * * * *


Rochester’s Stan Cliburn is one of the best managers in the International League and one of my favorite people to talk to, but I’m not so sure about his fashion sense.  We were talking on the broadcast a few nights ago about the fur vest that Stan wore to a team function last winter and I promised to post a photo on my blog.  Enjoy.


Stan's vest.jpg

My Ten Commandments

If you’ve listened to our broadcasts, you’ve probably heard me refer to my “10 Ballpark Commandments.”


It occurred to me yesterday that I’ve never listed them on my blog so here goes.


  1. Adult males shall not bring a baseball glove.  If you can drive a car, you can attempt a bare-handed catch.    
  2. Adults (of both genders) who catch foul balls shall give them to the nearest kid.
  3. Taunting the opponent shall be humorous – not vulgar.
  4.  If thou are obese or have back hair, your shirt must remain on.
  5. Thou must sing “Take Me out to the Ballgame” during the 7th inning stretch.
  6. If thou eat ballpark food, at least 1 item must be unhealthy.
  7. If thou wear a jersey, it must be of an active player or a team legend.  For example, it you optimistically purchased a Red Sox jersey with “Smoltz” on the back, you’re out of luck (but Yaz, Fisk, Rice, etc . . . are acceptable).
  8. If thou appear on the Kiss Cam, keep it short and sweet (and no tongue!).
  9. If thou are lucky enough to sit behind home plate, you must never call someone on your cell phone to say, “Look, I’m on TV!”  Isn’t it better if someone says, “Hey, did you have great seats to the game the other night?”
  10. If thou catch a home run ball, you can sell it or give it back to the guy that hit it, but you cannot make a list of demands before giving it back.


I’m perfectly willing to adapt the list if you have better suggestions.  Feel free to give me your ideas in the comments section.


* * * * *


On Wednesday night, Jeff Natale started a game for the first time in 26 days and demonstrated his remarkable ability to get on base.  Batting leadoff, Natale went 3-for-4 with a walk to help the PawSox beat Rochester 7-6.


Natale with nuns resize.jpg 

In 5 games as Pawtucket’s leadoff hitter this year, Natale is 9-for-18 (.500) with 3 walks for a .571 OBP.  More importantly, the PawSox are 4-1 in those games.


The knock on Natale is that he’s not a strong defensive player, but on a team that has struggled to score runs in 2009, it would have been nice to have his bat in the lineup on a regular basis. 


I hope he’s given a fair shot to be Pawtucket’s leadoff hitter next year.


* * * * *


Aaron Boone’s amazing comeback from open-heart surgery is one of the best stories in baseball this year, but it could have a negative impact on Ron Johnson’s son Chris.  Boone’s return to Houston could stand in the way of a September call-up for RJ’s son.


Chris Johnson re.jpg 

But Chris is having a very solid first season in Triple-A with Round Rock of the Pacific Coast League.  After batting .333 with 7 HR in August, Chris is hitting .278 with 13 HR in 99 games this season.


And that’s not the only reason that RJ is beaming with pride these days.  His 10-year-old daughter Bridget has earned a starting spot on her school’s basketball team.  Bridget is starting 5th grade and the team is for girls through the 8th grade.


RJ calls his daughter “Waffle House” on the basketball court for her defensive ability.


Just like the hash browns at that restaurant chain, Bridget’s opponents are “smothered and covered.”


* * * * *


There are only three home games left in 2009, including Wednesday’s matchup against Rochester.  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

What Does Cabrera Have To Do?

On Tuesday morning, the Red Sox added five players to their active roster.


On Tuesday afternoon, the International League announced its 2009 All-Star team.


And PawSox closer Fernando Cabrera wasn’t on either list.


Can somebody please explain why?


Cabrera re.jpg 

(photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)


Let’s start with IL All-Star recognition.  The voters chose Gwinnett’s Luis Valdez as the league’s top relief pitcher for the simple reason that he leads the league with 26 saves.  But with all due respect to Valdez, Cabrera has been vastly superior.


Yes, Valdez has 5 more saves, but he also has 10 blown saves.  Cabrera is a perfect 21-for-21 in save opportunities.


Furthermore, Valdez has a 3.33 ERA and opponents are batting .240 against him.


Cabrera has a 1.80 ERA and the league is batting .204 against him.


Valdez has been good.  Fernando has looked marvelous.


As for the lack of a September promotion to Boston, it could still happen, but Cabrera was taken off of the Red Sox 40-man roster on August 21st.  In order for Fernando to get called-up, somebody else would have to be designated for assignment.


I was shocked when Cabrera made it through waivers and returned to Pawtucket – you mean to tell me that teams like the Pirates, Royals, or Nationals couldn’t use him?.  He’s 27 years old, consistently throws 93 miles an hour, and has dominated Triple-A hitters all year.  He also did pretty well in his four outings for Boston, allowing 2 runs in 4 innings while striking out 7.


Let’s hope that Fernando eventually gets the recognition that he deserves.


* * * * *


While the PawSox haven’t exactly been playing scintillating baseball in recent weeks, there has been one obvious bright spot – relief pitcher Dustin Richardson.



Richardson 2 re.jpg 

The 25-year-old lefty threw two perfect innings with 3 strikeouts in Tuesday’s 3-2 loss at Lehigh Valley and has not allowed a run in his first five Triple-A outings.


Richardson has retired the last 17 batters he’s faced (with 9 strikeouts), and IL hitters are just 1-for-21 against him so far.


Dustin and Daniel Bard could form a pretty formidable lefty-righty combo in the Red Sox bullpen for years to come.


* * * * *


Travis Denker is only 24-years-old, but he’s been a pro athlete for a very long time.


Would you believe 20 years?


Denker 2B re.jpg 

When Travis was four, he was riding his skateboard one day when he was spotted by someone who worked for Vans Tennis Shoes.  The company sponsored a traveling skateboard team and Travis was recruited to be part of it – he was even paid (making him a pro athlete, right?).


His grandmother Annette and his aunt Cynthia were kind enough to send along these photos (and thanks to Travis for giving me the OK to post them on the blog).


Denker skateboard re.jpg 




Denker ;poster re.jpgPretty cool huh?


By the way, in case you’re wondering what a 4-year-old skateboarder gets paid; Travis was compensated in savings bonds that he was able to redeem when he reached high school.


I think he told me they were worth about $550.


* * * * *


The PawSox open their final homestand on the year on Wednesday night at McCoy Stadium.  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

Fighting Tavaras and Leaping Over Cars

When Boston traded for Joey Gathright on Saturday, I’m sure there were a bunch of Red Sox fans saying, “Gathright . . . Gathright . . . why does that name sound familiar?”


And then, perhaps it hits them:  He was the Tampa Bay Ray that got into a fight with Julian Tavaras on a play at the plate in 2006.


Fight re.jpg 

“It was childish by him,” Gathright told me.  “To this day I really don’t know why he swung at me.  I slid into home and he was standing on my arm – I was just trying to get up – and as I was getting up he swung . . . swung again . . . swung again and missed.  I could have done something back, but Carl Crawford – as fast as he is – got there before I could do anything.”


Tavaras should consider himself lucky.  Gathright is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and is considered to be among the best athletes in baseball.


If you’re looking for proof, go to and type “Gathright” on the search bar.  The first thing that will pop up is this video that shows him jumping over parked cars – from the driver’s side to the passenger’s side.


“That was in ’01 or ’02,” Gathright said.  “A friend of mine named Fernando Cortez – he’s still with Tampa Bay – he filmed it.  It was in spring training and we were bored that night sitting in the room so he wanted to film something and I didn’t mind jumping for him.  That’s how that video came about.”


As I type this, the clip has been viewed 699,574 times on YouTube, but it was not an unusual feat for the 28-year-old outfielder.


“The first time I did it, I was in the 10th grade and I was bored because I was waiting for my mom to pick me up,” Gathright told me.  “I really don’t know what made me think about doing it, but I just ran and jumped over my coach’s car.  That was the first time and after that, it just kept happening and happening.  My coach didn’t like it very much when he found out, but I only missed one time.”


So what happened when he missed?


“I was trying to jump the entire car from back to front,” Joey said, “but I was doing it on grass and I slipped and went through the windshield – I have stitches to prove it.  That was my one miss, but I still kept doing it like an idiot.  It was fun for awhile and now everybody knows about it.”


Despite his great athleticism, Gathright has only managed a .262 batting average in 428 major league games with Tampa Bay, Kansas City, and Chicago (NL).  But this year, Joey batted .325 in Triple-A before getting promoted from Pawtucket to Boston after Monday night’s 4-1 loss at Lehigh Valley.


Joey re.jpg 

“I grew up and realized what type of hitter I really am,” Gathright said.  “I’m not a power guy and I never have been.  I’ve tried it before and it didn’t work out for me.  You just realize that you’re a fast guy – use your speed, bunt, hit the ball to the left side, and that’s mainly what I told myself in spring training.  I only had 14 at-bats with the Cubs this year, but I talked with (Chicago infielder) Ryan Theriot and I give all of the credit to him.  He’s the one that told me what I should be doing and how I should go about it.  He took me into the cage and showed me a lot, and I owe a lot to him.” 


Gathright doesn’t figure to get many at-bats with Boston, but hopes to play a role in helping the Red Sox make the playoffs.


“I’m just a guy off the bench probably,” Joey said.  “Play defense every once in a while in the late innings, steal some bases, and score some runs.  I’ve done it before and I’m used to that role so it’s something that I think I’ll be able to do.  It’s kind of ironic that I got traded here, because Boston is my favorite city to play in and Boston has always been one of my favorite teams to watch.”


Especially now that Julian Tavaras is no longer around.


* * * * *


Michael Bowden did not get called-up on September 1st, but he is certainly still a strong candidate to eventually receive a September promotion.


Bowden received no decision in Monday’s game, despite allowing just 1 run in 5 IP.  For the season, he’s 4-6 with a 3.13 ERA.  In his last 8 starts, Bowden is 1-2 despite a 2.80 ERA.


The lack of run support in his starts has been criminal.  Here’s a look at what the PawSox have done offensively in Bowden’s 24 starts:


0 runs – 2 times

1 run – 4 times

2 runs – 6 times

3 runs – 3 times

4-or-more runs – 9 times


Michael has had 15 starts this year where he has pitched at least 5 innings and given up 2-or-fewer runs and only has 4 wins.  That’s ridiculous.


* * * * *


The PawSox conclude their brief 5-game road trip on Tuesday night at 7:05.  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