Boof Bonser, Joe Nelson, and the Immortal Ricky Bambino

The Gwinnett Braves are not exactly an offensive juggernaut.


They were no-hit on Wednesday by Norfolk’s Chris Tillman, and entered the 4-game series against Pawtucket with the worst team batting average in the I.L. at .229.  The Braves were next-to-last in runs scored.


PawSox pitching was apparently just what the doctor ordered.


After rallying for 3 runs in the 9th inning to beat Pawtucket 7-6 on Saturday, the Braves destroyed the PawSox on Sunday 11-2.  Gwinnett is batting .397 (29-for-73) with 11 extra-base hits in the first two games of the series.


As a result, the PawSox now have the worst team ERA in the I.L. at 5.52.  Perhaps the biggest problem has been lousy control as Pawtucket has walked 105 batters in 24 games – 12 more walks than any other team (the league average is 82).


Some help could be on the way soon.


Boof re.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)


Opening night starter Boof Bonser, who has been out of action since April 13th after experiencing some pain in his shoulder, threw a 3-inning simulated game on Sunday as he pitched to teammates Ryan Khoury and Niuman Romero.  Bonser threw 15 pitches in each inning with 5 minute breaks in-between.  His fastball reached 91 mph  


“We wanted to see him turn it up a notch instead of just throwing in the bullpen and see how he felt,” PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur told me.  “I saw good velocity and I thought he was throwing the ball very well.  His command was surprisingly good today.  I thought he threw some very good pitches.  The curveball was there and it hasn’t been in the bullpen – he had been struggling with that.  He’s just working on getting healthy right now and we were very happy today.”


“His pitches really sink,” said catcher Gustavo Molina, who was behind the plate for the simulated game.  “I don’t care what the velocity is, there aren’t many hitters that can get on top of his sinker and really drive it.”


The Red Sox will determine when Bonser will return to game action, but it could be as soon as Pawtucket’s next homestand.


“We take it day by day with Boof,” said manager Torey Lovullo.  “There’s no timetable because we don’t want to put any restrictions on him or push him too fast.  We’re probably looking at another 10 days before he’s in an actual game.”


Perhaps Bonser will get a chance to slow down the Braves.  Gwinnett comes to McCoy Stadium to open the next homestand with a 4-game series that begins on May 10th.


* * * * *


Joe Nelson cracks me up.


One day after dressing up in a chicken costume to scare the living you-know-what out of his teammates when they arrived at the ballpark for an early morning bus ride, Nelson was at it again on Sunday.


As the players straggled into the clubhouse around 10:00 am – still smarting from a gut-wrenching loss the night before – Nelson made it his mission to try to fire up the troops.  He requested the 1982 song “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky III on the clubhouse stereo, and went shadowboxing from locker to locker to get his teammates into a fighting mood.


OK, it didn’t exactly produce great results on the field, but I got a nice laugh out of it.


Nelson has two claims to fame.  First and foremost, his “Vulcan-salute” changeup where he spreads his hand like Dr. Spock and wedges the baseball between the middle finger and ring finger.


Joe Nelson grip re.jpg 

“It’s something I came up with in college when my coach told me that I needed to develop some sort of off-speed pitch,” Nelson told me.  “It’s taken me a long time to master it and I wouldn’t be playing today if I didn’t develop it because my breaking stuff is not really part of my repertoire anymore.”


The “Vulcan” has help Nelson “live long and prosper” as a pitcher, but he hasn’t been able to profit off of the field.


“A long time ago, my agent told me, ‘Hey, this is a marketing dream.’  He just didn’t think it would take 14 years for anybody to market this,” Nelson said.  “I got a text last year from the guy who played Dr. Spock in the new Star Trek movie (Zach Quinto).  They were doing a couple of tie-ins and told me that when we got to Anaheim, they wanted to have him come down and take batting practice or play catch.  I ended up getting sent down before we made the Anaheim trip so it didn’t work out.”


Joe Nelson’s other claim to fame is that he played high school basketball with 10-time NBA All-Star Jason Kidd.


jason-kidd re.jpg 

“I was playing with the best player in the country,” Nelson said.  “He was the USA Today and Gatorade Player of the Year and he was a class guy.  It was a learning experience for me.  He was 18 and I was 17, and I would look at him and say, ‘How is this guy able to handle all of this?’  The media scrutiny, the attention – once you get to the big leagues you realize what that’s all about – but as a teenager there’s no way I could have handled that.  I am thankful that I got to see that at a young age and observe how superstars handle themselves, because he really did carry himself well.  I love the guy.”


* * * * *


Do the newest member of the PawSox a favor when he steps to the plate at McCoy Stadium.


Don’t yell out, “Hello Niuman.”


Niuman Romero told me that he hears at least one fan say that every time he comes to the plate.  The 25-year-old from Venezuela has seen Seinfeld and is familiar with the running joke – it’s just not that funny to him after hearing it for about 2000 consecutive at-bats.


Romero made his Pawtucket debut on Sunday and went 1-for-3 with a walk in the 11-2 loss to Gwinnett.


“He’s a special guy – his makeup is off the charts,” said Torey Lovullo – who managed Niuman last year in Columbus.  “He will go out there and do anything he can to help his team win a ballgame.  On top of that, he’s a pretty good little baseball player.  He’s fundamentally sound, a switch-hitter, and a good middle infielder.  He got to the big leagues last year with Cleveland because of all of those things that I talked about.  As the season unfolds, I think the fans in Pawtucket will see a good, fundamentally sound baseball player.”


* * * * *


I had a chance to grab dinner with Daniel Nava on Sunday night and heard some great stories about life with the Chico Outlaws in the independent Golden Baseball League.


I’ll save most of the material for another time, but I have to share this:  One of Daniel’s teammates had the greatest baseball name I have ever heard.


Chico’s catcher was named Ricky Bambino.


How awesome is that?


* * * * *


After dropping the first two games of the series, the PawSox are 0-6 all-time at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville, GA.  They’ll try to end the streak on Monday night at 7:05 with Michael Bowden on the mound.


I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 6:50 on the PawSox radio network and


PS.  Happy 4th Birthday to Sam Hoard who has been delightful every day of his life . . . a DiMaggio-like streak that has reached 1,461 days!


Smiling Sam smaller.JPGI’d love to hear from you.  The address is


And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at


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