September 2010

After MVP Season, Bell Looks For Big League Opportunity

As an injury-plagued season winds down in Boston, the Red Sox starting lineup typically includes at least a couple of players who spent part of this season in Pawtucket and could be back with the PawSox next year.


Daniel Nava, Ryan Kalish, Yamaico Navarro, Josh Reddick, Lars Anderson, Felix Doubront, Michael Bowden, and Robert Coello are among the likely candidates to get some more minor league seasoning at McCoy Stadium next summer.


A total of 22 Pawtucket players (not including rehabbing players) were promoted to Boston this season, but unfortunately, the list did not include the guy who was named the PawSox MVP – Bubba Bell.


Bell dive.jpg(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor) 


Bell was Pawtucket’s most consistent offensive player in 2010, as he batted .293 with 6 HR, 49 RBI and 13 stolen bases.  The 27-year-old outfielder finished 14th in the league in batting average, and 13th in OBP at .366.


“I had some times where I got pretty hot and other times where I cooled off a bit, but for the most part, I was pretty consistent the entire year and that was huge,” Bubba told me.  “If I can take it to the next level, I think I’ll have an opportunity to stick somewhere and turn a pretty good career out of what I have left.”


A big key for Bell was simply staying healthy.  After being plagued by leg injuries over the previous two seasons, Bubba spent part of last winter in Santa Barbara, CA at a high-tech training center named P3 – that’s short for Peak Performance Project.  The list of A-list athletes who have trained there includes Milwaukee Brewers’ star Ryan Braun, NBA All-Star Deron Williams, and former Patriots standouts Ty Law and Troy Brown.


Bell hopes to spend even more time at P3 this winter than he did last year.


“It’s expensive but I strongly believe that it’s worth every single cent that I’ve paid – especially with the success that I had this year,” Bell said.  “I just got a little taste of it last year and hopefully I’m able to go for another month this time and come into camp even stronger and faster.  It’s definitely an investment – you have to think of it that way – and making the kind of money that some of us in the minors are making right now, it can be tough but it’s definitely worth it.


“In the past I’ve had some trouble staying healthy and this year I was more fortunate.  I took the necessary steps to stay on the field and I was able to stay healthy for the most part and I think my numbers have shown it.”


Bubba’s off-season began by heading home to Texas for a little rest and relaxation.


“I’m going to go home for a couple of weeks at least – I want to do something to take my mind off of the season and unwind a little bit,” Bell told me on the final day of the season.  “I haven’t seen my parents in what seems like forever, so I’m looking forward to seeing them.  I’d really like to do something fun – whether it’s going to a beach or going down to Austin and floating down the river, I’d love to do something for a few days to help me unwind.   


“Then it’s back to work.  This is a big off-season for me – who knows what’s going to happen next year.  So I just want to continue to work hard.  Maybe I’ll play some winter ball depending on the opportunity and then in January I’ll go back to Santa Barbara to work out.”


The goal for 2011 is obvious – to get to the big leagues whether it’s in Boston or elsewhere.


“I’m not a free agent, but I am Rule 5 eligible and you never know what’s going to happen with that,” Bell said.  “I just need to come in ready next year wherever I’m at and try to really make a mark and open some eyes.”


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A Busy Off-Season Begins For Bates

Pawtucket’s season has only been finished for one week, but I’m putting Aaron Bates back to work.  On Thursday night, I’ll be behind the mic for the University of Cincinnati’s football game at NC State (Aaron’s alma mater) and he’s agreed to be one of my spotters in the broadcast booth in Raleigh, NC.


It is the start of an off-season that will include considerable travel for the 26-year-old first baseman/outfielder.


“Let’s see, besides going to root for the Wolfpack against the Cincinnati Bearcats, I’ll probably go home to California for a few days,” Bates said.  “I’d like to get there before the baseball season is over to see my buddy (Jeremy) Hermida play for Oakland.  Also, my girlfriend’s family lives back there so we’ll go see them.  Then I’ll relax and hang out for awhile before going to Puerto Rico.”


Bates in OF.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)


Aaron has played in the Puerto Rican Winter League for the past several years and will suit up for the Criollos de Caguas for the second straight winter.


“I’ll head down there on October 19th or 20th,” Bates said.  “I think the first game is on the 22nd of October, so I’ll go down there and stay through the end of the regular season and we’ll see how the playoffs go and stuff like that.  I don’t know what’s going to happen next year with Boston, so I’m going to go down there and try to play well and see what happens.”


Aaron’s mother JoAnn is of Puerto Rican heritage, so Aaron is not classified as a foreign player.  That makes him eligible to be traded in the Puerto Rican Winter League and although it does not appear on his Red Sox bio, Bates was actually swapped from Ponce to Caguas for Raul Casanova prior to last season.  It worked out well as his new team advanced to the league championship series.


“It’s a lot of fun,” Bates said.  “Management is good and I know a few of the guys that are coming back, so I’m excited to get down there and play.”


This past summer was Aaron’s first full season with Pawtucket, and he batted .240 with 12 HR and 54 RBI (.338 OBP/.368 SLG).  He earned rave reviews from the coaching staff for working hard on swing changes, even if that meant taking a temporary step backward in hopes of taking two steps forward.


“I think I prepared as well as anyone,” Aaron told me.  “Being consistent is always the key with me – both day-to-day and over a long stretch of time.  It’s hard not to get result-oriented obviously, but it’s easy not to make any changes when bloop singles are falling in and line drives aren’t getting caught.” 


Bates also had to switch from first base to the outfield once Lars Anderson was promoted from Double-A Portland, and I thought he showed considerable improvement defensively as the season progressed.


“I appreciate that – that means that I didn’t look like a first baseman playing left field,” Bates said.  “That’s the goal – to go our there and do a serviceable job.  I talked to Torey about that.  If a scout were to come to a game, would he say that I’m a first baseman playing outfield or an outfielder.  That’s the big goal.  I think I can do a good job out there.  Obviously, I still feel I’m a first baseman and that’s my best position, but the more positions you can play the better.”


Unlike 2009, Bates did not get a promotion to Boston this season, but he says it was still a very enjoyable year.


“It’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had off of the field,” Aaron said.  “Chad Paronto kept things loose in the clubhouse – he’s probably one of the best teammates I’ve ever had.  Torey was great – he’s a great manager – and Gerald Perry was awesome as a hitting coach.  It’s hard to measure success at the Triple-A level by wins and losses because of all of the player movement, but I think it was one my most enjoyable seasons in the clubhouse.”


I hope he enjoys himself in the broadcast booth this Thursday night.


Even when his alma mater loses.


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A Cross Country Adventure Begins With a 45-Mile Drive To Boston

Visiting great-grandma Gigi and seeing the band Muse will have to wait.


Anderson shades.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)


On Sunday morning – several hours before being promoted to Boston for the first time in his career – Lars Anderson described the cross country adventure that he has planned for the end of his season.


“I’m going to drive to see my grandparents in Greensburg, Pennsylvania and spend a couple of days there,” Anderson said.  “I’ll also see my great-grandmother – she’s 102 years old.  She’s a pretty amazing woman. 


“Then I’m driving to Gordonsville, Virginia where my sister lives to spend four or five days.  From there, I’ll make a trek across the US where I’ll stop in Colorado to visit some family there and my old roommate and buddy from this organization Reid Engel.  Hopefully we’ll do some fishing and hiking.


“If time permits, I’ll drive north hugging the Rockies and cross Montana, then maybe come down through Idaho or drive into Washington and Oregon and see some of the Sierras before winding up in Sacramento.


“There’s this band called Muse from England and they’re playing in Sacramento on the 28th of September and I’m going to try really hard to see them.”


Since the Red Sox will be playing until October 3rd (at least), Lars will have to miss the Muse concert – but he’s certainly not complaining.  After hitting .330 (31-for-94) in his last 25 games for Pawtucket, Anderson was hoping for a September promotion.


“I look as it as a win-win,” Lars told me on Sunday morning.  “Obviously the goal is to be in Boston at some point and that would be tremendous.  If it doesn’t happen I get to go on a beautiful drive so either way it’s going to be cool.”


Between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket, the 22-year old first baseman batted .274/.349/.461 with 37 doubles, 3 triples, and 15 HR in 130 games.  His OPS jumped from .673 in 2009 to .810 in 2010. 


“I just want to earn whatever comes my way,” Anderson said.  “I want to end on a positive note.  I feel that the last few weeks along with my first few weeks have been my best weeks this year and I’m happy about that.  I’m happy that I’ve stayed mentally tough and have made the necessary adjustments.  I feel good about my performance.” 


It’s quite a change from the end of last season when Lars batted .154 in his final 40 games and cleared his head after the season by spending three weeks traveling to Germany, Turkey, Prague, and Budapest.


“Last year I had a strong desire to travel that kind of took away from my baseball season,” Lars told me.  “I was able to exercise that and I don’t have that desire as much this year.  I have a friend from high school that’s going to be studying and teaching in Ecuador and I wouldn’t mind seeing him down there, but I won’t be doing anything as grandiose as last off-season when I went halfway across the world.  Maybe I’ll do something in the US – I love the southwest, so I’m sure I’ll do some traveling.”


If nothing else, he still has the cross country drive to look forward to.


It’s just been pushed back a month. 


* * * * *


The PawSox ended their season on a winning note on Monday by beating Syracuse 4-3.  Pawtucket finished with a record of 66-78 by winning 12 of its last 17 games.


My duties shift to broadcasting University of Cincinnati football this Saturday at noon as the Bearcats host Indiana State (you can listen to the game at


I will continue to write about about the PawSox several times a week during the off-season on “Heard it from Hoard,” so I hope you’ll continue to check out the blog.


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Torey Stories and Congrats To Coello

One of the biggest highlights of my summer has been getting to know Torey Lovullo.  He has a great sense of humor, is a terrific storyteller, and has been incredibly accommodating to a couple of radio guys who spend a lot of time in his office looking for material.


Lovullo and friends.jpg(Laker-loving Lovullo on the far right with two pals at the NBA Finals)


Some favorite Torey stories include how he ties his shoelaces in honor of former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, why he is grateful to the late Ernie Harwell, and why his dream is to shake hands with the President at the White House.


My favorite baseball nugget about the PawSox manager is the fact that 10 of his 15 career major league home runs came off of All-Star pitchers.  Here’s the illustrious list:


Roger Clemens – 11-time All-Star

Kevin Brown – 6-time All-Star

Jack Morris – 5-time All-Star

Doc Gooden – 4-time All-Star

Rick Sutcliffe – 3-time All-Star

David Wells – 3-time All-Star

Rick Aguilera – 3-time All-Star

Jose Mesa – 2-time All-Star

Bob Wickman – 2-time All-Star

Shane Rawley – 1-time All-Star


Pretty impressive huh?


Lovullo coaching.jpg(photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)


I sat down with Torey for some season-ending thoughts.  Here’s the Q & A:


Fill-in the blank.  My first season in Pawtucket was . . .


Very fulfilling.  Our job as a staff is to prepare the players the best way possible to go up and contribute at the major league level.  Winning is secondary.  I think the track record shows that the guys that went up there were prepared and ready to contribute and that’s the main part of our job.


What was the highlight of the season?


I would probably have to say Daniel Nava’s grand slam in his first major league at-bat when we were all gathered in the clubhouse and rooted him on as we watched on TV.  He certainly didn’t let us down.


What was the funniest thing that happened?


It probably has something to do with Chad Paronto.  I would say the day that he made everybody on the bus wait and then walked on carrying a ‘Meowy Christmas’ sweatshirt.  I got a kick out of that because my son was on the bus and he said, ‘That guy is a weird man.  What’s going on?’  I had an internal laugh knowing exactly what Chad was doing.


This was your first year in the Red Sox organization after spending eight years managing in the Indians system.  Can you pinpoint a biggest difference?


The player development side of it is exactly the same.  Mike Hazen took the blueprint from the Cleveland Indians to the Boston Red Sox and laid it right over what’s happening here.  The biggest difference without a doubt is that the Boston Red Sox talk about winning the World Series and they really mean it.  That’s nothing against the Cleveland Indians, but when they talk about it they hope that things work out right.  From day one with the Boston Red Sox, it was about making the playoffs and getting to the World Series.


Do you have any regrets or is there anything you would change if you could do it over?


I don’t think so.  I think I come home every night evaluating what I’ve done and I have some daily regrets, but overall regrets no.  All I want to do on a given day is to prepare myself the best way that I can to help these kids get better.  I can’t hit, run, or throw for them, but what I can do is work with them.  I do all that I can in that regard. 


Look into your crystal ball and tell me what you expect to see in the future from these three young prospects:  Ryan Kalish, Lars Anderson, and Felix Doubront.


In Ryan Kalish, I think we’re talking about a guy who is going to be an All-Star for 10 years.  It’s probably hard for people to see that right now because he’s had some ups and downs, but from my standpoint, he goes out there with a championship-caliber mentality that’s second to none.  I think he’s going to be pretty spectacular for years to come.


Lars has the mental ability to turn his brain on for the ballgame and turn it off when the day is over – and that goes a long way.  I think that Lars is still a work in progress, but he’s going to be a good big leaguer.  I think he’ll probably spend the next year here, and then after that be an outstanding big leaguer.


I think the first time that I saw Felix was in Port Charlotte when he shut down the Tampa Bay Rays in two consecutive starts in spring training and I’m like, ‘Who is the world is this guy?’  He’s got mound presence, poise, and is just going to keep getting better.  I think he has a legitimate chance to be a top of the rotation starter in the major leagues.    


What big-name rehabbing player did you enjoy having on the team the most?


I don’t want to take anything away from all of the guys that were here, but Mikey Lowell was probably the best teammate and big leaguer that came down.  He came on board and showed these guys what it is like to be a big leaguer.  I know you wanted to cry when he went back up, so he even had an impact on you.  He didn’t miss anybody – he was special in so many ways. 


What was your favorite New England experience away from the ballpark?


I spent the All-Star break in a tiny little spot south of Provincetown on the Cape.  I was able to escape from baseball for three days and recharge my batteries and had some really good quality time with my wife.  No cell phones, no TV . . . we played cards and enjoyed spending time away from the ballpark.  This is a spectacular area.  I didn’t know just how special it is until I got here. 


What’s in store when you get home to Southern California?


You go through withdrawal because you’re so conditioned to coming to the ballpark every day.  The first couple of days after I get home it feels like I’m playing hooky, but that quickly fades off.  I’m looking forward to getting home and spending time with my kids who I’ve missed for the majority of the season.  I’m going to spend some time at the beach and be a husband and a father.


* * * * *


Congrats to Robert Coello on his promotion to the Boston Red Sox.


Coello tight.jpg 

The 25-year-old righty certainly left the PawSox on a positive note.  In his final outing on Thursday, Coello struck out the first five batters he faced and finished with six strikeouts in two scoreless innings.


Coello’s arduous journey to the big leagues is similar to Daniel Nava’s.


In case you’re not familiar with it, here’s how a little black book saved Robert’s career.


* * * * *


Jason Varitek is expected to play for the PawSox in their final two games of the season on Sunday and Monday at McCoy Stadium.


It will be the Captain’s third career stint with Pawtucket.  Jason played in 20 games for Pawtucket in 1997 (.197 with 1 HR and 5 RBI) and 2 games in 2006 (.429 with 1 HR and 1 RBI).


Sunday’s game begins at 6:05 followed by a big fireworks show.  If you can’t make it to the ballpark, I’ll join Bob Montgomery for TV coverage on Cox Sports throughout Rhode Island beginning at 6:00.


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