Jason Rice had an eventful off-season. He pitched in the Arizona Fall League, took part in the Red Sox Rookie Orientation Program, and even got engaged.
But none of those things were the activity he mentioned first when I asked the 24-year-old Californian if he did anything interesting this winter.
“I got a puppy – a black lab named Cutter,” Rice said with a big smile. “I actually have two dogs – both Labradors – one is named Rookie and the other is named Cutter.”
(photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)
The dogs made the trip to Ft. Myers and Rice is taking part in his first big league training camp as a non-roster invitee. Jason tossed a perfect inning in Boston’s first exhibition game – a 6-0 win over Boston College on Saturday.
“He’s got a big arm,” said Red Sox Vice President of Player Development and Amateur Scouting Mike Hazen. “We’ve had him up to 98 mph – he probably sits more like 94-95 – but he has a hammer for a curveball as well. As he’s gotten more consistent within the strike zone, we’ve really seen the performance take off. We want to see that continue over the next year or so. He has a major league arm – now it’s about command and being able to pitch through situations. We’ve been very pleasantly surprised with what we’ve had over the last couple of years – especially considering how we got him.”
The Red Sox obtained Rice from the White Sox organization prior to the 2009 season in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 draft. After bouncing back-and-forth between the rotation and the bullpen in four minor league seasons with Chicago, Rice has been used exclusively in relief in two seasons with Boston. Last year, the 5’10” righty earned Eastern League All-Star honors after going 3-2 with 13 saves and a 2.85 ERA (71 K in 60 IP) for Double-A Portland.
“My goal every year is to climb one level higher,” Rice said. “I think I’m progressing at a good pace right now and I hope I can do well enough in spring training to put myself in position to get to Pawtucket when they need me there.”
In addition to having an outstanding season in Portland last year; Rice was named the Sea Dogs’ Citizen of the Year for frequently speaking to kids at hospitals, schools, and summer camps.
“I grew up in a tough neighborhood in Southern California and I wish that somebody in my current position would have talked to me and my friends,” Rice said. “Now that I have a chance to do it – I need to do it.”
Rice sounded like an excited kid when I asked him about his experience in the Red Sox Rookie Orientation Program in January.
“It was amazing – out of this world,” Jason said. “I had always wanted to visit Fenway Park. I’ve always wondered what the park looks like. When I got invited to the rookie program and got a chance to talk to Theo and Tito, it was unbelievable. It was overwhelming and a humbling experience at the same time. You have to know the history behind it and all of the guys that have played there. It’s my dream to be there.”
He wouldn’t be the first person to name a dog “Fenway.”
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