Category: Dailies

Why Torey Lovullo Ties His Shoes In A Double Knot

Tonight when PawSox manager Torey Lovullo walks out to home plate to exchange lineup cards, his shoes will be double-knotted because of former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden.

 

It’s not a tribute to the coaching legend following his death.  Lovullo has tied his shoes that way for more than 30 years.

 

“I used to go to his basketball camps every year, and they were some of the greatest things I’ve even been a part of,” Lovullo said.  “He would come in those big horn-rimmed glasses and watch you intently.  I remember he called me over and said, ‘Come here young fella.  Are your shoes tied?’  I looked down and the laces were kind of loose because I had only tied one knot.  He said, ‘Never go without double-knotting your shoes.’  So I will double-knot my shoes for the rest of my life whenever I am in competition.  He believed that it was a selfish maneuver and took time away from the team if you had to take time to tie your shoes.”

 


Lovullo with ump re.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

Torey grew up in Southern California and vividly remembers rooting for Wooden’s teams as a kid.

 

“That’s a big reason why I went to UCLA,” Lovullo said.  “My dad went to UCLA and I felt like I had to go there.  There was a huge attraction because I had been cheering for them my whole life, starting with UCLA basketball. 

 

“I remember sitting there and watching Coach Wooden’s last game in 1975.  I was 10 years old and I was really having a tough time understanding why he was retiring.  I said to my dad, ‘Why is it his last game?  He looks so intense and is so good at it.  Why is he stopping dad?’  I just couldn’t get that.  But my dad explained that Coach Wooden had probably decided that he was going to retire at 65 to dedicate his life to his wife, kids, and grandkids.

 

“My dad would constantly say, ‘Be quick Torey, but don’t hurry.’  If I didn’t hear it once, I heard it probably 10,000 times from my dad.  It wasn’t until I was about 18 and I opened up a book of John Wooden’s most famous quotes that I realized that he was the man who came up with, ‘Be quick, but don’t hurry.’  For all of those years, I thought my dad was brilliant.”

 

The lessons continued after Lovullo began playing baseball for the Bruins.  Once after a win over archrival USC, Torey walked into a Pioneer Chicken franchise in his UCLA baseball uniform to grab a quick bite to eat.  As he waited in line, he was approached by an elderly gentleman who asked how the team had done.  Torey answered, “We beat USC,” and realized it was Coach Wooden.

 

“Congratulations young man,” Wooden told him.  “And remember, those four letters across your chest have got to mean something to you.  Every time you can, you beat those Trojans.”

 

Wooden was not only the source of meaningful life lessons for Torey.  For many years, he helped the PawSox manager give out some great Christmas gifts.

 

“I gave everybody that I know autographed basketballs from Coach Wooden for a Christmas present for about five years,” Torey said with a laugh.  “You would go to the athletic department, put a little sticker on the ball and leave it in a big pile.  Then you would go back a month later and they would all be signed.  He didn’t charge a dime.  The first time I did it was for me and my dad.  I left stickers that requested, ‘To Sam’ and ‘To Torey,’ and I went back a month later and they were there.  I think anybody could have sent a basketball to UCLA and Coach Wooden would have signed it.

 

“I have a great black and white picture where I am sitting beside Coach Wooden when I was about 7 or 8 years old and he autographed it, ‘To Torey, Coach Wooden.’  I went to a UCLA basketball game with my son about 10 years ago when he was right around the same age and had the same photo taken with Coach Wooden.  So I have the two photos in a frame together and that’s going to be an heirloom that will be in the family forever.”

 

In other words, John Wooden is a string that ties Torey Lovullo to his father and his son. 

 

In a double knot.

 

* * * * *

 

Ryan Kalish picked a great time to hit his first Triple-A home run.  His 2-run blast in the 13th inning gave Pawtucket an 8-6 win in Louisville on Saturday night.

 

The two teams meet again on Sunday at 6:05.  I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 5:50 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.

 

I’d love to hear from you.  Please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you’re from in the comments section or you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

My Memories of Ken Griffey Jr.

I’ve sat courtside and watched Michael Jordan dunk.

 

I was standing a few feet away when Tiger Woods hit perhaps the greatest shot of his career.

Tiger chip

 

I was behind the mic when Tim Tebow ended his legendary college career by throwing for 482 yards and 4 touchdowns in the Sugar Bowl.

 

But the coolest thing I’ve ever watched in sports was a news conference.


Griffey presser re.jpg

(photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Enquirer)

It was February 9, 2000 and the Cincinnati Reds had just pulled off what appeared to be one of the greatest trades in baseball history by acquiring Ken Griffey Jr. in his prime.

 

I have never seen a city more excited about anything.


Griffey cover re.jpg 

The Reds had won 96 games the year before without Griffey, and didn’t have to part with any of their most important players to get him (although Mike Cameron became an All-Star).  Additionally, Junior agreed to a new nine-year contract for considerably less money than he had been offered by the Seattle Mariners. 

 

“Well, I’m finally home,” Griffey said that night as cameras clicked. “This is my hometown. I grew up here. It doesn’t matter how much money you make; it’s where you feel happy. Cincinnati is the place where I thought I would be happy.”

 

Unfortunately, injuries prevented Junior from staying on the field, and Cincinnati fans rarely got to see the player who was among the greatest outfielders in history during his first 11 years with Seattle.

 

Between 2001 and 2004 when he was between the prime ages of 31 and 34, Griffey missed 331 of a possible 648 games.  And yet, he still finished 6th on the all-time home run list with 630 – without any suspicion of steroid use.

 

I feel privileged to have gotten to know Junior when I hosted the Reds pre-game show on Fox Sports Ohio and he ranks among my favorite people to cover.  He’s smart, hysterically funny, and has the memory of an elephant.

 

Some reporters found him difficult to deal with, but I think that was only because Junior didn’t like talking about himself.  If the subject was his teammates, baseball history, other sports, or his kids – especially his kids – Griffey would chew your ear off.

 

And he loved playfully jabbing the media.

 

Once after Junior had jogged to first base on a hit that probably should have been a double, Cincinnati’s Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman ripped him on the radio for his lack of hustle.  That led to verbal spat between the two that ended with Brennaman barking, “I was here before you were here and I’ll be here after you’re gone.”

 

The next day, Junior approached Marty and asked him when he started broadcasting Reds games.  Brennaman answered, “1974.”

 

Griffey smiled and produced a photo of himself in a Reds uniform at age 4 with his father in the Reds annual Family Day game.  It was from 1973.

 

Another time, I was standing next to Junior when we noticed a member of the media pulling out all of the stops in an attempt to impress an attractive woman.  Suddenly, Griffey began loudly chanting, “Let’s go Hoyas, Let’s go Hoyas.”

 

When I asked why, Junior said, “Remember when Georgetown had that suffocating full-court press under John Thompson in the 80’s?  That was nothing compared to our boy right now.”

 

I have three favorite Griffey stories of my own.

 

One winter, Griffey allowed me and videographer Kent Weaver to spend time with him at his home in Orlando for a series of “At Home with Junior” stories.  One of the things we did was attend one of his son Trey’s football games, and when we got to the stadium, I was surprised to see three TV cameras already there.  As it turned out, Griffey hated missing his children’s sporting events so much that he hired a TV production crew to professionally videotape every one.  We went back to his house that night and watched the game again. 


Griffey smile.jpg 

 

If you think Junior had a big smile on his face at the bottom of the celebration after scoring the winning run in that playoff game against the Yankees in 1995, you should have seen him beam after a long touchdown run by his son.

 

* * * * *

 

I’ve told the story in more detail before, but I jokingly take credit for one of Griffey’s best seasons in Cincinnati.  In May of 2005, my wife Peg was sent to Rome by WBZ-TV to cover the funeral of Pope John Paul II and the papal succession.

 

Junior was off to a slow start at the time, so he asked if my wife could bring back a Pope T-shirt for good luck.  This is what she brought back:


Junior with Pope-T re.jpg 

For the rest of that season, Junior had it proudly displayed in his locker.  After big games he would find me in the clubhouse with a huge grin on his face and simply say, “Pope t-shirt!”

 

From May 1st until the end of the ’05 season, Griffey hit .313 with 34 HR and 83 RBI in 85 games and was named the National League’s Comeback Player of the Year.

 

* * * * *

 

Just before leaving Cincinnati to work for the PawSox, I got a call on my cell phone from an unlisted number.  When I answered, the person on the other end assumed that I knew who it was, and I was too embarrassed to say, “Excuse me, but who the heck is this?”  It was Griffey, and he called to wish me good luck and find out exactly what I was going to be doing.  Just before we hung up, I finally realized who it was and wasn’t really able to tell him how much I appreciated the gesture.

 

So thanks for the phone call Junior.

 

And 22-years of thrilling baseball.

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

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Kalish Could Soon Be Needing A Boston Hat . . . Again

Ryan Kalish is from Red Bank, New Jersey, meaning he grew up 56 miles from Yankee Stadium.  When the 22-year-old outfielder joined the PawSox on Tuesday, I asked him to guess what percentage of baseball fans in his hometown root for the Bronx Bombers.

 

“Well, besides my family I’d say that everyone does, so the Red Sox have about a half-percent,” Kalish said with a laugh.  “Growing up, I was a Yankee fan too. There is a rumor that I was a Red Sox fan as a kid, but I really liked watching the Yankees.”

 


Kalish kick re.jpg 

(photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

The inaccurate rumor about Kalish being a lifelong Boston fan probably stems from his high school graduation when Ryan walked across the stage wearing a Red Sox hat.

 

“I actually got the call that I had been drafted by Boston about two minutes before I was walking in,” Kalish said.  “There had been confirmed talks that Boston was going to draft me so I had a Red Sox hat in my back pocket.  My family didn’t even know – I just walked in with a Sox hat on and that’s how they found out.”

 

Kalish was a 9th round selection by Boston in 2006, and the Sox gave him second round bonus money ($600,000) to convince him to turn down a scholarship offer from the University of Virginia.  In five pro seasons, Ryan has steadily climbed the Red Sox minor league ladder while earning the reputation for being a Trot Nixon-like “Dirt Dog.”

 

I honestly attribute that to playing high school football,” Kalish told me.  “I had a very strong football upbringing and that game will teach you that if you want to get the respect of your team, than you have to play all-out. That’s what I want to do here, get the respect of everyone by playing hard.”

 

“He is a throwback style of player who plays every inning like it’s his last,” said PawSox manager Torey Lovullo.  “He’s going to be exciting for all of us to watch.” 

 

Terry Francona and the major league coaching staff got to watch Kalish this spring, as Ryan was invited to big league training camp for the first time.  He batted a respectable .267 in nine exhibition games with Boston, while studying the habits of his veteran teammates.

 

“I got to play with Mike Cameron in major league camp and he came in for about five days on rehab in Portland, and I learned by just watching everything he does – from the way he plays the game to what he does when he isn’t playing the game. He’s a major league guy for fifteen years and he watched us play even on the days when he didn’t play.   He had a game where he was 0-for-4 and he was happy and telling us, ‘Tomorrow is a new day,’ and the next day he goes 3-for-5 with a walk-off home run.”

 

Cameron also had a rehab stint with Pawtucket and showed incredible generosity toward his PawSox teammates by purchasing several expensive post-game spreads and inviting players to join him in a luxury box at a Celtics playoff game.

 

Was Cameron equally generous during his time in Portland?

 

“Oh, absolutely – especially with the spreads,” Kalish said.  “Obviously there were no big events close enough for us to go to, but I’m sure he would have done that too. He bought our team a pretty expensive machine for massaging so he does it all. And the spreads were unbelievable – sushi two nights, lobster one, and I think the other night was ribs and steak. It was just incredible what he did for us.”

 

Cameron is back in Boston now, and Kalish could join him before the end of the season.  After batting .293/.404/.527 with 8 HR and 13 SB in 41 games with Portland, the Red Sox #3 prospect (according to soxprospects.com) has climbed to the Triple-A level at the age of 22.

 

It feels awesome – this is the dream of all baseball players,” Ryan said.  “I’m just looking to get up through the ranks of the minor leagues and get a chance to be a part of something special and make the major leagues, so it’s really, really cool.”

 

In other words, he could need a Boston Red Sox hat again in the near future.

 

* * * * *

 

Boof Bonser began a 30-day rehab stint with the PawSox on May 7th, so the Red Sox face a decision on what to do with him in the next five days.

 


Bonser re.jpg 

In his last two outings, the 28-year-old righty has made a strong case to join Boston’s bullpen.  On Tuesday night, Bonser allowed 1 ER in 7 IP with no walks and 6 strikeouts and Boof has only allowed 1 run in his last 13 innings.

 

Unfortunately, he still doesn’t have a win.

 

On Tuesday, Bonser left the game after 7 innings with a 2-1 lead, but Chad Paronto surrendered a 2-run HR to Charlotte’s Luis Rodriguez in the 8th inning, and the PawSox lost to the Knights 3-2.

 

Niuman Romero’s first home run in a PawSox uniform accounted for Pawtucket’s only runs.

 

The PawSox will send Felix Doubront (0-1, 1.50) to the mound in Game 3 of the 4-game series on Wednesday night at 7:05.

 

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

 

I’d love to hear from you.  Please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you’re from in the comments section or you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

A PawSox Coach Puts Memorial Day In Perspective

The PawSox new strength coach this year, Mike Roose, is not only a native of Pawtucket – he was born on perhaps the most important day in PawSox history.

 


Mike Roose.jpg 

“I was born at Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket on June 23, 1981 – the day they finished the Longest Game in Baseball History,” Roose told me.  “It was something that I thought was really cool as a kid and it made my love for baseball grow even more.  How ironic is it that I was born on that day a few hundred yards from McCoy Stadium and now I’m working for the team?  There are a lot of signs that God puts in front of you – maybe I was destined to be in baseball.”

 

But Roose took an unusual path to working in the Red Sox organization.  In 2002, he joined the Air Force and spent four years serving our country.

 

“It was 9/11 – that’s what inspired me to serve,” Roose said.  “I was going through a time in my life where I felt like I wasn’t making a difference and the timing was right.  It just kind of clicked and I felt like that was the right thing to do at that point in my life.”

 

Roose was 21-years-old when he reported to basic training in San Antonio.  After being stationed in Valdosta, Georgia he was sent to Iraq for the first time.

 

“I was in my unit for four or five days and I didn’t know anybody, and they said, ‘You’re going overseas.’  My head was spinning.  Everything happened so fast and when we hit the ground we were actually in an undisclosed location setting up for the invasion.  We went in and ended up guarding an airfield in Western Iraq.  As far as the eye could see it was desert.  We ended up staying there for about a month and after that we went to Afghanistan.  We ended up staying there for about six months.  That was my first tour.  It was a great experience – the best thing I ever did.  I wouldn’t take anything back because I learned a lot about life and learned to appreciate everything.  When you go without running water, a bed, and the bare necessities that we don’t think about here in the States, you put things in a different perspective.  It makes you realize what’s really important.  And when you have missiles and land mines blowing up all around you, you think about things a little bit differently.”

 

Mike served four tours of duty in Iraq and was in Baghdad when U.S. forces captured Saddam Hussein.

 

“It was surreal,” Roose said.  “It’s one of those things that you think is mythical.  It’s like the Pyramids of Egypt – until you see them they don’t seem real.  But Hussein is just a man.  He’s flesh and blood and I saw emotions like fear and cowardice.  It’s something that I’ll never forget and I’m glad we took care of him, but there’s a lot more stuff over there that needs to be done.”

 

Two soldiers that served with Mike in Iraq attended a PawSox game in Durham last week and told me that he was legendary in their unit for his love of baseball.

 

“It’s what I’ve loved my whole life,” Roose said.  “I used to come to McCoy Stadium as a little kid.  We moved away for a little while during my adolescence, but baseball has always been there for me.  You have to be tough to play this game and people in New England pride themselves on being tough.  Overseas when we were in the desert, that was the one thing that kind of kept me going.  I would check the box scores when I had access to the internet and when I got to see some highlights I was pumped.  I even put some sandlot games together – literally sandlot in the middle of the desert.  We used ax handles for bats and made a ball out of tape and got as many guys as we could.  That’s an awesome memory.”

 

It’s one of many memories that will undoubtedly cross his mind on this Memorial Day as we pay tribute to the men and women who died while serving our country.

 

“Memorial Day means everything for this country – and not just because of the guys that have served recently,” Roose said.  “We have previous generations that served in World War I, World War II, Vietnam . . . without those guys we wouldn’t have what we have today.  It gets me up in the morning – maybe I don’t think about it every morning – but on Memorial Day morning I’m definitely going to try to live the right way and live in their honor.”

 

* * * * *

 

The PawSox won for the 9th time in their last 11 home games on Sunday, scoring a pair of runs in the bottom of the 8th inning to beat Norfolk 5-4.

 

The only negative was that Kris Johnson did not get the win.

 


Johnson delivery re.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

The 25-year-old lefty allowed 2 unearned runs in 7 innings and left the game with a 3-2 lead.  In 7 starts, Johnson is 3-2 with a 2.52 ERA.  Toss out a bad outing on May 8th at Charlotte (5 ER in 4.1 IP), and Kris’s ERA in his other 6 starts is a microscopic 1.54.

 

“It started in spring training,” PawSox manager Torey Lovullo said.  “I think he was on a different page this year knowing that it was a new year.  I think he’s done a great job of going out and executing a game plan and finding a way to get that key out.  He’s got a bunch of guys behind him that are playing with a lot of confidence and believe in him, and I think it’s just a whole different mindset from a year ago.  He believes he’s going to go out there and get the job done and he deserves all of the credit because he’s worked his butt off.”

 

* * * * *

 

The Red Sox have Memorial Day off, but you can get your baseball fix by watching or listening to the PawSox.

 

Pawtucket hosts Charlotte on Monday afternoon at 1:05.  I’ll join Bob Montgomery for TV coverage on Cox Sports beginning at 1:00.  Or you can listen to the game with Steve Hyder and Mike Logan on the PawSox radio network beginning with the pre-game show at 12:50.

 

I’d love to hear from you.  Please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you’re from in the comments section or you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

A Trip Down Memory Lane With Mugsy Allenson

When Norfolk manager Gary “Mugsy” Allenson walks into the clubhouse entrance at McCoy Stadium each year, he is greeted by images of his younger self.

 


Allenson.jpg 

Allenson was the International League MVP when he caught for Pawtucket in 1978, and there are several photos of him on the walls outside of the clubhouses.  Additionally, one of his autographed balls is part of an exhibit devoted to members of the PawSox “Silver Anniversary Team” which was selected in 1997.  

 

“I walk down that hallway every time we’re here and I get a few chuckles when I see the pictures and stuff,” Allenson told me.  “My God, that’s 32 years ago now.  Time flies.

 

“My players say, ‘You were the MVP in this league?  How many home runs did you hit?’  But it wasn’t the offense; I believe it was the defense that allowed me to win.  I hit 20 home runs but I think we picked off 27 or 28 guys, including 17 off of first base.  Our first baseman Wayne Harer – who happened to be the best man at my wedding – had a great awareness of when to look for things and we were very instinctual about looking for plays.  It was a special year for me.”

 

Allenson batted .299 – the only time in his career that he hit better than .266 for a full season.  However, he might have topped .300 if he had followed Ted Williams’ 1941 example and played on the final day of the year.

 

“We went into the last day of the regular season and the playoffs were starting the next day,” Allenson said.  “(PawSox manager) Joe Morgan walked up to me and said, ‘Do you need a day off?  You’re hitting .302.’  I was tired because I had been catching every day, so for me it was more about getting a break than sitting on .300, but I have to admit . . . .302 sounded pretty nice, so I said, ‘Sure I’ll take a day off.’  A few days later before the second game of the playoffs, the official league stats came out and it turned out that I hit .299.  It’s a little more precise nowadays than it was back then.”

 

Allenson didn’t make his major league debut for Boston until the following season and I’ve always wondered why he didn’t get promoted to the big leagues in September following his MVP season.  As it turns out, he did.

 

“I did go up for the last three weeks of the season, but I didn’t play,” Allenson said.  “The Red Sox waited until the Governor’s Cup playoffs were over.  I remember being in the clubhouse and (Red Sox Vice President) Ed Kenney Sr. came up to me and said, ‘Sorry about the game Mugsy, but you’re going to the big leagues.’  I honestly did not think about that the whole year – maybe I was that nave, I don’t know.

 

“I was there for that incredible finish between the Red Sox and Yankees.  Every day we would all be scoreboard watching.  That was the amazing thing about Fenway – watching the scoreboard.  They would take the number down on the Yankees’ side and we would all go, ‘Make it a small one, make it a small one.’  I remember on that last day of the season, we needed to win and the Yankees needed to lose and their score went up really early – Cleveland waxed the Yankees, I think it was 9-2, so we knew right away that if we won there would be a one game playoff.”

 

That day, Luis Tiant shutout Toronto 5-0, and the Red Sox and Yankees met the following afternoon to decide the 1978 AL East champion. 

 

You know the rest, and yes, Gary Allenson was in uniform when Bucky “Bleeping” Dent hit his home run.

 


Dent home run re.jpg 

“It just floated into the net,” Allenson said.  “It hung up there forever.  But the play of the game was Piniella catching that ball on one hop in right field.  He completely lost the ball in the sun – if that ball gets by him we would have been shaking hands instead of those guys.  Baseball is a funny game.

 

“The playoff that day was surreal.  There were cops on horses in the bullpens and there were people who were borderline insane near us at the end of that game.  If the outcome had been different, it would have been interesting to see if we could have actually made it back to the clubhouse.  It was fun.”

 

It’s a trip down memory lane for Allenson.  One he gets to make every time he walks through the halls of McCoy Stadium.

 

* * * * *

 

22-year-old Felix Doubront picked up a loss in his McCoy Stadium debut on Friday night, but was impressive in a 3-0 loss to Norfolk.

 


Doubront 2 re.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

Doubront allowed 1 run in 5 innings and recorded 6 strikeouts.  His fastball was consistently clocked in the 93-94 mph range, and he got numerous swings-and-misses on his changeup and curve. 

 

Doubront allowed 8 hits, but all of them were singles and 5 of the hits were ground balls that found holes.  He did not allow a fly ball until the fifth inning.

 

Baseball America had Felix ranked as Boston’s #18 prospect going into the season.  Our friends at soxprospects.com update their rankings on a regular basis and have Doubront all the way up to #6.

 

If you would like to check him out, Doubront’s next start at McCoy is scheduled for next Wednesday vs. Charlotte.

 

* * * * *

 

The PawSox face Norfolk on Saturday at 6:05 in Game 3 of their 4-game series.  I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 5:50 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.

 

And don’t forget “PawSox Insider” on Saturday afternoon from 2:00 – 3:00 on many of our radio affiliates.  You can also listen online at http://www.whjjam.com/main.html

 

I’d love to hear from you.  Please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you’re from in the comments section or you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

The Silver Lining In A 1-0 Loss

Kudos to Red Sox relief pitcher Joe Nelson for a great scouting report.

 

A couple of weeks ago when he was still with Pawtucket, Nelson told me that Durham’s Jeremy Hellickson was one of the best young pitching prospects he had ever seen.

 

Hard to argue after watching the 23-year-old Tampa Bay prospect shut down the PawSox on Monday night.

 

Hellickson took a perfect game into the 7th inning before issuing a walk to Tug Hulett (on a borderline 3-2 pitch).  The only hit he allowed was a lead-off single to Aaron Bates in the 8th inning, as Hellickson combined with Winston Abreu on a 1-hit shutout in Durham’s 1-0 win.

 

But here’s the good news for Red Sox fans:  Kris Johnson was almost as impressive as Hellickson.

 


Kris Johnson re.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

Last year, Johnson was a mess as he went 3-16 with a 6.35 ERA between Pawtucket and Portland.  There was only one pitcher in minor league baseball that lost more games – Jeremy Horst in the Reds’ organization with 17.

 

This year, Kris is 3-3 with a 4.50 ERA.  In his last 3 starts, Johnson is 2-1 with a 1.50 ERA (3 ER in 18 IP).

 

“He is blossoming into the pitcher that everyone thought that he could be,” PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur told me.  “He struggled last year, but this is what everyone has been expecting.”

 

It’s easy to see why the Red Sox chose Johnson with the 40th overall pick in the 2006 draft.  The 25-year-old lefty has a 90-94 mph fastball, along with a decent curve and changeup.  His only mistake in 6 IP on Monday was a 2-0 delivery in the second inning that Durham’s Ryan Shealy hit over the center field fence.

 

“That was a great game to watch,” Sauveur said.  “I want our team and our pitchers to win, but it’s not just about winning and losing, it’s about development and to see this kid go out and give up just one run against a guy who was throwing a perfect game until the 7th inning was awesome.  Kris battled his butt off.  Yea, he gave up a home run, but he kept putting zeroes up to keep us in the game.  He got beat 1-0, but that’s 5 out of 6 starts where he has pitched very, very well.”

 

Toss out a bad outing on May 8th where Johnson allowed 5 ER in 4.1 IP at Charlotte, and his ERA in his other 5 starts is 1.93 (6 ER in 28 IP).  KJ’s confidence appears to be growing with every solid start.

 

“He’s throwing all of his pitches better and in better spots, but that’s not the key to him pitching well – confidence is a major factor,” Sauveur said.  “Last year I think he tried to project confidence, but when things started to go wrong it was like, ‘Here we go again.’  This year, when he gives up a walk or a base hit, it’s like, ‘OK, I’m going to get this guy to hit into a double play or I’m going to get this guy out.’  He’s very positive out on the mound, but he’s not cocky and that’s what I’m loving about him.”

 

Johnson was not able to beat Jeremy Hellickson on Monday, but the struggles of 2009 are becoming a distant memory.

 

* * * * *

 

I’ve written several stories about Daniel Nava’s unlikely rise to brink of the big leagues, but he shared a funny anecdote on Monday that further illustrates how he seemingly came out of nowhere to become one of Boston’s best minor league hitters.

 


Nava shades re.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

Two years when Nava reported to spring training in Ft. Myers after being signed out of the independent Golden Baseball League, he was selected to suit up for the parent club in one of Boston’s exhibition games.  After the starters took a few at-bats, the minor leaguers got into the game, and Nava came to the plate in the late innings.

 

As Daniel stood in the on-deck circle, Terry Francona took one look at him and said, “Who the heck are you?”

 

That’s right – the Red Sox manager didn’t even know who Nava was when he sent Daniel to the plate for the first time in a Boston uniform.

 

“It was all new to me and I didn’t even know that I was supposed to introduce myself,” Nava said with a laugh.

 

Nava says he got a hit in that first spring training at-bat.  After hitting .348/.443/.552 in his first 257 professional games (including independent ball), it’s safe to safe that Francona knows who he is now.

 

* * * * *

 

Happy Birthday wishes were in order on Monday for former PawSox Kevin Frandsen and Bartolo Colon.

 

It does beg this question about Colon:  Which is more accurate – his listed age (37) or weight (245)?

 

Hyder says he’ll take the “over” in both cases.

 

* * * * *

 

Over the past few days, the stands at Durham Bulls Athletic Park have included Tug Hulett’s parents, Aaron Bates’ mom, and Josh Reddick’s dad.

 

Kenny Reddick has been the most vocal fan in the entire ballpark – not just for Josh, but for every player on the PawSox.

 

His enthusiasm brought to mind the story Josh told me last year about his first major league call-up, when he was promoted directly from Double-A Portland to the big leagues.

 


Josh and parents re.jpg 

Reddick said his first phone call was to his dad.  Since it was 1:00 in the afternoon, he figured his father would be working, but Kenny was actually at lunch.  Josh says his father stood up at a restaurant and proudly yelled, “My son is going to the big leagues.”

 

Josh’s next call was to his mom who was shopping at a Walmart.  Josh says she fell down in the middle of an aisle and started crying.

 

I suspect the other customers were probably thinking, “OK lady, so they ran out of a sale item.  It happens.”

 

* * * * *

 

I want to take a moment to thank all of you who read this blog.  According to mlblog’s numbers for April, “Heard it from Hoard” ranked 23rd in its category for most traffic.

 

I’d love to know more about you.  If you have the time, please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you’re from in the comments section. 

 

* * * * *

 

The PawSox conclude their 8-game road trip on Tuesday at 7:05 in Durham.

 

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

 

I’d love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

The Unbelievable Streak of Gil Velazquez

Here are the four most remarkable streaks in baseball history (in no particular order):

 

Cal Ripken’s streak of playing in 2,632 consecutive games.

 

Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.

 

Orel Hershiser’s run of 59 straight scoreless innings.

 

Gil Velazquez’s streak of never having complained in 13 minor league seasons. 

 


Velazquez in field re.jpg 

(photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

OK, I’ve only been around Gil for the last three years but I’ve never heard him gripe about anything.

 

You have to understand – minor league baseball players (and announcers) complain a bunch.  The travel can be brutal . . . the schedule is unforgiving . . . and even though you are only one step from the big leagues, it can feel like you are light years from the show.

 

And yet, after playing 1077 games in the minors and only 9 in the majors, Gil Velazquez is always upbeat.

 

Consider his reaction to spending the first six weeks of this season at extended spring training recovering from a broken left thumb.

 

“It was tough, but I enjoyed working out with all of the young guys,” Gil told me.  “Hopefully, I set a good example for them that hard works gets you to higher levels and pays dividends in the long run.  I had a good time being there.”

 

Velazquez might be the first player in history to say he had “a good time” at extended spring training, where the Monday through Saturday schedule consists of an early-morning workout followed by an exhibition game at noon.

 

“It can be a grind, but I didn’t take time to think about how hard it would be because I was focused on trying to get ready to get back over here,” Velazquez said.  “One of the hardest parts is playing in one of those games and not having anybody there to see you play.  It’s really fun when you take the field in a nice big ballpark and there are fans there to watch you.  It gets the adrenaline flowing and it feels great to be out there in uniform.  It’s especially fun when you do well, but even when you have those tough days it’s still a privilege to come out and play in front of a nice crowd.”

 

Perhaps that comment makes it easy to understand why the Red Sox re-signed Gil after a tough 2009 season.  While he is solid and versatile defensively, Velazquez struggled at the plate, batting .193/.240/.269 in 93 games with Pawtucket.  Two years ago, Gil batted .260 with 10 HR in 350 at-bats.

 

“I’ve been swinging the bat pretty well since spring training – the ball has been jumping off my bat,” Velazquez said.  “I think my biggest problem is that my swing was long.  I was drifting and getting out in front of a lot of pitches instead of using my lower half and staying short and through the ball.  I worked hard in the off-season and so far, so good.  I feel really good and hopefully I can do some damage at the plate this year.” 

 

Gil’s biggest hope is to get called-up to Boston for the third consecutive year.

 

“One of the most important days of my life was that first call-up in ’08 at the end of September,” Velazquez said.  “It’s the best experience I’ve had in baseball.  I spent 10 years in the minor leagues before I finally got to the big leagues and it’s the best feeling I’ve had in baseball.  I’m happy I stuck it out and got to accomplish my goal.”

 

A goal he accomplished without complaint.

 

* * * * *

 

While Velazquez has escaped extended spring training, Jed Lowrie remains in Ft. Myers recovering from the severe case of mononucleosis that he was diagnosed with in mid-March.

 


Lowrie at Fenway re.jpg 

“Jed is doing better,” Gil said.  “He’s starting to take ground balls, hitting, and getting his running in.  I think he still has days here and there where he feels a little weak, but it’s all going to come back.  He was pretty sick and lost a lot of weight and strength so he’s just trying to get back to where he was.  Hopefully, he’ll be back to 100% soon and can get back to playing on the field and helping the Red Sox.  I just wish the best for him because he’s a good ballplayer.”

 

* * * * *

 

Chalk up Sunday’s doubleheader in Durham as one of the most unusual things I’ve seen in minor league baseball.

 

The PawSox were outscored by 16 runs . . . and still managed to split.  They dropped the completion of a suspended game 18-1, but rallied to win the second game 1-0.

 

The second game marked the Triple-A debut of 22-year-old LHP Felix Doubront who got off to an impressive start by pitching a perfect first inning with 2 strikeouts.  Unfortunately, there was a downpour in the 2nd inning and Doubront did not return to the mound after a 1:32 rain delay.

 

Chad Paronto (4 IP) and Fernando Cabrera (2 IP) did a tremendous job in relief and Gustavo Molina homered for the game’s only run.

 

For the second straight year, the PawSox were the opponent on Negro League Night in Durham and wore vintage gray uniforms representing a variety of teams from that era.  Here are a few of them, courtesy of Bulls’ photographer Ashley Yarber:

 


House of David re.jpg 

Ramon Ramirez in a House of David uniform.

 


Cleveland Buckeyes 3 re.jpg 

Josh Reddick in a Cleveland Buckeyes uniform. 

 


Negro League unis re.jpg 

Scott Atchison in a Baltimore Elite Giants uniform and Dustin Richardson in an Indianapolis Stars uniform.

 

* * * * *

 

Torey Lovullo was saddened to learn about the passing of former All-Star pitcher Jose Lima, who died of a suspected heart attack on Sunday at the age of 37.

 

Lovullo said he had just been thinking about Lima a couple of days ago when the PawSox were in Norfolk, as he remembered a funny story about facing Jose at Harbor Park when he pitched for the Tides in 2006.

 

Lovullo was managing Buffalo at the time, and one night, Lima was dominating the Bisons as he allowed 1 run on 4 hits in 6 innings.  It was vintage “Lima Time” as he celebrated his strikeouts and the final out of each inning with fist pumps and other emphatic gestures.

 

Torey was growing increasingly annoyed until the 5th inning when Lima surrendered a solid single to Buffalo’s light-hitting shortstop Jose Flores.  As the runner stood at first base, Lima stepped off the mound and tipped his cap toward Flores for getting a hit off of him.

 

When Lovullo asked Lima about it the next day, the veteran pitcher claimed he had intentionally grooved a pitch right down the middle to give Flores a chance.  According to Torey, Jose then uttered this classic line:

 

“I wanted the kid to be able to call home and tell his Mama that he got a hit off of Lima Time.”

 

* * * * *

 

The PawSox figure to have their hands full on Monday at 7:05, as they face the International League’s only 6-game winner – Durham stud Jeremy Hellickson (I wrote about him here).

 

Pawtucket will counter with Kris Johnson who tossed 6 scoreless innings in his last outing and is 3-1 with a 3.42 ERA as a starter this year.

 

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

 

I’d love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard