Category: Dailies

The One Man Who Can Stop The Yankees or Rays

In the movie The Cooler, William H. Macy plays a character who is so unlucky that a casino hires him to hang around its gaming tables to jinx the customers.

 


The Cooler re.jpg 

My pal Jon Schaeffer is the sportscasting equivalent.

 


Schaeffer.jpg 

Jon is one of the radio voices of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.  In his first year on the job, the IronPigs got off to the worst start in International League history by losing their first 11 games and finished the season 34 games under .500.  Now in their third year of operation, the IronPigs have never had a winning record.  Not even for a day.

 

“What do they always say, ‘Show me a good team and I’ll show you a good broadcaster.’  I’m not real big on that theory,” Schaeffer said with a laugh.

 

My man Jon also does basketball.  In 2004-05, he was the voice of Longwood University.  The Lancers went 1-30.

 

Four years later, he was the play-by-play man for the New Jersey Institute of Technology.  NJIT also went 1-30.

 

They are the only two teams in Division 1 men’s history to lose 30 games in a season.

 

“When someone says, ‘Despite the team’s lousy record, you did a very professional job,’ I really appreciate that,” Jon said.  “When your team is 23-3 – it’s easy.”

 

This past year, Jon tried his luck – or lack thereof – in women’s basketball as he went to work for Seton Hall.  The Pirates went 1-16 in the Big East.

 

Schaeffer also broadcasts football games.  In his two years at Lincoln University, the Lions are 4-16.

 

I know what you’re thinking Red Sox fans . . . is there any way we can get the Yankees or Rays to hire this dude?

 

All kidding aside, Jon is an outstanding broadcaster and his luck is bound to eventually change.  Imagine how excited he’ll sound if his team finally wins a championship.

 

“I won’t be able to handle it,” Schaeffer joked.  “I’ll have to take some type of pill that will make me more reserved.” 

 

* * * * *

 

After Darnell McDonald and Josh Reddick were promoted by Boston this week, the PawSox called-up outfielder Matt Sheely from Portland.

 

It’s the second time he’s advanced to Triple-A.

 


Sheely 2 re.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

In July of 2007, the Red Sox picked up relief pitcher Eric Gagne at the trade deadline and sent OF David Murphy to Texas in the deal.  Jacoby Ellsbury was with Pawtucket at the time and was out of the lineup with a minor injury, so the PawSox desperately needed an outfielder for a few days.

 

The Red Sox sent them Sheely   He was 20-years-old at the time and playing for Gabe Kapler at Single-A Greenville.

 

Matt remembers Kapler calling him into his office and saying, “Kid.  Triple-A needs a player and you’re the guy.”

 

Sheely says he was speechless.  Then he showed up at the airport with no I.D. and had to have his mother fax a birth certificate to the airport.

 

This time around, Matt remembered his I.D., but a taxi ride from the airport to the team hotel that was supposed to take 45 minutes wound up lasting 3 hours as the driver got lost and needed Sheely to come up with directions.

 

When Matt finally got to his room he decided to take a quick nap . . . only to oversleep and miss both team buses to the ballpark.

 

At least his travel snafus haven’t affected his play.

 

In 2007, Sheely played in two games for Pawtucket and went 3-for-7.

 

In his first two games this year for the PawSox, Matt is 3-for-8.

 

* * * * *

 

The PawSox open an 8-game homestand on Friday night as Michael Bowden takes the mound against the Buffalo Bisons at 7:05.  I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show 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

An Overnight Sensation

Darnell McDonald likes to joke that if he had accepted a scholarship offer to play running back at the University of Texas, football fans would have never heard of Cedric Benson.

 

After rushing for 6,121 yards and 83 touchdowns at Cherry Creek High School in Colorado, McDonald was recruited to be the heir apparent to Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams at Texas.  If Darnell had suited up for the Longhorns, Benson probably would have gone to Texas Tech and McDonald might be in the NFL.

 

But after being a first round draft pick by the Baltimore Orioles in 1997, Darnell chose to play baseball instead of football.

 

Red Sox nation is grateful.

 


McDonald celebration re.jpg 

(photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

After McDonald’s dramatic pinch-hit home run and game-winning single for Boston on Tuesday night, the overwhelming sentiment in the PawSox clubhouse was that it couldn’t have happened to a nicer or more-deserving guy.  I was among a handful of players and coaches who watched the video of Darnell’s game-winning hit streaming live on Torey Lovullo’s laptop, and the celebration in the drab visiting manager’s office in Rochester was nearly as raucous as the pandemonium at Fenway Park.

 

Darnell’s coaches and teammates appreciate his arduous journey to the big leagues.  This is the 10th straight year that McDonald has spent at least part of the season in the International League and Pawtucket is his 7th I.L. team.

 

“I tell people that I’m tired of that league,” Darnell said with a laugh when I profiled him in January (here’s a link to the story).  “I know all of the clubhouse guys, a lot of the fans that you see every year, and that’s a good thing that baseball has done for me – it’s allowed me to establish a lot of friendships all over the world.  It doesn’t hurt to see familiar faces in different places that you go, but hopefully I won’t spend too much time in the International League this year.” 

 

One night after going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts at a mostly-empty minor league ballpark, McDonald etched his name into Boston’s sports history with one of the greatest debuts in Red Sox history.  Imagine how it will be remembered if Tuesday’s win helps to reverse the Red Sox sinking fortunes.

 

His wife Cynara was there to see it, and Darnell now has a great story to share with his two daughters – 4-year-old Jiana and 10-week-old Zuri.

 

It’s the story of how it took their dad 12 years to become an overnight sensation.

 

* * * * *

 

The PawSox wasted a great pitching performance by Adam Mills in a 4-3 loss at Rochester on Tuesday.

 


Adam Mills re.jpg 

After Mills walked the first batter he faced, he proceeded to retire 14 batters in a row and left the game with a 3-0 lead after five innings.

 

Unfortunately for Pawtucket, Kris Johnson promptly allowed 3 runs in the 6th, and Ramon Ramirez gave up the game-winning run in the 8th.  Johnson’s ERA swelled to 10.57.

 

The PawSox 9-day road trip moves to Lehigh Valley for the final two games.  Daisuke Matsuzaka is scheduled to make his third and final rehab start for Pawtucket on Wednesday night at 7:05.  In his first two outings, Daisuke has pitched 11 scoreless innings while only walking one batter.

 

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 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

Can You Keep A Secret? Josh Reddick Can

Pawtucket outfielder Josh Reddick is the third-rated prospect in the Red Sox organization, and according to Baseball America, “all five of Reddick’s tools are average or better.”

 

But they left something out of the scouting report:  Reddick can keep a secret.

 


Reddick swing re.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

For the past two days, Josh has essentially been hiding in a Boston hotel room in case either Mike Cameron or Jacoby Ellsbury had to go on the disabled list.  After the Red Sox determined that neither outfielder would be placed on the D.L., Reddick rejoined the PawSox in Rochester on Saturday night and is back in the starting lineup for Sunday’s game against the Red Wings.

 

“I was told not to tell anybody that I was leaving these guys, so it was pretty hush-hush,” Reddick told me.  “I did tell my parents.  I said, ‘Look – I’m going up there but there’s no guarantee that I’ll be activated.’  They keep a pretty good track of what’s going on in Pawtucket and I knew that if they saw I wasn’t in the lineup they would say, ‘Hey, what’s wrong?  Are you hurt?’  So I had to tell them just in case.”

 

So how did the 23-year-old spent his time?

 

“A lot of sitting around and waiting,” Reddick said.  “The first night I didn’t do a whole lot.  I basically went and grabbed some food and headed right back and enjoyed the hotel hot tub.  I think I fell asleep at about 8:30 that night.  They told me three different times the first night that I got there that, ‘We’ll let you know something tonight.’  Then it was, ‘We’ll let you know something tomorrow because we don’t know if we’re going to play because of the weather.’  Then they called me in the morning and said, ‘We’ll let you know around 4 o’clock.  Just have your mind set to come to Fenway or go back to the other guys.’  It just didn’t work out in my favor.”

 

Although Reddick was not activated, he was happy to be the player chosen to be ready just-in-case.

 

“Definitely,” Josh said.  “It’s always good to be that guy that gets called no matter how it works out for you because it means that they see you as one of their guys that they want up there.  So that’s always a good feeling.”

 

Sunday’s game in Rochester will be the first time that Josh has played since going 0-for-4 on Wednesday in Buffalo.  After hitting .390 in spring training for Boston, Reddick is off to a slow start with the PawSox batting .138 (4-for-29) in his first seven games.

 

“I feel like I haven’t played in a week, so hopefully the days off will give me a nice little boost here and get me in the groove,” Reddick said.

 

* * * * *

 

The PawSox will look to snap a 4-game losing streak on Sunday at 1:05.  I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 12:50 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

Embree Extends Deadline To April 30th

It is April 17th and Alan Embree is still with the Pawtucket Red Sox.

 


Alan Embree action re.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

Last week, the 40-year-old lefty told me (link here) that he wasn’t likely to extend his April 15th opt-out deadline in hopes of pitching for Boston, but after discussing his options with his agent and spending yesterday with his wife, Embree is back in uniform with the PawSox as they open a 4-game series in Rochester, NY.

 

I spoke with Alan in the Rochester clubhouse on Saturday afternoon.

 

What made you change your mind?

 

“More than anything, I realized that I needed some more touches,” Embree said.  “That being said, I came here wanting to be a part of the Red Sox and it’s one of those things where . . . do I go home, or do I stay and get myself ready.  If there was proper fit out there (with another team) there wasn’t a chance to win.  If I go out, I want to go out guns blazing.  I don’t want to go out and just pitch in the big leagues – I want to go out with a good team.”

 

Are you close to being ready?

 

“I think that I’m close.  It’s just one of those things where the touches will tell and then they’ll evaluate it from there.  The more touches I get – the more opportunities will open up for me.  I’m looking forward to just getting the ball and doing what I’m told and once that time comes up, if they evaluate it and it’s not there, and the other options are not good options, I’ll just go home.  Either that or I’m in Boston so it’s a good thing.”

 

Is there a new deadline?

 

“I don’t even know if we should call it a deadline, but yea, the 30th actually.  I figured that they wanted to see me more to where they could evaluate it better and I could use it so it worked out.”

 

* * * * *

 

The PawSox open a 4-game series at Rochester on Saturday at 4:05.  I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 3:50 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.

Dice-K, Playoff Hockey, And Wings

I’ve wanted to be a sportscaster for as long as I can remember.

 

As legend has it, when I emerged from the womb (with the same amount of hair that I have now) and the doctor slapped me on the butt, the infant Dan Hoard immediately said, “Oh what a blatant cheap shot!  That’s going to be a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness.”

 

I am truly blessed to do this for a living and can honestly say that after roughly 25 years in broadcasting, I feel like I’ve never worked a day in my life.

 

But some days are better than others.

 

Like Thursday.

 

On a 70 degree day on April 15th in Buffalo (15 degrees above normal), I did the following:

 

  1. Watched Daisuke Matsuzaka pitch 6 scoreless innings.
  2. Sat in the 8th row and watched Game 1 of the Sabres/Bruins playoff series.
  3. Ate chicken wings with friends at Buffalo’s famed Anchor Bar (where the delicacy was supposedly invented on October 3, 1964).


Anchor bar re.jpg 

Now that is a great day.

 

It would have been even better if the PawSox had won, but after Daisuke left with a 2-0 lead after six innings, Dustin Richardson surrendered a 2-run HR in the 7th inning, and Buffalo rallied to beat Pawtucket 3-2 in 10 innings.

 

Broadcast partner Steve Hyder, media relations director Bill Wanless, PawSox security director Rick Medeiros, and yours truly were part of a large PawSox contingent that attended the hockey game.

 

Manager Torey Lovullo got 3 tickets through friends in Buffalo and brought pitching coach Rich Sauveur and hitting coach Gerald Perry.  First baseman Aaron Bates also scored a pair of tickets and attended the game with Bubba Bell.

 

I wasn’t surprised that Bates landed tickets.  After all, he’s dating the daughter of San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson.  But Bates actually has his agent to thank for getting him tickets.

 

I grew up 62 miles south of Buffalo in Lakewood, NY so I was thrilled with the Sabres 2-1 victory in Game 1.  Torey Lovullo was too, after picking Buffalo to win the series.

 

“I’m going to say ‘Sabres in five.’ Lovullo told reporters in the dugout on Thursday.  “I know that there are a lot of differing opinions that the Bruins could come in here and whitewash the Sabres but I know that there are going to be many low-scoring games.  I know that both teams are very defensive-minded and both have great goaltending.  As far as I know, it’s going to be a great series but I have to stick with the Sabres.”

 

Torey was not lying when he said he HAS to stick with the Sabres.  His wife Kristen is from Buffalo and is such a huge Sabres fan that she made him promise to order the NHL Center Ice package on TV (which allows viewers to watch out-of-market games) before she would relocate to Torey’s home in California.  If Torey had picked the Bruins, it might have been grounds for divorce.

 

* * * * *

 

April 15th has passed and it appears that Alan Embree is going to be staying with the PawSox after all.  Embree pitched a perfect inning yesterday and told me he would discuss his options with his agent after the game.

 

Although he did not want to get into specifics, the veteran reliever hinted that he has softened his stance on extending his stay in Pawtucket in hopes of eventually pitching for Boston.

 

* * * * *

 

Boof Bonser told me that he would be heading to Boston on Friday to have his surgically repaired shoulder examined by Red Sox doctors.

 

Boof said he felt some pain in his shoulder and a “dead arm” in his last outing at McCoy Stadium on Tuesday.  In that game, Bonser pitched two innings, allowing 9 runs on 5 hits and 3 walks but didn’t admit to experiencing any pain until he was taken out of the game.

 

“He didn’t say anything,” Lovullo told me.  “I think he’s such a competitor that he was going to work through anything that he was feeling and anything that was bothering him.  He didn’t say a word until we took him out of the game after that second inning.  We went down to see how he was doing after he drove up his pitch count in the second inning – we wanted to get a good look at his face and just see what he was all about – and he said that he had a little discomfort in his right shoulder.  I don’t think it’s a major setback.  I just know that he’s in good spirits and feels OK.”

 

Randor Bierd will replace Bonser in the PawSox rotation and will make his first start on Sunday at Rochester.

 

* * * * *

 

With Jacoby Ellsbury suffering from bruised ribs and Mike Cameron dealing with the pain caused by a kidney stone, there is abundant speculation that Josh Reddick could be promoted by Boston.

 


Reddick re.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

Reddick is off to a slow start this year, batting just .138 (4-for-29) with one walk.  He was not in Pawtucket’s starting lineup for the first time all year yesterday.

 

“Red has been grinding away pretty good,” Lovullo said. “I thought about doing it a couple of days ago but he responded and got a couple of hits.  The best thing about Red is that you wouldn’t know by looking at his pace of play that he’s not hitting the way he wants to.  He’s as good as anybody we have at getting down the line, he’s laying out for balls in the outfield, he’s just doing a great job all the way around outside of getting his base hits.  That’s going to happen – we know that’s going to come.  I just wanted to give him a mental break and let him catch his breath.”

 

* * * * *

 

The PawSox conclude their 3-game series in Buffalo on Friday night 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.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

 

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

 

Early Season Feasts and Buzz Cuts

The first time that I saw Michael Bowden at spring training this year, we were talking about the players who were likely to begin the season in Pawtucket when he made the following observation:

 

“If nothing else, we should eat really well,” Bowden said with a grin.

 

That was a reference to the time-honored tradition of rehabbing major league players buying their minor league teammates a post-game meal – better known as the “clubhouse spread.”  It’s their way of saying, “Yea, I’m making big bucks but we’re all in this together.”

 

The PawSox roster currently includes two players on rehab assignments – pitchers Daisuke Matsuzaka and Boof Bonser.  Additionally, 16-year MLB veteran Alan Embree isn’t technically on rehab, but his situation is similar since he has an opt-out clause in his contract on April 15th.

 

Well, Michael Bowden was right.  The PawSox have had three home dates and have enjoyed big league feasts after all three.  Here’s the rundown:

 

April 8th:  Cowboy Ribeye steaks from Ruth’s Chris Steak House courtesy of Alan Embree.

 


Cowboy Ribeye re.jpg
(photo courtesy of Ruth’s Chris Steak House)

 

I can honestly say that I have never seen larger steaks than these 22-ounce bone-in ribeyes.  In the words Carl “Goody” Goodreau, the man in charge of the PawSox clubhouse, “Some of them were still mooing.”  It goes without saying that these babies weren’t cheap.  Embree sprung for 40 of them.

 

April 10th:  A pre-game made-to-order omelet station and a post-game feast from Mei King Chinese restaurant courtesy of Daisuke Matsuzaka.   

 

The pre-game omelet station was a bit of a change for Matsuzaka but was appropriate for the 1:05 start time.  In the past, Daisuke has treated the gang to a huge tray of sushi before night games.  His next scheduled start is at 4:05 pm on Thursday in Buffalo so the players will arrive in the clubhouse between normal breakfast and lunch hours.  I wonder what will Matsuzaka provide for a pre-game brunch? 

 

By the way, according to its website, Mei King – located directly across the street from McCoy Stadium – has been serving Rhode Island’s best Chinese food since 1978.  Who knew?

 

April 11th:  Mounds of ribs and assorted barbecue from LJ’s BBQ courtesy of Boof Bonser.

 


LJ's BBQ.jpg 

LJ’s was once named by noted food writer John Mariani as one of seven great barbecue joints around the country.  When my broadcast partner Steve Hyder walked through the clubhouse before doing a post-game interview yesterday, he caught a glimpse of the trays of barbecue waiting to be devoured by a bunch of hungry dudes other than himself.

 

I thought Hydes was going to cry when he got back to the press box.

 

* * * * *

 

In the biblical story of Samson and Delilah, Samson lost his tremendous strength when Delilah shaved his head.

 

In the story of Reddick and Wagner, it works the other way around.

 

After great springs with Boston, Josh Reddick and Mark Wagner got off to slow starts with Pawtucket.  In the PawSox first three games, Reddick was 0-for-11 and Wagner was 0-for-6.

 

So they shaved each other’s heads.

 

“We were both kind of struggling up there a little bit and we kinda went home last night and said, ‘We’re going to get this stuff out of the way and go ahead and see if it works,’ and to our benefit it did,” Reddick told us after the game.  “Being in the baseball career you learn how to do it coming up through the minor leagues so it’s not that hard of a task.”    

 

Reddick doubled in his first at-bat and finished 3-for-5 and Wagner belted a 2-run home run.

 

I’m expecting to see a barber’s pole inside the PawSox clubhouse this afternoon.

 

* * * * *

 

Kevin Frandsen is new to the Red Sox organization and the International League this year, so he is getting his first look at the McCoy Stadium tradition of “fishing” for autographs.  Since the first row of the seats is eight feet above field level, autograph seekers put their items-to-be-signed in empty milk jugs or two-liter soda bottles and dangle them in front of the dugouts below.

 


Autograph fishing re.jpg

(photo courtesy of Tom Perreira)

 

Frandsen spent several minutes signing yesterday and says he tries to be as accommodating to fans as possible.  But here are a couple of friendly hints if you’re looking for his autograph.

 

  1. He prefers “Kevin” to “Mr. Frandsen.”  As he put it, “I’m in my 20’s . . . not my 40’s.”  Having said that, I’m sure he’ll sign for anyone who is polite. 
  2. Don’t throw a ball for him to sign unless he’s looking at you.  He got drilled in the face last year while looking in a different direction.

 


Frandsen re.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

A day or two after being traded from San Francisco to Boston, Kevin was with the Red Sox at a spring training road game and was the only player who didn’t have a name on the back of his uniform.  As a result, a 10-year-old autograph seeker took one look at him and said, “Who the heck are you?”

 

Frandsen wasn’t offended and told the youngster that he had just joined the team.

 

The kid immediately responded with, “Oh, are you that shortstop we got from San Francisco?”

 

Kevin promptly provided a signature.

 

* * * * *

 

The PawSox season-opening 6-game homestand continues on Monday night as the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs come to town for a 2-game series.  It’s a Kids Eat Free night at McCoy Stadium.  All kids (12-and-under) who enter the stadium with a box seat ticket will receive a hot dog, bag of chips, and soda for no additional charge.  The offer is good at all Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday home games through June 15th.

 

If you can’t make it out to the ballpark I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning at 6:00 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

So What Happens With Alan Embree on April 15th?

Most Red Sox fans can probably identify Keith Foulke as the pitcher who recorded the final out of the 2004 World Series.  But can you name the pitcher who got the final out in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS?

 

It’s Alan Embree who retired Ruben Sierra on a ground out to second baseman Pokey Reese to complete the greatest comeback in baseball history, as the Red Sox rallied from a three games to none deficit to beat the Yankees.

 

“I got called in and they pinch hit for John Olerud and I was like, ‘Thank you – you’re doing me a favor.  John is a pretty good hitter.’  Embree told me.  “I had faced Ruben quite a bit and I knew that if I threw a pitch down and away, he would be trying to hit a home run and could roll over on it.  Fortunately, he did roll over on it and it was the longest ground ball I think I’ve ever been part of.  I’m thinking, ‘Get to the glove, get to the glove, get to the glove . . . OK, good throw, good throw, good throw . . . OK, it’s over . . .Thank God.’  It was slow motion for me.”

 


Alan Embree re.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

Embree pitched in six of seven games in that series and in 11 of Boston’s 14 playoff games that year, allowing 2 ER in 7.1 IP.

 

“That time of year, what are you going to do – say, ‘No, I need a day off?’  Embree said with a laugh.  “I take pride in my post-season numbers and giving our team a chance to win, and I did everything I could to be ready no matter if I felt good or bad.”

 

He’s hoping to fill a similar role this year.

 

The 40-year-old lefty returned to the Red Sox organization for the first time since 2005 when he signed with Boston as a free agent with roughly one week to go in spring training.  After allowing 10 ER in 2.1 IP in 3 spring training outings with Boston, Embree agreed to begin the season in Pawtucket and tossed a hitless and scoreless inning in the season opener on Thursday.

 

“I felt good,” Embree said.  “I went in with the game plan that I was going to work on my fastball command and for the most part I did that.  Everything feels pretty good.  I’m close . . . but I still feel like I need some more touches.  Other than that, it was a good day.”

 

Embree is likely to get plenty of work on the PawSox season-opening homestand because his contract with Boston includes an opt-out clause on April 15th.  If he is not promoted to Boston by that date, he is free to explore opportunities with other MLB teams.

 

“Hopefully things go well and I get enough appearances that on the 15th, that won’t be the issue,” Embree said.  “The issue will be that I’m going to Boston – which is ultimately what the goal was.  But that being said, baseball is a business and if for whatever reason they didn’t feel I was fit, I would have to move on from there.  So it’s one of things where I’ll evaluate it on that day.”

 

I asked Embree if he would consider staying in Pawtucket beyond April 15th if the Red Sox said, “We think you can help the major league club, but don’t think you’re quite ready yet.”

 

“I’d have to explore the other options before I would consider that,” Embree told me.  “I’m very grateful that the Red Sox gave me the opportunity that they did.  Calling me as late as they did and giving me the chance to come down here and work out some bugs.  But usually around the 10th appearance, I’m usually ready so that’s kind of what I’m gauging it on and the next few outings will tell.” 

 

* * * * *

 

After being rained out for the first time this season on Friday, the PawSox host Rochester in a doubleheader on Saturday afternoon at McCoy Stadium.  Daisuke Matsuzaka will make a rehab start in Game One and Adam Mills will take the ball in Game Two.

 

Our radio coverage begins at 12:50 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

McDonald Stars In Opening Night Romp

I spent six days in spring training and saw Pawtucket play four times.  In those four games, the PawSox scored a total of 10 runs.

 

I guess the hitters were waiting until it counted.

 

With 11,306 patrons in attendance on Opening Night at McCoy Stadium (I won’t call them “fans” until The Masters is over); the PawSox scored 11 runs on 12 hits and hammered the Rochester Red Wings 11-3.

 

(Not for nothing, but the PawSox have won all 5 season openers since I’ve been part of the broadcast team.  Every major league club that lost its opener this year should consider that in the off-season).

 

The star of the show was Darnell McDonald who went 4-for-5 in his PawSox debut, with a double, home run, and 5 RBI.  The 31-year-outfielder is in his 10th International League season and Pawtucket is his 7th I.L. team.

 


Darnell McDonald re.jpg 

“Everyone that puts on a uniform in the minor leagues has the same goal – to play in the big leagues and that’s obviously my goal,” McDonald told me.  “But I just love playing baseball – it doesn’t matter where it is.  Pawtucket has always been one of my favorite places to play.  We have great fans and a lot of support.”

 

While McDonald began the season with a huge night, it wasn’t as memorable for him as Opening Day one year ago.  For the first time in his pro career, Darnell made a major league roster to begin the season and started in centerfield for the Cincinnati Reds.

 

“I really can’t put it into words what it meant because when you work so hard and so long to accomplish something and it finally comes true – it meant the world to me,” McDonald said.  “A lot of people probably thought that it wouldn’t happen, but I always saw that light at the end of the tunnel and I had that belief in myself that I could play in the big leagues and to get that opportunity meant a lot to me.  It’s something that I replay in my head all of the time, and I’ll never forget the feeling of running out on to the field on Opening Day.”

 

McDonald was one of the most decorated prep athletes in Colorado state history as he led Cherry Creek High School to 3 state titles in both football and baseball.  In baseball, Darnell batted .606 as a senior and was named the National High School Player of the Year by Baseball America.  In football, he rushed for 6,121 career yards and was set to play running back for the University of Texas.

 

But after being a first round draft pick by the Orioles, McDonald chose to play professional baseball directly out of high school.  Of the 1,397 games he has played in as a pro, only 68 have been at the major league level, but Darnell describes himself as a late bloomer.

 

“I feel like the last few years I’m just coming into a lot of the things that I knew that I could do,” Darnell told me.  “People develop at different speeds and now I feel like I’m in my prime.  I feel like I have a lot of good years left in me.  My body feels good and I feel like I’m learning and developing into the player that I knew that I could be coming out of high school.  I just try to cherish every moment and appreciate where I am and just try to enjoy it.”

 

After getting 4 hits and driving in 5 runs, it’s safe to say that he enjoyed his PawSox debut. 

 

The patrons certainly did.

 

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

Where The Dream Begins . . . and Often Ends

When the Red Sox prospects walk toward the playing fields at the team’s minor complex in Ft. Myers they are greeted by a big sign that points out that Fenway Park is 1,249 miles away and City of Palms Park is 2.6 miles away. 

 


Ft Myers sign.jpg 

 

The message is obvious:  Show that you have what it takes at the minor league diamonds and your dream of playing in the major leagues will eventually come true.

 

Unfortunately, the minor league complex is also where that dream often ends.

 

28-year-old Brett Harper is one of several players who are hoping for good news as camp winds down as he battles for a spot on Pawtucket’s opening day roster.  The left-handed hitting first baseman had a pair of doubles and a walk in the PawSox 15-4 loss to Rochester on Thursday.

 

“I find out tomorrow if I make the team or not,” Harper told me.  “We’re all competing for jobs out here right now and getting your swings in and leaving it all on the field right now is the way to go.  I haven’t been told anything yet – I don’t think they’ve made their final rosters.  But you can’t worry about things that you can’t control.”

 


Brett Harper re.jpg 

Harper signed with Boston as a minor league free agent in February after spending the last two seasons in the Pacific Coast League.  Last year, he hit .292 with 25 doubles, 19 HR and a .508 slugging percentage.  In 2008, he hit .315 with 32 doubles, 20 HR and a .577 slugging percentage.  Brett hit a career high 36 HR in 2005 in the Mets’ minor league system.

 

“The year before that was actually my breakthrough year (.306 in 2004 with 30 doubles and 17 HR),” Harper said.  “I really started to come into my own with my swing and learned how to hit with power.  The next year I hit a lot of home runs and really started to figure out my swing.”

 

Brett’s career minor league batting average of .296 is almost identical to his father’s career major league average.  Brian Harper batted .295 in 16 big league seasons with the Twins, Pirates, A’s, Angels, Cardinals, Tigers and Brewers.

 

Brett’s father was the starting catcher for Minnesota when the Twins won the World Series in 1991 and is remembered for holding on to the ball on a key play at the plate.

 

Harper and Lonnie Smith re.jpg 


  

“He got run over by Lonnie Smith in Game 4 of the 1991 World Series and it was a pretty nasty collision,” Brett said.  The picture was in Sports Illustrated – he has it displayed in his office.”

 

While Brett has vivid recollections of being on the field and in the clubhouse after the Twins won the World Series that year, he is still looking to make his own major league memories.  I asked him if Thursday will be a sleepless night as he waits to find out if he has a job with Pawtucket to begin the season.

 

“Not really,” Harper said.  “It’s not in my hands – if it were I’d make the team for sure.  In fact, I’d be in the big leagues.  But it’s not in my hands and there’s really nothing more I can do.  I have a beautiful wife and a beautiful daughter at home and if it doesn’t work out, we’ll be just fine without baseball.

 

“If you’re lucky you might play until you’re 35 or 36.  I’ve played 9 years of professional baseball, so I consider myself pretty lucky to have played this long.  A lot of people don’t get that opportunity and I’ve had a pretty good career.  I can look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘I gave it my best every day and I had fun doing it.”

 

It’s not mentioned on the sign, but Pawtucket is 1,212 miles away.

A Tough Day For The PawSox, But A Good Day For Aaron Bates

On Tuesday afternoon in Ft. Myers, Pawtucket faced a Durham Bulls team featuring a “ringer” on the mound – Tampa Bay Rays flamethrower David Price.

 

The end result wasn’t pretty for the PawSox.  Price tossed 7 scoreless innings, struck out 8 batters, and only allowed one hit.

 

I’m here to tell you about the hit.

 

In his first at-bat, Pawtucket first baseman Aaron Bates pulled a 94-mph fastball directly into the teeth of a 20-mph wind and hit the ball at least 350 feet to left field.  The ball landed on the warning track for a double, but on most days – in most ballparks – it would have been long gone.

 

“That was a home run,” Bates told me with a grin after the game.  “No one catches that ball.  That ball is over the outfield billboards in Pawtucket.

 

“Facing Price was fun.  I was telling somebody the other day that I’d like to face (Washington Nationals phenom) Stephen Strasburg or somebody like that because when you face the upper-tier pitchers you learn what it looks like at that level.  You want to see what those guys have.  So it’s a good measuring stick as far as where I’m at this spring.”

 


Bates Sox uni resize.jpg 

(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

 

The 26-year-old first baseman spent most of the spring in major league camp, and batted .179 (5-for-28) in 17 games for Boston.

 

“My spring up until this point has been a little inconsistent,” Bates said.  “I had some great at-bats in big league camp, but didn’t have great numbers.  When you’re a young guy you want to get in there and show them what you can do, but you don’t want to press.  It was nice being up there.  Big league camp was a great experience – I learned a lot.  And having RJ (former PawSox manager Ron Johnson) there helped a lot because he’s always laughing and in a great mood.”

 

Last season was a breakthrough year for Bates as he climbed from Double-A to Boston.  He thrived in Double-A batting .340/.405/.505 in 52 games with Portland, and did well in his limited taste of major league ball, going 4-for-11 (.364) with 2 doubles in 5 games with the Red Sox.

 

Triple-A was the only level where Aaron struggled as he batted .213/.285/.305 in 76 games with Pawtucket.  He admits that being just a 45-minute drive from Fenway Park was mentally challenging.

 

“When you’re in Triple-A with the Red Sox, you’re so close to Boston that you can get caught up in a lot of that stuff,” Bates said.  “In Portland, I just went about my business every day and played baseball.  In Pawtucket, guys are in the locker room one day and gone the next and there is a lot of media attention – you almost have to block all of that out and not think about Boston.  You have to be like a little kid and just enjoy playing baseball and if the manager calls you into the office and tells you that you’re going to Boston, then you go there and try to do the same thing.  If you get caught up in that stuff it’s going to drive you crazy and you’ll put too much pressure on yourself.”

 

Bates rebounded nicely over the winter as he spent three months in the Puerto Rican Winter League and batted .315/.370/.435 for Caguas.

 

“I was some of the most fun I’ve had playing baseball,” Bates told me.  “I love playing there.  It’s a unique experience.  I hit probably the best home run I’ve ever hit in my life down there – it tied the game in Game 4 of the playoffs and the fans down there were going crazy.”

 

Aaron’s team won its opening round playoff series and he experienced something he isn’t likely to experience in the United States.

 

“When we clinched the first round of the playoffs there were random fans in the locker room celebrating with us so that was kind of fun,” Bates said.  “It was Game 7 and we were playing against Carlos Delgado’s team and we wound up winning.  Our clubbies went running on the field with champagne and left the clubhouse wide open.  I have it on video – I’ll have to show you – as the team is celebrating in the clubhouse you can see random fans in street clothes celebrating with us.”

 

I look forward to seeing the video this summer . . . as well as more blasts like the one I saw Aaron hit off of David Price on Tuesday.