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December 13, 2006

Safe Arrivals

Twenty years from now, thousands, maybe even tens of thousands, will say they were at Hanscom Civilian Air Terminal to welcome Daisuke Matsuzaka to Massachusetts. Only the hundred or so who were there with me can say this truthfully.

I work in Waltham, so Hanscom is not far. I left early knowing that I would get lost. My lack of navigational skills combined with the Bay State’s notorious lack of road signs conspired against the clock like Scott Boras’s negotiations tactics. The Google Maps route I had printed out was useless as I made a last-minute decision to use surface roads to get to 2A rather than 128 North because of traffic.

That maneuver saved me just enough time to get lost. I turned right instead of left at a crow-foot intersection onto a road that was helpfully labeled “2A.”

Alas, it was 2A East, not 2A West.

Fortunately, I had been lost in this area before. I reversed course and made my way to the air field. As I drove on 2A (in the correct direction this time), my friend Joe called. You might remember him from our post-game stalking sessions. I had convinced him to come, but it didn’t take much. Unlike me, he printed out the descriptive directions from Hanscom’s web site and read them out loud to me as I carefully cut through the dark Bedford night.

Joe took 128, so I beat him to the parking lot by a few minutes. While I waited, I attempted to get my bearings and decided the building marked “Hanscom Civilian Air Terminal” was the place to go. Luckily, he arrived and pointed out a conspicuous grouping of media vans replete with satellite dishes in the opposite direction. Inviting him was essential.

Since Joe is over six feet tall, I had to run to keep pace with his brisk walk. We made our way to the already-gathered crowd and saw John W. Henry’s Red Sox jet parked with stairs unfurled. Matsuzaka, Boras, Theo Epstein, and Larry Lucchino had already disembarked the plane.

We stood there grinning stupidly, me tiptoeing to try to see the dramatis personae get into their vehicles and Joe being able to see as much as the air traffic controllers in their tower thanks to his height. “Scott Boras sucks!” he pretended to yell.

A woman who probably worked for the Red Sox press relations office came by. “He’s in the first car after the police car. Cheer that one.” Fans with WEEI signs emblazoned with “youkoso,” which means “welcome,” began to stir. A few people toted hand-made signs.

“Cheer loud!” urged the PR martinet. But she couldn’t whip up a frenzy.

Instead, a quiet appreciation was extended. People applauded and a few exclaimed “Welcome to Boston!” I yelled “Welcome to Massachusetts!” and waved excitedly as he passed by. I chose that specific phrase because I didn’t want him to think this tiny airstrip was Boston proper. Right when he was in front of me, he waved...

To me? I like to think so.

His path to the Red Sox, like my drive to Hanscom, wasn’t arrow-straight. But we made it, and that is what matters.

July 4, 2006

Bounty

Game 80: July 3, 2006
Red Sox (50-30), 0
Devil Rays (36-47), 3
L: Josh Beckett (10-4)
W: Scott Kazmir (10-5)

The best part of last night’s game was Raymond, which says something about how the evening went. For the third time this season the Red Sox went scoreless. Interestingly, the Red Sox have only been on the receiving end of shutouts in the course of year so far. All-Star Scott Kazmir enjoyed his first complete game shutout, throwing 120 pitchers and striking out ten while allowing just two hits and two walks.

In contrast, Josh Beckett continued to be assailed by the longball. All three of the Tampa Bay runs were homers, and not off the bats of the usual sluggers; Russell Branyan hit one in the fifth while Ty Wigginton hit one each in the third and fifth innings.

Before the first pitch, Raymond was shown reading Jerry Remy’s book and demolishing Remy’s bobblehead. Remy seemed to take it in good humor at the time, but this wanted poster has been circulated around St. Petersburg. Raymond has yet to brag of his exploits in his blog, jejunely entitled The Big Blue Blog. I guess it’s difficult to update one’s site while on the lam.

Raymondwanted

June 28, 2006

Renascence

Game 74: June 27, 2006
Mets (47-29), 4
Red Sox (46-28), 9

L: Alay Soler (2-2)
W: Jon Lester (3-0)

Two years ago rendered 20 years ago, 31 years ago, 39 years ago, and 60 years ago painless.

Two years ago helped us recognize a remarkable set of players throughout the decades, striking mute the litany of failure and putting in its place a rapprochement of teams that could have been with the fans who almost had.

Three years ago Bill Buckner meant E3. Two years ago Buckner meant 22 years of major league service, a 22-season career of .289 batting, .321 OBP, .408 slugging, 2,715 hits, and 174 home runs. And last night it meant a standing ovation at Fenway Park rather than mislaid scorn.

Joe Castiglione was the emcee for the ceremony celebrating the 1986 American League champion team. More succinctly than I Castiglione noted that 2004 enabled Red Sox fans to acknowledge their history in a positive way. “For those who had come before, for those who had come so close.”

Several members of that team were not able to make it: John McNamara, Dave Henderson, Roger Clemens (who was starting for the Astros), Rich Gedman, Bob Stanley, and Buckner. Castiglione made special care to note that the former first baseman was always welcome to return to Fenway.

Those who were there in person: Lou Gorman, Marty Barrett, Oil Can Boyd, Steve Crawford, Pat Dodson, Walt Hriniak (hitting coach), Bruce Hurst, Tim Lollar, Joe Morgan (not that one, of course), Al Nipper, Spike Owen, Ed Romero, Joe Sambito, Calvin Schiraldi, Dave Stapleton, Mike Stenhouse, Marc Sullivan, La Schelle Tarver, Dwight Evans, Jim Rice, and Wade Boggs (who, it shall be noted, wore his New York Yankees World Series ring). Time’s passing has plucked a few hairs and added a couple of inches to waistlines, an amusing counterpoint to the scenes from their near-triumphant season played on the screen

The seven ages of man were surmised in the park’s panorama: infants and children in the stands, rookies Alay Soler and Jon Lester on the mound, battle-weary veterans like Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek soldiering on, umpires acting the judge, along with older umpires representing the aged buffoon, and even older fans who can just barely recall those long-gone teams, but now with something more than mere yearning.

Twenty years from now the details of this game will fade from my memory. But for far longer than twenty years I will remember this ceremony, and how one of my inspirations, Peter Gammons, was stricken by a brain aneurysm on that very day.

This game of baseball can be appreciated on levels grandiose to minuscule, but the importance of games pale in the light of struggling for one’s life. If thoughts and well wishes can speed recovery, all of mine go to Groton’s own Baseball Hall of Fame journalist. Get well, Mr. Gammons.

June 27, 2006

Divinity

Game 73: June 26, 2006
Phillies (35-40), 7
Red Sox (45-28), 8

BS, L: Clay Condrey (1, 1-2)
H: Javier Lopez (2)
H: Mike Timlin (13)
BS: Jonathan Papelbon (2)
W: Craig Hansen (1-0)
12 innings

Baseball is replete with threes and multiples of threes: three strikes, three bases, three parts of the outfield, nine players on the field and in the lineup, nine innings. Each league has three divisions and a minor league player must be promoted through three levels to reach the big leagues. According to some, batters parse a pitch into three components: sensory gathering, computing, and swinging. Baseball front offices supposedly divide the 162-game season into thirds as well, with the first third learning what the team’s nature is, the second third determining what the team needs and getting it, and the last third fusing the old and new together for the playoff push.

The Red Sox have swept the last three series, each series with three games. And David Ortiz is three times more clutch than your replacement level player. (Okay, I made that last thing up.)

This game had three phases itself. At first we enjoyed a pitchers’ duel with Cory Lidle (or, as my friend called him, “Cy Lidle”) and Tim Wakefield threw goose eggs until the sixth. With the scoring barrages in the bottom of the sixth and top of the seventh, the game entered into the second, offensive stage, with that seventh inning particularly offensive to Boston fans. And finally came the third episode, in which David Ortiz made his case for knighthood (even though there is no order of knights in the United States, one will be established because of him), sainthood (to make the St. Jude Thaddeus and St. Philomena duo a trio), and possibly godhood. Divinity in threes.

How difficult is it to not get fired while listening to a day game at work? Let’s just say I’m expecting a memo from human resources regarding excessive use of vulgarity. If my case is arbitrated by someone who dislikes Rudy Seanez, which is pretty much a lead pipe cinch, I’ll probably get by on just a suspension.

Jonathan Papelbon gave up his first home run to Chase Utley in the ninth inning. It was a cheap hit off of Pesky Pole, too, hardly warranting the term “longball” as it would have sliced foul in any other park. It was Papelbon’s second blown save out of 24 opportunities and his scoreless inning streak of 21 and two-thirds innings ended with a thunk. But the baseball gods are mordant, knavish, and capricious, and in this game granted rookie Craig Hansen his first major league win even though the double he allowed to Jimmy Rollins gave the Phillies the lead.

June 22, 2006

Debate

Game 70: June 21, 2006
Nationals (32-42), 3
Red Sox (42-28), 9

L: Shawn Hill (1-2)
W: Jon Lester (5-8)

An imagined conversation between my “friend” Matt of NU50, who got to go to last night’s game, and me:

M: Dude, you should have been there when Papi hit that grand slam in the second inning. It was suh-weet!

J: Oh yeah? Well, Kevin Youkilis was miked up and I got to hear all of the secrets of the Red Sox clubhouse. Youks is hilarious; he was ribbing Tito, asking if Tito got fired, would he get sent down to Triple-A.

M: For Papi’s grand slam, the cheering was so loud I thought the stands would collapse from the vibrational pressure of our voices.

J: Well, since you didn’t get the insider’s view of the dugout that NESN provides, you didn’t see how Ortiz gave Johnny Pesky a great big hug.

M: That’s actually pretty dangerous. Did he compress Pesky into a diamond?

J: [Indignantly] No! Even though they do say Johnny is a gem of a guy.

M: [Groans] I’ll pretend you didn’t say that. That was just cell phone distortion. Incredibly unfunny cell phone distortion.

J: Youk is the best guy to wear a mic. When Soriano reached on a single in the third inning, they chit-chatted about playing left field. They were all, “Yeah, it’s easy.” Then first base coach Davey Lopes came by and tipped off Soriano that Lester’s pickoff tell was that he looked at the runner or dropped his head.

M: Really? That’s pretty interesting... I mean, so? I got to crane my neck for nine innings in my seats from the right field boxes.

J: The broadcast also showed how Al Nipper would talk to Lester after he got off the mound to discuss his approach. Since I can read lips....

M: You can’t read lips!

J: Uh, yeah I can. Nip was saying, “Hey, maybe that girl with the blog will write make-believe letters by you instead of Pauley.”

M: Nuh uh!

J: Yeah huh! And then Lester’s all, “Yeah, what’s up with that dude that’s supposed to write the mojo? He hasn’t done anything in weeks.” Then Nipper said, “Guess he can’t cut it in the blogger big leagues.” Lester nodded in agreement and said, “Slacker!”

M: Whatever. When Trot almost hit a triple in the triangle in the fifth, it was almost as exciting as the grand slam. Did I mention that Papi hit a grand slam? Gotta love that Red Sox offensive machine; they scored more runs in the second and the sixth than the Nats did the entire game.

J: And you got to see your bullpen faves Tavarez and Seanez almost create a save opportunity for Papelbon.

M: Don’t get me started on them. When Seanez took the mound I was tempted to jump the wall and take him down so that he wouldn’t be able to pitch. There were audible groans as both those guys gave up runs.

J: Meanwhile, Delcarmen twirled a perfect eighth.

M: Yeah, I was sending brain waves to Tito, reminding him that he just had a meeting with his young pitchers and told him they were going to be relied on heavily. Guess some of their names just eluded him. Until I used my powers of suggestion, of course.

J: What do you think of the Jason Johnson move?

M: Wish it were a different JJ, as in Josh Johnson. But it’s a warm body that can hurl, unlike Matt Clement and Keith Foulke, the constant inhabitants of the DL.

J: Hey, another JJ is updating her blog, JJ’s Space. Unlike you.

M: What? I can’t hear you over the booming sound of “Dirty Water” coming over the speakers!

June 12, 2006

Present

Game 60: June 11, 2006
Rangers (33-29), 4
Red Sox (36-24), 5
H: Ron Mahay (4)
H: Scott Feldman (4)
BS, L: Akinori Otsuka (2, 2-2)
W: Manny Delcarmen (1-0)

Up until late Saturday night I had no plans to attend this game in person. But I am always game should a friend contact me with tickets, even at the last minute. Too bad about what happened at Troy, but I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Coincidentally, this game was the Sons of Sam Horn’s outing and one of their members got to throw out the first pitch because she was the “Leader of the Pack” (insert motorcycle engine sound effect here).

Am I ever grateful Matt decided to tell me he procured tickets for the first game of the doubleheader on Sunday. Sure, I was 11th or so on the list, but those other 11 folks are despondent that they didn’t get to go. Even though I had to contend with a hungover and disheveled buddy not-so-fresh from a wedding and reception, the game was worth it. Also, it was breezy enough so that any residual fumes wafted away and the bright sun in the bleachers seemed to have blanched away any other unsavory aromas.

I had yet to see Josh Beckett pitch live and was somewhat gratified by his five and one-third inning appearance. Although he gave up an RBI double to Mark DeRosa in the first inning, Kevin Youkilis’s inability to field a relay throw by Alex Gonzalez with Michael Young bearing down on him at first base.

The Red Sox mustered runs of their own early in the game. Manny Ramirez homered to the opposite field, giving fans in the stands a palpable reminder of his 16th roundtripper of the season. Sadly, Matt missed this pivotal play due to a restroom visit. Alcohol is the drink of the devil, people. David Ortiz lofted a single over the shift into center field in the third inning to plate Mark Loretta.

Beckett would not allow another run until the fifth inning when he allowed back-to-back doubles from Rod Barajas and Ian Kinsler to tie the game. The Kinsler double was questionable as third base umpire Paul Schrieber appeared to call the ball foul but was actually fleeing for his life. Home plate umpire Jim Joyce called the ball fair, provoking an extended conversation between Terry Francona and the officials that ended with the extra base hit remaining on the scoreboard. Beckett then allowed a base on balls to Gary Matthews, Jr., but settled to sit Young, Mark Teixeira, and Hank Blalock, issuing strikeouts to the Ranger’s shortstop and third baseman. The sixth inning began promisingly enough with a DeRosa whiff, but Brad Wilkerson walked on five pitches and scored on a Kevin Mench homer deposited into the Monster seats.

David Riske and Manny Delcarmen combined for three and two-thirds scoreless innings, doing their best Mike Timlin impersonations. Delcarmen struck out both Wilkerson and Mench and worked himself out of a jam in the top of the ninth to set the stage for Ortiz.

What Ortiz does is beyond clutch at this point. It’s superhuman. Shaquille O’Neal claims he’s an alien, but the real extraterrestrial is Ortiz. O’Neal says he’s from another planet but Ortiz isn’t even from this galaxy. With Trot Nixon, who had pinch hit for Gonzalez, and Coco Crisp on base with singles and two outs, Ortiz entered the batter’s box with the singular mission of winning the game for his team.

He is so money. And he knows it.

As Ortiz’s home run receded out of my view into the teeming masses in the bleachers, I clapped my hands raw, I hollered my throat dry, and exulted in a glorious day of baseball.

June 10, 2006

President

Game 58: June 9, 2006
Rangers (32-28), 3
Red Sox (35-23), 4

H: Craig Hansen (1)
BS, W: Jonathan Papelbon (1, 1-1)
L: Francisco Cordero (5-4)

Scene: The All Farm Party convention where Trot Nixon officially confirms that he will run for president of Red Sox Nation and announces his running mate. Signs like “A Nixon You Can Trust,” “Hometown Hero,” and “Hats Off to Trot,” the later with a recreation of Nixon’s grubby cap, jounce joyously in the swarm. Raucous fans erupt into deafening cheers as Nixon takes the podium.

Nixon: My fellow Red Sox Nation citizens. I am here to announce my intention to represent the All Farm Party in opposition to the incumbent president, Larry Lucchino.

[Thunderous applause.]

Nixon: Last night, you witnessed a resurgence of pride and prosperity in our great Nation. With men on first and second in the first inning, I catapulted a three-run homer into the home bullpen.

[Further frenzied laudation. Chants of “Let’s go Nixon!” burst forth. Nixon beckons the crowd to simmer down.]

Nixon: But I wasn’t content to sit idly by, resting on the laurels of early inning performance. I went on to hit in each and every subsequent at bat to bolster our team’s 20th come-from-behind victory.

[Robust cheering.]

Nixon: As you know, offensive prowess is not sufficient to repel the invading Rangers. That is why I have secured the services of Kevin Youkilis, an All Farm Party stalwart, as my confidante in matters of defense. Youkilis has demonstrated nothing but stellar achievement in protecting the Nation from insurgency along our vulnerable borders. He has been able to overcome partisan snipping by working cooperatively with the Former Fish Party leaders like Mike Lowell, Alex Gonzalez, and Josh Beckett to strengthen us.

[Isolated jeers with the mention of the opposition party. Again Nixon quiets the crowd.]

Nixon: A perfect example is the collaboration between Lowell and Youkilis in the eighth inning. The pair forged a connection, a bond. With up and coming All Farm Party star Craig Hansen on the mound--

[Outburst of cheers for Hansen. Nixon allows the hubbub to subside.]

Nixon: With Craig Hansen on the mound, Lowell put aside politics and timed a perfect leap to intercept emerging threat Ian Kinsler, who sharply grounded to him. Youkilis picked the throw perfectly to eliminate the menace.

Lowell and I joined forces in the eighth inning. With the score tied, I singled to advance Manny Ramirez to third base. With party ally Ramirez in position, Lowell sacrificed to right field to drive in the winning score.

[Subdued applause.]

Nixon: All this shows that a president cannot accomplish his job alone. He needs another conjoined in purpose, intensity, and commitment. A man who ascribes to our party’s ideals and is the epitome of all that the All Farm Party represents.

[Audience hushes with anticipation.]

Nixon: And that man has cut a swath of destruction across the batting averages of hitters in late innings since the beginning of the season. That man shattered the records of past relief pitchers. That man propelled himself through the All Farm Party with his blazing fastball. That man will be my running mate in the upcoming presidential election. That man is Jonathan Papelbon.

[The fans jump to their feet and roar their approval. Papelbon shakes the hand of Nixon vigorously. They pose for the photographers.]

Papelbon: Well, y’know, I just, uh, y’know... I accept the nomination!

[The throng laughs appreciatively.]

June 7, 2006

Chagrin

Game 56: June 6, 2006
Red Sox (33-23), 1
Yankees (35-22), 2
L: David Pauley (0-1)
W: Chien-Ming Wang (6-2)
H: Kyle Farnsworth (8)
S: Mariano Rivera (12)

Dear David,

Your mother and I just watched the terrific game you pitched against the Yankees. It was really incredible, son. We’re both so proud of you. It’s hard to find the words.

You struck out Slappy Rodriguez in the second and you had a key whiff of that Phillips kid in the fourth with Passedballa on third. Hey, I just looked up Phillips and he’s almost 30!

Speaking of old, don’t feel too bad about Williams hitting that homer off of you in the fifth. You probably don’t remember this since you’re so young, but he was a good player in his prime, which was about 25 years ago. By the way, that curtain call nonsense is ridiculous.

I can’t believe the score was so close! Your team had a lot of chances to score more runs but just didn’t capitalize. If any of them aren’t playing hard behind you because they don’t have faith in me, you just let me know and I’ll be on the first plane there. I’ve got a few words for Rudy Seanez, too, ultimate fighter or no.

Not only did you perform well on the field, but you spoke well and with poise at your postgame interview.

Just be patient, son. Your day will come.
Dad

P.S. from Mom: Davey, you look so thin! Are you eating enough? Did you get the cookies I sent? You could use a haircut, too. I mean, it doesn’t have to be Yankee short, but your sideburns are a little long. Is that something that Jonathan Papelbon told you to do? I like his pitching and all, but his hair...! And what did I tell you about leaving pitches up in the zone against power hitters? Much love, Mom


Dear Mom and Dad,

It’s not Rudy’s fault at all that he walked in the winning run in the seventh. I’ve been kinda beating myself up about not fielding that grounder to me by Cairo. I couldn’t get my glove on it and Lowrider tried to barehand it. All the guys are telling me not to sweat it, but I won’t shirk my responsibility for the loss. I got two outs easily that inning and I didn’t close it out.

Did you see Papi’s homer in the third? After he rounded the bases and came back in the dugout I congratulated him. He calls me “Cookie Monster” and he really loves the oatmeal chocolate chips you make, Mom. Can you send some more? He calls them his energy bars!

Dad, I find it hard to believe Williams was ever any good. Did you see him kicking around the ball Lowell hit to him in the seventh. I’ve seen Sea Dogs bench players field better than that.

Lowell is a great leader for our team. He took some time to come see how I was doing during Josh’s outing last night. He’s sorta obsessed about the hidden ball trick and was trying to convince me to do it at some point during the game. Coach Mills kept on coming by and saying, “Stop trying to do that damn trick play, Lowell! Kid’s got enough on his mind as it is.” Which was very true; I watched hours of video on the Yankees. All that preparation almost paid off with a win.

If only Manny got that ball out of the park. I thought for sure his fly ball in the eighth was gone. That Melky guy got sent all the way down to Double-A after making a pretty bad showing last year in the majors. He’s really come around, though. But not so much he should be making curtain calls. That stuff really annoys me.

Anyway, we’ll see how things go. Boomer may not ever pitch again. And now that MmmBop has been called up, guess who doesn’t have to carry the pink backpack any more? Technically, it should still be me, but Paps and me are making up some arbitrary rule so that Hansen will have to.

Love,
Your Son David

June 2, 2006

Initiation

Game 51: May 31, 2006
Red Sox (31-20), 8
Blue Jays (29-23), 6
W: Jermaine Van Buren (1-0)
H: Manny Delcarmen (1)
H: Keith Foulke (8)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (19)
L: Ted Lilly (5-5)

Dear Mom and Dad,

Wow, so here I am in the big leagues. I’m pretending like I’m taking notes on the batters I face, like Curt does. I met him earlier today and I said to him, “Hi, Mr Schilling,” and he responded with, “Call me Curt, Paul.” He’s so funny, joking with me like that. I slapped him on the back and said, “Good one, sir!” He made this weird face that was even funnier. These guys are great!

Papi (which is what we call David Ortiz) hit a homer in the first inning, which was more than enough breathing room for this guy. A couple of dudes got on base with singles in the first, but I totally set up the double play to get out of the inning.

The same thing sort of happened in the second inning, too, only this time a run scored because I walked Edgardo Alfonzo with the bases loaded. I swear the ump was squeezing me because I just got called up! Anyway, I got Frank Catalanotto to hit one right to me. I swung around and tossed the ball to Gonzo (the shortstop), placing it just perfectly high and to his left to get him out of the path of the runner. Gonzo made the throw to Youk and I engineered yet another inning-ending double play.

My guys scored two runs in each one of the next three innings. It was so awesome how they came through for me. In the fifth Manny hit a two-run homer. When he got back into the dugout, I gave him a pat on the back to show my thanks. He winked and said, “Hey, where’s the Gatorade?”

“It’s right over there, Manny,” I replied, pointing to the cooler.

He shrugged and said, “That one’s empty, man. Can you go fill it up?”

I finally realized he was joking with me and was pretending he thought I was the ball boy. These guys are such cards!

I did get pulled in the fifth inning. It was a little rough because I walked the leadoff hitter. I got Troy Glaus to pop out in foul territory, but then I gave up three consecutive singles and a triple. Aaron Hill’s three-bagger totally messed up my plan for another double play.

I was pretty bummed I wouldn’t get my first big league win. Mike Timlin came by while I was on the bench and gave me some venison jerky (which he hunted, cut, and cured himself) to cheer me up. While I was chomping down, Prez (Van Buren’s nick), Homeboy (Delcarmen), Foulkie, and Paps went for the next four and two-thirds innings without letting a run score.

Well, the next time you see me pitch it could be against the Yankees at the Toilet. This is my big chance and I’m going to make the most of it.

Love,
Your Son David

May 22, 2006

Phratry

Game 41: May 21, 2006
Red Sox (25-16), 5
Phillies (23-20), 10
L: Lenny DiNardo (1-2)
W: Cory Lidle (4-4)

Manny Ramirez is rubbing off on Wily Mo Peña, and not just in terms of power hitting. In the fourth inning the center fielder shushed the crowd after he nabbed Pat Burrell air ball that tailed away from him towards the fences. Just as Ramirez had done on May 10th, Peña put his finger to his lips, Allen Iverson style, so Philadelphia fans should be familiar with this move.

Unlike the Patriots in the AFC divisional playoff game in January 2002, the Red Sox did not get the benefit of the tuck rule in the bottom of the sixth. Umpires ruled that Peña didn’t make a catch of Jimmy Rollins’s fly ball to shallow center despite it having been cradled by Peña for at least three strides. Second base umpire Phil Cuzzi and third base umpire Jerry Crawford both made the call. Indeed, Section 2.00 of the official rules defines a catch as

... the act of a fielder in getting secure possession in his hand or glove of a ball in flight and firmly holding it; providing he does not use his cap, protector, pocket or any other part of his uniform in getting possession.... If the fielder has made the catch and drops the ball while in the act of making a throw following the catch, the ball shall be adjudged to have been caught. In establishing the validity of the catch, the fielder shall hold the ball long enough to prove that he has complete control of the ball and that his release of the ball is voluntary and intentional.

There is much more verbage associated with the definition of a catch, but the bolded sentence above shows why the umpires ruled as they did. Interestingly, if Peña was in the act of throwing the ball back into the infield and dropped it, it would have been a catch.

Bobby Abreu relived memories of his bombastic showing in the Home Run Derby last year with his three-run homer in the sixth off the recently recalled Abe Alvarez.

Kevin Youkilis and Mike Lowell had solo roundtrippers in the fifth and sixth respectively, but Cory Lidle pitched just well enough for his fourth win, averting a series sweep by the visiting team. Lidle probably wanted to make sure his tires weren’t slashed as retaliation for a poor performance.

Lowell has adapted his play well for American League play but also showed his senior circuit savvy. In the second inning, Shane Victorino was on third and Cory Lidle was on deck. Victorino was to break for home on contact. Instead of going for the out at first, Lowell threw to home so the run wouldn’t score and also notched the second out of the inning.

Serendipitous happenings seem to gather around Lowell; in the eighth inning he unintentionally drove in a run with a check swing grounder to third. But all the luck in the universe couldn’t overcome Philadelphia’s early lead.

Hopefully Wally’s feelings weren’t hurt when he saw David Ortiz riding with the Phillie Phanatic on the field yesterday. Sure, players may be fickle when they are on the road, but to be unfaithful to Wally after all his hardship seems heartless and cruel. I hope Ortiz has a good explanation for his infidelity. The Phanatic and Wally might share a bond because of their green fur, but the bond of being Red Sox brethren bests such superficialities.

May 20, 2006

Phenomenon

Game 39: May 19, 2006
Red Sox (24-15), 5
Phillies (22-19), 3
W: Matt Clement (4-3)
H: Keith Foulke (4)
H: Mike Timlin (11)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (15)
L: Jon Lieber (3-5)

Our Papi, who art at first base, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy home runs come. Thy arm be gun, in Citizens Bank Park as it is in Fenway. Give us this day our daily RBI. And forgive Francona his trespasses, As we forgive those Phillie fans who trespass against us. And lead us not into frustration, But deliver us from upheaval. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

David Ortiz made the sign of the cross after cleanly fielding Jimmy Rollins’s biting grounder for the first Phillie out of the game. Next Matt Clement enticed Chase Utley to whiff, but those would be the easiest outs of the inning. Bobby Abreu doubled to wall in left field, where Manny Ramirez lay in wait and was about to make one of his patented “How ’Bout That” catches but was inches short. The erratic Red Sox starter walked the next batter and hit Ryan Howard to load the bases, but the foray was staunched by Shane Victorino’s fly out to center.

Victorino, who is from Maui, just like me, did hit the Phillies’ only home run of the game in the fourth inning. Philadelphia rallied in the seventh with Utley’s two-out, two-run double off Keith Foulke. But Terry Francona kept Foulke in to punch out Abreu to end the resurgence.

The way of the Philadelphia team thus far seems that they have just enough talent to make it interesting but fall just short of division leader material. They trail the Mets, a team that broke the bank to complete, by three games. How do they stack up in the National League?

  • Eleventh in OBP: .335
  • Sixth in slugging percentage: .438
  • Eighth in strikeouts against: 273
  • Fifth in home runs: 52
  • Seventh in ERA: 4.44
  • Eighth in strikeouts for: 272
  • Fourteenth in WHIP: 1.46

Mike Lowell, Jason Varitek, and Ortiz homered for the Red Sox, with the acting first baseman’s roundtripper almost reaching the upper deck. Hit Tracker stated that it was only 425 feet; it may not have been the farthest but it was supremely lofty in its trajectory, almost enough to convene with the heavens.

In more earthly matters, in the bottom of the ninth Dustan Mohr found himself as the fourth outfielder, a bit like Joe Maddon’s defensive alignment for Ortiz, but with an extra player. In his postgame interview, Terry Francona drawled that it wasn’t the case that Mohr didn’t understand the double switch, since it wasn’t in effect. Rather, Mohr was misled by the public address announcer who said that he would be replacing Willie Harris at center.

I may be a traditionalist in many ways, but I think both leagues should use the designated hitter. Probably because I’m used to how the American League works and I’ve read the explanation for double switches a few times and it still seems bizarre. Abolish the double switch!

May 17, 2006

Short-Changed

One of the big lies demographics experts tell sports media machines is that that sports fans want a player that is all flash, no substance. These marketeers tell oblivious programming heads that the public wants sound bites, not hard-bitten play on the field. The more scandalous, extreme, and tawdry, the better. Twenty-four hour non-stop coverage in every conceivable mode of communication predicates the constant prowl for the next greatest, biggest, shiniest thing to catch the ever-more-distracted viewer’s eye and ear.

The truth is, sports fans probably want a mixture of both outrageous plays and extravagant sayings. Which might be why Nomar Garciaparra seems globally misunderstood and underappreciated.

Nomar is the epitome of throwback baseball. He doesn’t rehearse speeches, cares not a whit about which lighting angle flatters him most. His postgame interviews are a litany of clichés and platitudes. He is a tremendous baseball talent in a market that craves, nay, demands to have its every whim catered. Not just plain catering from the local restaurant, either: full spreads with Cristal champagne fountains, ice sculptures of Versailles, and entrées (yes, “entrées,” not plain old “entrees”) comprised of the meat of endangered game.

No, Nomar will not be your server for this evening.

Garciaparra began his first season as the Dodgers’ first baseman on April 22nd. Since that day, he has a .341 batting average, a .418 OBP, and .647 slugging percentage, with five home runs in 85 at bats.

Slowly but surely, salvos that Nomar could have released in the public relations war with certain parties of the Red Sox front office are coming to light, as this quote from Nick Cafardo’s recent article in the Boston Globe illustrates:

One of Garciaparra’s ex-teammates in Boston said the Dodgers and Yankees made the same offer, but Garciaparra chose LA because, “He always considers himself a Red Sox. That’s one thing people don’t understand about Nomar. He would have never signed with the Yankees because he always thought of himself as a Red Sox player.”

Everyone’s clamoring for Roger Clemens to come back. But I wouldn’t mind seeing Nomar return for his final seasons as a designated hitter for the Red Sox. Like Nomar himself, I will always think of him as a Red Sox player.

May 2, 2006

Mayday

Game 26: May 1, 2006
Yankees (13-11), 3
Red Sox (15-11), 7
L: Aaron Small (0-1)
W: Mike Timlin (3-0)

With all the hype around the returns of Johnny Damon and Doug Mirabelli, the real story of the evening eluded attention. Incendiary closer Jonathan Papelbon locked horns with fireballer Kyle Farnsworth in an MLB 2K6 duel. The Red Sox won 4-2 by virtue of Papelbon’s pair of homers in the visitor’s half of the ninth. As the virtual game took place in Yankee Stadium, the rookie closer brought himself in to shut down the Yankees in the bottom of the final inning for the win. The last time I saw something as odd was when Paul Pierce was doing a promotion at the Burlington Mall Electronics Boutique a few years ago. Playing oneself in a video game must be the ultimate ego trip.

Seemingly in a panicked state, the Red Sox traded Josh Bard, Cla Meredith, and either cash or a player to be named later to San Diego for backup catcher Mirabelli. As details emerged, Theo Epstein had been in contact with the Padres as early as a week ago to retrieve the erstwhile backstop.

Mirabelli hopped on a plane from San Francisco to Logan Airport, where a police detail awaited him. He dressed into his home whites in the state police utility vehicle that swerved into the player’s parking lot just in time to return to his role as Tim Wakefield’s battery mate. As much as I appreciate Mirabelli for all that he has done and probably will do for the team, San Diego played the heartstrings of the Red Sox while tampering with their purse strings for this sweetheart deal.

Furthermore, it was reported that the Yankees also attempted to finagle Mirabelli from the Padres. In no other division would there be such a tussle over a backup catcher.

So, given the strained relations between the two titans of the AL East, it should come as no surprise that former Red Sox center fielder Damon had scorn heaped upon him like no other. At least Roger Clemens had those intervening years with the Blue Jays. With Damon, there was no buffer. For all that he did for the Red Sox from 2002 to 2005, Damon received minimal positive acknowledgment in his first at bat and was lustily mocked throughout the game. Damon did tip his helmet when he led off the first.

Fans were tremendously creative with their demonstrations against Damon. One had a sign upon which Damon, with his formerly bedraggled locks, looked a bit like Charles Manson. Instead of the swastika, there was the “interlocking NY” logo. Bleacher fans slung fake money onto the warning track. The fitful wind toyed with the replica bills just as it did the fly balls that dared exit the field.

The teams entered the opening game neck and neck in the standings. The even matching of the clubs played out on the field as the score was tied for two late innings.

The Red Sox took an early lead in the first inning. Kevin Youkilis walked on four straight balls from Chien-Ming Wang; the first baseman advanced to second on Mark Loretta’s ground out to second. With the shift on, David Ortiz took a pitch to the opposite field to drive in Youkilis. This would not be the last we would hear from the Red Sox designated hitter.

Wang seemed to have a Contrerian moment; he walked the next two batters to load the bases. The young pitcher was bailed out by Miguel Cairo’s fielding of a Mike Lowell hit, which he deftly relayed to home for the second out of the inning. Bubba Crosby dove for a last second nab of Wily Mo Peña’s liner to right and Wang would live to see another four innings of work.

Despite his defensive prowess, Crosby hobbled his team’s chances in the third inning with an ill-advised theft attempt with Damon at the dish. Mirabelli gunned Crosby out at second base. Wakefield showcased remarkably spaz-free running with his fielding of Damon’s grounder for the third and final out of that inning as the knuckleballer managed to tag the Yankee center fielder in a scurry down the first base line.

But New York would wrest away the lead in the fourth inning. Derek Jeter led off with a single and Wakefield walked the next two batters to load the bases. Singles by Hideki Matsui and Robinson Cano would generate three runs. It appeared Loretta could have knocked down Cano’s grounder up the middle, but the Red Sox second baseman would redeem himself multiple times by the end of the game.

Alex Cora ably demonstrated the art of the drag bunt to lead off the fifth. Youkilis arced a hit into right field but Loretta’s bunt attempt resulted in Cora being forced out at third. Ortiz again wore out the left field, this time to load the bases. Manny Ramirez mirrored Ortiz’s opposite field strategy to drive in Youkilis. Trot Nixon’s ground ball would plate Loretta to even the run tally.

Defensive gems kept Boston in the game. Loretta aborted a possible Jason Giambi leadoff base hit in the sixth, nimbly nabbing a liner while playing deep in the shift. In the eighth, the home team turned a superb double play. Giambi grounded to Loretta who niftily tossed to Youkilis. For some reason, perhaps to deke the infielders, Jeter overshot second base. Cora immediately noted Jeter’s misplay and blocked second base from the shortstop’s attempted return.

The Yankees bullpen unraveled in the bottom of the eighth. Aaron Small began the inning promisingly enough by inducing Mirabelli to ground out to second. He then walked Cora on four consecutive balls. Willie Harris, reprising the role of Dave Roberts, pinch ran for Cora. After two pickoffs, Small nailed Youkilis in the elbow, prompting Joe Torre to call on Tanyon Sturtze for relief.

Worcester’s own Sturtze didn’t provide the needed ministration; Loretta delivered a ground ball single to center field. Ironically enough, it was a grounder that Cano could have knocked down, just like the hit Loretta permitted in the fourth.

Very few men could overpower the stiff breeze in last night, and Ortiz proved he was one of them. Mike Myers was brought in the eighth for the express purpose of getting Ortiz out. The sidearm lefty fell behind in the count 2-0, throwing gingerly to the paradigm of designated hitters. Ortiz let the third pitch cross the plate for the strike. If hitters do set up pitchers, this situation certainly felt like a frame job. Myers hurled another ball while Ortiz placidly observed his quarry. Big Papi fouled off one pitch before recalibrating and jacking the sixth pitch into the Red Sox bullpen. Papelbon, who would come into the ninth inning and pitch yet another scoreless inning, caught the ball and gave a fortunate fan a souvenir.

I have tickets to tonight’s game, but I wonder if it will be played. Even if it isn’t, memories of last night will suffice until the next series in the middle of this month. The only pity is that Wakefield did not pick up the win despite going seven innings with a line of four hits, three earned runs, three walks, and two strikeouts. And some may say it was because of Wakefield’s confidence in Mirabelli behind the plate, or that the Yankees always fall prey to the flittering knuckleball, or even because of the emphatic gusts of the night. But getting run support, albeit late, is the primary reason Wakefield had a chance to chalk up his second win of the season.

April 28, 2006

Dave’s Diegesis: Colophony Conspectus

All religions, arts, and sciences are branches of the same tree.
Albert Einstein

Baseball is like a religion to me, one that combines ineffable artistry and infallible science in a single medium. My days as a ballplayer were some of the best times of my life and those memories will never leave me. The reminiscences are still so vibrant to me: I can recall the smell of the freshly-shorn field and hot dogs, the sound of the ball smacking into the catcher’s mitt and the gruff voices of vendors, the brilliant white of the foul lines receding into cheerful yellow of the foul poles. And the feelings: the cinch of the belt around my waist, my cap snug around my temple, and the reassuring heft of the rosin bag in my palm.

The rosin bag is one of the few foreign objects permitted to remain on the field during play. You’ll see it perched on the back of the mound, perpetually within the reach of hurlers. Pitchers like me use it to enhance their grip on the ball. The powder provides the proper balance of dryness and tackiness that is essential for the pitcher to feel comfortable with his release. Every pitcher has his or her idea of the ideal combination of slickness and friction; the amount of rosin assists in calibrating the touch.

RosinbagarroyoLike so many of the implements of baseball, rosin has its origins in the pine tree. In fact, rosin does carry the distinctive tang of conifers. Just as maple syrup is tapped, resin from pine trees is collected. Resins from different types of trees are collected, and each manufacturer has its own secret combinations.

The sap is then distilled into turpentine, the volatile solvent, and rosin. Rosin is processed differently for its varied uses. For luthiers, rosin is mixed with beeswax and particles of precious metals to alter the tone of their musical instruments. Baseball rosin bags have humbler companions such as cornstarch or talc.

Another name for rosin is “colophon,” from the Ionian city of the same name which was once known as the primarily as the exporter of the substance. The meaning of colophon evolved to be associated with printing and books, probably because of the use of rosin as a fixative for inks. The word now refers to the back matter of publications which describes the typeface and any other production details of a book but also is the name for any publishing house’s trademark. RoSIN, an abbreviation of RetroSheet Intraplay Notation, is a subset of the language created to power RetroSheet and is attempting to be the standard syntax for describing baseball plays electronically.

Words and baseball, like the interplay between pitcher and catcher--always passing meanings and ideas between each other, semaphorically and metaphorically.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site.

April 22, 2006

Lefty & Righty: On Transgendered Mascots

Leftyrighty LEFTY: Shortly after I became a full-fledged mascot, just days from being less than mote of lint on the knitting needle of my maker, I felt pressure from society to be a boy or a girl. “You have such pretty smile,” they’d say. “That must mean you’re a girl.” Or, “What a masculine chin you have; you’ll make a strapping young man.”

Things just aren’t so cut and dry these days. Mascots the world over are exerting their right to express or renounce the gender roles ascribed to them. The equipment you’re given should not determine if you entertain in a masculine or feminine manner. Really, what constitutes what is manly or womanly anyway? These characteristics originate in societal norms and perceptions and are not essential aspects of nature.

I think the best mascots traverse gender roles with a blink of their ostrich feather eyelashes. One second you’ll see the Phillie Phanatic flirting with an umpire and the next it’s ogling a female fan in the stands. (Hmm, notice how it is just assumed that an umpire would be male? Anyway, that’s another topic for another week.) Would anyone question the fitness of the Hall of Famer Philadelphia Phillies mascot as a role model for children?

On behalf of the Phanatic and other gender-oppressed mascots, I proclaim: “Philadelphia freedom!” From restrictive gender stereotyping, that is.

RIGHTY: God made men and women separate and different for a reason. Now people make a mockery of this symmetry with these polymorphously perverse mascots. In Cincinnati, this Gapper character traipses about the field. But what is it? Man, woman, something in between? It’s very undefined nature will rend asunder society as we know it.

If you go up to Milwaukee, you’ll see a real man’s man, Bernie Brewer. Down in San Diego, they have the Swinging Friar, another perfect paradigm of the properly demarcated and different positions men and women should have in today’s world.

We’re role models for children. It’s confusing enough to be a child in such perilous times. Predators lurk everywhere, from the dark corners of suburbia to the weekend getaway beaches. Have you seen the increasing rates of bear and shark attacks?

Indeed, it’s dangerous to be a child these days. Which is why we shouldn’t be distracting them by filling their heads with willy-nilly notions of it not being important if you’re a boy or a girl. Of course it’s crucial; how else will children know whether to seriously pursue a career like a man or learn the intricacies of housekeeping and raising children as a woman? Let’s save them a lot of needless stress and worry. Show them what they should be, not what they can be.

Lefty & Righty is a blatant rip-off of the Onion’s Point/Counterpoint feature, but new and improved with the inclusion of Red Sox mascots. Love it, like it, hate it? Let me know if you think this should be a regular.

Continue reading “Lefty & Righty: On Transgendered Mascots” »

April 21, 2006

Dave’s Diegesis: What the Muck?

Deliver me out of the mire,
and let me not sink:
let me be delivered from them that hate me,
and out of the deep water
Psalm 69:14

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to snag a foul ball or gopher ball in the stands, you would have noticed it’s not flawlessly white, even if it it hadn’t been through the rigors of play. This is because every ball used in major and minor league play is first treated with Lena Blackburne Original Baseball Rubbing Mud.

To make myself useful around the Red Sox clubhouse, in case I get a call that they need help or whatnot, I’ve been teaching myself some new skills that may come in handy. One thing I’ve been mastering is the art of rubbing baseballs. But before one acquires the expertise necessary to prepare a ball for play, one must understand who Lena Blackburne is and what makes him famous.

Blackburne started off as a shortstop for the Chicago White Sox in 1910. In the course of his 17-year career the itinerant infielder also played for the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Braves. After his playing career ceased, he settled in as the third base coach under Connie Mack for the Philadelphia Athletics from 1933 to 1954.

At the time, there was no standard substance with which to de-slick balls. You see, new baseballs are just too shiny and slick for pitchers to grip. Umpires would use everything from tobacco juice to shoe polish, but nothing donned the ball with the right touch. Blackburne took it upon himself to find the alkahest to the pitchers’ baseball woes.

Somewhere ensconced in the anonymous mires of a Delaware River tributary there is a sanctum of incomparable muck. Blackburne chanced upon this champion lode of ooze that was perfectly suited to the task of breaking in balls. It enrobed the ball with its smooth consistency, described as a cross between “chocolate pudding and whipped cold cream.” By 1938, Blackburne supplied the American League with his clandestine conconction. Being a stalwart supporter of the American League, he actually refused to sell the mud to the National League until the 1950s.

I don’t like to turn to our divisional rivals, but in this situation I had to seek the supreme guru of craft. I went Baltimore on a sojourn to mentor with Ernie Tyler, ball man. Mr. Tyler, the real iron man of the Orioles, has worked 3,699 consecutive games as of April 20th. He has been with the team since 1954 and has been the clubhouse attendant since 1960. Mr. Tyler likes to prepare around 80 balls a game, but for Fenway, I would up it to 100. Not only does one ensure a uniform color and texture, but one must also check for defects on the spheres. The omniscient slime exposes blemishes that would otherwise go unnoticed.

It’s odd how, in this case, you must sully something to make it proper.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site and perhaps some readers of the Boston Phoenix.

April 20, 2006

Moxie

Game 15: April 19, 2006
Devil Rays (7-8), 1
Red Sox (11-4), 9
L: Doug Waechter (0-1)
W: Curt Schilling (4-0)

Cast
Tina Cervasio, ingénue under pressure
Don Orsillo, starstruck announcer boy
Jerry Remy, grizzled veteran
Rene Russo, established Hollywood starlet
Ty Wigginton, Devil Rays utilityman

[Cheesy infotainment musical opening. Flashy graphics package swoops across the screen trumpeting “Red Sox Moxie,” a show where baseball and celebrities collide.]

ORSILLO: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the second game of a three-game series against the Devil Rays. When Boston last tangled with Tampa Bay, tempers flared and suspensions were delivered. [Clip of the Julian Tavarez/Joey Gathright incident.] Jerry, what can we expect from this match-up?

REMY: Well, Don, the Devil Rays have new ownership and management, but all of the same old problems. They’ve got a stacked lineup, particularly in the outfield, but no pitching. Tonight’s starting pitcher, Doug Waechter, has started two games and has no wins. So far this season he’s pitched for nine and two-thirds innings with a 3.72 ERA.

ORSILLO: That’s not too bad.

REMY: Well, it’s good for the Devils Rays’ pitching staff.

ORSILLO: This is true. Tina, you’ve got some news for us?

CERVASIO: Thanks, Don. I was talking to some Devil Rays players before the game and they tell me playing for a new owner, general manager, and field manager has been uplifting so far. The Devil Rays squad tells me that because expectations are low, the team doesn’t feel the pressure that one would in a high-profile franchise where every person associated with the team is analyzed daily under a microscope.

[Cut to interview clip of CERVASIO with TY WIGGINTON.]

CERVASIO: So, what’s the real estate market like in Florida?

WIGGINTON: Real cheap. And you know there’s no state income tax.

CERVASIO: And they’re as laid back as you say they are?

WIGGINTON: Yeah, nothing like Pittsburgh. That place was like a pressure cooker. This place is like so intense. I don’t know how I’m going to handle playing in left field here. Those fans over there [gestures to CVS Family section] are all over me.

[Cut back to ORSILLO and REMY.]

ORSILLO: Quite interesting.

CERVASIO: [Uncharacteristically glum.] They tell me that no one even knows the name or even cares about the sideline reporter on their local broadcasts.

ORSILLO: Thanks very much, Tina. I hear you have a noteworthy guest with you today?

CERVASIO: In Tampa, there’s no “Weiner Whiner Line” that ridicules you, or fan message boards that criticize every aspect of your performance on a nightly basis.

ORSILLO: I see. And your surprise guest...?

CERVASIO: Nope, no pressure in Florida. Plus, a lot of the folks I know from New Jersey live down there already. It’s like Yankee Stadium south.

REMY: Lots of snowbird retirees down there. All pulling their pants up high, like the new Wally. Don’t forget, you can get Wally and other fine merchandise at The Remy Report. Early bird menu not included.

ORSILLO: [Clears throat.] So, Tina, I hear you’ve got film star Rene Russo with you.

CERVASIO: [Suddenly chirpy.] Rene Russo, star of the Lethal Weapon and Major League series, is here tonight. So, how do you feel about being here at Fenway?

RUSSO: It’s just great. I came specifically to be here and finally watch a game in person.

CERVASIO: Do you have any predictions for this game?

RUSSO: Schilling’s going to go six innings with six hits, one earned run, one walk, and seven strikeouts.

CERVASIO: Which Red Sox batters do you think are going to score a lot of points?

RUSSO: You mean runs? Well, I think Youk is going to continue on his tear and go three for four with two RBIs, including a homer. Lowell will abuse the wall with his line drive doubles and also drive in two runs. I’ve been keeping my eye on that Wigginton kid. He’s all shook up about his first start in the outfield here, so look for him to commit some key errors.

CERVASIO: Back to you, Don and Jerry!

ORSILLO: [To production crew.] Could you send Rene Russo to the booth? I’d really love to take a picture with her....

[REMY rolls eyes.]

April 18, 2006

Untie

Game 13: April 17, 2006
Mariners (6-8), 6
Red Sox (9-4), 7
H: Jake Woods (2)
BS: J.J. Putz (1)
BS, L: Eddie Guardado (1, 0-1)
W: Mike Timlin (1)

Have you ever witnessed something so perfect and of such beauty that you were hesitant to commit words to paper, brush to canvas, voice to notes, for fear of failing utterly in the attempt to convey what you saw?

It’s no stretch to say that, after 2004, all Red Sox fans share this in common--a far better legacy than contrived curses or maladroit management. When you see something so wonderfully implausible, you wonder if, in the retelling, some of that magic will dissipate. But then you realize, no, you should recount said events, even if only for the selfish pleasure of reliving such feats.

The comeback win on Patriots Day had a trace of July 24, 2004 about it. Sure, it’s only April and it was against the Mariners. But when there are retrospectives of 2006, this game could be heralded as the game where everything came together.

Lenny DiNardo made his second major league start, a sport start in a top-heavy pitching rotation. I did see his first start in September of last year; I wish I could have been on hand for his second. He went five innings with a line of six hits, two earned runs, and one each of bases on balls and strikeouts.

The Mariners scored first thanks to Ichiro Suzuki hit DiNardo’s second pitch over Manny Ramirez, who, as usual, was playing shallow, for a leadoff double. Ichiro, who could advance a base when a pitcher scratches his nose, proceeded to third base Jose Lopez’s 1-3 ground out. Raul Ibanez then lofted a sacrifice fly to left field, Ramirez at the ready for a play at home. The left fielder’s throw was accurate but Suzuki was too fast. 1-0, Mariners.

Gil Meche is one of those run-of-the-mill righties hitters like David Ortiz feast on. With two out and the count full, David Ortiz propelled a ball into the camera hut in the center field bleachers to tie the game going into the second inning, 1-1.

Adrian Beltre reached first DiNardo’s only walk of the game. It would prove costly as Seattle’s third baseman scored on Yuniesky Betancourt’s fly ball double to center field. Alex Cora displayed transcendental game awareness when netting Suzuki’s grounder: instead of attempting to throw to Kevin Youkilis to get the out at first, he trapped Betancourt in a rundown. Cora along with infield accomplices Mike Lowell and Mark Loretta ensnared the sophomore shortstop for the third out of the second inning. Suzuki was left stranded at first, but the Red Sox failed to keep the game tied. Seattle led 2-1 going into the bottom of the second.

Perhaps overly anxious after his brief respite, Trot Nixon fell behind 0-2 in his first at bat. He then evened the count watching two pitches miss low. Meche tried to go low and away, but Nixon was able to single to right field and advanced on Jason Varitek’s ground out to second base. The Boston right fielder was perfectly positioned to score on Cora’s short fly to center. The Mariners’ second baseman Lopez had pursued the ball just deep enough into the outfield to allow Cora to leg out a double since none of Lopez’s infield covered second base on the play.

The game would remain knotted at 2-2 until the sixth inning. Rudy Seanez struck out the first two batters he faced, Ibanez and Richie Sexson, with just 10 pitches. Then rookie catching standout Kenji Johjima (called variously by Jerry Remy as “Joe Jama” or “Jojimer”) dispatched a fly ball single to center field, scoring when the all-too-familiar Carl Everett jacked a two-run roundtripper off Pesky Pole. The teeter-totter tipped again in the Mariners’ favor, 4-2.

The Red Sox played “our DH is better than your DH” in the bottom of the sixth. Ortiz retorted with a two-run blast of his own with Youkilis on base. Boston could have taken the lead had Ramirez’s fly ball off the wall not missed clearing the Monster by just a foot. Instead, the game headed into the seventh inning with a 4-4 draw.

The tie was quickly effaced. Cora, despite his earlier heroics, erred on a Willie Bloomquist liner. The Mariners utilityman went then went station to station on a Betancourt sacrifice bunt, stole third base, and scored on Suzuki’s ground out to second base.

Trailing 5-4, Ortiz nearly evened the score again with his olympian fly ball to right. Instead, Suzuki cleanly fielded the ball just in front of the visitors’ bullpen. Nixon then proved that the rest did not rust his skills; he placed himself into scoring position with a two-out double that bounded along the first base line before trickling into right field. Varitek’s gutshot grounder past the diving Lopez drove in Nixon to, yet again, tie the score.

Keith Foulke got Everett to fly out to left but then allowed two consecutive singles to Beltre and Bloomquist. Bloomquist’s single was a particularly sharp grounder up the middle that advanced Beltre to third base. With one out and runners at the corners, Mike Timlin entered the fray.

Timlin yielded the go-head run to pinch-hitting Roberto Petagine, who the Red Sox may have been more familiar with had he been allowed any playing time last season. Petagine’s ground out to second base scored Beltre. Suzuki was then intentionally walked to get to the slumping Lopez, who impatiently swung at every thrown pitch and quickly struck out.

Boston trailed 6-5 going into the bottom ninth inning. Wily Mo Peña and Dustan Mohr both struck out to Almost Everyday Eddie Guardado. The left-handed closer came within one strike of sealing the Red Sox’s fate, going up on Youkilis 0-2. But Youkilis muscled a ball into play on and just beat out a throw by Lopez for an infield single.

Loretta watched two pitches miss the zone and on the third pitch he saw hit his first walk-off home run at any level. His first circuit clout as Red Sox player soared into the Monster Seats to grant a fan a souvenir and a his team a win.

Like heavyweight fighters exchanging blows in a championship bout, each team rallied back after falling behind in a repartee of RBIs. Morever, the Red Sox proved they can win both tight games and offensive face-offs.

Is it really only April?

April 7, 2006

Dave’s Diegesis: Clubhouse Chemistry

Chemistry can be a good and bad thing. Chemistry is good when you make love with it. Chemistry is bad when you make crack with it.
Adam Sandler

It’s good to be back, diegesis devotees. I had a productive offseason by taking some chemistry courses. The word “chemistry,” in case you didn’t know, has its roots in the Greek χημεια (chumeia), which could be the origin for the precursor of chemistry, alchemy, via the Arabic الكيمياء, which is pronounced “al-kīmiyaˀ.”

All that I learned in my studies has greatly aided me in understanding the potential assets and impediments in the Red Sox clubhouse this year. Sure, some people say that chemistry is overrated, but I happen to think through careful observation and tracking of observable phenomena, the supposedly capricious nature of human behavior can be equated to chemical reactions. To wit:

  • Josh Bard: NH4Cl (ammonium chloride)
    For Bard, I describe more what he should become rather than what he is. Ammonium chloride is embedded into soldering wires to help the lead and tin parts of the wire flow when melted, joining together disparate parts. Bard must similarly become the conduit for Wakefield’s knuckleball and the strike zone, merging them together into a seamless whole.
  • Josh Beckett: C3H5N3O9 (nitroglycerin)
    Beckett’s explosive power on the mound can only be described as dynamite. Unlike his chemical compound counterpart, however, the righty’s blast selectively demolishes only opposing hitters.
  • Matt Clement: Pb(N3)2 (lead azide)
    Clement, despite his calm demeanor, is potentially explosive. He can be, like his chemical equivalent, the active ingredient in detonators to unleash massive devastation on opponents’ lineups. But he isn’t the primary explosive.
  • Coco Crisp: KNaC4H4O6·4H2O (potassium sodium tartrate)
    Can you smell what Coco Crisp is baking? Those sweet wins can’t be made without a little efferevesence, which is what baking powder does for our favorite desserts.
  • Lenny DiNardo: Gd2O3 (gadolinium oxide)
    When a pitcher has a meltdown on the mound, Terry Francona turns to DiNardo. When there is a nuclear reaction, good old gadolinium oxide is used in control rods to avoid an atomic catastrophe.
  • Keith Foulke: Pu (plutonium)
    Once a dangerous weapon and now some say he is on the verge of a meltdown. We all hope not, but the signs are there.
  • Alex Gonzalez: C12H22O11 (sucrose)
    When I see Gonzalez field, my immediate thought: Sweet.
  • Mark Loretta: Caesium (Cs)
    Reliable and and steady, caesium is used in atomic clocks because that is the agreed element in the International System of Measurements definition of a second (9,192,631,770 cycles of the radiation which corresponds to the transition between two energy levels of the ground state of the 133Cs atom). Some of its isotopes are also used in the treatment of cancer. Loretta is the caesium of the team, dependable and curative.
  • Mike Lowell: CO2 (carbon dioxide)
    You could see Lowell as the byproduct of respiration, an unwanted compound in the vital act of resuscitating this team. But, as carbon dioxide is critical to plants, so could the veteran third baseman be crucial to the development of the greener players on the roster.
  • Trot Nixon: H2S (hydrogen sulfide)
    What else is smelly and the result of biomatter breaking down with the presence of oxygen? Breathing hydrogen sulfide can kill nerves in the olfactory system, which his my best guess as to why Trot can wear the same fetid hat all season.
  • David Ortiz: O2 (oxygen)
    Without oxygen, we die. Without Big Papi, the team dies.
  • Jonathan Papelbon: Ni (nickel)
    Indifferent to oxidation and magnetic. Nickel is the primary element in many super-alloys, and as we add more farm talent like Papelbon’s to the team we’ll be made of even better metal. Since he’s homegrown, our shining pitching star only costs nickels, too.
  • Wily Mo Peña: Fe (iron)
    Strong, but needs to be annealed and alloyed to attain its full strength. With the mentoring of Ron Jackson, Ortiz, and Ramirez, Peña may become a man of steel.
  • Manny Ramirez: N2 (nitrogen)
    Like the gas, Ramirez must be harnessed into usable forms. Enrique Wilson is analogous to the nitrogen-fixing bacteria that converts nitrogen into ammonia, the foundation of important biological molecules, such as amino and nucleic acids, including deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).
  • Curt Schilling: Pb (lead)
    Of all stable elements, lead has the highest number. Schilling doesn’t let media criticism erode his confidence in himself and his abilities, just as lead is resistant to corrosion. Long exposure can lead to nerve and brain damage, similar to listening to the veteran pitcher’s press conferences for extended periods of time.
  • Rudy Seanez: KCN (potassium cyanide)
    Seanez, if his stuff is on, can be lethal to hitters, and thanks to his Ultimate Fighting resume, he is deadly on a number of levels.
  • Julian Tavarez: (Mg,Fe)3Si2O5(OH)4 (magnesium iron silicate hydroxide)
    More commonly known as asbestos. Causes cancer.
  • Mike Timlin: NaClO (sodium hypochlorite)
    The active ingredient in bleach, this oxidizing agent purifies the team of unclean thoughts and rids bases of runners, whom Timlins sees as bacteria contaminating his territory.
  • Jason Varitek: NaCl (sodium chloride)
    The Captain is the salt of earth. Roman soldiers were paid “salaries” so they could buy the valuable flavoring. He was indeed given a large salary when he was re-signed with the Red Sox in 2004, but salt, in moderate quantities, is essential to life. In three years we’ll see if the team suffers from too much sodium intake.
  • Tim Wakefield: C (carbon)
    As carbon is the building block of life, so is Wakefield the foundation of the Red Sox. Like his elemental counterpart, under pressure he assumes gem-like qualities.
  • David Wells: C2H5OH (ethanol)
    Boomer, like his associated compound, is a great social lubricant. And if you can stomach a sentence that mentions both Wells and lubrication, you are a stronger man than I. At any rate, when you need someone to help you lighten up, Boomer is your man. In a figurative, not literal, sense.
  • Kevin Youkilis: CH2:C(CH 3)CH:CH2 (isoprene)
    Last year Youkilis bounced between McCoy Stadium and Fenway Park like a rubber ball. This year he’s springing from third base to first. Everyone likes to play with rubber balls; it is probably the most-lost childhood toy in history. Try not to take it for granted.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site, other seekers of the alkahest, and NU50, who liked one of my mojo suggestions.

April 6, 2006

Verve

Game 3: April 5, 2006
Red Sox (2-1), 2
Rangers (1-2), 1
W: Josh Beckett (1-0)
H: Mike Timlin (1)
S: Jonathan Papelbon (1)
L: Kameron Loe (0-1)

In the landscape of extinction, precision is next to godliness.
—Samuel Beckett

And the winner of the Best Young Pitcher Imitating Roger Clemens Award goes to.... It was amazing to watch Josh Beckett and Jonathan Papelbon on the mound last night. At this point I’m not able to say which righty was more right on and all the voting members of the academy have yet to turn in their ballots. Both of the youthful Red Sox pitchers turned in arresting performances to secure a series win.

Beckett’s debut didn’t start out favorably. In the first inning Brad Wilkerson hit a leadoff double and then reached third base on a wild pitch. Wilkerson would go on to score on an infield hit by Michael Young. Facing the heart of the order with no outs, Beckett did not buckle but excelled in the face of hardship. It was the first and last run of the evening.

With all hubbub over Beckett’s premiere, everyone seemed to forget that J.T. Snow also made his first start. The veteran first baseman went 0-4 and left two on base, which is probably why no one seemed to notice.

Don Orsillo generated material for next year’s “Rem Dawg Unleashed” early in the season. The second inning saw Orsillo was waxing poetic of the new age of general managers in baseball. “Young GMs have had sex,” he began. A long pause followed as he realized what he had let slip, perhaps Freudianly. Then he continued, “Success.” Jerry Remy was no where to be heard; he was most likely convulsing in laughter on the floor of the broadcast booth. Fortunately for Orsillo but unfortunately for the Red Sox, the top half of that inning went quickly. In the bottom of the inning Ranger sinkerballer Kameron Loe induced every Red Sox batter except Jason Varitek to ground out.

Until late in the game, it was a long, tedious night for Boston. David Ortiz ground into two double plays to end scoring opportunities, including a twin killing in the sixth inning that stranded Coco Crisp, who had powered a triple into right field.

Trot Nixon eventually discovered the chink in Loe’s armor in the seventh inning. A leadoff walk by Manny Ramirez unnerved the 24-year old pitcher, who left a ball too high in the zone to the Red Sox right fielder. Nixon propelled Loe’s mistake into the right field seats for the lead.

What does a guy have to do to overthrow an incumbent Gold Glove in this league, Ramirez must wonder to himself. In the eight inning, the left fielder and last year’s leader in outfield assists got his first of the season by throwing out Mark Teixeira at home for the second out of the inning. The Texas third base coach Steve Smith displayed shades of Dale Sveum with his decision to send his runner home on a line drive single into shallow left. Had it slipped Smith’s mind that the ball was hit into the dominion of fielding savant Ramirez?

The Red Sox went into the bottom of the ninth with just a one-run lead and the eighth hitter in the Rangers lineup in the queue. Skipper Terry Francona went with Jonathan Papelbon instead of Keith Foulke to slam the door. Papelbon struck out two to secure the victory and perhaps the closer spot in the bullpen. Baseball aficionados like to bring up Wally Pipp in such situations, but I unlearned a lot of accepted knowledge about Lou Gehrig’s predecessor at Snopes.com.

Waiting for Beckett was well worth it.

Red Sox debuts of notable pitchers:

March 24, 2006

Support Groups See Upsurge in Numbers

With the departure of sports icons Adam Vinatieri and Bronson Arroyo, support group facilitators throughout New England have seen a marked increase in attendance by bereaved fans.

“Usually there’s a slight increase around the time of Spring Training or when the Patriots do their annual salary dump,” said Shelly Lazaro, a facilitator of numerous Boston area support groups. “This year it has been almost untenable,” Lazaro continued. “We thought Johnny Damon’s departure was going to be the peak of intake, but we’re accruing more people than we can currently accommodate.”

Samantha Tearce, owner and administrator of the Vinatieri fan site “Adam’s the Apple of My Eye,” said her web traffic had tripled as word of the clutch placekicker’s departure spread. “As soon as I heard I set up a guestbook for fans to post their memories of Adam, but it became clear that some fans needed more assistance to endure this trying time. I linked to Shelly’s support group service. She and her staff have been an absolute godsend.”

Lazaro initiated several player-specific groups to oblige the needs of the public and coordinated the groups for larger gatherings. “I thought it would be good for the lovers of different sports to come together to explore their emotions in the aftermath of their loved ones’ leaving.”

“Those combined groups were so awesome,” exclaimed Trina Dugmore, a former Damon constituent who crossed over to Arroyo upon the center fielder’s departure to the Yankees. “I had no there were so many football and hockey hotties until I met with the other groups. There were even some Joe [Thornton] and Sergei [Samsonov] fans that were totally cool and taught me how to cope with serial departures. Now I’m a triple threat!”

“I know there’s some big stereotype that a good-looking player has only female fans,” said a long-time member of Sevier’s fan forum who asked to remain anonymous. “But that’s just what it is: a stereotype.” Holding back tears, Bedgegood commented shakily, “I made around $3,000 in the Super Bowl against the Rams. But it’s not just about the money to me. I stuck with the team and Adam even though the odds on the Patriots got shorter and the payoff smaller. It’s what true fans do.”

Devotees of Bronson Arroyo are particularly irked because he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for Wily Mo Peña after signing a “hometown discount” contract with the Red Sox. Unlike Damon and Vinatieri who were free agents who chose to pursue bigger contracts with rival teams, Arroyo signed the deal with the hope to remain on the Red Sox. The right-handed pitcher appeared genuinely saddened to have to leave the city that embraced him. When interviewed about the trade, Arroyo said “[We’re] just pieces on the freaking board.”

Pamele Trehint, although an ardent Arroyo follower, took the trade in stride. “Dude, I’m so understanding the deal with sports being a business these days. It’s annoying, but I just take out my frustrations by writing. I have this humor piece I’m working on--Top Ten Things Bronson Arroyo Will Do in Cincinnati to Feel Better.” According to Trehint, number eight in the list is “Get a Sharpie® and write “Sox” after “Reds” on his unis” and number three is “Pretend Adam Dunn is Big Papi, only taller, heavier, and slugs less. And doesn’t smile as big.”

But other fans in the Arroyo support group take umbrage to Trehint’s easy-going attitude. “It’s just plain betrayal by the front office,” said Eddie Kretz. “Everyone likes to point out how greedy players are, but when a club doesn’t honor loyalty, no one’s busting down John Henry’s doors for quote about how he pinches pennies.”

Lazaro remarked on the passions of the sports buffs of the area, saying, “I thought it was rough during the championship drought, but now people are unnaturally fixated on individual players who were on title-winning teams. We encourage them to reach out to friends, family members, and the new players on their teams. We don’t have to go through this alone.”

“And now with this Juan González incident,” continued Lazaro, “I’m going to need to add even more resources.”

March 11, 2006

Dr. Heckle and Ms. Snide

Inspired by Rick Paulas (a.k.a. Zon Dimmer) on McSweeney’s and his Tales of the Heckle, I wanted to chronicle one of the greatest days in the history of my Red Sox fandom. On April 13, 2002, I helped the Red Sox win a game against the Yankees. I can’t take all of the credit, of course. But I was an integral part of that 7-6 come-from-behind victory.

It was early in the season and the first series against the Yankees. I hadn’t been to Fenway a lot, so I had no idea that games in April weren’t usually blessed with mellow blue skies hardly marred by clouds. The day wasn’t so clear for Pedro Martinez. In the first inning, Derek Jeter ripped his first pitch into shallow center field for a leadoff double. After striking out Nick Johnson, Martinez walked Bernie Williams in one of their interminable contests. You know how those two are when they face each other: Williams steps out of the box to attempt to disconcert the pitcher, so Pedro steps off the rubber to unnerve his quarry. Lather, rinse, repeat. This time, Williams succeeded in drawing a walk. Martinez hit Jason Giambi to load the bases with still just one out. Three runs scored on Jorge Posada’s ensuing triple, and the pinstriped catcher eventually scored on a Rey Sanchez error.

Despite the four-run first inning, Martinez settled in to hold the Yankees scoreless for the next four innings. The Red Sox had managed to score three runs in the fourth in a scoring outburst that began with Rickey Henderson’s leadoff base on balls. New York increased their lead to three runs in the sixth inning. Emotions were running hot, even for the normally jovial Tony Cloninger. He was ejected in the bottom of the sixth for mentioning to home plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth that he thought he missed a few calls while Rolando Arrojo was on the mound. Inspired by Cloninger’s example, I vowed that when it came time for me contribute, I would step up.

I wasn’t alone in my commitment to the team. Johnny Damon doubled to center field in the bottom of the eighth, chasing David Wells from the game and prompting the insertion of Ramiro Mendoza. My seat for this game were right near the visitor’s bullpen. While Mendoza warmed, a pair of wits next to me heckled him. “You’re in for it now, Mendoza!” Then, sotto voce, “Yeah, this guy always gets us. Versatile: short relief, long relief, spot starts.” Out loud: “Look at Nomar, he’s ready to jump all over your slop.” Under breath: “Nomar will probably fly out to short.”

The Nostradamii were wrong. The Mendoza that Red Sox fans would come to know well made an appearance. He hit the Red Sox shortstop and then Manny Ramirez singled to score Damon. The gap between the teams slid to two runs and the crowd was deranged with joy. Joe Torre tarried so that his indomitable closer, Mariano Rivera, could warm up sufficiently to take the mound and staunch the bleeding.

Proper heckling requires intimate knowledge of your target. If you think you’re going to get into someone’s head by yelling, "Hey, 42, you suck!" you are sorely mistaken. Your words must deftly penetrate the neocortex of an elite athlete hardened by years of concentration and fortitude. They must there become seeds of doubt and apprehension that will blossom into your prey’s undoing.

In March of 2002, Rivera’s cousin, outfielder Ruben Rivera, was caught stealing Derek Jeter’s equipment and selling it to turn a quick buck. Shameful enough for a major league team, but devestating for the supposedly pristine Yankee clubhouse. Recall then that mystique and aura were aging yet at least had their reputation unstained. How humiliating then, for the paragon of Yankeedom, the Hammer of God, to have a relative leave in such unsavory circumstances.

I was truly curious about how Ruben was doing, so I posed the question to closer as he loosened up. “How’s your cousin doing? You know, Ruben?” I queried. “Does he like Texas?” After being released by the Yankees, he was invited to the Rangers’ spring training camp. “Tell him I think he has a career in memorabilia brokering.” I thought Rivera would appreciate some career advice for his young cousin. Of course he couldn’t thank me for my input as he was about to exit the bullpen, but I think my words may have resonated with him.

Rivera induced Tony Clark to ground out to first, but since Garciaparra was on third, he scored easily and Ramirez advanced to second base. Shea Hillenbrand came to the plate and Mariano pitched him high and inside. One could say he was head-hunting. Undaunted, the Boston third baseman hit the go-ahead two-run home run into the screen on the Green Monster. Ugueth Urbina shut down the first two Yankee batters of the ninth. Posada reached base on a single and Alfonso Soriano pinch ran for him. Soriano was thrown out by Jason Varitek while attempting to steal second, ending the epic game.

Shea and I haven’t always gotten along, but we worked well together that day.

February 16, 2006

Aloha ‘Oe

According to Baseball Reference, there have been 30 players born in Hawai‘i, the first being a 24-year old pitcher who made his major league debut and departure in the same year, 1914. Johnnie Williams, called “Honolulu Johnny,” was a right-handed pitcher who made three starts, lost two games, and had one complete game for the Detroit Tigers. Since then, there have been a few more players from the islands that have made bigger impacts, such as Sid Fernandez and Benny Agbayani, both of whom played in the World Series for the New York Mets, although separated by 14 years. Fernandez pitched in that World Series while Agbayani played in the 2000 Subway Series, affectionately known to everyone outside of the five boroughs as “Who Cares?” I cared enough to cheer on Benny. I was thrilled when he was picked up by the Red Sox in 2002.

As I have written before, I have a place in my heart for any kid from the islands that makes the big time. One player that made a tremendous showing in the 2004 College World Series for Cal State Fullerton was Kurt Suzuki. That same year Suzuki was drafted by Oakland in second round as the 67th pick overall, the first Hawaiian player to be drafted.

My thoughts are turning back to the islands becase I’ll be there for the next few weeks. I can’t imagine a more ideal and idyllic place to devise my fantasy league strategies for my first foray into the hobby. Also, sheer chance, USC will be playing UH for the first time since 1993 and the First Hawaii Title Rainbow Baseball Tournament will take place while I’m there. It will be a unique opportunity to scout some players. The baseball team of the University of Hawai‘i, my alma mater, is off to a strong start. The Rainbows won the season-opening series against Tony Gwynn’s San Diego State Aztecs 4-1 and are currently 6-2.

January 27, 2006

Act Globally

World Baseball ClassicBaseball has always been defined as something intrinsically American. But how do you define “America”? For me, the word is evolving into something ever more worldly and abstracted; more of a concept and a lifestyle than a static, geographically limited identity.

At first blush, one might limit the term to mean only a citizen of the country of the United States of America. There are 34 other countries in North and South America and their populations total 550M, or 65% of the total population of the two continents. Although the first definition of “American” in the American Heritage Dictionary is specific to the US, the second usage is the more inclusive “of or relating to North or South America, the West Indies, or the Western Hemisphere.”

On Opening Day 2005, 25 percent, or 205 players, originated from Latin American countries. There were also fifteen Canadians. Estimates of minor league players from countries other than the US hover at approximately 48%, which means that the MLB of the future will continue to be more diverse.

With the World Baseball Classic, MLB is attempting to unbrand its players and teams from the league franchises and resell them in their countries’ colors. For all the ballyhoo about making this a showcase for the game and birthing a global sports phenomenon, to me the event is more a slick promotional package to make headway into untapped consumer markets. It’s not an affirmation of love for the game--it’s commoditization

Baseball used to open hearts and minds. Now it opens wallets and trade barriers; just read this Forbes article on the MLB’s strategy to grab market share.

Ken Burns touchingly documented the game and emphasized how baseball is a reflection life and society in the United States. I’m not so callow to think that money and baseball have never been bedfellows, but with the huge amounts of revenue at stake, the connection has never been more manifest.

As much as the typical US baseball fan may say she yearns for the days of yore, I believe the tepid reaction to the WBC by fans in the US has an economic basis. For the most part, these fans have already invested their dollars into their chosen MLB team. Given ticket prices today, that investment is not trivial. If one of the stars of the WBC should be injured, there will undoubtedly be a hue and cry in that player’s MLB fanbase. In fourteen other countries, however, the fans don’t have major league teams of their own. The classic probably holds more meaning to them.

It’s ironic that the one country where baseball is played at an elite level for the joy of the sport alone was nearly barred from participation and is only allowed to play because it will receive no revenue from the games.

Baseball is America’s gift to the world, but Selig wants an burgeoning product line to accompany his bequest. And that seems to be the real American way.

January 21, 2006

Scouting the Scout

Earlier this week I gave an all-too-brief synopsis of Ray Fagnant’s talk at the Boston SABR meeting. It may have been because the World Series championship ring he wore had some sort of memory-erasing effect that only now I have been able to shake. Ray was actually featured in a chapter of the book Minor Moments: Baseball’s Best Players Recall Life in the Minor Leagues. Publisher’s Weekly summarized his story:

... Ray Fagnant [was] a career minor leaguer who was playing for an insurance company’s slow-pitch softball team when a Connecticut club signed him as an emergency catcher. Just a few weeks after leaving the insurance team, Fagnant hit a home run off star major league righty Jack Morris, who was in the minors temporarily to rehab an injury. Fagnant bought 25 newspapers the next day and clipped the box scores.

Who better to learn about scouting than someone that is so impassioned about the game? Other points that Ray discussed:

There are peculiarities to scouting the Northeast. Scouts often speak of the “senior effect” in the kids they look at, meaning that a player has shown all that he is capable of by his senior year in high school. Scouts in this region, however, have found that a player here may not show his abilities until after this generally accepted milestone. Consequently, scouts here may exercise more patience than their counterparts in the West.

When on his journeys, if Ray spots what he thinks is a potential major league player, he notifies one of three crosscheckers to observe the player in action. If the potential player passes the crosscheck, he is seen by another crosschecker who oversees a larger territory and has the knowledge to compare prospects from different regions. Most major league clubs have this structure or something like it. The Red Sox have more heavily invested in amateur scouting since John Henry acquired the team.

Collegiate players who want to be seriously considered for professional baseball will use wooden bats during batting practice. Of course, the more outstanding of these players will be invited to wooden bat leagues outside of the NCAA schedule, such as the Cape Cod Baseball League.

A scout may be considered successful if once out of ten times a player he scouted makes the major leagues, so they have it a lot easier than major league hitters. A large part of Ray’s job is to find good organizational players who may never make it to the show but would good role models for the young players as they advance through the ranks. In fact, this is his favorite part of the job because at that level they it truly isn’t about the money: it’s about playing the game you love.

Ray spoke of the naïveté of players he finds along the way. When kids find out that he is a scout, the first thing they want to do is get an agent. They dream of Craig Hansen contracts while Ray hasn’t even decided if he’s going to alert his crosscheckers. One youth said that he’d sign, but he wanted “a three-figure deal.” Ray was kind enough to inform the player of the concept of place value. I wonder if it was Carl Pavano? Just one of the players Ray scouted.

When driving between scheduled stops, if Ray sees lights on at a field, he will always drop by to see what’s going on. You never know what you might see. It fits in with his motto, “Never let anyone fall through the cracks.”

January 16, 2006

Winter Meeting

Very few things can get me up early on a frigid holiday morning. At the top of that short list would be anything baseball-related. So, I stirred early, bundled up, and made my way to the Friends Meeting House in Cambridge. It would be my first SABR Boston Regional Meeting. It’s incredible to be with a group of people who share the same obsession. I’d say it’s a bit like a support group except rather than forcing you to try and wean you from the addiction they enable it. The chair of the Boston chapter, Seamus Kearney, convened the meeting and introduced the new “Research Miniatures” presentations. This format lets members share smaller scale research projects. Today’s five Research Miniatures covered a wide array of topics:

Mike Fields, a student of the sabermetrics course taught at Tufts by Andy Andres, presented “The ‘Moneyball Effect’: Inefficiencies in the Free Agent Market.” He worked with fellow student Zach Kolkin to determine if general managers have are now overpaying for the skills lauded in the book. Comparing the free agent markets of 2000-2001 to 2002-2004, Fields showed that GMs were indeed paying more for on-base percentage for hitters. However, inefficiencies in the market for pitchers still exist as there was not a high correlation between salary and BB/9 or K/9, which were the stated variables expressing control pitchers. Fields also conjectured that front offices who are looking for the next unexploited skill may have devised a more reliable and predictive model for defense and that are beginning to use this metric as a competitive advantage.

Next, Paul Wendt gave a presentation on the rosters of both the National and American League teams of Boston from 1900-1901. He demonstrated that the NL team was one of the most stable teams in the history of professional ball before they were ransacked by the upstart AL team. I had an inkling that in this particular period of baseball history the AL was seen as a minor league in comparison to the NL, but Wendt confirmed that. I only recognized the big names of the lineups; I have a lot more to learn about the deadball era.

After lunch, Kearney gave a little talk on Gardner Day at Fenway. He had chanced upon an odd picture of Ted Williams on a giant chair at a local eatery and decided to unearth the exact circumstances of what brought about such event. He learned that on August 24, 1946, people from Gardner, the self-proclaimed “Furniture Capital of the World,” came out to Fenway en masse for day in their honor. Johnny Pesky delighted the crowd by taking one of the velocipedes (what we now call tricycles) for a spin.

To me, baseball and poetry mesh together like hand in perfectly broken-in glove, an opinion I thought I was alone in holding. Joanne Hulbert proved me wrong, however. Her specialty is deadball era poetry and she was collected over 1,200 poems to date. After her reading of “The Boston Obsession,” a poem she found in which the speaker wended through his day and each person he met responded to his quotidian questions with baseball talk, she shared assorted snippets from journalists of the past. The lyricism and wit of these past writers are things that I wish were in greater abundance today.

The last Research Miniature was Bill Nowlin’s exploration of Charles Dryden’s account of a foul ball mishap. In 1903 in a game against Philadelphia, Dryden described how a foul ball flew into a nearby bean cannery’s whistle, jamming it into a position so that it blew continuously. Workers, thinking that it was a signal that their day was over left the factory. In doing so, a huge vat of beans was left unattended and such a huge amount of pressure that it blew up. The flying foodstuff reached the fans, causing much commotion. “One man went insane,” stated Dryden solemnly. Nowlin scoured articles from every Boston area newspaper for any corraborating details to no avail. It turns out that it was a bit of humor from Dryden, who was honored in 1965 with the J. G. Taylor Spink Award and was known for jests.

Continue reading “Winter Meeting” »

December 24, 2005

Making a List

Franconaclaus

Hey, folks! Hope you all have a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Joyful Kwanzaa, and what have you. I’m not usually one to make a wish list of my own since I’m Francona Claus, but this offseason season being what it has been so far, I find a have a few requests:

  1. A backup catcher (Ha! Pulling your leg there. I sure as heck got enough of those.)
  2. A center fielder (Doesn’t necessarily need to hit leadoff, as number 3 below could do the same.)
  3. A shortstop
  4. Case of Dubble Bubble (Much better than that Bazooka stuff, I tell you.)
  5. Healthy knees
  6. A first baseman (There’s some guy whose name I forgot the entire 2005 season I suppose I could use. Perugina or something?)
  7. Cheatsheet to understand the areas of responsibility for Ben Cherington and Jed Hoyer (Maybe some sort of flowchart?)

As Francona Claus, it’s my duty to distribute lumps of coal to those who have been naughty. Unfortunately, the list is longer than the nice list, that’s for sure:

  1. Johnny Damon (Last I checked, lying gets you put on this list.)
  2. Larry Lucchino (Loose lips sink ships.)
  3. Steve Silva (For the usual muckraking.)
  4. Dan Shaughnessy (Although I figured he uses the coal to fuel the media conflagrations he enjoys starting.)
  5. Kevin Millar (His slogans just didn’t have that same catchiness this season. Also, .355 OBP and .399 slugging.)
  6. John Dennis and Gerry Callahan (WEEI’s resident propagators of close-mindedness and hate.)
  7. Theo Epstein (You gotta grow a little thicker skin. Wait, you’re coming back when Lucchino bolts to the Nationals? Well, next time give us a little warning, will ya?)

I wish the nice list could be longer, but at least there is one:

  1. David Ortiz (Papi has come very close to eclipsing the popularity of Francona Claus. Ah, jeez, who am I kidding? He’s way more popular.)
  2. Janet Marie Smith, Vice President of Planning and Development (Lucchino gets all the face time, but Ms. Smith has spearheaded the Fenway Park renovations, including this offseason’s restoration of the seats behind home plate.)
  3. Red Sox bloggers (There’s no funnier, smarter, and devoted group to be found. I really learn a lot about how to second guess myself from them.)
  4. David Mellor, Director of Grounds (Sure, Edgar Renteria complained about the infield. But Dave oversaw the replacement of the field and installation of the new grounds sprinkler and drainage systems during last year’s offseason. He also led the incredible effort to replace the outfield after the Rolling Stones concert. It was enough to forgive any part you may have played in selling championship sod.)
  5. Matt Clement (Gutty comeback after that frightening accident in Tampa Bay.)

Merry offseason to all, and to all a good night!

October 31, 2005

General Mismanagement

Could we get a Sane Person to Red Sox Fan translator? Because I’m hearing this talk about Theo Epstein “resigning,” as in leaving, and I’m pretty sure they actually mean “re-signing,” as in extending Epstein’s contract. Because that’s what Dan Shaughnessy said on October 30th in the esteemed, impartial Boston Globe; it was all but a done deal yesterday. Shaughnessy and the Globe are not shills for the Red Sox front office as Tony Massarotti claims. Right? Right?

Late this afternoon, Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald broke the story that Epstein was walking away from the Red Sox’s 3-year, $4.5M offer in large part because he was disturbed by Shaughnessy’s Sunday column. Epstein felt it revealed too many of the intimate details of the negotiations and that it reeked of a leak by Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino. In Silverman’s article, sources close to the 31-year old former GM said that he was satisfied the money, term, and organizational details of the contract. However, the article signaled to Epstein that the deal was negotiated in bad faith by Lucchino.

Lennie Briscoe, portrayed by the now-departed Jerry Orbach, was my favorite character from “Law & Order” and he also uttered a classic line from the series: “I want to go to law school so I can learn how to turn gold into lead.” Lucchino, the antithesis of King Midas, continues to try and turn our memories of the championship into figments of the past rather than a foundation for the future. He is aided by Shaughnessy, who plays the role of Silenus, the chief satyr whom Midas granted hospitality in exchange for the satyr’s wondrous tales.

I’m probably not alone in thinking that I’d much prefer Epstein’s services for the next few years rather than reams of Shaughnessy columns or reels of Lucchino press conferences. The former are coldly calculated inklings of a man determined to live off the misery of others while the latter are the delusory diatribes designed to circumvent responsibility.

My impression of the situation is that the ownership group was trying to avert a situation where Epstein would have too great an influence in the organization. Much as Joe Torre’s championship run has imbued him with an air of invulnerability, Epstein’s accomplishments, both real and attributed, have vaulted him into the stratosphere of Boston sports lore. Why feed yet another ego, one that carries with it World Series cachet, when you can hire, say, a just-dismissed Paul DePodesta, who will likely be malleable and willing to toe the company line? Just as the statistical-based approach of running a team removes the chimera of chemistry from the mix, getting another GM as versed in number crunching as Epstein will prove just as successful.

At least, that is what we’re all hoping.

October 27, 2005

Red-Letter Day

Happy world championship anniversary, fellow fans. Just a year ago today, everything changed. The sun shone brighter, the air seemed fresher. Things fell into sharp focus, touched with a clarity never before seen, not even on the most expensive high definition television available. My life did not change, but I learned that the gulf between what you are told is impossible and what is actually achievable is only as small or large as you make it.

Of the Red Sox, Darin Erstad said, “These boys are winning the World Series, by the way.” His team had been swept by the Red Sox in three games, including an extra innings affair that sustained the lore of David Ortiz. The last game of the ALDS had Ortiz wrenching victory from the clutches of defeat yet again with his 2-run homer in the 10th. Despite their rousing divisional series performance, however, the Red Sox returned to Fenway Park down 0-2 in the ALCS.

On the same evening as Game 3 my friends got married. For the first time I attended a Jewish wedding ceremony, an event that I played a small role in by holding the chuppa and assisting with the layout of the ketubbah. My friends, although they had scheduled the wedding in the midst of baseball’s postseason, knew well enough that there was a pivotal game that night and that I wouldn’t miss it. They understood when I bade them well somewhat early and rushed home from their reception so I could watch the opening ceremonies for the first home game of the series. Had I known the Cowsills would be part of the game’s festivities and the results of that game, I probably would have willingly chosen to participate in all manner of embarrassing dances and behaviors concomitant with receptions.

There was a haiku thread on the Royal Rooters message board initiated by Johnny of Love of Sox that chronicled the 2004 season in concentrated bursts of words. With my team down 0-3, 17 syllables of thought was the outside limit of what I could muster.

Inconceivable?
For a team that has some faith-
Word has no meaning.
October 17, 2004 at 10:14 AM

I sounded confident in that verse. I wasn’t. At that point, I was hoping the Red Sox weren’t going to get swept, plain and simple. I woke up early that Sunday morning and slouched dumbfounded in front of my computer for a long while, waiting for a coherent thought to coalesce. Those three lines were the result.

Sunday, October 17th was a nervous day. Somehow I had made it to game time almost emotionally intact. It’s difficult to write about the waves of anguish and jubilance of the next games. It seemed certain that Boston would lose in Games 4 and 5, a set of games that were a recursion of the postseason run itself. Just as three outs make an inning and 9 innings comprise a game, or how the regular season is divided into thirds and the post season into three series; the repeating of patterns seen at every stratum.

Special hightop cleat
Is the method to avert
“Walking disaster”
October 19, 2004 at 9:16 AM

By the coming of Game 6 I was giddy. My co-workers, all casual fans but enthusiastic, looked to me for some sort of guidance. I thought I should maintain some level of decorum, unlike Gary Sheffield, who conveniently provided bulletin board material with his rantings. So, to them, I obscured my delerium with platitudes: “They have to take it one game at a time.” “Schilling’s not in too much pain, so it’s possible for him to get in some innings.” “They’ll have to turn it over to Arroyo if Curt can’t continue.” “Foulke’s not your typical closer, so he can go longer than others.” But inside me roiled a maelstrom of emotions, most of which were pushing me perilously close to the land of the faithful. It’s not a place I visit often, unlike Schilling, who is one of the evangelical Chritians of that team.

A special shoe was constructed by Reebok for Schilling, customized to hold his capricious tendon in place. Schilling didn’t have enough range of movement in that hightop, however, so he submitted himself to a novel tendon-stapling surgery. Team physician Joe Morgan practiced on a cadaver before attempting the same operation on the starting right-handed pitcher. Seeing Curt Schilling on the mound with his slapdash ankle fix convinced me that there would be no way that his team would disappoint.

On October 27, 2004, my every baseball wish was fulfilled in a manner most improbable. The game that had mellowed my summers since I moved here in 1997 had finally gifted me with everything I could request. And yet, baseball was still over and I would miss it. I was struck by a pang of loss despite the title. I feared that the little details that made up the totality of the season would dissipate with time. So, this is why I chronicled the past season here.

Happy anniversary, and may there be many more memories for us all to share.

October 18, 2005

Still losing when I saw myself to win!

Week 6: October 16, 2005
Patriots (3-3), 20
Broncos (5-1), 28

Did a typical Roman denizen know the moment when her civilization was falling? She didn’t have Edward Gibbon there to tell her the exact date of decline. Gibbon retroactively reckoned that date was September 4, 474, the day Flavius Romulus Augustus was deposed. Other historians claim that the empire was never as exalted as we imagined it to be and carried within its own seeds of decay, so there was no rarerified air from which to descend. Still others posit that no one reason, let alone moment or event, can be isolated to describe the descent of an idealized state. Even today the debate on the whys and hows of the fall of the Roman Empire rage.

Worry not, Patriot fans, because you do not have to live in such a state of nescience. For you, I can mark the very day of the 2005 team’s downfall. Just think back to September 27, 2005: the Red Sox were on the way to splitting a double header with the Blue Jays and the Patriots were flush with a close but rousing victory against the Steelers on their home field. In that game, strong safety Rodney Harrison was buffeted by wide receiver Cedrick Wilson, who rolled into Harrison’s knee. The collision rived three ligaments: the anterior cruciate, medial collateral, and posterior cruciate, which is every ligament save the lateral collateral.

Call it Gloomy Tuesday, for that was the day we learned Harrison would not suit up for the rest of the season. There have been other injuries and retirements, but none more vital than this missing piece. In the three games since Harrison’s injury, the New England has lost 2 games, been outscored 97 to 68, and have had no interceptions from any part of the defense.

Much blame can be laid at the laggard feet of cornerback Duane Starks, who was covering, or supposed to have been covering, a stable full of Broncos on several key plays. He was responsible for Rod Smith on his 72-yard reception to open the 2nd quarter, Ashley Lelie (formerly of UH) on his 55-yard catch on the second drive of the same quarter, and Tatum Bell on his 68-yard run up the middle to close out that calamitous 15 minutes. All three plays led to touchdowns. Ultimately, however, the loss of Harrison’s skills and leadership can be labelled the turning point of the season.

Tom Brady led yet another comeback attempt in the second half and scored 17 unanswered points. New England’s hopes were dashed when the normally sure-handed Deion Branch missed a pass on a 3rd and 20 play with 3:53 left on the clock. A reception would have granted the Patriots another set of downs and a shot at touchdown and 2-point conversion for a tie, but the gap was too wide.

The numbers tell part of the story:

  • New England’s second half comeback attempt is readily seen in its yardage split: 175 for the first half and 213 for the second. In contrast, except for one 74-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown, the Broncos were feeble in the second half. Their production decreased by 48% between the halves as they plummeted from 275 to 142 yards. The home team’s early scoring binge proved insurmountable, however. Advantage: Denver.
  • The two fumbles in the game were recovered by their respective fumblers (Daniel Graham and Tatum Bell), so there were no changes of possession to grant either team an edge. Advantage: Push.
  • Denver was a stunning 4 for 4 in red zone conversions while New England was an acceptable 2 out of 3 for 67%. Advantage: Denver.
  • The Patriots had 8 infractions for 55 yards, the lowest since the first game of the season. However, rookie left guard Logan Mankins was ejected on Adam Vinatieri’s missed 53-yard field goal attempt to end the second half. Mankins was caught punching Ebenezer Ekuban after the whistle was blown. Even though it is his first year, the incident is troubling not only because it left Tom Brady’s blind side vulnerable but because it may bespeak a lack of understanding on the part of young players on the Patriot doctrine of discipline. The Broncos had 11 penalties for 82 yards. As in the game against the Chargers, the discrepancy seems to be the result of the time of possession battle that the visiting team lost, 27:43 to 32:17. Advantage: Denver.
  • The Broncos’ third down version rate seems paltry at 27% (3 out of 11), but this is due to the second half malaise as well their opposition’s tendency to surrender immense swaths of yardage, which negated the need for conversions. The Patriots were 6 for 16 (38%) to tie their second-highest third down conversion percentage this season, but in this case the numbers aren’t telling the full story. Advantage: New England.

So, the Patriots limp into their bye week with a .500 record and a sheaf of questions to be answered. Tedy Bruschi has been medically cleared by his doctor as well as the team’s and the medical consensus seems to be that the Pro Bowl linebacker is not at risk for recurrence of stroke. With Bruschi’s return, will the Super Bowl champions find a new defensive field general to follow into a reinvigorated campaign into another golden era? Or has the team grown surfeit and complacent, lacking the appetite for a four-course feast?

Game Leaders
Passing
Tom Brady: 24/46, 299 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
Jake Plummer: 17/24, 262 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Rushing
Patrick Pass: 10 carries, 64 yards, 1 TD, 17 yard longest gain
Tatum Bell: 13 carries, 114 yards, 1 TD, 68 yard longest gain
Receiving
Patrick Pass: 6 receptions, 89 yards, 0 TD, 39 yard longest gain
Rod Smith: 6 receptions, 123 yards, 1 TD, 72 yard longest gain
Defense
Mike Vrabel: 8 tackles, 5 assists
Willie McGinest: 3 tackles, 2 assists, 0.5 sack
Dan Klecko: 1 tackle, 2 assists, 0.5 sack
Domonique Foxworth: 8 tackles, 1 assist

October 8, 2005

History

ALDS Game 3: October 7, 2005
White Sox (3-0), 5
Red Sox (0-3), 3

W: Freddy Garcia (1-0)
H: Orlando Hernandez (1)
S: Bobby Jenks (2)
L: Tim Wakefield (0-1)

White Sox win the series 3-0


What would I do without the Red Sox? They’ve inspired me to learn how to correctly program my DVR, a very necessary thing since, despite the club being the defending world champions, they did not get the coveted prime time slots because of the Yankees. I was assured of not missing a pitch thanks to modern technology.

At around 11:00 AM at work Andrew of 12eight instant messengers me (is that the correct verb form?) asking me if I’d like to go to the game today. I briefly considered he might have been pranking me since I told him that David Ortiz was out of the lineup in Game 2 of this series. He had every right to retaliate, though taunting about tickets would be exceptionally cruel. But he did indeed have an extra ticket and offered it to me despite past transgressions. He gave me the opportunity to witness the Chicago AL club’s first postseason series win since 1917. That was quite a way to get back at me.

We would at least be spared the idiocies of the ESPN crew. The guys behind us, however, discussed fantasy football in excrutiating, infuriating detail throughout the evening. Is this the type of fans the club accrues with success? They might be in for some disappointment in the coming seasons should the front office decide to retool. The Red Sox proved they could be a championship team using the free agent method, but it remains to be seen if they can build a sustainable, farm system-based organization like the Atlanta Braves or the Cleveland Indians.

This is the real story of what 2004 meant for succeeding seasons. The albatross fell away when Boston learned to see baseball not through the prism of insurmountable despair but as the glorious game it is in every facet. To me, it is ever more wondrous to see the spark of talent in the young players than to rekindle the fading glint in a veteran’s eye.

Jonathan Papelbon pitched 2.2 innings perfect innings and struck out 2 after Mike Myers and Chad Bradford failed to sit their batters. In the 9th, Mike Timlin gave up a leadoff double to A.J. Pierzynski, who would eventually score to push the score further into the White Sox favor, 5-3. The future, in the form of a reinvigorated prospect pool exemplified by Papelbon, is now.

Strangely enough, I was visited by a vision of the past on the way home. On the Green Line train going inbound, Jermaine Evans and Jessamy Finet, two fans featured on Still, We Believe, boarded the train. It was crowded, so I wasn’t able to talk to them. Their expressions conveyed clearly enough what we all felt, however. Long gone were the memories of the three home runs hit by David Ortiz (1 in the 4th) and Manny Ramirez (4th and 6th innings), which represented the total offensive output by Boston last night and the only Red Sox round-trippers in the 2005 ALDS. I wanted to ask them what they were feeling as they lived through 2004, since their reactions to that season were not chronicled, and if 2004 lessened the current disappointment. But the emotions were too fresh and the pain too present, so I went my separate way after reaching Park Street.

Just as 2003’s crushing end spurred the team to address their weaknesses for the 2004 championship drive, 2005’s fading finish will inform the front office’s strategy for the coming seasons. And we might be reaping the benefits of an abundant homegrown talent base for seasons to come, not just haphazardly hitting the jackpot once. That “once” we recently experienced was phenomenal, but once is just not enough. To the future.

Not a whit; we defy augury. There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all.
Hamlet
William Shakespeare

October 3, 2005

Carl’s Primer on Life

A is for Adam, who was not gay.
B is for Bible, which shows me the way.
C is for Creation, which God hath wrought.
D is for Demons, against whom I have fought.
E is for Evolution, a damnable lie.
F is for Fornication, an act I don’t deny.
G is for God, who rules high above.
H is for Heaven, a place I would love.
I is for Infidelity, a sin I abhor.
J is for Jesus, the man I adore.
K is for Strikeout, just 99 times.
L is for Lifestyle, some of which are crimes.
M is for Morals, in which I believe.
N is for Nature, from God we receive.
O is for Orangutans, not related to Man.
P is for Piety, a fine trait for Woman.
Q is for Quiet, when I am a parishioner.
R is for Rock, who should be Commissioner.
S is for Sauropods, whose fossils are forged.
T is for Temptation, my life’s greatest scourge.
U is for Umpire, good for head-butting.
V is for Victory, which will get me a-strutting.
W is for Wright, an architect I admire.
X is for Xanax, without which I perspire.
Y is for Yard, out of which I hit frequently.
Z is for Zealot, a name you could call me.

Inspired by this interview posted in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Wild

Game 162: October 2, 2005
Yankees (95-67), 1
Red Sox (95-67), 10
L: Jaret Wright (5-5)
W: Curt Schilling (8-8)

Tied for the lead in the division
Clinched the wild card
1 game winning streak

Congratulations to the AL East co-champion Boston Red Sox. A wild card berth might seem like a consolation prize after having led the division for so long, but it is a chance to defend the title nonetheless. Our boys relish the wild card spot and adore being cast as the underdogs.

As Boston entered the playoffs for the third time in three years I was in a plane returning from Pittsburgh to Boston. While in flight I surreptitiously checked my text messages for the automated updates I enacted just before checking out of my hotel. I heard the murmur of a new text message arrive and I see these blessed words flash on the screen: “Manny Ramirez home run. Johnny Damon scores. David Ortiz scores. Red Sox, 6-0.” Such messages came rapidly as the Red Sox closed out the season with a convincing win.

I had a superb view from my seat on the Embraer ERJ 145 jet. I was in row 3, seat A. As the plane made its approach to Logan Airport I thought there might be a chance I would be able to see Fenway Park for at least a few seconds. The familiar Boston skyline eased into my view and I picked out familiar landmarks: Zakim Bridge. Longfellow Bridge. Citgo sign. Then, finally, Fenway. The lights were still on in the park. I stared, transfixed at the vivid lights blazing through the night. Another season had passed and I felt a pang of longing as necessity dictated that I could not be in Boston for the final game.

And yet I felt as close as ever to this team. For every game this season, win or lose, healthy or sick, I wrote a post. Sometimes it was easy, clever words dancing like a Wakefield knuckleball. Other times it was as agonizing as a digging out a desultory ball out of the garage door operning in left field. This act of commemorating the season was so vital to me. After 2004 ended, I felt I had wandered into a dream. I had memories, to be sure, but I felt I had lost the minute details of how the team got there through the course of a long, toiling regular season. I decided to remedy this in 2005, and I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I did writing these past few months.

Now the real season begins, where eight teams’ mettle will be tested. The Red Sox will face the White Sox in the ALDS beginning tomorrow. This is the team that, although it faltered in September, was able to sweep its final series, something that the Red Sox were unable to do. The season series went in favor of the Red Sox, 4-3. Of course, the AL Chicago team’s World Series drought of 88 years does not get the press of their glamorous North Side neighbors. The Cubs are the Red Sox without the near misses; they seduce Chicago fans with their 97-year long wait, quaint park, and storied curse. The White Sox are the ugly stepchild of losing teams, beaten and holed away because of a long-past scandal. Is the child now grown and seeking revenge?

September 9, 2005

The Yankee Players’ Handbook Revealed

YankeehandbookIn this world exclusive exposé, EE reveals the workings within the sanctum of the New York Yankees’ clubhouse as described in The Yankee Players’ Handbook. An anonymous former Red Sox player who recently signed with the New York City club turned the tome over to EE. The player still felt a kinship with his onetime teammates and wanted to pierce the aura of mystique that shrouded the dynastic squad.

Edited by the team’s fabled captain, shortstop Derek Jeter, the handbook painstakingly details every aspect of bringing honor and integrity to the pinstripes. Every inductee into the Yankee brotherhood is required to study the writings of current and former greats so that they may better understand all that being a true Yankee means. The 523 page book includes the following chapters:

“My Rights and Your Responsibilities” by George Steinbrenner
“Fan Acceptance” by Roger Maris
“Public Relations: A Foolproof Approach” by Gary Sheffield
“Temperance” by Mickey Mantle
“Compiling Your Yankeeography: Lights, Camera, Action!” by Alex Rodriguez
“Leading a Championship Team” by Don Mattingly
“Memorabilia Marketing and You” by Ruben Rivera
“Time Flies: Leaving the Game with Grace” by Bernie Williams
“Concise Public Speaking” by Yogi Berra
“Hats Off: Curtain Calls for the Uninitiated” by Jorge Posada
“Avoiding the Pox” by George Herman Ruth
“Pharmacogically Speaking” by Jason Giambi
“Towards Job Stability” by Billy Martin
“Good Grooming” by Joe Pepitone
“Harmonious Marital Relationships” by Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson

To understand the driving philosphy of the Yankees organization, key excerpts from notable chapters of the handbook are now accessible for the first time to non-Yankees.

From “Temperance”

“Growing up in Oklahoma you get a solid foundation for your life. You get to know the difference between right and wrong, plain as the nose on your face. Out there you learn that the quickest way south is through the mouth of the bottle.”

From “Compiling Your Yankeeography”

“Lighting is an important but often overlooked aspect of video production. Proper lighting can make or break your Yankeeography. Even the stunning Greta Garbo knew the importance of lighting and had a favorite cinematographer, William Daniels, work on her films whenever possible. A list of lighting technicians, all with fabulous references, accompany this article.”

From “Time Flies”

“Some have cited Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, and Lance Armstrong as their role models for knowing when to leave the game. But I say there is honor in lingering for as long as you are able. As a true Yankee, anything you accomplish on the field is matchless.

“If you are a real competitor, you face every adversity, including diminishing skills, without concern. Play despite what the naysayers spout in their envy. They are only trying to rob you of your final moments of glory that you so richly deserve as a member of the greatest franchise of all time.”

From “Hats Off”

“Other clubs reserve the curtain call for extraordinary feats. I’m here to tell you that because you are a Yankee, your every action is worthy of the highest exaltation. When you sacrifice fly your teammate from second base to third in the 4th inning with no one out with the opposing team leading 18-1, you should take a curtain call. You must tip your hat to your adoring minions. For you are a Yankee, and your every movement is imbued with an inimitable elan. You are entitled to bathe in the light of your unparalleled splendor.

“For you are a Yankee, and it is your birthright.”

From “Avoiding the Pox”

“A good thing to look for is the presence of things that look like blisters on the palms, soles, and scalp. You can usually give a lady a good once-over when you first meet her. Hold her hands in yours and check for these blisters. Say something to make her swoon. She should avert her eyes out of modesty, and at that moment you may check for the same telltale blisters under her hair.

“The saying that Ben Franklin left with us is undeniably true: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

From “Good Grooming”

“Many haircuts are acceptable, as long as they are tidy. Extreme, eccentric, or trendy haircuts are not permitted. Should you use dyes, tints, or bleaches, they must result in natural hair colors. Colors that detract from a professional appearance are strictly prohibited. In order to maintain presentability, always carry a blow dryer and hair spray so that you are kempt at all times.

“Facial hair is not allowed, except mustaches which do not extend past the ends of the players mouth. If the player does have a mustache, it must be trimmed neatly above the lip with no stray whiskers.”

September 7, 2005

Monstrous

Game 137: September 6, 2005
Angels (77-60), 2
Red Sox (81-56), 3
L: Scot Shields (8-11)
W: Tim Wakefield (15-10)
SW (Supporting Win): David Ortiz (innumerable)
4 games ahead in the division
1 game winning streak

Oh I used to be disgusted
and now I try to be amused.
But since their wings have got rusted,
you know, the angels wanna wear my red shoes.
“(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes”
Elvis Costello

Great song choice by the Fenway Park DJ.

Last night was Green Monster Seat night. Good things tend to happen when I sit there; the last and only other time I was up there Pedro Martinez threw a complete game shutout against the Devil Rays. So I’ll be starting a petition to the Red Sox ticket office: make sure an EE representative is present in a Monster Seat for every home game going forward. I’m sure you’ll all sign.

I arrived in time for batting practice and stalked the first row of GM section 8 for taters. I think it was Doug Mirabelli who offered a few chances for me. One guy with a glove only 10 feet to my right caught one without moving an inch. People further away cheered him, hopefully drowning the epithet I muttered under my breath. Just a few moments later, a ball headed straight towards me, but hit the wall a few feat beneath my grasping hands. Clearly I am no flyhawk.

The all-female a capella group Broad Band opened the evening with an intricately arranged version of the national anthem. It was delightfully textured; one of the best versions of “The Star Spangled Banner” I have heard. I’d describe their sound as a hybrid of Anonymous 4 and Miranda Sex Garden.

John Lackey pitched splendidly albeit slowly for 6 innings. Red Sox offensive outs seemed to last twice as long as Wakefield’s innings, as the knuckleballer worked quickly as usual. Lackey squirmed out of multiple jams, the most notably in the 4th inning where Boston would not score despite Manny Ramirez’s leadoff double.

But one can only stifle the Red Sox lineup for so long. In the 5th inning, Lackey collapsed into a bases loaded situation. For him, the inning started off harmlessly enough with Tony Graffanino grounding out, but then he yielded a single to Johnny Damon and walked Edgar Renteria and Ortiz in succesion to crowd the corners for Ramirez. Ramirez did not get the right pitch to hit his 21st career grand slam to bring him within 2 of Lou Gehrig’s record, but he did walk to plate Damon. With Trot Nixon at the plate, Lackey uncorked a wild pitch to score the Red Sox shortstop. Surprisingly, no other runs were scored as Nixon and Bill Mueller grounded out to quell the uprising.

Wakefield pitched his 2nd and the Red Sox rotation’s 5th complete game of the season. He gave up 8 hits, 2 earned runs, 3 walks, 7 strikeouts, and 1 home run. Orlando Cabrera blasted the Angels’ only round-tripper in the 6th inning over the Monster, but not towards my section. Given that Garret Anderson and Vladimir Guerrero both have success against Wakefield, if I were Mike Scioscia I would have flip-flopped them in the batting order for this game. Otherwise, you leave Guerrero vulnerable to the intentional base on balls, the exact tactic Terry Francona used to defuse the intimidating bomber in the 1st and 6th innings.

With the score tied, Wakefield gave up a leadoff double to Bengie Molina, who was then pinch run for by Zach Sorensen. It seemed inevitable that a run would score save for the indomitable will of the veteran righty and his infield. Wakefield induced a ground out from designated hitter Casey Kotchman that allowed Sorensen to take third base. Pinch hitting Steve Finley grounded ineffectively to Graffanino, who went straight to home to stop Sorenson from scoring with the aid of Mueller. Wakefield struck out Adam Kennedy to go into the home half of the 9th tied.

With Ramirez and Ortiz in the offing, you knew what would happen. Scioscia knew, Francona knew, 35,060 fans with me knew. The only question was, would it be with Renteria on base? No, he struck out. So Ortiz took the plate with 1 out. Shields went after the designated hitter hesitantly and fell behind in the count 3-0. I felt a brief pang of pity for the Angels reliever, because he would be the latest victim to the ever-growing list of Ortiz’s dramatic wins. Ortiz fouled off the next two pitches, maybe giving Shields a brief glimpse of hope that he might actually get an out. Instead, it was Ortiz who got out, straight out of the ballpark and into the gap between the right field grandstand and the bleachers. Hearing it off the bat I knew it was gone despite my skewed viewing angle.

Can you give designated hitters a “W”? There ought to be a rule....

06sep01
Sort of elitist, but it was nice having an uncrowded restroom. The mood of the Monster Seats is typically subdued.

06sep02_1
You can learn a lot from David Wells, just not about how to win friends and influence people.

06sep03
Don’t be a Bartman.


06sep04
Fisk Pole shot.

06sep05
Most of the time this flag was furled. I waited quite a while for it to wave freely in the breeze.

06sep06
A Monster Dog that even Kobayashi would fear.

06sep07
The Jimmy Fund Radio Telethon raised $2.4M.

06sep08
During warm-ups Ortiz jests with some Angels pitchers. If they only knew what would be happening to them just a few hours from this encounter.

06sep09
Happy, happy, joy, joy.

August 16, 2005

The Inaugural Class

Like the inaugural class of the Baseball Hall of Fame enshrined in 1936, the names of the members of the first class of the Mascot Hall of Fame will forever be intoned with the utmost respect and admiration. The Famous Chicken, Go Gorilla, and the Phillie Phanatic were inducted into the hall today and will stand for all time as the standard against which every mascot will be judged.

Plaquechicken

Plaquegorilla

Plaquephanatic

August 3, 2005

Rule

Game 105: August 2, 2005
Royals (38-68), 4
Red Sox (60-45), 6
BS, L: Ambiorix Burgos (2,1-4)
W: Tim Wakefield (10-9)
H: Mike Timlin (20)
S: Curt Schilling (6)

Manny Ramirez has adopted the “Manny being Manny” phrase, absconding with a sign emblazoned with his new motto before the game started. At the beginning of this season, everyone was “turning the page,” and now we’ve turned a new leaf to leave this melodrama behind.

In the 4th inning, Runelvys Hernandez walked Edgar Renteria and David Ortiz, setting the board perfectly for Ramirez. Like my cousin beating me at checkers when we were kids by being crowned to return as a king to conquer my peasant pieces, Manny jumps over his inferiors with ease. His 3-run bomb to center field in the 4th inning kept his team in the game. It’s just Manny being superhumanny.

Democracies supplant empires and monarchies, history has taught us that. A nation of equals will overcome the dusty duchies and moribund that represent the dissipated vigor of royals. Tonight was no different. Despite Kansas City securing an early lead, Boston prevailed. All of the Royals’ RBIs were the result of former Red Sox organization players’ homers: Matt Stairs in the 1st inning with Chip Ambres and Mike Sweeney on base and Ambres in the 3rd with a solo shot.

Ambiorix: it’s a moisturizer, an herbal supplement, and a relief pitcher all in one! Tonight he actually increased the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles because he had me smiling and laughing in the 7th inning. Not as much as Manny’s sign hijinks, but what can compare to that?

Burgos started the inning by giving up a base on balls to Jose Cruz, Jr. in his first at bat with his new team. Adam “Fiver” Stern pinch ran for the newcomer, a fortuitous move by Terry Francona. Tony Graffanino singled to right field and Fiver was able to score from first. Honestly, these new guys are such suck-ups, doing all this productive stuff to get wins and things. Johnny Damon felt so intimidated by them, he hit an RBI single of his own to center, and Ramirez followed suit. Boston completed its 28th come from behind win.

Happy birthday to winning pitcher Tim Wakefield, who now holds sole possession of third place for wins in a Red Sox uniform, surpassing Mel Parnell. His 124 wins trail only Cy Young and Roger Clemens, who both have 192. In 7 innings, Wakefield’s performance comprised 6 hits, 4 earned runs, no walks, 7 strikeouts, 2 home runs, and pure class.

August 1, 2005

Debut

Game 104: July 31, 2005
Twins (54-50), 3
Red Sox (59-45), 4
L: Juan Rincon (4-4)
W: Mike Timlin (4-1)
S: Curt Schilling (5)

Digital video recorders are devices of the gods. I have Jon Papelbon’s major league debut, all 5.1 innings and each of his 7 strikeouts, forever encoded in 0s and 1s. He shut down the Twins in his first 3 innings, and ended with 4 hits, 3 runs (2 earned), 5 walks, and 2 home runs. Throughout it all, he showed peculiar poise for someone who had never pitched a major league game. A single chink in his armor showed when he thought he gave up a grand slam to Terry Tiffee in the 5th inning. He didn’t overreact, but tried to remain stoic as he asked the home plate umpire for another ball. And for yet another reason Papelbon found himself happy in Fenway Park, because what would have been a homer in McCoy Stadium was just a long fly ball out in Boston.

The 4th inning was the frame of dueling solo homers. Justin Morneau hit one to to right field and David Ortiz and John Olerud replied with back-to-back homers. Jacque Jones also homered off of Papelbon in the 6th inning to tie the game. Bill Mueller’s 6th error of the season in the 6th inning led to the go-ahead run by Lew Ford.

The Twins threatened in the 7th inning when Tiffee doubled and advanced to third on a Jones sacrifice bunt. Mike Myers induced a ground out from Morneau and Timlin came in to finish off Lew Ford. On Timlin’s seventh pitch, Ford lined to right and it it appeared that Minnesota would pad its lead with an insurance run. However, Gabe Kapler would rob Ford of extra bases with a stunning catch in right field. Kapler took what he thought would be the correct path to the ball, but it began slicing away from him. He changed direction, like a cornerback, Jerry Remy noted, and made the catch to end the threat. Timlin also worked himself out of a bases loaded-jam in the 8th inning, making it a hard-earned win.

Kevin Millar tied the game in the bottom of the 7th with a sacrifice fly to the opposite field, scoring Olerud, who had reached on a fly ball single to Ford. He was taken out of the game by the top of the 8th because of a hamstring issue. The crowded stirred throughout the 7th inning, uniting for a chant of “We want Manny!” (Local 7 News just showed a clip of Manny jubilant in the dugout asking “You know what I’m going to do right now? I’m going to do like Rogers!” Then he went for the camera. He can be a comedian when he finishes his baseball career.)

It could not have been scripted better. The Red Sox were quickly down 2 outs in the 8th inning after Rincon struck out Kapler and got Johnny Damon to ground out. Edgar Renteria came through with a double, and Ortiz was walked with first base open and Adam Stern in the offing. With 2 outs and 2 runners on, Manny Ramirez pinch hit for Stern. The crowd was beyond hysterical, past insanity, more rabid than I have seen and heard them in quite a while. The only scenarios that come within similar spiritedness are when Pedro Martinez or Curt Schilling would be slamming the door with a strikeout to end an inning against the middle of the opposition’s lineup. Ramirez watched the first pitch, a called strike, fly by. Rincon worked him away with a ball and then came back for another called strike. With the count 2-1, I was apprehensive; perhaps the time away had dulled his ability. The left fielder fouled off the next pitch away, and did one of his patented “gee, I’m lucky I made contact on that one looks.” On the 2-2, Ramirez grounded up the gut to score Renteria and the Red Sox took the lead to sweep the Twins out of town.

All is happy in the Hub until the next time Manny asks for a trade. But, if the result is another run at the championship, I’ll sit through any number of baseball soap operas. Just be sure to tell me when the Millar marries Manny episode airs, because I’ll need to program my DVR to catch it.

July 31, 2005

Prospective

New Hampshire vs. Portland
Fisher Cats (51-55), 0

Sea Dogs (55-48), 3

L: Josh Banks (7-9)
W: Denney Tomori (1-1)
H: Randall Beam (5)
S: Jim Mann (3)

Insert joke about cats and dogs here.

Six dollars for general admission tickets for adults. Five dollars for parking right next door to the park. Four dollars for an order of large fries that was actually large. One dollar for a souvenir mini batting helmet that will go on top of my monitor at work, right next to the matching Pawtucket and Boston helmets. My biggest expense was probably tolls and gas. I love going to Hadlock Field.

I understand there was a lot of drama at the big club. There’s drama at the AA level as well, but without the media, the daily trials and tumults of lower tier players go largely unnoticed, making their struggles all the more poignant. I came home to hear part of Peter Gammons’s induction speech from Cooperstown, and he told the story of Wade Boggs and how he toiled in the minors for six years. Boggs is the inductee who made his debut at the oldest age of any Hall of Famer, and understood that adversity could be overcome with persistence.

All this profundity is hindsight, to be sure. The game was chock full of minor league shenanigans, most of which were led by the inimitable Slugger. The crowd sang “YMCA” Slugger isolated individuals to do the Chicken Dance with him, and had a race on the bases with a 6-year old girl that he inevitably lost. The Sea Dogs take the field to “Who Let the Dogs Out,” of course.

The minijumbotron (I cannot in all seriousness call it an actual jumbotron) was named the “Ford Board” and also featured kitschy goodness. There were several computer-generated videos featuring the Sea Dogs logo being refracted as if in a kaleidoscope and set to songs like “Billy Don’t You Lose My Number.” Kevin Millar made a guest appearance to present the trivia question of the day. (Who is the only Red Sox player to have hit for the cycle twice? My guess: John Valentin. Correct answer: Bobby Doerr. I was confusing the fact that Valentin has both hit for the cycle and had an unassisted triple play, the only player to have done both.) We were also regaled of Jon Papelbon’s first major league strikeout and David Ortiz’s home run moments after they had occurred.

Hanley Ramirez had solid contact in the 7th inning, but the Fisher Cats’ right fielder Maikel Jova made a good catch. The shortstop went 0 for 4. Second baseman Scott Youngbauer had a triple in the 3rd with 2 outs that didn’t result in a score but was nonetheless exciting. Catcher Jim Buckley was the primary catalyst, going 2 for 3 with an RBI and stolen base. Tomori went for 6.2 innings with 4 hits, 6 strikeouts, and no runs, walks, or home runs allowed. His three-quarter delivery baffled the New Hampshire hitters, but his speed was not the mid-90s ascribed to him when the Red Sox organization signed him in the offseason. Jim Mann of Brockton, Massachusetts closed out the game with tremendous heat, striking out all three of the batters he faced.

31julpic1lineup
Outstanding results, indeed.

31julpic2hramirez
Hanley didn’t get the boot and will be hanging around.

31julpic3dtomori
Yui “Denney” Tomori on the mound.

31julpic4jerseys
Where’s Crespo’s jersey? This guy is as confused as me.

31julpic5kaleidoscope
Wacky CG kaleidoscope video.

31julpic6final
Victory, keeping the Sea Dogs in first place in the Northern Division of the Eastern League.

31julpic7visitorsbullpen
The luxurious accommodations in the visitor’s bullpen.

31julpic8facade
Farewell, Hadlock Field. Wonder who will leave next?

June 12, 2005

Unfriendly

SubterraneandylanGame 61: June 11, 2005
Red Sox (32-29), 6
Cubs (33-27), 7
L: Wade Miller (2-2)
W: Todd Wellemeyer (2-1)
H: Mike Remlinger (3)
H: Michael Wuertz (6)
S: Ryan Dempster (8)

Subterranean Bullpen Blues*
Johnny’s on base again
Trot’s playing insane
I’m on the internet
Thinkin’ about the last upset
The man on the mound
Shoulder hurt, laid down
Says he’s got his pitches back
Nothin’ is out of whack
Look out kid
It’s somethin’ you did
God knows when
But you’re doin’ it again
Myers better duck down the alley way
Lookin’ for a new friend
Mantei in the Red Sox cap
In the bullpen
Can’t get a strikeout
Here we go again

Olerud ain’t so fleet foot
Gets on base, don’t stay put
Edgar gets on base next
Pity on the team that’s hexed
Manny doubles anyway
Trot pops out to end the day
“They must bust in early May”
Usually what the writers say
Look out kid
Don’t matter what you did
Walk on your tip toes
When wearin’ crimson hose
Better buy more of those
That carry around a fire hose
Keep a clean nose
Watch the plain clothes
You don’t need Carson
To know which way the hairdryer blows

*With apologies to Bob Dylan.

June 8, 2005

People In Therapy Traumatized by Association with Rodriguez

Katie Norworth, a 24-year old Red Sox fan attending therapy for the past two months due to her divorce, was coping fine with the so-called stigma of psychotherapy. Norworth was making progress in her sessions until she heard that Alex Rodriguez was a proponent of mental healthcare. “It was all going good until I heard that A-Rod went to therapy, too. Who wants to be doing the same thing as that self-proclaimed ‘best player in baseball’ with the bush league attitude? I was enjoying getting out of some work because of my appointments, but if the cost is being like Slappy [a nickname for Rodriguez], forget it.”

Contrary to his intentions, Rodriguez’s actions have done little to heighten the esteem of therapy patients. “Maybe this psychotherapy thing is all a sham, then,” said 33-year old Wilhelm Ono. “I mean, Rodriguez is a total phony. I can’t imagine anything he’s endorsing is legit. In fact, I’m canceling my shrink appointment right now. Maybe there is something to that trepanation thing my friend was telling me about.”

Michael Faenza, president and CEO of the National Mental Health Association, is concerned about the recent backlash against Rodriguez. “At first, we were thrilled about Rodriguez’s purported advocacy. But, it seems that he turns off a large proportion of the population that requires therapy: Red Sox fans. To be certain, you might think there is a diminished need after the championship, but many fans seek out therapists to talk with because those are the only people that will listen to their recaps of the 2004 postseason over and over and over again.”

Cynthia Rodriguez, the Yankees third baseman’s wife, defended her husband’s impact. “I know where he came from and I know his background and seeing how successful he is as a man, as a husband, as a friend, it really hits home with me. It’s because of therapeutic intervention that he’s been able to discover and flourish as a person. Everyone wishes they were as great as him; it’s a very difficult life, you know, being the idol of billions of people around the world. These nutcases should be happy he’s speaking up for them.”

April 8, 2005

Behind the Scenes at the Fever Pitch Première

FeverpitchsignDramatis Personae
Drew Barrymore, the girl that was in E.T. Oh, yeah, and now she’s in Fever Pitch.
Tom Carron, resident NESN geek
Johnny Damon, CF and spotlight-adorer
Jimmy Fallon, “actor” and “comedian”
Hazel Mae, NESN SportsDesk anchor
Michelle Mangan, newly wedded to Johnny Damon
Kathryn Nixon, wife of Trot
Trot Nixon, RF
Curt Schilling, RHP
Shonda Schilling, wife of Curt and scarfbearer
Dawn Timlin, wife of Mike
Mike Timlin, RHP
Jason Varitek, C with the “C”
Karen Varitek, wife of Jason

The Scene
April 6, 2005. Fenway Park. The red carpet for the première of the movie Fever Pitch.

HAZEL: Here’s the lovely new wife of Johnny Damon, Michelle. Michelle, who did your dress? Versace?

DAMON: [Pushes MANGAN aside.] I have this new, uh, book coming out. It’s called Idiot. I’ll be doing a signing at Borders on....

MANGAN: [Nudges in front of DAMON.] Well, actually, no Hazel. It’s Armani.

HAZEL: I love how it drapes, simply fabulous.

CARRON: Wait... is that the Sumptuous Shonda’s music I hear?

[S. SCHILLING walks down the red carpet, myriad scarves wafting behind her.]

S. SCHILLING: Michelle, I have an issue with your and your media whoring husband.

FeverpitchdamonsMANGAN: Media whore?! Why, look who’s talking, Mrs. Endorse Bush the Day After the World Series victory?

S. SCHILLING: Strong words. I’m surprised they can come out of your face, you’ve had so much work done on it.

MANGAN: Your pert little nose doesn’t exactly look like it was granted by Mother Nature, either, honey.

[S. SCHILLING strides menacingly towards Mangan, scarves clasped in hands as if to garrote MANGAN.]

T. NIXON: All right! Girl fight! Kathryn, go join in. You’ll kick all those girls’ asses.

K. NIXON: I won’t degrade myself in such shenanigans. Besides, I have to run the marathon soon.

T. NIXON: Aww, come on. Look, Timlin’s wife Dawn is doing it, and she’s going to run, too.

[T. NIXON gestures towards D. TIMLIN, who has K. VARITEK in a Full Nelson.]

DAMON: Hey, this scene, it, uh, reminds me of this story I tell in my book. There was this three-way, and, uh....

M. TIMLIN: Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard this story. [Yells towards D. TIMLIN.] Go for it, Dawn honey, you almost got her! Pin her! Pin her!

J. VARITEK: Five bucks that Karen gets the better of your wife.

M. TIMLIN: You’re on. Get ready to pay up, cappy.

C. SCHILLING: Ten clams that Shonda beats the crap out of everyone.

DAMON, M. TIMLIN and J. VARITEK: [Simultaneously.] No bet.

M. TIMLIN: [Back towards DAMON.] You talk about it all the time. You tell the story to everyone in the center field bleachers. I hear you every game, I’m in the bullpen. Why don’t you just set up a stand and sell copies in the Triangle?

DAMON: Not a bad idea, Timlin. So, uh, look for my bookstand under the 420’ marker in the Triangle....

HAZEL: [Turns microphone away from DAMON.] Thanks very much, Johnny. Hey, there’s Drew Barrymore. Let’s try and see if we can flag her down. Drew! Drew!

FeverpitchfallonBARRYMORE: [Giggles.] Oh my God, I just love Boston. This is my love letter to the city. [Jumps onto dugout roof, flashing the crowd.] Love that Dirty Water!

DAMON: [Chases after BARRYMORE.] Hey, Drew. How you doin’?

HAZEL: Um, thanks, very much, Drew. [Spots FALLON.] Jimmy! Jimmy! A word?

FALLON: [Giggles.] Oh my God, I just love Boston. I mean, I was born in Brooklyn and the thought of eating New England clam chowder makes my skin break out in hives, but I just love this town. I feel like I’m really part of Red Sox Nation.

[S. SCHILLING grabs a bat weight, ties a scarf to it, and fashions a makeshift flail-like weapon.]

S. SCHILLING: You guys aren’t real fans! You desecrated the field where the first Red Sox World Series Championship in eighty-six years was won.

[S. SCHILLING takes out BARRYMORE and FALLON with her MacGyvered device.]

CARRON: Oh, the humanity...!

April 5, 2005

Closer

Game 2: April 5, 2005
Red Sox (0-2), 3
Yankees (2-0), 4
L: Keith Foulke (0-1)
BS, W: Mariano Rivera (1, 1-0)

Closer this time. It was tied going into the bottom of the ninth inning, thanks to another blown save by closer Mariano Rivera. Jason Varitek evened it up in the top of the last inning by homering off Mariano Rivera, who had flashes of mortality last year, and now suddenly seems human like the rest of us.

Someone who is so far inhuman against us is Hideki Matsui. A Wiener Whiner Line caller claims he might in fact be a robot, but I won’t descend to that level of humor. In nine at bats, he has six hits (2 of them home runs), struck out only once, and hasn’t had a base on balls. Today he was 3 for 4 with 2 RBIs. As I said before, far too comfortable at the plate. Perhaps tomorrow Tim Wakefield’s pitches can confound him.

Derek Jeter hit the game-winning home run off of Keith Foulke, to the opposite field, no less. Foulke did fall behind 3-0, but he got it back to a full count. Jeter fouled off one pitch, and then used his inside-out swing to deposit the ball in the short right field porch.

In trying times like these, it always helps to talk with your Mom. What would Mom say to the starting nine and pitchers?

  • “Johnny, I’m proud that you wrote that book and all, but they pay you to be a center fielder. Go out there and play like the former All-Star you are. How you got to be one with that noodle arm I’ll never know. Oh, and when will you cut that hair! As God is my witness....”
  • “Christopher Trotman Nixon, you come here right now! You run off your mouth all offseason, and now look. 0 for 4 and 2 strikeouts. Grounding into a double play and leaving men on in scoring position. You just wait until your father gets home.”
  • “Now, where did my beads go? I was going to use them for my macrame proj... Manny, what’s that in your...? Oh, no. What am I going to do with you? Just... just go outside and practice hitting. Go! Now!”
  • “David, you’re my favorite. Here, have some more ice cream. Of course it’s your favorite: Green Monster Mint from Hood.”
  • “Now Kevin, that was indeed a great double play you had in the fifth. But don’t think you can rest on your laurels. Hold on a second, come here. What’s that I smell on your breath? Jack Daniels...?”
  • “Edgar. Enrique. Renteria. To your room. No dinner. No Playstation. Straight to your room.”
  • “You look so good in that uniform with the “C” and everything. Okay, now smile. Smile, I said! I’m sending this picture to everyone this Christmas.”
  • “Where did Billy go? He went 3 for 4 with a run and had some nice defensive plays, I wanted to reward him. Oh, he’s helping little old ladies across the street. Such a sweet boy.”
  • “He’s up there burning incense again and listening to Pink Floyd. Damn hippie kid. But he did go 2 for 4, so I can’t smack him around.”
  • “As for the pitching staff. Well, everyone gets an extra piece of cake... except Keith.”

Tomorrow, the Red Sox try not to get swept in their first series. And, for heaven’s sake, you’ll lose an eye playing with that. Someone’s going to end up crying....

February 19, 2005

Heart Transplant

You’d think that the hardest adjustment for someone from Hawai‘i moving to Boston in December would be acclimating to the winter. In 1997, shopping for a new wardrobe excavated a whole new vocabulary to me, an entirely new strategy for dressing. Soon, I learned what parkas, duck shoes, toques, and anoraks were. I knew when and where to deploy wool or microfleece. As winter melted into spring, however, I noticed a change not only in the weather, but in the atmosphere of Boston and the attitude of its denizens. I wondered if the warming in the region wasn’t caused by the increasing ardor of Red Sox fans rather than the tilt of the planet.

Continue reading “Heart Transplant” »

January 21, 2005

Green, Gay-Friendly, and Genuine

Wally “Comes Out” in Support of FriendSpongebob

Wally the Green Monster spoke with EE today about the recent controversy involving his beleaguered friend SpongeBob SquarePants. SquarePants has been cited by the religious right group Focus on the Family as promoting the “homosexual agenda.” The character was in seen in a We Are Family Foundation video supporting diversity and tolerance in general, along with other luminaries Arthur, Winnie the Pooh, and Barney. Adding to the confusion, Focus on the Family mistakenly believes that the We Are Family Foundation is an affiliate of WeAreFamily, a South Carolina-based organization that strives to support gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered youth in their struggles.

Wally, currently embroiled in his own media relations uproar, made strong moves to stand by SquarePants, saying “I’m here today to speak out for SpongeBob, and for many others that have been by targeted by conservatives in this country and abroad. I guess the right wingers got tired of trying to vilify Harry Potter’s reputation, especially since he has deep pockets with all those galleons at Gringotts. Now they’ve moved on to their next target.

“Like Tinky Winky before him, SpongeBob will prevail. The issue here isn’t whether or not they are gay, or even if they support gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people, mascots, or fictional characters. The issue here is to respect the rights of mascots and other fictitious beings to speak out and appear in whatever outlet they want about the issues that concern them. And when they do speak out, to not have their opinions dismissed by real people and their realist agendas. Sure, conservative elements publish their screeds on an issue that involves “made-up” characters, and then their liberal opponents bash them by saying that we’re not even real. Not real, I ask? My pain as the product of a public relations machine is real, as real as any of you,” said Wally.

Wally_1Some see Wally’s latest statements as a ploy to garner media attention and heighten his public profile. “Come on, do I really seem that jaded to you? I’m here to support my pal. You can read more about our relationship in the book I have coming out in April 2005, and you’ll see what a loyal friend I am. That’s April 2005. I’ll be doing a signing at Borders Downtown Crossing in Boston on April 11. I’ll be joined by my friend the San Diego Chicken, who has a yoga video coming out at the same time.”

December 15, 2004

Red Sox Season Sestina

First in a series of poems in various forms celebrating the Red Sox. The sestina can be well done in the hands of real poets like Elizabeth Bishop or John Ashbery (move down the page for “Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape”), but for me it was just a fun way to celebrate this past season.

I. Hot Stove
Not every year begins in April, sometimes it starts with the holiday season,
With intensive talks over Thanksgiving dinner in Arizona. Is he game
To pitch in Fenway Park, homey, but considered a hitter’s park? The Red Sox
General Manager had data compiled, so that Schilling should not despair;
The Green Monster plucked home runs from the air, and pitching there would be a win-win.
Drafted under close scrutiny, Schilling signed the contract in good faith.

II. Beginning
The cruelest month saw torrid play, the only warmth for the fans bundled in stands, blind faith
In the Olde Towne Team guiding them through the crisp spring season.
15-6 in April, including a sweep of Evil Empire on their home territory. To win
Each time they took the field seemed a given. Other teams were the game,
Prey to the team’s talent. Despite the injuries and insinuations, there was no reason to despair;
A new nation declared its sovereignty, and the flag that was flown said “Red Sox.”

III. Swoon
From May to June, they seemed determined to prove that the Red Sox
Were the same old deal. Mired in mediocrity, reeling from unearned runs, faith
Evaporated like dew from the infield grass. A deluge of despair,
The déjà vu of too many summers preceding, sweeping over the season
As a torrent of spite spewed from daily papers. Players, managers, front office – all were game
For the ravenous press. All were starving for a resurgence, hungry for a win

IV. Trade
Streak to steady the club. What would it take to win?
Retooling. Would it mean trading a longtime Sox?
Probably. How to acquire to right pieces to play the game?
With panache. Will the fans lose faith?
Time will tell. Who will save the season?
Not one man, but many. When ends the despair?

V. ALCS
After the first match-up the stadium, we weren’t completely down. Despair
Only lightly limned the stretches of our confidence. Most certainly we would win
The next one. There was no reason to think that our spell in the post-season
Would be brief. But after a squeaker and a laugher, the 0-3 Red Sox
Did not dwell, but delved deep. Every bench member found a way, an act of faith
Propelling them, compelling them to triumph four times straight. After the seventh game

VI. World Series
Celebrating a pennant was just the beginning. Needing to capture a game
Or three more to cleanse the air, wash away the despair.
No more supposed ghosts, curses, lapses, just pure faith
Pouring forth from reserves of past pain and hapless hopes to win
A title, the title that had eluded them through four score and six years, the Red Sox
Conquered hands, minds, and hearts for a fitting close to a cathartic season.

VII. Waiting for Pitchers and Catchers
After long decades, faith is rewarded. Is it just a game?
For us, probably not. A season is fulfilled and we only despair
The long wait for the next win. “Now starting for the Red Sox….”

November 11, 2004

Boston Red Sox, World Series Champions

Every Spring Training, Red Sox fans fervently believe that the upcoming season will be the year. And in 2004, after an 86 year drought, it finally was.

Words cannot convey how incredibly inspiring this season was. Despite seemingly sleepwalking through most of the season, the team clinched the AL Wild Card and had one of the most memorable baseball postseasons ever.

Talk to any diehard Red Sox fan, and it still seems unbelievable. After falling 0-3 to the Yankees in the ALCS, the despair and doom surrounding the franchise was palpable. Especially since the third loss was a 19-8 debacle. At that point, all I was hoping for was not being swept by the Evil Empire.

And they weren’t. They won a game. And another, and another, and well, the rest is, quite literally, history.

Their World Series opponent had the most wins in the National League. After such an emotionally and physically trying series against the Yankees, you’d think there might be a slight letting up of intensity, a little easing of ferocity. Not this team; not this year. Boston rolled over St. Louis. Swept them. The team with the most wins.

For a legion of fans across the globe, four score and six years of waiting were over.

Now the hot stove season begins. There are pivotal decisions to be made regarding key free agents such as Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek, Derek Lowe, and Orlando Cabrera. The Red Sox front office could conceivably not try and maintain the second highest salary in the big leagues and start replenishing the farm system with fresh prospects. Or they could continue to let the team’s salary total rise, paying aging talent in hopes of another run next season.

I think Theo Epstein will find a middle ground between these two extremes. It’s difficult not to have faith in a baseball operations crew that pulled one of the biggest trades of a franchise player, and thereby, arguably saved the season.

Boston Red Sox: World Series Champions. Sinking in, finally.

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