It is pretty obvious to me why Spring Training is held in a place like Florida. In March, the weather is absolutely beautiful, and yesterday was no exception. The forecast predicted a sunny day with a high of 80 degrees, and a low of 63 degrees. My father and I left the house at 8:30 in the morning, drove for two and a half hours through the flat and uneventful landscape of Florida, and finally arrived in Fort Myers around 11 am. Little did I know that batting practice started two and a half hours before the game rather than the accustomed two hours. My pictures are unfortunately too big to share and I don’t know how to make them smaller.
Like Fenway Park, City of Palms park also offers a nice “tunnel experience”. As you turn into the seating sections, you have to walk up a few stairs, and all you can see is the beautiful blue sky, and as you walk out, the baseball diamond presents itself. City of Palms Park provides a different type of atmosphere than Fenway Park does. It is much more “intimate”, as Kathleen, one of the Red Sox fans I met put it. Everywhere that you sit it feels like you have a great view, even if you’re not in the lower bowl.
The Red Sox dugout is actually on the third base line, which is odd, because generally home teams are on the first base line and visiting teams are on the third base line. I walked over to the place where a couple of other Red Sox fans were standing. It was a fenced off area next to the dugout that extended down the left field line. Northeastern University was having batting practice, but the time went quickly as I began to socialize with a few Red Sox fans.
If it was not for them, I would not have realized something very, very important. Johnny Pesky was sitting just above the fence, and anyone could go get an autograph. I have no idea what my heart did when I heard those words, but some kind of palpitation is probably the appropriate diagnosis. I walked up the stairs, my hands shaking a bit, and I told myself not to become hysterical. I walked over slowly, said hello, and asked for an autograph.
“Sure!” He said happily as he took my ball and sharpie from my hand. He also agreed to take a picture with me. He was SO nice and friendly, and he gave me a hug and a kiss on my cheek. Words cannot describe how incredible it was to meet a Red Sox legend– appropriate too considering that I dedicated my latest ranking to him.
I walked back down as others began to come over asking for his autograph and continued to socialize with the Red Sox fans. I love you all here on the blogosphere, but it was nice to finally have someone to talk to face to face about the Red Sox and what happened last season and what we think about this year. Finally, a few of the Red Sox started filing into the dugout: Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Terry Francona, Kevin Youkilis, and Lars Anderson were among the first few who were hanging out in the dugout.
I was standing near this girl, who looked about my age and we decided to start respectfully calling the players names to see if they would come over. Starting pitcher Kris Johnson came out first, and even though we called to him, he nicely explained to us that he had to warm up. At least he responded to us.
We then started calling out to Dustin, who smiled and gave us a wave, and Jacoby who smiled and waved from the dugout. I was pretty much in shock when I saw Kevin Youkilis– the Youk Fu is gone! He doesn’t have a beard anymore. He didn’t look over to us, which is understandable because I’m pretty sure that he blocks everything out before the game.
We waited for a little while longer, and Wally the Green Monster came over so I was able to get his autograph. Then, right when it was about time for the game, the players started coming back. Most of them went straight to the dugout, but Jacoby stopped and started signing but on the other side of where I was. There was no way I would be able to get over there since there was already a cluster of people. I was happy enough that he waved to me. Lars Anderson also came over, much closer to where I was, so I tried to squeeze my way through. He literally reached into the crowd and grabbed my ball to sign it. He gets to be my project.
The lineup for the game was as follow:
1. Jacoby Ellsbury CF
2. Dustin Pedroia 2B
3. Kevin Youkilis 1B
4. Lars Anderson DH
5. Jed Lowrie SS
6. Angel Chavez 3B
7. Josh Bard C
8. Zach Daeges LF
9. Josh Reddick RF
SP: Kris Johnson
Kris Johnson gave up only one hit over two innings, and struck out three. The hit came in the top of the first inning and it was a triple to Josh Gustafson.
Jacoby Ellsbury grounded out in the first inning and Kevin Youkilis struck out (I watched him on the way back to the dugout and he didn’t break anything!!!). Pedroia, Anderson and Lowrie got on, and Angel Chavez, a third-base prospect hit a grand slam! He had really nice form as well. Josh Bard also hit a home run that inning and he hit a long ball later, but it wasn’t far enough to be a home run. He was definitely getting some wood on it, which is nice to see. The most important thing for him is to work on throwing guys down at second, especially if he is going to be catching Wakefield.
I didn’t know that Luis Tiant was in the dugout, and he has a gigantic white mustache that kind of makes him look like a walrus. He was the one that suggested that the Red Sox sign Charlie Zink (whom I did not see play in either game).
I noticed that Jacoby is watching more pitches, and even though he grounded out twice (in one inning), the fact that he is being patient is great, and his eye is improving even more if that’s possible.
I was impressed with Angel Chavez’s fielding, it was completely solid. He had an incredible game as he hit another home run later in the game.
I noticed that Jed Lowrie swings that bad pitches sometimes, which he can easily work on, but he had a great bases clearing double and his fielding was solid. He made a great first impression on me for ’09.
Dustin Richardson, a pitching prospect, came in to pitch and he had great mechanics, he throws hard, and he has good command. A little more fine tuning in the minors and I could see him coming up– that is, if we EVER need help for pitching.
Zach Daeges, who played left field, had a very weird stance, his back foot is entirely out of the box. He did get a nice double though, so maybe it works for him.
Josh Reddick, who you may remember from the Minnesota game, takes too many pitches, he needs more confidence, but he did have a nice hit as well.
Pedroia and Youk had nice cuts, and Ellsbury ripped a tripple into left-center field which could have been an inside the park home run at the speed he was going, but he was stopped by the third base coach. It was his first extra base hit of the Grapefruit League season.
I was lucky enough to see Junichi Tazawa pitch, which was what I was hoping for because I wanted to see how he was. In two beautiful innings of relief, he struck out four, and walked one. He has a fast delivery, and some nice breaking balls!
Felix Doubront, another Red Sox pitcher posted a great 1-2-3 inning.
I could have gone to a nice dinner at this Italian place called Carrabba’s, an Italian place where I heard that a lot of Red Sox players go. Instead, I opted to go back to the park 2.5 hours early to try and get autographs. As I was walking in, I was pretty much alone and not many people were there. I saw Big Papi talking to a few guys on the Reds, but I didn’t want to interrupt him so I continued walking. Then I saw Jason Varitek all alone on the field and I tried to open my mouth to say something, but nothing came out! I didn’t want to disturb him anyway.
This time I brought water so I wouldn’t get as dehydrated as I did last time. I waved to Varitek who acknowledged my presence but did not wave. What the heck do I say to a guy who is all alone? The Red Sox were up for batting practice, and let me tell you, Big Papi looked great. He looked a lot more comfortable in his swing, and he was hitting some long balls.
I became the official yeller to the players. I wasn’t as intimidated yelling to the minor leaguers because I assumed that they would want to sign for us. I first yelled to Nick Green who looked, and came right over to us! He signed my ball first :).
Then Heidi Watney of NESN came over and started talking to us! She was so nice to us, and she was just asking how we were. Before she left, I felt I had to ask, “Any advice for an aspiring Sports Writer?” I saw someone motion to her in the dugout so I thought he wouldn’t respond but she told him to wait a second and answered my question.
“Intern,” she said. And then she told me about where she interned and how she got into the business. I am so glad that I asked her.
We waved to Terry Francona as he came back into the dugout and he smiled and waved back but didn’t stop to sign. I socialized with some more Red Sox fans, including Kathleen and Karen who I ended up talking to the entire night! I also talked to this nine year old girl who was dying for a Big Papi autograph but was happy enough with what we got. We looked up all the minor leaguers numbers who we didn’t know and started calling to them.
About 30 minutes before the game, Clay Buchholz was in the dugout. ‘Clay!’ we yelled, he looked up, smiled and waved, and then went back to his mental routine. I didn’t yell again because I wanted to allow him to mentally prepare– after all, we remember what happened last year.
We then yelled at Chris Carter, who smiled waved, and came right over! He signed my ball first again! He was so sweet! Big Papi and Lugo waved to us, and as everyone was coming back, I climbed on to the ledge so I could hold my arm out longer. Lugo was coming down the line signing and as I held my arm out, Gil Velazquez came right over to me and signed!
‘Good luck tonight!’ I said, he smiled and said, ‘Thank you,’. Julio Lugo then signed my ball right after! After he signed, I yelled again at Chris Carter!
‘Hi Chris!!’ he laughed a little and waved, and on his way back in the dugout, I yelled ‘Good luck tonight Chris!’. He smiled again and semi-tipped his cap at me. I’m pretty sure that we are best friends now.
I said goodbye to all of my new Red Sox fan friends, and walked back over to my section with Kathleen and Karen, who were sitting with us.
The lineup was as follows:
1. Julio Lugo SS
2. Brad Wilkerson CF
3. David Ortiz DH
4. JD Drew RF
5. Jason Bay LF
6. Jason Varitek C :)
7. Chris Carter 1B
8. Nick Green 3B
9. Gil Velazquez 2B
Lugo had two nice hits and looked great defensively, so he ALSO made a great impression on me. Wilkerson had a great home run and a double. Papi, Drew and Bay were looking great and collected a few nice hits. Jason Varitek had a bases clearing double and looked great behind the plate.
Chris Carter, my new friend, had some nice plays at first, and had a nice double. Nick Green played well at first and collected two hits. One down the third base line and a great infield single! Gil Velazquez had two nice hits and played a great game at second base. These three guys looked great.
Clay Buchholz pitched two innings of one hit ball with one strikeout. The only problems I see is that he gets behind in the count sometimes, and he had too many 3-2 counts. His changeup could be improved as well.
Ramon Ramirez had nice control, gets great distance off the rubber, has a quick delivery and had a great strike out when the count was 3-2. The only thing I see is that he needs to work on pitching around the strikezone.
Javy Lopez, as Red Sox fans know, is either totally on or totally off. He looked more like the “off” guy as he didn’t shut down the side. Manny Delcarmen had a nice inning and Billy Traber actually didn’t give up any runs! He does have to work on his control though. Daniel Bard also closed out the ninth nicely with a strikeout.
More to come tomorrow! I would like to concentrate on the Red Sox vs Twins match up now. 0-0 in the 6th! Great game on MLB Network.
I’m sending pictures to Julia, do you want some? E-mail me