July 2010

The Coldest Winters I Ever Spent Were Summers in San Francisco

Well, it has certainly been a while. I am actually writing this from the press box at Hadlock Field–where the Portland Sea Dogs play. I have a lot of stories to catch everyone up on, the next few entries won’t really correlate with what I’m doing at the moment. I was lucky enough to spend July 19 and 20 in Pawtucket. The first night I shadowed radio broadcaster Steve Hyder, and the second night I shadowed ProJo reporter Brian MacPherson. I swear I learned more in those two days in Pawtucket than I did all year (and I’m sure Portland will offer a similar experience). I had my first press pass, and that basically gave me all access. I was able to go into the clubhouse and locker room, sit in on press conferences with PawSox manager Torey Lovullo (and even ask him a question), as well as sit in on interviews/talks with Lars Anderson, Josh Reddick, and even Jeremy Hermida (who was there on a rehab assignment). Unfortunately, I was not able to see Michael Bowden or Dustin Richardson. Bowden was called up the day before my first day in Pawtucket, and while I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see him, I am more than thrilled that he is getting his well-deserved chance to be in Boston’s bullpen. Richardson was optioned to Pawtucket after my last day. 

Richardson seems like a good transition to the two games that I attended in San Francisco. Fate was on my side this time. The summer program that I attend–The Great Books Summer Program–is held at Stanford University, which is a short ride on the Cal-Train away from San Francisco. As soon as the Red Sox schedule was released in January, I scanned it for opportunities. I was mainly searching for games in Tampa, but little did I know that the interleague gods were smiling down on me. The Red Sox were not only going to be in San Francisco at the same time I was going to be, but they had a weekend series, so there was nothing stopping me from going. I bought tickets immediately, and they sat in their page protectors, collecting dust, for months. 
They were the first thing on my packing list for California, and I was hoping that I would have the opportunity to see Timothy Lincecum pitch. I felt so lucky to be able to see my favorite team play in what might just be my favorite ballpark. 
AT&T Park is absolutely breathtakingly beautiful, and it is conveniently close to where the Cal-Train stops in San Francisco. It’s only about a block away, and one of the best sushi places that I have ever eaten at, Nama, is right down the street. My father and I arrived about a half hour before the stadium opened. Mark Twain was right: “The coldest winters I ever spent were summers in San Francisco.” 
As soon as I got into the park, I walked to the area where the pitchers were warming up, which was conveniently close to my seats. I was hoping for the chance to speak with Dustin Richardson, since he had gotten called up earlier in the month. 
I let him and Fabio Castro warm up for a while, because I didn’t want to interrupt their warmup. Luckily, a fly ball from batting practice did the job for me. After he fielded it, I called his name. He turned around and said, “Hey, what are you doing here?” I was mildly surprised that he remembered me all the way back from Spring Training. I told him I was taking some philosophy courses at Stanford, since that’s basically what we focused on the first week. He continued to warm up with Fabio. 
After he finished his warmup throws, however, he walked over to me and gave me the ball. He had to go run a bit and shag some balls, but before he left, I was able to congratulate him on getting called up, and his first major league strikeout. He also agreed to come back so that we could take a picture. I wanted to see if I could move a little closer to the dugout and speak with Nava, but at the same time, I didn’t want to lose my spot because I wanted to see if Dustin would stay true to his word. I decided to stay. 
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Dustin stayed true to his word alright. Not only did we get a chance to take a picture, but we also got to talk a little bit as he was signing for other fans. I don’t think the Red Sox were using Richardson as much as they could have (and probably should have since he is fantastic), and he didn’t really know the reason behind that. He mused that they were probably just taking it slowly with his development, and that he was happy to merely be up with the club. He also admitted that he did have a little bit of the jitters, and that he hoped that he could just shake them off and pitch. 
I really enjoyed getting that glimpse into what I think is the more human aspect of pitching. At that point, Richardson didn’t have that much major league experience under his belt, and I really appreciated his honesty. He was even like that in Spring Training when he honestly admitted that he still had some stuff to work on in Pawtucket. I’m no expert on this, but I would imagine that the pitchers who are honest with themselves and those around them are the ones that truly succeed because they will know when a change in their mechanics is necessary. Obviously, confidence is a factor for Richardson, and I think once he gets that confidence, he will truly reach his potential. I reassured him to the best of my ability that he was awesome and that he really had nothing to worry about. 
There are a lot of things that I like about interleague baseball. Mainly the fact that the Red Sox generally handle it pretty well. My distaste for the designated hitter and my advocacy of national league baseball is another story for another day. Another thing that I like is watching pitchers bat. It ranks among my favorite things. I thought Clay’s first major league hit was pretty special. What I don’t like is when pitchers pull their hamstrings while running to second base. Those kind of injuries actually kind of surprise me. It’s not like pitchers don’t run, but I suppose the type of running they do on the base paths could be completely different. What I mean by that is that you push off your foot when running the bases, and I bet that’s a completely different way of running for pitchers. Believe me, I’m not trying to make excuses, I’m just looking at all the possibilities. 
I practically had a heart attack when Buchholz came up short on his way to second. The last thing the already injury-depleted Red Sox needed was an injury to one of their most consistent starters. Scott Atchinson coming into the game wasn’t all that comforting either, but he really saved the ball club with a good three innings of work (if my memory serves me correctly). In fact, the entire bullpen threw well. Richardson got in the game and pitched extremely effectively: he even struck out Pablo Sandoval for his second major league strike out. 
I was even looking forward to Dustin’s first major league at-bat, but I was not that lucky. Francona brought Okajima in the next inning, which didn’t really make much sense to me. It obviously was not a matchup issue considering the fact that they are both lefties. Dustin certainly could have gone another inning. 
I hope I’m not judged too harshly for this, but I could not resist buying myself a Timothy Lincecum shirt. I wasn’t even planning on wearing it to Sunday’s game; I just wanted to have my favorite National League pitcher’s shirt. On the way out, there was another shirt I couldn’t resist: “Let Tim Smoke.” It was too good to be true,
and it was only $10. Granted I bought it from a street vendor about a block away from the park who may or may not have been sketchy, but it was irresistible. 
I was so excited for the next game because I had been anticipating an intense pitcher’s duel between Jon Lester and Timothy Lincecum. To tell you the truth, I didn’t want the Red Sox to knock around Lincecum. I wanted them to destroy the bullpen, but I was really in the mood for a pitcher’s duel. Unfortunately, Lincecum wasn’t at his best. He only lasted about three innings and 75 pitches with a balls to strikes ratio that was not impressive. That really surprised me though because who takes Timothy out after only 75 pitches and three innings? He clearly hasn’t been his best this year, and my theory is that he is harboring an injury and trying to pitch through it. 
Big Papi took Lincecum deep into the San Francisco bay for what they like to call a “splash hit.” Unfortunately, splash hits don’t count for opposing teams (even though the majority of them are illegitimate anyway because they were hit by Barry Bonds). 
Jon Lester pitched an absolute gem, and it game at such an opportune time too because the bullpen had been depleted just the day before. The bullpen was pretty much right in front of my seat, so I saw Papelbon pretty up close as he was warming up in the ninth. But I’m pretty sure that he spent more time watching Lester pitch than he warmed up. Let me tell you, it was an absolute honor to be present at a Jonathan Tyler Lester gem. 
One of the coolest moments of that game came before the game. As I walked into the stadium, one of my followers on twitter, @MisterLucky13 recognized me. It was a pretty cool experience to get recognized, and it was an absolute pleasure meeting and talking with him and his wife, Susan. 
Another cool moment was an unspoken conversation with Dustin. He had asked me if I was going to be there the day before, so he just waved when he saw me. And after he was finished warming up, he walked over and handed me the ball again. That really meant a lot to me because it kind of established an unspoken friendship. Those two baseballs that he gave me in San Francisco really meant a lot to me because they were emblematic of so much more. 
Those two games at San Francisco were so much fun because in all honesty, there is no better place to see a ball game. The food is probably among the best of any ballpark (try the garlic fries and lemonade), and the weather is practically perfect. I think my favorite part of the entire experience was being able to speak with Dustin Richardson. I was very disappointed to hear that he got sent down the other day because I think that pitched well in the few innings that he pitched. He certainly has pitched better than Okajima and Ramirez recently. Nevertheless, there are still some mechanical improvements/adjustments that he can make down in Pawtucket, and I have no doubt in my mind that he will be back with the big league club in September, and that he will hopefully start out in the bullpen next April. 
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