Results tagged ‘ Hideki Okajima ’

Tales from Exit 138: First Official Pitchers & Catchers Workout

Mark Twain once said, “Never let your schooling interfere with your education.” (This quote was brought to my attention by Will of The Smiler’s Dugout).

Despite the fact that I think Mark Twain is highly overrated, I decided to take his advice on Tuesday because it worked in my favor. Don’t get me wrong: I think that schooling is fundamental; but at the same time, school does not teach you some of the most important lessons of life–the things you learn in the real world: how to love, how to forgive, how to maintain a friendship, etc. Nor does it teach you how to pursue a passion. Passion can’t be taught: it is something that strikes when we least expect it to. School can only take you so far, and I think the rest has a lot to do with passion.

This is why I skipped school on Tuesday and went to Fort Myers to see the first official workout for pitchers and catchers. Baseball is my education, and it actually has taught me a lot. I did not let my schooling interfere with my education.

I woke up at 5:30 am, and was on the road a little after 6, with the intention of arriving around 8:30. The last time I left my house this early was for the Fall Instructional League. I don’t even think I have left for class that early.

It was actually my first time driving up to Fort Myers by myself. It’s not a hard drive, but it is a bit lengthy: especially the mundane stretch of Alligator Alley. I’ve made the drive so many times, that I could probably make it with my eyes closed. Even though I did not have anyone to keep me company, I kept myself entertained by rocking out to Journey on the way up. And, of course, I kept Tolkien’s advice in the back of my head:

“It’s a dangerous business: going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.”

I arrived at the stadium around 8:15, and arrived at the complex via shuttle bus before 8:30. I forget how much I love baseball during the off season, but it certainly did not take me long to remember. I think that a fan’s love for the game is almost like muscle memory: “when a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for the task, allowing it to be performed without conscious effort.” And even if we are away from the game for a while, it does not take long to pick it back up.
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The catchers were the first group to come out just after 9. Among them, of course, were Jason Varitek and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. They were going through a series of drills, and one of the things I really noticed was how much of a leader Saltalamacchia has become. He was the one leading all of the guys from station to station.

This is not to say that Jason Varitek is not the leader he used to be. But I think that for the spring, he is letting Saltalamacchia take the reigns. The catching situation is still a little bit vague, but I think that Saltalamacchia and Varitek will split responsibilities a little more evenly than Varitek and Martinez did, but I think that Saltalamacchia will be the primary catcher. That being said, this is probably why Salty is acting as the leader out there. I was really glad to see that because catchers are the guys who control the game, and Saltalamacchia looks like he is becoming really comfortable with his new team.
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Since it was not a full-squad workout (ie. with the position players too), the pitchers were split up into small groups of five and split up around the fields. That being said. the minor league complex has an unfair advantage over me: there are five fields and one of me. It was nearly impossible to keep tabs on everyone. Kyle Weiland and Michael Bowden were on Field 5, while Alex Wilson was on Field 4, while Andrew Miller and Felix Doubront are on Field 3. I kept losing people (I lost the catchers completely at one point).

I would station myself diligently between fields hoping to catch guys between rotations, but the second I left to go watch Luis Exposito hit in the cages, the pitchers switched stations. I just couldn’t win. But it’s not like the players were signing/able to stop and take pictures, anyway. It was the first day, so like me, they were figuring things out too. I’m sure that they will sign and stop for pictures more once they are used to the whole atmosphere.

However, I am resolved to defeat the complex’s unfair advantage over me. I began to weigh my options, and since neither cloning myself nor time travel is a feasible option, I think I’m going to bring a scooter next time.

There were a lot of position players at camp too: Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Ryan Kalish, Daniel Nava, Lars Anderson, Adrian Gonzalez, Jose Iglesias, and Josh Reddick were just a few of the many guys taking batting practice and shagging balls in the outfield.
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Lars stopped to sign for some people before he went into the clubhouse, so I was able to say hello. He recognized me immediately and asked how my blog was, and we briefly talked about our respective off seasons.

I wanted to say hello to Michael Bowden and Kyle Weiland, but I wasn’t able to get a good spot. I was only able to say hello as they were walking in to the clubhouse, but I’m pretty sure they recognized me.

It seemed like everything was done for the day, and I was beginning to think that hope was lost for a picture. But after Jarrod Saltalamacchia finished an interview, he came over and signed down the line for every last person, and he was even nice enough to pose for a quick picture with me.
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Hideki Okajima, whose situation on the roster is uncertain, also signed for a lot of people. What really surprised me, though, was that Jason Varitek was actually signing because an autograph from him is hard to come by. There was a huge crowd of people, and I thought any attempt would be futile, but patience was indeed a virtue.

He was not the happiest of guys when I got up there, though. People wanted multiple things signed, and he was getting frustrated with it. He said, “You guys have come back two or three times, and it’s not fair to the other fans. I don’t appreciate it.” It did not surprise me that Jason Varitek was promoting fairness–just as any good captain should.

This whole process was 90% standing around doing nothing/watching drills and 10% getting pictures, autographs, etc. But it’s not like time was completely wasted during that 90%. Brian MacPherson, the writer that I shadowed when I was in Pawtucket, was around, so I got to catch up with him,
and he was encouraging despite the not-so-good college news.

So it was not the best day for photos and small conversations with players, but it was a great day nonetheless just because baseball is back. Nearly all of my senses were invigorated: watching the drills, smelling the grass and the dirt, the sound of the glove snapping over the ball, and holding a baseball–which fits perfectly in the palm. I have no doubt that I will have more luck as the spring goes on.

My next pilgrimage will be Saturday: the first full-squad workout. I was serious about bringing a scooter. I’m also planning on wearing an old press pass backwards and seeing how much access I can get. Let’s see how far audacity can take me this year.

The Color Purple

Dear Elizabeth:

The admission committee has concluded its evaluation of Early Decision
applicants to Northwestern University. I am sorry we are unable to
offer you a place in the freshman class.

They say that everything happens for a reason. People say that college admissions are a crapshoot: if you get in, you got lucky; if you don’t get in, you were unlucky. You will end up where you are meant to be.

Once I read my rejection letter, none of that made any difference. None of that made me feel better. I was rejected from one of the best journalism schools in the country. It was quite discouraging, which is why I have not written anything in a while. My whole application centered upon my blog and my love for writing about baseball, and why I love to do it. Northwestern rejecting me was like them telling me that my blog was not good enough; that my passion was not good enough. And really, there is not much worse than getting told that your passion is not good enough.

Getting rejected from college is like having a really good career and not getting into the Hall of Fame. I’m Luis Tiant, and Northwestern is the Hall of Fame. He’s a perfectly qualified candidate, who is overlooked.  

Granted, the rejection letter did not explain why I was not accepted. In retrospect, if I had to guess, I would say that it was my test scores were not good enough. And if that is the case, then I do not want to go to Northwestern.

If I have learned anything in the past two plus years since I have started this blog, it is that journalism is based on passion. In journalism, passion is paramount to grades, to test scores, and even to writing skills. If you are truly passionate about something, then it will be expressed in your writing. You can be the best writer in the world, but if you’re not passionate about what you’re writing about, then it’s not worth writing about.

I am not asking Northwestern to understand my passion; not many people do. Perhaps they simply do not understand it because my blog is completely independent of my school work. If Northwestern truly was one of the best journalism schools in the country, their mantra would be passion. But if they judge passion solely on grades and test scores, then I was wrong for applying there in the first place.

In my conversations with players, I have realized that baseball goes so far beyond its statistics, and I hope that I have been able to convey this to those of you that are kind enough to stop by and read my blog. Baseball is an art. If we solely look at the numbers, then we do not even crack the surface of what this game truly can mean to us. Similarly, I go beyond my statistics (and so does everyone who applies to college).

Perhaps everything does happen for a reason. The last thing I want to do is go to a school that will neither understand nor foster passion. If Northwestern wants to have a homogeneous class of kids with straight A’s and perfect scores, then more power to them. But that is not what journalism is about.

If you presented me with two scenarios right now–the first being that I have perfect grades and scores and I have a ticket to the institution of my choice. The second being my current situation: good grades, not-so-great-scores, but something that I am truly passionate about–I would choose the latter every time. I have something worth writing about. 

A lot of you are probably familiar with the “Beyond Baseball” commercial about Dustin Pedroia:

“Too Short.
Too Weak.
Too Slow. 
 Growing up, Dustin Pedroia was often overlooked, but he used that as motivation to never give up, never give in, and never listen to what they say you can’t do.
This is beyond perseverance; this is beyond baseball.”

In a way, Northwestern has said something similar to me. But like Dustin Pedroia, I’m going to use this as motivation to never give up, never give in, and never listen to what they say I can’t do. Even after college, I know that things like this will happen. The writers I shadowed over the summer said this themselves. There is no one path to where I want to go. There are plenty of other universities with equally renowned journalism programs and reputations. I know that going to a school with a good reputation and connections will only help me. But in the end, it will be my passion that gets me to where I want to go.

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In the past few weeks, Theo Epstein has acquired some great players that will play a  huge role in the 2011 season and beyond.

The last thing I blogged about was the blockbuster Adrian Gonzalez trade that sent perhaps the best three minor league prospects in the organization (pitcher Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and outfielder Reymond Fuentes) as well as Eric Patterson (who was the player to be named later) to San Diego. While this locks up the 2011 season, the Adrian Gonzalez’s future in the Red Sox organization is in jeopardy until a contract extension is finalized.

Epstein had never given a player more than a five-year deal in his regime as Red Sox general manager until Carl Crawford’s 7-year, $142 million deal. I have always thought that Epstein has been really smart in doing this because there is really no way to tell how good a player will be in five years.

However, in the past few years, teams have been signing players to lucrative, long-term contracts typically between 6-8 years. The way I see it, Epstein has been forced to adjust to the market in order to lock up the top-tier players. You would think that a player would settle for less years and more money, but long-term security has been a deal breaker lately.

Locking up Gonzalez long term (I would say five to six years, but with the recent Crawford deal, anything could happen) is absolutely essential. After the 2011 season, teams will be swooping in like vultures for Gonzalez’s services. It will be a huge blow to the organization if the Red Sox lose Gonzalez plus the talented crop of minor league players.

It is quite possible that a deal has been agreed upon in principle with Gonzalez, and the Red Sox are merely waiting until after Opening Day to announce it–exactly what they did with Josh Beckett’s 4-year contract extension last year. This would allow the organization to evade an even heavier luxury tax.

Giving up the prospects was certainly hard to do. I thought that Casey Kelly in particular was untouchable. The minor league system, however, has the potential to be restocked in this year’s draft. In addition to the top-fifty pick that the Red Sox already have, they will have four picks in the compensatory round due to the loss of Victor Martinez (4-years, $50 million with Tigers) and the impending loss of Adrian Beltre. Because they are both Type A free agents, the Red Sox will receive two, compensatory picks. It is also likely that they will non-tender Felipe Lopez–a Type B free agent–so that gives them another compensatory pick. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s six of the first fifty picks. Consider the farm system re-stocked.

Casey Kelly was certainly a big deal: he received a lot of hype during Spring Training. Keep your eyes out for Anthony Ranaudo this year. He was drafted in the first round (39th overall) over the 2010 draft out of LSU.

Carl Crawford’s 7-year, $142 million deal is certainly a lot of money, but there is no doubt that he is the type of player that you make exceptions for. He is a five-tool player, and considered by many to be the best athlete in baseball. He will play left field (with Ellsbury moving to center, and Drew staying in right), and I expect him to hit either first or second in the lineup. Cameron will be the fourth outfielder, and this gives Ryan Kalish some time to develop in the minors. I would like to see him get some time in right field and improve his arm to potentially be the starting right fielder in 2012 after Drew’s contract expires.

Speaking of expiring contracts, this has to have b
een a factor in splurging for Crawford. The Red Sox are coming off of a lot of contracts after the 2011 season including David Ortiz, JD Drew, Marco Scutaro, and Mike Cameron. Matsuzaka’s contract is up after the 2012 season.

The Red Sox also signed three relievers expected to strengthen the bullpen. RHP Bobby Jenks was signed to a two year deal worth $12 million. The Red Sox non-tendered the inconsistent Hideki Okajima, so I expect Jenks to serve as a setup man for Papelbon. He had arguably his worst season last year posting a 4.44 ERA, but he has been very reliable in the past. The only thing I do not like is his beard.

The Red Sox also signed RHP Dan Wheeler to a one year deal worth $3 million with a club option for 2012. He has had a consistently good ERA over the past three seasons averaging about 3.25.

The signing that I was not all too crazy about was the one year deal with RHP Matt Albers. He has never had an ERA under 4.00. I am pretty sure that it is a major league contract, but I suspect that he will battle for a bullpen spot during Spring Training.

The only left that the Red Sox have in the bullpen is Felix Doubront, and I am sure that Francona will use him as the lefty specialist (which, as I have mentioned, I do not buy). He is currently the only lefty in the bullpen, so I suspect Epstein will sign a few guys to minor league contracts that will compete for roster spots in 2011.

The Four Seasons: Hot Stove Analysis

Most places experience four seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter. Each season is distinctly associated with different weather patterns and different activities. When people ask me what my favorite season is, I say, “Baseball season.” I think that I need to be more specific, though. A lot of people think that there is just baseball season and the off season, but like the weather, baseball has four seasons as well: the preseason, the regular season, the postseason, and the hot stove season. Just because there is no baseball, that does not mean that there is an “off” season.

If you asked me which of the baseball seasons were my favorite, I would have a hard time responding. If you asked me my least favorite, though, I would not have to think twice about answering, “The hot stove season.” For a baseball fan, there is nothing worse than having your favorite player be a free agent. You hope that deep down, money and years are subordinate to the loyalty he has for his team. But in the end, we all have to face the harsh reality that for players, love for a team is quantified.

The off season can be even harder if, like me, you are a huge fan of minor league baseball. The top rated prospects are always the ones who are most vulnerable to blockbuster trades. This brings me to, you guessed it, Adrian Gonzalez.

As I write this, it has essentially been made official that the Red Sox and the Padres have completed a blockbuster trade. The Red Sox have been interested in Adrian Gonzalez for over a year now, and Theo Epstein has finally made it happen. The Red Sox lose perhaps the three best prospects in the organization in Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo, and Reymond Fuentes.

I wonder how it is to hear your name in trade talks as these three so often did. In this case, though, I think this trade is a compliment to their abilities. The Red Sox are not trading to get rid of them. Adrian Gonzalez is one of the most talented players in baseball, and the San Diego Padres see enough talent in these three prospects to trade away their face of the franchise. That is a huge compliment.

This trade has some personal repercussions for me. Anyone who has read this blog once or twice knows how much faith and respect I had for these guys. I expected to see Casey Kelly in the Red Sox’s starting rotation in 2013. I expected Anthony Rizzo to be the Red Sox’s starting first baseman in either 2012 or 2013. I expected Reymond Fuentes to be the Red Sox’s starting center fielder in 2014.

It’s not just that I closely followed their minor league development. I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing each of them. I feel very lucky that I had the opportunity to get to know them a bit. Obviously, all three of them are fantastic players, but when it comes down to it, they’re good guys too.
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I remember the first time I talked to Casey Kelly. He, Kris Johnson, Kyle Weiland, and Ryan Kalish were sitting at a table signing at an event in Fort Myers. I gave them all my card, and we had an interesting conversation about the spelling of analysis. I saw Kelly about 20 minutes later, and I talked to him a bit more about the spelling of analysis, and also about his transition from shortstop to pitcher. When I saw him in Portland, he was happy to re-establish the fact that I, apparently, am a poor speller.
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I met Anthony Rizzo on the last day of Spring Training. I told him and his mother, Lori, that he was one of my projects. When I saw him in Portland over the summer, I talked to him a lot, and I even had the chance to formally interview him, the transcript of which you can read here.

I formally interviewed Reymond Fuentes at the Fall Instructional League in Fort Myers. You can read the transcript of that here.. (It’s actually more of a summary of what I remembered, because I accidentally deleted it). I don’t have a picture with him, but I am thankful that I had the chance to talk to him before he was traded.

Although I’m truly going to miss these guys, this was a fantastic trade. I think both sides will benefit equally. Gonzalez’s impact will obviously be more immediate, but like I said, I fully expect Kelly, Rizzo, and Fuentes to be starting in the near future after they finish their development. The Red Sox are currently working out a long term deal with Gonzalez because he is in the last year of his contract. Every baseball team learned from the Atlanta Braves’ mistake a couple of years ago when they traded top prospects (Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz, to name a few) to the Texas Rangers for Mark Teixeira, and failed to sign him long term.

Adrian Gonzalez  will obviously play first base, and Kevin Youkilis will move to third: a position that he is very comfortable at considering he was developed as a third baseman. Adrian Beltre will not be in a Red Sox uniform next season. He is a fantastic player, and his bat will have a huge impact on whichever team he signs with.

I want to briefly analyze the other moves that the Red Sox have made this season, and then address the remaining needs.

1. They signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek to one year
deals. Varitek is always a good guy to have around considering he knows
how to handle the pitching staff, and he can help Saltalamacchia learn.
Saltalamacchia was formerly a huge catching prospect in the Rangers
organization, but he never really panned out as expected. He even
struggled with getting the ball back to the pitcher. However, I would not be surprised if he turned out to be a valuable asset. At the same time, though, neither his or Varitek’s bat will fill Victor Martinez’s (who signed a four year contract worth $50 million with the Tigers) hole. The Red Sox obviously value Salty and Varitek for their defense, not their bats. The rest of the Red Sox lineup will compensate. 

2. They traded Dustin Richardson for former first round pick (sixth overall), Andrew Miller, whom they have just non-tendered. They also non-tendered Hideki Okajima. As many of you know–or even just judging from my picture–this trade also had personal repercussions for me. Richardson was perhaps my favorite pitcher in the minor league system. He did not have a full year to develop in Triple-A, which explains why he struggled a bit with walks at the major league level. As a left handed pitcher, I think he could have been a valuable asset to the Red Sox’s bullpen, but I have no doubt that he will do well in Florida. I look forward to following his career down here.
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I remember the first time I talked to Richardson. It was at a spring training workout, and I was able to tell him how much I enjoyed watching him last September, and that I thought really highly of him. It surprised me that he remembered me nearly a month later, and that he had taken the time to read my site. When I talked to him more extensively, what really impressed me about him was that he was really honest with himself. Instead of saying, “Yeah, I should be in Boston,” he wanted to work stuff out in Pawtucket. I was even more surprised that he recognized me immediately in San Francisco, and I was so glad that I had the chance to congratulate him on his first major league strikeout. He gave me two baseballs. 

What confused me, though, is that the Red Sox non-tendered Andrew Miller. If the Red Sox were not planning on keeping him, then they essentially gave up Richardson for free. It was suggested to me on Twitter, by @justjohnsonya, that perhaps the Red Sox were clearing a roster spot for the Rule 5 Draft, and hoping to sign Miller after that.

The Red Sox have proven arms in Scott Atchison, Daniel Bard, Tim Wakefiled, and Jonathan Papelbon, and I expect to see great things from Felix Doubront and Michael Bowden. However, the bullpen is another asset that the Red Sox need to improve upon.

The rest of the Red Sox’s Hot Stove moves have been relatively anticlimactic, picking up a guy off waivers here and there. There are two big names on the market that the Red Sox will pursue: Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth. The Red Sox already have a right-fielder in Drew (who is in the last year of his contract), and a left fielder in Ellsbury, but Ellsbury can easily move to center field. I could see the Red Sox signing Crawford, moving Ellsbury to center, keeping Drew in right, and having Mike Cameron as the fourth outfielder (he is still under contract). If this happens, I would think that the Red Sox would want to develop Kalish as a right fielder, because I fully expect him to be in the starting lineup in 2012. Between Crawford and Werth, Crawford is the most logical move. 

Even though it’s hard for me to say goodbye, I know that all of these guys are going to have great careers. After all, they are my projects. In fact, I would be willing to be that one day, these are the guys that teams are going to be trading their big minor league prospects for. I wish them nothing but the best in their careers, which I will still monitor closely. As for Adrian Gonzalez, I look forward to seeing him rake in a Red Sox uniform.

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. 

Spring Training Odyssey: Pirates vs Red Sox 3/13/10

You guys will be proud of me (or maybe disappointed): I did not trespass onto “private” property, nor did I climb fences nor did I open doors that said “authorized personnel only”. That’s not to say the day wasn’t filled with adventures, stories, and a farmer’s tan. My agenda was much more similar to what you’re used to: autograph hunting. For those of you who are new to this blog, I am not one of those autograph sellers; I am merely a collector. For me, there is a story behind every autograph, and a story behind the baseball that the autograph is on. 

The gates open two-and-a-half hours before the game, and it takes two-and-a-half hours to get to the park. If you do the math right, we had to leave at 8 a.m. to arrive when the gates opened. We parked about a block away from the park outside of a church; the money was benefitting the Salvation Army. We were the first car in the parking lot. 
My normal spot (or should I say, last year’s spot), which was at the corner of this lower level area right next to the dugout was already completely full of fans. I guess I should not have been too shocked considering it was a sold-out game on a Saturday. Hope was not lost though, so I parked myself right behind the dugout. The weather was beautiful, much better than Friday’s, which caused rainouts all across Florida and attacked my car. The sun was shining, and I had of course overestimated my skin’s immunity to sunburns. 
One of my favorite parts about getting autographs is the fans you meet. I had the pleasure of meeting Kip, Julie, and their son Zack. They were down from Massachusetts to see a couple of Red Sox games. We were side-by-side identifying players’ numbers and calling their names. 
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The first autograph of the day was from Mike Cameron. He signed for a lot of people before his turn in the cages. His signature is a work of art. He is surely one of the nicest guys on the team, and he has a big characteristic smile that is indicative of his personality. 
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Then, Marco Scutaro came jogging in, and he signed for about three people. He was in a rush, so it was really nice that he signed. 
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Then I noticed Tug Hulett all the way at the end of the dugout. So I employed my vocal abilities and called to him. He came right over and signed for everyone who wanted a signature. Then he really went beyond his call of duty and literally signed for every single fan down the line in that lower level area. When he came back, he continued to sign for people along the dugout and he even threw bubble gum to a couple of fans. I had never seen anything like it! I told him that I awarded him with the good guy award. 
I spotted Darnell McDonald in the dugout, so I called to him, and he signed for a few people. I also spotted Gil Velazquez in the dugout, so he signed for a few people too. 
Then my sunglasses buddy, Lars Anderson, came back into the dugout after stretches, and after signing for some fans down the line. I knew that he was going to come over because as he was signing down the line, I called his name and he waved. I think it was then that he recognized me because I didn’t even have to say anything at the dugout and he remembered me. Of course we talked about my sunglasses! I told him we could trade, or that he could just have the glasses. As he was walking back into the dugout after he had finished signing, I offered one more time, and he came back up smiling and said that it was OK. 
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The game was about to start, but I wasn’t ready to go back to my seat just yet. One of my friends, Colleen, was at the game, so I finally got the chance to meet her! We became friends on Facebook through this site, actually. Colleen is a fantastic Red Sox fan who made the long trek across the state with her family to see the game. It was so great to meet her, and I hope we can talk for longer next time. Baseball really does bring people together. 
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Clay Buchholz was the starting pitcher, and he looked as confident as I had ever seen him. There was a big difference in his presence on the mound from last year to this year. He truly proved himself during the second half of the season last year, and I think that he belongs in the rotation. His first start of the Spring was a little bit shaky, but like I have said, that is completely normal and to be expected. That was all out of his system, and he had a good, dominant demeanor on the mound, and he simply exuded confidence. He focused on his fastball and changeup, but he also worked on his slider and curveball. He hit his spots for the most part, but you could still notice that he would get a bit discouraged if he walked someone. 
Jonathan Papelbon, Manny Delcarmen, Boof Bonser, Brian Shouse, and Michael Bowden also got their work in. Papelbon and Delcarmen looked solid, Boof’s only hiccup was the leadoff home run that he gave up, and Brian Shouse had a nice inning of work. 
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To me, Michael Bowden is at the stage that Clay Buchholz was at last Spring. I don’t think that he fully trusts himself yet, so he is not completely confident. It’s not like he had a bad outing (he only gave up one run), but you could tell that he was struggling a bit. He was missing low, he was more often behind in the count, and he was getting frustrated with men on. He has an interesting delivery that seems to work for him, but he really doesn’t use his legs. I feel like pitchers get a lot of power from those leg kicks, and his kick is more like a step. Then again, he has never had a big leg kick, and when you’re a pitcher, you do what works for you. When I IMG_3680.JPG
Then I walked over to where the pitchers were warming up. Daniel Bard, Robert Manuel, and Casey Kelly were warming up. “Hey, Casey, did you ever tell Kris Johnson how to spell analysis?” I asked. He smiled, laughed, and said, “Yeah, I did!” I then proceeded to thank him for arranging to pitch on Saturdays. 
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Kris Johnson and Kyle Weiland emerged from the bullpen area to warm up. “Hey Kris, have we learned how to spell analysis yet?” I asked. He smiled a bit and said, “Nope”. Kyle asked how I was doing before they started to warm up. After they finished, Kris tossed me the ball. 
The “B” game was a totally different atmosphere. Fans were invited to stay, but only about 200 did. There was not assigned seating, so my father and I sat right behind the dugout. It was really quiet, so you could really hear the echo of the ball being caught, or the crack of the bat against the ball. The scoreboard was off, the concessions were closed–there wasn’t even an umpire. The scene was serene and sacred: I was attending a special sermon at my church, the church of baseball. 
Hideki Okajima, Fernando Cabrera and Daniel Bard looked solid in their outings. Bard has a nice Papelbon-esque stare. Ramon Ramirez pitched well, but he gave up a home run to Nate Spears. 
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Let me talk about Nate Spears for a second. He may not be one of the non-roster invitees this Spring, but I believe that he will be next year. He was fantastic on defense, and he certainly demonstrated power behind the plate. Keep your eye on him during the year.
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Casey Kelly pitched, and he looked real good. He was working quickly and effectively, and he was consistently getting ahead in the count. He also displayed a fantastic breaking ball.  
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One of my favorite moments of that B game was when catching prospect Luis Exposito hit a home run off of Kelly. Like I have said, Exposito has a very powerful bat, and he also has a gun for an arm. I think he has the potential to throw out a lot of runners. 
Robert Manuel pitched and he got ahead of the count, had good pacing and good placement. He pitched excellently. 
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My buddy Kris came in, and his only problem was that he left a couple of pitches up. Other than that, he looked really good. 
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Then Kyle Weiland came in, and I really liked what I saw from him. I like the way he keeps his glove tucked in for his delivery. He knows how to use the corners, he hit his spots, and he exhibited a good fastball. His only problem was that he looked a little uncomfortable pitching from the stretch. 
After the B game, I was able to get three autographs. Jeremy Hazelbaker, who played in the game last Saturday signed. 
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Ryan Khoury was kind enough to sign, and he even posed for a picture with me. I told him that I had seen him in Portland, and that I was excited to see him this year as well. 
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I was also able to get Luis Exposito’s signature, and he posed for a picture as well. We talked about Twitter.  We were the last car to leave. 
Before I end, I need to address some very serious news that the Red Sox released Saturday night. The Red Sox’s top position-player prospect, Ryan Westmoreland, was diagnosed with cavernous malformation in his brain, and will be having brain surgery on Tuesday. This is especially hard for me to hear because I have become somewhat close with him. It is an unprecedented event like this one that makes you realize that there are things beyond baseball. We realize that regardless of whom we root for, we are baseball fans, and we come together to support Ryan. This was out of his control, and all we can do is keep him in our thoughts and prayers. There is not a lot of news out there, so I do not know how soon he will be back on the diamond, but that should not be in any of our minds right now, especially not his. He needs to focus on getting healthy again before he thinks about playing baseball. He has my full support (as he always will), and I truly admire him for his courage. I will always be a fan of his no matter what, and I wish him the best of luck. I actually heard about this via Twitter on my way back from the game. Five minutes after finding out about this, I saw a shooting star. I think you all know what I wished for, and I think I made it on behalf of Major League Baseball fans everywhere. 

Almost, Almost, Almost

‘Almost’ seems to sum up the first nine games that the Red Sox played. Except for the two blowout games that Jon Lester just happened to pitch in, the Red Sox came within striking distance in almost every game (and by that I mean we were down by two runs or less). Those games are the frustrating ones. 

That was a pretty tough road trip, and I don’t think the late night West Coast games were much fun for anyone (except for Oakland). If I’m tired watching West Coast games, I can’t imagine how the players must be… they actually have to do stuff. 
‘Almost Game’ #1
I was ready for the second West Coast game of the series. I had finished my homework, and I was in the process of drinking my two cups of coffee. For those of you who made comments about drinking coffee on my last post, I’m somewhat addicted myself. I know, it’s bad, it stunts my growth. Maybe that explains Pedroia’s lack of height. 
The top of the first made me happy. I thought that maybe our offense had finally woken up. The Red Sox finally stringed together a bunch of hits in the first inning to score three runs, and normally, run support works pretty well for Dice-K. 
Not that night. It was one thing when the game was tied. ‘Okay, back to 0-0′ I thought, deflated. Then Dice-K gave up two MORE runs. Five runs. In one inning. I no longer felt deflated, I felt dejected. 45 pitches in one inning– that’s basically how many Wakefield had after five innings the day after. 
I was scared too, because I wasn’t fully trusting our offense yet. In the games before that night’s, we would score a run in the first, and then leave absolutely everyone on. At least we tied the game back up in the top of the fifth thanks to more hits strung together. 
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That wasn’t my favorite part of the story. My favorite part was the bullpen, especially Justin Masterson. Thank God he continued to train like a starter throughout the offseason, and during Spring Training. Whosever idea that was, you are brilliant. This man oozes versatility, and I dream about it. Of course, when he came in, I proceeded to ask um… myself: WHERE THE HELL DID DICE-K GO??? And after him, another six shutout inning by that bullpen that everyone has been talking about: the best one in baseball. 
It stayed tied for… a while. The three hour mark passed. ‘Oh crap’ I thought, ‘This is going to be a long night,’. 
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I won’t lie to you though, I did fall asleep from the bottom of the ninth to the top of the tenth. I missed Okajima’s 1-2-3 ninth. But I did wake up for Dustin Pedroia’s incredible catch in the bottom of the tenth. It woke me up. 2 AM passed, and that meant less than four hours of sleep, and I like sleeping. 
Again, I won’t lie to you. Javier Lopez makes me nervous when he’s in without anyone on base. He loaded up the bases. I don’t think I could feel my anxiety though, my exhaustion was overwhelming. There are two outs though, so I’m feeling kind of good. 
Then, a sharp grounder that bounces into the air… but my Dustin is charginggggg andddd safe. The A’s won. I stayed up until 2:30 AM to watch the Red Sox lose. 
I could barely get up the next morning, and I probably couldn’t walk in a straight line either. My friend, Kathleen (the other Red Sox fan) and I just shook our heads when we saw each other. We went over to other benches (in the area that my friends and I hang out) to go sleep. 
My other friends came over, and started talking. I told them to ‘go away’ because I needed sleep, and I proceeded to sleep every opportunity that I got. 
Almost Game #2
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Wednesday’s game was perfect timing– it was on a day that I had early dismissal, so I got home in time to see the first pitch. It’s not like I don’t get nervous when Wakefield pitches– like I’ve said, he’s either really on, or really off. Yesterday, he was REALLY on, and so was our offense. 
I noticed “it” after four innings. We had a comfortable two run lead thanks to Mike Lowell’s two run homer, and Wakefield was cruising. I looked at the score: zero hits for the A’s. 
My thoughts would not shut up. I wanted them to so badly, but they just wouldn’t. Mike Lowell made an error in the fifth that would have ruined the perfect game, which Wakefield would have had going into the 8th inning had it not been for that error. 
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The Sox even got more insurance runs in the 8th because we went through our entire lineup. I like doing that, and I hope we do it again soon. I was a very happy camper, even though I was ridiculously tired. At the beginning of the 8th inning, Don Orsillo finally talks about it. 
‘Wakefield has allowed no hits to A’s hitters through seven.’
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‘Why would you say that?’ I asked him through my computer. I know he’s an announcer, and maybe he has to… but aren’t we all ridiculously superstitious? Maybe I would be a crappy announcer, then. I would not even mention hits if I noticed it, and I would threaten my partner if they even thought about it. 
I had MLB Network on mute too, and I see a ‘Special Report’, so naturally, I turned it up. Just guess what they talked about: 
‘History may be in the process of being made over in Oakland…’
TURN IT OFF! My father and I both scream at the same time. I fumble with the remote and change the channel, only to have it go to the same thing but not in HD. I finally just turn the TV off. 
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Kurt Suzuki got the hit, and he is the one that reached on the error too. You know how Jane mentions kidnapping players over in her blog? I want to kidnap Kurt Suzuki, and I wouldn’t mind kidnapping
Travis Buck either (the guy with the walk off hit). 
There were some remarkable defensive plays during that game though. Jacoby Ellsbury had two beautiful catches in the outfield where he bounced gracefully off the wall each time. Nick Green also had an incredible catch to rob Jack Cust (?) of a hit. 
I saw MIke Lowell in the dugout in the top of the ninth semi-joking with Wakefield about that error, and I could see that he was basically saying,
“I was thinking about that error, and how it could have ruined a perfect game. I was also thinking about how Elizabeth Dreeson would have come and killed me,”
I took a three hour nap after that– caught up on my sleep, and I needed it! 

Opening Week Thoughts

After Josh Beckett’s stellar performance on Opening Day, I was excited to see what the rest of the pitching staff was going to offer. I can’t say that I was thrilled with the three games that followed Josh Beckett’s, but I can say that I’m optimistic for the rest of the season. It is obvious that the Red Sox are still coming together as a whole, and transitioning from the Spring Training atmosphere to the regular season atmosphere. But as Kevin Youkilis pointed out, I’d rather be off to a slow start than have a bad finish. “There are bright things to come”. 

I was very excited for Wednesday’s game because I knew that it was going to be a pitcher’s duel. Those always keep me on the edge of my seat, even if they are a bit nerve racking. It seems to me that Lester and Kazmir serve the same purpose on their respective teams– dominant lefties. Then again, when I was in Tampa last year I did see Kazmir pitch nine straight balls. It was quite a game until around the fifth inning where the Rays exploded for four runs. I bet Carlos Pena’s home run was pretty “deflating” as Jon Lester called it. I’m trying to remember the situation, but maybe he could have put Pena on instead of pitching to him at a 3-1 count. Then there was that really weird play where Jason Bartlett had that suicide safety squeeze or whatever you call it. Poor Lester looked so lost, but at least these looks of confusion are happening at the beginning of the season rather than the middle. 
Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez looked good that game, and Takashi Saito did alright after giving up that home run on the second pitch. As soon as he gave up that home run, I thought back to that game in 2007 where Okajima gave up a home run on his very first pitch. Frustrating for sure, but then he was completely dominant the rest of the season. Perhaps there will be a similar pattern to Saito’s performance this year. The main thing that I noted about Lester though was that he wasn’t really hitting his spots. He would shake off Varitek a lot and after the first two innings, the command just wasn’t really there. If I was a pitcher on the Red Sox, I wouldn’t shake off Varitek too much. He definitely knows what he’s doing. 
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The final game of the series offered another great matchup between Matt Garza and Dice-K Matsuzaka. I swear, Matt Garza looks and acts like a snake. His tongue is always out! Whenever Dice-K pitches, I’m always a nervous wreck. This time, it wasn’t because he walked the bases loaded, he only walked three. His command wasn’t really present and he gave up three home runs.
My incessant hunger became overwhelming as I watched this game, and I needed something to munch on. Eventually, dry roasted peanuts and sunflower seeds became available. Pretty good baseball food. The more nervous I became, the more inclined I was to munch, but for the most part I was able to restrain myself… until Justin Masterson loaded up the bases in the top of the ninth. Luckily, Jacoby Ellsbury squelched my anxiety as he made a beautiful running catch.
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The next night, the Red Sox played the Angels… the first game the Angels would be playing after the tragedy. That game, I wasn’t as compulsively rooting for the Red Sox as I usually do. I was comfortable with watching a good baseball game, and I was comfortable with the fact that the Red Sox lost. There were much bigger things going on that night than winning and losing. I did rush home though, and I was the one driving so it was a lot easier to put the pedal to the metal and run those yellow lights that may have been transitioning into red. I made myself coffee because I tend to have trouble staying awake for the West Coast games, especially in a dark room. 
It must have been hard for Jered Weaver to pitch that night. I didn’t even realize until after the game that Nick Adenhart was supposed to move in with him that Friday. Weaver had 8 strikeouts in 6.2 innings, and as he walked off the mound, he pointed to the sky. That was beyond baseball. 
Brad Penny started the next game (yesterday’s) and even though his command wasn’t totally there, he still looked pretty healthy, which made me happy. I started watching this game in the third inning because I was at my grandparents house and I didn’t really expect the game to be on TV. If Brad Penny was feeling healthy, than that’s pretty good news because he will be great to have on the rotation if he is healthy. His velocity was up there, so for a guy coming off the worst season of his career, I would say that he did pretty well.
The offense finally woke up during this game. After the very first game where almost everyone got a hit, a few people fell off the radar. Kevin Youkilis was basically on fire until yesterday (still hitting .526 though) and Jacoby was just starting to wake up and get on base. Unfortunately, Pedroia and Big Papi haven’t been producing much. Big Papi is definitely due to say the least. Jason Bay came out of the gate swinging so that has made me pretty happy. Especially for a guy who generally has a pretty crappy April. I think that Mike Lowell is starting to wake up too. And where is Jed Lowrie?? He had a monster Spring, and here I am waiting for him to transition. I hope that he and Papi have big days today. 
Jonathan Palebon gave me a heart attack in the bottom of the ninth inning. First the home run to Torii Hunter, and then the bases are loaded. My grandparents are laughing at me as I bury my face in my hands and peek through them. Howard Kendrick hit something like seven foul balls in a row. Papelbon claimed to be “giggling” but I sure wasn’t– not with the bases loaded. My mother came over wondering what was going on since I had promised her that it was one more out five minutes ago. 
“Are you bad luck?” I asked somewhat accusingly as she came over. Last time she was near the vicinity, Papelbon had walked a guy, and we were not walking in the tying run. Luckily, she wasn’t bad luck, and Papelbon miraculously got out of it. I was able to breathe again. 
Last game of the Red Sox vs Angels series coming on in a little while. Can’t wait to watch Beckett pitch again, and I kind of want to see Chris Carter in this game. 

2009 Red Sox Pitching Preview

I guess I could just give you guys the same predictions that everyone else has… but I don’t really want to do that. I’m going to break down each position, and briefly look at every player. Tonight, I want to look at pitching. I’ll tell you guys how I think their 2009 season will be, and what they will need to do to either come over the 2008 woes, or maintain their 2008 heights. 

Starting Pitching: This year, the Red Sox have some familiar faces in the first four slots for the rotation. The only thing that is different is their fifth spot– they didn’t just hand it over to Clay Buchholz like they did last year (not that they had much of a choice). In fact, despite an impressive spring, Clay won’t even be starting the season with the Red Sox! During the offseason, the Red Sox picked up Brad Penny and John Smoltz. Sure Brad Penny is no CC Sabbathia, but he can sure matchup with AJ Burnett pretty well. And John Smoltz may not be in the prime of his career, but I think that he has some words of wisdom that he can pass down to the guys. Justin Masterson could have filled the fifth starting spot very nicely, but I’ll tell you guys why I think he’ll work out very nicely in the bullpen. 
Josh Beckett: We all know that Beckett has the stuff that can put him in the realm of the most dominant pitchers in baseball, but whenever he is injured, he spends so much time recovering, that he isn’t really that dominant. Luckily, Beckett will be starting the season with the Red Sox, and Opening Day for that matter. In 2007 he went 20-7, and in 2008 he went 12-10. So what happened? I agree with the people who have said that he was catching up to himself that entire year. He got injured during Spring Training so he didn’t have a lot of time to get into his rhythm. When he was ready to return, he was thrown right out into a high pressure atmosphere. Guys need Spring Training… just look at Jake Peavy! 
Jon Lester: Lester’s comeback from cancer story is really nice and inspiring and all, but honestly, it’s time to get over it, and he thinks so too. He has said that he wants to be known as a pitcher, not the kid that came back from cancer. Nonetheless, every time he pitches I’m sure we’ll be hearing the story. Anyway, we saw what this guy could do in 2008, his stuff is lethal. Not to mention the fact that he has added a changeup to his arsenal, and oh yeah his performance in the playoffs. There are two things that he needs to remember, and that we need to remember about him.
1. He cannot get overconfident with himself. In the ALCS, everyone had penciled him in for a win because of his performance in the ALDS. I think we let ourselves get a little to confident, and I think he got a little too confident. He needs to focus on executing his pitches, not the fact that statistically, he will probably win this game.
2. He is still really young, so he is still growing. We can’t expect him to be perfect. He’s going to go through some ups and downs. Luckily, he has got Jason Varitek behind the plate, and John Smoltz for some guidance. 
Daisuke Matsuzaka: Dice-K obviously performed really well last year: going 18-3 with an ERA under 3.00. The thing is, he wouldn’t usually go that deep. And the reason that he wouldn’t go that deep: walks. I know that he has a remarkable ability to get out of jams (that he creates with his walks), but I would much rather him try to impress me by going into the seventh inning more often. When he would only go five innings last year, that would put extra stress on our not so deep bullpen. This year, if he can go a bit deeper, and put not so much stress on our much deeper bullpen… well, wouldn’t that be a lot better? 
Tim Wakefield: Everything is better at 62 mph right? Well, that is until the batters time down the knuckle ball and start hitting it all over the place. The good thing about Wakefield is that he can go pretty deep into games. The uncertain part is that he is either on or off… there is very little middle ground. Some nights he’ll have great command, and other nights it’s just not there. Still, it is really fun to watch Wakefield baffle hitters with that knuckleball. 
Brad Penny: The fact that he was 6-9 last year definitely reduced his free agent worth. On the other hand, in 2007 he went 16-4. AJ Burnett on the other hand was one of the must valuable free agents out there. Yet if you compare their numbers, I’d consider them equals. 
John Smoltz: I honestly am not really sure as to how John Smoltz’s numbers will be this season. His role is obviously quite similar to what Curt Schilling’s was supposed to be last season. So where the heck is he going to fit into the rotation when he returns in June? Good question, because I have the same one. I don’t think that the Red Sox would put him or Brad Penny in the bullpen because they could both serve very effectively as starters. So could the Red Sox have a six man rotation? This could work out very well when various injuries start happening throughout the season. 
Bullpen: Last year, the bullpen tended to be a problem for the Red Sox. This year, it could be what makes the difference in October. With some very nice additions this bullpen could be considered one of the best in baseball. 
Manny Delcarmen: This guy definitely improved last year, and I think I had under appreciated him in past years. Last year, he appeared in 73 games (74 innings) with a 3.74 ERA. I don’t really consider him a set up man, but I love having him as a true middle reliever. 
Javier Lopez: He is another one of those guys that is either totally on or totally off. So sometimes, I start pacing my living room when he comes in. I see him come in for only one batter a lot, but that’s because he is a lefty specialist. He pitched great in the World Baseball Classic, and I think I underrate him too because his highest ERA in a Boston uniform is 3.10. 
Justin Masterson: I am so excited to have him here for Opening Day! Last year, he showed us that he can be effective both as a starter and a reliever. So why isn’t he starting then? If he gets the fifth slot, than where would we put Brad Penny? Brad obviously has more experience as a starter, and Justin honestly makes a difference in that bullpen. In the postseason, I loved having either Okajima-Masteron-Papelbon, or Masterson-Okajima-Papelbon. I think he’ll have a really nice year in the bullpen. 
Hideki Okajima: Although Okajima was not as consistent last year as he was in 2007, he still did pretty well. Like I’ve said, inconsistency is bound to happen, and I still think that he can be really effective this year. The good part is, we won’t have to rely on him that much seeing that we picked up Ramon Ramirez and Takashi Saito. 
Ramon Ramirez: An extra set up man for the Red Sox! He was the set-up guy for the Royals, and he had a great season last year. I know that he has the stuff, but from what I’ve not
iced this spring, he just needs to maintain his command. The biggest thing will be the transition from Kansas City to Boston. There is always a lot more scrutiny and attention in places like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, but as long as he stays focused, I’m not concerned. 
Takashi Saito: So this guy posted some pretty spectacular numbers as a closer for the Dodgers, and now he’s coming to the Red Sox just as a set-up man? That’s pretty awesome. But I think that we can still use him to close some games–in fact, I think that we should. At the end of last season… the very end, I’m talking Game 7 of the ALCS… Papelbon wasn’t even available to pitch. He was worn out, and I think we used him way too much throughout the entire season. I’m not saying that he and Saito should split time, but if Papelbon has been working a lot, I think that Saito is definitely qualified to close out a game. 
Jonathan Papelbon: We all know that Papelbon is a very dominant guy, but he did blow a few saves last season. In fact, he blew two in a row. I remember thinking that he needed some rest! We work this poor guy to death (not that we had any other option). But now, I feel much more comfortable that we have guys that will be able to fill in when he needs an off day. Papelbon obviously has a great mentality, so he definitely needs to maintain that, and if he does, I think that he will have a great season. 
Keep your eyes open for: Clay Buchholz, Michael Bowden, and Daniel Bard. I think that we will see all of them throughout the entire season. Also, keep tabs on Junichi Tazawa’s progress. 
Offensive/Defensive preview to come either late tomorrow, or early Monday!! 

The World Baseball Classic produces a Classic

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I cannot tell you how happy I am that baseball is back. I woke up at 9 am today (I don’t know why) and watched four editions of ’30 Clubs in 30 Days’ (yes, I am addicted). I have to say, I really enjoy watching that show, but my favorite part of the show isn’t the analysis. 

Towards the end of the show, they do a little segment on the history of the club. It’s short, but I swear, every time it gives me goosebumps! The clubs that were analyzed were the Blue Jays, the Reds, the Braves, and the Rays. 
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I loved seeing familiar faces in the form of Kevin Millar (Blue Jays), 
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Bronson Arroyo (Reds),
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 and Derek Lowe (Braves). I had not known that Millar had signed a minor league contract with the Blue Jays. That’s crazy– a minor league deal!! I can see him being similar to the Sean Casey of last year. What a great guy to have coming off the bench. 
Mark called this a long time ago, but I’m starting to agree with him– the Reds are looking great this year! I don’t think that they can win the division, but after watching that show, I can see them getting third place! I think they have one more year to go until they become like the Rays of 2008. 
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Bronson Arroyo is such a great guy to have on their staff too. He has made so many starts for the Reds– more than anyone else around the Majors! He may not be the best pitcher in the world, but he still eats up innings, and that’s important. 
Plus, he is pretty serious about his music!! 
Baseball References of this week
I’ve wondered why I feel so strongly about the past of baseball, even though I never live through it. It’s painful for me to watch highlights from the 1986 World Series, I feel so happy when I see clips of Carlton Fisk’s 1975 home run, and I feel so strongly about Pete Rose even though I haven’t seen him play. So why do I care so much?
Well, in my math class, we ended up talking about the String Theory one day. I don’t completely understand it, but from what I do understand, somehow, I could have been at those games– in a different dimension. So instead of just experiencing them vicariously, perhaps I really was there. That’s a bit of a stretch I know. 
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In my history class, we were talking about World War II, and the battles of Okinawa and Iwo Jima. So what do I write in my notes? The battle of Okajima. So this is what I’m thinking about 24/7. Even as I was writing this entry, I put Iwamura instead of Iwo Jima initially. 
In chemistry, we were learning about The Shield Effect. I had no idea what it was (and I barely understand it now), and when my teacher asked someone to explain it, I thought to myself:
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‘Well, I can’t explain the Shield Effect, but I would love to talk about the Schilling Effect’. Curt is pretty aware of his effect as well. He wants to help a team get to the World Series. In fact, he specifically mentioned the Cubs and the Rays. What about helping the Pirates to a winning season? 
World Baseball Classic 
Well, after the three episodes of ’30 Clubs in 30 Days’ that I watched, I turned to ESPN (for the first time in months) to watch Team USA play Team Canada. That was one hell of a game if you guys didn’t get to see it. 
The starting lineup for Team USA was loaded:
1. Dustin Pedroia (2B)
2. Derek Jeter (SS)
3. Chipper Jones (DH)
4. David Wright (3B)
5. Kevin Youkilis (1B)
6. Adam Dunn (RF)
7. Ryan Braun (LF)
8. Brian McCann (C)
9. Shane Victorino (CF-RF)
Starting pitcher: Jake Peavy
The starting lineup for Canada had some familiar faces as well:
1. Barnwell (SS)
2. Russell Martin (C)
3. Joey Votto (DH)
4. Justin Morneau (1b)
5. Jason Bay (CF)
6. Stairs (RF)
7. Teahen (3B)
8. Weglarz (LF)
9. Orr (2B)
Starting pitcher: Johnson
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Jake Peavy had a bit of a rough first inning– I’m pretty sure that he loaded the bases. He settled down the second inning and had a great 1-2-3 inning, but gave up a home run to Joey Votto in the third inning. 
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Let me tell you guys something, Joey Votto looks really good. I can see him having a really nice season for the Reds. 
It was really interesting for me though, to be rooting against Jason Bay. Kevin Youkilis scored the first run of the game on a sacrifice fly by Brian McCann to Jason Bay. I bet they’ll be laughing about that later. 
Youkilis produced the second home run of the game by hitting a home run to right-center field. Not to mention the fact that his beard is coming back. I love seeing the Youk-Fu in the pictures though. 
Brian McCann and Adam Dunn also hit home runs to make the score 6-4. In the bottom of the ninth, Joey Votto struck again with a double over the head of Shane Victorino to score Russell Martin. 
Then, in the bottom of the ninth, Joey Votto was on second with Jason Bay at the plate. There were two outs, and the co
unt was 3-2… talk about a conflict! Don’t worry though, I ended up rooting for my country. That’s the beauty of baseball right there. Jason Bay represented the tying run of the game. Had he hit a ball into deep right, the game would have been tied, the entire tournament could have been different! That is one of the many things that I love about baseball. 
-Elizabeth

Looks like the Sox bullpen can get the job done…

Game 6 isn’t going to be remembered for some spectacular, unbelievable feat like Curt Schilling’s bloody sock of 2004, or Pedro’s six innings of hitless relief in 1999. Josh Beckett pitched through five laborious innings, but with his lack of perfection, it was pretty damn good for what it’s worth. Everyone is so proud of him, or everyone should be. After starting out rough for the Sox this post season, he really turned it around for this start giving up only four hits (two of them home runs: one to BJ Upton, and one to Jason Bartlett). Stupid TBS decided to have a power problem that forced me to endure 15 minutes of ‘The Steve Harvey Show’. Watching it on gameday just isn’t the same, no matter how fancy they try and make it.I’m hoping that TBS is forbidden from further broadcasting crucial MLB games. The early deficit was no problem for the Red Sox. The RBI machine, Kevin Youkilis belted a solo home run in the top of the second inning to even it up. Barlett’s throwing error proved crucial once again when it allowed Dustin Pedroia to get on base in the next inning. Big Papi then hit a double putting runners on second and third for Kevin Youkilis. Kevin Youkilis grounded into a fielder’s choice, but it did score Dustin Pedroia. Youk always does his job doesn’t he? Now, after going 0-for-14 in this ALCS, I knew it was time for Jason Varitek. When he got up to the plate in the sixth inning (was it?) I knew. I don’t even know how, but I knew. I didn’t have a single doubt in my mind. I called his shot, placement and everything. And it was our captain that broke the tie. It was then an RBI single by David Ortiz that gave us a much needed insurance run. Not that any lead was at all comfortable.

I knew that Terry Francona would do some kind of combination with Okajima, Masterson and Papelbon. It would either be M.O.P. (mop ‘em up!) or O.M.P (Oh my Papelbon!!!). Okajima, once again, came through for us as that “hero in the dark” and with eight outs to go, it seemed like the Rays were in a similar situation that the Sox were in only two nights ago, with a much smaller deficit. But it was the Red Sox bullpen that was able to hold onto it. I swear, Terry Francona loves Justin Masterson, but who wouldn’t? He was in AA early this year and now he’s our eighth inning man? Even though he got two men on quickly, John Farrell came out and calmed him down, and Masterson was all strikes from there! Jonathan Papelbon came in and pitched a solid ninth, but you could tell he didn’t have his normal stuff when his fastball peaked at 93 mph. It worked though! And now, once again, it’s time for game 7.
I’m happy that Terry Francona is going to be giving Jon Lester the ball. We’ve got to ignore what happened in Game 3 and just focus on Game 7. I think that it was the fact that everyone was so confident in Lester, the fact that everyone had already chalked up a win for him, I think it just got to his head. He’s still a young guy, and the key here, is to not let his emotions get the best of him. As for Matt Garza, the key for him is to get him really pissed off. Start fouling off on purpose, start bunting, stealing, whatever. If we can get a run or two in the first inning, Garza will go sooner. I think Garza gets over confident too. In Game 5 at Fenway he was joking around and shushing the crowd, as if he had already opened the bottles of champagne. But boy was he in for a surprise. I think the Rays are still going to have that ‘deer caught in headlights look’. Pena thinks that they’re due for a turn around, but they already had their peak. The Red Sox are still riding their turn around, and they’re not stopping yet. I believe in Jon Lester. I don’t care about his last start, and he said that last year is irrelevant too (although he has pitched in a clinching game). And he’s absolutely right. He just needs to focus on this game. I’ll say it before and I’ll say it again. It’s time for Game 7, it’s not time to say: oh we’re making that same comeback like we did in ’04 and ’07. No. If you focus on the past, then you definitely will never progress. It’s nice to think about, and it still leaves me a little bleary eyed, but you’ve got to focus on the present. You can’t even think about the future for that matter. If you focus on advancing to the World Series, then you’re not gonna win Game 7. You’ve got to build the bridge before you cross it. We’ve got to focus not only on making Matt Garza royally pissed off, we’ve got to focus on winning every inning, and concentrate on winning every pitch, and for Jon Lester, he’s got to focus on executing every pitch. This is not going to be easy, it never is. The Sox have a lot of momentum going into this game, but that does not mean that it’s over. 
This just in (5:21pm) Terry Francona has announced the lineup:
1. Coco Crisp (CF)
2. Dustin Pedroia (2B)
3. David Ortiz (DH)
4. Kevin Youkilis (3B)
5. JD Drew (RF)
6. Jason Bay (LF)
7. Mark Kotsay (1B)
8. Jason Varitek (C)
9. Alex Cora (SS)
Jon Lester (SP)
I’m fine with everyone in this lineup, except for Alex Cora. But, I trust Terry Francona, so I’m not gonna question his decisions. Jed didn’t help us produce last night, or the night before, so it’s time to give someone else a chance. I have a good feeling about Jason Bay tonight!
I believe in everyone in this lineup, I believe in Terry Francona’s decision. 
It’s going to be crazy, it’s going to be epic. I believe that the Red Sox can win this game!
-Elizabeth
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