Results tagged ‘ Yamaico Navarro ’

The Whole Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

I wasn’t too concerned after the Rangers swept the Red Sox. After all, the Rangers went on to sweep the Mariners–including Felix Hernandez–in their next series.

Granted, the box scores weren’t as pathetic as they were in Texas; though they still are a bit deceptive. Neither Josh Beckett nor Daisuke Matsuzaka had a quality start. They both gave up three runs in their five innings. One could easily argue that a starter who gives up three runs keeps his team in the game and gives them an opportunity to win.

Lasting five innings is what is ineffective. Both Beckett and Matsuzaka had alarmingly high pitch counts in nearly all of their respective innings. This is almost characteristic of Matsuzaka, but it is fairly unusual for Beckett.

What concerns me is not the fact that the Red Sox lost six in a row. What concerns me is that not a single one of their starting pitchers had a quality start. Five bad quality starts in a row is a red flag for any team. If a team loses three close, well played games in a row, it’s frustrating, but not necessarily concerning.

The Red Sox pitching can’t be the only scapegoat. The offense was rather anemic, and struggled to string hits together in important situations. There is no ‘I’ in team, and I feel like the fans, including myself, as well as the media have been focusing on individual players, rather than team as one whole entity.

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” is a phrase used to describe the Gestalt theory in Psychology. Essentially, the Gestalt effect is our form-generating sense. When we look at a figure, instead of seeing a bunch of lines and curves, we see the figure itself.

Similarly, I think when looking at the Red Sox, or any team for that matter, its how the team as a whole performs, and not just individual players. With the Red Sox, it is particularly easy to fixate on guys like Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, and especially their high-profile newcomers in Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford.

But baseball is a team sport, and that phrase: “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” is especially relevant. Jon Lester may have broken the trend of bad quality starts in the last game in Cleveland, but his offense did nothing to back him up. He threw seven innings of shut out baseball giving up only three hits and striking out nine. Not only did Lester break the trend of bad quality starts, but he also put to rest–at least for now–the qualms that many have of his notoriously bad Aprils.

That game was frustrating because Lester pitched so well, and it was only Daniel Bard’s lead off walk that ended up proving costly. But damn if that suicide squeeze wasn’t beautiful. I always say that small ball wins games, and this was one of the few times that it was not fun to be right.

The Red Sox finally won their first game of the year against the Yankees, but still, all was not perfect. Normally, a start in which the pitcher lasts five innings and gives up six runs is not redeeming, but because of Lackey’s disastrous last start, I suppose it was. Luckily, the Red Sox’ potent lineup finally showed its true colors. The offense was finally able to string some hits together–especially with runners in scoring position.

It’s hard to attribute the Red Sox’ bad start to one thing, but I do think their ten game losing streak during Spring Training had something to do with it. I’ll be the first person to say that I hardly take spring training statistics seriously, but I do take them with a grain of salt.

I hardly kept up with Major League Spring Training, but I did hear the tidbits that the Red Sox lost about ten games in a row, and Kevin Youkilis struggled at the plate. Believe me, I understand that Spring Training is a time to get your timing back, but this was unusual for Youkilis.

Perhaps the Red Sox were a little aloof during spring training, and I think it is possible that it carried over into the regular season. Spring Training is a time to get back into the grind, not to put things in cruise control. If the Red Sox had a slightly better start to the season, I don’t think anybody would think twice about their rather poor spring training, but I think that this is a reasonable speculation.

Things just have to click for the Red Sox; that’s really all it is.

Minor Leagues:

Minor League Baseball’s Opening Day was on Thursday, April 7th. Triple-A Pawtucket, Double-A Portland, and Single-A Greenville all won their home openers. Portland was the first Red Sox affiliate to collect a victory, and I don’t think anybody thought they would win a game before the Red Sox themselves.

Alex Wilson got the Opening Day call for Portland, and had a pretty decent day. Sox Prospects senior scout Chris Mellen was at the Portland game, and commented that Wilson was getting a lot more swinging strikes on his fastball. Wilson spent the second half of the season in Portland last year and struggled, so it is encouraging to see a more sophisticated fastball from him.

Will Middlebrooks, Alex Hassan, Ryan Dent, and Tim Federowicz all had hits in their Double-A debuts. In fact, Middlebrooks’ hit was also an RBI, and Federowicz’s was a home run.

In the first two games, Hassan has raked. Last night he went 3-5 with two RBIs.

Even though this is only once instance, I noticed that Middlebrooks laid off a 3-2 slider, which is something that bothered him during Spring Training.

In Greenville, Brandon Jacobs and Jose Garcia hit back-to-back home runs, and third-round pick Sean Coyle hit an RBI double in his professional debut.

The 36th overall pick, Bryce Brentz hit a grand slam. First baseman Miles Head apparently made a fantastic play in foul territory, barreling over a railing into the dugout, and stayed in the game despite being slow to get back up.

Jason Thompson and Christian Vazquez each hit a triple. Felix Sanchez hit a triple in the second game.

Last night in Greenville, Kyle Stroup threw five innings of one hit ball, striking out six.

On the first pitch he saw in Triple-A, Jose Iglesias hit a single, and hit a second one in his following at-bat. It was especially encouraging to see such a nice debut from him since his offensive skills were the biggest question in placing him in Double-A or Triple-A.

Juan Carlos Linares hit a 2 RBI triple in Pawtucket’s home opener. Last night, Yamaico Navarro went 3-4 with two doubles, Ryan Kalish went 2-4 with two RBis, and Lars Anderson hit a double.

On Opening Day, Michael Bowden, who transitioned to the bullpen last season, actually closed the game. He threw a 1-2-3 inning, and threw nine of his ten pitches for strikes. He was also hitting 94 mph on the radar gun consistently.

In Pawtucket’s second game, Jason Rice threw two scoreless innings, striking out three.

Salem’s home opener was rained out last night, but there is a double header this afternoon. Drake Britton will be starting the first one. 39th overall pick, Anthony Ranaudo, will make his professional debut for Greenville tonight.

Stolmy Pimentel is currently throwing for Double-A Portland.   

Tales from Exit 138: Minor League Spring Training Games 3/29/11

Today the Red Sox affiliates played the Rays affiliates: Triple-A and Double-A were home, and Low-A and High-A were in Port Charlotte. The Lowell Spinners had a five-inning simulated game.

I had to make a lot of tough decisions regarding this day. Mike Antonellis told me that the minor league games had been canceled yesterday because it was supposed to rain; though it never did. I was a bit hesitant in making the drive because there was a 60% chance that it was going to rain today, and I didn’t want to drive all that way for nothing.

As the illustrious Han Solo would say, “never tell me the odds.”

Weather reports are rarely accurate, anyway, so I decided to take the risk. But then I had an even tougher decision: to go to the last game ever played at City of Palms Park, or to go to my last minor league spring training games of the season.

Guess what I chose?

I don’t doubt the fact that I will be back at the complex for extended spring training as well as my fair share of Gulf Coast League games; but it was my last minor league spring training game ever at the complex.

Minor League Spring Training is the paradigm of intimacy. But I can already tell just from hearsay that I won’t have the same kind of access that I do now at the new complex. The players are quite accessible now. Some of the pitchers sit in a covered area and watch the game and hang out; some hang out in the bleachers; and some just gather behind home plate to chart and collect foul balls.The only thing preventing me from picking their brains about all the intricacies of pitching and hitting is my respect for their personal space. The last thing I want to do is be invasive. They’re always willing to give me an update on how they’re doing, though.

I went to the minor league complex because that’s where my heart is. I feel a personal connection with a lot of the guys because I’ve had the chance to talk to them. I always talk about how I find the “human element” of the game to be so interesting, and I have really had the opportunity to see that a lot this spring. They tell me about their struggles, and I know major league players struggle too, but I think it’s different for a minor league guy. They haven’t made it yet. Many are experiencing failure for the first time; many are trying to perfect their mechanics and adjust to a new level of pitching at the same time. They don’t have the comfort of a multi-year, multi-million dollar contact. 

When these guys go 0-4 in a game; when they give up 4 runs in an inning; and when they make errors, it’s not for lack of effort. The majority of the minor league players were there a good two weeks before their official reporting dates. They work their butts off every single day. They’re supposed to make errors; it’s all part of their development. They need to fail in order to learn how to succeed.

I could talk about their work ethic forever, but I have some relevant updates from today.

-I heard that Brandon Workman and Chris Hernandez will start in Greenville, though this is neither certain nor confirmed. Everything about rosters is educated speculation at this point. Workman was disappointed with his first spring outing, but he was pleased with his outing yesterday: he threw four innings of no-hit ball. I think starting in Greenville would be good for both of them, and I don’t expect either of them to be there for long.

-Ryan Khoury, who fouled a ball off of his calf last Friday, said he was feeling better.

-I caught up with Jason Garcia a bit. He was drafted in the 17th round of the 2010 draft. He lost 15 pounds in the off-season and added some velocity to his fastball. He is now topping out 93-94 mph rather than 90-92. He pitched in the Gulf Coast League after signing and had a 3.03 ERA in his 29.7 innings. He has been pitching with Greenville a lot this spring, and hopes to start there.

-I spoke to Jose Iglesias a bit, too. I was really impressed with how good his English is. This is only his second full year in the United States, and his English is better than my french–and I’ve been taking French for six years.

Here are how the lineups looked today:

Lowell:

1. Johnson
2. Bogaerts
3. Cecchini
4. Perkins
5. Schwindenhammer
6. Perez
7. Kapstein
8. Guerrero
Celestion P
(The lineup actually didn’t look like this at all; but I suppose it doesn’t matter because it was a simulated game).

 Portland
1. Lin
2. Tejeda
3. Middlebrooks
4. Lavarnway
5. Federowicz
6. Chiang
7. Frias
8. Place
9. Dening
Tommy Hottovy P

Pawtucket
1. Navarro
2. Reddick
3. Kalish
4. Exposito
5. Anderson
6. ? (missed this, apparently)
7. Juan Carlos Linares
8. Jose Iglesias
9. Aaron Bates
Doubront P

I saw Swen Huijer and Jacob Dahlstrand pitch for Lowell. Huijer had a good outing and pitched to contact. Dahlstrand struggled a bit with his placement, which led him to leaving balls over the plate, and hitters were taking advantage of it.  His off-speed stuff looked nice, though.

Felix Doubront started the game for Pawtucket. It is still uncertain whether he will head north with Pawtucket or stay in extended spring training for a bit because his preparation for Opening Day was slowed due to elbow discomfort. He gave up no earned runs in his two innings of work.

I was going back and forth between games, but I did see that at least Yamaico Navarro and Ryan Kalish had multi-hit games. Josh Reddick and Lars Anderson both had singles. Juan Carlos Linares hit a home run. 

Michael Bowden also didn’t give up any earned runs over his two innings of work. I didn’t see his second inning, but in his first inning of work, he walked the first batter, induced a fly ball, and then a 6-4-3 double play. Bowden only has one minor league option left. I know that he can be effective in the ‘pen, so I hope the Sox use him wisely.

Chris Carter was sporting a mohawk and playing for the Rays’ Triple-A affiliate. Dan Hoard noted that he is better suited for the American League, so he can DH. Originally drafted by Arizona, Carter spent three years in the Red Sox organization.

I discussed where Weiland might start the season with Dan, and he speculated that he could be their fifth starter. Antonellis said that this was likely and that Caleb Clay will probably be called up to Portland. It is also relevant to note that Clay shaved his mustache.

It was really nice to catch up with Dan. He has been nothing but welcoming to me when I have come up to Pawtucket. He went through Syracuse’s Newhouse program as well, so it was really nice and encouraging to talk to him about that. 

In the Portland game, Mike Antonellis notes that Tommy Hottovy pitched really well. Will Latimer, Dennis Neuman, and Justin Erasmus all pitched as well. It was great to see Erasmus get a taste of Double-A experience. He pitched the last inning, and threw 13 pitches, nine for strikes. He induced three fly balls to get the save. Ryan Dent came in to play shortstop for Portland, so I would say he starts the season there.    

For more Red Sox Double-A coverage, read Mike Antonellis’ blog, and follow him on twitter.

For more Red Sox Triple-A coverage, read Dan Hoard’s blog, and follow him on twitter..

For extensive Red Sox minor league coverage, visit SoxProspects, and follow the staff on twitter..

I hope to be back at the complex on Saturday. The schedule says that it’s a camp day, so I’m assuming that there will be a workout. That is essentially the last day for players who will be assigned to a full-season affiliate. I had a great time at minor league spring training, and I’m truly going to miss it.

Tales from Exit 138: Day Two of Minor League Spring Training Games

Today, the Red Sox minor league affiliates played the Twins’ minor league affiliates. Double-A and Triple-A were home, and all the Single-A teams were close by at the Lee County Sports Complex. I decided to make the quick drive over because I wanted to watch Chris Hernandez throw his two innings for Salem.

Kyle Weiland threw on Wednesday. He said that it went well and that he felt good. Will Middlebrooks, who will likely make the transition to Double-A Portland, has been working out with Triple-A Pawtucket.

Kolbrin Vitek and Michael Almanzar impressed coaches with their defensive skills at third base.

Here are how the lineups looked for all of the affiliates:

Lowell:
Vinicio
Bogaerts
Cecchini
Perkins
Perez
Danforth
Colorado
Ramos
Lova
Reyes

Celestino (P)

Greenville (only lineup I was able to get positions for)
Coyle DH
Ramos CF
Brentz RF
Head 1B
Renfroe 3B
Blair C
Holmer LF
Thompson 2B
Garcia SS

Cevenka P

Salem
LeBlanc
J. Garcia
Vitek
R. Rodriguez
Vazquez
Wilkerson
Roque
M. Moanaroa
Robinson

Pressly (P)

Portland
Dent
Hazelbaker
Almanzar
Butler
Mailman
Place
Bermudez
Hedman
Gentile

Pawtucket
Lin
Tejeda
Middlebrooks
Lavarnway
Bates
Padron
Thomas
Hassan
Sheely

Fife P

Lucas LeBlanc (playing for Salem) got some good wood on the ball and induced two relatively deep fly balls.

Catcher Christian Vazquez got fooled on an 86 mph changeup, but tripled to right on the next pitch. He has a strong arm, but needs to work on his accuracy; his throws to second are high.

First round pick Kolbrin Vitek crushed a ball to straightaway center for a triple.

Chris Hernandez piggy-backed Ryan Pressly. In his first inning, he retired the side in order. He started each count with a ball, but followed with a strike. He only gave up a double in his second inning. His off speed stuff looks nasty: it has great movement and drop. He looks fairly advanced.

Hunter Cervenka started for Greenville. He threw only eight pitches to four batters his first inning, but threw 28 pitches to six batters his second inning (though there were two errors).

Miles Head hit a double into right-center.

Twins minor league pitcher David Bromberg was watching the High-A teams. He was the Twins’ minor league pitcher of the year in 2009, where he posted a 2.70 ERA for the Twins’ High-A club. In 2010, he split time between Double and Triple-A, posting a 3.75 ERA.

Sox Prospects correspondent Jonathan Singer reports that Will Middlebrooks was taken out of the Pawtucket lineup in the third inning with an undisclosed injury; though it doesn’t appear to be serious. They will probably take it day-to-day.

Oscar Tejeda crushed a home run (via Chris Mellen).

Ryan Lavarnway threw a runner out at second.

In case you missed it this morning, the Red Sox made some more inevitable cuts. The semantic differences between “optioned to” and “reassigned to” will always elude me. Jose Iglesias, Luis Exposito, Yamaico Navarro, Lars Anderson, and Juan Carlos Linares were among those sent back to minor league camp.

Brandon Workman will pitch for Salem tomorrow. Stolmy Pimentel will pitch for Portland.    

Tales from Exit 138: Spring Fever

As I have said before, when I think of the four seasons, I don’t think
of spring, summer, fall, and winter. I think of preseason, regular
season, postseason, and the Hot Stove season. Spring Training is
definitely my favorite season for a lot of reasons. I’m a fan of all
levels of the minor league system, and this is the only time of year
that they are all in one place. I can talk to three different guys on
three different levels all in one day, and so far, it has been really
interesting for me to see the differences in their attitudes or
perspectives depending on where they are in their development.

The
spring is also known for its seasonal allergies, and I contract the
same one every year: spring fever. It is not curable by any tangible
medications; rather, it is cured only by excessive exposure to spring
training. When I call in sick to school with a fever, I’m not exactly
lying, right?

I have posted the transcriptions to all of the
interviews so far, but sometimes the stories behind how these interviews
happen are nearly as interesting as the interviews themselves. I have
no idea whether or not these guys know that I’m not exactly official.
But what I do know is that they have never made me feel unofficial.
Sometimes I tack on “I’m doing some freelance work for the Portland Sea
Dogs…” but even if I don’t, they never ask whom I’m affiliated with.

They
have all also been extremely accommodating too. The fact of the matter
is that these guys have no obligation to anyone but the organization
right now. Their workouts are long and hard. But they sign autographs on
their way to other stations or on their way inside; and after they
workout or finish extra batting practice, they take five to ten minutes
to sit down with me.

In fact, when I asked Derrik Gibson if I
could interview him after he was done with everything, he mentioned that
he had to take extra batting practice, but asked if I was in a rush.
Normally it’s the other way around. I’m on the players’ time; I try to
do what’s convenient for them, but I thought it was really nice of him
to even ask.

Both Will Middlebrooks and Garin Cecchini waited
while I finished up interviews with Gibson and Matt Price, respectively.
The last thing I want to do is make a player wait, but I also don’t
want to cut off my interviews. But they waited, and neither made me feel
bad about waiting. In fact, Middlebrooks mentioned that I had been waiting. Waiting is an inevitable part of what I do, but waiting is by no means something the players have to do.

Chris
Hernandez absolutely went above and beyond. He left after his workout,
which was obviously just an honest mistake, but he certainly did not
have to come back after having gotten back to his hotel. I was in my
car, ready to go to the big league game, when a red truck pulled up next
to me, and he got out and knocked on my window. We did the interview
right in the parking lot. 

I have definitely learned a lot so
far this spring from talking with the players. I learn more in a day at
the complex than I do in a week at school (this may or may not be due to
the fact that I also have senioritis).

Here are some of the most interesting things I have learned so far from talking to these guys.
 
-Some
pitchers will use or not use certain pitches depending on if the batter
is a righty or a lefty: maybe more changeups to the lefty because the
ball will get away from them, and with righties it will fade into them.
 
-The
various improvements of both hitters and pitchers within each level:
hitters become a lot more selective and only look for certain pitches in
certain locations. Pitchers can throw all their pitches for strikes,
and they can repeat their mechanics. 
 
-How the pitchers handle
pressure–they will try and limit the damage with a double play instead
of trying to eliminate it completely.

-The impact that college
can have–both on and off the field. Whether it be learning how to pitch
to get outs, keeping the ball down in the zone, the advancement of the
arsenal, or even learning how to handle living on your own.

-The
differences both mentally and physically between each of the infield
positions: the importance of reading bounces, and the differences in
reaction time. 

-The importance of repeating and mastering mechanics and fundamentals.

-The
importance of a good mentality. Sometimes, you can’t think about trying
to be too perfect. Sometimes, you can’t always give 100% and you have
to realize that and give what you can to avoid injuries. 
Dwight Evans
Interviews
aren’t the only thing I do at the complex, though. On Monday, I had the
opportunity to get a picture with Dwight Evans, and get his autograph
for my dad, who watched him when he was actually playing. He and Carl
Yastrzemski work with the minor league guys on hitting mechanics.

I
also briefly talked to Theo Epstein. He was at the complex presumably
checking out the great foundation of young players that he has built up.
Mr. Epstein is quiet–we only chatted for a minute–but he’s not
unfriendly.

So even though I have been having a great time at
the complex, I have also been having fun at the games too. I much prefer when the pinch runners start to come in, or when the announcer
says, “Now playing left field, number 95, Alex Hassan.” These are the
guys I come to watch. I’ll include some of my favorite pictures of my
projects so far:
Alex Hassan:

Thumbnail image for Alex Hassan.JPGLars Anderson:
Lars Anderson.JPG
Michael Bowden:
Michael Bowden.JPG
Ryan Kalish:
Ryan Kalish.JPG
Ryan Lavarnway:
Ryan Lavarnway.JPG
Stolmy Pimentel:
Stolmy.JPG
Michael Almanzar:
Michael Almanzar.JPG
Oscar Tejeda:
Oscar tejeda.JPG
Kyle Weiland:
Kyle Weiland.JPG
Yamaico Navarro (far away shot, but it was his walk off hit):
Yamaico Navarro.JPG 

I’m thinking of making a flikr account so all the pictures can be seen because I take a lot. I’ll post it here if I make one. If you want players or updates on specific minor league players, let me know.

Tales from Exit 138: Fog on the Barrow Downs

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Another 5:30 am wake up call and on a Saturday morning no less. But it was a small price to pay to go watch the first official full-squad workout. Since it was a Saturday, I went with my dad, and we were on the road by 6. We left so early that there was still some fog on the sides of the alley, and we were able to watch the sun rise behind us and the moon fade in front of us.

I had all of the essentials packed, which includes my big notebook which I have been using since my first Portland Sea Dogs game in 2009 against the Altoona Curve. It was Daniel Nava’s Double-A debut, Luis Exposito DH’d, Adam Mills pitched, and Ryan Kalish had reached base in 18 straight games–not to mention the fact that he hit a two-run homer. Normally my notebook is full of all the papers I accumulated over the summer: scorecards, game notes, etc, but I had put that in a file so I wouldn’t get confused between those and my spring training papers.

For the pitchers and catchers workout, I had made a spread sheet full of statistics for all of the minor league players that I intend on scouting this spring. I also had a document with their mugshots because I memorize statistics, not faces. This time, I brought a list of players that the website “Sox Prospects” wants me to get pictures of. Hardly any of the minor league players on my list were present, but they will be by this time next week.

I was going to bring a scooter this time so that I would be more evenly matched with the complex, but I decided not to since I would be carrying my dad’s fancy camera around. This ended up being good intuition because I finally noticed this sign with some rules on it right before I walked into the complex. Among them was “No skateboarding.”

Initially, I had planned on attempting to kill two birds with one stone: I wanted to check out the minor league workout at the stadium, and then check out the normal one at the Player’s Development Complex. But when I asked the security guards if the minor league players were at the stadium, they did not seem to know what I was talking about. I further investigated this dilemma when I got home, and multiple twitter accounts have corroborated my theory that they had the weekend off.
IMG_1408.JPG
We arrived at the complex no later than 8:30, but I started to become suspicious around 9:15 when not even the catchers had emerged from the clubhouse. But it was nice to simply walk around the complex in the early morning and feel the wet grass between my toes. It smelled like baseball. Luis Tiant walked out to one of the fields about a half an hour before the players came out, and Jim Rice went up to the NESN booth with Peter Gammons & co.
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When the players finally did come out, I was on the wrong side of things. Not that it really mattered much, anyway, as only Lars Anderson stopped to sign on the way out. The catchers did pass where I was standing though.

Again, it was not the best day for autographs and pictures with players because it was the first full squad workout and everyone was figuring out the rotation. While I certainly do enjoy getting pictures with the players, that’s not the reason why I go: I go because I find the drills fascinating.

The players were split up by position, and it even seemed like the everyday players were kept together. I mainly watched the pitching and infield drills. What fascinates me is that these are essentially the same drills that you do in little league, high school, and college. The level of difficulty my change, but the game itself always stays the same.

I think that we take advantage of how good these players really are because they make everything look so easy: whether it is completing a 6-4-3 double play or something as simple as catching a fly ball, it’s not as easy as it seems.
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The infield drill that I enjoyed the most was the slow roller one. Lars Anderson was at first base, and Jose Iglesias, Yamaico Navarro, and Nate Spears had to charge the ball and get it over to first.
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Then I watched batting practice for a while. I completely ignored the regulars like Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez taking batting practice and instead focused on Josh Reddick, Daniel Nava, Lars Anderson, Yamaico Navarro, and Jose Iglesias taking batting practice.

At one point I was between two fields, hoping to catch players between them, and I said hello to Darnell McDonald as he walked by. I was completely shocked that he remembered me from Tampa. It was a quick “Oh yeah, I remember you,” but it was still a cool moment.

I anticipated the players going back in around 12, so I intended on getting a spot around 11:30. Little did I know that the players were going in around 11:30 instead, so I ended up in a pretty poor spot. After a while, a cleanly-shaven Kevin Youkilis came over and signed for nearly everybody down the line, and I was nearly smushed on my way out.
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I was on my way out of the complex when I noticed Jose Iglesias getting his stuff together. A few people were going over for autographs, but by no means was it a mob-scene, so I decided to go over and ask for a picture.
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There was, however, a rather large mob of people on my way out, and Mike Cameron was signing autographs for everyone. It was kind of a weird angle for a picture, but he quickly posed for one nonetheless.

So as you can see, the whole getting-pictures-with-players proces
s at the workouts is kind of random, and it has a lot to do with luck. I was able to gauge, however, where they go between drills, so I will do my best to position myself wisely when I go up again tomorrow (Monday). It’s an open house tomorrow, so regardless of whether or not I get anything done at the complex, there will definitely be autograph opportunities (which I will turn into photo opportunities). There are activities all day on the field for little kids, and let’s get real: we all know that the slime making booth at first base is the real reason why I’m going. 

I did have my very expired press pass with me on Saturday, but I did not put it to any use. I had intended to try and attend a press conference at the end, but they all seemed to be held at the beginning. Plus the security guards remembered me despite my attempted disguise of straight hair.  Honestly, I should just try some these-are-not-the-droids-you’re-looking-for Jedi mind tricks, and see how far I can get.

More stories to come from the Fort tomorrow!

Spring Training: My Coming of Age

There’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is obviously that spring training–in its most basic form–is here. The bad news is that UNC Chapel Hill was not my pitch either. Another strike, but I am neither out nor in the hole: for I have been accepted into both Marquette and the University of Maryland. I have not been lucky when it comes to the crapshoot that we call the college admissions process, but hard as it has been, I have done my best to keep some degree of faith. As J.R.R. Tolkien says, “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.” My road has darkened considerably, but I’m hoping that I’ll end up in the right place. Having two strikes is certainly a precarious and uncomfortable position to be in, but it ain’t over ’til it’s over.

Tolkien also says, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” No matter where I end up going to school, I figure as long as I take advantage of my resources and spend my time wisely, I will still achieve my goals.

Baseball is a bizarre game, and college admissions is a bizarre process. You can look at and measure statistics, but you can never truly predict the end. You can’t try to figure out what the next pitch is going to be. Baseball players have to adapt. Sometimes a pitcher’s curveball isn’t working, so they have to make an adjustment. Similarly, I’m adapting to what is being thrown at me.

Let’s focus on the good news, though: baseball officially returns today. Baseball fans are crazy because not only do we get excited over games that don’t even count, but we also get excited over workouts. For the rest of February, we will get excited over essential, but otherwise monotonous fundamental drills, batting practice, and bullpen sessions.

Spring Training has been a sort of coming-of-age process for me. My intentions seem to change ever year. I’m pretty sure my first spring training game ever was a Red Sox vs Marlins game at Roger Dean Stadium in 2005. I had not yet developed a passion for minor league baseball, so I was only looking forward to seeing the big-league stars. That being said, I was really disappointed when, after a two hour rain delay, I had no idea who was in the lineup.

Then spring training became more about getting autographs. I would always get to games early to watch batting practice, but then I started to realize that I could spend that time getting autographs. And then I became more interested in the minor league players than the regulars. And I think that this interest actually stemmed from my pursuit of autographs.

Once you begin to collect autographs, you realize that it’s an art–especially during spring training when the jersey numbers are between the 50s-90s, and there are new ones everyday. It was always necessary to have a roster at hand to match the number with the name. The guys that were the best about signing were the non-roster invitees. Spring training for them is obviously quite a different experience than it is for the regulars: it is their chance to make an impression. Not only do they go above and beyond on the field, but also off the field. I really appreciated as small of a gesture as a signature, and it made me want to know more. I got especially excited when they came up to bat because they had signed my ball.

The non-roster invitees may not have secured a spot on the 25-man roster, but they had certainly succeeded in making a lasting impression. I wanted to continue to follow them in the minor leagues, so I started my project program. Essentially, if a player impressed me during the spring, he became my project: a guy whom I thought could have an impact on the club come September or injury.

And what if I had the opportunity to talk to one of my projects? I never anticipated that opportunity, but in the summer of 2009, when I was in Pawtucket, I spent an entire baseball game talking to my favorite pitching project, Michael Bowden. That conversation literally changed my life. If Bowden had not been so friendly and willing to talk to me, I don’t think I would have the confidence that I have today in approaching other players. I learned more about the game in those three hours with him than I had learned in a whole lifetime of watching the game. He literally changed the way I watched the game.

Again, what may have seemed like a small gesture to him changed everything for me. I became even more enthralled with minor league baseball than I already was. I took more interest in the draft, and especially the lower levels of baseball.

Last year during spring training, I decided to go to the minor league complex instead of going to watch the regulars take batting practice before the game. I realized that I had been missing something. Sure, these games are even less relevant than the major league ones are, but there was still something that absolutely enthralled me. I would not have left had I not had tickets for the major league game. The ability to simply walk and talk with players after their workouts was thrilling for me because I could ask whatever I wanted. So that experience not only inspired me to seek opportunities with the Pawtucket Red Sox and Portland Sea Dogs this past summer, but also inspired me to approach spring training from a completely different angle this year.

This year, I have decided that I do not want to go to any major league spring training games at City of Palms Park. I am resolved to attend exclusively minor league spring training games at the player’s development complex. I plan on making my first pilgramage tomorrow: for the first official workouts for pitchers and catchers that is open to the public.

I want to share with you a few of the minor league prospects I plan on focusing on this spring that will not be in big league camp:  Alex Hassan, Anthony Ranaudo, Brandon Workman, Bryce Brentz, Chris Hernandez, David Renfroe, Derrik Gibson, Drake Britton, Felix Sanchez, Garin Cecchini, Jason Garcia, Kolbrin Vitek, Jeremy Hazelbaker, Lucas Leblanc, Madison Younginer, Pete Hissey, Ryan Westmoreland, Sean Coyle, Swen Huijer, and Will Middlebrooks.

Of course, I can’t forget about the guys who are lucky enough to be in major league camp. I know they will be working hard to leave an impression. From the 40-man roster, I suggest you keep an eye out for Michael Bowden, Felix Doubront, Stolmy Pimentel, Luis Exposito, Lars Anderson, Jose Iglesias, Yamaico Navarro, Oscar Tejeda, Ryan Kalish, Darnell McDonald, Daniel Nava, and Josh Reddick.

From the non-roster invitees, I suggest keeping an eye on all of them. The ones I am already familiar with are Andrew Miller, Jason Rice, Kyle Weiland, Alex Wilson, Tim Federowicz, Ryan Lavarnway, Nate Spears, and Che-Hsuan Lin.

Anthony Ranaudo is a guy whom I am really excited about because his 2009 campaign at LSU was incredible. He is a guy that is getting a lot of hype right now, but I don’t think that we should set our expectations too high simply because this will be his first year in professional ball. Same mentality applies for Brandon Jacobs. 

Drake Britton is certainly a name to start getting familiar with. He had a fantastic campaign in Greenville last year (Single-A affiliate). Again, we should not set the bar too high because he will be advancing to another level. It is possible that he could go straight to Portland, but I would like to see him dominate Salem for at least a bit because after speaking with Kyle Weiland this past summer, it seems very hard for a pitcher to skip levels.

I think Madison Younginer is going to break onto a lot of people’s radars this season. He posted pretty decent numbers for his first professional season in Lowell (shortseason, Single-A affiliate), and I think he will continue to adjust
this season. Drake Britton won the Sox Prospects Breakout Player of the Year Award last year, and I predict that either Younginer or Ranaudo will win it this year.

Garin Cecchini, Sean Coyle, and Will Middlebrooks are the infielders that I look forward the most to covering this spring.

I think that this will be Kyle Weiland’s season to break onto everyone’s radar. When I was in Portland, not only did I get to interview him, but I also got to cover one of his starts, and it was one of the best pitching performances I have ever seen. I’d like to see him dominate in Portland a little bit more, get promoted to Pawtucket, do some work there, and then I hope to see him up in September.

This spring, I plan on taking Tolkein’s advice. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” I have decided to spend my time pursuing minor league spring training, and I hope that this will be my best spring training yet. And I hope especially that those of you that read this blog can live vicariously through my experiences. If you have any specific requests for what you would like me to cover during the spring–whether it be particular questions for particular players–please let me know by either leaving a comment below or e-mailing me.

And for real time updates while I’m at the complex with quotes, pictures, and more, please follow me on Twitter

Portland Press Pass

Sorry for the lack between entries. I intended to write about my Portland adventures much sooner, but I went on a fairly impromptu trip to North Carolina to visit some colleges. I have to tell you, I absolutely loved everything about UNC Chapel Hill: It’s a beautiful campus, Franklin Street is just the kind of “downtown” I’m looking for, its school spirit is unparalleled, and its journalism program is fantastic. 

When I was writing my last entry about my Pawtucket experiences, I was wondering if I should include summaries about the games, or maybe scouting reports. It would not have been that hard considering I scored the games and did my best to record the pitches. I decided not to, though, because I figured my experience actually working the game was what I was trying to convey. 
Well, in Portland, I can actually give you both my experiences working the games, and the game stories–without looking at my scoring sheets. All I have to do is post a link. My first day in Portland, I was learning the ropes, and what not, which I’ll get to in a second. But on the second day, Chris Cameron, the head of the media relations department, asked me, “Do you want to write the game story tonight?” 
Sea Dogs Fall to Harrisburg 7-5, Snapping Win Streak at Six : That’s my first official article for the Red Sox Organization. To see an article I had written with my name on it on the Sea Dogs’ website? That was pretty surreal. To be honest with you though, I was so nervous writing this article. It wasn’t just a blog anymore: this was the real deal. I think I wanted to make myself sound good rather than just letting the words flow, like I normally do. I was so conscious of the fact that I was writing for the website, that I may have lost a little bit of whatever unique spin I normally put on my writing. 
Weiland Tosses Gem, Dogs Fall 2-1: This was my favorite article to write. You might even be able to tell from reading it that I felt more comfortable with it, and perhaps more confident with myself. Of the three articles I wrote, I think that this one came out the best. If Kyle Weiland tosses a gem, I’ll write him one. That’s something I learned about myself in Portland, and certainly something I have to work on. I can’t just write gems if someone throws a gem, or if the team plays a spectacular game. I want to be able to crank out gems all the time, win or lose. 
Senators Roll Past Sea Dogs, 10-3: This was a pretty ugly game, as you can see. Something else that I learned in both Pawtucket and Portland is that nearly all of the writers have their game stories finished before the end of the game, like around the seventh inning. The reason you can do that is because you have a pretty good idea of the game after the starter comes out. I had my dismal game story finished by the bottom of the seventh. The Sea Dogs scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth. I had to change my game story. That’s another thing: you can get kind of cynical when you’re a sports writer, though I’m not quite at this point yet (I’m just cynical about other stuff). They all hate extra innings, and changing game stories–even if it’s for something good like avoiding a shutout–is a bit annoying. It’s also taboo to mention how quickly a game is going. 
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Writing the game stories were certainly a fun and challenging experience for me, but that wasn’t my first job with the Red Sox Organization. My first job was writing the lineup on the big lineup board that everyone sees as they walk in. Everyone is pretty laid back about it, and they don’t find it to be too big of a deal, but my first time writing it, I could barely contain myself. I was so, unbelievably excited that I was going to be writing on the lineup board. I wrote every name meticulously, and made sure that I didn’t make a single error. Let me tell you, if I start to look back over my math exams the way I looked over the lineup card, I’ll probably start making A’s in math. 
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Another task I took pride in was making everyone nameplates and laminating them for the Picnic at the Park event. Some of the players are such clowns (I mean this in a good way, of course). James Rice tried to convince me that he was Yamaico Navarro, which I bought for half a second. Ryne Lawson tried to tell me that I misspelled his first name, and that it’s actually “Ryan”. Casey Kelly continued to give me spelling lessons, the first of which was all the way back in Spring Training (you can read about the first lesson in that link). He told me that Anthony is spelled with two ‘e’s’ at the end instead of a ‘y’, and then I mentioned the whole analysis/analyses ordeal. “Yeah, I guess you’re just not a very good speller,” Casey said. 
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I guess that’s a nice transition to all of my conversations with the players. Some formal, some informal, some both. On the first day, both Luis Exposito and Anthony Rizzo recognized me from Spring Training, but we didn’t get to talk much. On the second day, however, we were hanging out during batting practice before they had to get interviewed, and we were just talking about Miami. 
Mr. Cameron mentioned that he would be happy to set up interviews with the players for me. That’s something I had never done before: a formal interview. Sure there was that time I sat down with Michael Bowden in Pawtucket, and we talked for three hours. But I didn’t have a single question prepared. I just asked whatever came to mind. This time, I had questions prepared, and Mike Antonellis (the radio broadcaster) even let me borrow his recorder. Before I started that though, his assistant, DJ, asked me, “Do you want to do the pre-game interview for the radio?” Of the three guys I had planned on interviewing (Ryan Khoury, Anthony Rizzo, and Luis Exposito), we decided to have Expo for the pre-game interview since they hadn’t had him on yet. That was even more nerve racking than writing the game stories. With the game stories, I had the convenience of a backspace button. All I had here was a recorder and my notes, so I had to avoid stuttering at all costs.&nbsp
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I have all of the audio files, but the sound quality is best for the Exposito one, so I’ve transcribed the other two. These are kind of long, but I asked about things that I didn’t understand as a baseball fan, and what they had to say was simply interesting and eye opening. I understand the game more. 
Anthony Rizzo Interview 

Favorite player on the Marlins (his favorite team growing up): Gary Sheffield 
Favorite player in baseball: “Ken Griffey Jr. [He] was everyone’s favorite. I tried to hit like him, be like him.” 
Best Marlins game he had ever been to: One of the earlier World Series games in ’97. 
Then I asked him which pitch was the easiest for him to hit and the hardest for him to hit. I told him I wouldn’t write it because I thought that might not be something a player wants around the internet. I’m gonna tell you what he said, though, because it really just demonstrates the confidence he has in himself as a player. Why? Because there is not a pitch that he can’t hit: 
“Well obviously the easiest is the fastball down the middle,
but I mean it’s not really… I can hit every pitch, it depends on how they throw
it, when they throw it, where they throw it… If they throw a slider away, and I
don’t recognize it. Just depends where it is, when it is, the quality of it.” I really hope this isn’t a “breach of trust” or whatever. The only reason I’m publishing it is because when he said it, I was thinking: ‘Wow, his confidence is impressive. He’ll try anything.” If he had said a specific pitch, I would not have written it. 
E: You only have… less than a second to decide whether or not you’re going to hit a pitch. Are there ever times when you’re just like “Screw it, I’m just gonna hit the next pitch.”? 
AR: There have been times in the box when you get ready and you’re
not set, and he throws it, and youre not set, and well don’t swing cuz youre not
gonna be able to do anything with it, but there’s times when I’ll just look at
it and try to time it.
E: Does the count have an impact on your mentality? 
AR: Advantage counts like 2-0, 3-0, 3-1 you’re gonna get a
fastball for the most part, gear up for fastball, lookin for it, if it’s not
there you just swing thorugh it or don’t swing
E: Is there a difference between facing starters, relievers, and closers for you? And how do you change your approach? 
AR: I don’t change my approach against them. Maybe against a
starter I’ll try to see a couple more pitches my first at-bat just to see what
he’s like. But the relievers, I mean guy is in the bullpen for a reason. They
don’t have the stuff that starters do. I don’t want to say easier, but you like
to get to the bullpen.

E: Is there a mentality change for you if you have men on base, if there are a certain amount of outs in an inning, or if there’s a difference in the score? 

AR: Guy on third, if a guy leaves an offspeed pitch up, I don’t
care where it is, I’ll swing so I can drive him in. just get a fly ball to
center or wherever. One out, two out, just try and get on base.

E: If you’re trying to get a fly ball or a ground ball, do you swing differently?

AR: Pitches up ball, fly ball, down, ground ball

E:Favorite ballpark? (Majors, then minors) 

AR: Fenway/Hadlock Field

E: If you could play catch with any player of all time, who would you choose? 

AR: Babe Ruth

E: Biggest transition from aluminum to wooden bats?

AR: It’s weighted differently,
the wood bats. But in high school I swung wood bats a lot, so it wasn’t really
that difficult.

E: Hypothetically speaking, if you’re in a slump, how long do you want before changing your mechanics? 

 AR: It’s really all mental: slumps. It’s nothing mechanical for
the most part. Guys got here cuz they’re good. You can’t be too mechanical or
else you’re not gonna succeed. It’s really mental.

 E: Favorite video game, movie, and food

AR: Call of Duty 4, Superbad, Pasta (rigatoni) 

E: Favorite restaurant in Miami? 

AR: Cafe Bella Sera

Ryan Khoury Interview

E: Favorite team growing up? 

RK: Seattle Mariners

E: Favorite player? 

RK: Ken Griffey Jr

E: Did you try to emulate his stance? 

RK: Not really as far as stance, but I had a Ken Griffey Jr
outfield glove as my infield glove when I was 11, but I just had to have it
because it had Ken Griffey’s name on it.

Like Anthony, I also asked Ryan about his easiest and hardest pitch to hit. He also said straight fastball for easiest, but he did have an answer for the most difficult pitch to it, so I won’t mention that. That doesn’t mean he is any less of a ballplayer, it just means that some pitches are harder to hit than others. 

E: Does the count have an impact on your at-bat? 

RK: Once you move up to higher levels here, and especially
triple-A, pitchers obviously have more control and they’re willing to throw
off speed pitches in counts when they’re behind and you’re ahead. Like maybe a
2-0 count. But in college ball and in the low minors you’re pretty much gonna
see a fastball 100% because they want to throw something that they can throw a
strike with. But when you move up that starts to get less and less. When youre
in the lower minors you can kind of figure out what they’re gonna throw by the
count. Usually if theyre behind in the count they’ll come with a fastball cuz
they don’t want to walk people but it definitely has an impact and obviously
the scouting reports we have on guys we keep track of what they throw when
theyre ahead in the count, behind in the count so that helps us out a lot.

E: Hardest level transition? 

RK: My first year I went from Lowell to Pawtucket cuz one of the
guys retired so I was supposed to go in for a day or two, but it ended up being
longer so that ended up being interesting. But I guess I’d say from High-A to
Double-AA. It’s just kind of what I was talking about before, just that they
pitch you a little bit differently, they have more control, and they’re able to
throw their offspeed pitches for strikes and they’ll throw it at any count. Kind of low minors you see straight fastballs and up here you see cutters and
two seamers, which is still a little bit of a fastball it just has some
movement on it, so that’s probably the biggest difference

E:Does it take you long to adjust to a new manager? 

RK: Every manager that I’ve been with has been pretty much the
same they just kind of let you go and do your thing, and they’ll help you out a
little bit, but I haven’t really had anyone that I’ve had to adjust to or they
make you adjust to them

E:  Difference between facing starters, relievers, and closers? 

RK: Starters for the most part are they have a little bit higher
arsenal of pitches obviously because they have to face more batters so they
need to get through the lineup once or twice at least where as middle relievers
only have to face only have to go one inning or two, they’re only facing you
one time so they don’t need to have you know the four or five different pitches
and then closers obviously are probably gonna go with their two best pitches
maybe a third because they just need to get three outs so theres definitely a
difference in kind of their pitch repertoires.

E:  Is there a mentality change for you if you have men on base, if there are a certain amount of outs in an inning, or if there’s a difference in the score? 

RK: We work a lot on when we are in those pressure situations
how we deal with pressures to not really think of the situation. I mean obviously if there is a
guy on third and no outs you change your approach a little bit to where you
want to get a flyball to the outfield or to get a sac fly if you don’t get a
hit but as far as changing your approach we try to stay fairly similar in our
at bats in those different situations. 

E: If you could play catch with any baseball player of all time? 

RK: Ken Griffey Jr. or Bob Gibson

E: Favorite video game, movie, food. 

RK: NCAA Football/Step Brothers/Enchiladas or chicken and rice or sushi

E: Biggest fear? 

RK: Not having fun in life and not really getting out of life
whatever comes your way. I mean I don’t really set specific, exact goals of what
exactly I want to do because life is always kind of changing. Kind of not
appreciating life and not having fun and living in the moment.

pregame Expo Interview.MP3: This is the interview that was on the radio before Weiland’s game. I was able to interview Weiland the day following his start. I didn’t want to interview him just because he threw so well. I had wanted to interview him before because I think he is highly underrated and constantly overlooked. 

Kyle Weiland interview

E: Favorite food, movie, book, video game

KW:  Prime rib/Bull Durham/Scar Tissue/Call of Duty 5 

E: Biggest fear? 

KW: Drowning

E: Impact of having an extra day off, or having to sit through a rain delay on your mentality?

KW: You just have to make adjustments especially in this league
especially early around theres a lot of switching around it’s just something
you have to get used to. Don’t let it affect you. Same approach next day. Delay
keep your mind occupied until it’s time to get after it.

 E: Do you change your approach when pitching from the stretch? 

KW: Last year was when I learned actually pitching with guys on
base it’s something you acquire to be able to hold baserunners on and be able
to make quality pitches still from the stretch. Something I worked on last year
and this year it has kind of become second nature instead of something that’s
on the back of my mind.

E: Did you ever bat in college? 

KW: I got one at-bat in college. I’m batting 1.000 in college. First
pitch I went up there swining. I got a base hit through the hole in left. I hit
a lot in high school I was probably a better hitter than pitcher in my senior
year. 

E: Do you miss it? 

KW: Not watching these guys in this league pitch I don’t think
id be very successful in the box

E: How is running the bases different from sprinting (theoretically)?

KW:  I think you can accidentally just go a little overboard and
not know it just because adrenaline is going and it’s not something youre used
to do it and youre gonna give it all your effort.

E:Superstitions? 

KW: If I wear a certain pair of socks the start before and it was
a good outing then I wear them the next time.

E:  I noticed your changeball working well last night, and you were getting a lot of outs with it. Is that your out pitch? 

KW: I would definitely say that my curveball is the out pitch.
My changeup was working last night and that allowed me to use my fastball and
curveball right.

E: Sox Prospects describes your curveball as a “slurve.” Do you agree with that? How do you describe it? 

KW: It depends on the day. Sometimes it’s more slurvely,
sometimes it’s more up and down. I don’t fight to get a certain pitch one
outing. Whatever comes up that day that’s what I adjust to.

*This is where my makeshift recorder dies* 

 E: I’ve seen so many pitchers throw badly, why do you think that is? 

KW: Probably adjusting from a 60 foot throw to a 30 foot throw. 

E: Difference between facing batters with aluminum vs wooden bats? 

KW: If you jam guys with aluminum bats, they can still muscle it out in college, but it breaks in pro. 

E: Toughest level jump and why? 

KW: Toughest was the beginning because I skipped Greenville. I put too much pressure on myself. I learned how to pitch last year. 

E: What do you mean by that? 

KW: Basically making adjustments if a pitch isn’t working. Especially at this level. 

E: Biggest thing you got out of spring training? 

KW: Watching the big leaguers. 

E: Hobbies in down time? 

KW: Video games and guitar

E: If you weren’t playing baseball, what would you be doing instead? 

KW: Finishing my anthropology major. 

I started to become a lot more comfortable sitting in the press box. I was all set up with my laptop and my notebook. I would look up statistics before a game, and the starters’ arsenal, so I could identify each pitch. They give you a lot of resources in the press box like game notes, which give you interesting, misc. tidbits about the game. It’s really quite helpful to look through it before a game. 

Everyone in the press box was very kind. I even got to meet Dick Berardino, who is currently a player development consultant for the Red Sox, and has been a part of the organization for a long time. Carl Beane, the PA announcer at Fenway, as also around, so I was able to meet him as well. 

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What I really appreciated from Mr. Cameron and Mr. Antonellis was not only how welcoming they were, but how much they seemed to trust me. They really let me do a lot of hands on things. The fact that they trusted me enough to write official game stories and do pregame interviews really meant the world to me. And let me tell you, the view from the press box there is nothing short of spectacular. 

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