Category: Dailies

Snowflakes & Fingerprints

The mouse lingered over the “submit” button; my thumb hovered over the mouse, waiting to click it. I had spent the last two months filling out tedious applications and agonizing over essays. I had spent this entire year looking at my statistics and comparing them with others. I SAT’d once and ACT’d three times. I was ready. Tim Lincecum was ready too. He walked out of the Giants dugout ready to throw the first pitch of the 2010 World Series. I was nervous. He was probably nervous. Tim Lincecum went into his windup. Submit. Strike.

And now we wait.

Applications may have prevented me from blogging, but they certainly did not prevent me from watching at least part of every single postseason game. I wrote nearly all of my essays on my passion for baseball, so to stop watching baseball would have been counter-intuitive.

Despite the Red Sox falling short, I still had a lot of fun watching baseball during the regular season. Little did I know that the postseason was going to be even better. Considering that the Red Sox were not in the playoffs, I decided to temporarily adopt both an American League team and a National League team. Little did I know that the teams I picked would end up facing each other in the World Series.

I want to start at the beginning, though. The first day of the playoffs happened to coincide with the first day of my whirlwind college tour. I was in the air when Roy Halladay threw his no-hitter. I remember I actually got on the plane around the fourth inning, and a small part of me hoped that he would wait until his next start to throw one so that I could actually watch. I’m a very selfish baseball fan. A much bigger part of me was happy when I checked the score during my layover flight in Charlotte, NC: Roy Halladay had thrown a no-hitter in his postseason debut.

Nobody could have written it better. Halladay was not fazed by the pressures that come with the postseason, nor was he fazed by the daunting Cincinnati Reds lineup, considered by many to be the best in baseball. Halladay threw the first no-hitter in baseball since Don Larsen’s perfect game in the World Series in 1956. It amazes me that there was that long of a drought between postseason no-hitters, but it makes the feat all the more remarkable.

I would certainly watch the games in the hotel room at night, after the tours. And let me tell you, nothing complements a good baseball game like an authentic Chicago pizza. However, I think I actually had more fun watching the games while lingering outside a bar in various airports. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: baseball’s most unique quality is its ability to unite.

This may have been a completely empty threat, but I would not have watched the World Series had it been a Phillies vs Yankees matchup again. So you can imagine how happy I was when both Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Howard struck out looking to send the Rangers and the Giants to face each other in the World Series.

That matchup caused me some agony because I had had fun rooting for my adopted teams. I just didn’t plan far enough ahead to decide whom I would be rooting for in the World Series. I had adopted the claws and antlers: I clawed with every extra base hit, and I would do antlers with every bag the Rangers swiped. While rooting for the Giants, I did my best to come up with creative hashtags or at least make them trend on Twitter. When they faced each other in the World Series, it was very difficult for me to decide who to root for.

Who expected a Rangers vs Giants World Series at the beginning of the season? Although helped by the long ball, these teams did not rely exclusively on it. The Giants won because of their pitching. Tim Lincecum is a once-in-a-lifetime pitcher. Both his postseason debut and his performance in game five of the World Series will go down as some of the most remarkable pitching performances in baseball’s history. Matt Cain did not allow a run for the entire postseason. Madison Bumgarner is a 22 year old rookie pitching like a postseason veteran. Even though Jonathan Sanchez underperformed, I could not help noticing how perfect his eyebrows are. 

What I really liked about the Rangers was their defense. They have perhaps the best, yet previously underrated infield in baseball: Mitch Moreland (1B), Ian Kinsler (2B), Elvis Andrus (SS), and Michael Young (3B). I am fairly certain that Ian Kinsler defied the laws of physics with some of the plays he made. Michael Young has a gun for an arm. Even when a guy like Cliff Lee is pitching, I enjoy watching the defense make plays as much as I enjoy watching 76 mph curveballs fool batters.

W.P. Kinsella said, “Baseball games are like snowflakes and fingerprints. No two are ever alike.” I think the prime examples of this came in games one and two. Many expected game one to be the pitcher’s duel of the century because of the matchup: Cliff Lee vs Tim Lincecum. However, it ended up being more about the offense. The next game between Matt Cain and CJ Wilson provided the pitcher’s duel that everyone was waiting for. This is what made this World Series so great. It was so different from World Series’ of the past. I think that the fact that the World Series was between the Rangers and the Giants indicates that baseball is shifting from its focus on offense to a focus on pitching and defense. I am hoping for the era of the pitcher. As the San Francisco Giants announcers might say, these games were “torture.” But who knew torture could be so fun?

If you are interested in where I applied early, feel free to e-mail me or tweet me

Baseball Without Rules: Instrux 2010

Clearly, I’m not cut out for using any kind of technology besides a computer. I bought a new toy last weekend from Best Buy: an audio recorder. This past weekend at the Red Sox’s Fall Instructional League I was able to get two interviews, and I’ve already managed to delete one of them. You see, I had done a test recording of nothing to make sure I knew which buttons to press. So, at the end of the day I had three files on my small, silver toy: a “post-game interview” with starter Jacob Dahlstrand, the most useless file in the world, and an interview with the next top outfield prospect in the Red Sox organization, Reymond Fuentes. Guess which one I deleted? The last one. I’ll do my best to paraphrase what he said, but I won’t put words in his mouth.

Don’t get me wrong, I had really great conversations with both Dahlstrand and Fuentes because they were both very open and friendly, but I do feel like a recorder takes something away from the conversation. I think what I’ve learned this year is that there is a fine line between an interview and a conversation. I always say that I like to interview players, but really, I enjoy having conversations with them because it’s so much easier for me to hear the human element of baseball, which is really the angle I’m going for in my career (?) at this point. I know that I’m going to have to use recorders when I start writing professionally, but instead of interviews, I want to have conversations. The recorder is small enough that I could stick it inconspicuously in my back pocket, but that’s probably unethical and perhaps even illegal.

Once again, I had no idea what I was in for this past weekend. I’ve never heard of a baseball game being played earlier than 12:05 pm, but I guess there’s a first time for everything. This game started at 10 a.m. If I wanted to be there on time, that meant I needed to leave my house by at least 7:30. Of course, I wanted to be there before the game started, so that I could get situated, so I left my house at 7 am, which is earlier than I typically wake up for class.

I had never been to the Twins complex before, but it was hard to miss, and very well organized: it includes the Minnesota Twins major league spring training facility (Hammond Field) as well as five or so fields for the minor league teams. There is only one problem I could possibly see with this kind of facility. I would have to pay some ridiculous sum for parking even if I was not going to the major league game. I didn’t have to this time, though. I arrived about 15 minutes before game time, and I followed a group of scouts into the complex. I was the only female there for a while.

From what I can tell, the Fall Instructional League does not have to follow typical baseball rules. The Red Sox had 10 people in their batting lineup: two designated hitters. They could also bat out of order without any penalties whatsoever. If someone grounded out, they could get another shot if they needed to. This made score keeping nearly impossible, so I gave up after a while because I was so confused as to why Ryan Dent was batting again when I could have sworn that he had just gotten to first on an error from the shortstop. I don’t even know what the final score was. 

In other words, these games are designed merely for players to get their work in. They don’t want to see Ryan Dent get on base because of an error because that’s going to happen less and less as he advances from level to level. They want to see him get on base because he gets a hit through the gap.

Around the second inning, I transferred to the bleachers behind home plate to see a different angle of the movement on Dahlstrand’s pitches. It was here that I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Jason Garcia, who was drafted in the 17th round (533rd overall) of the 2010 draft. He had pitched the game before, so he was on charting duty from what I could tell. He said he was happy with his outing, and that his fastball was working for him. He hopes to be in Lowell next year. I enjoyed his often facetious commentary on the game.

I went back to my original spot because I had trouble seeing over the pitchers sitting in front of me with the radar guns. Here is some of the stuff that I noted from the game.

-Jacob Dahlstrand really used the outside corner well, but he needs to incorporate other parts of the plate as well.
 
-John Killen was topping out around 90 according the the various radar guns around me. He did have some command issues, but I think those could be easily fixed if he slowed it down a little bit because it seemed like he was rushing his pitches. He definitely has good movement on his pitches, so once he refines his command a bit, and finalizes his arsenal, his offspeed stuff will be nasty. I think I might have seen a splitter and a curveball, but I’m horrible at judging what kind of pitch it is. One thing I think he needs to focus on is not getting frustrated.

-Sean Coyle has a really nice swing, and a fairly good eye from what I could tell. It looks like he struggles a little bit with the offspeed stuff, but that’s completely normal at this stage. His infield mechanics are nearly flawless, quite possibly the best I saw that day.

-Christian Vazquez had a solid pickoff throw.

-Tyler Wilson had a quick delivery and an impressive fastball that was fooling guys all over the place.

-Felix Sanchez was fouling a lot of pitches off, which I think is indicative of a good eye and solid plate discipline with some minor issues in timing.

Jose Iglesias (soon heading off to the Arizona Fall League), Bryce Brentz, and Miles Head each connected for a double. Brentz actually had a multi-hit game. Others probably did as well, but as I said, I stopped keeping score.

One of the reasons I stopped keeping score was because I kept getting distracted by conversations/interviews. I interviewed Jacob Dahlstrand right behind the dugout. He had a big ice pack on his shoulder. Here are some of the highlights.

Dahlstrand was born in Houston, roots for the Rays, and his favorite player is Josh Beckett. His repertoire includes a fastball, a curveball, and a changeup, which he is pretty happy with right now.  He wants to work on his fastball command because that has been his biggest challenge so far. Pitching from the stretch is starting to get easier for him. The reason that it is so hard for pitchers is because they don’t have to worry about pitching from the stretch in high school since they never put anybody on base.

He was drafted out of high school, and had he not signed, he would have gone to the University of Houston and probably majored in business. He only played two games in the Gulf Coast League this year because he stressed something in his back.

Reymond Fuentes had played the day before, so he had the day off today. He agreed to an interview after the game, and he certainly held his word. He is originally from Puerto Rico, and his favorite player is his cousin, Carlos Beltran. He looks up to him a lot, and he works out with him in the off-season. Fuentes skipped Lowell (short season-A) and went straight from the Gulf Coast League (rookie league) to the Greenville Drive (Single-A). He said he was really happy about that. His biggest challenge so far has been the long season. He played 40 games with GCL, and in his very next year he played significantly more. His goal for this year is to stay healthy. He attributes his greatest strength to his legs because he has a lot of speed, and he would like to stay in center field for his career.

I don’t think Fuentes is on a lot of people’s radars quite yet, but he is certainly someone to keep your eye on. I think that he has a lot of potential, and I would not be surprised to see him in the Red Sox outfield in 3-4 years.

Unfortunately, that was my last time at Instrux. I had heard that it was going to go until late October, but it
turns out to be only a three week program. This is coming weekend is the last, and I will be touring Syracuse, Northwestern, Marquette, and University of Wisconsin-Madison. The deadline for early applications is quickly approaching, and I have a big decision to make as to where I want to apply Early Decision, if at all. I had a really fun time at Instrux, and I can’t wait to see these guys during Spring Training, or maybe before if they’re there earlier.  

Red Sox Instrux 2010

I swear, every time I go to a baseball game, I don’t really have any idea what I’m doing. I go to baseball games with the sole purpose of interacting with at least one player, but it’s not like I have some strategic plan that I follow each time I go to a baseball game. To be honest, going to baseball games has become kind of a stressful experience (in the absolute best of ways) for me because I never know what to expect going in. The outcome is certainly worth the uncertainty.

The Fall Instructional League is essentially a rookie league populated by guys from the Dominican Summer League, the Gulf Coast League, and the Lowell Spinners (short season Signle-A ball). In other words, there are a lot of draft picks. This is absolutely raw, unrefined baseball talent, and this league serves to refine essential baseball fundamentals. Many of the draft picks signed late, so they have little to no experience in professional baseball–maybe nine games in the Gulf Coast League (a rookie league).

Here is a brief look at the 2010 Red Sox Draft:
First Round:
-Kolbrin Vitek (20th overall)
Compensatory Picks
-Bryce Brentz (36th overall)
-Anthony Ranaudo (39th overall)
Round 2
-Brandon Workman (57th overall)
Round 3
-Sean Coyle (110th overall)
Round 4
-Garin Cecchini (143rd overall)
-Round 5
-Henry Ramos (173rd overall)
Round 6
-Kendrick Perkins (203rd overall)
Round 7
-Chris Hernandez (233rd overall)
…Round 10
-Jacob Dahlstrand (323rd overall)
Round 11
-Lucas LeBlanc (353rd overall)

The only guys who weren’t at the Fall Instructional League on Sunday when I was there were Anthony Ranaudo and Brandon Workman. Workman was to arrive the next day for a slightly different strength conditioning program.

There was very little information regarding the Fall Instructional League. There were some rumors regarding who would be there. Casey Kelly, Ryan Dent, and Ryan Westmoreland all confirmed via their Twitter accounts. An actual roster was posted a few days before the league began by Sox Prospects. This helped me out because I was able to do some basic research, and perhaps more importantly, figure out where these practices (and games) were taking place. The only thing it didn’t tell me was what time everything was taking place. I basically had to blindly assume that the practices would start some time between nine and ten. All I could hope was that I was not embarking on a five hour round trip for nothing.

As I drove into the Red Sox Minor League Complex–a place I had not been to for five months–I noticed a sea of red uniforms a couple of fields over. The grueling two-and-a-half hour drive over boring alligator alley suddenly became a small price to pay.
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I was absolutely enthralled from the moment I set foot upon the complex. The majority of the players were gathered on one field, focused on an intricate drill that focused on what I would call situational fundamentals. The coaches would yell out a situation. “One and two with two outs,” for example. The pitcher would pretend to throw home, and then the coach would hit the ball somewhere. It was up to the players to adjust accordingly, and make the call as to what should happen.

The coaches would get angry if the players weren’t communicating with each other. The players would switch out nearly every play, and then would wait in line until next time. This was far from fundamentally sound. In fact, first base was overthrown more than once, and the cutoff man was occasionally missed. This observation is not meant to criticize–far from it. This observation made me realize the point of this league: to refine the fundamentals. As I said before, a lot of these guys have little to no experience with even the lowest level of professional baseball. This league is to prepare them for it.

On the other fields, the pitchers were working on pick-off drills. This was perhaps my favorite drill of the day because I had never seen anything like it. Even though I have heard from more than one pitcher that pitching from the stretch is something that is far from natural, I had no idea that this was how they learned. I assumed that it just came from in-game practice, but these guys were working on both how they turned and their pick off throws. It was absolutely fascinating.

I was very patient when it came to talking with players. I did not want to be rude and interrupt their practice, so I waited until they were at least en route to another field. I was familiar with names, but unfortunately I was not as familiar with faces. I decided not to risk embarrassing myself by addressing somebody by a name that was not his own, so I ended up asking for everyone’s name. I hope that they weren’t offended that I didn’t know exactly who they were or what they had done up to this point. Most of them were extremely friendly. I suppose the chocolate peanut butter cupcakes didn’t hurt.

The first guy I talked to was Garin Cecchini. I did not get a chance to talk to him for a long time because he was en route to another drill. He said he was really happy to be there, and I could tell that he was absolutely thrilled. He had only played about nine games in the Gulf Coast League, so he was clearly there to get more experience under his belt. He was wearing a brace around his knee, and I noticed that he was experiencing some pain during the infield drills. He said that he had had surgery recently, but he felt fine. I’ll ask him more next weekend.

Then I talked to Lucas LeBlanc. He hasn’t played in any GCL games because he signed so late, but he had played in a summer league. He was committed to LSU following the draft, but chose to play professionally. He said that he still had some angry voice messages and text messages saved on his phone. He had no regrets, and he said that he was really happy with his decision so far.

I had the longest conversation with Sean Coyle, and we spoke for about five minutes. He is a utility infielder, but projects to play second base in the organization. He likes to hit first or second in the batting order, and is confident with his speed on the base paths. He is projected to go to Greenville next year, and played very briefly in the GCL. I asked him the biggest thing he has learned so far and he said to just stay relaxed. He said that he anxious a lot this year (understandably so) and that he just needs to relax and take it easier. He also mentioned that he had played in summer leagues for the past four or five years with wooden bats, so the transition hasn’t been too hard. His brother is currently at UNC-Chapel Hill, which is one of the schools I’m applying to.
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I missed a couple of the players going in after batting practice, but some stayed behind to kill a snake and tie it to a bat. Miles Head was kind enough to pose for a picture with his prize.

The last guy I talked to was Bryce Brentz. He is a pretty funny guy. Since he was drafted out of college, I also brought up the difference between aluminum and metal bats. He said something to the effect of that the outfielders are able to position themselves better when it comes to hits off wooden bats. That’s something I had not heard before.

On my way home, I f
ound it kind of odd that I had bought an audio recorder the day before, yet I didn’t use it once that day. I didn’t even ask for a picture with any of these guys. I guess it just did not feel right at the time, and I’m glad that I didn’t. Sunday was a day for me to put myself out there, and merely introduce myself to the players. It would have been awfully awkward to whip out a recorder and tape these informal interviews. I’ve decided that I only want to use the recorder during a formal interview or a press conference. Otherwise, I feel like the presence of a recorder would take something away from the conversation.

Overall, I was impressed–not with their fundamentals, but with their attitudes. From what I could tell, they were all very driven and ambitious. I could tell that it was absolutely surreal for the guys who didn’t have professional experience yet. I’m sure this feeling wares off after a while, but it was just a pleasant ambiance to be a part of.

They have a game against the Twins (at the Twins) next Saturday, and I will be going back. I plan on scoring the game, and I will sit next to somebody with a radar gun and track pitches. I would also like to conduct a formal interview with one of them (or all of them), if they oblige. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to look into the strength conditioning program as well. 

I am also hoping to get a chance to say hello to Ryan Westmoreland, who is also rehabbing. I didn’t see him on Sunday because I think he had gone in relatively early. I think it is absolutely remarkable that he is there, but I have to say, I’m not surprised. The second he got out of surgery, he pretty much had himself convinced that he was going to be back on a baseball field, and he has worked hard to make it happen. Judging from his tweets, he seems absolutely thrilled to be there, and that’s all that matters.

The Triple Crown

It is often said that baseball’s most prestigious feat is the elusive perfect game. After all, only 20 have been pitched in all of baseball’s history–18 in the modern era. To retire 27 batters consecutively is certainly majestic, and it guarantees baseball immortality. Many perfect games have been thrown by notoriously dominant pitchers–Monte Ward, Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson, Roy Halladay, and Catfish Hunter, to name a few. Their reputation almost demanded one. However, for some pitchers, their perfect games are the only redeeming factor in an otherwise disappointing or mediocre career–perhaps Kenny Rogers or Dallas Braden.

I would like to argue that there is an even more illustrious feat in baseball; one that has not been accomplished since 1967: 43 years. The largest gap between baseball’s perfect games was 34 years. The feat that I speak of is baseball’s triple crown, in which a hitter must lead his league in batting average, home runs, and RBIs. It has only been done 16 times in baseball’s history, 13 in the modern era. The last man to win the triple crown was Carl Yastrzemski.

No one has ever pitched a perfect game twice. It is probably nearly statistically impossible. Two men have received the triple crown twice. The Cardinals’ Roger Hornsby in 1922 and 1925, and the Red Sox’s Ted Williams in 1942 and 1947. This is precisely what makes the triple crown even more impressive.

A perfect game does not guarantee a Cy Young Award. It is nearly unheard of for a player not to win the MVP if he has also won the triple crown. After all, MVP considerations are heavily affected by those same three statistics. To every rule and theory, there is always an exception, and Ted Williams is the exception to mine: In 1942 and 1947, he came in second place for MVP votes, losing to Joe Gordon and Joe Dimaggio, respectively.

A perfect game is one game; there are 161 others. To win a triple crown, the hitter has to be consistently superior in three outstandingly difficult categories. Every player who has won the triple crown in the modern era is currently immortalized in Cooperstown. Pitchers who throw a perfect game are perfect for 27 outs. Those who win the triple crown are spectacular 4,374 outs.

With a couple of legitimate Triple Crown contenders this season in Carlos Gonzalez, Joey Votto, Albert Pujols, and Miguel Cabrera, I wanted to try and figure out why there has been such a disparity in Triple Crown winners since Yastrzemski last did it. I decided to look at and compare various eras within baseball’s modern era (since 1900) and I think I have come to a reasonable conclusion.

It surprises me that there were any triple crown players in the dead ball era (1901-1919), which was defined by small ball. Pitchers were allowed to use altered balls and trick pitches, and starting pitchers completed their games more than half the time. Then again, it doesn’t surprise me that the two men to hit for it were Nap Lajoie and Ty Cobb.

The Lively Ball Era (1920-1941) followed in which a rubber-core ball was universally used, and trick pitches were prohibited. Pitcher’s completed their game less than half the time, and the average amount of runs scored per game was nearly ten. Also, in 1930, the National League’s batting average as a whole was over .300. Five men hit for the triple crown in this era: Roger Hornsby (twice), Chuck Klein, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, and Joe Medwick.

Then came the Integration Era (1942-1960), catalyzed by Jackie Robinson. Many players were involved in World War II, which some argued diluted the level of play. Two players hit for the triple crown: Ted Williams (twice) and Mickey Mantle. The changes in this era went beyond the game itself, but I’m assuming the pitching was able to adjust to the new rules established in the Lively Ball Era.

The Expansion Era (1961-1976) followed, which came with an enlarged strikezone, and predictably, a reduction in offensive output. Only Frank Robinson and Carl Yastrzemski hit for the triple crown in this era, and no one has done it since. Perhaps the defining characteristics of the eras that follow offer some explanation.

The Free Agency Era (1977-1993) was characterized mainly by outrageous contracts. About one-third of teams used artificial turf which took emphasis off of the home run ball and resulted in more extra base hits.

The era that I have lived through–the Long Ball Era (1994-2005)–has been characterized by a remarkable increase in home runs. This is attributable to not only steroids, and parks more conducive to home runs.

I’m not sure what era baseball has transitioned into since 2005. Some say the steroids era (though testing was implemented in 2004, so that isn’t really valid). With no-hitters, and even perfect games, becoming more of a commodity, I’d like to call it the era of the pitcher, but this might just be a unique year.

It does not really make sense that no one has won the triple crown since 1967 if offensive production has sky-rocketed. I think that the use of steroids have had an obvious effect on the statistics. It’s no longer one person dominating the league for a year. Many players are capable of hitting copious amounts of home runs and RBIs and hitting for a high average. It seems like guys are continually beating each other out. At the end of the season, Carlos Gonzalez might be leading in batting average, Pujols in home runs, and Votto in RBIs–and the disparity might only be one or two points.

I would like to see one of these guys hit for the triple crown, especially now that baseball has transitioned out of the steroids era. It would not have felt right had someone hit for the triple crown in the steroid era because nearly nothing was pure. I see Pujols, Votto, Gonzalez, and Cabrera (the main AL contender) as pure baseball players that embody what baseball is supposed to be about. 2010 has been an amazing year for baseball. We have seen no-hitters, perfect games, a perfect game that should have been, and a triple crown would be the icing on perhaps the most exciting baseball season I have ever had the pleasure of watching.

September: The Hunt for Red (Sox?) October

I think that I speak on behalf of many baseball fans when I say that my favorite day of the year is Opening Day. Because, well, there’s something about opening day. I have a second favorite day of the year, though: September 1. In fact, September might just be my favorite month of the season.

Towards the end of August, it becomes quite clear which teams are in the hunt for October. The month of September is all about the final push. I see it as the most crucial month of the season. However, that doesn’t mean that the games in September are any more important then they were in, say, May, for example. I think what I’m trying to say is that each team is in a certain position at the beginning of September. What each team has done until that point has affected their respective playoff berth chances. Some teams have an almost definite chance at making it, some teams are on the line, some teams’ hopes are slowly, painfully dwindling away, and some teams simply won’t make it. From that point at the beginning of September, the outcome of each game will affect where you are in October: on the field, or watching from the couch.

I won’t beat around the bush here: the Red Sox have a very slim chance of making it into October. I know that there is nearly an entire month of baseball left, but statistically speaking, it is highly improbable. Not only would the Red Sox have to win nearly every game from here on out, but also, the Yankees and Rays would have to cooperate and lose some games, which they simply don’t do.

Regardless of whether or not the Red Sox make the playoffs, I will not consider this a wasted season, or even a disappointing season. Rather, I would consider it frustrating. The Red Sox are in no way, shape, or form a bad team. They are a very unlucky team. Everyone I have spoken with this season is absolutely flabbergasted by the copious amount of injuries. I’m usually not one to make excuses; in fact, I’ll be the first to admit if the Red Sox play bad baseball, which they sometimes do. However, when Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron, Kevin Youkilis, and Dustin Pedroia–4/9ths of the opening day lineup–are out for the rest of the season, that certainly hurts. When Josh Beckett–the man considered by many to be the staff’s ace–is out for 10+ weeks, it doesn’t help.

I won’t blame everything on injuries though. I’m happy to speak of instances where the Red Sox haven’t played smart baseball. I’m not here for harsh criticism, I’m here for constructive criticism. When you have runners on first and second with no outs, there is no excuse for not bunting. Small ball wins games. You sacrifice an out to get two runners into scoring position. Also, the Red Sox have been absolutely sparse on the base paths. As soon as Ellsbury comes out of the lineup, we stop stealing! There have also been some mental slips on Francona’s part as well. One of the most obvious instances, in my opinion, was when he brought Clay Buchholz out for the eighth inning when he was over 100 pitches. Next thing that happens? A home run to tie the game. He has done that on many an occasion this year.

Francona also is obsessed with lefty-lefty match-ups. I have discussed this with @TheRealMBB many a time. We don’t hire Francona to read a book full of statistics. I can do that. We hire him to trust his gut. Baseball goes beyond statistics. You go with the guy who is throwing the ball the best, and that is final.

A playoff berth is improbable. But in baseball, things that are improbable tend to become probable more than often. Take yesterday (Sunday), for example. The Red Sox took a 5-3 lead into the top of the ninth. In fact, they had a two run lead in the top of the ninth with two outs, and their storied closer, Jonathan Papelbon, was on the mound. Be honest with yourself. When you were watching that game, you thought the Red Sox were going to win. There was no way the White Sox were going to come back and tie that game–let alone score four runs.

I always say that I like baseball because anything can happen. Literally. Anything. That came back to bite me in the **** yesterday. The Red Sox are 10 games back from first place. They are 7.5 games out of the wild card. Statistically speaking, it’s improbable. But as I said earlier, baseball goes beyond statistics. There is so much in this game that goes beyond baseball. Anything can happen.

There is another thing that I really like about September, though. Perhaps even more than the hunt for October: expanded rosters. This is where my projects come in and make a difference, just like I predicted all the way back in Spring Training. This is when I feel like a proud mother every time I get a tweet saying that somebody is en route to Boston.
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It’s surreal for me to see Dustin Richardson, Felix Doubront, Ryan Kalish, Daniel Nava, Josh Reddick, Lars Anderson, and Michael Bowden (soon, anyway) on the roster at the same time. It’s even more surreal to realize that I’ve had a conversation with each and every one of them. I had the chance to tell them, in person, that I was impressed with what they had done in the minors, and that I knew that they were going to be good, and that I had faith that they would be up in Boston soon. I feel like a proud mother. There is nothing in this world that could top that for me.

Adventures at the Trop

The Red Sox have had a copious amount of injuries this season. Because of all the casualties, many minor league prospects, and some veterans, have been given the chance to show what they can do. Had Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron, and Jeremy Hermida maintained a relatively healthy season, there is no way that the Red Sox would have seen Darnell McDonald, Daniel Nava, or Ryan Kalish. Sometimes I wonder if these guys–in the back of their minds–hope for injuries so that they can have a shot.

To be honest, I never expected Ryan Kalish to be up this year at all. Not because he is a bad athlete or anything, but because how meticulous the Red Sox are when it comes to development. He started the year in Double-AA Portland, and he was performing at a very high level. No doubt that he was going to be moved up to Pawtucket, right? Kalish transitioned seamlessly from Portland to Pawtucket–considered by some to be the toughest jump. I think Kalish was called up because the Red Sox were unsure of what they had in Reddick. Believe me, I think that he is full of potential, he just hasn’t had the at-bats to prove it yet. He has been producing exponentially better since he changed his mechanics after the All-Star Break.

The point I’m trying to make is that Ryan Kalish started the season in Double-AA, and now he is in the big leagues. I like to think that I have taken a similar path over the past couple of months. As you know, I worked in both Pawtucket and Portland this past summer. I was afforded unbelievable opportunities that gave me incredible access. I never expected to have that kind of access in the major leagues for a really long time.

Those of you who have seen my pictures on Twitter and Facebook may be wondering how I got that kind of access. Basically, Subway is sponsoring this webcast that is going to be an app on Facebook and on youtube called “High School Heroes” (that might just be the working title). I think what they are trying to do is find kids around the country who are just really passionate about something, and they are just really into it. So they wanted to follow me around at a baseball game and kind of see what I normally do. Stalking a stalker, right? Here is the catch, though. Somehow, Subway was able to get me an all-access (minus the clubhouse) media pass for before the game, and even an interview with a player to be named later (my favorite expression…) I was allowed on the field during batting practice.
 
IMG_5518.JPGI think the objective was for me to have easier access to the players to ask for pictures and what not. The only thing is that when I get a press pass, I switch into professional mode, but this was kind of difference. This press pass wasn’t to get me the kind of access that I got when I was at Pawtucket/Portland. This press pass to get me the kind of access I had at, say, the minor league complex, but with the major league players.

The first thing I did with this access was finally show Dustin Pedroia my Dustin Pedroia salsa. I didn’t have him sign it, though, because I was still kind of figuring out exactly how I was supposed to behave (for lack of a better word) with this pass. It was mainly an opportunity to discuss it with him.
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I decided to ask Big Papi for a picture. Never hurts to ask, right? There were some fans with pre-game access badges behind home plate, and he was over there as well, so I thought it would be an appropriate time to ask.
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Then I asked Jacoby Ellsbury for a picture. Obviously, he wasn’t playing in the game, but he was still taking batting practice. He was one of the nicest guys I met that day. It seemed like he cared about who I was, he wasn’t as dismissive as some of the other guys were (understandably so).
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I also got a picture with Victor Martinez. It was absolutely surreal to be less than a foot away from these guys. I wasn’t separated by a fence, and security could not do anything to me. There were tons of fans around hoping for autographs too. Because I was where the players were, I now know that yes, they can hear you, but they choose to ignore you. It’s understandable because they have a job, it’s just annoying realizing that some of my efforts of the past have been futile. Luckily, if you’re on the field, they don’t ignore you as much.
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Emperor Felix was also kind enough to pose for a picture on his way back from shagging balls in the outfield. Unfortunately, Michael Bowden was sent down that very same day, which was really frustrating because I had been really looking forward to talking to him. I wanted to tell him that I plan on writing my college essay about my first interview with him. The prompt is to describe a significant experience and its impact on you. I didn’t realize how big of an impact it had had on me until I was writing the essay.
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As Daniel Nava and Ryan Kalish were jogging in, I asked them for a picture, and they said they would do it after batting practice. Before Nava went to batting practice, though, I was able to tell him how I was at his Double-AA debut. I was even able to show him the notes that I had from the game. We were talking about the first hit he got on that level and he said, “the ball found [him]” which I thought was really cool.
Darnell and Clay
(click the link for the picture via @RedSoxDoll, check out her blog here
The interview with the “player to be named later” was Darnell McDonald. I was so excited to interview him, but at the same time, I was really nervous because I had no time to prepare the questions. I had found out about it about an hour and a half before. Luckily, I had my notebook filled with various questions from my interviews in Portland.
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McDonald is honestly one of the best guys I have ever interviewed. He is such a great conversationalist, and he seemed really genuine and sincere about everything. You can listen to the audio here: 
Darnell Interview.mp3
I asked him about his favorite major league experience. I assumed it would be either Opening Day with the Cincinnati Reds in 2009, or his debut with the Red Sox, so I listed those two options, but I obviously left it open for something else. He said his favorite moment was at one of the San Francisco games this past summer. In fact, I was at the game. Before the game, a young boy with cancer had given him a blue band, which he was still wearing. In his very first at-bat that day, he hit a home run. I remember being there for that home run, but I never realized it had that much significance to him. That was certainly beyond baseball.

I had access to the press box during the game as well, so that was incredible. I had never been in a major league press box, and I didn’t expect to be in one until after college. This was a nice taste. In the press dining area, I had the chance to speak with Amalie Benjamin, a writer for the Boston Globe. She was very genial, and she told me that she went to Northwestern (currently in my top two choices). Although she didn’t go to the Medill School of Journalism, she used all of its resources. I really enjoyed talking to her because I admire her writing, and she is someone that I look up to considering she is a successful female sports journalist.

I did not feel all that lost in the press box considering I had been in one a couple of times before. The only thing was that I didn’t have my laptop, but I was fine. I tried to keep track of all of the pitches in my notebook, and I kept score as well. I am definitely getting used to this.

There was only one bad part of the night. The fact that Scott Atchinson gave up a walk off home run to Dan Johnson. My father and I had driven four hours to see the Red Sox lose, and then we had to drive all the way back after a pretty devastating loss. It was such a great baseball game to watch, though. A great pitcher’s duel between Garza and Buchholz, and just back and forth baseball that kept me on the edge of my seat (even though I had to maintain some level of objectivity in the press box). I think the pros outweighed the cons in this case.

The kinds of opportunities that I have been getting for the past few months have been out of this world. I can’t thank the people of the various media relations departments enough to trust that I will be responsible with this kind of access. I don’t know if it all has set in yet. It’s really hard for me to believe that all this is happening, but I just try to go with the flow. I really think that it’s all a matter of taking every opportunity that you can get.

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.