Tagged: Jason Varitek

Tales from Exit 138: First Official Pitchers & Catchers Workout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Four Seasons: Hot Stove Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skeptics and True Believers

Skepticism and analysis surround every team as the second week of the season comes to an end. I guess I’m here to join the party–mainly for analysis, not for skepticism. It’s easy to analyze halfway through the season, but only two weeks into the season seems a little rash, doesn’t it? Is it appropriate to analyze, criticize, and skepticize (yes, made up word) already? I don’t know the answer, but I think it’s appropriate to offer some analysis because the Red Sox have made some easily preventable mistakes that have led to run scoring. And even though it’s early on, there are some serious, and unfortunately controversial issues that need to be addressed. It may be the beginning of the season, but every game counts. These games count as much as they do in September. Each game is of vital importance as each team tries to avoid the obstacles on the road to the postseason. I don’t agree with those who say, “It’s the beginning of the season, they’re just adjusting.” That’s what Spring Training is for. Ideally, teams should work out their kinks during Spring Training. Inevitably, obstacles will arise during the regular season, so I’m here to try and work those out. 

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Let’s tackle the obvious topic first: David Ortiz. I think he has felt under pressure to perform since the first game of the season. Because of the dismal numbers he put up last season, all reporters ever asked him about during the Spring was his rebound. It is easy to tell how insecure about this situation he is. He snapped at reporters the second day of the season; he got ejected from a game for arguing about a strike; and it is easy to spot the frustrated grimace on his face each time he strikes out. I don’t blame him for feeling pressure, but I’m surprised about how much it’s getting to him. 
I won’t ignore the few hits that he has gotten: some have been solid contact, but others were pure luck. He even picked up the golden sombrero one game where he struck out four times: that’s the problem. He strikes out, and for the most time, he strikes out looking. I’m no hitting guru, so I’m not here to talk mechanics. The fact of the matter is that having him in our lineup is ineffective, and at times, detrimental. So why does Terry Francona put him in the lineup day after day? I think that part of it comes from seniority. Maybe Terry Francona thinks that maybe Big Papi is just going to get out of his funk because of what he has done in the past. But this is the third year in a row that this has been going on. As much as it pains me to say this, he is done. 
I’m sure it will be tough to sit him, but it is necessary. It is important to put the best lineup out there, and putting Big Papi in there does not get the job done. I like the idea of platooning Mike Lowell and Jeremy Hermida at that spot. Hermida has proved himself to be a fantastic pickup coming off the bench for Jacoby Ellsbury while he is injured. I can see him hitting a lot of doubles off the Green Monster. 
Issue number two: The Bullpen. 

Last year, the bullpen was considered our strongest asset. This year, it has been one of the weakest. I don’t think that the loss of Takashi Saito or Billy Wagner really affects that; however, the loss of Justin Masterson does. I’m sure you all know exactly what I’m going to say. Bring up Michael Bowden! We need a long-term middle relief pitcher; especially if our starters are done after the fifth inning because they throw 30 pitches in an inning or two. The Red Sox obviously expect to use him as a middle reliever, so what I don’t understand is why they’re still treating him as a starter in Pawtucket. I think that for a pitcher to be completely effective, they have to know their role (no matter how good they are). Just look how good Justin Masterson is doing with Cleveland now that they have explicitly deemed him a starter. I have no doubt that Bowden has the ability to flourish in either role, but he will be more effective once they tell him what his role actually is so that he doesn’t have to keep switching. 
Ramon Ramirez has been struggling so far, so I really hope that he finds his stuff because he was the unsung hero of last year. Manny Delcarmen still struggles to be consistent, but he has the ability to go multiple innings, which is important. I prefer him over Scott Atchinson anyway. I think that Robert Manuel, now pitching in Pawtucket, could be really effective in the bullpen if he was given a chance.
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I know Daniel Bard is very good, but the Red Sox need to use him a little more sparingly. The poor guy has been used so much already this season. He has a wicked slider, but I’d like to see him add a changeup to his repertoire because the radar gun is almost always 90 mph or above, and having that speed constantly will almost surely lead to giving up more home runs. 
My final issue with the bullpen includes Victor Martinez as well. When it comes to Jonathan Papelbon, all he ever calls are fastballs. Papelbon also has a slider and a changeup in his arsenal, so I think that it’s important that he incorporates those as well to avoid meltdowns. I’m sure you all remember his most infamous blown save, and all Victor Martinez called was fastball, after, fastball, after fastball. 
Issue Number 3: Throwing people out
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Neither Victor Martinez nor Jason Varitek have the ability to throw runners out, and every team knows it. Victor obviously needs to work on his mechanics considering all of his throws are high and to the right. This could create a serious problem. First of all, because the runners can steal so easily, the possibility of inning ending double plays are eliminated, which means that our pitchers will have to work longer, and that we might have to use our bullpen earlier. 
Also, pitching from the stretch is a tough thing for lots of pitchers. I especially noticed that with Clay Buchholz during the Spring, and even he has admitted that it’s something he needs to work on. The pitchers obviously don’t want the runners to steal, so they might feel added pressure to get the ball to the plate quicker. This situation could have disastrous consequences. It is important that the pitchers don’t think about anything but hitting their spots. 
If this becomes a serious problem, the Red Sox do have some catching talent in the minors (with arms) in both Mark Wagner and Luis Exposito. Luis is definitely someone to get excited about, but he still needs some seasoning. Mark Wagner, on the other hand, is in Pawtucket, and I think he is ready to go. 
Issue Number 4: Leaving runners on
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Some bats have been quiet (Big Papi), some have been loud (Dustin Pedroia), but the Red Sox have left so many runners on, but I think there is an easy solution that Terry Francona hasn’t seen yet because he is an American League manager: small ball. 
Because the Red Sox focused on improving defense during the offseason, they aren’t full of the 30-40 HR power bats. However, that’s not to say that they aren’t offensively sophisticated. They have the ability to score a lot of runs this season, but it won’t come from lots of long balls. Rarely, if ever, do you see the Red Sox lay down a solid bunt. Perhaps the Red Sox wouldn’t leave as many runners on if they started sacrificially advancing runners more often. I LOVE this kind of baseball; I find it to be the most exciting, and I think that it is a method that the Red Sox must begin to incorporate. 
Those are the biggest issues that I see so far. The defense hasn’t been as spotless as expected, but I think that these acquisitions will pay off in the long run (despite some costly errors early on). Perhaps they’re still adjusting the the eccentricities of Fenway. It’s the big errors that stand out, not the rest of the times that they make the often spectacular play. The last issue I notice (though it hasn’t made much of a signifiant impact) is that sometimes, Adrian Beltre simply swings at terrible pitches. He has been hitting really well thus far though, so I’m not complaining yet. 
Amidst all of my criticisms and analyses, I do have some praise (some of which I have already mentioned): 
-Dustin Pedroia is off to a monstrous start. Contrary to popular belief, he can hit the high inside fastball! 
-Jeremy Hermida has been an extremely valuable asset off the bench. I think he will flourish in Fenway Park. 
-Daniel Bard has been a workhorse. 
-Josh Beckett’s 75 mph curveball his a thing of beauty. I’m so glad we signed him to a 4 year deal. 
-Jacoby Ellsbury was really catching on fire before that unfortunate collision between him and Beltre that has sidelined him since. I really hope that he heals soon, because I really like having him in the leadoff spot. 
I may be skeptical, but I’m a true believer in this Red Sox squad. 
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One more thing before I settle down to watch the final game of what has been a frustrating series against the Rays so far. Ubaldo Jimenez threw the first no-hitter of the 2010 MLB season, and the first in Rockies history. Thanks to the twittersphere, I was clued in, and I was able to watch the final three outs of the bottom of the ninth inning. Of course, MLBTV froze up right as Brian McCann hit the ball to second, but I heard it, and that’s just as special. He has been compared to Pedro Martinez, and considering the velocity he had on his fastball so late into the game (and after so many pitches), I have no doubt. As I watched the bottom of the ninth inning, I could feel my heart beating quicker with each out, and my hands shaking  more and more before each pitch was thrown. 
April 17th was an incredible day to be a baseball fan. Tim Lincecum had three hits and three RBIs. The Pirates walked off for the second game in a row thanks to Garrett Jones. The Mets vs Cardinals game went into the 20th inning. The Mets scored both of their runs on sacrifice flies. And Ubaldo Jimenez stunned the Braves lineup. This is what we live for 

They Break Your Heart…

As soon as the game ended, I wanted to come on here and write everything that I was feeling. It would have been the most impulsive, scapegoating article you may have ever read. I tend to forget that the emotions following the end of the season (especially a bad end) come in waves. 

At first, I masochistically sat in my room and cried. I could not believe we had lost that game. It didn’t seem possible; I was so sure of a victory. Even when the Angels were right on our tails, I was thinking: “Hey, our closer is in. There are two outs and two strikes. We got this!”. That thought went through my head twice. Then Vladmir Guerrero shattered that thought and replaced it with a single emotion: disbelief. 
Anyway, I felt it wasn’t proper to write when I was crying simply because I could barely see the screen and plus, no one is really coherent when they’re in that state of mind. Then I transitioned to anger, which blinded me for a little while because I was angry at only Jonathan Papelbon, and that’s not fair. I was scapegoating him for the entire series, not just the game, and that’s really not fair. 
Finally, the empty feeling pervades, and that’s the one that sticks. The Red Sox season is over, and without them, well my life is kind of empty. This feeling of emptiness was accompanied with disbelief again, and heartbreak: the same old song and dance. So I feel like I’ve done myself, and you guys a favor by not writing about this until today. 
I tend to scapegoat a lot when the Red Sox lose. Normally, I blame myself for choosing the wrong couch cushion to sit on, or something along those lines. And what some would call “obsessive compulsive disorder” severely augments during the playoffs. 
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I’m sure many of you can guess whom I decided to scapegoat during Game 1: CB Bucknor, the first base umpire–I was absolutely livid. However, regardless of how erroneous his calls were, it didn’t significantly effect the outcome of the game. The offense was dead, practically immobile; we were shutout for the first time since the 1995 ALDS. Our bats simply did not show up that day, similar to the absence of our bats during the first few weeks following the All-Star break. 
I went on to blame the Yankees for choosing Wednesday night instead of Thursday night to begin their playoff crusade. Obviously, they wanted to sabotage us by giving us an extra day off so that we would be rusty. I do think that the Yankees had a similar mentality in choosing which day to begin on, but I don’t think it was as intricately planned as I thought it was. Nevertheless, we were rusty. We hadn’t played a game since Sunday, so there wasn’t a lot of momentum going into the playoffs. Regardless of the outcome of Game 1, it is still ironic and cruel humor to have an umpire whose last name is ‘Bucknor’ umpiring first base. 
The beginning of Game 2 rendered me hopeful when Jacoby Ellsbury hit a triple, and Victor Martinez drove him in. That turned out to be the most amount of scoring we would be doing for that game. Another night in which the lackluster Red Sox offense barely did anything. Both Beckett and Lester had decent outings, but they were out dueled by the stellar pitching from Lackey and Weaver. 
So what was wrong with the Red Sox? We had gotten ourselves in to a do or die situation. Not completely unfamiliar territory, but not the most pleasant to be in either. What had been the remedy in the years past when the Red Sox had their backs against the wall in say 2004 or 2007? To be honest, I think players only meetings were a significant aspect in rejuvenating the team. 
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As far as I know, there were no players only meetings this year. But think about who led those players only meetings in years past: Jason Varitek, our captain. It’s no wonder there were no meetings this year while our captain was sitting on the bench. When Terry Francona took him out of the last game of the season to a standing ovation at Fenway Park, I did not know that it may have been the last time I would have ever seen Varitek in a Red Sox uniform. 
The Victor Martinez pickup was brilliant; it was the perfect remedy when our offense was lackluster after the All-Star break, and I think he was a major player in helping the Red Sox get to the postseason. However, it seems to me like we kicked Jason Varitek to the curb. 
I know I lobbied relentlessly for his return in the offseason, and there hasn’t been a single moment this season in which I have regretted that. Sure his offensive numbers are subpar, but as I’ve said countless times, his mere presence on the field is invaluable. I know Victor Martinez’s bat is one of the most formidable in all of Major League Baseball, but we can’t just throw our captain under the bus because of his weak offensive numbers. We didn’t even do that to Big Papi during his horrendous slump. 
Take a look at our pitchers’ second half numbers. Guys like Josh Beckett, Ramon Ramirez, Manny Delcarmen (among others) struggled the second half of the season. By no means do I want to blame their numbers on Victor Martinez, but I do think that familiarity with a catcher has a significant impact on their numbers. With a guy like Jason Varitek, a man who calls the game like no other (who else has four no-hitters on their resume?), pitchers don’t even have to think. Jason Varitek probably tells them when to breathe and when to blink, but he slowly drifted out of the picture by the end of the season. 
He didn’t even see a minute of postseason action–a time when the comfort of the pitchers is essential to success. Varitek is the true leader of the Red Sox, so I wonder how the team feels when they see their captain on the bench. I’m not saying bench Victor Martinez, but I know that there is another lineup where both Varitek and Martinez are present. If we were sitting Varitek because of his lack of offense, than I think it is perfectly justifiable to sit Big Papi. 
One more thing before I progress to the truly heartbreaking game. What about respect? Did the Red Sox treat Jimmie Foxx, Carl Yastrzemski, or Jim Rice like this? I don’t think so. I think we have seen Jason Varitek’s last moment in a Red Sox uniform. 
***
I tried to change this up a little for Game 3. I realized that the Manny Ramirez statue I had made in seventh grade was still in my room, so I launched it into my backyard. Then, another brilliant idea crossed my mind: a hunger strike! What if I was to refuse food until the Red Sox scored? I thought that Kevin Youkilis’ shot (that ended up being foul) signified my lunch, but I was wrong–and I was getting hungry. Jacoby Ellsbury’s spectacular catch almost prompted me to sneak a pretzel, but I refused. Luckily, Dustin Pedroia’s two RBI double allowed me to eat. I thought that the hunger strike was brilliant, and I was already planning on doing it again the next day during Game 4 when the Red Sox were still flying high on a 5-1 lead. 
I forgot Yogi Berra’s famous aphorism: “It ain’t over til it’s over”. I was so proud of my babies/projects that I forgot that Papelbon is human. Clay Buchholz blew me away in his
postseason debut… the fact that he performed the way that he did as a rookie is astounding. Not to mention the fact that Daniel Bard got out of a bases loaded jam with no outs with minimal damage. 
I was so sure we had that game in the bag… just like in years past when Red Sox fans were positive that they had the game won. It was heartbreaking to watch the win slip through our fingers. It was more than just a sweep. In 2005 when the Red Sox got swept by the White Sox, they lost Game 3 3-0. But we had this game. We could have pushed it to Game 4. But as we all know, they break your heart. 
We can’t just blame Jonathan Papelbon–it was the offense that failed to score runs in the first two games as well. So as Red Sox fans, we suck it up. The wound will remain open, but we blink back the tears and look forward to next season. 

Aggravation to Rejuvenation

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This past week was not the most fun week to be a Red Sox fan (and I know Indians and Orioles fans are having a tough time too). The Sox didn’t exactly look like a team that had just clinched playoff berth with the way that the pitching was coming apart. In fact, they didn’t even clinch the wildcard with a win, they were merely graced with a Texas loss to secure their spot. 

The Yankees clinched the division on their home turf, against the Sox, which partially fulfills their goal of the 2009 season. With the additions of CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and AJ Burnett, many predicted that the Yankees would win the division, though everyone knew not to count the Red Sox out with what seemed like the best pitching staff in baseball at the start of the season–in fact, many predicted the Red Sox to win it. 
Clinching the division on their home turf would have been satisfying enough, but clinching against the Red Sox? That must have made it even better for them, and I turned off ESPN as soon as Jacoby Ellsbury’s soft grounder to Mariano Rivera ended the ninth. 
This final season series sweep by the Yankees made the season series even. After the Red Sox won the first eight of the season, they either got swept, or lost the rest of the series. In what very well could be the American League Championship Series matchup, all Red Sox fans are hoping that we can pull it together, and make every game in that series unforgettable–all fights to the finish. And with the Red Sox and Yankees, it always is. 
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I was hoping for a bit of rejuvenation against the Blue Jays. I always like going into the playoffs with lots of momentum, and I wanted to secure a spot already! No such luck Monday night. Josh Beckett was scratched from his start with mild back spasms (but he is pitching tonight, so all is well). When I first heard the story, memories flooded back to me of Spring Training 2008. I was excited to finally see Beckett pitch, because I had never seen him live before (and I still have not). He was even warming up with Jason Varitek down in left field at City of Palms Park–but he didn’t make the start. Manny Delcarmen did, and Beckett started that season on the DL, and had a mediocre season according to his standards (as well as my high standards for him). Thankfully, these spasms are nothing to be concerned about. 
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I was very excited to see Michael Bowden take the mound, since he is my favorite pitching prospect. To say that he didn’t have the best night would be an understatement. He lasted only three innings and was tagged for seven runs. Bowden was obviously very disappointed in himself, but he made no excuses. He said that he could have been told five minutes before the game that he would be starting, and still this outcome would have remained inexcusable. I appreciate the fact that he didn’t make up excuses, and I won’t make up any for him either. 
The fact of the matter is though, that we can’t judge September call-ups simply by their one month of play, that would be unfair. Bowden was missing his spots, and he was getting behind in counts–something that can easily be fixed. Plus, he is not used to Victor Martinez, and practice makes perfect. I would like to see him follow a path similar to Clay Buchholz–because look how effective that extra time in the minors was for him: he is going to be a starting pitcher in our playoff rotation. 
In fact, if Bowden works really hard this winter (I am not sure if he will be pitching in the Arizona Fall League), I think that he could be a legitimate contender for a spot in the starting rotation for 2010. Dustin Richardson has impressed me, and I am very excited to see more of him next year in Spring Training. He is a legitimate contender to be a project next year, as is Fernando Cabrera. I think that what we have to remember is that it is a big transition from the minors to the majors, and it would be unfair to expect anyone to flawlessly make that transition. 
The last two games against the Blue Jays weren’t much better. The second game seemed like a recurring dream as Buchholz also gave up seven runs. And if it wasn’t for Joey Gathright in the third game, Halladay could have no-hit the Red Sox instead of just pitching a complete game shutout. 
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Speaking of Joey Gathright, I want to get to playoff rosters. We are less than a week way from what I like to consider the first day of “Soxtober”. While there are many “lock-ins” for the roster, there are still some spots that are up for grabs.
I would like the starting rotation to look like this:
1. Jon Lester
2. Clay Buchholz
3. Josh Beckett
4. Daisuke Matsuzaka
I am so proud of how far Clay Buchholz has come this season. I think that he has truly earned that spot. And who knew that Dice-K would come back and pitch as well as he has? Sometimes, it is worth giving people a second chance. 
As for the bullpen, Papelbon, Wagner, Okajima, Saito, Bard (whom I refer to as ‘Baby Bard’ on twitter), and Ramon Ramirez should be locks. With the way that Manny Delcarmen has been pitching as of late, his spot is no longer secure. 
The possibilities for that eleventh spot could range from guys like Byrd and Wakefield, to guys like Bowden, Cabrera and Richardson. I love Tim Wakefield, but I really don’t think that he is healthy enough to pitch in the playoffs. And even though the bird is the word, I don’t think that Paul Byrd has been consistent enough to earn a spot on the roster. And much as I like Bowden, I don’t think that he is ready for the postseason this season. Next season? I have no doubt. 
I know it may sound crazy, but I think it should be between Richardson, Cabrera and Delcarmen. 
As for position players, most of them are locked in. The main question marks are the utility infielder and the reserve outfielder. Alex Gonzalez was hit in the hand last night and he was forced to leave the game. Not good timing at all, and I think we’re all praying that he is not injured. I would like to see Gonzalez as the starting shortstop with Lowrie or Woodward as the  backup. 
So the question is: Lowrie or Woodwa
rd? This one is the toughest for me to figure out since we have seen so little of both of these guys this season. The second spot to fill is the reserve outfielder, and I think that Joey Gathright has the best shot because of his speed. Think Dave Roberts, 2004 and you’ll know why. 
I am working on playoff brackets this weekend, and what I think should be the roster, so I will do my best to get back to you guys by Tuesday as to who should make the roster. 

If I were a General Manager…

I’d be willing to bet that a lot of us our familiar with the musical: Fiddler on the Roof. At one point, the main character, Tevye day dreams about what he would do “if he were a rich man”. I’m starting to get the feeling that it may be a bad thing if I don’t remember the ending of the play considering I was a villager (with no lines) in the play when I was in seventh grade. I’m getting the feeling that he doesn’t become rich, but everyone ends up happy. 
Maybe the same can I apply as I share with you my daydreams about what I would do if I was Theo Epstein for a day. I doubt that I’m cut out for the general manager business though. I can only imagine the amount of stress and responsibility Theo has with putting together a team like the Red Sox each season. Nonetheless, it is a fun idea to entertain considering I’m constantly making suggestions as to what should be done. I wonder if I have enough stamina to be a general manager, a journalist, and a broadcaster (or even enough time). 
Before I talk about my fantastical crusade as a general manager, I have a few other things to get to. 
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I realized that I neglected to mention my thoughts on Casey Kelly in my last blog. For those of you who are unfamiliar with him, he was drafted by the Red Sox in 2008 not only as a pitcher, but as a shortstop as well. He spent the first half of this season pitching, and he will be spending the second half as a shortstop (from what I can remember of the report). I would actually be completely okay with him training as a shortstop, and holding off on the pitching aspect. The Red Sox organization is already full of great pitchers with a lot of potential. Shortstops? Not so much. 
I’m pretty convinced that ever since Nomar Garciaparra left in 2004, that there is a minor curse when it comes to shortstops. Hanley Ramirez, the star of the Marlins, was homegrown talent, but he isn’t playing for the Red Sox. Was it a mutually beneficial trade? Yes. Would I do the trade again? Absolutely. 
We signed Julio Lugo expecting him to be a pesky leadoff hitter like he was with the Rays. Unfortunately, that did not work out as he was designated for assignment and traded to the Cardinals a couple of days ago. Jed Lowrie is homegrown talent, but he has barely had a season. Nick Green (who must have been thoroughly exorcised considering he came from the Yankees) has been a pleasant surprise, but nothing outstanding, though I shouldn’t try to compare anyone to Nomar. 
Shortstop is currently our weakest position in my opinion, catching (I will address this later) coming in second. We need to have a legitimate “shortstop for the future” developing in the minors. 
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I really wish I had seen Mark Buehrle’s perfect game live, but as I am not a fan of the White Sox or Rays, I didn’t have some sort of crazy premonition that compelled me to watch the game. To put this feat in a historical context is really incredible, all of the statistics that come up amaze me. It’s kind of funny how people consider perfect games to be so exciting, yet technically speaking, nothing happens since the opposing team is literally shut down. It’s the beauty of the pitching though, and the fact that it is so rare and precious that makes it beautiful to me. 
I don’t have to be a White Sox fan to appreciate this, I think that every baseball fan should find this to be beautiful and stunning. I can understand that it must have been embarrassing for the Rays to be shut out like that, but it’s really just something you tip your cap to. It is something that I will always remember. 
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I would be remiss if I failed to mention the Hall of Fame inductions, which I was delighted to watch on MLB Network. I was in absolute awe to see 50 living legends all in one place, and I’ll be completely honest with you: there was a good portion of them that I hadn’t heard of, but that just makes me even more excited to go to the Hall of Fame in a few weeks. 
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It was really inspiring to see Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice give their speeches. Henderson was so humbled by it, and I loved the way that he got into the game, and the part about following your dreams. Jim Rice just looked euphoric– it was great to see him drop his usual demeanor and just laugh. 
Watching the whole Hall of Fame induction ceremony inspired me even more to begin my crusade to enshrine Pete Rose there. I will save my argument for another post, but I would really like to have a makeshift plaque made for him, and bring it to Cooperstown myself. Believe me my friends, I am getting him in there. 
So with the trade deadline coming up, there are plenty of trade rumors going around. I nearly spit my water everywhere when I read that Bronson Arroyo may be headed to the Yankees (this rumor has been squelched for the record). I couldn’t imagine my Arroyo in pinstripes. But this brings me to my main point (I guess?), what I would be doing if I was Theo Epstein. 
I am actually very happy with the Adam LaRoche trade, not because he is adjusting extraordinarily well to Pittsburgh, but because he is a significant upgrade from Mark Kotsay. I never thought Kotsay was anything unique, in fact I was a bit upset when we re-signed him because I thought Chris Carter or Jeff Bailey would be sufficient, if not better. Plus, we didn’t lose any significant prospects (if I don’t talk about them, they aren’t significant). 
We all knew that we had to get Julio Lugo off of our hands. Nice a guy as he may be, he just simply hasn’t been living up to the organization’s expectations, and regardless of his contract, it was for the greater good of the team that he is gone. Chris Duncan is in Triple-A right now, and I am dying to scout him. 
I am actually perfectly content with our roster right now. We don’t need to be involved in a break-the-headlines trade like last year because our left fielder isn’t complaining
about his lifestyle. Poor Manny, $20 million a year and adored by fans– tough life. Yet we still are involved in trade talks. 
I have heard the Roy Halladay rumors, and I was not attracted to him for a second (same thing happened with Mark Teixeira). I know what kind of pitcher he is, but I know what kind of pitching we have in the minors. Would Halladay solidify what has been perhaps a somewhat disappointing rotation (specifically Dice-K and Penny’s lack of depth)? Sure, and I’m pretty sure his contract is locked up for a few years. 
Think about what we might have to give up for him though. They asked the Yankees for Joba, Phil Hughes and two more prospects. I am very protective of our bullpen, and even more so of our prospects because the good ones (that are likely to go in a trade) are my projects. Roy Halladay may be the ace of the American League, but I’d be willing to say that Michael Bowden is the next Roy Halladay. That is how much I believe in our prospects. Think about how important Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden could be in the future. 
I have also heard the Victor Martinez rumors. When I said that I think catching is our second weakest position, I do not mean currently. Most of you know how hard I lobbied for Jason Varitek’s return, and I for one have not been disappointed. When I say catching is our weakest position, I mean for the future. George Kottaras is only around because he can catch a knuckleball, and I personally prefer Dusty Brown. I’d rather stick around and wait for Joe Mauer to become available. Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek are both legitimate catchers, who both deserve a lot of playing time. Should Martinez come to the Red Sox, I would think that someone’s playing time would be significantly impacted. 
I think we should stay right where we are right now. We are still very legitimate contenders, but we have to look to future acquisitions too. 

Taking a Leave of Absence.

Hello friends, I just wanted to take the time to let you know that I will be unable to blog productively for three weeks. Normally it takes me a good two hours to write a good one, and I’ll barely have time. 

This leave of absence is not because I failed a drug test. I actually had my yearly physical this past week, and I am all healthy. No Performance Enhancing Drugs over here. Manny and A-Rod, on the other hand, were not as lucky. 
The reason behind this leave of absence is due to a summer program that I have attended the past three years: The Great Books Summer Program. I will be out at Stanford University reading some of the greatest, most obscure literature that one can imagine. I have attended the program at both Stanford University and Amherst college, and it has been a significant part of my life ever since I attended. Even though it is only for a short time period, I consider the friends I have made there to be some of my best friends. 
This program has always served as a huge inspiration for me. The people who work there are all genuinely kind human beings who tell me that if I’m going to dream at all, I need to dream big. My counselor last year, Kyle LeBell (who is going to Israel this summer to become a rabbi) told me that “I should get lost so I can find myself”. 
When I’m out there in Stanford, it’s like I’m in my own little bubble– separated from the outside world for three, glorious weeks. I pretty much experience a catharsis that renders me overly skeptical and miserable upon my return. My home away from home: 
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I am actually separated from my baseball bubble whilst in this summer bubble. I do not have access to a computer for a good three hours to watch a baseball game. While my father is able to send me some updates, it still is not the same. 
That means I won’t be seeing Jacoby’s out-of-this-world catches. No Pedroia scampering around the infield and hitting balls that are anywhere over the plate. No ‘Papi’ chants after he hits a home run. No Youuuuuuukilis/Drew back-to-back hits. No Jason Bay clutch, clutch, CLUTH hitting. No Jason Varitek wisdom. No double-taking at Mike Lowell’s plays at third base. I won’t be able to laugh/curse Nick Green at the same time for his base running skills, and I won’t be able to cringe when Julio Lugo gets a ground ball. I will probably miss Jed Lowrie’s return, as well as Jerry Remy’s. I will miss Eck’s language, and I will miss John Smoltz’s start. I need to stop this list. 
I regret not being able to get up my Yankees vs Red Sox blog in time too. I’ll just give you some highlights. 
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I was able to go on a tour of Fenway Park thanks to some very kind people. I was on the field during batting practice, and I was ridiculously close to the Yankees as they started warming up. 
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Can you imagine the thoughts running through my mind as people like Johnny Damon and Alex Rodriguez were within arms reach? Jail time doesn’t look too good on a resume though. 
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I met a couple of reporters, I’m sure you know who they are. They were very kind. 
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I went back up to the Green Monster, the view was breathtaking, as usual (and by usual, I mean the second time) 
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I got a picture with the metaphorical Fisk pole, and a picture of the actual Fisk pole. 
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I was a kid in a candy store walking through the Red Sox Hall of Fame. I especially loved the ‘Greatest Moments’ section. 
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I also saw the view from right field, and the new section that was added (under the Cumberland Farms sign). 
The game itself was glorious, but the weather wasn’t as cooperative. Luckily, a rain delay never ensued. I was soaked to the bone, and so was all my stuff, but you guys know me during rain delays. 
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I played with some of the modes on my camera, and I took some pretty cool pictures. The people behind me actually asked if I was a reporter. I told them I was up and coming. 
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Seeing a game live is always a treat for me, to say the least. What was even more of a treat was Big Papi’s home run! Manny Delcarmen didn’t help our cause too much, and I feared I would be seeing a loss. But the offense came through, and treated me to a win. 
I wish you all a nice three and a half weeks, and you can keep up with me on Twitter. I figured out I can send texts, so I’ll let you all know what I’m doing.