Tagged: Luis Exposito

Extended Spring Training

The first rule about extended spring training is you don’t talk about extended spring training.

Just kidding, but it’s not like people talk about it, anyway. You have to do some persistent digging to come across a Minor League Spring Training or Fall Instructional League schedule; but I have yet to come across an extended spring training schedule.

I was able to gather some useful information: Weekday games typically start at 1:00 pm; Saturday games typically start at 10; and Sundays are off-days. The key word here is “typically.”

Game times are subject to change, which I found out first hand on Saturday. It’s lucky that I insist on getting to the fields around 9 am despite the fact that I know that all the players do is stretch and throw for what seems like an hour.

This stubbornness saved me from being insufferably late, and I arrived at the Twins complex with enough time to be treated to my fix of stretching and throwing.

Extended Spring Training is essentially the same as regular spring training, except there are far fewer players. The players who populate the lineups are likely ticketed for Short-Season Lowell, the Gulf Coast League, or the Dominican Summer League.

There were two games on Saturday, but it was a bit more difficult to garner with whom each lineup was affiliated. For what it’s worth, here were the lineups:

H Ramos
Pichardo
Bogaerts
Cecchini
B. Monaroa
O. Perez
Guerrero
Taverez
Pineda
Colorado
Hudson P
—-
Vinicio
Meneses
Wagner
Perkins
M Johnson
Schwindenhammer
M Moanaroa
Hernandez
Danforth
Williams P

The most interesting name in this lineup is Mark Wagner. Wagner, a ninth round pick in the 2005 draft and former top-catching prospect in the Red Sox Organization has spent the last few weeks in extended spring training. The catch: he’s healthy.

Wagner was on the 40-man roster, but was designated for assignment to make room for Michael McKenry, whom the Red Sox got in the Daniel Turpen trade. (Turpen was selected by the Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft. He did not remain on the 40-man roster, so he was returned to the Red Sox, and they traded him to the Rockies organization).

I spoke to Wagner briefly after the game. He is very polite, and he had a good attitude about everything. He said that he was just playing games, but I got the vibe that he didn’t really know what his status was with the organization. There is really no room for him at this point in the organization. Christian Vazquez and Carson Blair are in Greenville; Dan Butler is the primary catcher in Salem; Ryan Lavarnway and Tim Federowicz are splitting time behind the plate and as the designated hitter in Portland; and Exposito and McKenry are splitting time in Pawtucket.

If anything, I think Wagner is a guy that some of the younger catchers can talk to.

I picked a great day to go because I was able to see Jennel Hudson take the mound for the first time in two years. He has been plagued with arm injuries for the past two seasons, and has been recovering from Tommy John surgery.

His father, Frank, was at the game, and I found out that Jennel has taken a rather unique path. He didn’t actually play baseball in high school or college. He played little league, but not at a young age.

He only threw one inning because it was his first time facing live batters in over two years. He faced four batters in the first inning; though the first batter would have been out had the defense made the play.

He threw 14 pitches, nine of which were for strikes. He hit his second batter, but it seemed like his concentration was broken because of the runner. Obviously, I’m not too concerned with his command or anything like that because it’s his first start in two years. The only reason I included his strikes/pitches ratio was because it was so impressive. I just wanted to see him throw; but the fact that he was throwing a lot of strikes was encouraging.

Jason Garcia piggy-backed Hudson, and he threw at least five innings (I don’t have the exact number because I was walking back and forth between the fields). It seemed like he was leaving the ball up in the zone a bit because hitters were tagging the ball when they hit it.

Garcia was kind enough to speak with me after the game, and the interview will be up on the SoxProspects website within the coming weeks. I knew this before, but talking to him extensively confirmed my thoughts on him. At this point, I couldn’t care less if he gives up one run or 14. He was a guy that dominated in high school: he could miss his spot and hitters couldn’t catch up to it. But Garcia is adjusting to a completely new level; he is more evenly matched. Hitters will take advantage of his mistakes now, and he has to learn how to adjust, which he will. He has already added some velocity to his fastball, and he is very coach-able.

Henry Ramos, a fifth round pick in 2010, injured his knee when he crashed into the fence trying to make a leaping catch in center field. He didn’t get back up, and he was carted off the field. He had an ice pack on his left knee, and he was limping for the rest of the day. The trainers kept mum about the injury, only telling me stuff I already knew: “he crashed into the fence and injured his knee.” At this point, I don’t know the extent of his injury, but SoxProspects’ Jon Singer reports, “his knee is swollen, but it looks like he avoided a major injury.”

A couple of other notes from the hitting side now:

Xander Bogaerts is going to emerge onto a lot of people’s radars this year. He plays shortstop, and he is absolutely fantastic defensively. In the Dominican Summer League last year, he hit .314 with an on base percentage of .386. One thing I was a bit skeptical of was his swing. It seemed like he wasn’t following through, and that he was almost stopping short.

Garin Cecchini seems like he has really good mechanics, and he has a solid swing. He waits for his pitches, but he isn’t afraid to be aggressive. In his first at-bat, he launched a stand-up triple, which was nearly an inside the park home run. In his second at-bat, he hit a deep fly ball, which was caught, on the first pitch he saw. I feel like his mechanics are good enough for Greenville, but I don’t blame the Red Sox for taking it slowly with him considering he didn’t see pitches for a year after tearing he ACL. I think he is really going to impress a lot of people in Lowell this year.

Trygg Danforth, a 49th round pick, possesses a lot of power potential, but the mechanics aren’t fully there yet. He has a really big swing, and he doesn’t keep his hands in. Nevertheless, he connected for a home run.

I noticed a similar issue with Beau Bishop, who was signed as a catcher out of New Zealand. Interestingly enough, he was playing third base. I wonder if the Red Sox are considering switching him to an infielder.

Speaking of Oceania, I had the pleasure of meeting Brad Tippett, an Australian native and a pitcher in the Twins organization who is currently rehabbing. He had a nerve problem in his arm, and he ended up having to get a rib removed. He had pitched well in the minor leagues so far–compiling a 3.04 ERA over the last five seasons–and is now hoping for a spot to open in the Fort Myers Miracle, the High-A affiliate of the Twins.

One more thing in general that I noticed. At this level, outfielders don’t know how to read trajectories yet, so they have really odd approaches to fly balls. At the upper levels, outfielders have to be able to read and adjust to the spin on the ball, but these guys are still developing that skill.   

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celestino (P)

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

Cevenka P

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

Pressly (P)

Portland
Dent
Hazelbaker
Almanzar
Butler
Mailman
Place
Bermudez
Hedman
Gentile

Pawtucket
Lin
Tejeda
Middlebrooks
Lavarnway
Bates
Padron
Thomas
Hassan
Sheely

Fife P

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

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

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

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

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

Miles Head hit a double into right-center.

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

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

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

Ryan Lavarnway threw a runner out at second.

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

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

Tales from Exit 138: Baseball as a Surreality

At times, I have referred to baseball as a type of pseudo-reality. But there are certain special moments where it is more of a surreality than anything else. Sometimes my experiences seem unreal to me because they are completely unexpected. Although I certainly have a memory for certain plays, specific pitching performances, and first major-league hits that I like to bring up when I’m talking with a player; it seems that my fondest memories of the game come from my experiences off the field.

Monday was my third trip to Fort Myers in a week, and when I came to think about it, three trips to Fort Myers already equals half my total of last year. I think that I am especially eager to spend as much time as possible there this year because it is my last spring in which I have the liberty to go up almost whenever I want. The funny part is that games haven’t even started yet; and even though 90% of the workouts is simply watching drills, I really don’t mind. I think that I developed even more of an appreciation for these meticulous drills after having attended the Fall Instructional League

The last two times I was at the complex, I took a mental note on where the best places were to stand for picture opportunities (these mental notes were taken while I was standing in what was probably the most inconvenient place possible). I stationed myself close to where most of the position players walk out to stretch. My observations paid off as I was able to snag what I like to call “good morning pictures” with Nate Spears, Andrew Miller, and Michael Bowden.
Nate Spears
Andrew Miller
Michael Bowden 2I will always have a specific affinity towards Michael Bowden because he was my first interview, and that interview really inspired everything I do today.

As I was doing my rounds and watching the early morning drills, I was approached by Colin, a camera man for WEEI. He asked if I wrote a blog about the Red Sox, and the reason why he recognized me is because every time he googles a Red Sox prospect, my blog comes up. We talked for a bit, and he asked me if I would be interested in doing an interview for WEEI later. It is always a surreal experience to be recognized from my blog or twitter.

One of the drills I enjoyed watching the most was the situational run down drills. A runner would be placed at one of the bases, and the ball would be hit to a random spot in the infield, and everyone had to adjust accordingly. I was happy to see Junichi Tazawa participating after having Tommy John surgery nearly a year ago.
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Then, I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to Peter Gammons. Mr. Gammons follows me on twitter, so I introduced myself as “@redsoxgirl46” before introducing myself as Elizabeth. I actually find it quite amusing that some people recognize me more by my twitter name than my actual name, and I think that this is indicative of the changing times. A similar experience happened when I met Mike Antonellis, the radio broadcaster for the Sea Dogs, when I was working in Portland. Mr. Cameron introduced me as Elizabeth, which I clarified as “redsoxgirl46 from Twitter,” and Mike was immediately familiar.

Mr. Gammons and I actually talked a lot about the changing industry and how everything is moving towards the online medium. We also talked about the importance of networking in this day and age. It was definitely interesting to hear his perspective on this shift because he has been a pioneer in the sports writing industry. I really appreciated his taking the time to talk to me.

Nearly all of the pitchers went in earlier than usual today (around 10:30), but many of the position players took extended batting practice until nearly 12:30. While this was going on, I was interviewed by Robert Bradford of WEEI about what I enjoy about spring training and my blog and its goals. It was kind of surreal being interviewed out of the blue like that, but now that I think about it, I guess that’s how the players feel when I approach them. The interview will be up sometime next week.

The last batting practice drill of the day was a situational hitting drill, which I had never seen before. Before my interview with Anthony Rizzo this summer, I hadn’t really realized that guys try to hit to certain areas of the ballpark depending on where the runners are. When there was a runner on third, it was incredible for me to see the hitter try to get under the ball a little bit more to induce a sacrifice fly.
Josh Reddick 2
Lars Anderson 2
After they finished, Josh Reddick and Lars Anderson were kind enough to stop to take pictures with me. I was able to congratulate Anderson on his first major-league hit, which came on a 94-mph fastball off of Matt Garza.

After that, the workout was essentially done, so my dad and I headed back to the stadium for autographs (and by that I mean pictures) with some of the minor league players. We were on the last bus. Kyle Weiland, Daniel Nava, Tim Federowciz, Luis Exposito, and Che-Hsuan Lin were signing. I had some special stuff to show Weiland and Nava. For Weiland, I had my score sheet from the game where he struck out eight batters and retired 20 straight, and for Nava, I had my notes from his Double-A debut. 

The line moved at a glacially slow pa
ce, but it was worth the wait. I always assume that players won’t remember me, but there are few things in this world that make me happier when they stop me mid-explanation of who I am, implying that they remember me.
Kyle Weiland 2
It was great to see Weiland again and just tell him that I was really looking forward to his season. He is working on adding a cutter (or bringing it back from his college days) to his already fabulous arsenal of a fastball, changeup, and slider. I offered him the scorecard for sentimental value, but he said that the Sea Dogs keep books and books of statistics. He said that he really appreciated it though.
Daniel Nava
I could tell that Daniel Nava was really into my game notes once he finally figured out what it was, and read through them a bit.
Tim Federowicz
It was great to meet Tim Federowicz, though we didn’t get a chance to chat for long. I asked him how to pronounce his last name for future reference, but I think that will always be a name that I will have my own pronunciation for.
Luis Exposito 3
It was great to see Luis Expostio again. I already have his signature so I just shook his hand. We were being rushed along so I only got to shake Che-Hsuan Lin’s hand, and I proceeded to drop some of my papers all over the place.

Something that I especially enjoy is meeting and talking to people who
read my blog (which doesn’t happen that often). This spring I have had the pleasure of meeting Helen,
Melissa, and her son Christopher. And talking to them has really shown
me baseball’s perpetual ability to foster connections and unite people. 

One of the things that I love about spring training is that it always reminds me why I write, and this has been especially important this year with all of the discouraging college news. It has made me realize that I could not care less about their opinions about me. I’ll take Lars Anderson asking “How’s your blog?” or a recognition from Kyle Weiland or a “your blog comes up every time I google a prospect” over a college acceptance letter any day of the week. I didn’t start this blog so I could put it on my college application; I started this blog because I love baseball.

I probably won’t get up to anymore major league squad workouts, but I am very excited to start covering the minor league workouts as soon as next weekend.    

Tales from Exit 138: Fog on the Barrow Downs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More stories to come from the Fort tomorrow!

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.

Spring Training: My Coming of Age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portland Press Pass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E:Favorite ballpark? (Majors, then minors) 

AR: Fenway/Hadlock Field

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

AR: Babe Ruth

E: Biggest transition from aluminum to wooden bats?

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

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

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

 E: Favorite video game, movie, and food

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

E: Favorite restaurant in Miami? 

AR: Cafe Bella Sera

Ryan Khoury Interview

E: Favorite team growing up? 

RK: Seattle Mariners

E: Favorite player? 

RK: Ken Griffey Jr

E: Did you try to emulate his stance? 

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

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

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

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

E: Hardest level transition? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RK: Ken Griffey Jr. or Bob Gibson

E: Favorite video game, movie, food. 

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

E: Biggest fear? 

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

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

Kyle Weiland interview

E: Favorite food, movie, book, video game

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

E: Biggest fear? 

KW: Drowning

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

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

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

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

E: Did you ever bat in college? 

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

E: Do you miss it? 

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

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

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

E:Superstitions? 

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

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

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

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

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

*This is where my makeshift recorder dies* 

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

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

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

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

E: Toughest level jump and why? 

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

E: What do you mean by that? 

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

E: Biggest thing you got out of spring training? 

KW: Watching the big leaguers. 

E: Hobbies in down time? 

KW: Video games and guitar

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

KW: Finishing my anthropology major. 

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

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

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