Keeping the Faith
Juan Pedro Villaman, in his eighth season as the club's Spanish-speaking announcer, died early Monday morning in a car accident north of Boston as he was returning home from the team's weekend series in New York. He was 46.
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"As the Red Sox' popularity in the Latino community surged in recent years -- with stars like David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez -- J.P. became a star in local and international baseball circles," Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino said in a press release. "They knew him as Papa Oso (Papa Bear) and they sensed through his broadcasts what those around the team saw every day; he loved the game and he loved his Red Sox."
As a unilingual Anglo, I do not listen to the Spanish broadcasts. I have, however, heard positive comments about the quality of our Spanish broadcasters. This is a terrible loss for J.P.'s listeners, co-workers, the Red Sox family, and most importantly his wife and children.
It's four days late but here nonetheless, a report on last weekend's trek. The rainy weather and unseasonably chilly temperatures did nothing to dampen the spirits of the Triumphant Red Sox Fan and thousands of others who descended en masse upon Main Street in Cooperstown, New York, for a long weekend in celebration of the national pastime.
Among the revelers who swarmed the village over the long weekend were singles, couples, and families, fans young and old. The T.R.S.F. estimates Sox fans comprised at least 90% of the crowd, owing mostly to the appearance of our champs in Monday's Hall of Fame exhibition game, but the opponent Detroit Tigers had a smattering of fans present too. Other teams' jerseys, hats, and jackets were rare.
The sistahs and I made a major get-together of it. Booklady, MrsBeasley, and Rainbowgirl converged from points north and south and headed out the Mass Pike together. SoxCruiser and her husband 941827 made the trip from southern New Hampshire. Brenken flew in from Fort Myers, Florida. MNTekFan made the big drive from Minneapolis. They all arrived at various times Saturday afternoon. I joined them Sunday after attending my cousin's wedding Saturday evening.
To say a good time was had by all is an understatement. In addition to eating, drinking, and general merrymaking, we had plenty of baseball-related run
The Hall. Renovations are complete at the Hall of Fame Museum, and it is beautiful. The entry lobby, once obscured by the old ticket windows, is now wide open and welcoming. Armand LaMontagne's life-size wood carvings of Ted Williams and Babe Ruth flank glass panels that give a glimpse of the Hall of Fame Gallery, the last part of the Hall you see if you see it "in order."
The main exhibits, tracing the chronology of baseball, are more or less unchanged, and why not? Ty Cobb, Cy Young, Honus Wagner, and Lou Gehrig remain among the all-time greats. Where things have changed, the exhibits reflect it, such as in the section depicting the beginnings of the game. One "new" artifact is a copy of a 1790's ordinance enacted by the residents of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, prohibiting the playing of baseball within a specified distance of town hall.
The 2004 World Series exhibit remains a favorite of visitors. The display now includes a championship ring, presented prior to the Hall of Fame Game and inscribed with "Commissioner" where the player's name would be. It's a large piece of jewelry, but more wearable than the Marlins' 2003 ring and less gaudy than any ring since the Yankees began their World Series run in 1995.
Unexpected treasures await alert visitors throughout the museum. Nestled in the corner of the team locker room is a door, held slightly ajar, with "Manager's Office" painted on it. A peek inside shows a desk with lamp, telephone, assorted papers, and a radio. You almost expect a major league manager to be sitting inside, studying opponents' statistics. The Red Sox locker features two bats used by Bill Mueller to hit grand slams from both sides of the plate in a 3-homer game, and the cleats worn by Derek Lowe when he pitched a no-hitter.
And how many of you knew (without my having told you) that the quintessential baseball song, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," was written about a female fan?
The Parade. Every Hall of Fame game for years and years has been preceded by a parade down Main Street between Cooper Park, next to the Hall of Fame Library, and Doubleday Field, site of the game. It features antique cars, people from community organizations donning costumes and tossing candy to bystanders, and of course players from the two participating teams riding in trolleys. Our boys looked a little tired (who wouldn't after flying to Albany that morning and then riding on a bus for an hour and a half?) but several of them managed to smile and wave. I spied Trot Nixon, Johnny Damon, Mark Bellhorn, David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, and Bill Mueller, to name just a few. I called out to Billy and he was kind enough to smile for a picture, and Papi responded to my "thumbs up" with two of his own. A special treat in the parade was Johnny Pesky riding in one of the antique cars and flashing his World Series ring as he went by.
The Game. The Tigers won 6-4 with a walk-off homer, but that wasn't important. Several of the major league regulars started the game and played an inning or two before being subbed for by minor leaguers brought in just for the occasion. Pinch hitters during the game included bullpen coach Bill Haselman, front office staffer Peter Chase, Manny's friend Eno Guerrero, and third base coach Dale Sveum, who not only got a single but also subbed for Youkilis at first base later in the game and had a put-out. Damon played catch with the folks in the bleachers early in the game, coached third base for an inning (everyone got the steal sign), and even flagged down a concessioner in the stands to buy a hot dog. Though I'm sure many of the players would rather have had a day off on their off-day, they were all good sports and seemed as entertained as we were.
The Other Festivities. The Hall had the World Series trophy on display, so naturally I pressed another visitor into service to photograph me in front of it. Make this the fifth time I have seen the trophy in person and the second time I've been photographed with it. Even though touching and kissing were not permitted this time, I think the picture is pretty good, don't you agree?
On the morning of the game, I attended a Hall of Fame "Legends Series" event featuring Hall of Famers Bobby Doerr and Robin Roberts, as well as executives Charles Steinberg of the Red Sox and Dave Dombrowski of the Tigers. Steinberg is a real baseball philosopher, talking about the purity of the game shining through the scandals involving gambling and steroids. Dombrowski is typically pragmatic as a general manager, but not nearly as attractive as our Theo. Doerr and Roberts were remarkable in their humility; both of them, when asked about their greatest experiences in baseball, described the thrill of seeing and playing with other greats of the game.
Ortiz was the runaway winner of the pre-game home run derby, Bobby Doerr and Dominic DiMaggio greeted children running the bases after the game, and the weather held out all day. We even had rather significant periods of sunshine. After the day's events and a spectacular dinner, we ventured back to the Hall to view the World Series ring up close and personal. To say it is beautiful is an understatement, though I was disappointed I couldn't get a picture of it next to the Marlins' 2003 abomination. The best I could do was show the 2003 ring side-by-side with the Angels' ring from 2002, which is about the same size as the Sox' ring.
No trip to Cooperstown is quite complete without a little window shopping. The stretch of Main Street between the Hall and the ball field is lined with small eateries, souvenir shops, and the occasional specialty shop that has nothing to do with baseball. I left the trip to the baseball was museum to a couple of my friends, and I didn't buy any tickets to the various autograph signings, though I did pop a picture of Pesky just prior to his signing session. The next time I'm in town, I hope to check out a dollhouse shop just off the beaten path that was closed by the time I got there.
Did I mention that I get free admission to the Hall and a 10% discount on gift shop purchases? You can too, and support the Hall at the same time, by joining Friends of the Hall of Fame. (Do me a personal favor and list me in the "referred by" section.)
Why aren't you beside yourself, incredulous friends are asking me. Why aren't you ready to concede the season? After all, the Red Sox are five games out of first place. Worse yet, they're in fourth place. We're almost two months into the season, the pitching staff is falling apart, and half the starters are hitting like little leaguers (no offense intended to little leaguers). It's time to panic, they tell me.
Hey, I don't like the recent spate of lousy play any better than the next gal. There is no doubt many things have to change. The difference between me and the people out on the ledge is that I know it won't last.
Last June, this team played .440 baseball. At the end of the month, they were 7.5 games out of first place and falling, it seemed, into an inescapable abyss. A chorus of sports writers and New Yorkers were writing them off. And yet they pulled themselves together, not perfectly, but well enough to win a championship. And they did it in three months, one month less than they have to work with from today until the end of the season. I am confident that they can do it and probably will.
That doesn't mean I don't see the problem areas. Pitching is my biggest concern, as it should be. David Wells has yet to prove himself still effective on a consistent basis, Curt Schilling's return date from ankle problems is up in the air, and Keith Foulke has yet to get his act together. Foulke, rumor has it, is going through personal problems that may be affecting his concentration. Rumors promulgated by the Boston Dirt Dogs this week that he has consulted with a shoulder specialist have been debunked, but I can't rule out the possibility of some nagging injury that is contributing to his difficulties. Wells may have come back from his DL stint a bit too fast, and I fear that Curt might push it as well.
The hitting is problematic as well, but not necessarily for the reasons fans are contending. Everyone is on Edgar Renteria's case because of his low batting average, but his current average of .257 is 37 points higher than Manny Ramirez'. Many of the same people criticize Mark Bellhorn for his high strikeout numbers, but he's getting on base at a higher rate than Manny. Not to pick on Manny, but no one is screaming for his head on a platter or complaining that we're paying him too much.
We're not doing much better in the field. In the lower half in fielding percentage among those playing each position are Renteria (dead last among shortstops) and Kevin Millar. Jason Varitek is throwing out only 24% of baserunners attempting to steal.
But let's not lose sight of what's good. For all the pitching problems, Bronson Arroyo and Matt Clement are both maintaining very respectable earned run averages well under 3.50. Clement is even in the top 10 in the American League in strikeouts. The bright spot offensively continues to be Johnny Damon, currently 3rd in the league in batting average, with Varitek and Trot Nixon joining him above .300. Manny is 3rd in RBI with David Ortiz tied for 8th. Bill Mueller is 5th in on-base percentage, with Trot, Johnny, Varitek, and Ortiz also in the top 20. There are even reasons to smile in the field, where Bellhorn and Mueller are each second in the league in fielding percentage for their respective positions. Manny, while not the strongest arm we've ever had in left field, hasn't made an error, not has Trot in right. We have John Olerud just joining the team with defensive capabilities that will make him a more than adequate sub for Millar at first base. And behind all that, we have an ever-strengthening farm system that gives us some flexibility in handling players who may have to be moved.
I often say that I will not start criticizing until June. We're almost there, and it is obvious that certain things need to be improved. But let's not throw the baby out with the bath water. There are plenty of positives on which to build, more than enough reason to believe that some of those players currently slumping will pull out of it, and the possibility of trades to fix what's left. As I have become fond of saying, trust Theo, who knows things others don't. More importantly, he isn't afraid to correct a mistake when necessary.
So be concerned, because there are reasons to be; we can all be sure those concerns will be addressed in due time. But panic? Not me.
Imagine being so defined by the misery of others that when they aren't miserable any more, you feel the need to imagine they are. Such is life in post-choke Yankeeland.
Nowhere is this phenomenon better exemplified than in Murray Chass' recent New York Times column.The headline"Exorcism Is Not Complete Until Red Sox Win the A.L. East"says it all. Yankees fans are clinging to the notion of some kind of curse because they need to believe the Red Sox can't win. Never mind that they won last year, steamrolling over the Yankees in historic fashion along the way. There needs to be a curse, still, because Yankees fans feel worthless and impotent without one.
That article was published last Monday. Today, on the first day on which the Yankees are ahead of the Red Sox in the standings, Yankees fans listening to Boston sports radio have a sudden onset of collective diarrhea of the mouth. "It's over!" they assert. Why? Because the Yankees are ahead of the Red Sox. By half a game. Three days before Memorial Day.
Not that I can blame them. When you have nothing to smile about, you use what you have. Or you make something up. Should be a good weekendand more importantly, a good rest of the season.
Desperado, is how I can describe it, as the Now-Reeling NY Yankees, whose fans are, at best, bandwagoners, as, from my observation, in NYC, find that Yankee Nation, is based in NJ, & how many of the young punks, who sport Yankees Gear, would actually set foot in YS.
I remember going to the Boston212 Cafe', @ 79 Madison Avenue, & get a verball assaulting from a bunch of High School Hooligans, who couldn't even spell Yankees, who told me that I had better watch it walking in NYC with a Red Sox Cap. I chanted, in a Neo-Brooklyn Accent(Born there in '55 & was 9 months old when Brooklyn Dodgers won the World Series) "Year 2000', which silenced this posse', I was quite-satisfied that 2 members of Red Sox Nation, were right behind the jerks & High-Fived me.
Nice to know that the East Side of Manhattan+the Latin American Community in NYC, most-often Sides With The Red Sox & NY Mets, a team which gives me the same levels of enjoyment & angst.
I have found that if someone is sporting a Mets cap, in NYC, he or she is more-likely to go to a game at Shea Stadium, than someone sporting a Yankees Cap, going to Yankee Stadium. The Yankees cap, is more-often, worn out of vanity, than anything else.
Kelly, my new blog, includes a thanks to you. It's @ http://randomfandomredsoxnyc.blogspot.com .
In Boston, you have 'EEI; In Ny, we have 'FAN, home to "Imus in The Morning", & other assorted Sports Jackals.
The Most-Offending Show on Radio, for Yankee fans to pour out their tears & complaints, is the YES Network-Simulcast of "Mike & The Mad Dog", about the equivalent of "Dennis & Callahagn", on 'EEI.
Streams of Yankee Callers, would call in to bemoan "The Curse of DORA", or say stupid things about The Red Sox not winning The AL East Crown, & get Sympathetic Treatment from Mike Francessa.
Chris "Mad Dog" Russo, has the kind of voice, that would annoy alley cats. It's 5 hours of Idiocy on air.
My activity on this forum, in particular updates to the team stats page, will be on hold for the next few days. After tonight's game, the next updates I post will be on Tuesday, May 24.
In the interim, I will be at a family wedding and then off to Cooperstown, New York, for a wonderful weekend of baseball at the Hall of Fame with my Red Sox girlfriends. It's Hall of Fame Game weekend, which next to Induction Weekend is probably the most exciting time to be there. In addition to touring the newly-renovated Hall of Fame museum, I plan to check out the following special events:
The only disappointments are be my inability to secure tickets to another Legends Series event with Doerr, Dominic DiMaggio, and Johnny Pesky, and the lousy weather forecast for game day. Weather.com calls for 50% chance of precipitation, high 55°F; the National Weather Service forecasts showers likely, 60% chance of precip, high in the mid 50s; and AccuWeather.com, the best of the bunch, predicts variable cloudiness with a shower in spots, high 57°F. If I have my pick, I'll settle for that last one.
The bright spot in the weekend's series loss to the Seattle Mariners was Manny Ramirez' 400th career home run.
Call me hyper-sensitive, but I don't think the achievement got the attention it should have. When Carl Yastrzemski was in pursuit of #400, it was big-deal news. Granted, it seemed to take him forever to reach the mark (think Roger Clemens trying to notch his 300th career win, and trying, and trying) but Manny's accomplishment is no less because he did it the day after he got #399.
As a matter of fact, a quick comparison to other sluggers of note suggests that Manny deserves accolades beyond those afforded to some of baseball's greatest sluggers. After all, at age 32, Manny is eight years younger than Yaz was when he reached the same milestone. If Yaz had homered at the same per-game rate as Manny, he would have finished his career with 842 home runs instead of the 452 he had. Ted Williams would have had 58 more career homers if he had hit them at Manny's pace. All-time home run king Hank Aaron would have hit 84 more homers. Recent home run machine Barry Bonds is ahead of Manny's pace but only slightly; projected out to the same number of games played as Bonds, Manny would have 691 dingers to Bonds' 703. And unlike Bonds, whose dramatic spike in slugging occurred suspiciously late in his career, Manny's production has been pretty consistent throughout his career so far.
I was watching that game, on FSN-Pacific Northwest. Too Bad the Red Sox Lost The Game, to that pack of Underachievers, in Seattle.
I hate to be negative, I really do, especially after a series sweep and another dramatic win. It was a beautiful day at the old ballpark, a rare weekday afternoon game (on account of getaway day) that featured one more outstanding performance by Matt Clement, a Manny home run, and three RBI by Captain Tek on the way to taking three straight from the struggling Oakland A's. There was so much that was good in today's game and this series that I truly hate to focus on what's bad.
Simply put, Keith Foulke is a problem. I was willing to chalk up his poor April to a slow start. But it's now mid-May, and our closer's earned run average is 8. OK, strictly speaking it's 7.94, but really, that .06 run per 9 innings isn't helping much.
It doesn't seem to be a lack of confidence or a Loweian tendency to come undone when things go wrong. Today's blown save came with two out in the 9th, but prior meltdowns have been followed by getting the outs to end the inning. Nor does Foulke seem unable to locate his pitches. He has had a couple few good outings, including two recent appearances against Detroit and one against Seattle, that prove he can get the job done.
But his velocity is down. Hitters are picking up his pitches and jumping on them. It makes me wonder if he's hurt, some kind of nagging quasi-injury that he's trying to work through. I can't imagine this hasn't occurred to Dave Wallace and the trainers, who presumably have questioned and examined him. If there is something wrong, I like to think they would have found it. What I hope isn't happening is Foulke's trying to tough it out and keep playing. By now it should be clear that such an approach is costly to the team.
Let's face it: key elements of the Sox offense are struggling, and while it's exciting for the fans in the seats to see emotional comeback wins, it isn't fair to expect that game after game. Closers are paid to ensure that such expectations aren't necessary. If Foulke doesn't start coming through on a more consistent basis very soon, he'll find himself out of the closer's spot with no guarantee when (or if) he'll get back in.
If someone had told you at the beginning of the season that the Sox would lose two of their starters to the DL, their starting shortstop with a bruised finger, their starting third baseman with the flu, their starting second baseman with the flu, and their starting left fielder with two beanball injuries in short succession... yet be 6 games over .500, would you have believed them? I wouldn't have. I'd have been crying the blues like any seasoned Red Sox would, World Series victory notwithstanding.
Yet that's exactly the position we're in at the moment. 19-13, pending the results of tonight's game in progress. We're playing solid baseball even without the expected contributions of the players who aren't hurt (Millar, Mueller, Manny, Bellhorn). And I'm not just talking about Johnny Damon, currently on a hot streak of epic proportions. I'm talking about the lesser lights, the ones no one would count on to save the day. Youkilis subbing ably for Mueller, Mueller for Bellhorn, Vazquez for Renteria, Payton for Ramirez (or Johnny or Trot, depending on who's pitching for the other team). The 3-4-5 of our rotation pitching like 1, 1a, and 2. Jeremi Gonzalez, brought up for emergency starts and pitching like his life depended on it. Wade Miller coming back sooner than hoped and pitching better than advertised in his first start.
This is depth the likes of which I do not recall in my long tenure as a Red Sox fan. It certainly didn't happen in the more recent days of Dan Duquette, when one ace (a certain former Red Sox pitcher who shall not be named) and a bunch of retreads constituted an effective starting staff, when the biggest position player acquisitions were Mike Lansing and Jose Offerman.
Never mind who we have in our farm system ready to come up in the next year or two. Outfielder George Lombard, impressive in spring training, who is a bit cool offensively so far but has stolen 7 bases for . Shortstop/possible outfielder Hanley Ramirez, lighting up AA Portland. AAA catcher Kelly Shoppach, whose long-term role in the organization became a little more uncertain with the signing of Jason Varitek to a long-term contract, but who will potentially be the key should Varitek be hobbled by injury.
What other team, facing the difficulties this team has faced so far in 2005, would be doing as well? Not many, if any. Certainly not our division competitors, all of whom are below us in the standings with the exception of the entirely healthy Orioles.
If our guys can hold their own under such circumstances, imagine what they'll do when we get over this bump. It promises to be excitingand winningbaseball.
On the same day the Red Sox designated healthy infielder/outfield/pitcher David McCarty for assignment, they have signed the surgically-repaired John Olerud to a minor league contract. Olerud, widely regarded as a fine defensive first baseman even though his offensive production is no longer what it once was, is expected to be Kevin Millar's backupwhen he's healthy enough to join the big club.
The move was necessitated by the promotion of righty Jeremi Gonzalez to start tonight's game in Detroit. Gonzalez is being asked to fill a big hole in the rotation caused by injuries to David Wells and Curt Schilling. My prediction last week that southpaw Lenny DiNardo would make a spot start obviously didn't pan out, though DiNardo is on the current 25-player roster. The decision about who will take Bronson Arroyo's start when he begins serving his suspension is still pending and will most likely be a last-minute decision based on who is healthy and performing well at the time.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the infield, third baseman Bill Mueller appears to finally be healthy after a nasty bout with the flu. That's the good news. The bad news is that Mueller gave his virus to Mark Bellhorn. While you might think that Ramon Vazquez would be used at second base (I did), last night saw Mueller at second and fan favorite Kevin Youkilis at third. Youk can also spot Millar at first if need be, while Vazquez remains available to cover shortstop for Edgar Renteria.
The Sox' outfield has been remarkably stable during the roller-coaster ride that was April. Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, and Trot Nixon have committed a combined two errors (Nixon doesn't have one so far), though Damon is the only one of the three who is really producing offensively. Fourth outfielder Jay Payton has subbed at all three outfield positions so far, but thankfully it hasn't been because of injuries or illness. Also healthy are the catching "rotation" of Varitek and Mirabelli, who have yet to allow a passed ball.
Barring further injuries, the next major roster move may very well be the activation of Wade Miller, who continues to make progress in his rehabilitation assignment with AAA Pawtucket.