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Saturday, March 31, 2007

  I Like the New MLB Gameday

Beginning another season without cable TV, I once again rely on other modes of game-watching. One old standby, which has the added benefit of being accessible to me at work for the occasional weekday afternoon game, is MLB's Gameday feature, available free on MLB.com. Games underway are listed at the top of the list on the left of the screen. Click on the icon next to the score to open the Gameday window.

If you've never used Gameday, give it a try. The top left of the window shows a graphical representation of the field with names of all fielders, the pitcher, the batter, and all baserunners, as well as a mark indicating the location and result of the play just completed. Mouse-over any player's name on the field graphic to see his stats for the game (fielding/pitching stats for the fielding team, batting/baserunning stats for the hitting team).

Under the field graphic are game details, set to your liking. Choose pitch-by-pitch or play-by-play, or view scoring plays. You can also see details by pitcher. Details are available for any inning.

The middle of the screen is devoted to what is happening now. The top panel shows the current pitcher and current batter, along with information new this year showing, again graphically, what the pitcher did with the previous batters faced and what the batter did in prior at-bats. Under all that is a graphical representation of the at-bat, with new options to see the graphic from the point of view of either the pitcher or the batter. The graphic shows the strike zone and marks each pitch of the at-bat, showing placement as well as whether it was a ball, strike, or ball put into play.

At the right of the window is a live box score, updated after each batter. All the customary box score data is available, including the numbers of pitches, balls, and strikes by each pitcher plus ground outs vs. fly outs.

Gameday adds a new feature or two each year, and the 2007 version is the best yet. Stats freaks, scorekeepers, and the like will find it a satisfying way to follow a game, whether or not they can also watch on television or listen to the radio broadcast.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 1

I wish I had the guts to get rid of cable. I hate Time Warner.
Hey, where did you get your Countdown clock?

Friday, March 30, 2007

  Unbridled Optimism from Down East

Some of my concerns about this year's incarnation of the Red Sox have been documented in this blog as well as in conversations with baseball friends on other web sites. I feel good about more elements of the team than I feel bad about, but after last season, I wouldn't dream of going so far as to make championship predictions.

Ernie Clark of Maine's Bangor Daily News has no such reservations.

Not only could this be the year, it will be the year for the Boston Red Sox.

I guarantee it.

Excuse me, waiter? Bring me whatever he's having.

Is Clark being optimistic or satirical? It's hard to tell. He acknowledges the team's weaknesses or question marks: its "mystery" bullpen, "unproven second baseman Dustin Pedroia, a lack of quality depth at catcher behind the aging Jason Varitek," the question of "whether center fielder Coco Crisp is an emergent star or mere enigma," not to mention "whether $70 million right fielder J.D. Drew eventually will succumb to injury or $100 million pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka will live up to the hype or the money, or how the Red Sox will respond to the inevitable Manny Ramirez moment."

Yeah, those are problems. So what, in Clark's estimation, is the good news? He cites the top two-third of the batting order as a potential "run-producing machine" (presuming Julio Lugo and J.D. Drew come through as hoped) and the "quality and depth" of the starting rotation, led by Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, and Daisuke Matsuzaka. He points to Tim Wakefield's "[consuming] his typical 200 innings" and pulls hard for success from Julian Tavarez and Jon Lester. Plus, of course, Jonathan Papelbon.

If everyone does well, "well" being defined as what they've done in the past or in some cases a little more, and if everyone stays healthy, a big wish after late 2006, and if Mike Timlin gets and stays healthy, and if Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen figure out how to do what we have long believed they would do, then Clark's prediction may be right. But those are a lot of ifs.

I admire Ernie Clark for his faith, truly I do. I share it, to a point. But even I am not a big enough dreamer to so boldly predict—even in jest—a World Championship before the first pitch of the season has been thrown.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 1

Those who "guarantee" usually wind up with egg on their face-just ask Mr. Steinbrenner. Let's hope Ernie is the exception.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

  Must. Buy. Magazine.

The current issue of Boston magazine has an absolutely squeezable picture of David Ortiz on the cover. Even if this online article (basically excerpts from a book co-authored by Ortiz and Boston Herald writer Tony Massarotti) is all there is about Big Papi in the print edition, I will still buy it. How could I not? How can anyone look at that face, know that personality, and witness the on-field heroics we now take for granted and not love the guy? I'll give the magazine this: they know how to sell an issue. And yes, I'll buy the book, which is available for pre-order from Amazon.com.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

  Papa Nomar

Congratulations to sports super-couple Nomar Garciaparra and Mia Hamm, who according to ESPN.com are the parents of newborn twin girls. Garciaparra, the former shortstop who won the American League Rookie of the Year award and two batting titles with the Red Sox, just missed the birth but was with his wife, the former soccer star, telephonically:

"Both are healthy and over 5 pounds," Dodgers spokesman Josh Rawitch said, adding the births took place late Tuesday in the Los Angeles area.

Rawitch said Garciaparra flew from Florida to witness the births, but was in the air when the babies were born.

"He was on a speaker phone with the delivery room speaking with Mia during the births," Rawitch said.

No word on whether the girls were born kicking or compulsively playing with their hands.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

  Urbina the Criminal?

In one of the strangest stories to come out of Major League Baseball in a long time, former Red Sox closer Ugueth Urbina was convicted of assault and attempted murder and sentenced to 14 years in a Venezuelan prison.

The sentencing is the latest chapter in a strange few years for Urbina, whose mother was kidnapped and then rescued several months later.

It was later that year, October 2005, that Urbina was arrested and charged with attacking several workers at his family's ranch, allegedly going after them with machetes and trying to set at least one of the men afire. There appears to be no connection between the incident and the kidnapping. Urbina maintains he was asleep when the attack occurred, and his lawyer seemed to suggest that the pitcher might have ticked off the victims of the assault:

The pitcher's lawyer, Jose Luis Tamayo, has said that Urbina surprised the workers by showing up at his ranch that night while they were bathing in the pool without permission. Urbina spoke sharply to them, but later left and went to sleep, according to Tamayo.

Knowing nothing about the Venezuelan criminal justice system, it's hard to know if Urbina's conviction is a reliable indicator of the truth of the matter. The pitcher isn't known for violence off the field or outbursts on it. He will appeal the criminal conviction but must also contend with a civil trial the victims' lawyer says they will pursue.

Urbina came to the Red Sox from Montreal during the 2001 season. He saved nine games in 2001 and 40 games in 2002, compiling a 2.81 ERA in 80 games.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

  Presenting the 2007 Boston Red Sox

Manager Terry Francona has set his 25-player roster with a little help from three rehabbing pitchers.

With Jon Lester starting April in a minor league rehab assignment, Matt Clement continuing his recovery from shoulder surgery, and Mike Timlin nursing an oblique muscle strain, Francona was able to carry a few relievers who might not have made the cut under ordinary circumstances. Kyle Snyder and Javier Lopez will begin the season in the Boston bullpen along with new acquisitions Brendan Donnelly, Hideki Okajima, Joel Pineiro, and J.C. Romero. To no one's surprise, Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen have been sent to AAA where they will, I hope, finally learn how to be decent, consistent pitchers.

As for position players, the starters are set with Jason Varitek behind the plate, Kevin Youkilis playing first base, Dustin Pedroia at second, free agent pick-up Julio Lugo the new shortstop, and Mike Lowell at third. Eric Hinske and Alex Cora will come off the bench to cover the corners and up the middle, respectively. The starting outfield, left to right, is Manny Ramirez, Coco Crisp, and J.D. Drew, with Wily Mo Peña) as the backup. And of course we have one hell of a clutch designated hitter in David Ortiz.

Jeff Horrigan's Red Sox Notebook in today's Boston Herald points out with only 38 players on the 40-man roster, the Sox have some "maneuverability over the next few days with trades or waiver claims."

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

  Lester to Greenville

Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester, who in December completed chemotherapy treatment for lymphoma, will continue his journey back to baseball with the Greenville (SC) Drive, Boston's Class A affiliate which is managed by former Sox outfielder Gabe Kapler.

The left-hander is slated to make four rehabilitation starts for the Drive of the Class-A South Atlantic League to build his stamina and pitch count.

[ . . . ]

He hasn't pitched in a major-league exhibition game but has appeared in several against minor-league teams.

Lester will pitch in one more minor-league game in Florida before going to the Drive, who begin their season April 5th. Manager Terry Francona didn't say where Lester would go after Greenville.

The Boston Herald reports that Lester will officially be placed on the big club's disabled list today and begin a structured rehab assignment designed to get him into real games while still monitoring his progress.

Four starts will bring him to the last week of April, by which time he could theoretically come up to Boston if they have a place for him and think he is ready. Another possibility is a stint in AAA Pawtucket, again to get more starting time. After that, I'd love to see him take Julian Tavarez' spot in the rotation.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Friday, March 23, 2007

  Forget Brackets, Make Picks that Matter

In the universe where we live, the one in which baseball is life, March Madness means making predictions about our team as a whole and its components individually. To go on the record with you projected batting and pitching stats for each Red Sox player, go fill out Tango on Baseball's Community Forecast form. All you have to do is predict each batter's OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging average) and games played in 2007, and each pitcher's ERA and role. Interestingly, there is no pitching option for "Closer", which lets us off the hook from trying to guess that one for the time being.

Here are my picks, which I have considerately organized by position and then alphabetically to facilitate your looking them up. Keep in mind that when I did this, I did not yet know of the team's decision to put Jonathan Papelbon back into the closer role.

CGeorge Kottaras.720Call-up (1-39 games)Judging from the playing time he has gotten in spring training, Kottaras will be up in September, if not sooner in case of injury to Varitek.
CDoug Mirabelli.570Bench (30-89 games)Mirabelli's career OPS is .731, but was just .595 in 2006. I expect it to go down slightly since he is now 36 years old.
CJason Varitek.750Platoon (90-129 games)Perhaps it's wishful thinking, but I'm counting on a bit more power from our captain than he showed last year, when his OPS was .725.
IFAlex Cora.635Platoon (90-129 games)Cora may get extra playing time if either Lugo or Pedroia struggles. With more regular play should come better numbers, closer to his career OPS of .654.
IFEric Hinske.810Platoon (90-129 games)Hinske did better offensively last year than his career overall, and he is better at Fenway than he is overall. A winning combination.
IFMike Lowell.810Iron Man (150+ games)Lowell's first year in Boston saw him happy, healthy, and performing consistently with his career averages, which should continue in '07.
IFJulio Lugo.760Platoon (90-129 games)His limited numbers at Fenway are slightly off from his average, but I'm hoping for more production as Lugo gets comfortable in his new home. Sort of the anti-Renteria.
IFDustin Pedroia.580Platoon (90-129 games)Ditto Pedroia, whose chance is NOW to prove he's ready for the big time. I hope I'm not being overly optimistic.
IFKevin Youkilis.800Regular (130-149 games)This is a bit of a dip for Youkilis, who may suffer a little let-down after his successful move to first base. Still, this is a healthy OPS, thanks to his many walks.
OFCoco Crisp.750Regular (130-149 games)Without the nagging finger injury, I look for Crisp to improve his OPS, which slightly higher at Fenway than average.
OFJ.D. Drew.840Regular (130-149 games)I'm predicting a drop-off in production as Drew adjusts to the pressure of Boston and a ballpark in which he has never played.
OFBrandon Moss.760Call-up (1-39 games)After watching this kid flex some muscle in Fort Myers, I expect respectable production as a September call-up. He seems anxious to prove himself.
OFDavid Murphy.790Bench (30-89 games)With a little experience at Fenway, Murphy should be more productive this season, especially if he ends up filling in for an injured (or traded?) outfielder.
OFWily Mo Peña.860Bench (30-89 games)I have a feeling we might see Peña traded this year. But if not, I expect his OPS to rise even above last season's which was the second best of his major league career. Reason: he's more comfortable in Boston and at Fenway.
OFManny Ramirez1.020Regular (130-149 games)Since 1999, Ramirez has only one season with an OPS under 1.000. This year will be no different. It's the good part of Manny being Manny.
DHDavid Ortiz1.030Iron Man (150+ games)Papi was listed as an outfielder. Whatever. His OPS has gone up every season since 2001, and while I don't expect it to go up this y ear, it doesn't really have to.
PJosh Beckett3.90Starting RotationHe got through his first year in the AL and lived to tell about it. Now the the adjustment is complete, look for Beckett's ERA to drop, though not to the level of his Marlins days.
PCraig Breslow3.40Call-upWith his major league ERA not too far off from what he did in the minors, Breslow should help the club down the September stretch.
PMatt Clement5.30Mop-up Duty in BlowoutsOK, so it wasn't all in his head. But Clement hasn't thrown a game pitch in months since having shoulder surgery, and he'll be off his stride when he comes back.
PManny Delcarmen5.10Not SureI fear Delcarmen has become what he is going to be as a major leaguer. While I hold out hope that this will be his breakout season, I won't be surprised if it isn't.
PBrendan Donnelly2.90Ace RelieverDonnelly looked good in a couple appearances while I was at spring training, but he's been knocked around since. Still, I have high hopes form him to continue his career as a successful reliever and have, for him, an average ERA.
PKason Gabbard3.207th, 8th Inn./Spot StarterHe struggled when he arrived in AAA last year, but by season's end he was pitching respectably in Boston. Gabbard has also been great this spring.
PDevern Hansack3.30Not SurePressed into emergency service as a starter in the last week of last season, Hansack has one poor game and one great game. He has weathered the spring well and could have an impact later this year.
PCraig Hansen5.70Call-upI have the same concern about Hansen as I do about Delcarmen, but Hansen is younger and may yet develop. After a rough spring, I doubt we'll see him on the big league roster until at least the second half.
PKyle Jackson3.45Call-upHe had good minor league numbers last year, but Jackson is still young, in AA, and will see limited action (if any) in Boston this season.
PJon Lester3.80Ace RelieverFor a young kid, Lester performed adequately in '06, struggling as the season wore on and, it turned out, he was developing cancer. If he managed a 4.76 ERA sick, think what he could do healthy. He'll start the year in AAA, though.
PJavier Lopez5.00Call-upLopez' first and last major league seasons were pretty good, the middle two not so much. Despite a fine spring, I sense a poor '07 if his pattern of inconsistency continues.
PEdgar Martinez4.70Call-upMartinez' minor league ERA has been quite good, but if he's called up from AA or a brief AAA stint, he'll have a bit of culture shock facing major league hitters.
PDaisuke Matsuzaka3.15Starting RotationHe has lived up to the hype throughout the spring. Enough said.
PHideki Okajima3.10Ace RelieverThe new Japanese pitcher without all the hype has been solid in spring training. He's my dark horse candidate for go-to bullpen guy in '07.
PJonathan Papelbon2.40Starting RotationWe now know he won't be starting after all, and we've seen what kind of a closer he can be. I don't predict another ERA under one, but he'll still be better that just about any other AL closer.
PDavid Pauley6.50Not SurePauley's major league ERA is about twice his minor league ERA, but a strong spring leads me to think he is improving. Not sure how much we'll see of him in Boston this year, though.
PJoel Pineiro6.20Mop-up Duty in BlowoutsPineiro's ERA has gone up every season since 2001, so I'm not optimistic.
PJ.C. Romero5.107th, 8th Inn./Spot StarterLooking at Romero's history, it's hard to know what we'll get. He had three strong seasons with Minnesota but struggled with the Angels last year. I predict an ERA a bit above his career average.
PCurt Schilling3.55Starting RotationHe's old, but he has something to prove, i.e. that he's worth a contract for 2007. His spring has been spectacular. And we know what he can do when he gets stubborn.
PKyle Snyder6.10Not SureSnyder is what he is, which is mediocre. He has looked very good in Fort Myers, though, so perhaps I should expect a little better than we got last year. Or not.
PJulian Tavarez4.507th, 8th Inn./Spot StarterSo they say he's taking Papelbon's spot in the rotation. He sure came though late last season. I recommend putting up a calendar in Tavarez' locker where every month says "September."
PMike Timlin4.15Not SureTimlin is 41. He is hurt. I just hope he can contribute something, and sooner rather than later. At least he doesn't have the pressure of having to close.
PTim Wakefield4.60Starting RotationGoing into the second year of his club-option-in-perpetuity contract, Wakefield will give us lots of innings, a three-homer game in one start and six shutout innings the next, and we'll continue to love him.

(Hat tip: The Soxaholix.)

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

  Meet the New Boss Closer, Same as the Old Boss Closer

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a closer. Actually, one could argue that we still have a closer, as no one else was given the job even on paper.

Jonathan Papelbon's conversion from closer to starter didn't last long.

Papelbon is heading back to Boston's bullpen to fill a major void, though he isn't doing it because an injury to Mike Timlin left the Red Sox without a closer.

It seems that in the absence of 1) another reliever's making a strong case for himself, 2) a healthy Mike Timlin, or 3) a trade by Theo, the Sox decided to backtrack on their insistence that the cause of Papelbon's health and success were better served by placing him in the starting rotation. For his part, Papelbon has wanted this all along.

Papelbon made the decision to tell manager Terry Francona how he felt about returning to his closer's role earlier this week after consulting with his family and speaking to catcher Jason Varitek.

[ . . . ]

"This is something I want to do for the rest of my career," he said. "It has nothing to do with Timlin's health or us not having a closer or my shoulder. I broke into the league as a closer. They drafted me as a closer. In college, I learned to pitch in the bullpen. It's where my heart is."

According to discussion on WEEI's Dennis and Callahan show this morning, the Sox plan to manage Papelbon more than they did last year, where he came in sometimes with the bases empty, sometimes with runners on, sometimes at the end of the eighth inning, sometimes at the beginning of the ninth, sometimes throwing 15 pitches, sometimes throwing 40. Mentioned was the example of Tony LaRussa who, while managing Dennis Eckersley and the Oakland Athletics, almost exclusively used Eck in the traditional ninth inning save situation. Such was not necessarily the case with Papelbon last year, and that extra work may have contributed to his late August shoulder trouble.

"He'll be checked, monitored and I'll tell him he's not pitching certain days and he's going to do strengthening exercises," Francona said. "I'd never put a ballclub's best interest ahead of the health of a player."

Ultimately, the ballclub's best interest and the health of the player may be one and the same. Think of the comfort of having a long-term, reliable closing solution. There seems no point in killing the goose that lays the golden egg, eking out a couple more innings early in the season when it means the loss of several more games later.

My opinion is that while I would love to have seen what Papelbon can do as a starter—a role for which he seems especially well suited physically—this move makes sense in light of the other options. The wild card issue will be what happens with Julian Tavarez in the fifth slot in the rotation. I'm hoping for a successful first half in the minors for Jon Lester so he can come up after the all-star break and take over that role.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Monday, March 19, 2007

  Assessing the Situation

With two weeks left until the start of the regular season and a rare spring training day off for our team, now is as good a time as any to take a look at which players have put up good pre-season numbers and which are wanting in the stats department. Some of the results may surprise.


Boston's most active pitchers this spring have been Julian Tavarez (12.2 innings), Josh Beckett (11.2), and Kason Gabbard (10.0). Gabbard, whose appearances have all been starts, has been particularly impressive, allowing a home run and four walks to seven strikeouts, with an earned run average of 2.70. One wonders if he might be in contention for a starting role in the event that Terry Francona decides to return to Jonathan Papelbon as the closer for another season. I find the prospect unlikely but intriguing, as Gabbard has proven he can go through the opponent's batting order and remain effective, something not as important for a reliever. Beckett's ERA is a solid 3.09 with a 9:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11.2 innings.

Curt Schilling leads the prospective starting rotation in ERA at 1.93 in 9.1 innings. The problem is just three strikeouts, the staple of a power pitcher. Schilling looked solid in the appearances I saw a couple weeks ago, and it isn't out of the question that his pinpoint control will come around. On the other end of the spectrum, Manny Delcarmen and Brendan Donnelly each carry a 6.75 ERA, with Craig Hansen at a hefty 9.00. It looks like Delcarmen and Hansen still need more AAA time. How patient Theo Epstein will continue to be in waiting for them to perform to expectations remains to be seen. Donnelly, who does have seven strikeouts to three walks, will certainly be on the major league roster unless he is traded.

Speaking of strikeouts, young Mr. Papelbon leads the way in that category with 13 to only two walks in 8.2 innings pitched. His spring ERA of 2.08 may seem stratospheric compared to 2006, but it's still better than most of the rest of the staff and much more than sufficient in the American League. Josh Beckett and Kyle Snyder each have nine strikeouts in 11.2 and 8.1 innings respectively and a nice low walk count.

No one has allowed more than two home runs (Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Okajima, and Snyder), so the gopher ball hasn't been a problem for anyone as they get a feel for their pitching repertoires. Tavarez, though, has been generous with walks (seven) and has also hit three batters. At that rate, you don't have to give up home runs to do damage.

Devern Hansack, who was thrust into a starting role last September when it seemed no one else was healthy, is doing his best to secure a spot in the pen with 5.2 innings pitched, 3.18 ERA, five strikeouts, and one homer allowed in four appearances. Among the new acquisitions, Matsuzaka sports a respectable 3.86 ERA in 7.0 innings with six strikeouts and a walk. He has allowed 8 hits but seems to be keeping himself out of too much hot water. His countryman, Okajima, comes in at 2.35 with seven strikeouts in 7.2 innings. Joel Pineiro's ERA is a mediocre 4.15 with 12 hits, four walks, and six strikeouts in 8.2 innings, foretelling the need for Sox fans to stock up on Maalox for the middle innings.

Tim Wakefield, who for more than one reason is in a category by himself, currently has an even 5.00 ERA with lots of hits allowed by only one walk. The knuckleballer is what he is, which means that on any given day, we can expect anything from baseballs flying into the bleachers to five scoreless innings. I for one am willing to roll with the punches because Wake has proven he is more likely to help than hurt.


J.D. Drew has assembled a strong .409 batting average with four extra base hits and a couple walks. He's striking out at a rate of more than once per every four at bats, but if he's hitting well the rest of the time, he can afford to. Kevin Youkilis is at .353 with a whopping seven walks in 34 at-bats. The rest of the starters are struggling offensively. Julio Lugo's average is a disappointing .243, but at least he has stolen three bases. The big guns, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, are at only .231 and .135 respectively. Dustin Pedroia is batting .219. Jason Varitek is at the bottom with (gulp) .105. I worry greatly about our captain.

Only Mike Lowell has plural home runs (two) and that's with a paltry .200 average. I can't imagine that lasting, and we're in big trouble if it does.


Three of our four starting infielders have two or more errors this spring and consequently low fielding percentages: second baseman Pedroia (3 E, .936), third baseman Lowell (2 E, .909), and new shortstop Lugo (2 E, .929). That doesn't fill me with confidence, though Pedroia's numbers can be put into perspective by a range factor of 5.74 and a respectable six double plays. Lugo's range factor is 3.90, well down in the second tier of all AL shortstops, including guys who don't have a prayer of making the big club this year.


What's to be done with Joe McEwing? The journeyman can play every infield position plus the outfield and has been impressive with the glove and the bat. Making room for him on the 25-player roster will necessitate either a trade of another bench player (Hinske?) or a reduction of the pitching roster by one. McEwing has committed but one error and has a .333 batting average with three RBI.

Tuck this future outfield into the back of your mind: David Murphy, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brandon Moss. Murphy is hitting just .250, but he has four RBI (that's three more than Manny) and has looked great in the field. Ellsbury's batting average is also .250 but he too is a solid fielder. Moss has been one of the stars of spring training, betting .308 with 13 total bases, tied for fourth best on the team. If these three continue to develop, we could be looking at a very stable outfield about two or three years down the road.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Thursday, March 15, 2007

  Blogging Delay

I have a family situation. The rest of the spring training posts will have to wait until it is resolved. Sorry, folks.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Sunday, March 11, 2007

  The Triumphant Red Sox Fan Goes to Spring Training: Days 3 and 4

SUBTITLE: I Said I Would Post Daily from Spring Training. I Lied.

One nice thing about vacation, which coincidentally is also a nice thing about blogging for fun rather than for pay, is that I can post when I want to and not post when I don't want to. Such was the situation after the day three of the 5th annual "The Triumphant Red Sox Fan Goes to Spring Training" vacation. The truth is that I was too busy having fun—and sleeping in between the fun— to keep up. Fortunately, I kept an old-fashioned written travel journal and can, with the assistance of said journal, reconstruct the rest of my trip.

It isn't quite like being there, but the important thing is that I was there. Not that I'm rubbing it in.

Day 3 (Friday, March 2)

Friday was the day Japanese phenom and off-season acquisition Daisuke Matsuzaka made his long-awaited debut for the Red Sox. It was also the day I saw my first full spring training game. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my previous post, they were two separate events, I attended the afternoon game; Daisuke pitched the evening game against Boston College. Naturally, the Sox pretty much beat up on the college kids. But remember this name: Johnny Ayers. As the B.C. leadoff hitter who got a double off Matsuzaka to start the game, he will no doubt become the answer to the trivia question, "Who was the first batter to get a hit off Daisuke Matsuzaka after he joined Major League Baseball?" Ayers was evidently the toast of Boston after The Hit.

The bigger news earlier that day was the temperature in Fort Myers: 91°F at game time, by far the warmest temp while I was there. After I pulled my hair back and got situated in my shady seat (complete with cooling breeze), I enjoyed the afternoon game even though Boston lost to Toronto in extra inning after tying the score in the bottom of the ninth. Yes, I wrote "extra inning," singular, as spring training games still tied after 10 innings end that way. The fifth inning offered my first look at the Sox' other Japanese pitcher, Hideki Okajima, who allowed no baserunners. Blame the loss on Runelvys Hernandez, who gave up the game (or at least six runs of it) in the third inning. Fellow non-roster invitee Justin Sturge took some of the heat off Hernandez by officially getting the loss after allowing three runs, including a solo homer, in the tenth.

I won't go into the festivities that followed the game at sistah Brenken's house afterward because, well, what happens in Fort Myers stays in Fort Myers. I didn't even take any photos with which to blackmail my friends afterward, and I fully expect free beers the next time we get together in exchange for being so considerate. However, I do offer this panorama of City of Palms Park from my seats in section 205.

Day 4 (Saturday, March 3)

Along with the Philadelphia Phillies, those descending on the ballpark Saturday included online friends with nicknames like TomCaticus, SoxCruiser, Btlgrl, and JimEdRiceinHOF. The game got off to a rousing start with a wonderful rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" performed by sistah Brenken's daughter and Red Sox spring training employee Brenda. Too bad her beautiful voice couldn't stave off another 10-inning Red Sox loss. On a good note, a few outfield prospects made their marks during the outing, with Dave Murphy going 2-for-2 with an RBI, Brandon Moss homering, and Jacoby Ellsbury stealing two bases. We won't talk about how Dustin Pedroia was 0-for-4 with a fielding error.

Saturday night brought us to the fourth annual Springing for a Cure dinner and auction to benefit the ALS Association, Florida chapter. As he did in previous years, Curt Schilling made an appearance and stayed for about an hour despite being scheduled to pitch the next day. I now have two pictures with My Buddy Curt™, although I'm not pleased with the extra 15 pounds the camera managed to place on my body this year.

Being a charity auction, and having received my annual bonus at work, I naturally had to do my part for the cause in honor of my late cousin Joe who died of ALS. My desire to help dovetailed nicely with the final live auction item, a David Ortiz autographed bat, which I got only after having to outbid my so-called friends, TruBluSoxFan and Yug, who evidently decided to bankrupt me. While I hesitate to disclose the exact amount of my winning bid, I can tell you that it was between $824 and $826.

A final highlight of the evening was hobnobbing with umpire Phil Cuzzi about his MLB beginnings, when he worked on my cousin Terry Tata's crew. I tactfully declined to share with him the published sentiments of my sistah Cyn, also known as the Red Sox Chick.

That concludes today's attempt to catch up on spring training blogging. Days 5 and 6 will be posted tomorrow night. Unless I don't feel like it.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Friday, March 02, 2007

  The Triumphant Red Sox Fan Goes to Spring Training: Day 2

I hope no one was listening attentively to Oldies 98.9 this morning from 6:00 to 9:00, waiting for my exclusive spring training report. I overslept, which isn't a huge catastrophe since I wasn't actually scheduled for the show; I was just going to call whenever I felt like it and Adam the D.J. was going to put me on. Plan on Monday morning, for sure. I will actually set my alarm and call in during the 7:00 hour. I promise.

Thursday was an off-day for me, as I didn't go to the exhibition game the Red Sox played against Northeastern University and the rest of the team was on the road playing the Blue Jays. The Sox win the Northeastern game 11-0 and lost the Toronto game 4-1 (Kason Gabbard and a slew of young 'uns pitching), making them 1-1 in Grapefruit League play.

We play Toronto at home this afternoon (I'll be there) and Boston College this evening (I won't be there, due to sistah Brenken's annual cook-out), so I will miss the debut of Daisuke Matsuzaka. Rumor has it that local channel NBC-2 will televise the evening game. Back home, NESN will show the first part of the game, from first pitch at 6:05 to whenever they have to cut away for the 7:00 Bruins game.

The forecast for today is 85°F. It feels quite humid already. Considering the weather, I have decided to wait until Sunday's and Monday's games to try for autographs. It's just too hot in the sun for me to try today or tomorrow. Yes, I'm getting old. So sue me.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 1

Nice you got to get down to Spring Training. It's on my list for next year - though this year must have been extra exciting with Matsuzaka mania!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

  The Triumphant Red Sox Fan Goes to Spring Training: Day 1

Yesterday was a day mostly for travel, but it ended on a good note. After catching an early commuter train (which stopped at Yawkey station, affording me a brief opportunity to gazze upon the Fenway light towers), my flight went off without incident or delay. I met my good friend and sistah, MNTekFan, and her friend Nancy who flew in from Minneapolis. We had a comical experience whereby they rented their car and drove me off-site to pick up mine. Which isn't all that funny unless you know that they rented a Mitsubishi convertible with a trunk the size of a shoe box, so we had to put the smaller baggage in the trunk and their large suitcases in the back seat, leaving my butt with about 10 inches of space. If you know me, you know that my butt is slightly somewhat significantly larger than 10 inches. I won't even go into the story about trying to get the top down because it makes the three of look like idiots.

After an enjoyable late lunch at Cracker Barrel, we swung by sistah Brenken's house house to pick up our tickets for last night's game. Brenken is in the throes of her annual pre-Springing for a Cure meltdown, but she had enough shreds of sanity left to show us some kick-ass auction items. Oh, if only I were independently wealthy, won the lottery, or had a sugar daddy. A still unconfirmed attendee at Saturday's charity fundraiser, by the way, is Curt Schilling.

Speaking of Curt, he started last night's exhibition opener against the Minnesota Twins. It was 73°F at game time, with just the slightest breeze. Being exhausted from a short night's sleep and a long day's travel, MNTekFan and I left the game after the fourth inning, but that was enough time to make the preliminary spring training weigh-in observations:

One more important note. I don't plan to score the next week's worth of games. Shocking, I know. Last night was a very Zen experience, just watching for the sake of watching and not having to pause to write anything down. It a different kind of fun, like comparing recreation to relaxation.

That's all for today, folks. I have to hit a local supermarket and then grab some lunch to fortify myself for an afternoon at the beach. Tune in to Oldies 98.9 radio tomorrow morning during the Adam Webster show (6:00-9:00 am) to catch my exclusive spring training report. Until then, happy spring.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

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