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2006: Diary of a Season

2006 was almost two separate seasons - the first half, when everything went right and it looked like the Red Sox would finally finish first in the East, and the injury-riddled second half in which everything went horribly wrong. But I was there for it all, from the sunny mornings of spring training to the rain-soaked final night. I went to 29 games at Fenway Park, 3 spring training games, and 3 minor league games. My stories and pictures are on the pages that follow.

February 26 - March 3, Fort Myers, Florida

I booked my airline tickets for spring training the night the Red Sox were swept out of the 2005 playoffs. This year I was going to Fort Myers later than usual, at the end of February. That enabled me to go to the final four days of workouts and, for the first time, attend some exhibition games.

The workouts are still my favorite part of spring training. The first day I went was photo day, when pictures for baseball cards and advertisements are taken inside before practice. The team wears their white home uniforms instead of the usual red practice jerseys. It was pouring when we left for City of Palms Park, where we catch the shuttle bus to practice. We had to wait until after 9:00 to board the buses, because they weren't sure whether practice would be held. But the rain stopped, and shortly after the workouts started, the sun came out. We were lucky, because we found out later that the Twins, who train across town, had canceled their practice that day. That was the only rain we saw, and the rest of the week was beautiful, warm, sunny weather. I was able to get a lot of autographs, including Kevin Youkilis, new third baseman Mike Lowell, Theo Epstein, Alex Cora, and Craig Hansen. New centerfielder Coco Crisp was quickly becoming a fan favorite, signing tirelessly every day for anyone who asked. Tony Graffanino was another prolific signer, even though the trade for Mark Loretta meant he no longer had a starting job and was likely to be traded before the season started. And, as always, the venerable Johnny Pesky signed before and after the workouts every day and still found time to help out during the drills.

The drills themselves were more elaborate than I had seen in past years. Usually I had gone during the first week of workouts, when the coaches throw batting practice and pitchers just do long-toss and practice fielding comebackers. But later in the spring, we got to see more complicated rundown drills involving the infielders rotating who was covering each base, the pitchers switching off on the mound, the catchers rotating who was throwing, and the coaches shouting out which base to throw to. We also got to see popup drills, Coco practicing bunts, baserunning practice, and pitchers throwing batting practice.

Big Papi and Manny On the final day of practice, it was rumored that Manny Ramirez was going to be showing up. He had received permission from the team to arrive a week late, but he was reportedly upset that he hadn't been traded over the winter, and no one knew for sure whether he would be there that day or not. When we arrived at practice, we saw "The Manny Watch" - a whole crowd of reporters and photographers camped outside the entrance to the complex, so we knew he hadn't arrived yet. After the players went out to the fields, the media horde gathered around the interview area. We couldn't tell whether it was Manny himself or just his agent saying he wasn't coming, because all the reporters were in the way. When the interview was done, I did get a glimpse that it was actually Manny, but he was in street clothes, and he went back into the clubhouse and not out to practice. But later, as we were watching fielding practice at one of the fields, along came Manny as if nothing had happened. His hair was long, braided, and dyed blonde. He greeted and hugged all his teammates and then took a spot shagging flies in left field. Later, he took batting practice, followed everywhere by the crowd of photographers.

Ft. Myers Beach sunset For the rest of my pictures from the workouts, see the Spring Training 2006 Photos page. Just like previous trips, I enjoyed spending my afternoons at area beaches, like Fort Myers Beach pictured here. But unlike past years, I was able to stay and actually see some games.

Thursday, March 2 - Hammond Stadium, Fort Myers

Twins 6, Red Sox 3

The Grapefruit League season began Thursday night with a game against the Twins. It was an away game, so we made the long, grueling road trip all the way to the other side of Fort Myers. The crowd was probably split fifty-fifty between Red Sox and Twins fans. After the starting lineups were read, they announced the weather in Minneapolis (37°, which was received by cheers), in Boston (32°, more cheers), and in Fort Myers (72°, even more cheers). Before the game I got autographs from Terry Francona and radio announcers Jerry Trupiano (who wrote "Way back") and Joe Castiglione (who I asked to write "Can you believe it?"). When the game started, I was looking forward to seeing promising young rookie Jonathan Papelbon. I had been at Fenway for his major league debut last July, and in the playoffs he was the only pitcher, young or old, who was able to pitch well under pressure. The Red Sox seemingly had a glut of starters - Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Tim Wakefield, Matt Clement, David Wells, Bronson Arroyo, and Papelbon - and it wasn't clear who'd be going to the pen when the season started. But the Red Sox figured it was easier to bring them all along as starters in spring training instead of trying to stretch someone out later on.

Tito is ready for the first game Jason Varitek, Mike Timlin, David Ortiz, Julian Tavarez, and Adam Stern were away representing their countries in the World Baseball Classic, but I was surprised at how few regulars were starting the first game. It's not like the starters were going to go more than a couple of innings anyway, and it's certainly not a long bus ride for the veterans, so why not at least start them? (My first rant of the new season!) Coco Crisp, Tony Graffanino, and Kevin Youkilis were there, but the rest were all backups and prospects.

Coco led off with a single, prompting me to yell "Johnny Who?!" In an off-season full of front office chaos, Johnny Damon had left as a free agent and signed with the Yankees. Later in the winter, the Sox traded for Crisp, and a look at his statistics showed that he was similar to Johnny at that age. Those were pretty big shoes to fill, however, so I was glad Coco was off to a good start. The first batter Papelbon faced in the bottom of the first was Shannon Stewart, who hit a liner back to the mound and off Papelbon's ankle. I had no idea at the time, of course, but that should have been an omen for the whole season. The trainers came out to the mound, but Papelbon was allowed to stay in the game. He wasn't very effective after that, though, and he gave up a homer, two singles, and a walk before being replaced in the second. Rudy Seanez gave up two more runs in the third, and David Riske gave up one in the fourth. They were followed to the mound by rookies Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen, and lefties Craig Breslow, Mike Bumatay, and Mike Holtz. Coco hit a double in his second at-bat and an RBI triple in his third at-bat. Only five innings into the first exhibition game, and I had already completely forgotten about ol' What's-his-name! Coco scored the Sox' second run of the game on Graffanino's groundout, and back-to-back doubles by catcher Dusty Brown and DH Ron Calloway in the eighth knocked in a third run, but it wasn't enough for a comeback.

Friday, March 3 - City of Palms Park, Fort Myers

Red Sox 10, BC Eagles 0

Friday featured a doubleheader against Boston College and Northeastern University. The afternoon was warm and sunny - 77° in Fort Myers and 30° back in Boston. Curt Schilling started the day game, and he completely overpowered the B.C. team. He blew through 1-2-3 innings in the first (on eight pitches), second (seven pitches), and third (a mere five pitches). That allowed him to come back out for the fourth, when he finally gave up a hit but got out of it with a double play. He was followed to the mound by Jamie Vermilyea and Jimmy Serrano. On the offensive side, we finally got to see Mark Loretta, Trot Nixon, and Mike Lowell, none of whom had played in Thursday's game. Willie Harris and Loretta each drove in a run in the third, and Brandon Moss, Alejandro Machado, and Harris combined to knock in four more in the fourth. After the top of the fifth, we were invited to stand for the "fifth inning stretch". I had forgotten that these college games were only seven innings long - no wonder the tickets were half price!

After the sixth run had crossed the plate, all the starters came out of the game. Since it was a doubleheader, the Red Sox borrowed liberally from the minor league roster. I enjoy keeping score at games, and spring training games are supposed to be tricky with all the substitutions, but the college games were next to impossible. The minor leaguers who are invited to major league camp are members of the 40-man roster and the top prospects in the organization. They get assigned uniform numbers in the 60's, 70's, and even 80's. But the younger prospects in minor league camp get to wear lower numbers that duplicate the major leaguers' numbers. (There was a #33 who was not Jason Vartiek, and a #24 who was definitely not Manny Ramirez.) It's expected that the starters will be replaced after a couple of innings by guys with higher numbers, but when they take out the high-numbered guys for lower-numbered guys, I know my scorecard is in trouble. Number 31 Willie Harris (though he switched to 2 before the season started) was replaced in center field by number 31 Chris Durbin. In the top of the sixth, there were two number 18's on the field - Scott White at third base and Christian Lara at short - and that didn't count Dustan Mohr, who wore number 18 in major league camp. To make matters worse, the P.A. announcer and scoreboard operator were apparently still working out the kinks in their jobs, since many of the substitutions weren't announced, some of the names of the major leaguers were mispronounced, and the scoreboard was an inning behind for the first half of the game. But somehow I did manage to keep score. The minor leaguers picked up where the starters left off, with Luke Allen, Lara, and Alberto Concepcion all driving in runs. The final score after seven innings was 10-0 Red Sox. Or at least I think it was!

Friday, March 3 - City of Palms Park, Fort Myers

Red Sox 9, NU Huskies 2

City of Palms Park For the nightcap, it was still 75° in Florida, but it was down to 19° in Boston (wind chill 8°). Matt Clement started against Northeastern, and he gave up a home run to the first batter he faced, Chris Emanuele. Emanuele's teammates rushed out of the dugout to greet him at the plate as if he had just hit a walkoff. But it didn't take the Red Sox long to get that run back and more. They scored seven runs in the second inning, highlighted by Josh Pressley's bases-loaded three-run double. Coco Crisp again displayed his speed, reaching on an infied hit and making it all the way to third on the pitcher's throwing error. Tony Graffanino, J.T. Snow, and Dustan Mohr rounded out the major leaguers in the game. A couple of the minor leaguers - Jed Lowrie, who started at short, and Luis Soto, who replaced Mohr in right - were familiar from last year's Lowell Spinners. Major league coaches Bill Haselman and DeMarlo Hale, who were there for the first game, weren't even around for the night game. Sea Dogs manager Todd Claus coached first base, and Pawtucket manager Ron Johnson coached third. Again, it was only a seven inning game, which was much too short. Actually, a 17-inning game would have been too short for me, since I was flying back to chilly New England the next day, and I didn't want my trip to end.

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