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2008: Diary of a Season

Friday, February 29 - Hammond Stadium, Fort Myers

Red Sox 8, Twins 3

The next night the Red Sox hit the road, making the journey across Ft. Myers to play the Twins. A couple of years ago, we had gone to the Grapefruit League opener against the Twins, and were surprised that so few regulars were in the lineup. I know for Spring Training road games teams are required to bring at least four "regulars" with them, but I thought that since it was the opening game and in the same city, they would bring almost everyone, at least for a couple of at-bats. But that wasn't the case in 2006, so I didn't get my hopes up now. It turned out I was pleasantly surprised, as most of the Red Sox starters did play, and several got three at-bats instead of two. Apparently with the Red Sox scheduled to open the regular season in Japan on March 25 and playing their last Spring Training game on March 19, they were trying to get people ready earlier than usual.

Manny takes a swing Daisuke Matsuzaka started for the Red Sox, and was also a pleasant surprise. He gave up a hit to the first batter, but then got a first-pitch fly ball and a nifty 1-4-3 double play to end the inning after just five pitches. In the second, he was almost as quick. This time it took a total of seven pitches, but he again gave up a single and got a double play to end it. I was impressed, and hoped he would continue the trend into the season instead of laboring through high pitch counts and barely making it through the fifth inning. With Dice-K done after two, Hideki Okajima and Mike Timlin each pitched a 1-2-3 inning.

We had fantastic seats behind home plate, nine rows back from the field. (We were closer to home plate than the pitcher was!) There were two really obnoxious guys in Yankees hats (redundant, I know) sitting in the front row one section over from us near the on-deck circle. They were apparently season-ticket holders, because the Twins fans around us knew who they were. They heckled the Red Sox players all night, but Kevin Youkilis was a particular target. In his first at-bat it looked like he said something to them, and I was thinking, "Oh, cool, they're close enough to talk to Youk." But then it became clear they were heckling him. (The guy in front of me yelled out, "Don't listen to them Youk, they're just jealous Yankee fans.") It sounded like Youkilis said, "Check the stats." In his second at-bat they were at it again, so when he smoked a home run out to left it couldn't have been better timing. There were a lot of Red Sox fans sitting near me, despite being at the Twins' place. The guy in front of me ran down to stick it to the hecklers, and got pats on the back from the other Sox fans in the section when he came back. (For Youk's third at-bat, he walked over to the two heckling guys and said, "Are you two here on a date?" then went up to the plate. They were quiet after that.)

Jason Varitek followed with a home run. Gil Velazquez drove in a run in the fifth, and Coco Crisp doubled home a run in the sixth. Catcher George Kottaras capped the night with a long three-run homer in the ninth.

Saturday, March 1 - Hammond Stadium, Fort Myers

Red Sox 7, Twins 6

The following day we were back in Hammond Stadium for another game against the cross-town rival Twins. It was a good game for the Triple A guys: Dusty Brown had two hits including a game-tying home run, Brandon Moss also went 2-for-2 with a stolen base and knocked in the go-ahead run, and lefty Jon Switzer pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for the save. But what troubled me was Jon Lester's start. He loaded the bases with no outs in the first on a single and two walks (plus three stolen bases along the way). He was able to minimize the damage, as one run came home on a double play before a groundout ended the inning. But in the second he struggled some more. A double, a walk, and a Sean Casey error again loaded the bases with no outs. Lester walked in a run, and then was removed after he topped the 40-pitch mark. Miguel Tejera allowed all three inherited runners to score before getting out of the inning.

That's just Jonathan Being Manny
That's just Jonathan being Manny!
The funny part of the game was watching Jonathan Papelbon pitch his first inning of the spring. He was good, allowing a hit but erasing the runner with a double play, one of four turned by the Red Sox in the game. But the amusing part was that he was wearing #24. Our first thought was that he forgot his own jersey. I remembered Trot Nixon having to wear a number in the 90's on a spring road trip a couple of years ago because he forgot his. Then I thought it could have been a prank pulled by one of his teammates where they switched the jersey in his bag while he wasn't looking. (For these "away" games against the Twins, they take bating practice at home with the whole team, then just bus over the ones who are going to be in the game at the last minute, so anyone could have done it.) I thought that must be it, until I remembered his excuse for
what happened to the final out ball from the World Series last fall and came up with the punchline: Maybe his dog ate it! (We read in the newspaper the next day that he just forgot it, but I liked my theories better.)

Friday, April 4

The trophy tour

Posing with the trophies The Chairman of the Board of my company became one of the limited partners when John W. Henry bought the Red Sox. That meant that after the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, the trophy came to my office. When they won again in 2007, we hoped we'd get that chance again, and in early April, we got our wish! This time there wouldn't be any players, since they were on a road trip in Toronto, but they brought both the 2004 and 2007 trophies, and we got to have our pictures taken with them.

As we waited for them to get set up, we learned an interesting fact from the Red Sox rep who brought the trophies. There is only one trophy produced at the full size for each year. I figured that much, but here's what I didn't know: Team owners and players are allowed to purchase replicas, but they can't be larger than 75% scale. I had rounded up everyone in my group early (telling them I had brought in something cool for show-and-tell, of course) and we had a good chance to get a close look at the trophies as we waited in the photo line.

I had tickets for a PawSox game that Sunday which was also going to feature trophy-viewing, and I joked that I should just bring the trophies home with me for the weekend and then take them to the game on Sunday, but for some reason I suspected that wouldn't actually work!

Sunday, April 6 - McCoy Stadium, Pawtucket

Indians 5, PawSox 4

The trophies Two days later, I went to Pawtucket to watch the Triple A PawSox. I normally like to wait until warmer weather to visit the minor league teams, but they were having a promotion to celebrate the parent club's World Championship. Both the 2004 and 2007 trophies would be available for photos. I invited my brother and his girlfriend, neither of whom had seen the trophies yet. I arrived before the gates opened, and went in right away while the trophy line was short. They came later (although still an hour before gametime) and by then the line stretched the whole length of the outfield. They were still in line when the trophies were whisked away for a pre-game ceremony.

Before the game, Brandon Moss, Bobby Kielty, and Jeff Bailey carried the trophies onto the field, where they were congratulated by the governor of Rhode Island. All three players had seen time with Boston during their Championship season. Bailey was called up for a week in July. Moss had made his debut in 2007, too, and he was one of the most popular PawSox players in the game that afternoon, because he had started the current season in the majors as the Red Sox opened the season in Japan. When J.D. Drew came down with a bad back, Moss got the start in the opening game, and hit a huge game-tying homer (the first of his career) in the ninth. Kielty had played with the Sox since he was signed off waivers in August. He made the postseason roster, and became a cult hero when he knocked the only pitch he saw in the World Series for a home run in Game 4. Over the winter he signed a minor league contract to return to the team. Devern Hansack had also spent time with the team in '07, but he was starting the game and was busy warming up in the 'pen. After the ceremony, they eventually returned the trophies to the photo line, and my brother finally got through and joined me in the seats a couple of innings into the game.

It was a lot colder than we thought it was going to be. The forecast had called for a sunny 50-degree day, and that's what I was dressed for. But instead it ended up cloudy and 40 degrees with a wind chill of 34. I had a long-sleeved shirt and jacket, and I always stuff gloves, a knit hat, and a scarf in my bag in April "just in case." I had debated leaving my sweatshirt in the car rather than dragging it around with me, and was glad I decided to take it. It wasn't long before I had all the layers on, but I kept wishing I had worn my long johns and brought a blanket. The PawSox got on the board when Kielty's bases-loaded walk forced in a run in the bottom of the first. Unfortunately Hansack (who seems to be pitching every time I go to Pawtucket) served up a pair of doubles and a two-run bomb in the second. The PawSox climbed back within a run in the third, when Moss's grounder drove in a run.

It got even colder when it started to rain late in the game. Our seats were technically covered, but with the wind, we were getting rained on anyway. The attendance was announced as 4,260, but there were only a few hundred of us left when the PawSox went into the bottom of the ninth trailing 5-2. We had great seats a few rows back behind home plate, and I moved down to the front row so I could get some good pictures by holding my camera up to the screen so it wouldn't be in the way. Joe Thurston reached on a bunt hit, and George Kottaras and Chris Carter walked. That loaded the bases with two outs, and the two hottest hitters - Brandon Moss and Bobby Kielty, who were responsible for knocking in the only runs the PawSox had that day - were due up next. Moss singled, driving in a run. I was sure Kielty would reward us for sticking it out in the cold, but he ended up with his fourth walk of the day, forcing in a run for the second time. That made it 5-4 and gave us some hope, but Keith Ginter ended up grounding out to end it. (Actually I was afraid they'd tie it up, and we'd have to shiver through extra innings. As it was, we "beat the traffic" by staying till the end of the game, long after most people had left.) I came home and cranked up the heat and turned on the electric blanket. Ahh, "summer" in New England!

Moss, Kielty, and Bailey Bobby Kielty bats

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