Tuesday, March 3, 2015 – JetBlue Park, Ft. Myers
Game 1: Red Sox 2, Northeastern University 1, 8 innings
On Tuesday, it was finally time for “real” baseball! OK, so it was a doubleheader against two college teams that doesn’t even count in the exhibition standings which themselves don’t officially count, but it was baseball nonetheless. We got to the park early, before the gates even opened, and went around to the practice fields behind the stadium. The players who were in the first game would be taking batting practice on the field inside the park, so we couldn’t see them, but we did find some familiar faces out on practice field 1, where the pitchers were practicing bunting.
By the time the pitchers finished up, it was 11:00 and the gates to the stadium were now open, so we went in. The lineup for the first game had most of the regulars in it, with Clay Buchholz starting and Rick Porcello right behind him. One new thing this year is the warmup clock in center field. As soon as each inning ended, the clock started counting down from 2:25. They weren’t enforcing it in this “official unofficial” game, and some innings started early and some started late. During the season there’ll be rules about the batter being in the box when the countdown reaches 5 seconds and other such mandates. Naturally all the pitchers looked good, since they were facing a college lineup. Dustin Pedroia and Shane Victorino walked, and Mookie Betts, Hanley Ramirez, and Mike Napoli all had hits. The starters were done after 4 innings, and then the guys from Double and Triple A took over.
With Dana Eveland, the 31-year old reliever who’s pitched for 7 major league clubs, on to close out the win in the top of the seventh, an error by Jeff Bianchi, the 27-year-old infielder formerly of the Brewers, allowed Northeastern to score the tying run. It’s not often that the Red Sox need to bat in the bottom of the seventh in these games, but this time we did get a seventh inning stretch. When the Sox still didn’t score, the game went to extra innings. It’s more appropriate to say “extra inning”, because in the spring, they will play only one extra inning and then end in a tie if necessary. That wasn’t necessary this time, because minor league catcher Luke Montz led off with a walk, and then came all the way around to score the winning run when the N.U. shortstop made a throwing error on Henry Ramos’s grounder. I’ve seen games end on walk-off errors before, but never in the eighth inning!
Game 2: Red Sox 1, Boston College 0
The second game started 30 minutes after the first ended, which was just enough time to visit the ladies’ room and find the sign board where the lineups were posted. During the game against Boston College, the Red Sox were honoring former B.C. star Pete Frates, who developed ALS and is now an advocate for awareness and fundraising to fight the disease. While he was not able to travel to be here, his family was, and everyone on both teams – even the grounds crew – was wearing uniforms that said FRATES and bore his number 3. It was a very nice tribute, but as someone who keeps score at games, it was a smudgy mess of a scorecard waiting to happen. Substitutions aren’t always announced in the spring, so I’m always checking between innings to see if anyone new came out. It felt a little like cheating when I had to look up the box score after the game to fill in all the blanks and find out who I was watching, but it did make it easy to yell out, “Nice play, number 3!” throughout the game. (I saw a post on Twitter that the team had people with walkie-talkies in the dugout and in the pressbox to communicate who all the subs were, but I just wish they would announce them all. People do care!)
The 1-0 score made for another tight game, but this time there was no need for the bottom of the seventh as they quickly dispatched B.C. When the day was over, I had gotten to see 15 total innings, plus 13 pitchers and 35 position players from all levels of the organization. And that counts as baseball in my book!
Monday, March 2, 2015 – JetBlue Park, Ft. Myers
Spring Training Workout
Monday was the last day of workouts before games kick off Tuesday against Boston College and Northeastern. In the meantime, it was another fun day of fielding drills, live B.P., and batting practice. We got to see Justin Masterson and Koji Uehara pitch, cutoff and relay drills, and more long batting practice bombs. We also got autographs from pitching coach Juan Nieves, Garin Cecchini, and Sean Coyle. Some of my favorite pictures from the day are below.
The weather was absolutely perfect today, so after eating lunch in our car and sampling the gelato at Norman Love’s Artisan Gelato right down the street from the ballpark, we made the drive to Sarasota and spent the afternoon at Siesta Key beach, where we saw a genuine (sort of) Florida gator:
Sunday, March 1, 2015 – JetBlue Park, Ft. Myers
Spring Training Workout
Sunday was photo day for the players, when they pose for the pictures that will be used throughout the year by the team, media, and advertisers. They wear their home whites for the photos, but this year they changed back into red practice jerseys before coming out to the workout. Today we watched Pitchers’ Fielding Practice, rundown drills, and batting practice, and we got autographs from Jemile Weeks and Rich Gedman, the former catcher who’s now the hitting coach for the PawSox.
Finally we got the southwest Florida weather that I had been looking forward to, and after a nice, sunny practice, we were able to spend a couple of hours shell-hunting on the beach.
Saturday, February 28, 2015 – JetBlue Park, Ft. Myers
Spring Training Workout and Open House
Saturday was a much busier day at Red Sox camp. Although the players got a late start due to internal meetings, a larger than normal crowd was on hand, many drawn in by an open house at JetBlue Park. During the workout, we got to watch one of my favorite spring drills, in which the players practice sliding on long black mats (see video below). We also got to see more live B.P. and some impressive batting practice clouts by the big stars. As practice wound down, I got autographs from Joe Kelly, new reliever Alexi Ogando, top prospect Henry Owens, bench coach Torey Lovullo, and minor league players Matt Barnes, Noe Ramirez, Felipe Paulino, Travis Shaw, and Humberto Quintero. Then we went into the ballpark for the open house, where we got to go up on JetBlue’s version of the Green Monster, walk on the actual grass (not just the warning track), and sit in the dugout.
In the video below, Pablo Sandoval, Xander Bogaerts, and Dustin Pedroia work to perfect the art of the slide:
Friday, February 27, 2015 – JetBlue Park, Ft. Myers
Spring Training Workout
On Friday we arrived early before the players took the field. We knew it was going to be a shortened practice when we heard the players were leaving early to go to their yearly charity golf tournament. That meant no live B.P., but we got to see plenty of other drills, including pitchers’ fielding practice, infield practice, and baserunning drills. Then in batting practice, we watched as Big Papi smoked ball after ball out of the park and over the roof of the batting cages behind the field. I picked up three new autographs – Jackie Bradley Jr. and Ben Cherington on a photo of me with the 2013 World Series trophy, and Derek Lowe, who’s back in town to talk about becoming a special instructor, on a photo of Fenway.
The sun never broke through, so the temps never got out of the low 60’s. But at least it didn’t rain, which meant an afternoon trip to Ft. Myers Beach for this family of native New Englanders. We pretty much had the place to ourselves, and it was nice to look at fine white sand as far as the eye can see, as opposed to that other white stuff that’s covering everything back home.
Thursday, February 26, 2015 – JetBlue Park, Ft. Myers
Spring Training Workout
I flew into Ft. Myers last night, happy to escape the brutal Boston winter. While I was originally worried about snow delaying my departure, this morning it seemed that rain would spoil my chance to see the players. In past years we’ve had days where outdoor practice was canceled due to bad weather and the players worked out indoors out of sight of the fans. But we lucked out as the rain held off long enough to get in a full practice. We watched a lot of live batting practice, where pitchers throw to their teammates, as well as regular B.P. where coaches lob them in and hitters can really start to work on their timing. I also ended up with autographs from Clay Buchholz, Deven Marrero, Christian Vazquez, Brock Holt, and Daniel Nava. Here are my favorite photos from the day:
Just as we headed back to our car, the first drops of rain started falling. It was steady enough to mean we couldn’t go to the beach or even the pool in the afternoon, but it didn’t stop us from getting orange soft serve ice cream at Sun Harvest Citrus a few miles down the road from the ballpark. Considering it was -13° at my house in Massachusetts one morning earlier this week, I’ll certainly take it!
Thursday, October 30, 2014 – Fenway Park
Halloween at Fenway
The day before Halloween, the Red Sox hosted an event that sounded fun. There would be trick-or-treating around the warning track from 3-6 pm, and then after it got dark they would show Ghostbusters on the Jumbo-Tron. It was free and costumes were encouraged. I would have been content to dust off my fake beard from the 2013 playoffs, but my friend had a better idea for baseball-related costumes – the Rockford Peaches from the movie A League of Their Own – and we decided to make them ourselves. Once we both got the day off from work approved, she found a pattern online, and we spent two late nights into the wee hours of the morning sewing everything. She even made the manager’s uniform for her husband to wear.
We entered at Gate C and went out to the field. Fenway Park ushers and staffers were there in costumes handing out candy. We were able to walk around the warning track and into the dugouts.
When we got behind home plate, the World Series trophies were on display, and we got to take a picture with them. (A guy dressed as Market Basket CEO Artie T. Demoulas was taking the pictures for us.)
While we waited in the trophy line, we joked that the players or owners could have come out in costumes and we wouldn’t even recognize them. After all, Theo Epstein was able to sneak out of Fenway in a gorilla suit to avoid the media when he resigned from his GM post on Halloween 2005. In reality, I know that all the players have long since dispersed to their offseason homes in warmer climes. But as we neared the dugout, I saw one costumed character who looked really familiar, and sure enough it was Sox pitcher Drake Britton.
We got a lot of compliments on our uniforms, and as we got back around to center field we even met another girl – one of the Fenway ambassadors who was handing out candy – with the same costume, so we had to pose for a team photo.
As we walked around the field, a staffer asked if we were planning on staying for the movie. When we told her that we were, she gave us passes to sit in the EMC Club to watch, so we went up there when we were done on the field. It was nice to be able to eat indoors, as it was starting to get chilly out. We went outside when the movie started and found that the seating area is heated. There are even power outlets in the front row so we could charge our phones while we watched.
Thursday, May 29, 2014 – Fenway Park, Section 32
Red Sox 4, Braves 3
After my last game a week ago, the Red Sox lost three more games to run their losing streak to ten, with the tenth being the ugliest of all. But then they moved on to Atlanta, where they won both games. They returned to Fenway for two more against the Braves and again won the opener. Suddenly they looked like the team we thought they’d be and were fun to watch again.
I left work a little early on Thursday to head in to the game, because this was another day where we could get our picture taken with a player in the souvenir store before the game. The player they choose is never a starter, and is usually the most junior member of the team, so it was no surprise to me to see Alex Wilson, the reliever who had been called up when Clay Buchholz went on the D.L. and was sure to return to Triple A in a few days when they called up someone to take that spot in the rotation. He was wearing the American flag shorts that everyone on the team had last year. (Too bad they don’t show in the picture, as it was especially comical in front of the flag backdrop.) When I got to the front of the line, I said, “Oh, I forgot to wear my matching shorts!” He laughed but looked at me like he was a little unsure of whether I was joking or not. This time they did have vouchers to give us with a promo code for a free print, but when I tried to order one later it didn’t work. I refuse to pay $20 for something that’s supposed to be free, so I resorted to photoshopping the word “proof” out of a screen shot. I’d rather have a digital copy than a print anyway.
After Jacoby Ellsbury had left as a free agent over the winter, the Red Sox had tried several players in the leadoff spot, but none were able to reach base consistently. Lately Brock Holt had been hitting so well that he had been moved to the top of the order. While he struck out in his first at-bat tonight, he reached the next four times up with three hits and a walk. With Mike Napoli on the D.L., Ryan Lavarnway had been called up and was playing first base in the majors for the first time after working on it in the minors this year. But I didn’t even get a chance to take any decent pictures of him at his new position, as he was lifted for Daniel Nava before his second at-bat. Later in the game they posted on the video board that Lavarnway had left with wrist soreness. (The next day it was revealed he had broken his hamate bone and would require surgery.)
Jake Peavy pitched well, but as with most of his starts this year, he didn’t get much run support. He gave up a solo homer to Jason Heyward in the third, and another run in the fourth after a balk moved the runner into scoring position. (I could tell from my seat that he was upset after being called for the balk – Dustin Pedroia had to walk him back toward the mound as he stood staring at the umpire – but I didn’t know until I got home that since he’s legally blind without corrective lenses, he was having a really hard time seeing David Ross’s signals, and the balk had been called by the second base ump when he leaned in to squint toward the plate.) It was costly, as the runner came in to score, giving the Braves a 2-0 lead.
The Sox got within a run in the fifth when Brock Holt (who else?) doubled in Ross. But when the Braves scored an insurance run to make it 3-1 in the eighth, it felt unsurmountable. But not to worry – Holt was leading off the bottom of the eighth (and it also helped that Atlanta went to the ‘pen and took starter Mike Minor out of the game). Holt opened with a single into left, and reached second when Justin Upton bobbled it. Xander Bogaerts quickly singled him home. Pedroia reached on an infield single, and then A.J. Pierzynski knocked in the tying run with another single, which was misplayed by another Upton brother, B.J., in center. The Red Sox went on to load the bases and then squander their chances in typical fashion, but the game was now tied.
The rally had gotten Peavy off the hook, and he was done after eight innings. Koji Uehara pitched the ninth. With the score close and the game relatively fast-paced, not many people had left early, so I didn’t go looking for a closer seat until the middle of the ninth. I made my move then, and found an empty row in a loge box section in front of Section 24 for the rest of the game. The Braves brought their closer, Craig Kimbrel, who hadn’t worked in the past three days because the Red Sox had won all three, in to a tie game. He was clearly rusty, because he walked Jackie Bradley Jr. to open the inning, and then walked Brock Holt. Bogaerts, who already had two hits, hit a sharp grounder to third. The third baseman tried to double Holt up at second, but his throw was low and was dropped by the second baseman. That allowed enough time for Bradley to race around and score the winning run. It goes down as an infield single for Bogaerts, with the run scoring on an error, but I’ll take an exciting walkoff any way I can!
Thursday, May 22, 2014 – Fenway Park
Sections 4, 3, 16, and Field Box 35
Blue Jays 7, Red Sox 2
The next day I was on my way back in to Fenway again. I always like going on back-to-back days (in fact this made three out of the last four games for me) because it makes me feel like a real season ticket holder, like no matter what happens, good or bad, I’m going to be there for all of it. In this case, yesterday’s game was in my 10th Man Plan package, and today’s was part of a 4-game Sox Pax that had included Opening Day. But I’d prefer to have a bunch of games at a time when the team’s doing well and playing good baseball. Now the whole team was slumping, and they had just lost six games in a row.
This game also had a rather inconvenient start time of 4:05, meaning I had to take the day off from work. Since I had the whole day off, I planned to use my Red Sox Nation card for early entrance at 1:35 to watch batting practice. Most of the times that I can get in there early enough for the RSN line are Sundays, when they traditionally don’t take B.P. But with this being a weekday afternoon, I was looking forward to it. It was yet another day that was colder than it should have been for May, and there was rain in the forecast. A light, misty rain was falling as I walked up from the Kenmore T station, but as soon as I got inside the park it started pouring. The tarp was on the field, and there was no batting practice. There was also no way I was going to go all the way up to my seat, five rows from the back of the bleachers, where the wind whips in and it takes forever to get downstairs if it starts to rain. The game wasn’t going to be a sellout; the only trick was finding an empty seat.
I started in the Section 4 grandstand, where there were several rows that were still unoccupied. Jon Lester retired the first batter on a groundout, but then gave up a homer to the second batter, followed by another homer to the third batter. Not an encouraging start, but at least there was plenty of time left. Dustin Pedroia led off the first with a double, and later in the inning Jonny Gomes knocked him in. The second inning is when it got painful. Lester labored, and the Blue Jays batted around. Even the outs did damage: the inning went single, single, sacrifice bunt, single, stolen base, walk, single, single, run-scoring fielder’s choice, and then finally an impressive diving catch by Jackie Bradley Jr. in center field. By the time the inning was over, the Jays had scored 5 runs and led 7-1.
Xander Bogaerts homered in the second, making it 7-2, and then strangely the scoring stopped. Lester had 1-2-3 innings in the third, fourth, and fifth. He gave up a couple of hits in the sixth, but one of the baserunners was caught stealing in a play that was challenged by the Blue Jays but ultimately upheld after a lengthy review. I had slid across the aisle to Section 4 when some people came for my original seat in the bottom of the second. (The joke’s on them – they ended up missing all the scoring in the game.) It did rain while I was there, so I was glad I didn’t go all the way back in the bleachers. That would have made the whole thing even less bearable. At the end of the sixth I figured people would be bailing early, so I walked along behind the back row of grandstand toward the infield. The top of the seventh had two pitching changes (Lester leaving in favor of Burke Badenhop, and then Craig Breslow coming in to get out of it) so I actually had time to walk to the concession stand behind home plate and buy a hotdog without missing any action. I waited in the standing room behind Section 16 for the bottom of the seventh, and then when people started leaving, I found a really nice seat in Field Box 35 for the rest of the game.
As Junichi Tazawa pitched to Melky Cabrera in the top of the ninth, a girl ran onto the field. They must have tightened security in recent years, because I used to see it happen a lot, but it had been several years since I last saw a trespasser, and I got my camera to the video setting just in time. Security tackled her and led her away as the organist played “What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor.” I know they never show these on TV, so the video is provided here as a public service to anyone who missed it.
After that little burst of excitement, the rest of the game went out with a whimper. The Sox went down in order in the bottom of the ninth, and the losing streak now stood at seven.
Wednesday, May 21, 2014 – Fenway Park, Section 43
Blue Jays 6, Red Sox 4
The Red Sox had dropped their past five games, four of those coming at home sweet home. While I knew that the season was still young, I didn’t want them to get into a hole so big they couldn’t dig their way out. This was another one of the games where we could get our picture taken with one of the players in the souvenir store just after the gates opened, so I left work early and got there just in time. The player was Jackie Bradley, Jr., who had braided his hair back up again after playing two games with a big afro. They whisk everyone through the line as quickly as possible, and use the FanFoto photographers rather than our own cameras, so we only have a few seconds to say something when we get to the front. When it was my turn, I said, “You should have kept the ‘fro a couple more days for this.” He laughed and said, “I would have, but it was too hard to maintain.” I was still smirking from the exchange when they snapped the picture, and they caught me before I could officially smile. But they did have vouchers with a promo code for a free print, so I ordered a copy as soon as I got home.
I was back in my usual Tenth Man Plan seats behind the visitors’ bullpen, and the weather was nice for a change. With all the cold games I had been to this season, the 59° game-time temp tonight felt like 70° to me. I didn’t even need my jacket until the sun went down a few innings in.
Unfortunately the game unfolded like many I had already watched earlier this year. Clay Buchholz labored throughout the game. He threw 34 pitches in the second inning and gave up two home runs to Edwin Encarnacion. By the time the Red Sox got on the board it was the fourth inning, when Shane Victorino’s solo homer made it 4-1.
Buchholz didn’t make it out of the fifth. After that we saw Chris Capuano go two innings (giving up another run in the process) and Andrew Miller go 1-1/3 to finish the eighth. Finally, in the bottom of the eighth, the Red Sox got their bats going. With a runner on first and one out, three straight hits by Mike Carp, Xander Bogaerts, and Brock Holt drew the Red Sox closer at 6-4.
The lone bright spots in the game were a couple of defensive plays. The official Pedroia Play of the Day™ (because, let’s face it, there’s always one) was a sliding stop of a sharply-hit grounder in the third. And in the sixth, Brock Holt, playing third despite being a natural second baseman, made a diving play and then a long throw across the diamond. The throw was a little offline, but Carp made a nifty tag to get the out. Later that inning, Holt made another assist on a ground ball, only this time the shift was on and he was standing where the second baseman normally would. He had really impressed since being called up in the previous week for his second stint of the year, but it wasn’t enough to snap the losing streak, which now stood at six.