Wednesday, April 12, 2017 – Fenway Park, Section 43
Orioles 12, Red Sox 5
You could say the first week of the season “flu” by, with many key players on the team hit by either influenza, a stomach bug, or a respiratory bug, all of which were circulating through the clubhouse. Add to that two players on the bereavement list at the same time, and transportation issues when they attempted to return. Play-by-play announcer Dave O’Brien even had to leave one broadcast half-way through due to illness. But after a road trip to Detroit which caused the Tigers to have the visiting clubhouse fumigated when they left, the team returned to Fenway in much better shape, with the full lineup they envisioned all winter (with the exception of Jackie Bradley, Jr., on the D.L. with a sprained knee).
For me, it was the first game of the year in my familiar Tenth Man Plan seats in Section 43.
Unfortunately, Wright’s knuckleball wasn’t exactly knuckling. He gave up two homers as the Orioles batted around in the first and two more in the second, and the Sox were down 8-0 when he exited the game. I didn’t have the flu, but I sure felt like puking.
Once they were down 9-0, the Red Sox did try to make a comeback. The first run scored in the third on a sac fly. Three more came in the fourth, capped by a homer by Pablo Sandoval. In the fifth they had the bases loaded with one out, and when Xander Bogaerts drove in their fifth run, that brought the tying run to the plate. Unfortunately that was as close as they’d get.
When Ben Taylor finished his 3-2/3 innings of relief, Fernando Abad was next, making his first appearance of the season. My favorite thing about Abad is getting to make “Abad pun” every time he pitches. Tonight he did well, which I called “Agood Abad outing,” and then when Joe Kelly allowed three more runs in the eighth, “This game just went from Abad to worse.” (Sorry, but with a game like this, I had to do something to stay amused.)
Monday, April 3, 2017 – Fenway Park, Section 32
Red Sox 5, Pirates 3
Every year, I make the same tweet on the morning of the home opener:
#OpeningDay is my favorite holiday. Sorry, Christmas!
— Kristen C (@Red_Sox_Diehard) April 3, 2017
Though this marked my 17th Fenway Park Opening Day, there were a couple of things different this year: they opened the season at home for a change (2002, ‘09, and ‘10 being the other times since I started going), and this was the first in a long time without the services of David Ortiz. While I was going to miss the irreplaceable Big Papi, Year 1 A. D. (After David) brought a young, exciting team, and opening at home meant we got to see reigning Cy Young winner Rick Porcello on the mound. I got to Fenway around 10:30 and made a couple of laps around the outside of the ballpark.
When they got to the infield, we finally got a break in the case of who stole Tom Brady’s historic Super Bowl LI game shirt. But don’t worry, the thief was chased down and apprehended by Brady himself. Following is a slide show of the still pictures I took as it all unfolded:
Once the five Patriots said, “Play ball!” the game was underway. Rick Porcello picked up right where he left off at the end of the ‘16 season, retiring the side in order in the first on just 11 pitches. In the second, the Pirates got their first baserunner, who was promptly gunned down by Sandy Leon as he tried to steal. “He’s not even our best defensive catcher!” I yelled, not as a slight to Sandy, who’s a good defensive catcher in his own right, but as a compliment to Christian Vazquez on the bench. In the fourth, Jackie Bradley made a long running catch deep into the triangle, a step shy of the bullpen, before banging into the wall. Because it was the third out, we were able to keep cheering right into the inning break. An inning later, at the half-way point of the game, it was still scoreless, as Pirates ace Gerrit Cole kept the Red Sox off the board.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Red Sox put together a rally. JBJ hit a two-out triple, and then Pablo Sandoval beat out an infield hit to drive in the first run. Sandy Leon followed with a bunt toward an unmanned third base, and made it safely to first. Dustin Pedroia singled in the second run, and then Andrew Benintendi blasted a three-run homer into the visitors’ bullpen.
Powered by the five-run fifth, all the Red Sox had to do was hold the lead. Matt Barnes got the final two outs of the seventh, although he did let a couple of inherited runners score. Robby Scott came in to start the eighth, threw one pitch which was grounded to second for the first out of the inning, and then gave way to Heath Hembree for the next two outs. In the ninth, Craig Kimbrel put two runners on, but struck out two, before getting the final out on a foul popup to first. With that, the Red Sox showed that they had good pitching, good defense, and just enough timely hitting to win games in the post-Ortiz era. All that was left was to see whether “Win Dance Repeat,” the outfielders’ celebratory dance, would return in some form for the new season. Here’s the latest version of their victory moves:
Sunday, February 26, 2017 – Charlotte Sports Park, Port Charlotte
Rays 7, Red Sox 3
Today was the first road game for the Red Sox, a short drive north to Port Charlotte to take on the Rays. It was also my last game before heading much further back north. We know going in that for road games in Spring Training, especially this early on, teams are expected to bring just four guys who are projected to be on the major league roster, filling in the rest of the spots with minor leaguers. Today the four were Brock Holt, Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Fernando Abad. Blake Swihart was there too, but he’ll most likely start the year in Pawtucket. The rest of the starting lineup were Triple A guys, and they were all eventually replaced by Double A (or lower) guys.
Not a lot went right for the Red Sox in this game. They got in a 4-0 hole and only got going offensively in the seventh when they finally broke through for three runs.
The subs for both teams included lots of players borrowed from minor league camp. For the Rays, they were the guys without names on their backs. For the Red Sox, they duplicated uniform numbers of guys we knew. I do follow our minor league teams, so many of the names were familiar to me. I felt like I was saying “we saw this guy on the Sea Dogs last year” a lot. One guy I was excited to see was Kyri Washington, who came in to play right field in the bottom of the seventh. I felt like Peter Gammons when I recalled that we had seen him play for the Wareham Gatemen in the Cape Cod League at a game in Hyannis in 2014, and that he had made it as far as Single A Greenville last season. I always keep score when I watch a Cape League game for that very reason, and I’ve been tracking the players I saw on both teams ever since to see who got drafted and how far they went. Today, that research finally paid off!
The game ended as a 7-3 loss, and now tomorrow I have to fly back to Boston. I won’t get to see these guys again until Opening Day on April 3. (I suppose technically I won’t see many of the players from today’s game until July, when I make my annual trip to watch the Sea Dogs.) Until then, I’m going to end with another picture from last Tuesday, when my all-time favorite player put in an appearance:
Saturday, February 25, 2017 – JetBlue Park, Ft. Myers
Red Sox 8, Twins 7
Saturday brought the third game of the spring calendar, and the first where the team was wearing their home white uniforms. Again we arrived in the morning before the gates opened and went around back to see what was going on. It was the usual drills – outfield practice, PFP and sprints for the pitchers, and batting practice. Mostly we saw the same players we had watched over the past couple of days, and we added an autograph from Rusney Castillo.
This game got off to a much better start than yesterday’s. Roenis Elias retired the Twins in order in the first and then the Red Sox jumped out to an early lead. Dustin Pedroia, in his first game of the spring, led off with a double, Mookie Betts singled, and then Hanley Ramirez doubled in one run and Mitch Moreland drove in another. One inning in, and it had already become my favorite game of the year!
Elias gave up a solo homer in the second, but everything was fine until Tyler Thornburg was charged with five runs while only getting two outs in the third. Matt Barnes had to come in to finish Thornburg’s inning and stayed to complete one of his own, but he gave up another homer in the process, and the Sox found themselves down 7-2.
Luckily the Red Sox were able to chip away at the deficit. They scored three runs in the fourth on doubles by Chris Young and Christian Vazquez (and with the assistance of an error by the Twins). They added another run in the fifth on Pablo Sandoval’s single.
Finally, in the sixth, the Red Sox tied the game on a double by first base prospect Sam Travis.
The game was slow-paced (despite not having any intentional walks, if you can believe that) but it was worth it in the eighth when Deven Marrero led off with a double. Later in the inning, Brian Bogusevic hit an RBI single to drive him in and give the Sox an 8-7 lead.
Non-roster invitee Austin Maddox got quickly through the ninth to nail down the save, and just like that it was back to being my favorite game of the year again!
Friday, February 24, 2017 – JetBlue Park, Ft. Myers
Mets 3, Red Sox 2
On Friday the Grapefruit League games got underway with a contest against the Mets. We again arrived well before the gates opened, and walked around to the practice fields in the back of the complex. On one field, most of the major league team was practicing calling for and catching pop-ups. On another field, the PawSox-caliber guys were doing their drills. When the major leaguers went in (those players who were in the game today would be taking their batting practice in the stadium) the minor leaguers stayed out to take several rounds of B.P.
As the players went in at the end of batting practice, we got autographs from John Farrell, Bryce Brentz, and Allen Craig, then headed into the stadium ourselves for the game.
After Owens was done, Kyle Kendrick pitched the next two innings, giving up a solo homer that put the Sox down 3-0. And through the first six innings, three Mets pitchers combined to hold the Red Sox hitless. That finally changed when Hanley Ramirez doubled to lead off the seventh.
The best part was that after Hanley’s double, Brian Bogusevic followed with a homer. That made the score 3-2 and put the Sox back in it.
After the first few innings, all the starters were replaced. There are always a couple of subs that aren’t even in major league camp, who are just brought in for the day. While all the players in major league camp have a unique number, the guys brought over from minor league camp don’t. Some years they give them a number in the 80s or 90s to wear for that one day, but other years (like this one) they let them wear whatever number they would wear with the team they’re on. That means that sometimes there are repeat numbers in a game. (And for those like me who like to keep score, it can make things tricky!) Yesterday there were two number 5s (Allen Craig and Mike Miller) and today there were two 17s.
Aside from Ramirez and Bogusevic, no one else did much of anything offensively for the Red Sox, and they ended up losing 3-2. But we left the house at 9 am and got back at 5, which makes for a very full day of baseball, and any day like that is a good day in my book.
Thursday, February 23, 2017 – JetBlue Park, Ft. Myers
Red Sox 9, Huskies 6
Today it was finally time to watch some baseball! The Red Sox kicked off the 2017 season with a 1:00 game against Northeastern University. We arrived early, well before the gates opened, and walked around to the back fields of the complex to see if there were any players out practicing before the game. This is a great way to combine the close access of the workouts with actual game action.
Minor league camp has started up, attended by all the minor league players in the organization who aren’t among the 57 invited to major league camp. The first player I spotted was Jason Groome, the Red Sox’ first round draft pick from last year. He’s fresh out of high school and only got into a couple of games at the very end of last season, but he’s a tall power pitcher who’s one of the top prospects in the organization. (He was watching one of the fielding drills, so we didn’t get to see him throw.) Also watching the drill was Luis Tiant, who was kind enough to sign autographs for us.
We moved on to two fields at the far end of the complex which were being used by the players from big league camp. The pitchers were just winding up Pitchers’ Fielding Practice on Field 2, and the infielders who were scheduled to play in this afternoon’s game were taking infield practice on Field 1. That was followed by batting practice for the guys who are likely to end up on the Triple A roster. As they left the field, we got autographs from third base prospect Rafael Devers and Pawtucket hitting coach Rich Gedman (I got to tell him that he played in the first game I ever went to at Fenway, back in 1987).
After B.P., the last players out on the field were the catchers, who did a really cool drill trying to catch pop-ups after doing a somersault.
Here’s a video of the drill:
When they finished up, it was finally time to head into the park to watch the actual game. This is the twelfth year I’ve attended the games against college teams, and while all the other ones in that time have been seven inning games, even one that was not part of a doubleheader, this one went the full nine for our half-price ticket.
We did get to see about half the major league starting lineup, and most of the rest of the players were familiar to us from following the minor leagues. Left-hander Brian Johnson started and went two scoreless innings. Highlights of the game were three-run homers from Mitch Moreland and Sam Travis, and RBI doubles from Steve Selsky and Deven Marrero. Brian Bogusevic, who replaced Chris Young in left field, made a nice diving catch to end the eighth inning.
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
It was pouring all morning and we knew there was no way the players would take the field for the final workout. It’s no big deal for them, because they have the weight room and batting cages indoors that they can use, but it was a bummer for me when we saw an announcement on Facebook that the players would not be coming outdoors and therefore the complex would not be open to the public. The good news is that real pretend games start tomorrow with a matchup against Northeastern University. In the meantime, here are some photos from the past two days that didn’t make it into the original blog posts.
Tuesday, February 21, 2017 – JetBlue Park, Ft. Myers
Spring Training Workout
We had heard that the players would be attending a Players’ Association meeting in the morning so they would be taking the field later than usual. We ended up timing it perfectly, so that we arrived just as the players were starting to take the field. We quickly spotted Jason Varitek among the coaches and special instructors, and heard whispers that Pedro Martinez had been spotted earlier before fans were allowed in. Sure enough, as I was watching the players come out and looking for my favorites, my all-time favorite and one of the Greatest Of All Time came and joined the coaches right in front of where I was standing.
Pedro came out and hugged a bunch of players and coaches, and when the stretching was over and the players dispersed for their various drills, I knew I wanted to watch whatever Pedro was watching. He smiled as fans called out to him while he walked between fields, and he ended up with a group of major league pitchers on Field 5.
When the players took the field for Pitchers’ Fielding Practice, Pedro disappeared into the bullpens that are hidden from sight between the fields. We couldn’t see who was throwing, but we knew whoever it was would be in good hands.
As the final rounds of batting practice took place, we staked out a spot between two of the fields in the hopes of catching some of the players coming in as they finished. The pitching-centric day continued, as we ended up getting autographs from relievers Matt Barnes, Robbie Ross (who smiled when I told him that I enjoyed watching him catch home run balls in the bullpen), and Heath Hembree. We waited in that spot for quite a while as the players came in, knowing that Number 45, as he calls himself, was still out there watching the remaining drills.
When most of the players had finished up, Pedro did come through the area where we were, and he stayed a long time to sign autographs for many people. He was there for more than 45 minutes, and we could tell he was enjoying interacting with the fans. It was near the end that he finally got to me, but it was fun seeing how excited everyone got and just being in the presence of one of the all-time greats. When it was my turn, I told him how we had gone to Cooperstown for his Hall of Fame induction.
After practice, we went back to Siesta Key Beach, stopping on the way at Nokomis Groves for an orange ice cream.
Monday, February 20, 2017
Spring Training Workouts - Ft. Myers
Going in to the JetBlue Park/Fenway South complex for the first time each year is like New Year’s Day for me. It’s finally a chance to see the boys of summer, and in a whole lot warmer setting than the actual Opening Day game at Fenway will be. So today I was happy to see them put on their big boy pants and work out.
No, really. As we waited for the players to come out and stretch, I wondered why there was a basket of uniform pants and a row of sneakers set up on the agility field. After the usual stretching exercises, the major league position players stayed on that field to practice sliding. In the past, we’ve seen them do this drill on strips of black plastic that look like Slip ‘N Slides. This time they slid on the grass, wearing sneakers instead of cleats, and with the option of putting a second pair of pants on over their uniform pants, as one coach explained, “so you won’t mess up your game pants.”
To see the wardrobe change and the drill in all its glorious splendor, see the video below.
After that, it was a typical Spring Training workout. There was some throwing and infield practice, followed by live B.P. where pitchers throw to their teammates, then regular batting practice to round out the day. Following are some of my favorite pictures from the day.
At the end of practice I got autographs from Blake Swihart, Deven Marrero, Sam Travis, Dan Butler, Steve Selsky, Jordan Procyshen, and hitting coach Chili Davis as they came off the field. After leaving, we stopped for a treat at Norman Love Artisan Gelato just down the street from the ballpark, and then spent the afternoon at Siesta Key Beach in Sarasota.
Sunday, February 19, 2017
I flew down to Fort Myers today, getting a good look at Boston as I shipped off. It’s been a while since I’ve had a window seat on a clear day!
I can’t wait to head down to JetBlue Park tomorrow morning for my first look at the 2017 team!