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!
Saturday, October 1, 2016
I’ve been so caught up in magic numbers and scoreboard watching, all to make sure the Red Sox get a chance to win one more Championship for Big Papi before he retires, that it hasn’t hit me until just now that we only have a few more chances to see him in action. With the Red Sox on the road for so much of the month, it just didn’t seem possible a few weeks ago that I am now down to just one regular season game. The final home game of the year is included in my 10-game season ticket package, so I’ve known all year that I’d be going to his final regular season game (and I get a playoff game in my package too!). But it wasn’t until this weekend that I realized how close the end is, even if the post-season does extend his career a couple extra weeks. So on the day before Big Papi’s final regular season game, I’m going to look back on my personal favorite David Ortiz moments. Follow the links in each entry for all the details.
February 18, 2003
It was my first trip to Spring Training, and our stay was only a couple of days due to a big storm at home and a cancelled flight. I was thrilled to see my favorites, Nomar and Pedro, but we also made sure to get autographs from the new guys – Ramiro Mendoza, Jeremy Giambi, and David Ortiz. I remember being surprised how big Ortiz was as he stood next to me. Knowing he had come from the Twins, I had assumed he was the scrappy speedster type. I remember having him on my fantasy team on 2002 because the scouting report said that he had “some pop in his bat” and the “potential for 20 homers a year if he gets enough playing time.” He’s certainly shown a bit of pop over the next 14 years! (And I’ve been back to Spring Training every year since.)
September 23, 2003
With their magic number at 4 to clinch a playoff spot, the Sox found themselves down 5-2 to the Orioles heading into the bottom of the ninth. It had been a season full of dramatic, come-from-behind wins, but they hadn’t had one in a while. Todd Walker hit a clutch, two-out, three-run homer to tie the game, and then David Ortiz (the nickname “Big Papi” didn’t come about until the following season) launched a game-winning homer to lead off the tenth. It was the first time I witnessed a walk-off home run in person, and was a highlight in a very exciting week.
October 16, 2004
Why would I pick the night of the Red Sox’ humiliating 19-8 loss in Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS as one of my favorite Big Papi moments? Well, it’s the only post-season game I went to that year. I didn’t get to see his three walk-off hits, but going down 0-3 in the series paved the way for their historic comeback. I read that Ortiz stopped on the way in to Fenway the next day and pulled his car over beneath the billboard with a picture of a smiling, double-pointing Manny Ramirez that said simply, “Keep the Faith.” He thought about the fans he had seen crying and feeling sad after the previous night’s game and told his teammates they needed to win it for the fans. I was way out in right field that night, but I was definitely sad. Papi, of course, went on to win Game 4 and Game 5 with dramatic walk-off hits, and the Red Sox completed the comeback two nights later. You’re welcome!
June 2, 2005
This weekday afternoon game was a makeup of a rainout on another weekday afternoon, which meant I had to use up two vacation days just to see it. My brother drove down from Maine and had to circle for an hour before finding an open parking lot. One of our seats had chewing gum stuck to it. And after all that, at the end of the eighth, the Sox found themselves trailing 4-3. But it was all worth it when Big Papi launched a two-out, three-run walk-off homer to send us home happy.
July 31, 2006
I went to another game in 2005 where Big Papi had a walk-off single, and a game earlier in 2006 in which he had hit a walk-off home run, but one I’ll always remember is the game in July of 2006 when I just knew Papi would win it for us, no matter how badly the first part of the game went. A real back-and-forth rollercoaster game left the Red Sox trailing 8-6 heading into the bottom of the ninth, but I was smiling. When the first two batters reached, I cheered as if we had won the game, because the right number of baserunners were in place for Papi’s at-bat. I had spent the first 31 years of my life as a Red Sox fan having my dreams dashed and conditioned to expect the worst, so to reach the point where I could be this confident and happy was a huge accomplishment, and for that I have Papi to thank. And yes, he launched a blast into the center field stands and we chanted “M-V-P” all the way back to the T station.
September 20 – 21, 2006
The Red Sox missed the playoffs in 2006 for the first time in the past four years, so the end of the season became all about Big Papi’s quest to break the Red Sox’ all-time home run record of 50, set by Jimmie Foxx in 1938. I was in the bleachers on September 20, when he hit #50, and I was back the next night when he drilled numbers 51 and 52 to take the lead.
February 27 – 28, 2007
I’ve been going to Spring Training every year since Papi’s first season with the Red Sox, and 2007 was a particularly fruitful one. On the last day of workouts, I happened to be in the right place at the right time to get him to autograph a picture of me with the 2004 trophy. He even commented, “Wow, you got your picture with that.” The next day was my father’s birthday, and the first Spring Training game of the year. Our seats were right on the end of the row in left field. While my mother and I were waiting near the dugout during batting practice, a foul ball bounced in to the seats, right to my father. After a few at-bats, Papi came out of the game and jogged along the warning track. As he approached our seats, we helped call him over, and my father told him it was his birthday and got him to sign the ball.
May 20, 2009
My favorite player started 2009 in an epic slump, and by May 20 he still hadn’t homered. So when he launched one toward the camera stand in straightaway center, right where I was sitting, I helped will it over the wall (along with 35,000 or so of my closest friends). The guy directly in front of me ran into the camera well and wound up with the ball. We gave Big Papi a long ovation, and made him come back out for a curtain call. Then for the rest of the game, people kept climbing past me to take their picture with the ball, which the guy in front of me proudly displayed.
August 26, 2009
It was the perfect night at Fenway – not too hot, not too cold, not raining. Before the game, I got my picture taken with young pitcher Clay Buchholz. In the fifth inning, my name was on the scoreboard as one of the randomly-selected Red Sox Nation members being welcomed. Tim Wakefield pitched seven strong innings and left with a one-run lead. The only thing that went wrong was when the bullpen blew the lead, and the Sox headed into the bottom of the ninth tied. Papi had cooled off from his record-setting seasons a few years ago, but we chanted for him just like old times. And we were rewarded, when he sent one down the right field line that hooked fair for the walk-off homer, his first since 2007.
November 18, 2009
A couple of co-workers wanted to go out to eat after work, and I convinced them to go to Big Papi’s Grille in Framingham (a restaurant that has since closed) because it happened to be Ortiz’s birthday. I assured them I didn’t actually think that he would be there, just that it would help me get my baseball fix after a disappointing end to the season. But right after we ordered, in came the birthday boy and his family, and they sat at a table diagonally across from us. Like every good diehard, I just happened to have an Ortiz hat in my car and a Sharpie in my purse. After dinner, as he left, we shook his hand and I thinked him for 2004 and 2007, and he signed (and personalized!) my hat.
February 24, 2011
The next Ortiz moment on my list is dedicated to D’Angelo, David’s son, who was six in the spring of 2011. At one of the workouts, he was dressed in full uniform and followed his father from field to field, participating in all the different drills. And just like his father, everyone was drawn to him. The fans all flocked to him, and the other players jumped right in and included him in whatever they were doing. Some fans from the Dominican were standing next to me during batting practice, and they started chatting with D’Angelo, eventually convincing him to call his Papi over for a few autographs. He only signed a couple, but one was mine – a picture of me with the 2004 and 2007 trophies on which I’ve been trying to get signatures of everyone on the ‘07 team.
October 24, 2013
Game 2 of the 2013 World Series doesn’t make the list because of the result, but because it was the first World Series game I’ve ever attended. It gave me chills throughout the game whenever I realized that I was really at the World Series, never more so than when post-season artist David Ortiz homered in the sixth inning to give the Red Sox a 2-1 lead. While the lead didn’t hold up in this particular game, Papi went on to hit .688 in the Series and earn the MVP.
May 22, 2016
I’ve been watching Papi do Papi things for 14 years, but what’s most impressive is that he hasn’t slowed down. This year has been one of his most productive, as he’s leading the league in slugging percentage, doubles, RBI, intentional walks, and extra-base hits going into the final game of the season. And one of the games that demonstrated his dominance was on a Sunday afternoon in May. He hit an RBI single in the first, drove in another with a ground-rule double in the second, clubbed the 514th home run of his career in the fifth, and was intentionally walked in the sixth. That meant that when he came to bat in the bottom of the eighth he needed a triple for the cycle. Knowing that the only way he could hit a triple at Fenway Park was if it landed in the “triangle” in the deepest part of center field, he did exactly that. It hit the dirt, bounced off the back wall, and then took an unfortunate bounce, just barely clearing the fence for a ground-rule double, and inches away from staying in the park for a triple. I was bummed that he missed it by inches, but completely in awe of the fact that he had come so close just by deciding that that was where he wanted to hit it.
Sunday, July 3, 2016 – Fenway Park, Section 42
Red Sox 10, Angels 5
After a personal 5-0 record in May games, I went a dismal 0-5 in June, so I was happy to turn the figurative page to July. But mostly I was happy that I didn’t have a ticket to Saturday night’s game, a brutal 21-2 loss in the middle game of a series with the last-place Angels. As awful as things seemed at the end of that game, the sun rose on Sunday morning after all, and I made it in to Fenway early on a bright, sunny day. Neither team took batting practice, as per usual on a Sunday morning, but some infielders were fielding grounders and a couple of pitchers were throwing long-toss in the outfield. Steven Wright was throwing a bullpen session between his starts.
Red Sox pitching was so battered on Saturday night that outfielder Ryan LaMarre had to pitch the ninth inning. (And he was the only pitcher who didn’t allow a run.) They were going to need a good start today if they wanted to take the rubber game of the series. Journeyman Sean O’Sullivan had made a couple of starts earlier in the year, and was called up for this start after Eduardo Rodriguez was sent down.
O’Sullivan was up to the task. He pitched five strong innings, something that the others in the rotation had struggled to do in the month of June. It turns out that his initials S. O’S. might stand for Save Our Season.
It was hot in the bleachers and with every seat full there was no breeze. I was fine as long as my water bottle held up, but the game was slow-paced and I needed to refill it at the end of the fourth. Rather than climbing all the way back to my bleacher seat, I opted to go to the standing room area behind the right field grandstand. I found an empty space there, and while the view wasn’t as good, it was cooler and there was a nice breeze. And better still, it turned out to be a lucky spot when the Sox scored seven runs in the bottom of the fifth.
(It got a little scary, though, when Matt Barnes and Junichi Tazawa let the Angels score five runs in the sixth and seventh.) During the seventh inning stretch I moved around from the right field standing room to a vacated row in the loge boxes on the third base (shady) side of home plate. I don’t normally like to sit behind the netting because it’s hard to take pictures, but I do like to get different perspectives. The view certainly is great there, and I found that the manual focus setting on my camera helped.
The win was personally satisfying because I hadn’t seen them win in person since May, plus it was a nice way to bounce back from the horror of the night before. At the half-way point in the season, they have 44 wins, and when Baltimore’s loss went final a couple of hours later, the Sox stood in second place, 3 games back. It’s up to the pitchers to step up and save the season, but it’s definitely possible to get Big Papi back to the postseason one last time.