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Open House

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.

Big Papi's son D'Angelo and Koji Uehara's son Kaz joined the team as they stretched out before practice. D'Angelo stuck around and shagged flies with the other players while Papi took batting practice..

Big Papi's son D'Angelo and Koji Uehara's son Kaz joined the team as they stretched out before practice. D'Angelo stuck around and shagged flies with the other players while Papi took batting practice.

Craig Breslow and the other pitchers did some long-tossing at the start of practice.

Craig Breslow and the other pitchers did some long-tossing at the start of practice.

One of the silliest drills, and therefore my favorite, is when they practice sliding. Here, Garin Cecchini takes his turn on the mat. Players have to change out of their cleats and into sneakers, and then change back afterward.

One of the silliest drills, and therefore my favorite, is when they practice sliding. Here, Garin Cecchini takes his turn on the mat. Players have to change out of their cleats and into sneakers, and then change back afterward.

In the video below, Pablo Sandoval, Xander Bogaerts, and Dustin Pedroia work to perfect the art of the slide:

Joe Kelly threw live B.P. to Dustin Pedroia and Mike Napoli. After practice he signed autographs for quite a while.

Joe Kelly threw live B.P. to Dustin Pedroia and Mike Napoli. After practice he signed autographs for quite a while.

Catchrs have the most grueling schedules. Not only do they have to catch batting practice on the field and side sessions in the bullpens, they have to take their own turns at batting practice too. Christian Vazquez has been one of the last players to come in at the end of practice every day, and has been making time to sign for fans too.

Catchers have the most grueling spring schedules. Not only do they have to catch batting practice on the field and side sessions in the bullpens, they have to take their own turns at batting practice too. Christian Vazquez has been one of the last players to come in at the end of practice every day, and has been making time to sign for fans too.

Today was my first chance to see new reliever Robbie Ross, Jr.  He threw live B.P. to Allen Craig and Christian Vazquez.

Today was my first chance to see new reliever Robbie Ross, Jr. He threw live B.P. to Allen Craig and Christian Vazquez.

I finally got a good picture of Jason Varitek, who's been watching practice all week and working with the catchers as a special instructor.

I finally got a decent picture of Jason Varitek, who's been watching practice all week and working with the catchers as a special instructor.

Once again, Big Papi knocked a bunch of towering blasts over the fences during batting practice. (The short ones merely cleared the outfield fence. The long ones bounced off the roof of the batting cages beyond the field.

Once again, Big Papi knocked a bunch of towering blasts over the fences during batting practice. (The short ones merely cleared the outfield fence. The long ones bounced off the roof of the batting cages beyond the field.)

Rusney Castillo is easy to recognize with his unique hairdo.

Rusney Castillo is easy to recognize with his unique hairdo.

After practice we went into the ballpark itself. This is the view from the Green Monster (which is technically six feet higher than Fenway's). Afterward, we got to walk on the outfield grass, not just the warning track like I have at other events. We also got to sit in the dugout and talk on the bullpen phone.

After practice we went into the ballpark itself. This is the view from the Green Monster (which is technically six feet higher than Fenway's). Afterward, we got to walk on the outfield grass, not just the warning track like I have at other events. We also got to sit in the dugout and talk on the bullpen phone.

A Spring In My Step

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.

Hanley Ramirez was all smiles.

Hanley Ramirez was all smiles.

Some of the players have overcome a lot of hurdles to be here. (Sorry, I can't resist a good pun.)

Some of the players have overcome a lot of hurdles to be here. (Sorry, I can't resist a good pun.)

Mike Napoli fields a ball at first base as Big Papi waits his turn.

Mike Napoli fields a ball at first base as Big Papi waits his turn.

A picture of Dustin Pedroia, because it's a day of the week ending in "Y".

A picture of Dustin Pedroia, because it's a day of the week ending in "y".

Pablo Sandoval takes batting practice.

Pablo Sandoval takes batting practice.

Xander Bogaerts watches an early round of batting practice.

Xander Bogaerts watches an early round of batting practice.

Shane Victorino batted from the left, which was a good sign. Last year his injuries prompted him to stop switch-hitting and bat exclusively from the right. If he can stay healthy this year, then every little thing is gonna be alright.

Shane Victorino batted from the left, which was a good sign. Last year his injuries prompted him to stop switch-hitting and bat exclusively from the right. If he can stay healthy this year, then every little thing is gonna be alright.

John Farrell took the mound during a baserunning drill.  He was actually just miming throwing the ball.  A coach was hitting fungoes from behind the plate, and then the players practiced running the bases according to the game situations that third base coach Brian Butterfield shouted out.

John Farrell took the mound during a baserunning drill. He was actually just miming throwing the ball. A coach was hitting fungoes from behind the plate, and then the players practiced running the bases according to the game situations that third base coach Brian Butterfield shouted out.

Brock Holt's sunglasses reflect baseballs and sharpies as he signed autographs after practice again.

Brock Holt's sunglasses reflected baseballs and sharpies as he signed autographs after practice again.

It was a pleasant surprise to see old friend Derek Lowe at the ballpark. He's looking to become a special instructor to work with young pitchers. He joked with us that he didn't believe it when we told him we had been at Fenway for his no-hitter in 2002, because everyone always tells him that. (But we really were!)

It was a pleasant surprise to see '04 World Champion Derek Lowe at the ballpark. He's looking to become a special instructor to work with young pitchers. He joked with us that he didn't believe it when we told him we had been at Fenway for his no-hitter in 2002, because everyone always tells him that. (But we really were!)

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.

Reporting to the Fort

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:

Laser Show gets ready, along with Mike Napoli, to bat against Clay Buchholz.

Laser Show gets ready, along with Mike Napoli, to bat against Clay Buchholz.

Panda sighting! We watched him bat against Rick Porcello.

Panda sighting! We watched him bat against Wade Miley.

It's always a good day when Big Papi's in the house.

It's always a fun day when Big Papi's in the house.

One thing's for sure - all these nice new helmets won't be this shiny in October.

One thing's for sure - all these nice new helmets won't be this shiny in October.

Rick Porcello threw live B.P. to Hanley Ramirez and David Ortiz.

Rick Porcello threw live B.P. to Hanley Ramirez and David Ortiz.

We found a familiar face watching live B.P. alongside John Farrell.  Tek's in camp as a special instructor.

We found a familiar face watching live B.P. alongside John Farrell. Tek's in camp as a special instructor.

As the players finished batting practiced, they joined first base coach Arnie Beyeler for some more instruction.

As the players finished batting practice, they joined first base coach Arnie Beyeler for some more instruction.

Mike Napoli's beard is coming in nicely after his off-season jaw surgery.

Mike Napoli's beard is coming in nicely after his off-season jaw surgery.

Chili Davis is the Sox' new hitting coach, but I still think of him as that guy who got the hit in Pedro's 17-K 1-hitter in New York in 1999.

Chili Davis is the Sox' new hitting coach, but I still think of him as that guy who got the hit in Pedro's 17-K 1-hitter in New York in 1999.

Brandon Workman and Christian Vazquez walk in after their session.

Brandon Workman and Christian Vazquez walk in after their session.

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!

A League Of Our Own

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.

Happy Halloween from the Red Sox.

Happy Halloween from the Red Sox.

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.

I know the Red Sox didn't play as deep into the year as they would have liked, but I didn't realize the last game of the season was long enough ago for cobwebs to form. (Of course, if they really wanted to scare us, the would have left the standings up on the Wall.)

I know the Red Sox didn't play as deep into the year as they would have liked, but I didn't realize that Fenway's been dormant long enough for cobwebs to form. (Of course, if they really wanted to scare us, the would have kept the standings posted on the Wall.)

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.)

There's no crying in baseball when you've won three World Series in ten years.

There's no crying in baseball when you've won three World Series in ten years.

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.

Apparently Drake Britton decided to dress up as Brock Holt for Halloween.

Apparently Drake Britton decided to dress up as Brock Holt for Halloween.

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.

The Rockford Peaches at Fenway Park.

The Rockford Peaches at Fenway Park.

An usher told us these two were a couple of old-timers, but I thought it looked like the way I feel when baseball season is over and I'm waiting for Opening Day.

An usher told us these two were a couple of old-timers, but I thought it looked like me when baseball season is over and I'm waiting for Opening Day.

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.

Who ya gonna call? "Ghostbusters" plays on the big screen at Fenway.

Who ya gonna call? "Ghostbusters" plays on the big screen at Fenway.

October 30, 2014 • Posted in: Events • No Comments

X Gon’ Give It To Ya

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 met Alex Wilson before the game.

I met Alex Wilson before the game.

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.

The Red Sox had finally found their new leadoff hitter, the red-hot Borck Holt.

The Red Sox had finally found their new leadoff hitter, the red-hot Brock Holt.

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.)

Later in the game, I moved around to an empty seat in Section 24.

Later in the game, I moved around to an empty seat in Section 24.

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.

Xander Bogaerts is out by half a step after Braves first baseman Freddy Freeman stretched to reach an errant throw.

Xander Bogaerts was out by half a step after Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman stretched to reach an errant throw in the fifth.

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!

Xander Bogaerts is congratulated by his teammates (he's in there somewhere) after sparking the game-winning play.

Xander Bogaerts is congratulated by his teammates (he's in there somewhere!) after sparking the game-winning play.

May 29, 2014 • Posted in: 2014 Games • No Comments

Unlucky 7

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.

Xander Bogaerts homered in the second inning.

Xander Bogaerts provided one of the lone bright spots with a homer in the second inning.

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.

Junichi Tazawa pauses on the mound, while the scoreboard behind him tells the sad tale of the game.

Junichi Tazawa pauses on the mound, while the scoreboard behind him tells the sad tale of the game.

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.

Brock Holt had two hits and played a solid third base.

Brock Holt had two hits and played a solid third base.

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.

May 22, 2014 • Posted in: 2014 Games • No Comments

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before

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 still laughing at my own joke when they took my picture with Jackie Bradley, Jr.

I was still laughing at my own joke when they took my picture with Jackie Bradley, Jr.

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.

The Blue Jays' bullpen coach was old friend Bob Stanley, who pitched for the Sox in the 1970's and 80's.

The Blue Jays' bullpen coach was old friend Bob Stanley, who pitched for the Sox in the 1970's and 80's. Their third base coach was Luis Rivera, who played here in the 90's.

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.

Clay Buchholz didn't have his best stuff tonight.

Clay Buchholz didn't have his best stuff tonight.

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.

A.J. Pierzynski had three hits, but his teammates weren't able to drive him in.

A.J. Pierzynski had three hits, but his teammates weren't able to drive him in.

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.

May 21, 2014 • Posted in: 2014 Games • No Comments

Sunday Night Blues

Sunday, May 18, 2014 – Fenway Park, Section 36

Tigers 6, Red Sox 2

I spent Sunday afternoon at my friends’ house in Rhode Island, and then drove to Boston for the night game, joking as I did that I was taking the “Lou Merloni Memorial Highway” north from Pawtucket.  I wasn’t early enough for batting practice, but was in plenty of time for the game.  I had been looking forward to this series as a rematch of the very intense and dramatic ALCS last fall.  This was the only trip the Tigers would make to Fenway this year, but so far the first two games didn’t live up to the hype, as the Sox had droppped them both.

When bullpen cop Steve Horgan comes out between innings, he often raises his arms in the pose he made famous during Big Papi's ALCS grand slam.

When bullpen cop Steve Horgan comes out between innings, he often raises his arms in the pose he made famous during Big Papi's ALCS grand slam.

My seat was in the center field bleachers, only 3 rows back, so I got a good look at Jackie Bradley Jr.’s new ‘do.  He had undone the braids he’s had for years and unleashed an afro starting Saturday night.

JBJ walks out to his post in center field for the third inning after being stranded on base in the second.

JBJ walks out to his post in center field for the third inning after being stranded on base in the second.

Jake Peavy wasn’t sharp, but he worked his way out of trouble in the first and the second.  Luckily for us, Anibal Sanchez wasn’t as sharp as he had been last October, when he had held the Red Sox hitless in ALCS Game 1 until the ninth inning.  Tonight they picked up three singles in the second inning, and actually scored a run to get on the board first.

Jake Peavy went six innings, but couldn't keep the Tigers off the bases.

Jake Peavy went six innings, but couldn't keep the Tigers off the bases.

But it didn’t take long for Detroit to answer back.  A one-out double in the top of the third quickly led to a game-tying RBI, and then old friend Victor Martinez followed with a two run homer into the bullpen.  The Tigers extended their lead with a sacrifice fly in the fifth.  The Red Sox narrowed the gap in the home half – thanks to a bases-loaded infield hit by Mike Napoli – but even that rally was short-lived, as Grady Sizemore hit a liner back to the pitcher, who doubled the runner off third for an inning-ending double play.  And once again, as soon as the Sox got a run, they gave it right back.  This time it was a pair of hits in the sixth that gave Detroit a 5-2 lead and ended the night for Peavy.

View from Section 36.

View from Section 36.

The Tigers scored again in the top of the seventh on a homer by Torii Hunter.  The inning finally ended when Victor Martinez hit a foul popup that headed toward the stands between third base and home.  A.J. Pierzynski and Brock Holt both converged.  From where I sat it looked like the ball had bounced into the first row of the stands, so I was surprised when it was called the final out of the inning.  I had decided to use the seventh inning stretch to move around to closer seats for the end of the game, but before I left my spot in the bleachers, I caught the replay on the scoreboard.  The foul popup had bounced out of Pierzynski’s glove – but it landed right in the bare hand of Holt for the out.

Brock Holt showed off his dirt dog skills with two good defensive plays.

Brock Holt showed off his dirt dog skills with two good defensive plays.

Holt was filling in for the injured Will Middlebrooks, but he had been showing off his defensive skills at third base, despite coming up primarily as a second baseman.  He added another good play in the ninth tonight, diving to stop a sharply-hit grounder, and he stole a base too, making his uniform a nice shade of Pedroia by the end of the night.

Burke Badenhop pitched in the top of the ninth.

Burke Badenhop pitched in the top of the ninth.

I found an empty seat in the Section 25 grandstand for the bottom of the seventh, then moved down to the loge boxes for the top of the eighth, and finally wound up in a field box seat from the bottom of the eighth on.  Unfortunately there wasn’t much for me to cheer about by then.  Detroit relievers Al Alburquerque, Ian Krol, and Joba Chamberlain pitched the last three innings without allowing a baserunner.  This series that had seemed so fun when the schedule came out ended up as a disappointing sweep.  Added to a loss in Minnesota to end their last road trip, the Sox had now lost four in a row, something they hadn’t managed to do all of last year.

May 18, 2014 • Posted in: 2014 Games • No Comments

Surviving With Grady

Tuesday, May 6, 2014 – Fenway Park, Section 32

Red Sox 4, Reds 3, 12 innings

The Sox had a day off on Monday, and then Tuesday I was on my way back in to Fenway for the first game of a two-game set against the Reds.  This was my first game of the year in the left field grandstand, and it was the same exact seat I had had for a game last year.  In that game, Felix Doubront had been outstanding, but Andrew Bailey gave up a homer in the ninth and the Sox had to pull off a walkoff win.  The funny thing is that tonight Doubront was pitching again, but instead of seeing a Bailey homer, I was now watching Homer Bailey, who was pitching for the Reds.

The concession area behind the third base grandstand was redone this year. There are new tables, a Tasty Burger stand, and the "social media wall".

The concession area behind the third base grandstand was redone this year. There are new tables overlooking Lansdowne St., a Tasty Burger stand, and the "social media wall".

Doubront started off with a 1-2-3 first, and the first two batters reached for the Red Sox in the bottom of the inning.  When Big Papi grounded a potential double play ball to third, Shane Victorino hustled from first to just barely beat the throw to second, while Papi was out at first.  The Reds chose not to challenge, and replays on the TVs under the grandstand confirmed that he was safe.  That split-second was crucial, as Mike Napoli followed with a grounder to first base, which instead of ending the inning allowed Dustin Pedroia to score from third with a rare first inning run.

Since my seat was under cover, there was a 0% chance of rain in the forecast. It was a much nicer day than many of my previous games.

Since my seat was under cover, it figures that there was a 0% chance of rain in the forecast. It was a much nicer day than many of my previous games.

The Reds got the run right back in the second, and only a 5-2-5 rundown between third and home on a baserunning gaffe prevented them from getting any more.  The Sox took advantage of Bailey’s wildness in the third.  Jackie Bradley Jr. led off with a walk, and Pedroia followed with a double.  With one out, they chose to intentionally walk Papi (in the third inning of a tie game!) to load the bases.  That move backfired when Mike Napoli worked a full count walk, forcing in the go-ahead run.  Grady Sizemore followed with a run-scoring single, putting the Sox up 3-1.

Grady Sizemore had a good night in left and three hits at the plate.

Grady Sizemore had a good night in left and three hits at the plate.

Now it was up to Doubront to make the lead stand up.  He had been inconsistent to start the year, but I remembered how he started off slowly last year too, before morphing into a reliable starter.  He allowed two hits in the fourth, then threw a 1-2-3 fifth.  When he walked two batters in the sixth and his pitch count neared the century-mark, John Farrell went to the ‘pen.  With two runners on and one out, his choice was sinkerballer Burke Badenhop.  The move paid off when Badenhop’s first pitch was grounded softly to Pedroia at second and turned quickly into an inning-ending double play.

The three young players in the Red Sox line-up: Jackie Bradley Jr. in center, Xander Bogaerts at short, and Will Middlebrooks at third.

The three young players in the Red Sox line-up: Jackie Bradley Jr. in center, Xander Bogaerts at short, and Will Middlebrooks at third.

At the end of the seventh, I moved into an empty seat in the field boxes a few sections over, between third base and the visitors’ dugout.  Badenhop had had a quick seventh inning too, but Junichi Tazawa faltered in the eighth.  A walk, a double, and a single drew the Reds to within a run, and a sac fly tied the game.  I was hoping to avoid this kind of parallel from last year’s game in the same seat, but now they were going to need some kind of late-inning magic.  Koji Uehara gave us all a scare in the ninth.  After an infield hit and a sacrifice bunt, number-nine hitter Tucker Barnhart hit a long fly ball to the warning track in right, but Victorino was able to track it down as the runner tagged.  Then the Reds tried a squeeze play, but it was bunted right back to Koji who was able to hold the runner at third.  Finally he got Joey Votto to pop up to end the threat.  (It’s worth noting that neither Tazawa nor Uehara were sharp last May either.  Koji didn’t take over as closer until June, after Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey, and Tazawa had all struggled.)

Third base coach Brian Butterfield really wants to wave someone home as Grady Sizemore bats.

Third base coach Brian Butterfield really wants to wave someone home as Grady Sizemore bats.

The Sox had a chance to end it in the bottom of the ninth, but Pedroia was caught stealing and Napoli grounded out with two runners on base.  As the game headed for extras, Andrew Miller took the mound.  He had two strong innings with four strikeouts, spanning the tenth and eleventh.  The Red Sox went down in order in the tenth, and their only hit of the eleventh was the 200th double of Pedroia’s career, but he ended up stranded.

David Ortiz started the bottom of the twelfth, and we all stood up to chant, “Papi! Papi!”  He singled through the shift, bringing up “Nap-o-li! Nap-o-li!” who lined a single up the middle.  That brought Sizemore to the plate.  And after everything we went through at the end of the 2003 season, it sounded a little odd to be filling Fenway Park with chants of “Grady! Grady!”  (Might as well get used to it, considering one of the Sox’ top prospects is Mookie Betts.  That’s a name that’s haunted me since 1986, but someday soon I’ll be cheering for him.)  He swung at the first pitch and drove it into left-center, where it banged off the base of The Wall.  Big Papi, who much to my delight hadn’t been pinch-run for, had plenty of time to motor around with the winning run.

Tonight's hero is under somehwere under one of those piles.

Tonight's hero is in there somewhere! He's actually being chased by JBJ, Mike Carp and others, while Jonny Gomes lifts the batting helmet off Napoli's head.

For the twelfth inning, I had moved around closer to home plate, but in a seat that I thought had a good view without a lot of people in front of me.  But when the final hit fell, a guy in front of me jumped up on his seat to get a better view.  I had to follow suit to see over him, and by then Papi had crossed the plate.  But I did get a shot of the aftermath, as Grady’s teammates rushed out to first base to congratulate him.  It might not have been the easiest way to get a much-needed win, but all is forgiven after a good old fashioned walkoff, and it ended up a fun game.

May 6, 2014 • Posted in: 2014 Games • No Comments

Gone With The Wind

Sunday, May 4, 2014 – Fenway Park, Section 43

A’s 3, Red Sox 2, 10 inn.

The Red Sox were still stuck in their slow start, but none of the other teams in the A.L. East were running away with it either, and they came into Sunday’s game only 2 games back in the division.  They looked to be getting back on track as they took the first two games against the A’s, hitting a grand slam in each game, and a win today would get their record back to .500.  This was my first Sunday game of the year, so it was my first chance to drive in early, park for free on the street, and go in with the Red Sox Nation line before the gates opened.  I guess I didn’t leave as early as I should have with all the area schools still in session, because when I got there, there weren’t any open spaces on Comm. Ave. where I normally park.  I wound up going a few miles down the road to find an empty meter, and then hopped on the T to get back to Kenmore.  By that time, the Red Sox Nation line had already gone in, and I was stuck in line behind hundreds of little leaguers who also got to enter early for a ceremony before the game.  While they all milled about in the concourse, I went up on the Green Monster to watch what was left of batting practice.  The Red Sox don’t usually take B.P. on Sunday afternoons, and Shane Victorino was the only one I saw batting, with just the coaches in the outfield shagging flies.

When the A's started their batting practice, I went down from the Green Monster.

When the A's started their batting practice, I went down from the Green Monster. Here's the view from center field.

When the rest of the gates opened, I went around behind home plate.  There’s a new mural on the way to the home plate box seats with the front page of the Boston Globe from the day after each of the team’s eight World Championships.  The other times I’ve been by there this year, it’s been too crowded to get a good picture.  Remember in 2012 when the Red Sox announced that for Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary, they had 100 plaques, displays, and historical markers around the park?  I documented 96 of those displays that year (the rest are in areas off-limits to fans) and I’ve been keeping track of new displays ever since.  So I am now able to add this display to the list (see the whole album on Flickr), at number 105.

This mural showing the front page of the Boston Globe the day after each world Series win is new this year.

This mural showing the front page of the Boston Globe the day after each world Series win is new this year.

The Little League kids got to parade around the warning track with their teams before the game, and most were wearing their uniforms.  When I went down behind the bullpen to watch as John Lackey warmed up, there was a kid near me who happened to play for his town’s A’s team, and was wearing the unfortunate green and gold of today’s big league opponents.  He was obviously a Red Sox fan, as he knew who Lackey and A.J. Pierzynski were without an adult having to point it out, but when he got pitching coach Juan Nieves’s attention, Nieves pointed disapprovingly at his hat.  The poor kid was mortified, and tried yelling, “But it’s my Little League team,” but Nieves had already looked away.  He quickly borrowed his father’s Red Sox hat, and was later able to call out to Nieves agin, this time getting a thumbs-up.

John Lackey had another good outing.

John Lackey had another good outing.

Lackey’s first pitch of the game was grounded to third by Coco Crisp.  It bounced off Will Middlebrooks’s glove but went right to Xander Boagaerts at short, who was able to throw on to first just in time to get the speedy Crisp.  Or did he?  Oakland manager Bob Melvin came out to challenge the play.  We got to see it several times on the video board, and it did confirm that the ball got there just before Crisp’s foot hit the bag.  When the call on the field was upheld, I chuckled because the rule is that managers only get one challenge in the first six innings (unless they’re right, in which case it doesn’t count), and Melvin had wasted his on the first pitch.

The center field video board showed us the replay several times. See? He's totally out!

The center field video board showed us the replay several times. See? He's totally out! (At least according to some blind guy in New York.)

It’s a good thing that Crisp was out, because a walk, a stolen base, and a single plated a run later in the inning.  The Red Sox were busy doing a whole lot of nothing at the plate against Sonny Gray, and in the third, the A’s threatened again.  This time a two-out single was followed by a double down the left field line.  As the baserunner rounded third, Grady Sizemore fired to Bogaerts, who relayed the throw to the plate where Pierzynski was waiting.  Out!  We cheered the end of the inning, but when the replay was shown several times on the board without the usual between-innings stuff, I realized this play was being challenged too.  Bob Melvin shouldn’t have been able to use another challenge, but apparently this one could be called for by the umps to check whether the play at the plate was within the rules.  It was an “umpire’s review” as opposed to the “manager’s challenge” earlier in the game.  Catchers can’t block the plate until they have the ball in their hands, and that’s how this play happened; Pierzynski had the ball in his hand when he blocked the plate perfectly, then slapped the tag on the runner.  It was all legit, and the play stood.

I moved around from the bleachers to a better seat in the seventh inning.

I moved around from the bleachers to a better seat in the seventh inning.

The Red Sox tied the game in the fifth on Sizemore’s double.  They went on to load the bases with one out, but Jackie Bradley Jr., who had already hit into a double play his first time up, grounded back to the pitcher for an inning-ending 1-2-3 twin killing.  Making matters worse, Oakland scored again in the top of the sixth.  Lackey wasn’t pitching badly – he had been especially impressive in a five-pitch fifth inning resulting in two ground balls and a popup – but the offense was particularly futile.

Jonny Gomes waits while the A's change pitchers before pinch-hitting.

Jonny Gomes waits while the A's change pitchers before pinch-hitting.

Although it was warmer than the other games I had been to, it was a windy day with only brief periods of sun.  The wind felt worse in the bleachers, and it rained off and on, making it feel colder than it was.  In the middle of the seventh, I decided to move around and find a better seat, and I wound up in Section 17.  I stayed in the grandstand in case it rained again, rather than moving right down front.  It looked like I had found a good lucky seat when Pierzynski homered to lead off the inning, tying the game at 2.  And after a wind-blown fly ball by Jonny Gomes fell in for an E9, they once again had runners at second and third , but again they failed to capitalize.  This time Bradley tried a squeeze bunt, but he hit it right back to the pitcher, who looked the runners back before throwing on to first.

JBJ attempts a squeeze bunt in the seventh.  Unfortunately it didn't go as planned.

JBJ attempts a squeeze bunt in the seventh. Unfortunately it didn't go as planned.

In the eighth, pinch-runner Jonathan Herrera was caught stealing to end the inning, and in the ninth, the Sox’ third double play of the day ended the inning with the game still tied.

Junichi Tazawa threw a 1-2-3 eighth inning with two strikeouts.

Junichi Tazawa threw a 1-2-3 eighth inning with two strikeouts.

Andrew Miller, Junichi Tazawa, and Koji Uehara each threw a scoreless frame, and then Chris Capuano came on for the tenth.  He got two quick outs, but then gave up a double and walked the next two batters.  Burke Badenhop was summoned, but he gave up an infield single that plated the go-ahead run.  The Sox still had a chance in the bottom of the tenth, when Will Middlebrooks ended up on second base after his lead-off hit was bobbled in the outfield.  But Bradley hit a ground ball to third that erased Middlebrooks, so there was now a runner on first with one out instead of a runner on second with no outs.  Even Dustin Pedroia was not immune from the futility, as he grounded into a double play to end the frustrating game.

May 4, 2014 • Posted in: 2014 Games • No Comments
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