Wednesday, April 9, 2014 – Fenway Park, Section 43
Red Sox 4, Rangers 2
With all the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day, it doesn’t always feel like the season has really started until I make it to my second game. But now that I’ve returned to Fenway five days later, it feels like baseball is back and part of my routine again. I saw online that this was going to be one of the games where we could meet and get a picture with one of the players before the game. With the game time at 4:05, I took the whole day off from work, so I was able to get there right when the gates opened at 2:35, and I found out that the player was infielder Jonathan Herrera. The photo session was in the back of the souvenir store, and while the ones I had gone to last year had had short lines, by the time I got through Gate D, the line already stretched the length of the store. In order to get everyone through as quickly as possible, they don’t allow us to take pictures with our own cameras. They use the FanFoto service which normally charges $15 plus S&H for a 5×7 print. I’ve done these sessions before and they usually give us a voucher with a promo code so we can get the print for free (except the voucher price is always 50 cents short, as if they don’t know that they raised their S&H price). But this time they supposedly “ran out” of vouchers, even though this was the first player photo session of the season. Instead they asked us to write down our email address so they could send us the promo code for the (almost) free print. I haven’t gotten the email yet, and I’m not paying $20. So until then, here’s an artist’s rendition of me meeting Jonathan Herrera:
It was my friend’s first game of the year, so we walked around to look at some of the new things. There’s a new bar behind the third base grandstand. It has some big TV screens, but people who sit on the stools have their backs to the field.
We were in our familiar Tenth Man Plan seats behind the visitiors’ bullpen for the first time this year, and the afternoon was warm and sunny. We can see the new board that shows the temperature from those seats. It was 56° to start the game, and with the sun I was comfortable in a long-sleeve T-shirt for the first 5 innings.
Jake Peavy had a couple of baserunners in the first, but he worked his way out of trouble, and then settled down and pitched really well. He struck out eight, including the side in the fourth. Meanwhile, the Red Sox, who haven’t exactly gotten their offense rolling yet in the young season, were able to piece together an unearned run after a throwing error in the third. But they also hit into two double plays and had a runner caught stealing, and at the end of the sixth they clung to a 1-0 lead.
Peavy gave up a homer to Mitch Moreland leading off the seventh which tied the game. His good outing was in danger of being wasted, and it got worse when Andrew Miller gave up a double to open the eighth. The runner ended up moving to third on a groundout and scoring on a sac fly to shallow center. Jackie Bradley Jr. made a pretty good throw home, but it was a little high and just a tad late, and the Red Sox now trailed 2-1.
The Sox were running out of chances when Bradley led off the eighth with his third walk of the day (the seventh overall for the team). A.J. Pierzynski pinch-hit for Jonny Gomes and blooped a wind-blown hit into no man’s land down the right field line. Grady Sizemore pinch-ran, and Dustin Pedroia hit into a fielder’s choice that erased Sizemore and moved Bradley to third. As David Ortiz came to the plate, the Rangers went to the ‘pen to bring in a lefty, Neal Cotts, who had struck him out in all five prior meetings. With one out and a runner on third, I was just hoping for a ball in the air, but Big Papi had other ideas. He launched a 1-1 pitch out toward us in right field. It was one of those swings where we could tell he had gotten all of it, and we all jumped up. The only question was whether it would stay fair or hook foul. I’ll admit I lost sight of it against the bright, cloudless sky, and it was so high that I wouldn’t have been able to tell from my angle in the bleachers where it was when it passed over Pesky’s Pole. I actually looked away from the ball to turn back toward the infield, where I saw the umpire signal fair. The three-run bomb gave the Sox a 4-2 lead, and we all high-fived each other as Papi rounded the bases. (I tried to get a picture as he crossed the plate, but it came out blurry from all the jumping and cheering. Don’t worry, I won’t do an artist’s depiction of that. Just picture his classic pose that we’ve all seen more times than we can count.)
Soon we realized Rangers manager Ron Washington had come out to ask for a review of the play. With the new rules in effect this year, the umps need only don a headset and consult with MLB officials. I was glad to see the replay shown on the scoreboard in center; in the past they haven’t been allowed to show replays of controversial calls, which has become sillier in recent years when half the ballpark can see monitors carrying the TV feed of the game. Now we all get to see it, and there was no way to conclusively reverse it, so when Mike Napoli’s at-bat began we knew that they had let the call on the field stand. After that it was Koji Time, and Uehara had a quick, clean inning to dispose of the Rangers and preserve the win.
Friday, April 4, 2014 – Fenway Park, Section 42
Brewers 6, Red Sox 2
I had good luck over the winter when the four-game Sox Pax went onsale, and I managed to get through the Virtual Waiting Room early enough to get a package that included Opening Day before they sold out. So while I didn’t need to wait in the day-of-game ticket line this year, I still went in to Fenway early. It was my 14th Fenway Park opener, but it was also the third World Series ring ceremony of my lifetime, something that just ten years ago I thought I’d go my whole life without seeing at all.
I bought a Media Guide in the souvenir store, and then headed around the corner onto Van Ness Street. I waited for a little while outside the players’ parking lot, but I figured most of the players were already inside, and any celebrities arriving for the ceremony would be pulling in later. So I continued down Van Ness and onto Lansdowne Street, then completed the lap around to the front of the park again.
At 11:00, I went to Gate C, where the Red Sox Nation line usually forms to go in a half hour early. Some Opening Days they do let us in early, but some they don’t. Today they didn’t, so I waited till 11:35 when all the gates opened and went in, picking up my annual schedule magnet on the way. There aren’t too many changes to the ballpark this year. Most of the updates involved adding 2013 to the list of World Series wins on displays throughout the park.
One of the things that supposedly has changed this year is the third base deck behind the grandstand. I couldn’t get in there to see it, because it was blocked off for a large private party. But I did glimpse an ice sculpture of the World Series logo, and Larry Lucchino hob-nobbing with the guests. I was glad to see that the pizza was still $5, and I got my coupon for a free soda at the Designated Driver booth inside Gate C, so even though they expanded their menu options with a lot of new expensive items, it’s still possible to grab something to eat without breaking the bank.
At 12:30, I went up to my seat in row 45 of the bleachers, five rows from the back wall. (For reference, the red seat that marks Ted Williams’ 502-foot home run was eight rows in front of me in row 37.) The ring ceremony started shortly after 1:00, and it lived up to the hype. From the highlight montage, to the marathon bombing survivors delivering the rings, to cheering the players as they were introduced, to the tribute to fallen firefighters, to Pedro, Tek, and Lowell carrying in the trophies, I was teary-eyed through the whole thing.
And then, after the emotional ceremony ended with Tim Wakefield, Kevin Millar, and a bunch of kids saying “Play ball,” there was a game to be played too. While the morning had started off sunny, it clouded over during the ceremony, and by the time the game started it was already feeling cold. The wind was whipping in from behind the bleachers steadily throughout the game. There’s a new video board on the right field facade, which I couldn’t see from my seat in the bleachers but I got a look at later on, that showed the temperature was 41°, and there was a definite wind chill factor going on in the back rows of the bleachers. After the Brewers took a 2-0 lead in the second, I put on my knit winter hat. The Red Sox answered with a run on a walk, a hit, and an error in the second, and tied it with a Will Middlebrooks homer in the third. In the fifth, I finally gave in and put on gloves, which made keeping score difficult and clapping impossible. With the game still tied at the seventh inning stretch, I made my move around to the infield grandstand to find an empty seat that wasn’t as windy, and wound up in Section 16.
It was a little better without the wind, and I pulled out the fleece blanket I brought in case the game went extra innings. Unfortunately a disastrous four-run ninth inning by Edward Mujica made that a moot point, and the Sox dropped the game. I hope they get less sloppy once it’s not freezing cold out, because I’d sure like to see another one of these ring ceremonies next year!
Friday, February 28, 2014 – JetBlue Park, Ft. Myers
Twins 8, Red Sox 2
On Friday the Red Sox took on their cross-town rivals, the Minnesota Twins, at JetBlue Park in the opening game of the Grapefruit League schedule. We got to the park at 11:00, but instead of going right in, we went around back to the practice fields. The first few fields we passed had players from the low minors who are here for minor league camp. As we headed around to Field 1 to see if anyone from big league camp was out, we saw Red Sox legend and minor league instructor Dwight Evans signing autographs for a couple of fans. I asked him to sign the photo I had brought, and as I did I told him, “You were my favorite player as a kid.” My father jumped in with, “I can vouch for that. The first time we took her to Fenway, we were sitting in right field…” and I finished, “Yeah, and they were telling me the seats were bad because they face the wrong way, but I just said, ‘These seats are great; I’m looking right at Dewey.’” When we finished with him, we saw the players on Field 1 heading in. In talking to a security guard, we learned that the big league guys do come out to the practice fields to warm up, but that’s usually around 10:00 or 10:30 for a 1:05 game, so next time we know to come earlier.
We walked around a little bit when we first entered the park, and I noticed for the first time that there’s a red seat out beyond the right field standing room area. It was placed 502 feet from home plate, to commemorate the longest home run hit at Fenway Park. Ted Williams hit a 502-foot home run into the right field stands in 1946, and a lone red seat in a sea of bleacher green marks that location at Fenway. Now Fenway South has its own marker in the equivalent spot.
As we ate our lunch in our seats, we noticed the Red Sox’ three World Series trophies under blue wrappings placed on a table on the field. We soon found out there was a special ceremony planned to honor the 2013 World Champions on their Spring Training Opening Day. Don Orsillo and Joe Castiglione led the way. (Our seats behind home plate were nice, but when I saw they were letting people stand behind the Red Sox dugout, I went down there because the angle was better for pictures.) First they unveiled the “Chairman’s Cup” which will be awarded to the Lee County team (Red Sox vs. Twins) who wins the most head-to-head games. (It was formerly called the Mayor’s Cup when both teams’ stadiums were within Ft. Myers city limits, but now that the Sox are a bit farther away in an unincorporated section of Lee County, the name has been changed.) Then they introduced both teams, starting with all the Twins in attendance. For the Red Sox players, they started with the coaching staff, then the minor leaguers who had been with the team for a few years. Then they introduced all the players new to the organization this year. (There are 58 players in camp this year, so they had to keep shifting further down the baseline to make room). Next they introduced, in descending numerical order, all the returning players who had been a part of the 2013 Championship year. They made sure to mention a specific big hit or contribution that each player made during the season or the postseason, which got me all excited for the ring ceremony that’s coming up at Fenway Park in April. I noticed they skipped a few prominent players, but that was because the next group included Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Dustin Pedroia – players who were on the team for the 2007 Championship too. The final player to enter the field was of course Big Papi, David Ortiz, who was with the team for all three World Series wins in the past ten years.
Then Big Papi, Jon Lester, and John Lackey each carried a trophy onto the field, and they were joined by Clay Buchholz and Jake Peavy to catch ceremonial first pitches thrown by various Lee County officials. With that, the 2014 Grapefruit League season was underway. Young righty Anthony Ranaudo, a first-round draft pick in 2010 who moved up to Triple A at the end of last season, started the game, and he was impressive. In two perfect innings of work, he threw a total of 23 pitches, and he racked up four strikeouts and two groundouts back to the mound.
The pitchers who followed him to the mound were, shall we say, less impressive. Dalier Hinojosa, who was signed out of Cuba this past off-season, was fine in his first inning of work, but gave up three runs in the next inning. Andrew Miller was shaky and gave up three walks and a two-run single, but since this was his first game action since injuring his foot last June, I’m not going to read too much into that. Francisco Cordero, the former closer for the Rangers, Brewers, and Reds who’s in camp on a minor league deal, got through a scoreless inning, but he put two runners on base.
Most of the Red Sox regulars started the game, but Mike Napoli’s two singles accounted for the only hits in the first five innings. By the time Bryce Brentz got the Sox on the board with a long solo shot over the high wall in straightaway center in the sixth, it was too little too late. The subs did put together a little rally and score a run on a bases-loaded groundout in the ninth, but the damage was already done. Remember that the final score of a Spring Training game is completely meaningless (unless, of course, the Red Sox win)… or if someone points out that they also dropped their Spring Training opener last year – which naturally means that they’re going all the way this year too!
Thursday, February 27, 2014 – JetBlue Park, Ft. Myers
Thursday brought the first baseball games of the new season, when the Red Sox took on Northeastern University and Boston College in a doubleheader. We know from past years that by the time the gates open two hours before the game, the Red Sox have already finished up batting practice and left the field to the visiting team, so this time we decided to go around back to the practice fields first and see if anything was going on there. Sometimes the players who aren’t in the game will be working out on one of the fields.
Minor league camp had opened a couple of days ago, and right away we spotted Dwight Evans keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings. Dewey works as a special instructor now, and he was here to work with the kids on their hitting. I noticed that one of the players in the group he was watching take batting practice was Matt Gedman, son of his former teammate, Rich Gedman. Up near the clubhouse there was a little activity. Daniel Nava, who is being held out of games for a few days due to neck pain, came out wearing the American flag shorts that were given to the whole team last year, and walked around the warning track of one of the fields. Shane Victorino, recovering from several injuries, was out long-tossing to a trainer. Junichi Tazawa was seated with a couple of Japanese reporters giving an interview. And once again Pedro Martinez made an appearance, talking with a couple of the minor league pitchers and chatting with Victorino, his former teammate on the Phillies. But none of them came even within shouting distance of where we could stand, so I had to settle for some telephoto pictures before we finally entered the ballpark.
Game 1 – Red Sox 5, Northeastern 2
The announcer welcomed us to the first game with “Happy New Year,” as baseball officially got underway for the first time in 2014. The first game of the doubleheader featured most of the regulars from the major league lineup, and they each got two plate appearances before being pulled for the backups. Dustin Pedroia got the first hit, a single in the first. Ryan Lavarnway had a single and a double. Jackie Bradley Jr. also reached base twice – although one was a rare play where his batted ball hit Lavarnway as he was running for second. That makes Lavarnway out, but Bradley gets credit for a hit.
Brandon Workman pitched two quick innings, and Burke Badenhop was impressive with a 12-pitch inning in which he induced three ground ball outs. I was looking forward to seeing highly-touted prospect Henry Owens, but he struggled through a 29-pitch inning with two walks and two K’s, and didn’t come back out for another inning. The pitcher I enjoyed watching the most was Shunsuke Watanabe, a 37-year-old signed out of Japan to a minor league contract this past winter, who has an extreme submarine style. The ball is so low when he releases it that it appears to be rising as it crosses the plate, and the unsuspecting college players couldn’t do anything with it.
Noe Ramirez gave up two runs on three hits in his inning of work, and Northeastern actually held a brief 2-1 lead. But the Sox answered with four runs in the bottom of the sixth, thanks in part to a huge two-base error, but also thanks to a triple by left fielder Scott Cousins. Keith Couch, up from minor league camp and wearing #86, closed out the win in the top of the seventh.
Game 2 – Red Sox 5, Boston College 2
We had 40 minutes in between games, so I went out to the outfield to watch the players warm up for Game 2. Catchers Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart, and pitchers Rubby De La Rosa and Miguel Celestino stretched and threw warm-up tosses. And I once again got to see Pedro, who came out wearing a #45 uniform jersey to watch them warm up.
The starters for the second game were mostly players I had seen on the Double-A Sea Dogs last August, and their replacements were all guys from even lower in the minors who weren’t among the 58 players in big league camp. But they got a run on the board in the first on a ground rule double by Brandon Snyder, the one guy in the lineup who had major league experience, having played for the Red Sox last year. (I got a kick out of the fact that B.C. has a player named Joe Cronin, and that he’s a shortstop just like the Red Sox Hall-of-Famer from the 1930’s and 40’s of the same name, and that he even chose to wear #4.) After De La Rosa threw his two innings, Matt Barnes, Alex Wilson, Tommy Layne, and Miguel Celestino all pitched a scoreless inning apiece.
The Sox extended their lead on catching prospect Christian Vazquez’s home run high over the Green Monster in the fourth inning, and piled on with a bases-loaded three-run double by first baseman Travis Shaw in the fifth. The only trouble came in the top of the seventh, when B.C. scored two runs on three hits. The fourth hit of the inning would have scored another run, but a good relay throw nailed the runner at home plate (without a collision, just like the new rule dictates) to end the game.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014 – JetBlue Park, Ft. Myers
Spring Training Workout
Wednesday was the last day for workouts before Spring Training exhibition games begin. We again arrived as the complex was opening and the players were heading out to the field. According to the schedule, batting practice for the major league players would take place inside the ballpark where we couldn’t go, but unlike yesterday there would be some live B.P. with pitchers throwing to their teammates. All the players stretched together on one field before breaking up by position to do other drills. We were watching some strange drill that had A.J. Pierzynski throwing off a mound in full catcher’s gear (shin guards, chest protector, and helmet; only the face mask was missing) to David Ross, who then threw on to second base. The infielders were milling about on the field, and the pitchers were long-tossing down the right field line, when suddenly I noticed someone out hugging Big Papi behind second base. It took a few seconds to realize who it was, but then my mother and I turned to each other at the same time and whispered, “Is that Pedro?”
Sure enough, a second glance revealed that it was indeed the future Hall-of-Famer, the Best Pitcher on the Planet, and one of my all-time favorite players, Pedro Martinez. He’s a special instructor for the Red Sox, and he was in camp to work with the younger pitchers. After greeting Big Papi and the other infielders, he headed out to right field to meet up with the pitchers. Once I noticed Pedro, I lost track of everything else that was going on on the field – I even stopped my week-long obsession with photographing Mike Napoli’s mesmerizing beard.
After a while, he left to go to the bullpens (also off-limits to fans) so we moved on to another field to watch Clay Buchholz throw live B.P. to some minor leaguers. While we were watching we heard a little cheer coming from an adjacent field, and when I looked up, there was Pedro coming to stand right in front of me to watch Clay. Suddenly a bunch of reporters and photographers swarmed around him and it was hard for me to see, but I was still able to take a bunch of pictures.
There was a buzz in the crowd as Pedro made his every move. When Buchholz finished, Pedro sat next to him on the grass for a few minutes and talked. Koji Uehara was next to throw, and Pedro stuck around to watch that too.
The final pitcher on that field was Jose Mijares, a 29-year-old lefty who signed a minor league deal with the Red Sox last month after pitching for the Giants last year. He spent a long time talking with Pedro after his session.
Pedro went inside, and the only activity left in the complex was some of the minor leaguers taking batting practice on one of the fields, so we went up to watch that. When they finished up we were able to get autographs from catching prospects Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart. As we turned to leave, we saw a big group of people crowded around a fence. Pedro had come back out, and he was signing. I thought there was no way I’d have a shot at getting an autograph, since there was big crowd and in past years I had heard he signed only for kids. But it looked like he was doing it for everybody, young and old, so I got in the back of the group and waited.
As we waited, people kept murmuring, “This is so cool.” At one point, a guy in the back hollered out, “Pedro, you were – and still are – the best pitcher!” and everyone cheered. Women swooned and said, “We love you, Pedro.” Pedro enjoyed the banter with fans. Someone asked, “Could you sign some for these kids over here?” There weren’t very many kids left, so a retiree near me said, “What about some for the seniors?” and added, “We’ve been waiting a long time. We’ve even had birthdays while we were waiting here. Now we’re even more senior.” When Pedro was finished with the one he was signing he looked up and said, “I have to sign for the seniors now. The seniors are waiting.” He did eventually get to me (after the seniors – I’m younger than Pedro is!), and signed the photo of JetBlue Park I’ve been getting signatures on all week. He stayed for a long time, and got everyone who was waiting. My mother had him sign a photo too, and my father handed him his hat, asking, “Could you sign a hat for an old geezer?” Pedro chuckled and said, “A geezer, huh? They used to call me an old goat!” Then after signing the hat, he looked up in amusement and said, “Any more geezers here? Who else is a geezer?” Getting to interact with one of the all-time greats was easily the highlight of our whole week. It was a treat to see him stay out there so long and make so many people’s day. That was the perfect way to end the workouts for the year. Tomorrow, the games will begin, and the only disappointment will be that we won’t be seeing Pedro take the mound.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014 – JetBlue Park, Ft. Myers
Spring Training Workout
Tuesday was the sixth day of full-squad workouts, and the schedule we were given when we entered the complex showed that it would be a slightly different format from the other days. It looked like the pitchers were being given a day off from throwing, with no bullpen sessions or live batting practice on the docket. They would be using only two of the six practice fields, and the guys on the big league roster would be taking B.P. inside the park, where fans can’t see them, for 45 minutes. But we still managed to turn it into a fun and productive day.
Since we were among the first fans in in the morning, we were almost alone when the first players began to come out to the fields. They had to walk right past us, and since we knew who they all were and called them by name, we were able to snag a few early morning autographs. While the players are supposed to be “turning the page” from the excitement of last season’s World Series win, it’s my duty as a fan to keep reliving and savoring the victory. Toward that end, I printed off a photo of me with the trophy, and I’m trying to get as many players from the 2013 team as I can to sign it. Of course I’d love to get all the big names (though that can be hard), but I also have a fascination with the lesser-known guys who only played in a handful of games, and yet in some way made a contribution to the effort. My thinking is that even a guy who pitches a few innings in a loss can help out the team by eating innings and leaving some other pitcher fresh for a win the next day – that’s how the 2013 Red Sox managed to go the whole season without ever losing more then three games in a row. That concept leaves me obsessed with Brayan Villarreal, who came over from the Tigers in the Jose Iglesias/Jake Peavy trade last July and got into just one game (facing only one batter, whom he walked on four pitches) for the Red Sox. But he was part of the championship-winning team, so he’ll be getting a ring, and today I successfully called him over and asked him to sign the trophy picture. I was also happy to be able to add fellow champions Brandon Workman, Alex Wilson, Xander Bogaerts, Daniel Nava, and Felix Doubront to the trophy pic later in the day.
After the players did their initial stretching, they did some brief drills based on cut-offs and relays. Next on the schedule was batting practice, which was taking place inside the ballpark today. While the players who’ll be on the major league roster were whisked off to do that, a few groups of minor league hitters stayed out on the practice fields to do their B.P., and we went over to Field 2 to watch what was listed on the schedule as “Baserunning – all pitchers”. American League pitchers don’t need a whole lot of baserunning practice anyway, but what it turned out to be was the pitchers all sitting on the ground (like story hour at the library) and listening to coaches Brian Butterfield and Arnie Beyeler give a lecture on different baserunning scenarios and how to protect against them.
That didn’t make for the best spectator sport (other than trying to take pictures of Drake Britton’s mohawk while he had his hat off), but when the pitchers departed, the catchers arrived and participated in an actual baserunning drill.
By the time that drill finished up, the major league position players had come back out to do some running, and they were being timed while they ran 90 feet. The video below shows David Ortiz, Jonny Gomes, Brock Holt, Mike Napoli, and Dustin Pedroia in this drill. Pedey sure goes all-out in everything he does!
While we waited for the final players to come off the field, we saw Shane Victorino come out to one of the back fields to do some running. He’s still recovering from a number of injuries and is working on core conditioning before being cleared to play in games. We were impressed with his brightly-colored attire – yellow and orange sneakers, socks with the Red Sox logo, and a t-shirt that read “This is our f#@king city -Ortiz” on the front and had the “B Strong” logo on the back. (We heard that Jonny Gomes had a bunch of shirts made up for his teammates today that said “Turn the page”. Maybe that’s what he’ll be wearing tomorrow.)
While the day was cool and overcast when the park first opened, the fog burned off and the sun rolled in, making for another beautiful baseball day. Practice finished up around 12:30, leaving us plenty of time to spend the afternoon at Lighthouse Beach on Sanibel Island.
Monday, February 24, 2014 – JetBlue Park, Ft. Myers
Spring Training Workout
My second day in The Fort brought me back to JetBlue Park for another day of Red Sox workouts. There were a lot more fans than there had been on Sunday, as a new group of vacationers had flown down over the weekend. But that didn’t stop me from taking over 300 pictures again (many of which feature Mike Napoli’s beard – I find it hard to concentrate on anything else when he’s around) and pick up a few more autographs.
The first drill we watched was called 4-bagger, and it featured players starting at second base and running to either third or home, depending on where the coaches hit the ball. Then they did one of my favorites to watch – the sliding drill. It looks like a Slip-n-Slide without the water, and they all look very silly as they get a big running start and then slide onto a giant baggie. I managed to get a video of the proceedings:
After that, we watched the pitchers go through PFP for a while. After fielding comebackers batted by coaches, they started working on pickoff plays to first and third. As I watched Koji Uehara spin and throw to first, I had an October flashback, leading me to comment, “You never know when you’re going to need that play to end a World Series game,” since that was the weird way in which Game 4 ended last year.
Next we watched a few rounds of live B.P., in which hitters face their own teammates rather than balls served up by coaches. There were live B.P. sessions going on on four different fields, and I chose to watch Koji throw to Mike Napoli and Dustin Pedroia. Napoli actually knocked a few over the fence, but Koji pretty much kept both hitters flailing. When the session was over, he shared his customary high-fives to the other players, and then was wrapped in a big hug by Napoli.
I also got to watch Felix Doubront, Drake Britton, and newcomer Edward Mujica, who closed for the Cardinals for much of last year and projects to be a set-up man here, in their live batting practice sessions.
My strategy for trying to get autographs on the more crowded days is to focus on the lesser-known players and look for places where there are no other fans. I noticed one group of young players on a back field while everyone else seemed to be watching for Big Papi and the other stars. I knew they’d have to walk past me when they were done, and while some of them went out the back to a different field, Brandon Snyder did come by. My mother and I were easily able to call him over, and I asked him to sign a photo of me with the World Series trophy, since he had played in 27 games for the Red Sox last summer. He looked at the picture and said, “Cool! I don’t even have a picture with the trophy.” My mother replied, “But you’re getting a ring,” to which he broke out in a big smile. He then added that he had just had a baby girl last October, and was focusing on getting pictures of her. To me, the chance to actually interact with a player is a much more fun autograph to get than getting one of the bigger names in a long impersonal line or a crazy mob.
We wrapped up the day with autographs from a couple of other minor leaguers, including third baseman Garin Cecchini, who’s one of the top prospects in the organization. With the weather as gorgeous as it was, we spent the afternoon in Ft. Myers Beach, topping off a perfect day with a soft serve orange ice cream at Sun Harvest Citrus.
Sunday, February 23, 2014 – JetBlue Park, Ft. Myers
Spring Training Workouts
It was a welcome respite from winter just to step into a land of warmth and humidity. The past two months have been colder and snowier than usual in New England, and just two weekends after standing outside Fenway Park in 18° weather bundled up in all my warmest garb to see the equipment truck depart, I was happy to make my own journey to Fenway South, the Spring Training home of the Red Sox. Summer was in full swing, with temps up into the 80’s. (I even got the beginnings of my annual farmer’s tan – I think the last time I was outside in short sleeves was the unseasonably warm day of the Rolling Rally last November.) Here in southwest Florida, the boys of summer were back and intent on defending their crown.
It was fun to see the players back in action, and I love the chance to get close and interact with them, which is what makes the Spring Training workouts one of my favorite events of the year. We got to see all the usual drills – PFP (pitchers’ fielding practice), run-down drills for the infielders and pitchers, live B.P. (when pitchers throw to their own teammates), and regular batting practice (thrown by coaches). Big Papi was especially impressive – he hit several long shots over the fence and off the roof of the batting cages beyond.
Unlike past years, there was no set area where all the players had to go to enter or leave the fields, so there was no way to plan any autograph seeking. However, I had really good luck catching players as they walked from one field to another. I found that if I was in a less-crowded area and was the only one around who asked, most were happy to oblige, especially the minor leaguers who were happy to have someone know who they were. By the end of the day I wound up with autographs ranging from Jonny Gomes (who signed a picture of me with the 2013 trophy) to newcomers Grady Sizemore and Chris Capuano to non-roster invitee Heiker Meneses. I also got many close-up photos of the players in action, my favorites of which are shared below.
The last players to leave the field were Ryan Lavarnway and Will Middlebrooks, who stayed long after everyone else had gone in to practice fielding grounders. Middlebrooks stayed even longer to sign for the dozen or so fans who were left, and then it was time for us to head home. But we’ll be back tomorrow for another fun morning of baseball and sun.
Saturday, February 8, 2013 – Fenway Park
With the “boys of summer” stretching the baseball season late into October last year, this has actually been a shorter off-season than most. But with last year as exciting as it was, and winter colder than usual, the new season can’t start soon enough for me. So of course I had to go in and watch the truck get loaded up with equipment and head south, signaling the official unofficial start of the new baseball season. In the past couple of years, the truck has started on its way at noon, giving us a chance to watch workers pack it up beforehand, but this year they were packing at 7 am and leaving at 10:00. That’s a little too early for this non-morning-person with over an hour’s commute to Boston – not to mention that it was only 11° when I left my house – so arriving at 8:30 was the best I could do.
There were probably only about a dozen fans there when I arrived, and the street was still open to traffic. The truck was already half-full, and we watched as they wheeled in boxes of baseballs, trunks of video equipment, and suitcases (one with an ever-helpful tag reading “TAKE TO BALLPARK”). There weren’t too many unusual items loaded while I was there, but it was strange to see a duffel bag with the White Sox “Sox” logo on it (I read when I got home that it belonged to Jake Peavy, who was traded from Chicago at the end of last year) and one labeled “Dirt 7″. That’s Stephen Drew’s nickname, but he’s a free agent; maybe it’s an old box and there’s something else written on the other side.
After 9:00, the street started to fill in with fans, and the media descended. The truck driver, Al Hartz, who’s made the journey for the past 16 years, even signed some autographs. Soon the Boston University pep band showed up, playing classic tunes as well as “Shippin’ Up to Boston” and “Dirty Water”. Dr. Charles Steinberg arrived, wearing a spring training necktie and his ‘04 and ‘07 World Series rings. Dick Flavin, the Boston TV personality who’s now a P.A. announcer at Fenway and the unofficial poet laureate of the Red Sox, was with him, and Steinberg had the band hold up for a few minutes while Flavin read a poem he had written for the occasion:
There’s light at the end of the tunnel.
Spring Training is not far away.
The truck is all loaded and ready.
Ft. Myers, it’s heading your way.
Soon it will be in the sunshine,
While we’re up here freezing, y’know.
Perhaps you can do us a favor,
And load up the darn thing with snow.
This winter has dragged on forever.
Enough with this frozen Fenway!
Get trucking on down to Spring Training.
We’re ready for baseball I’d say.
Bon voyage, adios, see you later,
Make tracks, move her out, on your way!
When you come back bring some good weather,
And be here by Opening Day.
From where I was standing, I was able to get a video of Flavin reciting his poem:
Shortly before 10:30, the truck’s doors were officially closed, and it rolled away on its journey, led by a police escort and a flatbed truck with Fenway ambassadors. I went around the corner to Boylston St. to watch them drive by, and then when they were safely headed on their way, I came back around to Yawkey Way.
My last stop was the Fenway Park ticket office, where all three Red Sox World Series trophies – 2004, 2007, and the current 2013 one – were on display. Because I had waited on the corner of Boylston St. for a few minutes instead of going right in, I was at the back of the line and waited outside another half-hour. At least the line moved quickly, and it was a relief to finally get inside.
After getting my chance to pay homage to the trophies, I headed home to warm up. It’s hard to fathom on a frigid morning like this, but with the Red Sox’ equipment on its way south, and a bunch of players already checking in early, spring can’t be far behind.
Saturday, December 14, 2013 – Fenway Park
Christmas at Fenway
Ever since the Red Sox made Christmas at Fenway an invitation-only event after the chaos of the 2004 free-for-all, I’ve never been selected in the lottery to attend. This year was no different, as I received my rejection letter during the week. That meant I’d have to take my chances in the dreaded Virtual Waiting Room online to try to get the 4-game Sox Pax that included Opening Day, a feat I haven’t had any luck with in the other Championship years. The other thing that was up in the air was the Fenway Park Yard Sale, which in previous years has been combined with Christmas at Fenway. The way it works, and who’s allowed to go, has been a little different every year, and this year I hadn’t seen any mention of it.
I was very lucky with the online sale and actually managed to get one of the Opening Day packs. I’m 45 rows back in the bleachers, but I don’t care – I get to go to my 14th consecutive opener, and see the World Champions raise the banner and get their rings! (About 15 minutes after my transaction was complete, I saw that package had sold out.) I was ready to move on with my day, when I saw a tweet just before noon that Red Sox Nation members and Season Ticket Holders could go to the Yard Sale at 1:30. (And that was only because Jere from A Red Sox Fan from Pinstripe Territory tweeted to ask them, not because they sent out emails or anything. How are we supposed to know?) So I hopped in the car and made it there just in time. There was a line of lottery winners who were waiting in line for a special wristband (they were calling wristband numbers when it was time for them to go to the ticket office), but those of us who were just there for the yard sale were able to go right in.
I went to the Yard Sale area first, inside a function room on the first floor near Gate B. There didn’t seem to be as much stuff as previous years. I didn’t see any Fenway Park bricks, which had always been a highlight for me. The other thing I like to stock up on at these Yard Sales is the publications, like old media guides and yearbooks. Those were just thrown randomly into giant boxes. I dug through a little, but the only thing I found interesting that I didn’t already have was a 2013 Umpire Media Guide. It has bios of the umpires, rule changes, and ground rules for every park. There are also sections titled Instant Replay, Rules Regarding Weather Conditions, and Elbow Pads that look intriguing. (Not sure if there’s anything in there about obstruction, though.) I bypassed the boxes of game used jerseys and banners that used to hang in the area around the park, because they’re all out of my price range.
In the back of the room was a line for autographs. I assume they rotated players there throughout the day, and Ryan Lavarnway was the one currently there. I had brought a picture of me with the 2013 trophy which I’m trying to get as many as possible of the players from that team to sign, and was able to add Lavarnway’s autograph. Sam Horn and Bob Montgomery were also signing.
Next I headed out into the chilly Big Concourse to find the World Series trophies. First there was a World Series ice sculpture that I posed with. I also went up one of the ramps to see the field, where preparations were being made to build a hockey rink for college games next month. Temperatures were in the teens and snow was falling. It was certainly a different view! The trophy line took about 20 minutes, and while I was waiting I ended up buying some World Series logo wrapping paper from a roving Red Sox Foundation person. They were also raffling off prizes every half-hour. When I got to the front of the trophy line, I decided to pay tribute to bullpen cop Steve Horgan by posing in his familiar stance. (I cracked myself up even further when I got home and added a diving Torii Hunter to complete the picture.)
My last stop was the Royal Rooters Club. Earlier in the day NESN had been broadcasting from there, and they had had interviews with players and staff. By the time I was there, nothing was going on except for a group of carolers. For some reason they also had some small animals on display – I heard there was a scorpion, and saw a girl holding a bunny. I stoppped to eat a pretzel before going home. As I left, I went back downstairs to the Yard Sale room to see if there were any other players signing, but instead they had moved the trophies inside and were using the space for that.