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Hot Stove Party

Saturday, January 26, 2013 – McCoy Stadium, Pawtucket

PawSox Hot Stove Party

As far as I’m concerned, a cold Saturday morning after a week in which Boston’s temperature never rose above freezing is a perfect time to talk baseball.  And somehow the annual PawSox Hot Stove Party had once again managed to fall on one of the coldest days of the year.  The free event features autograph and Q & A sessions with some up-and-coming Red Sox prospects, and this year I arranged to bring my friend’s 10-year-old son, who’s a fellow diehard follower of both the Red Sox and PawSox.  The only snag was that it was the same morning as online sales for Red Sox tickets for the coming season.  That’s a complicated, often frustrating process that usually ties up whole day for me, and the PawSox event ended at 2:00.

Jackie Bradley, Jr., the centerfielder who's one of the top prospects in the Red Sox organization, is bundled up on this cold Rhode Island morning.

Jackie Bradley Jr., the centerfielder who's one of the top prospects in the Red Sox organization, is bundled up on this cold Rhode Island morning.

It was after 11:00 when I got my tickets (after all the usual virtual waiting room headaches) and then I had an hour’s drive to Pawtucket.  Our first stop upon arriving at McCoy was to grab a free hotdog, and then we headed into the batting tunnel to see the first group of players.  They were wrapping up an autograph line from the previous Q & A session, so we took a seat and waited for the next session to start.  I recognized Jackie Bradley Jr. at the table, bundled up in a scarf.  He’s the centerfielder who’s currently ranked as the #3 prospect in the Red Sox system by soxprospects.com.  I saw him play in Portland last year with the Double A Sea Dogs, and he’s projected to move up to Triple A this year.  (Keep an eye on him; if Jacoby Ellsbury leaves as a free agent after the season, he could be patrolling the outfield at Fenway in 2014.)  But when the autograph line ended and the next session started, Bradley and the player who was with him left the room and two new players – Dan Butler and Justin Henry – came in.

Infielder/outfielder Justin Henry was acquired by the Red Sox from the Tigers organization earlier this winter.

Infielder/outfielder Justin Henry was acquired by the Red Sox from the Tigers organization earlier this winter.

Butler is a catcher who’s been in the Red Sox organization for years.  He split his time between Double and Triple A last year, and served as the primary catcher for the PawSox last fall after Ryan Lavarnway had been called up to Boston, while the PawSox made their Governors’ Cup championship run.  Henry was drafted by Detroit and worked his way up through the Tigers’ system, reaching Triple A last year.  The 27-year-old has played every position except catcher and shortstop.  He’ll likely start the year in Pawtucket, but could serve as a utility player off the bench if injuries arise at the major league level.  The players were asked the usual questions about the New England weather (Henry, who’s a native of Mississippi, said he had never experienced temperatures in the teens before), what they’re doing to prepare for the coming season, and what made them decide to play baseball (”I got cut from my middle school basketball team,” cracked Butler).  My friend’s son got to ask a question, too, wanting to know what baseball teams they rooted for when they were kids.  Henry grew up in Houston, Mississippi, so he said he followed the Houston Astros.  Butler grew up in Arizona, close to where the Mariners hold spring training, so he liked Seattle.

Catcher Dan Butler was a key figure in the PawSox run for the Governor's Cup last fall.

Catcher Dan Butler was a key figure in the PawSox run for the Governors' Cup last fall.

When the Q & A was done, we expected to get into a line for autographs, but the emcee stepped in and said that since this room was too cold for the players, they’d be moving everything into the home clubhouse and combining with the players who were already there.  We grabbed some free chips and soda and moved into a long line to see all four players – Butler and Henry, plus Bradley and PawSox hitting coach Dave Joppie.  (Allen Webster, the highly-ranked prospect who came over in last year’s trade with the Dodgers, was also listed as one of the players who would be attending, but we never saw him and figured we must have missed him since we got there on the late side.)  I brought a printout of a photo I had taken at McCoy a couple of years ago to get autographs on, and the 10-year-old brought along the scorecard book he uses at all the games he goes to as well as some of the ones he follows on TV or radio at home (a gift from me, of course, when I saw he shared my obsession with keeping score).  Joppie was particularly impressed that a kid would keep score.  He thumbed through the pages, asking “How many games do you have in here?” (about 10 so far) and then nudged Bradley and said, “Look at this, this is cool.”

Dan Butler, Jackie Bradley, Jr., and Dave Joppie sign autographs and chat with fans.

Dan Butler, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Dave Joppie sign autographs and chat with fans.

We sat back down in a good spot for the next Q & A session, when the 10-year-old realized that in all the excitement over the scorecard book, he hadn’t talked to Dan Butler, who’s one of his favorite players.  So once there was a gap in the line where Butler was unoccupied, he ran back up and said, “Mr. Butler, I’m your biggest fan!”  Butler smiled and waved, then got up and came over as he pointed out a game in his scorecard book where Butler had homered.  That put a big smile on the catcher’s face – I imagine that not too many kids know who he is, let alone remember his specific accomplishments.

When the line wound down, we were ready for the next Q & A session, but then all four players got off and took off their uniform jerseys.  I looked at my watch and realized it was already 2:00 and the event was over.  It would have been nice if we could have gotten there earlier, but even just catching the end was fun.  I like the chance to get to know the Red Sox of the future, my friend’s son was thrilled at being able to interact with the players, and I like to think we helped make Dan Butler’s day too.

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