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Happy New Year

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.

Special instructor Dwight Evans arrived in camp to work with the young hitters.

Special instructor Dwight Evans arrived in camp to work with the young hitters.

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.

JetBlue Park was open for business for the first time in 2014.

JetBlue Park was open for business for the first time in 2014.

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.

Submarine pitcher Shunsuke Watanabe delivers a pitch during his 1-2-3 inning of relief.

Submarine pitcher Shunsuke Watanabe delivers a pitch during his 1-2-3 inning of relief.

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.

Rubby De La Rosa warms up before Game 2.  He started and went two scoreless innings.

Rubby De La Rosa warms up before Game 2. He started and went two scoreless innings.

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.

Christian Vazquez homerd in the fourth.

Christian Vazquez homered in the fourth.

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.

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