Saturday, June 25, 2016 – Hadlock Field, Portland
Fightin’ Phils 8, Sea Dogs 3
While the Red Sox were on the road in Texas, I made my annual trip to Portland to see the Double A Sea Dogs. Late June seemed to be the perfect time – top prospects Andrew Benintendi and Yoan Moncada had both been promoted earlier in the month after tearing it up in Single A, and yet it was early enough that the best players hadn’t been called up to Pawtucket yet. Not only that, but it was a perfect sunny day, unlike the rainy, foggy nights we’ve had in past years.
It turned out that Yoan Moncada was not in the lineup, but we would get to see Benintendi bat third and play center field. He’s the number 3 prospect in the whole organization, and he’s one I’m following closely, not just because of his rapid ascent from the first round of the 2015 draft to playing in Double A just a year later, but because I got an autograph and a picture with him in Spring Training this year.
Unfortunately the game got off to a start that was a little too familiar for Red Sox fans in the past few weeks. Teddy Stankiewicz gave up a walk and a home run to the first two batters, then gave up another run before getting pulled with two outs and two on in the first. Ben Taylor did a good job getting out of the inning and then pitched three more, but the Sea Dogs were already in a hole.
In the end, the game was too much like some of the Major Lague Red Sox’ games of the recent past. They fell behind in the first, started to climb back in the middle innings, and then had the bullpen give up a bunch more late. But it was a perfect night for baseball, and a good chance to see some of the team’s best prospects.
Tuesday, May 24, 2016 – Fenway Park, Section 40
Red Sox 8, Rockies 3
The Colorado Rockies were the next victims for the Red Sox, who have their offense working at Fenway as if they were in the thin air of mile-high Coors Field. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first, then added two more in the second. And Jackie Bradley Jr. wasted no time knocking the first pitch of his first at-bat off the Green Monster to extend his hitting streak to 28 games. My favorite pictures from the game are below.
Not only does Xander deserve to go to the All-Star Game this year, but a bunch of his teammates should join him. Balloting is all online this year, and it’s already started, so don’t wait until the final days to vote. Vote 5 times a day, up to 35 votes per mlb.com account, at this link. #EveryoneForASG
This is something we won’t be seeing much of in the future. Not just because Big Papi’s retiring, but because the intentional walk may go away with him. There’s a proposed rule change to just let the pitcher signal that he wants to walk the batter without actually throwing the pitches, supposedly to speed up the game. I hate this idea! The argument I hear most often is that there’s a chance that the ball gets away from the catcher and the runners could advance. But my biggest objection is that it won’t take a toll on the pitcher’s pitch count. One of the biggest strengths of the Red Sox offense of the past decade-plus has been the ability to drive up the starter’s pitch count, get him out of the game sooner, and face more middle relievers. If a pitcher wants to skip a certain batter, he needs to pay a price, not keep his arm fresh for facing someone else later. And how much time would that really save anyway? Why is two extra minutes so awful? Isn’t the rhythm and cadence of baseball what we all fell in love with in the first place? (Plus watching those four pitches gives us extra time to boo!)
Another fun win was in the books, and the only downside was that no Red Sox players homered for the first time in the last 23 games. The 22-game homer streak set a new franchise record, and you can watch a montage of all the homers during the streak on youtube.
Sunday, May 22, 2016 – Fenway Park, Section 42
Red Sox 5, Indians 2
When weather people on TV give the temperature and then say what it “feels like” to account for the heat index or wind chill, there really should be a third category – Fenway bleachers. As in, “The game time temperature is 59, with the humidity it feels like 65, but in the bleachers it’s 78.” That’s how this game was. The forecast had called for a high of 57 and rain, and since I was half-way back in the bleachers I had a long-sleeved shirt under my T-shirt plus a warm coat in case I got soaked. There was a light mist during batting practice, but that was it. I changed from the long-sleeved shirt into the T-shirt before the game started, and before long the sun came out and I was wishing I had shorts. People in the rest of the park had long sleeves and jackets, but the bleachers are a totally different climate!
Rick Porcello labored a bit in the second when he needed 33 pitches and gave up 2 runs. But he recovered nicely after that, and ended up going 5-2/3 without allowing anything else. And that was nothing compared to Cleveland’s Danny Salazar, who threw 40 pitches in the first and 29 more in the second. The first two innings lasted an hour and ten minutes and saw a combined 125 pitches, with the Sox leading 3-2.
Big Papi came up again in the bottom of the eighth. With a single, a double, and a homer (plus a walk) already in the game, we all knew he needed a triple to complete the cycle. As he strode to the plate, I remembered how he had just hit one the previous weekend (in the ninth to tie last Saturday’s game). That hit had gone into “the triangle” in the deepest part of center field and bounced around. If he wanted to hit one now, that’s what he was going to have to do again.
He worked a 3-1 count, as he always seems to do, and then he launched one. I couldn’t believe it, but it was heading right for the triangle! It went over the center fielder’s head and hit the warning track in front of the 420-foot marker, then bounced and hit off the top of the padding on the wall. I took my eye off it to watch him run – he was halfway to second and going full steam – when I saw him stop. The ball had gone to the exact place he needed it to, but it had taken an unfavorable bounce off the padding on the wall and (just barely) cleared the fence, landing in the stands for a ground-rule double. A few inches difference would have kept it in the park, and he would have made it easily into third. We gave him a nice ovation for the effort and laughed as he stood on second miming a running motion like he was ready to keep going.
[Note: I've been keeping score at games for 16 years, and while my notation for recording plays hasn't changed, I noticed that my scorecards have evolved with the times... because I now use emoticons. My note for this play was "Bounced into stands :( He totally would have made it."]
I don’t think I’ve ever been more bummed out by a double hit by someone on my team. But thinking about it after the game put it in a new perspective. He knew that for him to get a triple there was really only one place he could put it, and that’s exactly where he put it! How does he do that, time after time after time? It’s brilliant really, and why he’s (tied with Pedro as) my all-time favorite player.
May 12, 2016 – Fenway Park, Section 43
Red Sox 11, Astros 1
The big story before the game was that Dustin Pedroia had spotted something in David Price’s delivery while watching videos of his past at-bats against left-handed pitchers. Price wasn’t bringing his hands and leg up as high this season. The pitcher concurred, said that could help explain the drop in his velocity this year, and vowed to fix his mechanics before his next start. Today we would find out if Pedey should double as a pitching coach in addition to his duties at second base.
It ended up a fun night as the Red Sox cruised to an 11-1 win. Xander Bogaerts put them up early with a homer in the first, and Mookie Betts put the game out of reach with a three-run blast in the sixth. It was the fourth straight game in which they had scored 11 or more runs.
Monday, May 9, 2016 – Fenway Park, Section 30
Red Sox 14, A’s 7
May 9 is what I like to call my “Fenniversary” – the anniversary of my first game at Fenway, 29 years ago in 1987. Since I was in the park again on that date, I decided to start by heading out to the same seat I was in that day (Section 8, row TT) and take some pictures from the same angle. I originally planned to take a couple of quick pics and then head to my real seat, but the sun was directly in my eyes when I got there so I had to wait a while for it to sink behind the third base stands. The lighting is different right before sunset than during an afternoon game, but otherwise I think I got them right. (They’re black and white because that’s what I had in my 110 camera for a school project at the time.)
It was Star Wars Day at Fenway (they played on the road on May 4th, which is the traditional day) and they played the following video before the game, starting with “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”
Since I had waited for the sun to set to take my pictures, I was still out in Section 8 in right field when the game started. Usually I don’t like to get up while an inning is in progress, but with Clay Buchholz pitching so slowly, I couldn’t wait till the inning break. He walked the first batter on a full count, and then when he threw ball 2 to the second batter I got up. As I walked around behind the back row of the grandstand, the second batter doubled, driving in a run, and then the third batter grounded out. By the time the fourth batter flied out on a 3-1 count, I was in my seat, meaning that I was able to go all the way from Section 8 near Pesky’s Pole to Section 30 in left field and only miss one at-bat!
Buchholz’s pace was an indication that this would not be an early night. But by the time he exited at the end of the fifth, the game was going long for an entirely different reason. The Red Sox offense turned a 4-1 deficit into a 7-4 lead with a 6-run fourth inning and never looked back. When they’re scoring like that, I’ll sit there happily all night!
Sunday, May 1, 2016 – Fenway Park, Section 2
Red Sox 8, Yankees 7
The Red Sox came into Sunday Night Baseball having beaten the Yankees on Friday and Saturday. They started the day half a game behind the Orioles for first place in the East, while the Yankees sat in the basement, five games back. The Orioles had already lost their afternoon game, so a win tonight would not only complete the sweep but put the Sox in first place.
It was cold enough to see my breath and raining steadily, so I didn’t go out to my bleacher seat. I stayed in the standing room in the back of the grandstand in Section 2 in right field, eventually moving into an empty seat at the end of the fourth.
In the bottom of the third, the Sox put together four singles and a walk to score three more runs and retake the lead, 4-3. Then in the fifth Price gave up three more runs, putting them down 6-4. But the Red Sox continued to rally. Travis Shaw’s two-run homer in the fifth tied the game at 6-6. The rain stopped around that time, and during the seventh inning stretch I made my move to some vacated box seats behind third base.
I had just settled into my new seat, with the game tied 6-6, when Travis Shaw reached on a single. He was replaced by Brock Holt on a fielder’s choice and then the Yankees went to the ‘pen to bring in their relief ace, Dellin Betances. His first pitch to Christian Vazquez was launched way over the Green Monster, giving the Sox an 8-6 lead.
There was still the matter of holding the lead for the next two innings, and although the Yankees did score one against Koji Uehara in the eighth, Craig Kimbrel nailed it down in the ninth to preserve the win. The Red Sox completed the sweep and moved into sole possession of first place, while the Yankees moved further into the basement where they belong. Life is good!
Saturday, April 30, 2016 – Fenway Park
VIP Tour and Player Meet & Greet
As a season ticket holder, I get rewards points for scanning my tickets at games and entering code words throughout the season. One thing we can use the points for is to enter raffles, and I won one for a player meet and greet event that included a VIP tour of Fenway Park. The experience is also part of packages sold through Red Sox Destinations, and the season ticket holder raffle winners got to join in. We also got a a “David Ortiz final season” cap, a baseball and display case, and a free pair of Red Sox sneakers from Row One Brands as part of our prize pack.
Our day started with a tour of Fenway Park. Remember that scene from “Forrest Gump” when he says he got invited to the White House again, and met the President of the United States again? That’s how we felt sitting in the Green Monster seats and stepping onto the warning track. As a season ticket holder, I can enter early and go up on the Green Monster before every game, and there have been plenty of open houses and other events where we’ve walked around the warning track before. But what made this tour a one-of-a-kind special event is that we actually got to go inside the Green Monster, where the scoreboard operator posts the score during games! As a lifelong fan, that’s something that’s always been on my baseball bucket list. (We were asked not to sign our names, so I still have something to aspire to when I someday go in there again.)
After everyone had had a chance to go inside the Green Monster, we sat in the grandstand seats and listened to the tour guides give a history of Fenway Park. There was a game later that night, but for now, the grounds crew was out mowing the grass and getting the infield ready. I spotted head groundskeeper David Mellor and his dog Drago (named after former Red Sox pitcher Dick Drago, I assume), whom I recognized from his Instagram account.
Next we walked down the fifth floor hallway past the radio and TV booths and the media cafeteria, and into the press box.
Our last stop was the EMC Club, where we had a buffet lunch (hot dogs, chicken, pulled pork, salad, corn on the cob, potato salad, watermelon, cookies, and brownies). Then we got to meet left fielder Brock Holt and get autographs and pictures with him. There was a Q & A session, too, where people asked hard-hitting questions like what would you do if you didn’t play baseball (country singer), do you have any superstitions (no), and what’s your favorite position to play (anything but second because it means Dustin Pedroia is out).
Last up was a visit from Dick Flavin, the Boston humorist who serves as Fenway P. A. announcer during day games and the Poet Laureate of the Red Sox. He recited several of his poems for us, some of which I had heard before, and some of which I hadn’t. Here’s a video with two of my favorites, “Long Live Fenway Park,” written for its hundredth anniversary in 2012 and “Big Papi’s Bombs,” written in 2013.
Flavin has published a book with poems he’s written on the Red Sox – Red Sox Rhymes: Curses and Verses – and he autographed copies for people who bought them that day. You can get your copy on Amazon.
Monday, April 11, 2016 – Fenway Park, Section 30
Orioles 9, Red Sox 7
Opening Day – the “real” one, at home – is my favorite day of the year. This year it reminded me of a scene in the lastest Star Wars movie:
My favorite pictures from the day follow:
Although the Red Sox jumped out to a 3-0 lead, David Price gave up five runs in five innings, but his teammates kept rallying to tie it 5-5 and 6-6. The shocker came when fireballing new closer Craig Kimbrel walked two and then gave up a three-run homer to Chris Davis in the ninth. The Sox staged one final rally in the bottom of the ninth and got the tying run on base, before ultimately falling short.
Tuesday, March 1, 2016 – JetBlue Park, Ft. Myers
Spring Training Workout
After playing the college doubleheader on Monday, it was back to a workout on Tuesday for the final time this year. It was technically an unofficial workout, so the concession and souvenir stands were closed, but fans were still able to enter the complex and see what was going on. With minor league camp in progress, the major leaguers were confined to three fields, with everyone who’s slated to be on the Opening Day roster ending the day by taking batting practice inside the stadium, where we can’t go. But we did get to see them all briefly, albeit in some of the stranger drills of the spring, and were able to add to our autographs.
When the catchers finished their initial stretching they all went to one of the practice fields. I thought there was going to be some sort of fielding drill, but instead it was literally practicing walking out to the mound as if to talk to a struggling pitcher. “You’re in control of the game,” directed one coach. “Wait, who was that smiling?” chided another. Then they all walked back off the field and on to the next activity. It’s pretty much the silliest drill I’ve ever seen at spring training, topping even the sliding drill and parachute run. (But it got me thinking – shouldn’t they have a drill where the pitchers practice standing on the mound hanging their heads in shame after giving up a home run? Or, for even more entertainment, have the manager practice taking the ball from a pitcher who doesn’t want to leave the game – imagine watching that during the Schilling era! But I digress…)
After the sliding was complete, the players who will start the year in the majors headed in to the stadium for batting practice, which unfortunately meant we couldn’t watch. But the guys who will likely start in Triple A stayed on the practice field to take B.P. out there.
With the workouts all wrapped up and the weather finally hot, we went back to Englewood Beach in the afternoon. This time it was warm enough to go in the water, and scour the beach in search of the perfect shells.
Monday, February 29, 2016 – JetBlue Park, Ft. Myers
Game 1 – Red Sox 6, Boston College Eagles 0
On Monday the Red Sox started off the 2016 season with their first two officially unofficial games against Boston College and Northeastern University. We went early and walked around to the practice fields out back. Minor league camp has just started, so three of the fields had kids from the low minors taking batting practice. At the other end of the complex, the major league pitchers were out running. We spotted 21-year-old outfielder Andrew Benintendi, who was the Sox’ first round pick in last year’s draft, and the 7th pick overall. He made it as high as Single A Greenville last year and is projected to move up to High A this year. He was nice enough to sign autographs and pose for pictures after finishing up practice.
Then it was time for some real live baseball, even if it was a pair of 7-inning contests against college teams. The real starting position players were all in the lineup, and it was absolutely beautiful baseball weather.
The big blow in the first game was Mookie Betts’s towering homer over the Green Monster in the fourth. Hanley Ramirez had two hits, and Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, and Blake Swihart each had one. Jackie Bradley Jr. walked twice. The subs tacked on three more runs on two sac flies and a bases-loaded walk, and the Sox won the first game 6-0.
Game 2 – Red Sox 8, Northeastern Huskies 3
The second game started 40 minutes after the first game ended. Brock Holt and Travis Shaw were the only two in the lineup who will open the season in the majors, and they figured into several of the early runs. Brockstar walked and scored in the first and hit a sacrifice fly in the third. Shaw had a single and a double, both of which drove in a run.
The Red Sox survived a sixth-inning rally by Northeastern off Danny Rosenbaum and hung on to win 8-3. Final tally for the day: I got to witness 12 pitchers, 30 position players, 2 wins, and the end of the long off-season. Not bad for one day!