Sunday, March 1, 2015 – JetBlue Park, Ft. Myers
Spring Training Workout
Sunday was photo day for the players, when they pose for the pictures that will be used throughout the year by the team, media, and advertisers. They wear their home whites for the photos, but this year they changed back into red practice jerseys before coming out to the workout. Today we watched Pitchers’ Fielding Practice, rundown drills, and batting practice, and we got autographs from Jemile Weeks and Rich Gedman, the former catcher who’s now the hitting coach for the PawSox.
Finally we got the southwest Florida weather that I had been looking forward to, and after a nice, sunny practice, we were able to spend a couple of hours shell-hunting on the beach.
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.
In the video below, Pablo Sandoval, Xander Bogaerts, and Dustin Pedroia work to perfect the art of the slide:
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.
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.
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:
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!
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.)
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.