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.
Sunday, May 4, 2014 – Fenway Park, Section 43
A’s 3, Red Sox 2, 10 inn.
The Red Sox were still stuck in their slow start, but none of the other teams in the A.L. East were running away with it either, and they came into Sunday’s game only 2 games back in the division. They looked to be getting back on track as they took the first two games against the A’s, hitting a grand slam in each game, and a win today would get their record back to .500. This was my first Sunday game of the year, so it was my first chance to drive in early, park for free on the street, and go in with the Red Sox Nation line before the gates opened. I guess I didn’t leave as early as I should have with all the area schools still in session, because when I got there, there weren’t any open spaces on Comm. Ave. where I normally park. I wound up going a few miles down the road to find an empty meter, and then hopped on the T to get back to Kenmore. By that time, the Red Sox Nation line had already gone in, and I was stuck in line behind hundreds of little leaguers who also got to enter early for a ceremony before the game. While they all milled about in the concourse, I went up on the Green Monster to watch what was left of batting practice. The Red Sox don’t usually take B.P. on Sunday afternoons, and Shane Victorino was the only one I saw batting, with just the coaches in the outfield shagging flies.
When the rest of the gates opened, I went around behind home plate. There’s a new mural on the way to the home plate box seats with the front page of the Boston Globe from the day after each of the team’s eight World Championships. The other times I’ve been by there this year, it’s been too crowded to get a good picture. Remember in 2012 when the Red Sox announced that for Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary, they had 100 plaques, displays, and historical markers around the park? I documented 96 of those displays that year (the rest are in areas off-limits to fans) and I’ve been keeping track of new displays ever since. So I am now able to add this display to the list (see the whole album on Flickr), at number 105.
The Little League kids got to parade around the warning track with their teams before the game, and most were wearing their uniforms. When I went down behind the bullpen to watch as John Lackey warmed up, there was a kid near me who happened to play for his town’s A’s team, and was wearing the unfortunate green and gold of today’s big league opponents. He was obviously a Red Sox fan, as he knew who Lackey and A.J. Pierzynski were without an adult having to point it out, but when he got pitching coach Juan Nieves’s attention, Nieves pointed disapprovingly at his hat. The poor kid was mortified, and tried yelling, “But it’s my Little League team,” but Nieves had already looked away. He quickly borrowed his father’s Red Sox hat, and was later able to call out to Nieves agin, this time getting a thumbs-up.
Lackey’s first pitch of the game was grounded to third by Coco Crisp. It bounced off Will Middlebrooks’s glove but went right to Xander Boagaerts at short, who was able to throw on to first just in time to get the speedy Crisp. Or did he? Oakland manager Bob Melvin came out to challenge the play. We got to see it several times on the video board, and it did confirm that the ball got there just before Crisp’s foot hit the bag. When the call on the field was upheld, I chuckled because the rule is that managers only get one challenge in the first six innings (unless they’re right, in which case it doesn’t count), and Melvin had wasted his on the first pitch.
It’s a good thing that Crisp was out, because a walk, a stolen base, and a single plated a run later in the inning. The Red Sox were busy doing a whole lot of nothing at the plate against Sonny Gray, and in the third, the A’s threatened again. This time a two-out single was followed by a double down the left field line. As the baserunner rounded third, Grady Sizemore fired to Bogaerts, who relayed the throw to the plate where Pierzynski was waiting. Out! We cheered the end of the inning, but when the replay was shown several times on the board without the usual between-innings stuff, I realized this play was being challenged too. Bob Melvin shouldn’t have been able to use another challenge, but apparently this one could be called for by the umps to check whether the play at the plate was within the rules. It was an “umpire’s review” as opposed to the “manager’s challenge” earlier in the game. Catchers can’t block the plate until they have the ball in their hands, and that’s how this play happened; Pierzynski had the ball in his hand when he blocked the plate perfectly, then slapped the tag on the runner. It was all legit, and the play stood.
The Red Sox tied the game in the fifth on Sizemore’s double. They went on to load the bases with one out, but Jackie Bradley Jr., who had already hit into a double play his first time up, grounded back to the pitcher for an inning-ending 1-2-3 twin killing. Making matters worse, Oakland scored again in the top of the sixth. Lackey wasn’t pitching badly – he had been especially impressive in a five-pitch fifth inning resulting in two ground balls and a popup – but the offense was particularly futile.
Although it was warmer than the other games I had been to, it was a windy day with only brief periods of sun. The wind felt worse in the bleachers, and it rained off and on, making it feel colder than it was. In the middle of the seventh, I decided to move around and find a better seat, and I wound up in Section 17. I stayed in the grandstand in case it rained again, rather than moving right down front. It looked like I had found a good lucky seat when Pierzynski homered to lead off the inning, tying the game at 2. And after a wind-blown fly ball by Jonny Gomes fell in for an E9, they once again had runners at second and third , but again they failed to capitalize. This time Bradley tried a squeeze bunt, but he hit it right back to the pitcher, who looked the runners back before throwing on to first.
In the eighth, pinch-runner Jonathan Herrera was caught stealing to end the inning, and in the ninth, the Sox’ third double play of the day ended the inning with the game still tied.
Andrew Miller, Junichi Tazawa, and Koji Uehara each threw a scoreless frame, and then Chris Capuano came on for the tenth. He got two quick outs, but then gave up a double and walked the next two batters. Burke Badenhop was summoned, but he gave up an infield single that plated the go-ahead run. The Sox still had a chance in the bottom of the tenth, when Will Middlebrooks ended up on second base after his lead-off hit was bobbled in the outfield. But Bradley hit a ground ball to third that erased Middlebrooks, so there was now a runner on first with one out instead of a runner on second with no outs. Even Dustin Pedroia was not immune from the futility, as he grounded into a double play to end the frustrating game.
Tuesday, April 29, 2014 – Fenway Park, Section 42
Red Sox 7, Rays 4
Even with May approaching, the weather wasn’t feeling any more baseball-like. While it was going to warm up later in the week, Tuesday was cold and raw, with highs not getting out of the 40’s. This game was in the four-game “Sox Pax” I had gotten because it included Opening Day, so I was going to be a few rows from the back of the bleachers again, and I knew how windy it had been up there the first time. So this time I went with my heavy winter coat along with my normal Red Sox hat and gloves. The temperature was announced as 42°, with the wind chill at 38° according to my phone. I started in the bleacher seat, but I was keeping an eye on the grandstand sections that would be less windy, planning to move around closer when I couldn’t stand it anymore.
At least the game was a good one to watch. John Lackey had become the Sox’ most consistent starter, and he continued his dominance tonight. A two-out single in the second was the only baserunner he allowed through the first four frames. For their part, the Red Sox had baserunners in each of the first four innings, but as has become the norm in the early season, they weren’t able to get any runs across.
The fifth inning started with promise, when a walk was followed by Jackie Bradley Jr.’s double. And finally they got on the board on Shane Victorino’s sacrifice fly. Unfortunately the Rays answered back with a sac fly of their own in the top of the sixth. I was starting to get really cold, and I could see empty box seats in the infield. It was going to take a long time to walk around, and I didn’t want to miss the Red Sox batting, so I planned to go as soon as the sixth was over. That of course meant that the pace of the game was about to slow down considerably, though I certainly wasn’t going to complain about the reason.
Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes walked, and Xander Bogaerts worked a full count before flying out. Then after a pitching change, A.J. Pierzynski singled in a run and Will Middlebrooks doubled in another. JBJ’s second double of the night plated two more, and finally Victorino’s double down the right field line (the third of his four hits) knocked in the fifth run of the inning. As soon as Big Papi struck out to end the inning, I headed down from my seat. In the top of the seventh, I settled in the Section 23 grandstand, and for the eighth I moved down to the field box seats right behind the on-deck circle. Usually by the time I move around to good seats, it’s the relievers that I get to see up close, but Lackey was still in the game, as he ended up going eight innings. It was warmer there too, and I was able to take off my hood and my gloves.
Edward Mujica came in for the ninth with the Sox holding a 7-2 lead. But the Rays opened the inning with a double and a walk, and then with one out, Bogaerts’s throwing error on a ground ball let two runs come in. The comfortable lead had somehow turned into a game with the tying run on deck, making it a save situation. John Farrell signaled to the bullpen, and with two outs, Koji Uehara was on his way in. We stood up to clap along with his entrance music, and a guy near me yelled to Ben Zobrist in the on-deck circle, “Three pitches, Zobrist, that’s all you’re getting! Three pitches and it’s ovah!” The first pitch was a swing and a miss for strike one. The second pitch was another whiff. And just as predicted, the third pitch finished up the strikeout and closed out the win.
As we walked down to the T station after the game, we saw the flashing lights of a fire engine down Beacon Street from Kenmore Square. A guy behind me shouted out, “Koji already put out the fire! You guys are late!”
Thursday, April 24, 2014 – Fenway Park, Section 43
Yankees 14, Red Sox 5
The Red Sox were struggling out of the gate with inconsistent starting pitching and sloppy defense, but I’ve been chalking that up to their shortened off-season. (I’m certainly not going to complain about the reason it was so short!) They just need some time to gel as a team, and getting their injured players back in the lineup on a daily basis won’t hurt. Wednesday’s game, which I watched gleefully from home, was a step in the right direction. Besides the Red Sox picking up a much-needed win, the Yankees were humiliated as Michael Pineda was ejected from the game for a very obvious use of a foreign substance, pine tar, which he “hid” in a giant, shiny glob all over his neck. The first thing I did when I got to Thursday’s game was to post this picture on Facebook:
This was my first night game of the year, and I brought all my warm gear in anticipation of it going late into the night. Traffic was heavy as I got close to the T station, and by the time I got to Fenway, made a pitstop, grabbed my food, and headed to my seat, Felix Doubront was already warming up in the bullpen.
The game started off well, with Jacoby “What Would Johnny Damon Do” Ellsbury striking out and Derek Jeter grounding weakly back to the pitcher. But then Xander Bogaerts missed a ground ball for an error, and a double drove home the first run of the game. It got worse from there. In the second, Dustin Pedroia was charged with an error on the the controversial “transfer play” that was new for this year*. In past years, as long as the fielder made the catch cleanly, the runner was out, even if he dropped the ball making the transfer from glove to throwing hand. Now it was more like football, where players were supposed to have control of the ball the whole time. When Pedey dropped it on the transfer, he was charged with an error and the runner was declared safe.
(*MLB changed the “transfer rule” the following week, reverting to the way it’s been in previous years.)
A wild pitch and a double plated two more runs, and then with runners at first and third and Carlos Beltran at the plate, there was more controversy. Doubront threw a wild pitch that skipped to the backstop. The runner on third scored and the runner on first moved to second. I looked down at my scorecard to record the play, so I missed that the umps had sent the runner who had scored back to third, thinking that the ball had hit Beltran. The Yankees invoked the other new rule change this year and challenged the play, alleging that he wasn’t hit. The welcome change to me as a fan is that they announced over the P.A. that the Yankees were challenging the play and showed it in slo-mo several times on the main scoreboard. (This made no sense to me though, since I had missed them sending the runners back, and I thought that the Yankees wanted it to be a HBP… which would have meant the run wouldn’t have scored.) The replay clearly showed that the ball hit the dirt in front of the plate and not the batter, so the call was overturned and the runner scored from third (again, which really confused me, since I had already written it in).
All of that nastiness was in the second inning, and the game was almost an hour old already. I’ll spare you the gory details of the third inning, but suffice it to say that two more errors, three stolen bases, and a homer led to three more runs and a 7-0 Yankees lead.
The one bright spot in the game was the first appearance of Shane Victorino in 2014. He had started the year on the D.L. due to various nagging injuries. In his first at-bat he was welcomed back with a warm ovation, and we got to experience yet another rule change for this year. In an attempt to speed up the games, MLB is limiting players’ at-bat music to only 15 seconds. And Victorino’s anthem “Three Little Birds” is too long to get the whole famous line in. All that fits now are the introductory notes and “Don’t worry-” and we had to finish it up, “…about a thing, ’cause every little thing gonna be alright.” (When his at-bats lead off an inning, like they did tonight in the fifth and the ninth, they can play the whole thing; they just start while it’s still the inning break.) He did his part to make every little thing alright tonight, with a double in the third inning, and he scored the Red Sox’ second run of the game as they pulled to within 7-2.
(Fenway Moment of the Day: In the fifth inning, they showed a marriage proposal on the scoreboard between innings. Normally this would be met by cheers, but the problem is the girl was a Yankees fan, so instead everyone booed and yelled, “Don’t do it!”)
Burke Badenhop came in to relieve Doubront in the third, and pitched into the sixth, allowing only one hit and one walk in that time. But in the seventh, Craig Breslow struggled, leading to another horrific inning in which the Yankees scored five more times on five hits, three walks, and the Red Sox’ fifth error of the night. Yes, that’s right – their fifth error – and they finished with only four hits on the night.
We took advantage of the seventh inning stretch to move around to the first base side and find better seats to watch the rest of the game. We actually were treated to a little rally, as the Red Sox scored three runs (thanks in part to a Jeter error, which never gets old), but that was just delaying the inevitable. As the Red Sox went down quietly in the bottom of the eighth, I noticed one of the video boards announced, “Now warming, Carp, 0-0, 0.00″. I nudged my friend: “Look who’s pitching the ninth!” The game had gotten so out of hand that outfielder/first baseman Mike Carp was taking one for the team and sparing the rest of the bullpen from this debacle.
We cheered as he jogged in from the bullpen and met David Ross on the mound. His first batter was Mark Teixeira, and he walked him on a full count. He was throwing a few fastballs around 80-83 mph, but mostly 66 mph knuckleballs. (Or maybe they just call it a knuckleball if it comes in at less than 70 mph.) Brian McCann was next, and Carp got him to ground into a double play. When he got two strikes on Brett Gardner we all jumped to our feet and started clapping, trying to will an inning-ending strikeout. He ended up walking Gardner, and then the next two batters too, though he had two strikes on most of them. “Get him some pine tar!” I yelled, which was good for a couple of chuckles from the people around me. When he walked Jacoby Ellsbury it forced in a run. Fans were having fun getting on the ump about the strike zone, yelling, “He’s squeezing him!” and booing every ball. Finally, mercifully, Kelly Johnson hit a foul popup, and Ross made the catch to end the inning.
Victorino led off the bottom of the ninth, and as the first few notes of “Three Little Birds” played, I yelled out, “I hate to say it, Shane, but I’m starting to get a little worried!” The Red Sox went down in order in the ninth, putting the horror show out of its misery four torturous hours after it had started. I’ve been to enough games that this wasn’t the worst one I’ve ever seen, but at least Carp’s pitching gave us something to cheer about and softened the blow a bit.
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.
*Update: I did in fact receive an email with the promo code, and it covered the whole cost of a 5×7 print, including shipping. Here’s the picture – I really think I nailed it with my drawing, don’t you?
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.