41 Days Until Pitchers & Catchers

Happy New Year! We are 41 days from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training camp for the Boston Red Sox. 

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Tom Seaver wore 41 during his entire career, so it seemed appropriate to kick off the countdown with one of the greatest to wear the number. He wasn't the greatest to wear 41 for the Boston Red Sox(arguably John Lackey owns that title, though the competition is thin), but he gave it the ol' college try. 

Seaver's lone half season with the Red Sox, and his final in the big leagues, was respectable, but a knee injury prevented him was facing the New York Mets in the 1986 World Series. When Seaver's season started, he thought he might end up with the Mets, but that didn't work out. Imagine his luck when the team he did get moved to, faced his old club. 

As we closed the book on 2016, it seems everybody is looking forward to 2017. Maybe 2017 will be like Tom Terrific's last season. Solid, with a couple unexpected turns. We could all benefit from such a season. 

Here's My Chance, I'm Gonna Take It!

Once upon a time the Boston Red Sox held public tryouts for anyone between the ages of 18-25. In 1997 I decided to attend a tryout with one of my friends. That age range might not be totally correct, because I was 16 when I went and saw at least one guy who had to be 45 years old. Anyway, I woke my sister up at 7am on a Saturday to drive us down to Bryant College in Rhode Island for my shot at the big leagues. She signed the parental waiver for both of us.

I hadn't played baseball in a team setting since little league, so my gear consisted of hand-me-down soccer cleats from my cousin and blue warm up pants. The warm up pants had a rip in the crotch, so I wore red mesh shorts over them. That's right. I was wearing blue warm up pants with red mesh shorts over them. Somewhere in my parents house there are photos. 

My friend was(is) talented. He's a lefty and played the outfield well. He hit well whenever our friends played softball, so he actually held his own at the tryouts. I, on the other hand, suck as a general rule of thumb, and did not perform well. My friend and I were paired up to run the 100 yard dash. There exists a photo of this dash, and the blurs that represent us from a distance show my friend with a huge lead. 

You know what, though? It was so awesome. Shagging flies(or dropping them, and chasing them), taking swings in the batting cage, running around the field...it was amazing. I don't know if Major League Baseball still has these tryouts, but I hope they exist in some way. A running joke is that I'm waiting on the Red Sox to call me up and sign me to a deal. Almost 20 years later.

Whether I was hitting or fielding, there were uniformed Red Sox coaches hanging around. One guy's nickname was Buzz. Buzz was behind the batting cage when I took my swings against a lefty and missed horribly at just about every pitch. He spared me from whatever thoughts of disgust he likely had about my form. 

I didn't go with any real sense of having a legitimate chance at showcasing any skills. I went so I could blog about it 20 years later. You know what I mean? It was a great time. 

A few years ago Dispatch announced a busking show in Washington Square Park. I took a long lunch break to go watch these guys play. For the same reason. Why not? People paid $100 or more to see Dispatch play at Madison Square Garden. I just had to show up to hear a few songs in the park!

Whenever I have an opportunity to do something and I'm not sure because I'm tired or really should do laundry or some other reason, I sometimes think about my Red Sox tryout and the Dispatch busking show. It just took saying yes to have a ton of fun. 

Game 13 vs. Baltimore Orioles: Patriots Day

I thought about talking about the Marathon Bombings, but honestly, I'm going to leave that to the real writers. I'm just a guy with a blog, so I'm going to stick with baseball.

My dad has been to maybe 3 baseball games at Fenway Park. The last time was in 2005 when he sat atop the Green Monster with a bunch of family. If my uncles didn't go, I'm pretty confident his streak of not attending a game at Fenway would have extended another decade.

One of my first games at Fenway was on Patriots Day, or Marathon Monday, in 1992. Coincidentally, this was my dad's last game until 2005. The Red Sox, with the great Jody Reed playing at second base, were playing the eventual World Series Champion Toronto Blue Jays. It was the third Monday in April, and the Red Sox were already in 4th place. 

I don't remember a lot about the game. My dad doesn't either. He just remembers the game going beyond the 9th inning, sitting in an uncomfortable chair for hours on end, and then watching the Red Sox cough up a loss at the end. Why would anyone sit that long to see a game end in a loss? So he made it a point to not return until he couldn't refuse. 

For what it's worth, he's come around to enjoying baseball...though even today he'll take a Boston Celtics game any day. I think he's been to the Garden more times than Fenway at this point.

Patriots Day is awesome. An entire region of the United States celebrates a day that the rest of the country pretty much ignores. Baseball at 11AM, crazy people running 26.2 miles to the heart of Boston, and everybody is off of work. The clip above was during the Red Sox game on Patriots Day. The awesomeness of this captures the overall essence of Patriots Day...but you probably won't understand until you've experienced it.

Put it on your bucket list if you haven't already. Boston is the place to be today.

Game 12 vs. Baltimore Orioles: Mike Timlin

There comes a time, whenever a key player is acquired, when you take stock in the acquisition and determine if the pickup was a good decision for the team. For some, this happens to be right after the new player totally bombs. Other times it's after a few starts of continued success.

The Red Sox acquired Rick Porcello for Yoenis Céspedes during the off-season, and if we were to take stock before his 3rd start as a member of the Red Sox, we would be pumping our fists and high fiving our neighbors. The 26 year old right hander has so far come as advertised. For a team without a defined ace, Porcello might fill that role on the days he pitches.

Mike Timlin, a 2004 and 2007 World Series champion with the Boston Red Sox, also came as advertised when he joined the team in 2003. He shut down the opposition in the late innings, and occasionally closed out a few games.  The same cannot be said for Timlin's Baltimore days. He saved a bunch of games for the O's in 1999, but was shipped out of town at the trade deadline in 2000 with an ERA approaching 5.00. 

The hope here is the ghost of Red Sox Timlin will guide Porcello to victory today!

Game 10 vs. Baltimore Orioles: Dwight Evans

Have you ever seen photos of Dwight Evans in a Baltimore Orioles jersey? Were you one of the lucky kids in 1991 to pull a Dewey card featuring the Orioles uni? It is jarring. unsettling, and completely unnatural. 

After 19 seasons as a member of the Boston Red Sox, Dwight Evans logged 329 at bats with the Baltimore Orioles. There were 7 games where Dewey played at Fenway as a member of the Orioles. A Google Image search doesn't show any images of Evans in Fenway wearing an Orioles uniform, but the image in my mind is appalling. We can chalk the events of 1991 to bad management decisions. 

Speaking of management decisions, the Orioles entered the 2015 season as a team that has reached the postseason in 2 of the last 3 years. A lot of this has been attributed to Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter. Duquette, another member of the Sox/Orioles alumni group, has also been linked with moving on to the Toronto Blue Jays.

The hope tonight is the Orioles will fall a bit short, like their recent playoff hopes, and the Red Sox will reign victorious!

 

 

Game 4 vs. New York Yankees: Stephen Drew

Stephen Drew represents quite a bit. Between his lackluster postseason performance in 2013(until that beautiful home run during Game 6 of the World Series), to his equally lackluster 2014, and the subsequent deadline trade to the New York Yankees where he continued his lackluster 2014 campaign... he has come to epitomize the rivalry between the Red Sox and Yankees as it stands today.

Tonight's game will be the 2,119th regular season matchup between the two storied franchises. However, it is a few years removed from the regular excitement that existed for much of the Joe Torre years as Yankee manager and into the first few years of Joe Girardi's tenure. The rivalry exists today, but until there's a hard fought battle on the field, it's almost as if it's dormant. The closest comparison might be during the 1980's when neither team won a championship. That isn't completely correct, though, as the impact of the 2004 World Series title and subsequent 2007 and 2013 titles has leveled the bragging rights playing field.

Stephen Drew illustrates this dormancy pretty well. On July 31, 2014, the Red Sox traded Stephen Drew to the Yankees for cash and a bag of balls(Kelly Johnson). It was the first trade between the clubs since 1997, when the Red Sox shipped veteran Mike Stanley to the Yankees during a rebuilding season. One of the prospects the Yankees sent back was part a trade just a few months later that brought Pedro Martinez to Boston from the Montreal Expos. And the rest is history.

Gone from the last height of the rivalry are Pedro Martinez, Derek Jeter, and the theatrics of Don Zimmer being tossed to the ground. The Yankees are not poised for greatness this year, and lots of baseball pundits have written off the Red Sox as well. 2014 represented the first season that neither the Red Sox or Yankees reached the playoffs for the first since since the first Wild Card was introduced. On paper it looks like it could be 2 straight seasons without either team in the postseason. However, from this biased viewpoint, that is highly unlikely.

Wade Miley will take his first step into the Red Sox - Yankees rivalry tonight, thought this will be his second career start against New York. Let's hope Miley wakes up the ghosts of rivalry past and blows away the Yankees to kick off the season's first rivalry series!

 

Game 2 vs. Philadelphia Phillies: Tom Gordon

Tom Gordon logged 10 years in the big leagues before he had a breakout season in 1998 as the stopper for the Boston Red Sox.  Like many members of that team, Gordon caught lightning in a bottle. That isn't to say Tom Gordon wasn't a serviceable major league pitcher, but 1998 was a career year for him. Second baseman Mike Benjamin also had a career year. Along with a peak season for Darren Bragg, Darren Lewis, and Scott Hatteberg to go along with strong seasons from Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra and Mo Vaughn, the 1998 Boston Red Sox were truly lightning in a bottle. 

Unfortunately for that team, they ran into the steamrolling 1998 Cleveland Indians and were defeated in the ALDS 3 games to 1.

Tom Gordon's career had a few bright spots, and after missing all of the 2000 season he reemerged as a solid late inning stopper and occasional fill-in closer. By 2006 he found himself on the Philadelphia Phillies, logging 34 saves. He lost his job as closer but remained a key member of the bullpen. He earned a World Series ring with the 2008 Phillies, though spent the rest of the year on the disabled list after landing on it in July. 

The Red Sox face off versus the Phillies tonight in Game 2 of the 2015 season. Here's hoping the Red Sox harness some of the career year energy from the ghost of Tom "Flash" Gordon's Red Sox past!