2002 Boston Red Sox Spring Training Reports — Paul Penta — PedroMartinez Website

pedro martinez

Spring Training Report

Red Sox fan Paul Penta was in Florida for spring training.
He submitted occasional reports to the
Red Sox mailing list — which are also posted here.

Monday, March 25, 2002

Barring any high seas on the Gulf of Mexico this week (my job is weather dependent) I have seen my last ST game of 2002. My original plan was to go to Sarasota today for the game vs the Reds, but it’s a night game and I’ve got an early morning so I passed.

So, I thought I’d take a couple of minutes to share what I think I’ve learned about this team headed your way next week.

In this game, you throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball and you run the bases. This team does all that quite nicely, thank you. Let’s take a closer look.

You throw the ball” – The ironic thing about the starting rotation is that the only question mark is Pedro Martinez. Lowe, Burkett and Hermanson are as advertised. Derek has made the transition back to starter and now gives the Sox a definite ground ball pitcher. Burkett is described in the Spring Training Guide as “cerebral and crafty”. I’m not sure exactly how you quantify that, so I can only tell you that the guy wins. Dustin Hermanson? Take Trot Nixon and put him on the mound, and you’ve got Dustin Hermanson. A bulldog who works quickly and efficiently with no extraneous foo-foo to detract from what he’s about. “Gimme the ball. Here it comes. Gimme the ball. Here it comes.” A Hermanson game might get you home early enough to see the Tonight Show.

The relief corps will be there for us, although I’m a little concerned about Garces. More on that later.

You hit the ball” –  Since we all know that hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports, it’s tough to get a definite bead on how this team will hit. They should be a very scary team. On any given day, you could have Henderson, Damon, Nomar, Manny, Clark, Varitek, Nixon, Hillenbrand and even Sanchez (not necessarily in that order) giving opposing pitchers the heebie-geebies. And the bench players are no slouches either. Not a Lansing or a Grebeck in the bunch.

You catch the ball” This team can flat out catch the ball. In all positions, 1 through 9 there are no question marks. Defense will be a hallmark of the 2002 Red Sox. Tek and Mirabelli make the best catching team we’ve had in a long time. Clark gets it done at first base. His extra reach will make some of those bang bang plays go the Sox’ way. Sanchez, Nomar and Hillenbrand will get anything hit near them. Manny looks very comfortable in LF. Damon is a gazelle and Nixon prowls right field DARING anyone to hit it to him. Again, you can look down the bench and feel comfortable putting any one of Henderson, Daubach, Coleman, Baerga and Merloni into a game.

You run the bases” – The fact that this aspect of the game even deserves to be discussed will tell you how different this Sox team really is. Beyond the obvious additions of Henderson and Damon, the other players seem to finally have a clue when on the basepaths. Someone has been talking to them about situational awareness. They look before they run now. They check who is around them when taking a lead. In short, they are doing the little things on the bases that prevent stupid errors. That’s a good thing.

Coaching/Managing –  The coaching staff on this team does more than just hit fungoes. With the exception of Jim Rice and Luis Tiant, who seem to be around for morale, more than anything else, the rest of the coaches are engaged with the progress of their players. Cloninger is still a mystery to me. All I can say for sure is that he has the body type which makes a baseball uniform an unfortunate fashion choice. Cubbage, Stanley, Harper and Evans, though, are quite active. Evans, especially.

Grady Little is so low key, you almost expect him just to post a lineup and then enjoy the game with the rest of us. Saturday vs the Twins he did just that for most of the game, sitting outside the dugout on a bench with the bat boy and letting Cubbage  and the rest of the staff do most of the communicating with the players. Once, I think I saw him give a sign, but that was about it.

Ownership – John Henry and the rest seem to have taken a back seat now that ST is almost over. They have left the spotlight to the players and that’s a good thing. But in reading about some of the team meetings they’ve had I’ve got to think that they have done a lot to improve the atmosphere on the club. Rickey Henderson is a happy camper (so far) and Manny is positively giddy. I saw him in pregame warmups with Baerga and Sanchez and the yuks were fast and furious.

Half brained theory – Here’s where I talk a bit about Garces and Martinez. Both these guys showed up to camp with completely new physiques. Muscle memory is a major contributor to sports performance. Both of them look like they are using the same deliveries as last year. Maybe that’s not a good thing.

Martinez, the whippet, has always worked close into himself, feet close together, arms near the body during windup, etc. He’s still doing that. I think he needs to spread out just a bit and give more lateral support to that increased upper body mass.

Garces is just the opposite. While he is certainly not El Guapolito, he is smaller and needs to be a bit more economical with his movement prior to throwing the pitch. It’s a balance thing.

It’s also the ravings of an amateur. What the hell do I know about pitching mechanics? I was an infielder whose throws to first base were often an adventure.

However, I predict that if Martinez and Garces show any sustained problems, you will see some discussion of their new weights.

So there they are. Gift wrapped and do not open until next week. I send them to you with a hopeful smile and the knowledge that you will like what you see. I’ll miss City of Palms Park but in the missing is the anticipation of getting there in mid February of 2003, maybe even with a T-shirt that says “Boston Red Sox – 2002 World Series Champions”. There were enough Patriot championship T-shirts around this spring to make it seem possible.

Enjoy and GO SOX!!!!!


Sunday, March 24, 2002

Casey Fossum: In my report on today’s [Saturday’s] game, I did not mention Casey’s wildness. It was a bit disconcerting, especially since one of the Minnesota runs came on a WP. He may very well need some time on the farm. I will say one thing, though, there’s no way that all that power can come from such a little, tiny guy. I kept looking for the smoke and mirrors. He’s a remarkable talent and I look forward to his contributions.

Saturday, March 23, 2002

I made my first road trip with the team today as they left the friendly confines of City of Palms Park and traveled the dusty six miles to Hammond Stadium, home of their cross town rivals, the Minnesota Twins. A succession of Twins pitchers completely handcuffed the Sox offense, resulting in a 3-0 shutout.

But it was not all bad news.

The success story today for the Sox was starting pitching and team defense. Darren Oliver, who has been disparaged in some quarters as the “bag of balls” we got for Carl Everett, started and acquitted himself quite nicely today, playing catch with Jason Varitek for five scoreless innings. No, he was not overpowering by any means.  From my seat, seven rows up from home plate, I was able to read the radar guns trained on Oliver’s offerings. His fast ball topped out at 88mph and he was mixing those with 75mph curves and changeups. Like any good business, though, Oliver’s key to success today was location, location, location. He was able to hit Tek’s targets with great consistency, setting up the kind of pitcher/catcher rhythm so necessary for a good outing.

But beyond that, he showed some guts too. Late in Oliver’s turn, Trot Nixon uncharacteristically let a low line drive drop out of his glove, allowing the Minnesota runner to reach second base. Trot was not charged with an error, though I thought he deserved one. On the very next play, however, he atoned for his miscue by firing a frozen rope to the plate after fielding a line drive single. This held the runner to third base and also garnered some appreciative “oohs” and “aahs” from the Minnesota fans around me. At that point it was all up to Darren Oliver and you could see him turn it up a notch as he proceeded to retire the side, stranding that runner on third.

By the way, please note that I do not keep score, or notes for that matter, and I write these before any box scores are posted on the net, so if I get the situation incorrect bear with me and know that the underlying reportage is true even if some of the details are a bit skewed. If, however, I do get the situation correct, you are free to marvel at my incredible recall of fact.

Anyway, if Darren can maintain this level of performance, then he can be the effective southpaw the Sox have needed for so long.

Now, you wanna talk defense? In addition to Nixon’s throw, Johnny Damon ranged far to his right and over his shoulder to grab a long shot early in the game. Lou Merloni was flawless at shortstop. Alright,  he only had two chances, but my man has not officially made the team, so I’ve still got to puff him up a bit. Work with me on this one, kids, ok? Besides, one of the chances was the start of a really slick 6-4-3 double play.

Tony Clark continued his ownership of first base. I’ve noticed that Clark’s 6′ 8″ frame and really long reach is helping the other infielders by grabbing their tosses a fraction of a second sooner than most first basemen.

But the defensive story today was Shea Hillenbrand at third base. The much maligned youngster looked like he was to the position born. Oliver’s very good pitching today limited the number of chances Shea got, but the ones he did field were of the kind that gave the hot corner its name. The gem was a Brooks Robinson style, cross over horizontal leaping catch of a line drive to his right. The kid was ninety degrees prone there for a second and had some hang time too. I found myself hoping that the TV cameras I saw beamed that one back home to all of you. I was also hoping that the Minnesota PA announcer would stop calling him “Shane” Hillenbrand.

Tomorrow, it’s back to City of Palms with the MLB-owned Expos, and then maybe a road trip to Sarasota on Monday for my first three bagger of the spring.

Go Sox!!!

Monday, March 18, 2002

I saw the Sox in their full home uniforms for the first time today, a sure sign that spring training is starting to wind down. Before the game an unexpected “ceremonial first pitch” thing was going on and the announcer (more on him later) informed us that the little old guy half way between home plate and the mound was Dom DiMaggio!

When the multitude realized it, the applause started to build to a heartwarming thunder which lasted before, during and after the former Sox centerfielder’s strong throw made it into Doug Mirabelli’s glove. The added emotional kick came a few seconds later when Johnny Pesky, in uniform and finally wearing his number 6 again, greeted OUR DiMaggio with an embrace on the top step of the dugout. The picture of Pesky in home whites and still contributing actively to the fortunes of the Sox, while celebrating his connection to the distant past only amplifies further the wonder that is Johnny Pesky.

While I still have a couple of more games to see, my feeling is that the team looks pretty well set and will use the next couple of weeks to spin up to regular season speed. Here are some fearless forecasts:

1. The Henderson/Damon 1-2 punch will prove to be the best I’ve ever seen in Sox uniforms. Today, Damon followed a Henderson home run with a triple.

2.  I think the team will eventually eat Offerman’s contract.

3.  Baerga and Sanchez will make the team and so will Merloni. Quilvio Veras will be the odd man out.

4. The majority of the new guys will impress you. John Burkett, Dustin Hermanson, Tony Clark, Johnny Damon, Rickey Henderson and a couple of others will allow DD to sit home and revel in his acquisitional skills.

5. An eventual fan favorite at Fenway will be Juan Diaz. If they gave out “stars” like they do in hockey, Juan would have taken the top spot today. His efforts were really appreciated by the assembled faithful.

The obvious flaw in his physique causes concern. His butt has its own zip code. He looks like an overweight Mo Vaughn. But he moves very well for a big guy, and he HUSTLES. That spike in the seismographs on Mount Washington at about 2:50pm today was Juan Diaz tagging up from second and sliding safely into third base. Juan was really motoring. My guess is that the Oriole third baseman saw that train coming at him and decided that discretion was the better part of valor and got out of the way. He could become the insurance we need if for any reason Tony Clark’s tenure here is a short one. Mike had to leave early and missed a Diaz home run later in the game. Juan sent it over the right field fence and into the next county.

Enough with the predictions. Just one parting shot.

About the new City of Palms PA announcer. He’s ok, I guess, but he went to the Chicago Bulls school of sports PA announcing. Everything is YOUR this and YOUR that. “YOUR” lineup, “YOUR” Boston Red Sox and even “YOUR National Anthem”, prompting me to wonder if it’s MY national anthem, what’s his? The only inconsistency comes when he announces the attendance. According to this guy, there were 7000+ of “US” at the game. “US”? Did he pay to get in? I don’t think so. So where does he get off counting himself as one of “US”? His constant use of devices designed to get the crowd going shows his ignorance of the Red Sox Nation. We don’t need that stuff.

Two more games on my plate. Next Sunday at City of Palms vs the Expos and then to Sarasota for my only road trip of the spring vs the Reds.

It’s looking good from this angle.


Wednesday, March 13, 2002

A thoughts from Tuesday:

FWIW, and from what I observe happening, there is a LOT of plate discipline going on  here. Opposing pitchers are being taken deeper into the count, batters understand that they do actually get THREE strikes before they have to sit down, so letting one go by is not a bad thing.

Two players who seem to be paying more attention to this are Hillenbrand and W. Veras. Unfortunately, they play the same position, but I would tend to give Dwight Evans credit for this. During one game, I saw Evans deep into teaching mode with Lou Merloni, sitting on the top step of the dugout, so he seems to be really engaged.

Tuesday, March 12, 2002
Some thoughts from late Monday:

From what I’ve seen, the Verases, Stenson, Coleman and Buford are out of the mix. Wilton, Stenson and Coleman (if he has “options”) are headed for Pawtucket, IMO. Buford will be the odd man out. … Wilton Veras’ play this spring has earned him a shot if Hillenbrand falters. It would keep the “solution” in house, at least. …

My assumption is that either Sanchez or Baerga gets the starting 2b gig leaving the other as U/I with Merloni. This leaves Offerman totally out of the 2b picture, fighting for a job elsewhere, traded or released. If Offerman goes, does that leave room for Coleman or Buford? I lost count somewhere. The more I think about it, assuming Offerman is out of the mix, it makes more sense to start Baerga, since Merloni/Sanchez can play 2B, SS or 3B (Sanchez’ utility at that position being limited).

If there is room for Buford or Coleman, my guess is Coleman, based on age and ability. Coleman really showed some heart today in the field, crashing into the right center wall to make a catch, and almost throwing out a Texas runner at the plate with a bullet from shallow right center.

Monday, March 11, 2002

I had a chance today to witness the end of the Mike Cubbage era in the long, storied history of the franchise. I think it was the end. I heard in the parking lot that Grady Little had been hired but I don’t know yet if he was there and in uniform. Cubbage was coaching third base and still looked like he was in charge.

The final result was the first tie I have ever witnessed in baseball. I was not upset at the result. By that time it was the tenth inning and they seemed to be running out of players. Too much further into the proceedings and they would have been looking for volunteers from the stands to finish the game.

We are only into the first half of the spring schedule and it looks like this seemingly rudderless, manager-less group of guys is ready to roll. I’m trying not to be overly optimistic, but it’s hard not to look at this lineup without getting a warm fuzzy.

We sat in the left field box seats and standing less than fifty feet away was a sure Hall of Famer, wearing the home colors and looking like he’s having the time of his life. Ricky is happy and, judging from the reception he’s getting from the stands, it’s gonna be a love fest this season at Fenway. Most of what will be the season’s opening lineup was on the field. A split squad situation meant that Nomar and Tek were not playing here, at least. I don’t know if they were at the other game. Johnny Damon and Trot Nixon joined Henderson in the outfield. Clark, Baerga and Hillenbrand were in place. Manny DHed and hit a home run, joining Clark in the HR department, and  #45 was on the mound.

This was a very good lineup. With Nomar and Tek in place it could be very scary. Joe Torre was quoted yesterday about the Sox. He simply said, “We know who our competition is.”

Let me retract my earlier, somewhat lukewarm assessment of Baerga. He made a great play going into CF to snag a ground ball, turning and throwing in time to get the putout at first. While I have not seen a box score yet, I think he also got at least one hit. Is he a lock to replace Offerman? Probably not more so than the other candidates, but if today is any indication, he is making it even tougher to choose among a crowded field. It’s looking to me like second base will be a strong defensive position this year, with any offense being a bonus. Any one of the group is a significant upgrade from Offerman. They all were born to play second base.

Based on playing time, my guess is that Baerga and Rey Sanchez are neck and neck, with Offerman being frozen out. The odd man out of the Baerga/Sanchez duo will share utility time with Merloni (I hope).

Speaking of Sweet Lou, I finally got to see him play today. He was the second string SS and did his normal yeomanlike job in the field. He also was a hero of sorts offensively, breaking a 6-6 tie with an RBI in the eighth inning and it looked as if we were not going to have to go through extra innings. If it’s bad to tie an exhibition game, it’s good to break a tie, right? So, my man Lou was a hero today. Unfortunately Willie Banks gave up a Ranger run in the top of the ninth, thus setting the stage for the tenth inning, game ending tie.

Not all the news was good.

After an invincible two innings, Pedro put his “human” shirt on in the third inning. The Rangers found the range on his previously unhittable stuff. Prior to that, he was really rearing back and flinging the pill, and then had them way off balance with off speed stuff.  Here’s hoping he didn’t injure anything and just fell victim to the heat.

El Guapo made an appearance and was uneven at best. Butch Henry and Willie Banks were both just plain ineffective. I know there was at least one more pitcher, but I was stuck in some long lines at the concession stands and I missed at least an inning and a half.

Wilton Veras was sparkling in the field. He continues to lay off the low outside fast balls that they are still throwing to him. But the two times he hit the ball resulted in identical dying quails to shallow centerfield. He’s headed for Pawtucket for sure with Hillenbrand safe for now.

With the managerial change a done deal just before the game, the Mike Cubbage era came to an end with class and dignity. Mike continued to perform his coachly duties with aplomb and no outward indication that his days in the sun had come to an end, thus continuing the Era of Good Feelings that has marked this year’s spring frolics.

Warm fuzzies aside, it was a nice day at the ballpark, and that’s what $16 should get you on a March afternoon.


Tuesday, May 5, 2002

On a day when the sun moderated the cool temps and breezy conditions, the Red Sox defeated the Braves 4-2 before the first sellout of the 2002 Grapefruit League season. Over 7000 of us gathered to bear witness to the return of the third MVP (Most Valuable Patient) on the team.

At 1:06 pm EST, Pedro Martinez threw his first competitive pitch in a long time. Strike one! At 1:06:15 he threw the second pitch. Strike two! At 1:06:30 he threw the third pitch. Ball one! So, he’s not gonna throw all strikes. We knew that.

It was all there. The effortless delivery. The pinpoint control. The varied speeds and trajectories. And, oh yes, the attitude. The second batter, Andruw Jones, stepped out of the box as Pedro was beginning his windup, throwing our ace off rhythm. On the very next pitch, Mr. Martinez made it possible for Mr. Jones to read Bud Selig’s autograph on the baseball, at very close range.

I have a suspicion, though, that caution was the watch word for the day with regard to  Pedro’s appearance. He did not seem to be airing it out very much. He did “bring it” a couple of times, but for the most part, it looked to me that he was pacing his velocity just a bit. Also, he only pitched two innings, instead of the usual three inning early spring stint. And he did not do any running after he was through for the day. Although it is possible that he did it on the practice field behind the left field fence. With the autograph hounds so close to the action in left field, I’m sure he would have caused quite a commotion out there.

Rolando Arrojo followed Pedro and just confused the hell out of the Braves with a steady diet of off speed stuff. They nibbled but could not bite, even when he dropped down sidearm and brought the heat. Boston pitching overall today was excellent, holding the Braves scoreless until Willie Banks allowed a couple of runs later on, when all he had to field behind him were eager rookies and veterans like Damon Buford. At one point, as the infield kicked a grounder around the horn, Buford took his hat off and was rubbing his forehead. I wonder what he was thinking?

When it was time for the regulars to call it a day, Kerrigan made a wholesale change in the entire on field contingent, replacing all nine positions. I’d never seen that. Usually it’s two or three guys at a time. There’s nothing wrong with that. I just haven’t seen it happen before.

Prior to that, though, the team was firing on all cylinders. Offense, defense, pitching and running. It all came together in mid season form. It was a joy to behold. Kerrigan is certainly keeping his promise to “run” the team. They do not seem to be afraid to be thrown out in steal attempts. You can see that Henderson has been coaching Johnny Damon a bit. Damon’s on base posture, mirrors Ricky’s exactly.

At one point, Henderson was standing on first base after a seeing eye single went by the Atlanta shortstop. There stood the all time Red Sox base stealer, Tommy Harper, talking shop with Ricky Henderson, and they wore the same uniform. Good stuff. By the way, Ricky has apparently settled on number 12 for his Red Sox number.

For off the field highlights, I was able to say hello and shake hands with Johnny Pesky, Bret Saberhagen and John Harrington. I guess he can still be a fan, right?

Maybe the Pirates in Bradenton tomorrow unless, heaven forbid, I might actually have to go to work. Don’t know yet.


Monday, March 4, 2002

Ah. Spring Training. Warm tropical breezes urge the palm trees into graceful dances over the left field fence. Bright sunlight complements the summerlike temperature, surrounding you in a warm cocoon of good feelings and contentment.

BRRRRRRING!!!! The alarm clock goes off. It’s time to get ready to go to the Park and enjoy another Red Sox spring experience. The sudden slap of reality’s cold hand tests my commitment to the Old Towne Team. It’s cloudy, rainy and cold outside. Florida cold, that is, sixty degrees-no sunlight-wind chill. This gives me ever so much more respect for Patriot fans who go to games in the snow for pete’s sake! But, off we go. And, besides, the tickets are already bought.

OK, environmentally, this game was absolutely no fun. Except that the boys won. Or, they were winning when we left just before the bottom of the eighth. I know we’re supposed to stay until the end, but it was very cold, the Sox had just scored seven runs and someone wearing number 76 was playing centerfield for the Sox. So the good stuff had already happened.

Here’s the good stuff.

Derek Lowe started and only gave up one run. But….I noticed Nomar letting Rey Sanchez know what the pitch would be. When I saw Sanchez get low as if to prepare for a ground ball, sure enough, Lowe threw a sinker. When Sanchez stood taller, sure enough, Lowe threw a fast ball. Hmmmmm…reminds me of when Marty Barrett used to signal Evans as to what the pitch was, oblivious to the fact that, at Fenway Park, the visiting bullpen stood right behind Evans. Note to Sox second basemen….try not to telegraph what’s coming, OK?

Speaking of middle infielders, I’ve gone to two games so far and have seen Baerga, Freddy Sanchez, Rey Sanchez and Quilvio Veras. To me, they are interchangeable. Good glove, no hit types who all field better than Offerman, although the jury is still out on Baerga based on what I saw Saturday. Time will tell who passes this audition.

My hope is that Merloni is a lock and these guys are looking to fill any other openings in the utility ranks, while I know that the team must be looking at Rey Sanchez as a starter. My totally unscientific method of assessing the team’s attitude toward spring hopefuls by the uniform numbers they get goes out the window here. Q. Veras got #3, Rey Sanchez wears #13 and Baerga put on #10. Freddy Sanchez sports #85, so he’s toast, right? Merloni’s has worn #26 so he might develop a taste for chicken and a sex addiction, but what do I know?

Tony Clark’s shot over the right field wall and Johnny Damon’s grand salami keep these new additions on the “good guy list”. First to score on Damon’s four bagger was Wilton Veras, who, with a Charlie Hustle head first slide was happily ensconced on third base. Later on, Wilton’s strong shot to centerfield fell victim to a strong wind coming into the plate from the outfield and robbed him of certain extra bases as the ball fell harmlessly into the Tigers’ CFer’s mitt.

If you detect a developing sentiment on my part for a Wilton Veras surge into the lineup, you are correct. His fielding continued to be top notch today, handling a tricky two hopper to the right side of the mound and making the put out look too easy. And he once again looked very improved at the plate.

All this was going on while Shea Hillenbrand was signing autographs along the left field rail, attracting crowds of lemmings who felt no compunction about blocking my view of the game. It sounds petty, I know, but it just made me pull for Veras even more.

They won, which is always good. I had a Guapo sighting, or should I say Guapolito? Nah, he’s still a big guy, just not as big. And he looked very good on the mound.

Tomorrow’s game vs the Braves only has SRO seats which will go on sale “day of game”. The Boston connection to the Braves makes them very popular, and Pedro is scheduled to pitch. So I’ll have to see what I can score from the resale agents. Worst case? I don’t get into the game and go have lunch at Hooters on Fort Myers Beach.

Life is good.


Saturday, March 2, 2002

High clouds against an azure sky and cool breezes from the east made it a perfect day today to see the Red Sox for the first time this spring. I did not get a chance to  see any of the workouts over the past couple of weeks, so today’s game against the Twins was my 2002 inaugural trip to City of Palms Park to see living, breathing baseball.

The Sox lost, but meaningless spring wins and losses are even more meaningless this early in the proceedings, so I’ll just share some random thoughts.

This has nothing to do with the team itself and it’s a delicate subject to boot.

But….as I was availing myself of the “standing” appliance in the Men’s “facility” I noticed that at eye level, taped to the wall above each “appliance” was an advertisement for a medicinal substance available locally and designed to aid in any difficulties associated with the prostate gland. Is this what was meant by a more “fan friendly” approach? Just wondering…..

But to get back to baseball……

The starting lineup included just about everyone you can expect to see on opening day.  Let’s look at the returning players.

Tek and Nomar looked none the worse for wear as each one performed at full speed. Nomar was not tested in the field, but did hit a two run home run and stole a base. Tek showed no slowing down, even during the painful two innings that Wakefield’s knuckler was not knuckling. Nixon ended the top of the first with a patented running shoestring catch that said, “I’m ready. Let’s play for real.” Offerman was also not tested extensively in the field and did have a key hit. Hillenbrand was patient at the plate. Manny fielded well and is going through his early spring conditioning in search of a hit … not to worry.

Three new guys you’re going to love:

Tony Clark – If you’ve never seen him up close, I wager that your first reaction will be similar to mine. “God, this guy is huge!” Huge in a good way. And you’ll love how he plays. Despite one error, he showed command of the bag. But his hitting will impress you even more. This is one strong dude and the ball leaves his bat with a decided pop.

Johnny Damon – He’s the real deal. Also has pop in the bat, and good range in the outfield. I watched his base running closely. His speed allows him to cheat a bit and be about one third of the way to second base by the time the ball crosses the plate. On one play, he ran all the way to second base on a fly ball that was caught in right field. He was able to scamper back to first base before the right fielder’s throw to double him up got there. It was not even close.

John Burkett – He was in great form today, pitching a mini-no hitter for three innings. He changed speed, kept the Twins way off balance with pitch selection and location and generally showed that he belongs.

Four Awards given based on the totally insufficient basis of one game’s performances:

Winner of the Craig Grebeck Spunky Little Guy Award – Freddy Sanchez.  Ok, he’s not so little, but he’s got that same cocker spaniel kind of aura about him. In his stint as Nomar’s SS replacement, he was all over the place, grabbing everything hit his way. Unfortunately, he may also prove to hit like Grebeck. We’ll see.

Winner of the Cecil Fielder “I know I’m big but I can crush the ball” Award – Calvin Pickering. He’s big. Very big. A well rounded athlete, you might say. But he CAN and did crush the ball.

Winner of the Don’t Count Me Out Yet Award – Wilton Veras. Somewhere along the line, Wilton has learned to lay off low outside fast balls. This is good. In his first season I lamented this tendency of his and was proven correct (I am correct sometimes, y’know). However, I also hoped that he would learn some discipline and stick with the organization. The club has a lot of time invested in Veras and my hope was that he, indeed, would fulfill his “destiny” and become Valentin’s successor. If today is any indication, Shea Hillenbrand has got to be looking over his shoulder at Veras.

Winner of the Jury Is Still Out Award – Carlos Baerga. Carlos spent some time telling people around him how to play their positions and promptly booted a ground ball between his pins. Also, his throw to second base to start a 4-6-3 double play pulled Sanchez off the bag toward center field. Sanchez recovered and completed the DP successfully. I’m not saying Baerga is a lousy player. He’s got credentials. I’m just reporting what I saw today.

Just before the game and just after the game, I wandered around a bit to try and catch a glimpse of what might be going on under the surface. What struck me was how great it was to see Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, Tommy Harper and Luis Tiant hanging out with the youngsters. It has to be giving today’s Sox players a real sense that they are truly part of something special. Something that transcends changes in ownership and management.

Right after the game, Wilton Veras and Luis Tiant stood side by side on the top step of the Red Sox dugout, autographing baseballs tossed to them by fans in the stands just above them. It said something right there. Especially after the kids started chanting “Looiee, Looiee” and Veras kind of looked over at him with a grin that said, “I can’t believe I’m here”.

It’s baseball. It’s Red Sox baseball. It’s all good.

Next game for me….Monday, vs the Tigers.



Offerman looks about the same as he did last spring. Not buffed by any means, but no better or worse than he was before.

I need to take this opportunity to add something I forgot about when making the report. I did have a Pedro sighting. Toward the end of the game, he appeared at the top of the dugout steps in team sweats (not in uniform) and some kind of do-rag on his head. My guess is that he was working out elsewhere. Also, I was disappointed in that I did not get to see Rickey Henderson. I guess he had today off.

Monday, February 11, 2002

OK, I know, they haven’t even reported yet. But today I completed a yearly ritual with a new twist. Every year around this time I make my way to the gift shop at City of Palms Park to buy a new hat. For the past couple of years, I have gone against the traditionalist in me and purchased the spring training model rather than the woolen game hat. I already have a woolen hat and the spring training model is made of a perforated material and, so, is more comfortable to wear on those hot, humid winter days.

This year, though, I approached the cathedral of spring with the additional purpose of actually buying tickets for some games. This is the first year that I have scheduled days off, so I am able to buy the tickets ahead of time instead of relying on the neighborhood scalpers who populate the corner of Edison Ave and Fowler Streets. Actually, I never paid more than face value for a ticket at City of Palms, so they’re not scalpers here, but “resale agents.”

Contrary to the Gordon Edes story in the Globe, good Sox tickets are still available and I was able to score field box seats in left field for all but one of my games.

I had heard that there was some actual baseball going on here involving early arrivals, so I slithered stealthily around the perimeter of the stadium hoping to detect the telltale “thwack” of ball hitting glove, or bat hitting ball, but I was met only by silence.

“Ha,” I thought, a spring training veteran like me knows that the workouts are up the street at the minor league complex. Pitying the “civilians” wandering aimlessly around the main venue, I drove up Edison Avenue toward what I was sure would be a treasure trove of sights and sounds. When I arrived, I turned left onto Charlie Wagner Drive and into the deserted parking lot. I was the only person there.

I took a moment just to drink in the sight of all those empty ball fields; the four training fields, and the observation tower at the nexus formed by each home plate area, and the fifth field, unattached to the other four and named for Eddie Popowski. It all just looked like Noyes Park in East Boston, where I got my tenuous and fleeting brush with baseball greatness by playing on the same Little League diamond as the Conigliaro brothers.

Then it occurred to me that in that similarity lies the bond that brings us all to this table. Most of us have played the game, on fields just like these symmetrical wonderlands where we all know what the figures 90 feet and 60 feet, 6 inches mean. We all aspired at one time or another to be able to play that game on THESE fields, for real. But now we must trust others of much greater ability to bring those championship dreams alive. And we gather, whether in cyberspace, or around a few beers, to live it all once again, every year.

The training facility is now populated only by egrets and pigeons. The batting cages are silent. There are tarps over the bullpen mounds. Next week these meadows, with their lush green grass and warm copper basepaths, will be full of skilled and graceful athletes. They will be observed by watchful and concerned coaches. Media types with their notebooks, tape recorders and cameras will scurry about trying to get an edge on each other. Finally, hopeful older fans with their awestruck progeny will share spring inspired dreams with the players and each other.

And me.

I’ll try to be there as often as possible to share it all with you.