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Benintendi Debuts at JetBlue

About an hour before the first pitch of the Red Sox’ game with Minnesota on Friday afternoon, word came down that Jackie Bradley, Jr. had been scratched with right forearm soreness.  Once Jackie quickly dispelled any fears when he proclaimed he could stand at home plate and throw a ball out of the park, the day’s focus shifted to the man who took Bradley’s place on John Farrell’s lineup card, Andrew Benintendi.

Benintendi – the Sox’ first round pick out of Arkansas a year ago – erupted onto the scene in 2015 and came into camp as one of the more coveted prospects in the sport.  I saw Benintendi on the outer fields Wednesday afternoon and was struck by two things: his size (or lack thereof) and his bat speed.   Like Sam Travis (who is the headliner in the Sox spring thus far with his lightning swing that has produced one big hit after another), Benintendi has a straight path to the ball – and he put it on display right away on Friday.

In his first at-bat, Benintendi ripped the second pitch he saw from Tyler Duffey into left field.  In his third plate appearance, the diminutive left hander laced a line drive hit to right.  The Sox did hold their breath in the seventh, when Tzu-Wei Lin collided with the centerfielder chasing after a pop fly.  Both remained in the game and Benintendi spoke to the media after his Grapefruit League debut (and told us his parents were at the park today):

IMG_1668

The other piece of news from JetBlue: Marco Hernandez was optioned to Pawtucket the morning after he slipped on first base and separated his left shoulder after yet another hit in an impressive spring campaign.  John Farrell told reporters before the game that Marco’s option was planned before the injury, and commented on the breakout spring:

 

Before the ballgame, Josh and I logged a video preview:

A few other highlights from today’s game with the Twins:

Mookie Betts did it again.  He launched his third homer of the spring over the Monster in left:

Joe Mauer flashed his smooth swing on this RBI single:

Josh and I have had great fun on the MLB.com broadcasts; we will have the ballgame on the 24th from JetBlue. Between now and then we will bring you comprehensive coverage from Fort Myers.

We look forward to speaking with you on tomorrow’s PawSox Insider, which airs at 4 PM on WHJJ and on the PawSox Radio Network.  Guests include manager Kevin Boles and the red hot infielder Sam Travis.

 

Back In Ft. Myers/E-Rod Update

by Josh Maurer

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone (and Evacuation Day for those in Suffolk County)! Will and I returned to Fort Myers Thursday afternoon for the first of two straight Red Sox Grapefruit League game broadcasts on MLB.com. The Red Sox won for the first time in eight days, snapping a seven-game skid by defeating Baltimore 9-5.

Likely PawSox starting first-baseman Sam Travis was the star of the game for Boston, slamming a three-run home run in the second inning and later adding an RBI single.  Travis has now hit safely in ten straight games played and has driven in 13 runs this spring.

Meanwhile, Henry Owens started for the Sox and allowed a three-run home run to Christian Walker, a former college teammate of Jackie Bradley, Jr. at South Carolina. Owens permitted eight baserunners (four hits, two walks, two hit batters) in his 2.2 innings of work and was charged with four runs.

Matt Barnes (2.1 innings), Noe Ramirez (one inning), Heath Hembree (one inning) and Tommy Layne (one inning) all pitched well in relief behind Owens, with Barnes and Ramirez still not having allowed an earned run this spring.

The Red Sox wore their customary green jersey tops and green caps in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, a tradition that carries back to 1990 when Roger Clemens purchased green caps and stirrups for Boston to wear on this date.  Much of the 10,015 fans in the crowd wore green to the contest, and even the bases were painted that color making JetBlue look very festive.

green bases for St. Patricks Day

Even President Obama got into the spirit on Thursday!

Obama St. Patricks Day

In other news from the JetBlue complex on Thursday:

-John Farrell announced that LHP Eddie Rodriguez will not be ready to start the season in the Boston rotation, as he continues to work his way back from a knee subluxation suffered last month. That leaves the #5 starter spot in an open competition between Owens, LHP Roenis Elias and knuckleballer Steven Wright.

Eddie Rodriguez pitching

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-INF Marco Hernandez stumbled rounding first base after an RBI single in the seventh inning on Thursday and fell hard to the ground.  He ended up leaving the game with a shoulder subluxation, and is considered day-to-day.  Hernandez went 2-for-2 in the game against the Orioles before getting injured.  We are likely to see him in Pawtucket to begin the regular season next month.

-LHP Brian Johnson is recovering from a sprained big toe suffered on Monday.  The guess is that Johnson, assuming he is healthy, will begin the season as one of the top starters in the PawSox rotation.  He is the reigning PawSox team Pitcher Of the Year and was one of the best hurlers in the IL at the time he got shutdown due to injury in early August.

-A big thanks to PawSox owner Jim Skeffington, Jr. for spending time with Will and me in Fort Myers Wednesday and Thursday.  Jim is a huge baseball fan and was getting to see the entire operation at the JetBlue Complex for the first time.  We are lucky to have him at McCoy and can’t wait to see him when the season starts!

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The Sox play again Friday afternoon at 1:05 against Minnesota, part of a split-squad day for Boston. We’ll have the broadcast again on MLB.com, click here to find the link to tune in.  Also, lots more coming up here on “45 Miles” from the Fort, as Will and I get to spend the next week around the complex getting information for you.

Again, happy St. Paddy’s Day!  Thanks for reading.

Josh M

Pedro Talks David Price, Hall of Fame

by Will Flemming

On the morning of David Price’s Red Sox debut, it occurred to me that there is one man on earth who knows exactly what Price can expect.  One man who made a similar high-profile move to Boston, and was expected to anchor a staff and bring World Championships to Fenway Park: Pedro Martinez.  I talked to Pedro this morning about the emotions of his first start in Boston, his whirlwind Hall-of-Fame year and his current role with the Red Sox:

Pedro’s knowledge of the art of pitching is so apparent when you speak with him – and so is his enduring love of the sport.   When he was talking, there was a childlike glimmer in his eyes; whether discussing Eduardo Rodriguez’s mechanics or shagging fly balls during BP, Pedro exudes a boyish passion for baseball.  Watching him on the back fields this week, I have seen first hand what an asset he is to the Red Sox organization, and it was a joy to speak with him.

I had a great time broadcasting the game with Mike today on MLB.com; Josh and I will be back in Fort Myers from the 16th to the 25th and call the games on the 17th, 18th and 24th. The view from the radio booth at JetBlue will never get old:

Twins pregame

We were honored to keep Joe and Tim’s seats warm today

After the ballgame, Joe Castiglione was his usually gracious self and invited Mike and me to a fan event where Travis Shaw, Mookie Betts, John Farrell and Torey Lovullo took questions.  All four got laughs from the crowd, perhaps none bigger than when Mookie told the tale of the day he ran his golf cart into a pond.

Sox Fan Event

Fans had a chance to hear from the skipper, Torey, Mookie and Travis

I also chatted with Ben Crockett, the Sox’ director of player development, this morning about a wide range of topics and prospects.  Here is that chat:

After a fabulous whirlwind day, I’m signing off from the Fort. I will talk to you tomorrow morning!

A Hall of Famer Lends a Hand; Shaw Shines

by Will Flemming

In some ways, the sleepy days at JetBlue offer the best opportunities to peek behind the curtain.  With no home game looming, there is a more relaxed feel around the complex; sure, there as a full workout for the regulars who didn’t make the trip to Bradenton, and Koji Uehara threw a simulated game.  But Dustin Pedroia’s son was in the dugout and cheering on his Pop as Pedey and Zander Bogaerts tried to outdo one another fielding ground balls in the 5.5 hole.  And out in left field, two men that could have otherwise blended into the scenery shagged balls during batting practice.  Both wore grey pants and navy blue windbreakers.  Both lobbed balls to PawSox manager Kevin Boles (who had some fun manning the bucket behind second base during BP).  And both have plaques in Cooperstown.  There stood Jim Rice and Pedro Martinez, laughing and talking, basking in the joy of another spring.  I’ve had the great fortune to talk to them both this week, and will share those chats soon on an upcoming episode of PawSox Insider, which airs at 4 P.M. every Saturday on WHJJ and pawsox.com.

As Rob Bradford of WEEI chronicled so well this morning, Pedro was in camp today and began his morning on the bullpen mounds with Roenis Elias.  By the time I made my way out back, Pedro was working with William Cuevas:

 

Pedro and Cuevas

One moment in particular stood out to me: As he chronicled in his book, Pedro learned to hook the rubber with the sole of his right foot; this allowed him to balance more effectively and generate power.  This morning, the newly-elected Hall of Famer showed that exact move to Cuevas, who then worked on it for the remainder of his ‘pen.  Martinez’s profound knowledge of pitching has been well documented; I found this small moment to be a shining example of how valuable an asset Pedro can be to the Sox and their young arms.

After I spent the morning at JBP, I headed up I-75 to Bradenton to catch the Sox game at McKechnie Stadium.  McKechnie is a gorgeous old ballpark (where both Ted Williams and Roberto Clemente once played) that has seamlessly incorporated modern renovations and remained a jewel:

McKech

The entrance to the Pirates’ spring home in Bradenton

Outfield McKech

Fans taking in the action from one of several bars at McKechnie

From the outset of the ballgame, Travis Shaw again turned heads.  Shaw continues to make the case for more at-bats and a more permanent role in Boston, the latest example coming in the first inning:

After the ballgame, I caught up with Travis in the clubhouse and asked him about his hot start:

The other young man that turned heads today was Yoan Moncada, who started at second base and made this fantastic play in the first:

The second voice you heard in that clip belongs to Mike “Doc” Emrick, the Hall of Fame hockey broadcaster and voice of the NHL on NBC.  Doc is an enormous Pirates fan and has sat in on a handful of Grapefruit League games this spring.  I stopped into the Pirates’ booth to say hi to their TV voice Greg Brown (who has been kind and generous to me throughout my career):

Pirates booth

Greg, Doc and Steve Blass on the Pirates’ TV call

Moncada’s size and athleticism impressed starter Joe Kelly; fans in Pawtucket can dream of the day the Cuban phenom (who will likely begin the year in Salem) will come to McCoy.

Stay dialed to our coverage from Fort Myers: I will post multiple videos each day on our Twitter, Vine and Snapchat accounts; you can always come here for longer-form blogs; and I will be on the call on MLB.com tomorrow afternoon at 1:05 for David Price’s Red Sox debut.

 

In honor of CBS Sunday Morning, I leave you with a moment from nature.  This scene stopped me in my tracks on the drive home from Bradenton this evening:

Sunset

Charles Osgood would be proud 

Hernandez and Travis Making Waves

Sure, it’s only the second week of Spring Training.  But day after day, two unlikely names are making some of the biggest headlines in Red Sox camp: Marco Hernandez and Sam Travis.  Every time they get in a Grapefruit League game (which is to say, every time the Red Sox have taken the field thus far), those two have made noise.  This afternoon in Bradenton, the pair combined to produce the Sox’ final run: after Hernandez doubled to lead off the ninth, Travis singled him home.  It marked the sixth time Marco has crossed home plate, and the sixth RBI for Travis (which leads the Red Sox thus far in Florida; Hernandez is second on the club with four driven in).

Marco Spring

Marco Hernandez has been a revelation in camp 

Before the Sox’ game against Tampa yesterday, John Farrell was asked about Hernandez’s development at the plate.  “Any time you’ve got a left-handed hitting middle infielder seemingly their value just immediately is more,” Farrell said.  The skipper also commented on the increased power Hernandez has displayed over the past two seasons (he had 30 doubles and nine homer between Portland and Pawtucket a year ago) and praised Marco’s ability to “impact the baseball.”   Hernandez – who was the player-to-be-named-later when the Red Sox’ sent Felix Droubont to Chicago – may well have begun a transition from an interesting prospect to being regarded as a kind of player the Red Sox could depend upon for years to come.  A natural shortstop, Hernandez played second in Pawtucket a year ago (Deven Marrero maintained a firm grip on the shortstop role), and Farrell said he believes that Hernandez has sometimes been guilty of trying to prove too much on the defensive side.  With the bat, meanwhile, he is six for his first nine with four doubles and a video-game OPS of 1.838.  It’s only a week, but if you ask me, Red Sox fans could look back on this month as the first chapter in the emergence of a budding star. With Brock Holt and Travis Shaw squarely above Hernandez on the infield depth chart, it is safe to assume that he will start the year in Pawtucket; if he continues on his current development path, he may not stay there long.

Sam Travis, meanwhile, is in the midst of a yearlong burst.  The Red Sox’ reigning Minor League Offensive player of the year, Travis led the organization in a host of categories last season – and has picked up right where he left off.  And he’s impressing the Sox brass with his makeup, too: almost every time I ask someone in camp about Travis, “gamer” or some variant comes up.  People see the former second round pick from Indiana as a flat-out ballplayer – a kid who competes in every single at-bat, and seems to be getting better right before their eyes.   Since I arrived in Fort Myers, I have seen four of his at-bats – and he has squared up the baseball in every single one of them.

Sam and Shaw

Fans can be forgiven if they are confused about these two, both of whom have been on a tear in the Grapefruit League. Courtesy: The Boston Globe 

Josh and I were thrilled to do the first of five MLB.com broadcasts yesterday at JetBlue; here’s a highlight of Josh’s call when David Ortiz logged his first hit and RBI of the Spring:

http://m.redsox.mlb.com/shared/video/embed/embed.html?content_id=548596983&topic_id=8878860&width=400&height=224&property=mlb

I will be back on the air Thursday for David Price’s Red Sox debut against the Twins at 1:05; Josh (who has UMass basketball duties) will be back and we will be together for the games on the 17th, 18th and 24th.

Between now and first pitch on Thursday, buckle up for a barrage of content.  We’ve lined up conversations with Kevin Boles, Ben Crockett, Brian Johnson and plenty of other big names.  After all, JetBlue Park is the kind of place that you can see Luis Tiant driving Jim Rice around in a golf cart…so you never know who we might grab.

Until tomorrow morning from the Fort,

Will

“45 Miles” Hits The Fort!

by Josh Maurer

After traveling nearly for 20 hours from New England to finally reach Southwest Florida International Airport, walking off the plane in Fort Myers to palm trees and mid 70-degree temperatures this morning brought a wave of euphoria to my body.

I knew was cutting it close anyway to make it from Western Mass in time for Monday’s 1:05pm Red Sox-Rays game broadcast (which Will and I were fortunate enough to do on MLB.com).  Because of basketball responsibilities at UMass, I was unable to leave from Hartford’s Bradley Airport until Sunday at 5pm, and was supposed to reach Fort Myers around 9pm Sunday night.

However, a mechanical failure with the first flight forced a missed connection, and subsequently a Sunday night spent in a motel room in Charlotte, North Carolina.  I woke up Monday morning at 4:30 am somewhat worried I wouldn’t make it to JetBlue Park in time for the broadcast.

But my flight from Charlotte landed right on time at 9:00 am, and off I went to a Red Sox fan’s paradise: the gorgeous, five-year old Fenway South complex.  Once there, I was reminded of how great this time of year is for baseball enthusiasts.  It is a time of filled with optimism, curiosity and great weather!

JetBlue1

The JetBlue Complex is perfectly manicured and looks nearly pristine when you look from the outside.

By the time I got settled in the WEEI booth (thank you to Joe C, Tim N and engineer Doug Lane for allowing us to squat in your space) it was nearly time for first pitch. Henry Owens made his second start of the spring, and it was great to watch the former PawSox hurler take care of the Rays for three shutout innings.

JetBlue booth

A view from the WEEI broadcast booth at JetBlue Park.

“I thought it was good,” said Owens afterwards. “I thought everything went well. I got some ground balls, teammates made some great plays. I’ll come here tomorrow and keep getting ready for the season.”

Mookie Betts homered against Matt Moore leading off the bottom of the first, and David Ortiz collected his first hit of the spring to drive home Boston’s second run in the fourth.  Only a pair of unearned runs against Noe Ramirez kept the Red Sox from blanking Tampa through nine innings.

Betts after HR

Mookie Betts after homering in the first at-bat of the game for Boston on Monday

But the Rays plated a run in the top of the tenth against William Cuevas, a man likely to begin the year in the PawSox starting rotation come April.  Tampa won the game, 3-2, in a well-pitched and well-defended Grapefruit League contest before a standing-room only crowd at JetBlue Park.  For me, broadcasting the game made a very long couple of days worth the trouble.

Today was just the start of our spring training coverage from the Fort.  Between now and March 25th (save for a short break this coming weekend), we will have daily updates on the happenings from the big league and minor league camps as well as plenty of special interviews.

We certainly hope you’ll use this blog as a means to get you excited for the upcoming International League season.  Will and I can’t wait to provide content for you.  Happy spring training!

Josh M

For Two Brothers, It Was In The Cards

by Will Flemming (@WillFlemming)

86 Topps

“What about this poster?” – Text from Mom, March 1, 10:35 A.M.

Talk about stepping into a time machine.  The minute I opened the image my mother sent me yesterday morning, I was transported to 1986.  The “poster” was a collage my brother David made when I was seven years old.  Any kid of our generation who ever collected baseball cards recognizes the ’86 Topps set in an instant: the black frame; the block letters; the rainbow of color.  As it happened, I had already planned to go see Mom (who lives just ten miles from my offseason home in Washington, D.C.) yesterday. Now I couldn’t wait to get over there.

For any baseball fan, there is something magical about the cards of your childhood.  They are so much more than pictures of your favorite players, more than a register of career statistics.  As I held the Topps collage in my hands in my mother’s living room, I remembered the excitement I felt opening those individual packs, praying to find a Vince Coleman or a Nolan Ryan.  I recalled the hours I spent organizing and cataloging them. Most powerfully of all, I remembered the people with whom I got to know those players, on cards and in ballparks.

It is not an accident that both David and I decided to make a living in baseball.  Both of our parents helped cultivate a love of the game from the time we were young boys.  There is a certain circular nature to the story of the Flemmings and baseball broadcasting.  My father and his Dad used to pull their car far enough down their New Orleans driveway to grab the KMOX signal from St. Louis and listen to Jack Buck tell tales of Gibson and Musial. Decades later, David and I sat in our basement with Dad and watched Jack describe Ozzie Smith as he took the field at Busch Stadium with a back-flip.  In 1995, our mother worked the phone for hours until she found a ticket broker that would sell her a pair to Cal Ripken’s record-breaking 2131st consecutive game (she will tell you she felt like it was a moment we simply had to witness).  In the car ride up, we listened to Jon Miller set the scene on the Orioles broadcast; 18 years later, after three seasons with the PawSox, David would get his first MLB job with the Giants….and work alongside Jon.

By the time I was seven years old, I was fully hooked – which is why the collection of 1986 cards took me on such a powerful journey:

  • I remember the day we met Atlee Hammaker (five rows from the bottom, three from the right) at K&L, the card shop on Route 1 in Alexandria, VA where our card-collecting habit was born.  We walked into the store and there he sat, larger than life. Hammaker was coming off a 10-10 season and had made an All Star team in ’83, but he wasn’t exactly on the path to Cooperstown. To eight-year-old me, he may as well have been Christy Mathewson. As time has passed, it isn’t the physical card that he signed that has stayed with me (though that’s in a shoebox somewhere in the attic); I had met a big-leaguer and shaken his hand, and I thought that was about the coolest thing I’d ever done.
  • Rick Dempsey (third row from the top, second from left) was my favorite player for years, but not for anything he did on the field.  In 1992, for my 13th birthday, my parents took me and some friends to RFK Stadium for an exhibition game between the O’s and Red Sox (Boston played the Phillies there the next day).  On the 4th – the day of the party – torrential rains pelted the D.C. area.  As we walked into RFK, the white tarp blanketed the infield.  After an hour or two, we sat restlessly in the stands, praying for baseball.  Instead, Dempsey emerged from the dugout and did something unthinkable: he sprinted out onto the diamond and DID A TARP SLIDE! And then he did another. And another.  Here was a grown man living out every kid’s dream. And that was just it – he never lost sight of the truth about baseball: it’s a boy’s game played by men.  As it turned out, ’92 would be Rick’s final year in the big leagues (he only played in 8 games), but even at the end of his career he held onto that youthful exuberance for the sport.
  • Ozzie (All Star card in 4th row from bottom) & Cal (one row above): You already know about the backflips and 2131; it’s fair to say I put no two players on a bigger pedestal in my formative years.  I wore out the VHS tape of the The Wizards’s movie “Let’s Play Baseball” and remember being fascinated by the scene in which Ozzie threw racketballs off walls and caught them with only a paper bag on his hand.  You can imagine how much fun I had asking him about that and much more when I met him in 2013:

Ozzie and me

Cal, meanwhile, was a constant for us.  Whether at Memorial Stadium or the revolutionary Camden Yards (PawSox Chairman Larry Lucchino’s magnificent creation that still stands among the very best ballparks in the country), you never had to wonder who would be on the lineup card with a 6 next to his name.  Unless you were in that city and in that ballpark in the summer of 1995, it is hard to imagine the spectacle that Ripken’s pursuit of Lou Gehrig’s record became.  The numbers hanging on the facade of the Warehouse were counted down after the fifth inning each night (a stroke of genius about which we will ask Larry on an upcoming podcast); at a time when baseball fans were reeling from the prior year’s labor strike, Cal brought many people back to the game.  The truth is I had never left – but Cal gave me a summer I will never forget.

warehouse numbers

  • Amazing to see a baby-faced Roger Clemens (dead center) in the year he won his first Cy Young and was named the American League MVP.  I had heard people talk about Gibson and Feller; The Rocket was the first man I saw personify pure intimidation on the mound.  It was a joy to work with Rich Gedman last year and hear so many first-hand accounts of his relationship with Roger.  The one thing Rich told me that stuck: “Every single day he was on the mound, I thought there was no way we were losing.”
  • It’s fun to see Earl Weaver’s card (second row from the bottom) and remember all his classic tirades against umpires;  wild to see Bobby Cox as manager of the Blue Jays (third from bottom), or Bobby Valentine with the Rangers (four rows from the top, three from the right).  And to notice “Len Dykstra” in the top row – before he was a household name and a few months ahead of a rather infamous World Series.

More than any sport, love of baseball is passed down from one generation to the next.  In 2016, the PawSox mission is simple: to give every boy who’s ever had a baseball card collection – or every girl that has ever begged Dad to let her stay up a little longer to listen to a ballgame on the radio – a chance to connect to our beautiful game.  Here’s an exciting example of how we plan to do that: every Sunday, we will have a “Junior Announcer” on the air with Josh and me for an inning (every kid who’s ever dreamed of doing play-by-play can apply; more details will be released this afternoon).  In addition,  the club announced the PawSox Lunch Box program, in which two children have lunch in the Owners Box on the afternoon of a night game, and then meet a PawSox player. We also announced a “PawSox Poster Contest” in which elementary school students create baseball artwork that will be showcased at McCoy Stadium.

Lastly, Josh and I have an exciting announcement: we have been asked to broadcast some Red Sox Spring Training games, the first of which will stream on MLB.com and in the MLB AtBat App on Monday, March 7th.   We will also be on the air the 10th, 17th, 18th and 24th.

We are honored to be involved and can’t wait to get to Fort Myers.  I’m excited to catch up with former and future PawSox; with any luck, I’ll meet a few kids who are starting their first baseball card collection, too.

 

 

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