Friday, August 1, 2014

Never change, Papelbon

I was so caught up with the trade deadline yesterday that I neglected to share one of my favorite anecdotes so far. It concerns perhaps the most quirky former Red Sox out there, a pitcher who once told Amalie Benjamin to "put the fact that he's a sheriff in Mississippi into a story."

Of course, I'm talking about former closer Jonathan Papelbon, Lord Cinco Ocho himself. The man Manny Delcarmen described as the strangest he's ever shared a bullpen with. Even though I knew the Phillies were in Washington for a four game set, it totally slipped my mind that Paps would be in town.

Which is why it took me a moment to realize that the player who poked fun at the camera setup Julianne and I were using yesterday on the field was the same man who once danced around Fenway Park with a beer box on his head.

We were shooting a pre-game standup regarding the Nationals trade deadline activity, and I wanted to frame up the shot with the field and the scoreboard in the background. Because neither Julianne nor I are particularly tall, we achieved this by having her stand on the camera case.

Halfway through the first take, we heard a voice drawl, "I've never seen anything like that before." I turned around, and out of the dugout behind me emerged Jonathan Papelbon, gesturing at the case under Jules' feet.

He chuckled and added that it might be easier if we were taller, and before we could formulate any kind of reasonable response, he was walking away for team stretching.

I've been able to mostly shed the baseball fan inside of me when I'm working, but after that interaction I indulged in a moment of reflection. If seventeen-year-old me had ever anticipated something like that, as casual as it was, I would have freaked out. 

Five weeks into covering every Nationals home game, the thrill of interacting with major league ballplayers has become all but mundane - but I spared a grin for Papelbon, if only for nostalgia's sake.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Sentimentality of the Jon Lester Trade

©Kayla Chadwick 2012
In pure rational baseball terms, I don't hate the Jon Lester [and Jonny Gomes] for Yoenis Cespedes [and a draft pick] trade. Cespedes is a solid player, Lester's contract extension talks weren't going well, and it's certainly still possible that Lester returns to Boston as a free agent.

But I'm not a baseball fan because I'm rational - and I'm certainly not a Red Sox fan because I'm rational. I fell for this sport and this team in the same head-over-heels, giddy, out of control way that you fall for a first love. Sure, the fact that I was born and raised in New Hampshire made the Sox an obvious choice, but how could you not fall for the classic beauty of Fenway Park? For the fun-loving antics and absolute domination of Pedro Martinez, who dazzled Red Sox fans in his heyday?

Jon Lester didn't come onto the scene until I was already a diehard, but I fell in love with him just the same. Everyone knows Lester's amazing story: touted prospect is diagnosed with cancer, makes a miraculous recovery and returns to the game in time to win the clinching game of the 2007 World Series. Oh, and the very next season he threw a no-hitter, the eighteenth in franchise history.

Lester is a favorite among fans, teammates, and managers. The looks on Lester's and Terry Francona's faces as the two embraced following Lester's no-hitter never fails to make me tear up.

Even when Lester was part of the infamous Beer and Chicken Incident of 2011, he was one of the only players involved to come forward, admit it was wrong, and work to move past it. He's grown from the rookie who looked up to Josh Beckett to a player John Farrell can point to as an example when pitchers come up through the system. The student has become the teacher.

Sure, Lester has had poor games, and even the odd mediocre season - but he's a good lefthanded pitcher who can be absolutely dominating under the right circumstances. He typically takes responsibility for his mistakes, and gives his teammates ample credit for their contributions to his successes. 

Lester is a fan favorite - and for good reason. He'll certainly help the A's down the stretch, and give Red Sox fans a good reason to watch the playoffs, even though the Sox are all but mathematically eliminated.

Even though the Lester trade makes good baseball sense, it's hard to see him go. He's yet another piece of the 2007 team gone, a home grown player with a story worthy of a blockbuster film, headed to the west coast in the blink of an eye. Sure, he might be back by next Opening Day - but it's just as likely that we'll never see him in a Red Sox uniform again.

Somehow, Lester is more than a baseball player to me (and, I suspect, to many of you). I hope he's successful going forward, that he wins a lot of games down the stretch, and most of all, that he comes home to us over this offseason.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Nationals Get Revenge, Destroy Cubs 13-0

After a disappointing Fourth of July performance yesterday, the Nationals came roaring back this afternoon with a 13-0 drubbing of the Chicago Cubs. It was clear that the contest would be one-sided very early on, as the Nats batted around in the third - the only players who didn't record at least one RBI or run scored in that inning were Bryce Harper and Gio Gonzalez.

But Harper and Gonzalez eventually joined the hit parade in what was truly a team effort. Gonzalez pitched eight innings, scattering four hits and allowing no runs in his sixth win of the season. According to manager Matt Williams, the lefty asked to go back out for the ninth, but as Gonzalez was at 110 pitches, Williams sent Craig Stammen to the mound to get the final three outs.

The victory signaled a return to business as usual for the Nats, who had a five game winning streak snapped by the Cubs yesterday. After a long stretch where multiple players were out with injuries, it seems Nationals fans are finally seeing the team they expected at the beginning of the season, and the results are exactly what they had hoped for.

Though the red-hot Braves are still in first in the NL East, Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has high hopes for the Nats - vowing that unlike last season, the Braves won't be able to pull away.

The rubber match of the series is tomorrow at 1:35, and the Nationals have a challenge ahead with Jake Arrieta on the mound for the Cubs, while Jordan Zimmermann will take the ball for the Nats.