Friday, August 30, 2013

"Papi's fine. Thanks for playing."

This video is from early 2010, when David Ortiz was enduring a much worse slump than the one currently being lamented across Red Sox Nation.

Yes, David Ortiz, the "Greatest Clutch Hitter in the History of the Boston Red Sox," is enduring a hellacious slump. Ortiz is 0 for his last 22, hitless for a week and a half.

But Big Papi isn't concerned, even though the drought has lowered his batting average seventeen points. Ortiz has been playing baseball his whole life, he has been playing before the Fenway Faithful for a decade, and he knows how this works.

The fans clamor for the reason behind this unexplainable phenomenon. The media badgers him after every missed opportunity. When he remains unresponsive, the media will begin to bother his teammates and coaches, asking the most ridiculous of questions: "What's wrong with David Ortiz?"

Of course, nothing is wrong with David Ortiz. He'll inevitably get hot sooner or later, and if the Red Sox make the playoffs, no one will remember Papi's hitless week at the end of August.

Luckily for him, the slump is coming in the middle of the season, because hysteria is contagious when aging designated hitters struggle in April. Unfortunately for us, Dustin Pedroia seems to save his greatest quips for questions about such unwarranted hysteria:

"Papi's fine. Thanks for playing."

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Why I Give to the Jimmy Fund

Today, the Red Sox are hosting the WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon to raise money and awareness about the Jimmy Fund.  Last Monday was the fourth anniversary of the day my mother passed away from cancer. The following is a re-post of my September 25, 2009 entry entitled "Baseball as a Coping Mechanism," which should explain why even a broke grad student like myself makes sure to give every year.

My sister, my mom, and me at Disney World in March 2009

"Surviving cancer is, and will always be, my toughest battle. I laugh when people talk about how tough it is to deal with the boos of the fans or the high expectations of big market baseball. Hah! You want to know what tough is. John Kruk knows. Andres Galarraga knows. And Jon Lester has come to find out. When cancer comes calling, baseball takes a backseat. Having forty thousand people at Yankee Stadium tell me I suck is a nice diversion." -Mike Lowell, Deep Drive

Cancer took my mom last month. Today would have been her sixty-second birthday.

When I came back from boarding school with a renewed obsession for baseball, my mom humored me, watching all the games with me (with intermittent naps), and even picking a favorite player (David Ortiz). After I read Mike Lowell’s book, I knew she had to read it, too. The above passage caused Mikey to replace Papi in her affections.

The Red Sox were something that we shared. She didn't have any real affinity for professional baseball before I did (though she grew up in rural Connecticut, so the Sox would have been a logical choice), but she started paying attention because it was important to me: I loved the Red Sox, she loved me. Therefore, she loved the Red Sox, too. The other members of my family are what you would term "casual fans," they don't know very much about the players, don't really watch on TV, but, like all good New Englanders, they have Sox hats and are happy when the home town team does well.

When we were in the hospital last month, the Red Sox were on the telev
ision every night. The first night we were there was the night of Victor Martinez's two-out, go-ahead double in the ninth inning, and when he hit it I leaped out of my chair, feeling that I shouldn't yell in a hospital. My mom felt no such qualms, and shouted her excitement. She then looked at me and said, quite seriously, "You know, I really liked Justin Masterson... but this new guy looks promising." I couldn't have said it better myself.

The Red Sox provided an escape these last few years when I needed one, and they were something for my mom and I to enjoy together when we could. Her first trip to Fenway was last June, and Tim Wakefield pitched the Sox to a win over the Diamondbacks. We went twice this summer, once to see Jon Lester pitch 7+ perfect innings (and a complete game) against the Rangers in June, and once to see Brad Penny toss a gem against New York the next week.

"I never thought I'd get to go to Fenway Park," she told me more than once. I'm so glad that she did.

Even when I was away at school, she would watch the games so she could talk about them with me (and, as a lifetime coach and phys. ed. teacher, she had a deep love of sports). I have a saved voicemail on my cell phone from April 26, 2009. She called me during the game, while my phone was off, and left the following breathless message: "Wow, Kayla, I really hope you're watching the game, because Jacoby Ellsbury just stole home, and it was AMAZING!" As soon as I got the message, I called her back and we discussed it at length.

My mom valued sportsmanship highly, perhaps because of her keen awareness that life isn’t fair, she expected sports to be fair… She even infamously pulled out a rulebook in the middle of a field hockey game last season in order to correct the referee. As those she coached well know, she never advocated arguing with the umpire, so if she was upset, there was something very wrong. Sure enough, she was right, and another person learned that it’s very unwise to doubt Deryl Fleming when it comes to field hockey. She taught me to always respect the umpire, and the only time I ever saw her visibly upset over a call in MLB was last year. Mike Lowell, whose book she had just finished, starting arguing balls and strikes with the umpire. "Well," she reasoned, "Mike never argues, so if he thinks it's a bad call, it's a bad call."

I can't thank everyone enough that helped her and our family through everything: all the food, and the rides, and the support, meant more than anyone will know. I wish there was some way for me to thank the Boston Red Sox, and specifically Mike Lowell, for giving her, and me, something to believe in and hope for right up until the end.  

To give, call 877-738-1234, go to, or text KCANCER to 20222 to give $10. Every little bit helps.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Red Sox Never Say Die

[If you haven't seen The Goonies, drop whatever you're doing right now and go watch it.]

Like the Goonies, the 2013 Red Sox never say die. This season, the Sox have come from behind to win 28 games, most recently last night's contest against the Toronto Blue Jays.

As has been the case so many times this season, the win was a true team effort. Starter Ryan Dempster went seven innings and allowed just one run, leaving the game in line for the win. Unfortunately for Dempster, Junichi Tazawa came in and gave up a home run to J.P. Arencibia.

Arencibia's homer tied up the game, and was just the eighth home run allowed by Tazawa in 55.2 innings pitched this year. Craig Breslow pitched an inning before handing the ball off to Koji Uehara, who pitched 1.1 innings, and earned the win after Shane Victorino knocked in two Red Sox runs in the 11th inning.

In past years I haven't been able to muster much optimism when the Red Sox end up in extra innings on the road. Inevitably, I'd stay awake to watch the other team walk off, deliriously happy with their victory.

That hasn't been the case this year. This team seems to want it more than their opponents, and more than previous Red Sox teams. I'll happily stay up to the wee hours of the morning on a daily basis to watch the Sox win games like last night's.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Clubhouse camaraderie... even on days off

Every time I say I couldn't love the 2013 Red Sox any more, they make me reconsider. Even after a disappointing stretch where they went 3-4 against the lowly Astros and the surprising Royals, I can't wait to tune in to tonight's game in Toronto.

The Sox left Kansas City on Sunday night, and spent the off day yesterday in Toronto. Certainly no one could blame the players if they took the day to relax away from baseball, before gearing up for tonight.

Of course, relaxing away from baseball is a foreign concept to Dustin Pedroia, and it seems he found some cohorts to take to Rogers Centre with him for yesterday's Blue Jays/A's game.

Jonny Gomes, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Pedroia scored seats behind home plate to watch the Blue Jays take a 5-1 beatdown at the hands of the A's. Doubtless the trio spent most of the game looking for an edge in the upcoming three-game set against Toronto.

Photo via @Alleycat17
I love everything about this photo. I love that Gomes and Salty seemingly made an effort to remain unrecognized, with a hat and sunglasses. I love that Pedroia - by far the most recognizable of the three - made no such effort. I love that they're basically wearing matching outfits. I even love whatever strange hair situation Salty was dealing with.

Mostly I love that on an off day, they not only chose to spend their time with teammates, but decided to spend it scoping out the competition... because world-class scouting and video departments can only do so much.

It wasn't all seriousness for nine innings, as Gomes and Salty enjoyed some ballpark food late in the game - no official word on Pedroia's dietary choices.

Photo via @Alleycat17
There's obviously nothing wrong with players who take an off day and spend it with their families, or by themselves. But there's something special about a team that truly enjoys each other's company enough to seek one another out when they don't have to.

The word "intangibles" gets thrown around a lot in sports, just like the phrase "clubhouse chemistry," and both things are useless when teams don't have the talent to back them up. The 2013 Red Sox have that talent. They have intangibles, and chemistry, and the greatest collection of beards since the California Gold Rush of the mid-19th century.

I have to stop saying that I couldn't love this team any more, because they just keep proving me wrong.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Complicity of Bud Selig

Photo source
However you feel about the Alex Rodriguez debacle, you have to agree that it makes for excellent baseball television. Personally, I'm quite enjoying the circus - schadenfreude has always been one of my strong suits.

When A*Rod takes the field in Chicago, he'll doubtless face a loud chorus of boos and jeers. After talking to a few Yankees fans, I don't think his reception would be much better at home in the Bronx; Rodriguez has a seriously dwindling list of supporters.

But to focus on Alex Rodriguez at the expense of all the other storylines surrounding the suspensions would be a mistake. Sure, A*Rod's return is somehow both arrogant and brave, and certainly makes for great drama - but there's so much more to talk about.

In light of Bud Selig's singleminded prosecution of Rodriguez and his fellow PED users (which, of course, is warranted given their alleged indiscretions), we should not lose sight of the fact that it was Selig and his power structure who let the steroid era go unchecked for so long.

Selig took the reins at MLB in 1998, when the game was still trying to recover from the strike and cancelled World Series in 1994. So when the home runs started flying out of (publicly funded) stadiums and fans started flocking back in, he looked the other way.

In his defense, Selig was dealing with an at-times uncooperative Player's Union, but he didn't manage to get steroid testing into the game for six years. Selig ignored the problem for more than half a decade. Six years of rampant PED use across the game created a culture of steroids in cities everywhere - and people like Alex Rodriguez realized that the benefits outweighed the risk.

The wide use of performance enhancing drugs is a black eye to the game of baseball, but the sport will recover - just like it has recovered from scandals in gambling, amphetamines, and greed. The reputations of Alex Rodriguez and Bud Selig, however, may be beyond recovery.

Friday, August 2, 2013

This could be THE year

©Kayla Chadwick 2013

The Red Sox have had two walk-off wins to begin the month of August - both of them coming on August 1st. The more dramatic and fun (if there's such a thing as a "lesser" walk-off win) was undoubtedly last night's affair, when the Sox scored six runs in the bottom of the ninth inning.

I had essentially written off the game as a loss before it started. The Red Sox had already taken the first two games from the Mariners, and when you see Felix Hernandez on the lineup card, sometimes you just shrug your shoulders and look forward to a fantastic pitching performance, even at the expense of your team.

King Felix didn't disappoint,  pitching seven solid innings and holding the Red Sox to a single run - but as he's undoubtedly come to expect, the Mariners bullpen coughed it up.

As frustrating as that must be for Hernandez, it was great fun for Red Sox fans, and for Red Sox players:

There is something special about this team. They could not be more different from the 2011 version, which was showered with praise from the get-go before proving to be mostly a collection of spoiled stars looking out for themselves. Last year's team was a simple disappointment - the expectations were never as lofty as 2011, and Bobby Valentine helped them to clear the bandwagon of fair weather fans in a hurry.

This team is different. No one picked them to do anything special - they were never supposed to win so many games, never supposed to be in the hunt for the playoffs so late in the season. But somehow, here we are. The Red Sox were buyers at the trade deadline, and remain in sole possession of first place. Manager John Farrell summed up the team's attitude after last night's improbable comeback win: 
“We don’t quit. Ever,” he said. “There’s no quit in this bunch. They truly believe there’s a chance to do something special, whether it’s on a given night or over the course of a given year. That one would be this year.” 
An outlook like that is even better than a 50-home run guy. It's better than a closer who throws 103 MPH. It's the kind of team-first philosophy that makes a city (and a region) embrace a franchise. This team is special. This year is special - this could be the year. And I for one am thrilled to be along for the ride.