Thursday, October 13, 2016

A Farewell to #34

Balls of All Sizes has been pretty quiet in the past 17 months but there are certain people who just deserved to be memorialized. David Ortiz is one.

Well... the Red Sox 2016 season came to a screeching halt on Monday after a horribly lackluster performance in the ALDS losing three straight to the Terry Francona-helmed Cleveland Indians and with it, the hallowed career of Mr. David Ortiz... Big Papi... #34. This loss was incredibly disappointing for a team that led the majors in runs per game, total runs, hits, doubles, RBI, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, OPS and total bases. They had three players finish in the top 10 for batting average for crying out loud! But after winning 19 games in September (including an 11 game winning streak), they hobbled into the playoffs with silent bats and a pitching staff lacking confidence.

But this story isn't about the Red Sox failure to perform... this story is about a career so magical it was very nearly unbelievable. This story is about a guy who was released by the Minnesota Twins at the age of 27 and given a one-year contract with the Red Sox on the word of Pedro Martinez. This story is about a guy who went on to become the heart of Boston.

When Big Papi arrived in Boston for the 2003 season, the Sox had been relegated to 2nd place behind the powerhouse (and extremely annoying) New York Yankees for several seasons in the midst of winning three consecutive World Series. Painful with a capital P. And 2003 wasn't any less traumatic when Aaron Boone hit an ALCS Game 7 walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th to send the Sox home. But it was only Ortiz's first season. Clearly, the best was still yet to come.

Who knows what happened during the winter of 2003-04 with Big Papi, but he was a greatly improved player in 2004. And we all know how that season ended... An amazing ALCS where the Sox finally got revenge on the Yankees by coming back from a 3-0 deficit for a trip to the World Series. Ortiz won the ALCS MVP after batting .387 with 3 home runs and 11 RBI. The Sox went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals and win their first World Series in 86 years. Goodbye, Curse and Hello Blessing... a blessing in the form of a Big Papi!

David Oritz went on to spend the next 14 seasons delighting Red Sox Nation. A 10-time All-Star, 6-time Silver Slugger winner, and the most important title of all, 3-time World Series Champion. I've been a Red Sox fan my whole life and I often wondered if they would ever win just ONE more World Series so THREE has been a dream come true. He hit 541 total home runs landing himself at #17 on the all-time list sandwiched between Mike Schmidt (548) and Mickey Mantle (536). Not too shabby.

In 2013, Ortiz unofficially took back the city of Boston after terrorists bombed the finish line of the Boston Marathon and not only inspired the community but sparked a team of bearded ballplayers to rally around their broken city and propel the team to their third World Series Championship. Why? Because this is our f#@*ing city!

And then on November 18, 2015, his 40th birthday, Big Papi announced his retirement. Sadness and disbelief settled on the Red Sox fandom. And we all wondered... has he lost his edge? Is he no longer confident in his ability to hit the ball as he once did? Or maybe he's just tired of the aches and pains associated with a twenty-year career...

Ortiz spent the 2016 MLB season on a farewell tour but also showed NO signs that he was a forty-year-old in his final season. He finished in the top 10 in batting average, bashed 38 home runs (the most by any player in his final season), led the majors with 48 doubles and tied for 1st in the American League with 127 RBI. So WHY ARE YOU LEAVING US BIG PAPI?? *sobs*

He was giving a hero's sendoff from every ballpark he visited in his final season with the pinnacle being his final game at Fenway Park. The city of Boston announced they would rename the Brookline Bridge the "Big Papi" David Ortiz Bridge... The Red Sox announced they would retire #34 at the beginning of the 2017 season... Maine native and 3rd base coach Brian Butterfield presented the entire Ortiz family with custom #34 LL Bean Boots... And he was basically offered any job in the Red Sox organization he wanted. A very emotional goodbye for everyone.

There's so much of Big Papi that I'll miss. His presence... big and bold and loud. His smile... bright and warm and welcoming. His heart... passionate and open and devoted. I'll miss his stride to the plate, the spit, the clap, the slow trot around the bases and the salute to his late mother as he crosses home plate. I'll miss that sparkle in his eye that told me he was just an all around great guy. I'll miss that energy he brought to the ballpark in every at bat. And I'll also miss that I probably missed any chance of getting a Big Papi hug... *sniff*

It was the ultimate walk-off. Good luck, Big Papi and thanks for the many memories. xoxo

Sunday, May 3, 2015

April Showers Bring Red Sox Updates

Yesterday was quite the sports-filled Saturday—it was the perfect storm of sports, if you will, with just about every single professional sport active in some way. A virtual buffet of sporting events to choose from on the boob tube, it made my head spin—from MLB action to the NFL Draft, NBA and NHL playoffs, WGC-Cadillac Match Play, the Kentucky Derby and, of course, the over-priced boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. Spoiler alert: Mayweather and American Pharoah were winners!

But I'm not going to talk about any of those contests. I'm not even going to talk about the Red Sox series against the Yankees (and if you're a Sox fan, you know why!) I feel the need to recap the first month of the Red Sox season. Yeah... I know it's only April, but no matter how newborn the season may be, it's still important to have some success in these early days so as not to fall too far behind. Playing catch up is hard.

There are so many new faces on this Boston team, I still don't really know everyone—especially the pitchers (take away my fan card if you must.) I'm getting there, but I'm not going to lie, I need a cheat sheet. With new faces come new growing pains while these players get accustomed to Fenway Park and the big Boston stage. And as with every year, some will flourish, and some will flounder.

Let's take a gander at some of what's been happening with our beloved BoSox in the early days of the 2015 season:

The GOOD...

  • Brock Holt "The Brock Star" is such a blast to watch. He only appeared in 14 games in April, but he hit .386. 
  • Newcomer Pablo Sandoval has been a consistent bat. In 20 games, he has 24 hits, 12 runs scored and 11 RBI with a respectable .312 average.
  • Welcome back to Boston, Hanley Ramirez! Hanley smashed 10 homers and drove in 22 in the month of April, tying him for the major league lead in both categories. If that stupid hairdo has anything to do with the home runs, keep it... even if it does make your helmet fall off every...damn...time.
  • It appears that the Dustin Pedroia of pre-2014 is back. His average is just a few ticks under .300 and he has four home runs—so he's definitely on pace to beat his 2014 total of seven.
  • Relievers Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa seem to be the only real bright spots in the bullpen, both posting ERAs of 1.38 and 1.69 respectively.

The BAD...

  • Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson and Joe Kelly. This team is so blatantly missing an ace—it makes me feel a little stabby. Kelly is the only starter to have a sub-5.00 ERA and even then, just barely. 
  • Big Papi's .236 average is disappointing. Even though he's notoriously bad in April, I still think he needs to spend less time on his hairstyle and beard grooming and more time in the batting cages.
  • After destroying the ball in spring training with a .429 average, Mookie Betts has gotten off to a slow start, batting only .230 in April. Maybe he has Big Papi's disease.
  • Pablo Sandoval isn't going to win any Gold Gloves at third base with three errors this past month.

The UGLY...

  • Wade Miley. Need I say more? This guy pitches like a champ one start and then gives up a hundred runs in his next. His ERA in April was 8.62 and in four starts, he only pitched 15.2 innings. I'll save you from having to do the math... that's not even four innings per start. Geez...
  • The pitching staff as a whole. They are currently LAST in the major leagues in ERA. That's slightly embarrassing.
  • Mike Napoli and Daniel Nava. Batting .162 and .154 respectively with a combined one home run and 10 RBIs. 
  • Shane Victorino is injured again so I won't piss on his stats too much. Even though in 12 starts, he IS hitting only .143. Come on.

So overall April was just meh. The Red Sox went 12-10 while scoring the most runs (119) in the majors which speaks volumes for how bad their pitching is (113 earned runs allowed, also leads majors!) That's a lot of close, high scoring games! They really have some work to do—I'm giving you the side eye, pitching staff—if they're going to make my World Series prediction come true. I don't like to be wrong.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Bombs Away! Red Sox Rout Phillies in Season Opener.

HOT DAMN! Now that's how to kick off a season, boys! Another Opening Day in the books and I'm really liking what I'm seeing—especially considering the dismalness of 2014. This game had it all—stunning offense, some awesome defensive plays and lights out pitching. I don't even know where to start!

It was a beautiful 72˚ day in Philadelphia (major jealousy!) for the official start of the 2015 season for both teams. I'll admit, I was a bit nervous with the ever-dangerous Cole Hamels on the mound, not entirely sure how Clay Buchholz would match up. My worry was all for nothing. Cole sucked, Clay did not. Cole managed to last just five innings and left down 4-0. Clay did not. Buchholz was masterful—in seven innings, he allowed just three hits, no runs and he struck out nine. I'll take that any and every day of the week.

And the Red Sox lineup? Well, they did something the Sox couldn't manage all of last season... blasting FIVE home runs. Yes, FIVE. Lucky for the Phillies' self-esteem, four of those home runs were solo shots. Well, that is until Hanley "the other dreadlocked" Ramirez jacked a grand slam off the left-field foul pole in the top of the ninth to put the game out of reach at 8-0! And just for the record, he hit that slam with a broken freakin' bat. Duuuuuuuuuude!

Dustin Pedroia had much to prove coming into this season. Pedey was not Pedey last year recording his lowest full-season batting average (.278) with just seven home runs. He's nearly a third of the way to that total after just one game after belting two homers and going 3-for-5 in the effort. He also flashed some leather at second base, and yes, got that uniform dirty. Does Pedroia ever finish a game with a clean uniform? Even with a day off, I bet he still finds a way to get that thing dirty.

Mookie Betts rounded out the bomb brigade with a solo shot in the third. This kid has some quick hands—so quick, I barely saw him swing the bat. I've probably said this before, but I see good things for this 22-year-old youngster. I'm happy to see the Sox giving him an Opening Day start—although there probably would've been some seriously raised eyebrows if they didn't after he tore up the spring hitting .429 in 56 at-bats.

I followed the Red Sox and other players on Instagram over the spring and it truly looked like a group of men that enjoy each other's company, love having some fun and try not to take themselves too seriously. I love that. And I love this video more than words can describe! I also think Big Papi and Hanley Ramirez might love each other too (dancing to That's Amore between innings!)

I agree Pete... I love them already too! (video from here)

Oh, it's a good day today. Not only is baseball back but the Red Sox have not left me shaking my head wondering if it's going to be another long and tedious season. I know it's just game one of 162, but I'm determined to keep the glass half full.

Monday, March 30, 2015

One Week and Counting: Opening Day is Almost Here!

Monday, April 6th. It's a day I've been looking forward to all winter—all five months of frigid temperatures and endless snowstorms. But now, even as the temps struggle to make it out of the 30s, I can see baseball season. I can see the real sign that spring is actually here no matter what the thermometer or the snow in my yard says. And I will surely argue with myself that morning of April 6th whether or not I feel well enough to go to work.

My hope for this season? A respectable finish would be nice. You know... sort of like that season they had in 2013 and preferably not the two that flanked it. I don't like last place. I especially don't like last place living with a Yankees fan. There's no greater pain.

I have no idea what the Red Sox starting rotation is going to look like this year—especially with all these new faces. I do know that Clay Buchholz has been named Opening Day starter and after last season's 5.34 ERA, my confidence in the lanky righthander is not high. Former Tiger, Rick Porcello, seems to have the best 2014 resume of the bunch with a 3.43 ERA. And Justin Masterson returns to the Sox after spending time with the Indians and Cardinals, but despite an All-Star appearance in 2013, in 2014 he was worse than Buchholz with a 5.88 ERA. So basically... oy.

The Sox picked up a couple of big offensive threats in the off-season in Hanley Ramirez (who came up through the Red Sox farm system a decade ago) and Pablo Sandoval. Ramirez has had a respectable spring, but Sandoval hasn't impressed me too much. Mike Napoli has been on fire and as usual, Jackie Bradley Jr. is tearing up the spring. What is it about Bradley Jr. and his spring training successes? And will he carry that spark north to Boston? Because last year he was sort of a giant disappointment.

But Mookie Betts, dude. MOOKIE BETTS!! If the Sox don't find a spot for him to play regularly, I'm going to have someone's head. Seriously. (Unless, of course, he has JBJ disease and can't seem to play in the regular season.) This guy has been on hotter than fire. He's been like molten lava. He's logged among the most at bats during the pre-season and boasts a .452 average with 19 hits, seven doubles, two triples and two home runs—one of which was an inside-the-park jobby. He has scored 11 runs and has an OPS of 1.334. DUDE! Mookie for President!

So the jury is still out on how I feel about this team. Can Pedroia bounce back from a very un-Pedroia-like 2014? Can Big Papi still smash the ball without his ever growing ego getting in the way? What will the Sox do to solve their latest complication behind the plate with Christian Vazquez going out for the season? And most importantly, what are they going to do to stay out of the cellar so I can maintain my sanity?

Now I just sit and wait and wring my hands until the final 25-man roster is named and I become that crazed Boston fan who is never satisfied with any decision they make. I will also to continue to hope for a team that respects each other enough to not end up in last place again. A team that plays for the parade. I really liked that team.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Spring Means Baseball and Sunshine and Melting Snow... and Baseball. Did I Mention Baseball?

Well, it's not spring yet, but it is March 1st—the day I am officially over winter. Granted, February set a record for coldest month ever in the state of Maine—or at least since they've been keeping records—so I'm going out on a limb and saying that I was over winter sometime last month. And I'm a fan of winter, so you know it had to be a bad one.

But March is full of hope too. It's full of days to look forward to that actually might just signify that winter is on its way out and we could possibly see bare ground before the month's end. The town I live in, Gray, Maine, has received nearly 100" of snow so far this year and I'm fairly certain all of it is still on the ground so we're going to need some seriously warm days to get rid of this white shit.

The days get longer. There's a holiday that's dedicated to drinking. And let's not forget, if the old adage is right, March goes out like a lamb. A nice, soft, cuddly lamb I like to call April—a month that is chock full of good stuff.

So come, sit down next to me and let's dream of days in the not too distant future that will make us ridiculously happy... especially after Mother Nature tortured us for no apparent reason the last couple of months.
Tuesday, March 3rd: The Red Sox kick off their spring training game schedule with their annual doubleheader against the college kids of Boston College and Northeastern. 
Sunday, March 8th: Daylight Saving Time! Yay, we get an extra hour of daylight after work!! Although we do lose a precious hour of weekend so that sort of aggravates me.
Monday, March 9th: National Napping Day. To make up for that lost hour!! Although I'm not sure my bosses would appreciate me sleeping on the job. Again.
Tuesday, March 17th: St. Patty's Day. Gotta love a holiday dedicated to drinking. The only day of the year, the Irish pub near my office has a full deck at 8am. Now that's commitment. 
Friday, March 20th: THE FIRST DAY OF SPRING!! And yes, it did deserve the shouty caps. It's also the day where any snow that occurs after pisses us off more than any other snow of the season. Unless you're a skier.
Wednesday, April 1st: April Fools Day. Don't believe a word of anything anyone says to you. And watch out for saran wrap on your toilet. 
Sunday, April 5th: Easter Sunday. Chocolate eggs. Chocolate bunnies. Chocolate everything. Did I mention chocolate? I'm sure there's another reason for Easter, but right now all I can think about is chocolate! 
Monday, April 6th: Opening Day for the Red Sox in Philadephia. It's a fresh start after a dismal 2014 season. Could they perhaps become the only team to go worst to first to worst to first? Fingers crossed. 
Tuesday, April 7th: National Beer Day! Excuse me... wouldn't it make more sense to have this day on... say... a Saturday? Whatever. It's beer. And baseball season so... yeah. 
Friday, April 10th - Sunday, April 12th: Red Sox vs. Yankees, Version 1.0. Gotta love that first series of the year between these two rivals. And we'll see a Jeter-less Yankee team for the first time since 1995. 
Sunday, April 12th: Happy Birthday, Dad! And Sunday at Augusta National for the final round of the Masters. 
Monday, April 13th: Red Sox Home Opener! I can only hope they're 6-0 by the time they make it to Fenway Park. I am expecting a championship, you know. 
Monday, April 20th: Patriots Day... a holiday only celebrated in Maine and Massachusetts, but it's the day of the Boston Marathon and the Red Sox play at 11am—the only game I watch in my PJs while eating breakfast. 
Friday, April 24th: Happy Birthday, Mom! (And it just happens to be National Pigs in a Blanket day. Who knew??)
So there you have it. There is a light at the end of this long, dark, snowy, COLD tunnel and it smells like grass, sunshine, and beer. This list might just keep me from throwing myself in front of plow truck during the next (and you know there will be a next) snow storm.

Happy Almost Spring!!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Deflategate Be Damned: Tom Brady Says Those Balls Were Perfect.

When I first heard about this thing called "Deflategate" last Monday morning, my heart sank. I couldn't have felt more disappointed to think that the New England Patriots could have purposely deflated their game balls to gain an advantage in the AFC Championship. I was crushed. This is not the distraction fans in New England needed in the two weeks leading up to Tom Brady's sixth appearance in the Super Bowl.

After the dreaded "spygate" scandal that named my favorite team a bunch of cheaters, my fan psyche was fragile. I despised the fact that many felt the Patriots couldn't win another championship without cheating. This under inflated ball controversy was just one more incident to get those haters up in arms about punishing and penalizing and disciplining this team. Some critics even called for the NFL to ban the Pats from participating in the Super Bowl all for a couple of flat-ish balls.

We've heard every argument in support and against these accusations. And many of the teams' backers have vehemently maintained a football that was deflated less than two psi under the league requirement could not be the reason the Patriots destroyed the Indianapolis Colts by 38 points. Even D'Quell Jackson, who intercepted a Tom Brady pass and was reported to have brought attention to the deflated ball, says he had nothing to do with it. Sounds like a conspiracy to me.

So the Patriots are forced to defend themselves to the media and present technical evidence as to what happened to the balls after they were approved by the officials. Bill Belichick turned into a mad scientific with experiments and facts on the effects of atmospheric conditions on leather balls. Tom Brady is raked over the coals as to why he didn't notice the balls were under inflated because all these moronic reporters actually think once the ball is hiked and the play is happening that Brady has time to squeeze the ball and think to himself, "huh, that feels soft. I should report this to someone." (If anything, these press conferences have been a treasure trove of completely awesome soundbites.)

And then we hear that the balls were presented to the officials not properly inflated but the balls were approved. Or that because of a delay in the starting time of the AFC Championship game, the balls were in the possession of some rogue locker room attendant who spent the next ninety seconds in the bathroom frantically letting the air out of the balls... but only eleven of them because he ran out of time.

It was clear to me that a few days into this whole hullaballoo, it was all just a giant pile of bullshit. Haters are going to hate even when there is no tangible proof that the Patriots were directly responsible for the soft balls. For a brief moment, I thought it might actually dissuade me from caring about the Super Bowl. But then I stopped worrying about the consequences and now have joined the camp that believes this whole ordeal is a non-issue and just a reason for all those idiot former football players who think their opinions are important to bash a team that most likely has pounded on them in the past.

That disappointed me thought the Patriots were going to be damned if they did or damned if they didn't win. The won because they cheated or they lost because they couldn't cheat. But then I snapped out of it. With the mega-watt spotlight shining on this team right now, there's not a snowball's chance in hell that they would or could ever cheat in the Super Bowl. Every commentator, reporter, NFL representative and official will have them under the world's most powerful microscope just waiting for them to slip up. The Patriots will be on their best behavior so if when they win, they win clean.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Pats are Super Bowl Bound!!

My superstitious sports fan self won't let me say much more than HOLY CRAP, the Patriots are headed to Arizona and the friggin' Super Bowl!!!

Who could've predicted this turn of events after week four and that 41-14 lambasting they suffered at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs? The Pats were 2-2 and sports reporters and talk show hosts were calling for the end of Tom Brady. He was washed up. He sucked. He was too old and he needed to retire.


Tom doesn't like to be told he can't do something. So what did he do? Meh, not much. Just a 10-2 record for the rest of the season including seven straight wins after the loss to KC. And the #1 seed in the AFC. Yup. Then there was that thrilling come from behind win to beat the Ravens in the Divisional round. Oh and just a little bit of a trouncing of the Colts for the AFC title.

It's going to be a long two weeks, my Patriots fan friends.