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Thank you!

Posted by Craig Forde March 31, 2014 01:46 AM

Dear Readers,

At the end of today, Monday, March 31st, the Community Voices blogs on Boston.com will be discontinued in conjunction with the upcoming splitting of content between Boston.com and Boston Globe. That signifies the end of On Deck on this platform, and I thought it was appropriate to take a moment to thank each and every one of you for coming here and checking out the content I have put out here for the last two plus years.

It is sad that it comes on the heels of the start of the baseball season, as Boston.com was an ideal platform for spouting out the stories of Red Sox and local prospects alike. But alas, all good things must come to end, and I must extend thanks to the Boston.com sports crew for their continued support. Also, a special thanks to Pete Abraham who was instrumental in driving traffic my way, giving me advice and providing untold support for my work.

Prior to starting the On Deck blog, I had done the exact same thing with a blog called Beyond Fenway. Although there isn’t a ton of time to probably get things set up properly, I do want to continue this work that I have done for the past 6 years, so I will reopen Beyond Fenway as a place where I can extend this work and provide you with some features, game stories and updates on your local prospects.

I also have my iron in a few additional fires at this time, including at MiLB.com where I will be handling their weekly notebooks for the Eastern League and the New York Penn League. So please check out my weekly columns there if you have the opportunity.

Otherwise, you can find out what I’m up to via my Twitter account (@Craig_Forde) and at the resurrected Beyond Fenway blog here.

Again, I sincerely appreciate all of you for making this possible and viable and fun and 100% worthwhile!

Best regards,

Craig Forde

It's time for you to win your fantasy baseball league!

Posted by Craig Forde March 13, 2014 12:07 AM

Fantasy baseball has been unkind to me over the last decade.

Sure, I’ve done plenty of things that have provided major distractions during that time frame.

I went back and finished college, got married and even had a couple of children since I rattled off back-to-back Fellsway Fantasy League titles.

Since then it’s been nothing but heartbreak as seasons have collapsed far from the finish line and the excuses have piled up.

That all changes this season as I have been rejuvenated thanks to one of the best in the business, Larry Schechter, whose resume includes six Tout Wars expert league titles and now, author.

winning.jpgWith a plethora of championships and over two decades under his belt, Schechter has put his knowledge on the page in Winning Fantasy Baseball: Secret Strategies of a Nine-Time National Champion, an Amazon chart topper and the new secret to my success.

“It took a long time, but a lot of that was because it was very on-and-off,” said Schechter of getting the book together. “I think it was maybe 2008 when I started. What I decided to do was write a couple of sample chapters…to see if I really had a book in me, as opposed to a long magazine article.

“It was definitely very cool to finish it. To actually have the book in my hand…and to see it on the shelf of the Barnes and Noble is definitely cool.”

This book breaks it down for players of all levels, providing strategies for how to handle your draft or auction, the importance of evaluating talent and how to manage it once you’ve got it.

I found this book hard to put down, realizing my own flaws within the game I sponged up the material, all of which is clear and concise.

Part of my problem, over this decade-long draught, has been a major lack of preparation prior to my drafts, and after reading Winning Fantasy Baseball I now see the error of my ways…and that it’s never too early to start your prep work.

“I typically start in January,” said Schechter. “I spend a lot of time from January through March looking at the players.

“For me it’s very time consuming, but as I say in the book I know not everybody has the time or desire to do that. I give suggestions on how to do it by using other’s projections.”

Another part of my problem has been trying to pick the fruit from the vine before it is ripe.

Call it a hazard of covering the players at this level and falling for their potential, which is hardly ever realized in their first season or two.

“It’s obviously a lot easier to try and project somebody like Dustin Pedroia,” said Schechter. “Somebody like [Xander] Bogaerts, where you got some Triple-A stats and a handful of stats from 2013, it’s a lot more difficult, a lot more a crap shoot.

“Then you’ve got guys like Jose Abreu who has only played in Cuba and [Masahiro] Tanaka’s only played in Japan. It’s more difficult and I always try to be conservative, with everybody.”

But what about being conservative with all of these title winning secrets? What about putting them out there for the whole world, including Schechter's direct competition, to pick apart and use to their advantage?

It seems to have some watering at the mouth, as evident by this quote located at the book’s website, (winningfantasybaseballthebook.com)

"I've played against Larry. I'm glad I read his book. Now I have a chance to beat him." -- Alex Patton, founder of pattonandco.com, and author of six fantasy baseball books.

Schechter isn’t losing any sleep over it.

“I wasn’t too concerned about giving away my strategies to my competitors,” said Schechter. “I think for some of them, they can improve their game.

“My strategy is not that specific, so it’s kind of hard for someone to use that information against me. But if they improve their game, then they’re going to be better competitors.”

Of course you and I won’t get a crack at besting Schechter with the info from Winning Fantasy Baseball, but you can certainly put his words of advice to great use.

Schechter’s book is a blueprint for you to win your fantasy baseball league. It’s just that simple. How could you pass that up?

The information on those pages is invaluable and it has made me want to delve deeper into the game, helping me refocus my efforts and rededicate my time back into the investment of fantasy baseball seasons ahead.

Now I will just sit back and wait for my drafts to come, rebirthing what was once the dominant franchise of the Fellsway League. Friends, you’ve been put on notice.

Winning Fantasy Baseball is available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and iTunes.

Josh Maurer joins PawSox broadcast crew

Posted by Craig Forde February 25, 2014 01:02 PM

Josh Headshot CBS3- 2.JPGIn what seems to be an annual tradition the Pawtucket Red Sox have announced a new broadcaster for the upcoming season, naming Josh Maurer as their new play-by-play voice.

Maurer, who has spent the last two seasons calling games for the Double-A Trenton Thunder (New York Yankees), succeeds Bob Socci who became the radio voice of the New England Patriots after only three months in Pawtucket last season.

“We are pleased to welcome Josh Maurer to the PawSox and the PawSox Radio Network led by our flagship station 920 WHJJ,” said PawSox President Mike Tamburro in a press release. “Josh is a talented young broadcaster who impressed us with his style and knowledge.”

A native of Lower Merion, Pennsylvania and a Maryland University alum, Maurer’s first baseball gig came with the Class A Charleston River Dogs (Yankees) where he spent four seasons calling games before linking up with the University of Massachusetts where he has been calling basketball and football games for the last six years.

Josh will pair up in the booth with Jeff Levering, who returns for his second season in Pawtucket.Josh and Reggie Jackson laughing in booth 2013.JPG

“It is an immense honor and extremely humbling to be chosen as the newest broadcaster for the Pawtucket Red Sox and to work with such a talented play-by-play man as Jeff Levering,” said Maurer in a press release. “This is one of the finest minor league broadcasting jobs in the country and with that comes great responsibility and expectations. I look forward to contributing to the PawSox both on and off the air.”

Just the like the McCoy Stadium field is a stepping stone for players heading to the big leagues, the McCoy broadcast booth has served a similar role.

On top of Socci, others who have gone on to jobs at the next level include Seattle Mariners broadcaster Aaron Goldsmith, Dan Hoard who joined the Cincinnati Bengals broadcast crew and NESN’s own Don Orsillo.

The PawSox open their season on Thursday, April 3rd when they host the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, with first pitch set for 7:05 p.m.

PawSox Boles ready for new challenge

Posted by Craig Forde February 4, 2014 10:15 AM

Boles_Kevin.jpgHe's old enough to be that aging veteran on the PawSox, vying for his one last shot at the big leagues.

Instead, 39-year-old Kevin Boles is the team's new skipper, tasked with prepping those players who are one step away.

Coming into the 2014 season he will be the youngest manager in the International League by five years, but he brings 13 years of managerial experience to the table and has seen much of the recent crop of Red Sox top prospects through the system, making him the ideal candidate for the job as those players stand on the cusp of their big league dreams.

"It's a unique opportunity and obviously these positions don't come around too often,” said Boles, who has a career 797-786 record as a manager. “Just to be here and watch these guys go from A-ball, double-A, triple-A, see the process and how it starts to finish up, the time that they put in, the hard work…we still have a lot of work to do and hopefully we can get these guys to Boston sooner than later."

Drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 42nd round of the 1998 draft, Boles' playing days lasted just 20 games with Williamsport in the New York-Penn League.

Just two short years later he emerged as the 25-year-old manager for the Gulf Coast Marlins (Rookie level), leading the team to a 40-20 season.

In 2009, after stints in the Royals and Twins organizations, Boles linked up with the Red Sox, becoming manager of the Single-A Greenville Drive, succeeding Gabe Kapler.

Like the players he was helping to develop Boles started climbing the ranks and after spending two years in Greenville, and another year in High-A Salem, he wound up with Double-A Portland.

Boles spent three memorable seasons with the Sea Dogs, honing some of the best talent to come through the system while also honing his own skills in developing talent.

“It's a great transition going from A-ball to double-A where the attention starts getting bigger,” said Boles. “It's one of the best affiliates in all of Minor League Baseball. The people of Portland, the front office and ownership, [SeaDogs’ Chairman] Bill Burke, [team President] Charlie Eshbach, [Vice President] Geoff Iacuessa and everybody there...just terrific people. It's a great place to develop players.”

With Portland now in his rear view Boles is gearing up for his new role, trying to see players through that final step up the ladder, a step he may take someday soon himself, like many of his predecessors in Pawtucket.

And at his disposal this season is a wealth of talent that could include one of the best pitching staffs in Pawtucket’s history.

"I think the starting pitching that we potentially have are guys that have the chance to pitch in the major leagues as starters,” said Boles whose staff could include the likes of Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo, Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa and Henry Owens. “I think that’s one of our strengths.”

Of course a seasoned vet like Boles knows that nothing is set in stone until they arrive at McCoy Stadium during the first week in April.

“You don't actually know until they make those decisions what the roster is going to be,” said Boles. “You can speculate all you want, but the talent level and the consistency of that talent level…there is definitely a lot to be excited about, there's no doubt."

There is also no doubt that Boles has been around long enough to know how to handle such talent, regardless of age…his or theirs.

The PawSox open their season on April 3rd when they host the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.

Spinners set date for 'Ryan Westmoreland Day'

Posted by Craig Forde January 31, 2014 09:00 AM

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Spinnerslogo.gifOn June 25th the Lowell Spinners will celebrate 'Ryan Westmoreland Day' at LeLacheur Park, retiring the former outfielder's number 25 in a ceremony prior to their game with the Tri-City ValleyCats.

The team originally announced plans to honor Westmoreland at their Hot Stove Dinner on January 11th, but had yet to confirm a date for the event.

Westmoreland, who was forced out of the game for health reasons after a stellar 2009 season in Lowell, will be the first Spinners player to have his number retired.

More event details will be confirmed as the date nears and individual game tickets will go on sale Tuesday, March 18th.

Spinners tab Joe Oliver as new manager

Posted by Craig Forde January 31, 2014 08:50 AM

The Lowell Spinners have announced that former big league catcher Joe Oliver will become the team�s manager for 2014.

A 13-year Major League veteran, Oliver was most recently a coach at Bishop Moore Catholic High School in Orlando, Florida.

He spent 8 years of his playing days with the Cincinnati Reds where he helped the team to a World Series sweep in 1990 on the heels of a Game 2, 10th inning walk-off hit versus Dennis Eckersley and the Oakland A�s.

Oliver, who appeared in 1076 games, spent time with six other organizations, including Boston where he ended his career in 2001 after appearing in five late season games.

Besides his time with Boston he played for parts of two seasons with the Double-A Vermont Reds and put in 13 games with the PawSox during his final season.

Oliver and his wife Kim are successful realtors in Central Florida and are the parents of Karrah, Gavin, Lauryl and Dejai, a right-handed pitcher in the Miami Marlins system.

Oliver succeeds Pawtucket coach Bruce Crabbe as the 11th manager in Spinners history.

Lowell, the Short Season Single-A affiliate of the Red Sox, opens the season on June 13th when they host the Vermont Lake Monsters.

Shaw pulls positives from tough season

Posted by Craig Forde January 28, 2014 08:42 PM

The efforts of Travis Shaw over his first two seasons established him as the top first base prospect in the Red Sox system, a position that had yielded much disappointment from prior top hopefuls over the past few years.

After a derailing 2013 campaign in Double-A Portland it looked as if Shaw might be headed down the path of his predecessors, until a trip to the Arizona Fall League allowed him to regain his stroke, and more importantly his confidence.

“The down time I had before I went to Arizona was huge for me,” said Shaw, a 9th round selection of the Red Sox in 2011. “I wanted to get away from the season I had in Portland as much as I could. I was pretty determined when I went out to Arizona to prove myself, to try to prove that last season in Portland was a little bit of a fluke.”

Shawcard.jpgWith the Sea Dogs, the 23-year-old slugger hit just .221 in 133 games, striking out a career high 117 times over 444 at-bats.

Shaw endured slumps and struggled to regain a plate prowess that produced a .287/.397/.517 line with 19 home runs and 85 RBIs in 2012.

“That was the first time I’ve ever failed for an extended period of time,” said Shaw, who drove in only 50 runs in 2013. “It taught me a lot about myself and how to handle it and get through those slumps.”

Although his defense at first base remained solid - supported by a .992 fielding percentage – one bad at-bat gave way to the next as he became more and more aggressive in attempts to snap the cold streaks.

Yet the organization did not lose faith in Shaw, who hit 16 home runs on the year, including a bullpen shot at the home of the big club during the Futures at Fenway game in July.

“There were definitely some positives [in Portland] that ended up shining through in his performance in the fall league,” said Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett. “He made a few smaller adjustments that turned that perception of his performance around quite a bit.”

In his first game with the Surprise Saguaros, Shaw got right down to business, going 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs, putting him right back on track at the plate.

A return to form afforded him a month and a half stretch of standout baseball in theshawafl.jpg desert, with and against some of the best prospects in the game.

Shaw batted .361 for the Saguaros, hitting five home runs and six doubles to go with 19 RBIs and 18 runs in just 17 games, earning a league player of the week nod in the process.

“In Arizona I tried to get back to what my strengths were, which is hitting the ball up the middle and go the other way,” said Shaw. “I was determined to show myself that I am legit and that the season in Salem was not a fluke. Out there [in Arizona] I felt back to normal and it was a good six weeks for me.”

“The fall league is a great medium for guys to go and challenge themselves at levels they either haven’t played against or talented players from other organizations,” said Crockett. “The way that Travis performed there, the adjustments he was able to take from what he learned during the season…certainly there were some struggles, but it was by no means a failure of a season.”

Shaw’s achievements in Arizona helped him become one of only ten Red Sox prospects to receive an exclusive invitation to their Rookie Development Program in January, held for players the organization feels is within 12-18 months of reaching the big leagues.

The Sox backed that decision by issuing Shaw one of eight non-roster invites to big league Spring Training.

“It shows that the organization still has a lot of faith in me and backs me,” said Shaw. “It was definitely a confidence booster knowing that they really haven’t given up on me and that my opportunity is still there and that I can make an impact on the next level in the next year or two.”

With his 2013 season in the rearview, Shaw has wisely picked it apart for its’ educational value, finding that there were some positives that he can use moving forward.

“It was definitely a big learning experience and I think looking back on it now I’m kind of glad that I went through it,” said Shaw. “I wasn’t at the time, but looking back on it now there are a lot of learning experiences that I can take from that season if something like that arises again. Hopefully, next year, if I slip into a slump again I’ll be a little bit more prepared on how to get out of it quicker.”

Red Sox flood MLB.com's Top 100 prospects list with nine players

Posted by Craig Forde January 24, 2014 07:54 AM

On Thursday night MLB.com released their Top 100 Prospects list for the 2014 season which was loaded up with nine players from the Red Sox organization, the most of any team.

Bogey2.jpgShortstop Xander Bogaerts was slotted as the second best prospect in the game behind Minnesota Twins hot-shot outfielder Byron Buxton.

Henry Owens made the greatest leap of all players who returned to the list from a year ago. After showing up at number 94 last year, the big lefty jumped 64 spots, coming in at number 30.

Here are where all nine of the Red Sox propects came in on this year's list:

2. SS Xander Bogaerts
30. LHP Henry Owens
33. OF Jackie Bradley Jr.
46. RHP Allen Webster
57. 3B Garin Cecchini
61. C Blake Swihart
62. 2B Mookie Betts
86. RHP Matt Barnes
96. LHP Trey Ball

Five of the six Red Sox players - including Jackie Bradley Jr., Allen Webster and Matt Barnes - that were on MLB.com’s 2013 preseason list are returnees, with SS Jose Iglesias being the exception after using up his rookie eligibility in 2013 before being traded to the Detroit Tigers.

Besides Owens monster jump up the charts, Bogaerts made the leap up from number 20 a year ago to number 2, while Webster shot up 25 spots from number 71 last year to become the organization's top-ranked right handed pitcher.

Trey Ball, a seventh overall selection in last year's MLB draft, debuts as the youngest player on the Red Sox list at age 19.

Garin Cecchini (age 22), Blake Swihart (21) and Mookie Betts (21) also make their debut on the list for the Red Sox, a talented triumverate that could start the season with Double-A Portland.

After Buxton and Bogaerts the rest of the top 10 rounded out with, in order, OF Oscar Taveras (St. Louis), 3B Miguel Sano (Minnesota), RHP Archie Bradley (Arizona), RHP Taijuan Walker (Seattle), SS Javier Baez (Chicago Cubs), SS Carlos Correa (Houston), 3B Kris Bryant (Chicago Cubs) and SS Francisco Lindor (Cleveland).

Despite having the most players on the list, the Red Sox finished behind the Houston Astros as the organization with the most elite talent in their farm system, based on MLB.com's weighted scoring system.

Photo credit - Jim Davis/Boston Globe

Betts growing through experience

Posted by Craig Forde January 23, 2014 03:27 PM

If 2013 was Mookie Betts “coming out” party, then 2014 will be his “here to stay” party if he has his say once again.

After playing in just 72 games over his first two seasons in the Red Sox organization, Betts punched the clock 148 times last year - including a championship run with Salem and a stint in the Arizona Fall League - posting an impressive line of statistics that helped him earn the Red Sox Minor League Offensive Player of the Year honor.

BettsAFL.jpg“It’s something to build on,” said Betts. “I had pretty good numbers last year, but that’s out the window now. This year is a new year and we start at all zeroes. But I’m going to try and take that momentum and build on it.”

Over his longest season as a pro, Betts had a split of .312/.414/.491, with 60 extra-base hits, 106 runs scored and 46 stolen bases on 52 attempts, which includes his postseason and AFL statistics.

Playing baseball over 10 months of the year proved to be a grind for Betts, who had to celebrate his 21st birthday while in Arizona, but each day proved valuable to his growth as a player.

“Rest would have been good,” said Betts. “Going into the fall league I was thinking, “man I just want to go home.” But that’s what separates guys, you got to want to be there at all times and I learned a lot. I may have been mad for a moment, but happy in the end that I got to go.”

After it was all said-and-done and he was back home in Tennessee, it didn't take long for him to miss the being out on the diamond.

“Going home after the fall league, I just wanted to stay,” said Betts. “But after working out, towards the middle of December, I was ready to go back. I’ve been working hard and I’m anxious of what’s to come this year.”

After his 2013 effort, the bar has been raised and he is now considered a top tier Thumbnail image for Bettsinfield.pngprospect in the Red Sox system and beyond, something else that quiet, humble youngster has had to adjust to.

“I try to stay out of the spotlight,” said the mild-mannered Betts. “I think it’s more fun just jumping on the scene than having things expected out of you. It’s definitely different, I’ve learned to embrace it.”

After recently naming him one of the top ten second base prospects in the game and the 62nd best prospect overall, MLB.com wrote the following of Betts:

“A premium athlete coming out of the Tennessee high school ranks, Betts got an above-slot deal to sign in 2011. Initially a shortstop, he slid over to second base during his second summer of pro ball and has stuck there. The undersized middle infielder has some surprising strength and was showing more extra-base power during his full-season debut in 2012. He understands, though, that his job is to get on base and use his speed on the basepaths. He's settled in nicely at second and should be an effective defender there long-term. He profiles as a top-of-the-order type, especially if he can continue to show he can make consistent hard contact at the plate."

He stands firmly as the best second baseman in the Red Sox farm system and it is expected that he will start the 2014 season in Double-A Portland, but expectations of others aside, Betts is simply looking for a way to continue his growth and improvement across the board no matter where he lands.

“It’s tough [to continue to get better],” said Betts. “All you can do is find something that prepares you for that upcoming year and staying healthy is huge. Experience through the games, playing each and every day, is going to be what really helps you learn and makes your better.”

With a 148 game season under his belt, the experience is certainly paying dividends.

Westmoreland humbled by Spinners honor

Posted by Craig Forde January 23, 2014 02:42 PM

As Ryan Westmoreland and his parents were driving up from Portsmouth, Rhode Island to Lowell for the Spinners Hot Stove Dinner, they fondly and enthusiastically discussed his one magical season as a pro in 2009.

The return trip was filled with silence.

“The whole ride home I don’t think anyone said one word,” said Westmoreland. “We were just too excited. I was sitting there texting some friends about the news.”WestmorelandRetirement_y1k180t3_0wi9lwn6.jpg

At the dinner the Spinners shocked Ryan and his parents when they announced that the team would be retiring his number 25 during the upcoming season, something we posted about here last week.

“When I got there [Spinners Assistant General Manager] Jon Boswell told me, “Don’t be surprised, but we are going to announce something at the end of the night,”” said Westmoreland. “I thought it was just going to be them announcing that I was there or something, I honestly had no idea. I was caught completely by surprise. I was speechless.”

A gifted athlete, Westmoreland was cherished not only for his skill on the field, but his enthusiasm and love of the game even when he was off the field.

His pure grit and determination in attempting to get back to baseball following multiple surgeries and rehabilitations for a cavernous malformation on his brain showed the true spirit of who Ryan really is, something recognized across the entire Red Sox organization.

“That’s an honor and represents the way that not only the Spinners, but the Red Sox feel about Ryan and the contribution he made in his short career,” said Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett. “As much as it was about performance, it was also the way he goes about his business, how hard he worked for us on the field and how passionate and driven he was during his career and certainly when he was trying to battle back.

“He’s quite a human being and someone that, from the Red Sox perspective, is held in very, very high regard.”

Even though many, most especially Ryan, wish they could have seen him make it back to the field to fulfill his potential, his health is what ultimately matters most.

It has taken some time to come to the realization that the dream is over and Ryan is now okay with it.

When his number 25 gets added to LeLacheur Park’s right field wall, he will be granted closure on this aspect of his baseball career.

“To have such an honor at 23 years old is really quite a shock,” said Westmoreland. “Dreams come true and although it didn’t all work out, I enjoy being able to impact others along the way. I am truly grateful for the Red Sox and the Spinners for this honor.”

Now he is just learning to adjust to life as a regular kid, taking courses through Northeastern University while he ponders his next move in the baseball.

“I love this game and I always will,” said Westmoreland. “I want to get into the game in some aspect and be as close as I can to it all.”

And when he wants to reminisce about his playing days, a nice car ride with his folks up to Lowell to see his retired number 25 will help spur the conversation along the way.

Photo credit - John Corneau/Lowell Spinners

A decade later Roberts reflects on the path to glory

Posted by Craig Forde January 23, 2014 12:31 AM

the steal.jpg
One of the beautiful things about baseball is how one big play can make a man immortal.

For all who have ever played the game, hitting that World Series winning homer or striking out the last batter of a no-hitter is something we've played out in our minds time and time again.

That dream of being a hero and carrying your team on your back helps to keep players motivated.

When Dave Roberts came to the Red Sox in a late July trade with the Dodgers during Boston’s historic 2004 season, the hero moniker was unlikely for a backup outfielder in a sea of all stars.

Yet for any player still putting on a uniform, that fire to come through at the most opportune time still burns, because you never know when you’ll be thrust into the heart of it, as was the case with Roberts in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the ALCS that year.

It was the moment he thought about a million times as a kid, and during his years coming up through the minors.

Days and times that laid the groundwork for Roberts to become a part of history.

“Your season in the minor leagues ends at the beginning of September,” said Roberts. “I remember going home and working out and watching September baseball, and you’d watch the postseason and see all these big plays and you see highlights.

“Number one is having the opportunity to get to the big leagues and number two is having the opportunity to do something special and win a championship. For me that all kind of happened at one time.”

Roberts spent five seasons in the minors before making his debut with the Cleveland Indians as a 27-year-old in 1999.

A 28th round selection of the Tigers in 1994, he spent four years in their system before being sent to Cleveland as part of a trade for Geronimo Berroa.

His expedition to his “number one” step of reaching the majors took him from Jamestown to Buffalo and everywhere in between. Vital seasons that Roberts looks back on fondly.

“To be honest, they were some of the best days of my life,” said Roberts, who was the keynote guest at the Lowell Spinners Hot Stove Dinner earlier in January. “Friendships that I made then, I still have today. There is a small fraternity of guys trying to go through the grind and envision what it’s like to get to the big leagues.

“When you go to a small town, like Lowell, it makes me think back to the towns I played in, just how tight these communities are and how much they love and support their minor league team…it ties the minor league affiliate to the big league club.”

Those five years in the minors helped Roberts build a foundation that would push him to the majors and set up his big play.

The tenth year anniversary celebration of the Red Sox 2004 World Series title will no doubt be yearlong, especially on the heels of yet another championship season, and Roberts' steal will be replayed over and over, highlighting the moment that things changed in Boston's favor.

“I look back now and it’s very surreal, it seems so long ago,” said Roberts. “It’s hard to really believe that was me living in those moments. We’re talking about the ten year anniversary coming up. I don’t think the word humbling does it justice because I think ultimately you play this game to win a championship and it obviously means having a great team.”

While at the Lowell Spinners Hot Stove Dinner, Roberts, who is now a bench coach with the San Diego Padres, got to see and hear first-hand the impact of how a big play can immortalize.

“To a person they can vividly remember that night in October and where they were at and how that affected them,” said Roberts of the fans in attendance that he spoke with. “In certain respects I’m removed from it now that I’m coaching, but to come here, and I get it everywhere I go, people thanking me, members of the Red Sox nation in all parts of the country…to see the energy and the genuine love and affection for me is special.”

Roberts steal of second base against the Yankees that night set forth a chain of events that would change the fortunes of Red Sox nation forever.

It is arguably the defining moment of the Red Sox postseason run in 2004, a run that broke an 86-year championship drought, and it all started with a want to make that big play.

The Spinners announced on Wednesday that they will honor Roberts’ big play with a “Dave Roberts “The Steal” Bobble Head Giveaway” on August 7th.

Photo credit - Stan Grossfield/Boston Globe

Arnie's ascent was long time coming

Posted by Craig Forde January 22, 2014 10:27 AM

It’s more than just the players that are trying to work their way up the minor league ladder to get to “The Show.”

Trainers, announcers, writers and, of course, coaches are just a handful of baseball types who work hard every day to try and get to the opportunity to ply their trade on the biggest stage available to them.

After a near three-decade climb, Arnie Beyeler realized his dream when manager John Farrell called upon him to become the Red Sox new first base coach prior to the 2013 season.

“For me, putting 26 years in the minor leagues and finally getting an opportunity to go to the big leagues and getting to watch what happened this year, you couldn’t have story-booked it any better from that standpoint,” said Beyeler. “We won [the Governor’s Cup] in Pawtucket [in 2012] and to win again this year was a lot of fun. It was a special season.”

Beyeler had spent two seasons as the Pawtucket Red Sox manager, leading the team to back-to-back playoff appearances and their first International League Governors’ Cup Championship in 18 years, before receiving the call from Farrell.

“I had the opportunity the last three or four years to tell guys that they were going to the big leagues,” said Beyeler. “I never got that feeling being a career minor league guy, so when [Farrell] told me [to come to Boston], it was really nice to get that experience and have all those feelings.”

That 26 year minor league trek of Beyeler’s started as a player when he signed with the Detroit Tigers in 1986 after graduating from Wichita State University.

He methodically made his way up the ladder, mixing in a couple of 20 stolen base seasons and some sure-handedness in the middle of the infield, before calling it a day in 1991, having made it as far as Triple-A Toledo.

He remained with the Tigers organization as an area scout in Florida for the next five seasons before making the move to the coaching realm within the Yankees organization.

In 2000, Beyeler received his first managerial gig with the Boston Red Sox Short Season Single-A affiliate, the Lowell Spinners.

“It all started out managing for me [in Lowell] and getting the chance to come over with the old regime,” said Beyeler, who was recently honored by the Spinners with the Dick Berardino Alumni Award.

"Arnie is perhaps the most deserving honoree in the award's history," said Spinners General Manager Tim Bawmann. "He truly represents the dedication to achieve success at the highest level."

Beyeler, reminiscing about his time in Lowell added, “I got to be around some good players over here with Kevin Youkilis and Freddie Sanchez. Dick Berardino, it’s his award, and he helped me out along the way. He was here when I was here managing and helped with everything. He’s been a good mentor along the way.

“The whole experience was great when I was [in Lowell]. It was still a new franchise back then, it was 4 or 5 years old, we were in the playoff race most of the year (2000) until Freddie got moved up. It was a lot of fun and was a great experience for me.”

Beyeler spent two seasons with Lowell and another managing the Red Sox Low-A affiliate in Augusta before joining the Texas Rangers organization where he served as manager of their High-A teams in Stockton and Bakersfield over three seasons.

After spending 2005 as a hitting coach with San Diego’s Double-A affiliate, the Mobile BayBears, Beyeler rejoined the Red Sox at the same level, coming back to manage the Portland Sea Dogs, a position he would hold for four seasons.

“That’s what it’s all about for me… getting guys to the next level and helping them along,” said Beyeler. “We all had our chances when we were players and now I’m fortunate I get a chance to do what I do and be around some of the best athletes in the world. That kind of beats working for a living.”

After finally making it to the majors, Beyeler was rewarded with one of the more exciting and unexpected regular and postseason runs that Boston had ever witnessed.

The World Series championship gave him a new perspective on the game and extended his season much longer than any in the past, something he would welcome every year from here on out.

“Being in the minor leagues so long, I’m used to coming up [to Boston] in September, kind of hanging out and enjoying myself, and then going home,” said Beyeler. “[In 2013] you worked that extra month and now by the time I get home and get settled, it’s time to get back to work again. It’s a great problem to have.

“I don’t know if it’s really sunk in or not, but it was a magical season. Hopefully we’ll get to do it again a few more times before I get done with this.”

Photo credit - Barry Chin/Boston Globe

Former Franklin Pierce duo climb Mariners system together

Posted by Craig Forde January 18, 2014 08:20 PM

It was 2009 when Mike Dowd and Kevin Rivers first became teammates at Franklin Pierce University, a small, Division 2 college in Rindge, New Hampshire that has earned its’ reputation as a baseball power under head coach Jayson King.

Then a junior, Rivers had already enjoyed two highly successful seasons with the Ravens and was looked to as one of the leaders heading into the season.

“It’s one of those things where you look up to the older guys, regardless of your role,” said Dowd, who, as a freshman, was pegged as the team’s starting catcher. “It was one year and done, but in that time he helped me form into the player I am now.”

After winning a third straight Northeast-10 title Rivers, a native of Bristol, Connecticut, went on to play some summer ball with the Danbury Westerners of the NECBL, when Seattle Mariners area scout Brian Nichols invited him to attend a showcase of top talent in New England.

Initially looked at as an opportunity to raise his draft stock heading into his senior season, Rivers instead raised eyebrows.

“I went and had a great day running, throwing from the outfield, and hitting,” said Rivers. “I did enough to impress Tom McNamara, the [Mariners] director of scouting, that they offered me a contract on the spot. It was the best feeling knowing all the hard work had paid off.”

After consulting with his parents and coach King, Rivers made the difficult decision to forgo his senior season at Franklin Pierce.

He signed a free agent contract with Seattle and was instantly off to finish his summer playing baseball as a professional in the Rookie level Arizona League.Rivers.jpg

“When I first arrived in Arizona I was a little nervous, I wasn't sure what to expect,” said Rivers, who doubled in his second career at-bat. “But that soon subsided. I was also anxious get to work and learn more about myself as a player and the game as a whole.

“Andy Bottin, my manager in the Arizona League, was a huge help in my first season...teaching me about day-to-day routines, how to conduct yourself professionally...how to always be prepared for the mental aspect of the game and being able to learn from your mistakes and make adjustments mid-game.”

Meanwhile, back at Franklin Pierce, Dowd was putting on a showcase of his own, helping the Ravens to a couple of 40+ win seasons while catching the attention of scouts who considered him a strong draft option.

One of those scouts was Nichols who had Dowd participate in pre-draft workouts with the Mariners prior to the 2011 draft.

“Going in [to the draft] I thought it was probably going to be Seattle who was going to take me,” said Dowd, who had also worked out for the New York Mets. “Then they took two catchers early [in the 4th and 5th rounds], and things changed.”

Dowd.jpgBut the Mariners proved their commitment to Dowd by selecting the East Bridgewater native in the 12th round, sending him immediately to the Short Season-A Everett AquaSox to begin his career where he hit .228 and gunned down 23 runners in 45 games.

Dowd started the 2012 season with the Class-A Clinton LumberKings while Rivers began his campaign with the High-A High Desert Mavericks.

After struggling with a .224 average over 47 games, Rivers would be sent down to Clinton, reuniting the former Ravens.

Rivers would right the ship, hitting .287 the rest of the way, and Dowd was putting his best foot forward both behind and at the plate, throwing out 47% of would-be base stealers while batting .294.

The duo would prove their worth before the season was said-and-done and 2013 saw them both arrive at High Desert in April, ready to make their names known.

Dowd started the season with a 15-game hitting streak and after hitting safely in 19 of his first 22 games, he received a promotion to Double-A Jackson.

Rivers also had a blazing stick to start the season, knocking 18 hits over his first 10 games, and although a promotion would not come during the season, it turned out to be a blessing as he was able to log 128 games and put forth a stellar line of batting statistics.

While tearing up California League pitching Rivers became a Top 10 staple in average (.297 – T8th), slugging (.515 – 6th), OPS (.896 – 7th), hits (144 – 8th), doubles (36 – 2nd), home runs (20 – T7th), RBI (97 – 2nd), runs (92 – 6th) and walks (66 – 4th).

“I think the biggest thing for me this past season was being able to be an everyday player,” said Rivers. “I was able to get into a rhythm early in the season and maintain throughout.

“I was able to work with [hitting coach] Roy Howell, who played 10 years in the big leagues. We worked together almost every day on keeping my swing path short and consistent to the ball. Roy talked to me about only getting one good pitch to hit the entire at-bat or even game, so you don't want to miss your pitch and I was able to jump on balls early in the count and find some grass.”

Dowd didn’t enjoy the same success at the plate as Rivers when he jumped up to Jackson, but what he was able to do behind the plate was eye-popping.

He made 35 appearances as the Generals catcher and allowed only 6 passed balls while posting a .985 fielding percentage that was very brightly highlighted by an ability to throw out runners at a 56% clip.

“The jump [to Double-A] kind of put me in my place as a hitter,” said Dowd, who gunned down 20 of the 36 runners who attempted to steal on him. “So I made sure to continue working hard behind the plate to prove my value. I take pride in throwing guys out, calling a good game, blocking the plate.

“It’s good to be able to help your team in that way, especially when you are having a tough game at the plate. ”

Dowd would finish 2013 back down at High Desert alongside Rivers, and no worse for the wear, having learned a lot about himself and his abilities in the process.

The same can be said for Rivers, whose breakout campaign caught the eyes of many and provided him with a very solid foundation to build off of moving forward.

For both players, having that added comfort of an old friend and teammate by their side to grow with and learn from, has been monumental in the successes they have endured.

“It's been great watching Mike grow as a player,” said Rivers. “He is one of the best defensive catchers I have ever seen. He puts the work in and it shows.”

“It’s great to have that familiar face there,” said Dowd. “We stick together like family and we have each other’s back.”

A family forged on the frozen turf at Franklin Pierce during the early spring months of 2009 and a family that will never forget where it came from.

“It's been great exposure for the Franklin Pierce program,” said Rivers. “Coach King has done an unbelievable job at the school. He's been able to turn us into a nationally ranked team year and year out.

“His ability to bring players to Franklin Pierce, in the small town of Rindge, New Hampshire, and develop them into hardworking, focused, and dedicated players, is a testament to his knowledge and dedication to the game of baseball. He has brought the program to six College World Series and has seen 25 players get drafted and even more get signed.”

In 2013 there were 14 players in affiliated or independent baseball that were products of Franklin Pierce, a school with an enrollment of less than 2,500.

Since 2001 King and his staff have produced 39 players that have gone on to play professional baseball.

Dowd recently received a non-roster invite to participate in Seattle's Major League Spring Training next month.

Fisher Cats announce 2014 field staff

Posted by Craig Forde January 15, 2014 12:46 AM

FieldStaff2014_g5v038io_uzqhkmtb.jpgThe New Hampshire Fisher Cats have announced that former New York Yankees infielder Bobby Meacham will take over the reins of manager for the club in 2014, becoming the eighth skipper in the team's eleven seasons.

He succeeds former Red Sox catcher and coach Gary Allenson, who was promoted to manage Toronto’s Triple-A team in Buffalo.

This will be Meacham’s second season managing in the Blue Jays system after leading High-A Dunedin to a first-half divisional title and a 63-68 overall record last season.

Prior to joining the Blue Jays organization Meacham coached in the Kansas City, Philadelphia, Colorado and Pittsburgh minor league systems and served as a base coach in the Majors with the Padres, Astros and Yankees, the team that he played all six of his pro seasons for.

Joining Meacham in Manchester will be new pitching coach Jim Czajkowski, who served in the same roll for the Short-Season Single A Vancouver Canadians over the last three seasons.

Hitting coach Jon Nunnally returns to the Fisher Cats after spending last season with Buffalo.

Also returning are a pair of New England natives, trainer Bob Tarpey (York, Maine) and strength and conditioning coach Brian Pike (Gorham, New Hampshire).

"This announcement always injects a little warmth into a cold, snowy winter," said Fisher Cats President Rick Brenner in a press release. "It's hard to believe spring training is a month away and that we are just 80 days from the start of our season. We look forward to meeting Bobby and Jim for the first time, and reuniting with Jon, Bob, and Brian for another exciting summer at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium."

The Fisher Cats, who will enter their 11th season as Toronto’s Double-A affiliate, start their season at Trenton (New York Yankees) on April 4th and return to open the gates at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium on the 10th when they host the Binghamton Mets.

Hot Stove calendar scorching for remainder of January

Posted by Craig Forde January 14, 2014 02:40 AM

The hot stove season is nearing a close, which brings a rush of dinners and luncheons across the region that are sure to get the baseball blood pumping in anticipation for Spring Training.

Each event allows fans a unique opportunity to meet some past, present and future players, coaches and front office personnel, getting up close and personal through autograph and Q&A sessions, games and stories, all while supporting great charities in the process.

Here is a listing of upcoming events and links spanning New England over the coming weeks:

Thursday, January 16
What: Rock Cats Hot Stove Luncheon
Where: at Central Connecticut State University Student Center Ballroom, New Britain
Scheduled to appear: Twins first baseman Chris Colabello, Twins pitching prospect Ryan O’Rourke, Twins Minor League Director of Operations Brad Steil and Rock Cats Manager Jeff Smith
Click here for more information.

What: Falmouth Commodores Hot Stove Dinner
Where: at Sea Crest Beach Hotel, North Falmouth Massachusetts
Scheduled to appear: Red Sox manager John Farrell, Hall of Fame writer Peter Gammons
Click here for more information.

Saturday, January 18
What: Portland Sea Dogs Hot Stove Dinner
Where: at Sable Oaks Marriott, South Portland, Maine
Scheduled to appear: Red Sox pitcher Brandon Workman, Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley, Jr., Red Sox third base coach Brian Butterfield, new Sea Dogs manager Billy McMillon and Red Sox player development consultant Dick Berardino
Click here for more information. SeaDogshotstove.jpg

Tuesday, January 21
What: Hot Stove Cool Music Roundtable
Where: at Fenway Park’s State Street Pavilion
Scheduled to appear: Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington, Red Sox manager John Farrell, Red Sox Assistant General Manager Mike Hazen, Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan and moderator Peter Gammons
Click here for more information.

Wednesday, January 22
What: Boston College’s Baseball Night in Boston
Where: at Fenway Park’s State Street Pavilion
Scheduled to appear: Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington
Click here for more information. baseball-nights-rotator.jpg

Friday, January 24
What: Seacoast Mavericks Hot Stove Dinner
Where: at Harbor Events Center, Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Scheduled to appear: former Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee, Tampa Bay outfielder Sam Fuld, Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Mike Fransoso
Click here for more information. Mavshotstove.jpg

Saturday, January 25
What: PawSox Hot Stove League Party
Where: at McCoy Stadium, Pawtucket, Rhode Island
Scheduled to appear: new Pawtucket manager Kevin Boles, new Pawtucket coach Bruce Crabbe
Click here for more information. pawsoxhotstov.jpg

Thursday, January 30
What: Pittsfield Suns Hot Stove Banquet
Where: at the Colonial Theater, Pittsfield, Massachusetts
Scheduled to appear: Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman
Click here for more information.

The list of guests for each event is subject to change, of course, but usually it winds up being more big names added to the festivities, so keep checking back with the teams as the event nears. Also, if you have an upcoming hot stove event that wasn't listed, please email the details to craig.forde@globe.com and I’ll do my best to get up here.

Lowell Spinners to retire Westmoreland's number

Posted by Craig Forde January 13, 2014 10:34 AM

June 24 F-84.jpgLess than a year after retiring from the game Ryan Westmoreland was honored by the only team he ever played for professionally when the Lowell Spinners announced at their Hot Stove Dinner on Saturday night that they would be retiring his number 25 as part of ‘Ryan Westmoreland Day’ during their 2014 season.

He will become the first Spinners player to have his number retired and will join the Boston Red Sox retired numbers that align the right field wall at LeLacheur Park, as well as the number 18 honoring late UMass-Lowell baseball player Dave Boutin.

After his lone season in 2009 Westmoreland’s stock skyrocketed, being named the best player in the Red Sox minor league system by Baseball America who also rated him as the 21st best prospect in the game.

Heading into his second season as a pro he was derailed by a cavernous malformation on his brain that required multiple surgeries and endless rehab, but despite intense efforts by Westmoreland to get back on the field, the risks ultimately outweighed the rewards and he announced his retirement in March of 2013.

Taken by the Red Sox in the 5th round of the 2008 draft out of Portsmouth (Rhode Island) High School, Westmoreland debuted with the Spinners as a tall, stringy, raw 19-year-old with a full arsenal of tools that he immediately put on display.

That season Ryan played in 60 of Lowell’s 75 regular season games, helping to lead the Spinners to their last Stedler Division title and playoff appearance.

Westmoreland tossed out an impressive .296/.401/.484 batting split with 25 extra base hits, 35 RBIs, 38 runs scored, 38 walks and 19 stolen bases in 19 attempts.

His efforts from that season prompted Baseball America to write the following in their 2010 Prospect Handbook:

“His skills are just as impressive as his considerable tools. Westmoreland has an advanced approach for a teenager, with a short stroke, control of the strike zone and a willingness to use the entire field. His hand-eye coordination allows him to barrel balls consistently, and he has above-average power potential. He has plus-plus speed and knows how to use it…”

1stHR.jpgThis after only just one season for a kid who had yet to complete the second decade of his life.

Those who had the privilege to watch him play will be quick to tell you that this kid was poised enough to carry those expectations on his shoulders as well.

“Ryan was not only a transcendent talent with the Spinners, but a phenomenal person,” said Spinners President and General Manager Tim Bawmann. “We have no doubt, had fate not intervened, that Ryan would be patrolling a Major League outfield for years to come. This tribute is about more than Ryan the baseball player, more so for Ryan the person. There is certainly no one more deserving for his accomplishments on the field and his perseverance off it.”

Ryan Westmoreland left an indelible mark on the game and the organization in his one season as a pro and he will now be properly celebrated by the team where he finished his career.

Currently the Spinners are in the process of pulling their 2014 promotional schedule together, so no date has been set for ‘Ryan Westmoreland Day’ yet, but we will be sure to let you know once the schedule is finalized.

Photo credits - John Corneau/Lowell Spinners

Three great baseball events for great causes this Saturday

Posted by Craig Forde January 7, 2014 02:44 PM

Spring Training will be here at the end of next month, but for those who need a shot of pine tar in their veins, Saturday offers up a trio of events that can oblige.

New Stars for Young Stars

The Jimmy Fund Council of Greater Boston hosts the ninth annual New Stars for NewStars.gifYoung Stars at Jillian’s in Boston. The event, which runs from 11:00am to 1:30p.m., offers fans the opportunity to meet new and upcoming Red Sox, all while supporting a great cause.

This year’s guests include free agent acquisition A.J. Pierzynski, pitchers Drake Britton and Rubby De La Rosa, Red Sox Minor League Offensive Player of the Year Mookie Betts and 2011 first-round selection Blake Swihart.

There will be an autograph signing, buffet lunch, silent auction, bowling and much more, with proceeds going to benefit Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund. Since the event began in 2006, over $220,000 has been raised. You can find more information on New Stars for Young Stars here.

Lowell Spinners Hot Stove Dinner

After two dormant winters the Spinners have restoked the flames on their annual Hot Stove Dinner. The event will be held at the UMass-Lowell Inn & Conference Center, with an autograph session kicking things off at 5:00p.m.

As 2014 marks the 10-year anniversary of the Red Sox first World Series title in 86 years, the Spinners appropriately secured 2004 hero Dave Roberts SpinnersHotStove.jpgas its keynote guest. Joining Roberts will be former Spinners manager (2000-2001) and current Red Sox first base coach Arnie Beyeler, Baseball America’s Red Sox top prospect in 2010 Ryan Westmoreland, former Spinner and UMass product Matt Gedman, broadcaster Jerry Trupiano and more.

Attendees will enjoy dinner, auctions, award presentations and a Q&A session with the evening’s guests. Proceeds benefit Lowell Spinners Charities and more information on the event can be found here.

Hot Stove Cool Music Concert

Former Red Sox General Manager and current Chicago Cubs President Theo Epstein returns for the “cool music” part of the two part Hot Stove Cool Music series. Proceeds benefit the Foundation to Be Named Later which was launched in 2005 by Epstein and his brother Paul to “raise funds and awareness for non-profit agencies, working on the front lines, serving disadvantaged youth in the Greater Boston area.”

The Hot Stove Cool Music series has been a staple of the foundation’s fund raising efforts and has in turn become one of the more highly anticipated music events to kick off the new year in Boston. This will be the 14th annual benefit thrown by the series which was founded by Peter Gammons in 2000.

Mike O’Malley hosts the affair at the Paradise which begins at 5:30p.m., and features musical guests Kay Hanley, Mike Mills and Joan Osborne among many others. More information can be found here.

The second half of the Hot Stove Cool Music series will be a roundtable discussion on January 21st at Fenway Park with Red Sox G.M. Ben Cherington, manager John Farrell, assistant G.M. Mike Hazen and the Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan.

So there are no excuses...I will not accept “the Patriots game” or “Frozen Fenway” as viable excuses…for you to get out there, get your baseball fix and support some great causes in the process. And before you know it, we’ll be back in season.

Christmas Light...a supplement

Posted by Craig Forde December 16, 2013 11:59 AM

As noted in our earlier post, Pat Light is a bit of a Christmas nut, something he readily admits.

His recent move to Hoboken, New Jersey has allowed him to take in all the pomp of New York City’s holiday flourish over the past few weeks.

From the tree lighting at Rockefeller Plaza to Santacon, his recent Twitter (@Pat_Light) timeline is awash in some of the most famous Christmas traditions and pageantry around.

Before we let Pat slug down another egg nog and deck more halls, he was kind enough to give us his Top 5 Christmas movies prior to his family's annual tradition of seeing the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.

Without further ado, here is what Pat Light enjoys watching most this time of year...

5. The Santa Clause 2 – “Tim Allen…the Nutcracker…big Santa taking over!”

4. Home Alone 2 – “I love that it was in New York City. I grew up in the area, I was just at Rockefeller Plaza for the tree lighting. It’s home for me.”

3. The Santa Clause – “I love Tim Allen! He was hilarious. I grew up with this one as a little kid, so it has that spirit of Christmas for me.”

2. Home Alone – “An instant classic. Every kid wants to be home alone…although probably not for Christmas. But every kid has thought about doing that. I loved the crazy uncle and the older brother, they were great side characters.”

1. Elf – “I love Will Ferrell, he’s just the best in this. I was in the 6th grade when this came out, so I got to seeing it more as I got older. It never disappoints, it has a great backdrop with New York City and it always makes me laugh.”

What Pat, no Charlie Brown? No Rudolph? No Griswolds?

I guess you go with what you grew up on. I'd probably still have the Yogi Bear special on my list.

Say what you will about his list…and feel free to share your own Top 5…there is no denying that Pat understands and appreciates the joy of the holiday season, and isn’t that what it’s all about?!

Light ready to shine after struggles, injury

Posted by Craig Forde December 16, 2013 08:33 AM

Light30.jpgThe give and take of baseball is something that Pat Light learned a lot about in his second season in the Red Sox system.

The 37th overall selection in the 2012 draft, Light was hoping to make his first full season as a pro a stepping-off point in his career.

Instead, a tough start and a hamstring issue allowed him only 34 1/3 innings of work.

“It was by far my toughest year,” said Light. “It reminded me a bit of my freshman year [at Monmouth University], which was my least successful year. But I was at least able to pitch then.”

Starting his campaign with the Class-A Greenville Drive, a 4.80 ERA in April gave way to a 12.17 ERA in May and in his lone start in June he faced just one batter before suffering a torn left hamstring that kept him out of action for more than two months.

“It was a rough start,” said Light. “Then to be sidelined…it was tough because I had never been through something like that."

Light went down to the Red Sox complex in Fort Myers, Florida to rehab the injury and it was there that he learned a lot more about his body and how to maintain it, reminiscent of the path that fellow New Jersey hurler Anthony Ranaudo took when he was rehabbing a shoulder injury in 2012.

“The Red Sox have a really good rehab program,” said Light. “The hamstring was kind of an after-thought once I got going. We worked a lot on anchor mobility and working with the hips.

“There were so many things I learned about my body and I learned a lot more on how to stay healthy and maintain it.”

Light returned to live game action in the middle of August, making three appearances for the Gulf Coast Red Sox where he showed his old form, allowing just four hits and two walks over six innings.

He even made it back to Greenville for one last start before season’s end, which proved a bit of a hiccup (2 2/3 innings, 5 ERs) before he returned to Fort Myers for instructs.

It was there that Light regained his confidence, feeling no ill effects on the hamstring while he mowed down teammates with every opportunity he got.

“It was probably the best three weeks of baseball in my career,” said Light. “I threw something like 16 innings and allowed just one run and one walk. It was a good confidence booster.”

With the offseason came a continued rededication to his craft, starting with a move from his home town of Colts Neck, New Jersey to Hoboken, where he reunited with some old housemates who have Pat's health and well-being in mind.

Having shared living space in the past with his brother and sister, the move to Hoboken with his siblings was an ideal situation, given that his brother Sean is a strength and conditioning coach in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization and his sister Colleen is a certified dietician-nutritionist.

They have been key in helping Pat maintain the plan laid out by the Red Sox during the offseason, helping him become stronger and healthier than ever through a strict, daily regiment in the gym and at the dinner table.

“Everything has been really good,” said Light of his offseason with his siblings. “Being with my brother and sister has been vital to keeping me in the right mindset to make sure I’m ready next year.”

However, for the next few weeks Light will be easily distracted with the sights and sounds of his favorite season away from the diamond, the holidays.

“We got the tree up and have lights all over,” said Light. “We have decorations covering pretty much every inch of our place, fake presents, lights up and down the balcony and on the ceiling, icicles everywhere. ”

Once everything is packed back into the boxes and the page turns to 2014 it’s back to business for Light, and with health and redemption as his driving points, he will once again look to establish himself as a top-notch pitching prospect in the Sox organization.

“My number one goal is obviously to stay healthy,” said Light. “I’m back to the old me, my pitches are polished up. Now I just have to take things one game at a time and pitch the way I know that I can.”

Fransoso ready for full plate in 2014

Posted by Craig Forde December 8, 2013 12:54 PM

After whetting his appetite for professional baseball with the Short Season Single-A Jamestown Jammers in the New York-Penn League, Mike Fransoso now hungers for much more.

The former University of Maine standout has adjusted nicely at the next level and hopes to continue to roll that momentum into the 2014 season, which can’t come soon enough for the Portsmouth, New Hampshire native.

After four successful seasons with the Black Bears, Fransoso was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 27th round this past June, targeted by the club for his defensive range in the middle of the infield and his ability to get on base and make the most of it.

He hit the ground running in Jamestown, hitting .309 over his first 40 games, earning Fransoso.jpga spot in the New York-Penn League All-Star Game and helping the Jammers make a playoff run.

He had 16 multi-hit games, led the team with 34 walks and stole 14 bases in 67 games with Jamestown.

"It was kind of just getting my feet wet in pro ball," said Fransoso. "It was a good way to do that. The New York-Penn League was competitive and at the same time I did pretty well, so it was a confidence booster.

Now he is coming to grips with the fact that college life is now behind him, that baseball is his career, and he is eager to continue his on-the-job training.

"I think it's starting to hit me now that I didn't go back to school with all of my buddies," said Fransoso. "I'm hitting, trying to eat right and train my body for the grueling season next year, a full professional season, which will be my first one."

In all fairness, he did log 123 games between Maine and Jamestown in 2013, and seemed to hold up well, so he does at least have the stamina to get by.

"We had practice every day in Maine and played almost 60 games there," Fransoso said. "So it was still a long season but wasn't quite what a full season in pro ball will be. Playing every single day, playing games and long bus trips, I'm trying to get my body ready for that right now."

Of course things are different when there is a lot more at stake.

Fransoso seems to have the proper mentality to take steps up the ladder and a willingness to meet the game in the middle while he continues to find the proper path that will allow him to do so.

"The big thing is that you have to define yourself and know who you are as a player," said Fransoso. "In college...you're a little bit of a superstar at all those levels. Now you've really got to know who you are and what kind of player you are because everybody is a superstar at this level.

"I'm just trying to figure out who I am and what kind of player I want to be down the road."

The road to the 2014 season will begin in early February when Fransoso heads down to his aunt's house in Florida.

"I can get in some of the warmth and throw outside," he said, noting that it's a luxury he has never had playing in the New England. "Some of these guys have already been outside and they’re from the Southern states, so I'm going to try and get a jump on them."

New Britain rocks new alternate logo

Posted by Craig Forde December 6, 2013 09:00 PM

Just in time for their annual "Winterfest" on Saturday the New Britain Rock Cats have released a new, alternate logo that they will debut during the 2014 season.

The new logo features mascot Rocky - a near 7-foot gray cat who lists his favorite food as “ballpark hot dogs” - emulating musical legend Elvis Presley in both form and fashion, complete with metallic red jumpsuit, pompadour and emphatic pose while singing into a bat-shaped microphone.

RockCats alt logo.png

A press release from the team notes that the new logo design will be worn for “several games next season” and that the Rock Cats are “the first professional sports team to use metallic red in their team identity.”

New Britain has been the home to the Double-A affiliate for the Minnesota Twins since HardwareCityRockCats96.GIF1995 when they were originally known as the Hardware City Rock Cats.

The team hosts "Winterfest" at New Britain Stadium on Saturday, December 7th, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., giving fans a chance to get in some holiday shopping and kids a chance to get their pictures taken with Santa Claus.

Other festivities include ballpark tours, free food and drink, up to 50% off of merchandise specials and an appearance from Rocky himself.

The team is also asking that attendees bring new books, board games, gloves, coats, hats, long johns, scarves, underwear, t-shirts, socks and pants to donate to the United Way. All who donate will receive a free ticket to the Rock Cats home opener.

DiSarcina named MiLB Manager of the Year

Posted by Craig Forde December 5, 2013 01:59 PM

Thumbnail image for Gary DiSarcina01 (1).JPG There was a reason that the Red Sox organization tabbed Gary DiSarcina to be the manager of their Triple-A club in 2013, despite having not been a bench boss in three years.

After a highly successful season in which he brought his team to within two wins of their second straight Governors' Cup, others took notice as well with Baseball America bestowing upon the former PawSox skipper the honor of Minor League Manager of the Year.

In his lone season at the helm of the Red Sox Triple-A affiliate, DiSarcina led the PawSox to an International League North title with an 80-63 record and their third straight postseason appearance.

DiSarcina saw the likes of 64 players walk through his clubhouse last season, including Brandon Workman, Xander Bogaerts and Jose Iglesias.

Prior to his stint in Pawtucket, DiSarcina served as manager of the Lowell Spinners (2007-2009), a roving field instructor in the Red Sox farm system (2010) and was a special assistant to Los Angeles Angels GM Jerry Dipoto (2011-2012). He also collected 966 hits over 12 seasons with the Angels and was named to the American League All-Star team in 1995.

A native of Billerica, DiSarcina returned to the Angels in November to become the team's third base coach.

Baseball America's piece on DiSarcina.

Granite State Baseball Dinner reaches milestone

Posted by Craig Forde November 30, 2013 02:03 PM

2013_GSBD_Web_tghvc14h_r39rsg2m.jpgThe New Hampshire Fisher Cats have announced that last Saturday's Granite State Baseball dinner has helped them to eclipse the $1 million mark in charitable donations since its inception in 2007.

The annual event allows fans to connect with past, present and future baseball players, as well as other esteemed guests during the hot stove season, with proceeds going to benefit the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (CHaD), the Ted Williams Museum and the Fisher Cats Foundation.

"Since our team became involved in reviving the dinner in 2007, this event has meant so much to our organization," said Fisher Cats owner Art Solomon, who also serves as Chairman of the Board for the Fisher Cats Foundation. "We are so pleased to reach this milestone, and we take pride in being able to continue the rich tradition of this dinner. We want to thank all of the celebrated guests, sponsors, and fans over the years that have joined us in making a positive impact on three incredible organizations."

This year's guest list included many native sons of the Granite State, most notably former Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter, who recently announced his retirement from the game after compiling a 144-94 record over 15 seasons in the Majors.

Other New Hampshire natives on hand included Kevin Nolan (Nashua-Blue Jays), Joey Maher (Bedford-Yankees), Jordan Cote (Sanbornton-Yankees), Brad Zapenas (Salem-Cubs) and Mike Fransoso (Portsmouth-Pirates). We spoke with Cote and Fransoso and will have posts up on those two prospects in the coming week.

Also in attendance were Red Sox playoff spark plug Jonny Gomes, 5-time MLB All-Star Fred McGriff, two-time Cy Young winner and baseball's last 30-game winner Denny McLain and 2013 Miss New Hampshire Samantha Russo.

The affair, held at the Radisson Hotel Expo Center in Manchester, also featured an autograph season, live and silent auctions, and a question-and-answer session with guests of the head table.

Although the final numbers from the night have yet to be tabulated, the Fisher Cats had raised $979,794 through past dinners, so the $1 million mark was assured as the ballroom began to fill up with guests.

The team has already announced that the 2014 installment of the Granite State Baseball Dinner will be held on Saturday, November 22nd.

Vermont unveils new Lake Monsters look

Posted by Craig Forde November 26, 2013 02:50 PM

Just in time for your holiday shopping, the Vermont Lake Monsters, Short-Season Single A affiliate of the Oakland A’s, unveiled a new logo and “identity” on Saturday.

The new look isn’t a wild deviation from where they started in 2006, retaining a green and blue color scheme with the green tint now becoming more of a lime tone to match up closer with team mascot Champ and a lighter shade of blue in the mix as well.


Speaking of the lovable lake monster himself, Champ remains the main focus of the logo, yet instead of cutting through the water with his head and neck raised tall, Champ sneaks through calmer conditions with his eyes peaking above the meniscus.

"The logos and team identities of the past did not truly reflect the connection between team and mascot," said General Manager Nate Cloutier in a press release. "We set out to adjust to match what our fans have come to know and love -- the Lake Monsters and the big, lime green mascot, CHAMP! We want people to think of CHAMP and the Lake Monsters when they see lime green, just like the connection with Crimson and Alabama, or Burnt Orange and Texas."

VtExpos.gifChamp has been the team’s mascot and most identifiable icon since the Vermont Expos arrived in Burlington in 1994.

As the affiliate for the Montreal Expos, Vermont was forced to find an all new “identity” after the club move the team to Washington after the 2004 season, but not before Vermont got one more season as the Expos, the last of any professional team to use that moniker.

In 2006 the Lake Monsters were introduced, seemingly a perfect fit for a Lake Champlain region steeped in the lore of a mysterious creature that inhabitsVLakeMonstersoriginallogo.gif that body of water.

When the Nationals chose the Auburn Doubledays to be their New York-Penn League affiliate for the 2011 season, Oakland moved in to take over the reins of the Lake Monsters.

Both new and old Lake Monsters merch is available at their online store at www.vermontlakemonsters.com or by visiting the team store located at the top of the King Street Ferry Dock in Burlington, Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. New merchandise will also be available at the University Mall during the holiday season from November 23rd to December 22nd at the Lake Monsters kiosk on the weekends. I'll take a t-shirt in XXL please!

Workman, Bogaerts: From the Dog house to the Big house

Posted by Craig Forde October 12, 2013 03:23 PM

The trip from Portland, Maine to Boston is a solid two hours and even though it took Brandon Workman and Xander Bogaerts a few months to arrive, some would say that they found an express route, with a pit-stop in Pawtucket along the way.

Just six months after starting their 2013 seasons with the Sea Dogs, the duo stands as part of the Red Sox 25-man postseason roster, seemingly worlds away from the 100-plus miles where their season’s journey began.

Although many could have guessed that their paths would have led to Fenway Park after both stood on that very field to collect organizational honors in 2012, not too many would have expected it to have come so soon.

Bogaerts, the Red Sox top prospect heading into 2013, was named Boston’s Minor League Offensive Player of the Year last season after hitting .307 and belting 20 home runs between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland.


With shortstop Jose Iglesias still ahead of him in Pawtucket, Bogaerts broke camp with the Sea Dogs this past April following a stint with the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic.

The less-than-Spring-like April temps in Portland hindered Bogaerts mighty stroke just a bit coming out of the gate, but it didn’t take long for the then 20-year-old to warm up, and after just 56 games with the Sea Dogs, where he had a .311 average and 24 extra-base hits, he was promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket.

Between Double and Triple-A, Bogaerts batted .297 and had 15 home runs in 116 games, drawing a career-high 63 walks as his he showed vast improvement in his plate patience, leading to a big-league call-up in August.

Workman’s jump up came sooner.

The Red Sox 2012 Minor League Pitcher of the Year was in top-form from the get-go, evident in his first start of the season on a frigid April 5th evening at Hadlock Field when he whiffed nine Trenton Thunder batters in just five innings of work.Workman.jpg

He made 11 appearances with Portland, including his only relief stint of his career in a piggy-back role, and after compiling a 5-1 mark with 74 Ks in 65 2/3 innings, Workman packed his bags for to Pawtucket.

Workman made five June starts and one in July for the PawSox, before the big club came calling and on July 10th the 2010 second-rounder out of Texas made his big-league debut, pitching two innings of relief in Seattle.

He followed that outing with three straight starts as the Red Sox rotation battled injuries, and he did more than enough to help his cause, finding a role in the bullpen for the remainder of the regular season.

Bogaerts highly-anticipated debut came on August 20th when the powerful shortstop went 0-for-3 against the San Francisco Giants. Just four days later he picked up his first big-league hit and soon settled in, learning on the fly in a limited capacity.

Both players did enough in their time with Boston to earn their way onto John Farrell’s roster for the American League Division Series versus Tampa Bay and both made contributions in the four-game series.

Workman pitched 2/3 of the 8th inning of Game 3 versus the Rays, the only game the Sox would lose in the series, and although Rays took a 4-3 lead on his watch (two runners were already on base when he was summoned) and Farrell’s move to use him over closer Koji Uehara was questioned, the 24-year-old right hander was solid in his first postseason appearance, showing a poise far beyond his rookie status.

Bogaerts postseason debut came shortly after Workman got out of the 8th inning when he was inserted as a pinch runner for Will Middlebrooks who drew a leadoff walk in the top of the 9th inning.

Working his way around the bases, Bogaerts would score the tying-run on a Dustin Pedroia groundout before the Rays won it on a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 9th inning.

In Game 4, Bogaerts pinch-hit for Stephen Drew in the top of the 7th inning, showing off his ever-growing plate discipline by drawing a walk in a high-pressure situation, eventually coming around to again score a tying run.

He led off the 9th with a walk and would score once more, giving the Red Sox a 3-1 cushion that would be sealed by Uehara as Boston punched their ticket to the Championship Series.

When Farrell announced his roster for the next round, kicking off Saturday night against the Detroit Tigers, both rookies were again on the list.

Now the duo stands as an integral part of the Red Sox playoff machine, chipping in in smaller roles, but making the most of it thus far.

As the intensity gets ratcheted up another notch, these two old (Sea) Dogs (and PawSox) will find their way into the thick of it once more, hopefully providing that youthful shot in the arm that all teams playing this late into the season seem to need at the most crucial of times.

You could say that Workman and Bogaerts symbolize the tip of an iceberg of talented young prospects that will hopefully take that same express route to Boston in the very near future and the sign for the exit could include the word ‘postseason’ for many years to come.

About the author

Craig Forde covers baseball talent as it develops into the next big thing. He has covered high school and college sports for the Boston Globe, and the minor league teams More »

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