Tag Archives: Red Sox

Former All-Star Jason Dickson reflects on his first Spring Training and Opening Day

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Andrew McGilligan | Out of WriteField

With fans around the world anticipating the start of the Major League Baseball season on Sunday, we at Out of WriteField decided to find out how a former Major League player viewed spring training and the start of a new season. We spoke with former MLB pitcher Jason Dickson about his first big-league spring training and the early days of his inaugural season in the big leagues.

 

Andrew McGilligan |Out of WriteField

It was the sixth inning of the second day of the Major League Baseball season when Jason Dickson felt that he could finally exhale and relax on the mound. To that point in the game on April 3, 1997, pitching at home for the California Angels against the Boston Red Sox, Dickson had been masterful, allowing only a pair of hits in what was then a scoreless game.

The start was the first of his rookie season – he had appeared in seven games the year before – but that day, that season, marked a series of first in his young career.

“That first game of the year, the first start, all I was really hoping for was nothing to be a disaster,” Dickson said. “By the time the fifth inning was over and nothing major had gone wrong, it was a sense of relief. I thought to myself, ‘You’ve proven you can do it, so just keep pegging away.”

He would surrender just three more hits the rest of the way in the Angels 2-0 win, tossing a complete-game shutout – the only one of his career. His final line for the day, nine innings, no runs, five hits, five strikeouts (including fanning Fenway slugger Mo Vaughan) and no walks. Not a bad debut for the rookie hurler from New Brunswick.

Coming into spring training, Dickson didn’t think he would crack the major league roster; not many players do their first time out. Despite having been called up the year before, ’97 was his first big-league camp.

“Every year, right around the time spring training starts, I still get the itch be down there, be around the guy and the atmosphere and that all stems back to that first camp,” he said. “You’re excited to be back on the field and in the warm weather.”

Arriving at camp, Dickson figured there were five or six pitchers ahead of him and he would probably return to AAA Vancouver to start the season. The starting pitchers in camp with him included Chuck Finley and Jim Abbott.

“I really had no expectation of making the team,” he said. “I just went out and threw. I was just excited to be there, but at the same time with no expectations, I was doing well, having a pretty good spring.”

As spring wore on, cuts started being made and Dickson was not among them.

“When you start to see the cuts and the guys that are cut are the ones you’re competing with, you start to think you might get the chance to start the season with the big club when spring training breaks.”

This spring training, his first, was also when he learned how tough the business of baseball can be. In order for him to make the starting rotation, a spot had to be opened up; a veteran pitcher would need to be released. Dickson had gotten to know Abbott throughout the spring and considered him a friend, which made it even more difficult when the Angels cut the iconic one-armed pitcher to make room.

“That’s so tough because on one hand, it’s a friend being released, but it also means you’re going to stay. I remember reading Jim’s book a few months ago and he wrote about how tough that was for him. It definitely was a hard situation.”

Making the roster, being part of Opening Day, his win in the second game of the opening series against the Red Sox and earning an All-Star berth was all part of his first full season in The Show. Despite having played baseball his whole life, Dickson said he wasn’t prepared for some of the things that come with being a major league player, things you can’t prepare for.

“Your teammates are guys you had on posters on your wall growing up,” he said. “Everything is bigger, from the clubhouse to the stadiums. You go from being anonymous to being known overnight.

“You go from walking out of the park with no one around in the minors to driving your car past a large group of fans waiting for you after the games. You learn not to use your own name in New York City hotels because you’ll either end up with autograph seekers waiting for you or people leaving you death threats.”

As for Opening Day 2013, Dickson said he’ll be watching, especially the Toronto Blue Jays to see how they handle the pressure given the headline-grabbing offseason. He’ll also think about that first start of 1997 against Boston, standing on the mound trying not to be overwhelmed by the realization he had achieved a life-long dream.

“For the first little while that season everything was awkward, I didn’t really know what I was supposed to be doing. The only time it felt normal was when I was on the mound making pitches.

“All I was trying to do was convince myself this was no fluke, that I belonged. Just pitch well enough to get four or five more starts.”

He would get 31 more chances that season, earning his way to an all-star game and third-place finish in Rookie of the Year voting.

 

 

 

 

 

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Youkilis, Middlebrooks and New England Royalty

Will MIddlebrooks has been off to a hot start – but what’s going to happen when Kevin Youkilis returns from the DL? Middlebrooks’ hot start will push The King of Walks to be the King of mashing the ball more.

LIVINGSTONE McGILLIGAN: Will Middlebrooks could be hitting .400 when Kevin Youkilis comes of the disabled list and I’m not sure that would be enough to keep him at third base for the Boston Red Sox.

Middlebrooks isn’t simply up against the incumbent at Fenway’s hot corner; he’s competing with a member of New England royalty.

Here’s a quick overview of New England Royalty:

1.       Any member of the Kennedy family.

2.       Tom Brady

3.       Red Sox players (LIVINGSTONE: Even Billy Buckner??)

4.       Larry Bird

5.       Any other Celtics

6.    Bill Belichick

7.       Patriot players

8.       Bobby Orr

9.    Bruins players

10.   Matt Damon (he was wicked smart) and Ben Affleck

Youkilis is elevated slightly above the average Red Sox player because he married Tom Brady’s sister. This essentially makes him an honorary Kennedy.

In addition to this, Youkilis has been one of the most consistent hitters in Major League Baseball for several years. However, injuries have limited him the past two season and 2011 was the first time he hit under .280 since 2007. Add to this the rocky start with manager Bobby Valentine – for the record, completely Bobby V’s fault – and Youkilis seems to be in decline.

Middlebrooks success since his call up has been a bright spot in an otherwise terrible start to the season for the Red Sox. Middlebrooks is hitting .409 with seven extra-base hits and nine RBIs in four games. According to boston.com, Middlebrooks is the first player since Enos Slaughter in 1938 to have at least one extra-base hit in each of his first five games in the majors. However, he’s not without some injury concerns of his own. Middlebrooks was taken out of Tuesday’s game in the second inning after feeling some tightness in his left hamstring. It’s the second time since his call up he’s been taken out of a game because of the issue.

Once Youkilis returns from the DL, Valentine will have to decide between the two. Given Youkilis history, it’s hard to imagine him not being reinserted into the lineup.

The only way this doesn’t happen is if Middlebrooks marries a Kennedy in the next week and helps the Celtics win a playoff game. The only way for Youk to top that is to announce he and Brady’s sister are having a boy and Belichik declares he’s going to trade up to get him in the first-round to be Tom’s eventual replacement.

Random Note:

A few weeks ago I wrote about how the Red Sox season had a chance to turn around because of the Ben Affleck Movie Release Date Theory. Essentially, any time Affleck has a movie released in October, the Sox win the World Series. Well the trailer for Argo is out with Affleck directing and starring. The movie is set for an October release. In Ben, Red Sox Nation trusts.

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On the plus side, some young closers are strutting their stuff

Baltimore Orioles closer Jim Johnson has been perfect in the save situation, going seven-for-seven to start the season, closing out games with a high nineties fastball in his pitching arsenal.

McGILLIGAN: One of the early story lines this season was the poor performance of closers.

Teams were struggling to shut the door in the ninth inning and seal the win. Veteran guys – solid performers in seasons past – just weren’t getting the job done. Things have settled somewhat since then – injuries are still wreaking havoc in some cities – and part of the reason is new faces seizing their opportunities.

The two best examples of this are Jim Johnson of the Baltimore Orioles and Henry Rodriguez of the Washington Nationals.

Johnson has been perfect in his save opportunities this season (7-7), has yet to allow a run and has hitters off balance as evidenced by opponents mustering a measly.214 batting average.

The Orioles have struggled to find consistency the closer role, only once in the past five seasons has a player recorded two-straight seasons of 20 or more saves (George Sherrill in 2008 and 2009).

Heading into the year, Johnson had racked up 21 saves over the course of three seasons. Baltimore is a bit of a revolving door for closers, but early signs are positive for Johnson and the O’s.

The most intriguing closer-related story is in the National League. After the Nationals watched Brad Lidge blow a few saves, the job was given to Henry Rodriguez who had a grand total of two saves before this year. This season he’s recorded five saves in five chances, has not allowed an earned run and has opponents hitting a paltry .038.

What makes the Nationals situation so intriguing is the eventual return of Drew Storen. In 2011, Storen racked up 43 saves, tied for sixth best in all of baseball. He had minor elbow surgery earlier this month and could return sometime around the all-star break. If he can return to form, and Rodriguez continues his early dominance, the Nationals could have the makings of a great one-two punch for the eighth and ninth innings – in what order might be anyone’s guess.

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A power bat? Where? I’m guessin’ left…

Subs outfielder Alfonso Soriano would be a good power bat addition to the Jays roster - however, the salary he is owed could be an issue.

STRADER: Does anybody get the feeling the Blue Jays aren’t happy with either left fielder?

I am.

One, because AA doesn’t make anything public, and his desire for an impact bat just became public. Two, because it’s not JP Arencibia that’s going to lose his job, I don’t care how many people want to focus on the low batting average.

How would the Baltimore Orioles feel if they’d given up on Matt Wieters?

Pretty dumb, I would imagine.

There’s way more to being a catcher than hitting and I don’t think the organization is as frustrated with Arencibia as some of the fans are.

(That damn debut is going to haunt this kid until he hits….)

No, there is a position on the field that doesn’t seem to be filled by that reliable, crushing, middle of the order bat, just yet.

So, with Anthopolous reportedly telling MLB network radio’s Jim Bowden that a middle of the order bat is his true desire, to “wear down” other teams, it appears that a trial run with a kid for a couple seasons is not what Anthopolous wants. And look around the diamond.

Do you move Rasmus? Nope. He’s looking confident and skilled again, and there’s a speedster in the wings.

Is it Escobar? Nope. Once again, not the power development that has been hyped, but there’s talent waiting on the depth chart there too in a young Cuban who’s looking all world.

No, left field, which I believe in two to three years will be occupied by Jake Marisnick could use a dominant, power-hitting, veteran.

So for fun, ‘cause speculation with the Blue Jays brass is always wrong, let’s take a look at Major League outfields and see if we can find a power-hitting veteran, that would come cheap, is on a team that wants to move him, and also a squad looking to add to their young talent.

Melky….I don’t know….Delmon….would Detroit trade anything right now?….Logan Morrison….is he proven enough?….Brennan Boesch…certainly a lot of talk about his ceiling….Jason Bay…I could only dream he becomes reliable again and lands in Canada….

Nope, I think I found the perfect hole filler. His team will absorb a lot of his contract. He would hit the snot out of the ball in Rogers Centre. And in a couple years, he would happily be replaced by a young outfielder, because he’s in his mid-30s.

Yep, I never thought I would say it, but I want to see Alfonso Soriano in a Blue Jay uniform.

Because of his critics, price tag, and lack of a market, I believe he would only require a couple mid-level prospects to get him.

His OPS is always above .700, this guy can simply hit the ball.

And without having to be the go-to guy in a lineup, he would be an unreal complement bat.

As I’ve said before, I’m patient. I’d rather see Travis Snider for a full season, leave him alone, let him play.

But if we’re going to see 24 and 25 year olds platooned with Rajai, replaced for defensive reasons, not playing against left-handed pitchers, then bring the vet, and wait for Marisnick and Gose.

Maybe Thames and a mid-level pitching prospect would get us Soriano?

And how wicked would he look sandwiched in there with Edwin, Brett, Adam and that dude in right field?

I’m thinking pretty good.

Of course, it looks like my Jenkins prediction was a little out of left field too….

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Timelessness and Jamie Moyer

Creeping closer to seniors discounts at local restaurants, Jamie Moyer became the oldest pitcher to win a game in the bigs, a 5-3 victory over the San Diego Padres. Cheers Jamie!

LIVINGSTONE: I’m beginning to look into my future a little bit more these days, especially when it comes to baseball. It coincides with life, maturity, professional desires, life, family, etc. It’s normal, I suppose, so it’s carried over into the ‘what-ifs’ of my sports passions. Will Ben Roethlisberger make it to another Super Bowl? Will The Flyers win a Stanley Cup in the next five years? Will the Leafs ever win one in my lifetime (or my hypothetical child…and their kids.)?

The question that popped into my head last night came on the heals of a new baseball record, now enshrined in the Hall of Fame: Will Jamie Moyer ever retire?

Moyer, at the young age of forty-nine, became the oldest pitcher in history to win a baseball game. Pitching now for the Colorado Rockies, after pitching for almost every team in baseball (that’s not true, but it seems like it, he’s only pitched for eight) he kept the San Diego Padres’ hitters at bay with his lightning-fast 79 mph fastball and his nasty cutter. The Rockies won 5-3.

Moyer, 49 years, 150 days old to be exact, takes the record held by Jack Quinn of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who was 49 years, 70 days old when he set the record.

Wait, the Brooklyn Dodgers? Yep, the record was set on Sept. 13, 1932 when a bottle of Coke was five cents and the Second World War was yet to happen.

It’s an incredible feat. To be able to pitch for 25 years, for eight clubs, play with Ryne Sandberg, Ken Griffey Jr., and Carlos Gonzalez (in three different decades mind you) amass 268 wins and over 2,400 Ks – it’s unreal. Moyer is the third oldest pitcher ever to play in a regular season game (behind Quinn and Satchel Paige who was, get this, 59(!!) when he played in 1965) and is tied for sixth on the oldest player, pitcher or position, to play (he’s tied with the likes of Julio Franco (2007) and Hughie Jennings (1918), among others).

It speaks a lot to not only the longevity of his ability to play – but to the fact he has been able to continue pitching, after 25 years and more than 4,000 innings, without his body, or love for the game, saying that’s enough.

Sure, he gets a paycheck, and a pretty decent one in the grand scheme of life, but at this point in his career, he just seems to want to keep playing the game he loves so dearly.

It’s beautiful.

 

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Bobby Valentine calling out Youkilis makes no sense

 

Sox Manager Bobby Valentine called out Kevin Youkilis for not being into the games physically and emotionally - after sweeping the Tampa Bay Rays. Say what?

McGILLIGAN: This better be some type of genius managerial strategy Bobby Valentine picked up in Japan because that’s the only way his Sunday night comments make sense.

Here’s what Valentine said on WHDH’s SportsXtra show regarding third baseman Kevin Youkilis:

“I don’t think he’s as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason.”

Kevin Youkilis struggled in the first two series of the season.

There weren’t many Boston Red Sox that didn’t. However, Youkilis hits in a coveted spot usually between Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz, so his value is high for a team expected to have one of the best offenses this year.

So when he turned it around in the past three games – all wins against the Tampa Bay Rays – things seemed to be swinging in the Red Sox favour.

Then came the out-of-nowhere criticisms of Youkilis by Valentine following a 6-4 win on Sunday.

In three-straight wins, Youkilis is hitting .400 with three RBI and six runs scored. Prior to the three wins he was 2-20 with six strikeouts and 10 men left on base for a club that went 1-5.

This is why Valentine’s comments make no sense. If you criticize a guy in the media, it usually occurs when he’s playing poorly and the team is struggling, not when things are going good.

Another oddity of the statement is Youkilis “not being emotionally into the game.” This is something no one has ever said about the Greek God of Walks (to be fair I referred to him as the Greek God of Walking Back to the Dugout during his early struggles).

The statement led to some interesting comments from Red Sox leader Dustin Pedroia.

“I don’t know what Bobby’s trying to do, but that’s not the way we do things here,” said Pedroia on MLB.com. “Maybe that stuff works in Japan.”

Youkilis said he was confused by Valentine’s comments and said it wasn’t how he saw it. For his part Valentine apologized to Youkilis and offered this explanation on MLB.com.

“I answered the question that, I think the question was, ‘It’s not Youk-like the way he’s playing.’ I think that was the question I answered,” Valentine said. “I should have explained that his swing isn’t what he wants it to be. The physical part of his swing is frustrating. Frustration leads to emotion. I haven’t seen him break as many helmets as I’ve seen on TV. It just seemed different.

“At the end of the thing, I said I don’t know what the reason is because I haven’t been here long enough. I don’t know why his swing isn’t exactly the way he wants it to be and why he wasn’t throwing as many helmets. I thought it was rather innocuous. Matter of fact, it seemed like they were trying to bang him and I started out by saying how good his at-bats were that day, his two walks.”

The key statement is “I haven’t been here long enough.” I won’t pretend to know the intricacies of major league managing, but if you haven’t been there long enough to form an opinion why make a statement.

This may amount to nothing in the end, but isn’t it too early for the manager to be apologizing for statements (non-Castro related) and team leaders having to step in and defend teammates. Perhaps this is a strategy Bobby V is employing that will have long term benefits and I will look back and call him a genius. Perhaps.

Here’s the thing, the Sox are winning. So if that continue this all goes away, if not we should prepare ourselves for the inundation of stories and call-in shows asking the question ‘Has Bobby V already lost the clubhouse?’

One thing is for sure, there’s not going to be a dull moment this season in Beantown.

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Bobby Valentine’s (likely) end-of-season apology letter

On the eve of the Leafs apologizing to their fans, I finished this Bobby V apology letter to Red Sox fans for not making the playoffs in 2012….

Apology to Red Sox Fans

From your one and only, Bobby “V” baby,

I’d like to apologize for the performance, execution and conduct of the players this year. In which, by the way, I had a lot of fun – those guys just need to learn to listen and we’re aces kids.

Okay, so we didn’t make it again. And we even finished below the bird team from Canada (man, I’ve never figured out why so many baseball teams are named after birds? I’d name them after cars…) but hey, things are going to get better, right?

I mean, come on….we’re the Sox.

In my opinion, we lost for two reasons this year.

Our starting pitching fell apart, and some nasty blogger labeled poor Dustin the “rubber chicken” and that really got in his head. He’s a sensitive little guy you know. That stupid video game pointed out that he couldn’t hit a high inside fastball and it took him months to adjust.

I know the bullpen didn’t look that great either, but it’s a bullpen, we’ll buy some new pieces.

Starting pitching comes down to two things according to Bobby V, a winning attitude and work ethic, and our guys had neither.

Countless times I would be in the make up chair before the game, and I swear, I could hear the video games on in the clubhouse again. I’d send assistants back to check, but it’s difficult to bark out orders while you’re balancing cold tea bags and cucumbers on your lids. And that’s Bobby V time.

So I would leave it for the weekends, when the games don’t really matter, you know?

It’s Saturday, everybody’s having a good time, I’d bring in some kids from the junior leagues around the city and run drills on fundamentals, like starting the runners with a full count, blocking the plate, and looking good for the camera. The guys’ would love it, the kids would love it.

I know when I was a kid nothing made me happier than a free lunch and a chance to throw the seventh. What? I’m gonna make Jenks do it? Come on. Someone has to go pick up the chicken, we’re not abusing our assistant’s on Saturday’s – we gotta keep the bosses costs down and Bobby V’s salary up.

Why do you think we’re KFC guys?

Now, as for next year, let’s not worry. Buy your tickets, your hats, and your jerseys. Okay, maybe it’s not time to throw a name on the back of that new shirt, ‘cause who knows who’s gonna be here next year right? Who’s going to step up. We do have that Crawford guy for a long time, maybe him? (I’m still really excited to meet him, by the way, seems like a nice kid.)

Meanwhile, listen to my radio show in New York. I’ll tell you everything that’s wrong with the Sox, the audience there is just loving it. I get a rousing ovation everytime I show up for the little side job.

Must have something to do with the sweet sounds of Bobby V…

Until next year folks. Keep my seat warm, I’ll see you sometime around May.

It’s May, right?

 

Bobby V

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