March 2007

Lunch with Dice-K and Okaji

What a pleasant surprise. The two Japanese pitchers on the Red Sox — Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima — took all the Boston writers who are in Fort Myers out to lunch at a country club this afternoon.

Daisuke showed up in a V neck sweater and slacks while Okaji had on a collared, white shirt and shorts. They both seemed to enjoy their 90-minute session with the scribes, which was vastly helped by translators Masa Hoshino and Sachiyo Sekiguchi, both of whom are working full-time for the Red Sox this season.

The lineup included yours truly, Globe representatives Gordon Edes and Dan Shaughnessy, Boston Herald scribes Mike Silverman and Tony Mazz as well as Sean McAdam from the Providence Journal, Rob Bradford from the Lawrence Eagle-Tribute, Jeff Goldberg from the Hartford Courant and Glenn Miller of the Fort Myers News-Press. Add in the translators, the two pitchers and Red Sox crack PR guy John Blake, and we had a nifty table for 15.

I went for the coconut shrimp appetizer and chicken quesadillas. Daisuke liked the Chicken Wrap and coleslaw while Okajima went for a salad and a side of fruit.

It was interesting to see both pitchers ask the waitress very easily in English, "Iced Tea, please."

The whole lunch was very well orchestrated. It didn’t feel like a question and answer session even though it was one. It just felt like a bunch of guys getting together for lunch and talking about different stuff, albeit in different languages.

And Daisuke dropped an interesting nugget for those avid Sox fans who might see him in downtown restaurants this summer:

"The one thing that I
dislike is that if I’m in the middle of a meal, and people come up and ask for
a photo or an autograph, at that time I’m sort of forced to ask them to wait
until I’m done eating my meal. If they’re willing to wait, then after that, I’d
be more than happy to give them an autograph or take a picture."

Fair enough, right?

There were two highly comical moments from the lunch:

Daisuke imitating Pedro’s takedown of Don Zimmer from the ’03 playoffs and accidentally banging his pitching elbow on the table. Fortunately, he was not heard, though a few people looked semi-horrified at the moment of contact

The other funny moment was when Shaughnessy asked Matsuzaka to imitate the grip of the non-existent gyroball by using a dinner roll. Matsuzaka looked at the roll a couple of times, then said there was a grip, but he just couldn’t show it. Top secret stuff!

Daisuke is not sure yet what type of music he’ll come out to during his Fenway starts this season.

“I’m very torn. I’m debating whether to go with an
American artist or a Japanese artist.”

He seems to have a vast taste in music:

"I listen to rock, R&B, hip hop, a lot of different
kinds.”

Oh, and by the way, Matsuzaka is a very big Angelina Jolie fan.

"Obviously she’s very pretty but there’s an aura about
her. She also has a strength and poise that I find attractive.”

All in all, a great day. It was the first time the American media has really had a chance to get to know the pitchers in an informal setting. They both seem like really genuine, good guys. It was a lot of fun. To see much more of the questions and answers, check out the full story on redsox.com

The Mayor’s Cup is on the line tonight. Schilling vs. Santana. Schilling left with a 4-0 lead with two outs in the fifth and got a rousing ovation. This one counts. The winner drinks champagne. The loser fumes over not being able to hold that coveted trophy that Fort Myers residents will be talking about until next March.

More later,

Ian.

A Matsuzaka Monday

Here I am, in sunny Sarasota, ready to watch the latest nationally — and internationally — televised edition of the ongoing spring series called Dice-K Mania.

Can he build off that brilliant outing last time out against the Pirates? This will be his longest outing, expect it to be six innings or 95 pitches, whichever comes first.

I’m sure all of you are looking forward to the matchup between Matsuzaka and future Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. For my money, Griffey still has the sweetest swing in the game. Love watching him. Griffey is hitting cleanup. Big, bad Adam Dunn is hitting second. I’m sure we’ll feel the breeze from the press box on some of his swings and misses.

Alex Gonzalez is also in the lineup for the Reds, so we get our first Lugo-Gonzalez matchup.

Papelbon will pitch the seventh inning, followed most likely by Craig Hansen and Kyle Snyder.

As for the final pitching spots on the roster, Terry Francona would like to have it settled before the team leaves for Philadelphia on Thursday evening. As Tito himself put it, "We won’t be having a pitch-off in Philly."

ON that note, I’ll be back later.

Ian.

Closing thoughts

Boy, didn’t we all do a lot of spinning our wheels the last couple of months to end up right back where we started? Oh well, this was the best possible solution.

Papelbon has a chance to be the best closer in baseball this season. I don’t think any of us thought he’d be the best starting pitcher in baseball. So right there, the team has upgraded.

If you would have asked me yesterday who my favorite was to win the American League East, I would have said the Yankees. Today, I’d say the Red Sox, because they have eliminated what was far and away, their biggest question mark. Then again, the margin is not very big. I predict that the difference in the AL East this year is two games, maximum. It’s going to be wild.

Let’s not get all giddy here just because the Red Sox have a closer. There are still question marks. Can Jason Varitek still hit? Can Coco Crisp still hit? Can Dustin Pedroia play every day?

But it’s sure nice not to be trying to solve the bullpen dilemma anymore.

More later,

Ian.

Best we've seen so far

That’s how I would describe Daisuke Matsuzaka’s performance today. He’s been pinpoint with everything and none of the Pirates look comfortable at the plate.

The one run he gave up was sort of a fluke. A hit batter, a couple of grounders and an RBI single. After that, he was flawless.

When Matsuzaka is on, he’s a lot of fun to watch. He works quickly, moves the  ball in and out, and up and down. He sure seems to be getting in a nice groove with Varitek. More later. Just wanted to give you a running update. But for those who are comparing him to Keg Igawa, get a grip. There is absolutely no comparison. Igawa isn’t in this guy’s league.

Later,

Ian.

Back in the Fort

It’s great to be back in the Fort after a very relaxing few days back in Boston. Coming back to this weather is not a bad thing.

I’m just using today to get my feet back under me a little, so no deep revelations in the blog.

But I must say, Beckett sure looks like the ace of the 2007 Red Sox the way he’s been throwing the ball. He looks phenomenal. I’m sure he’d like to bottle this.

Coco has a sore shoulder, which explains his week-long absence from the lineup. Both player and manager say it’s no big deal.

Daisuke graces the cover of this week’s SI after being on ESPN the Mag and Sporting News earlier in the month.

Speaking of Daisuke, he takes the ball tomorrow in Bradenton, when I promise to be more in a blogging state of mind.

Until then, keep the comments coming.

Ian.

Several bows and a handshake

More zaniness at City of Palms Park today where the Yankees and Hideki Matsui came to town. Because the Red Sox had their annual union meeting and didn’t have regular scheduled batting practice, there was no casual greeting between Hideki Matsui and Daisuke Matsuzaka. In lieu of that, one was organized.

The dead give-away came when the large throng of Japanese photographers walked down the third base line at about 6:30, almost as if in a parade. In actuality, they were getting in position for the money shot of Matsui, Matsuzaka and Okajima meeting each other behind home plate.

It’s been a long time since Dice-K and Matsui have been on the same field. It was 2001 in the Japan Series. Matsui was 0-for-3 against Matsuzaka, but his team swept the series. Could Matsuzaka earn some good, old-fashioned revenge in this year’s ALCS?

One of the treats with a Red Sox-Yankee game is getting the opportunity to ask Joe Torre questions. This guy is one of the most quotable people I’ve ever seen in my years of covering sports. Ask him a question, and, invariably, he gives you a great answer.

Torre seemed delighted that Papelbon is no longer closing for the Sox. Here was his quote on the Red Sox closing situation:

“it’s a huge question mark. You play in that ballpark, no
lead is safe in that ballpark. Where other ballparks, three runs is save, five
or six should be a save in that ballpark. Leads disappear very quickly. That
kid, what a job he did. Papelbon did a spectacular job. He was intimidating,
sort of really the opposite of what Foulke brought to the mound. With Foulke, it was more finesse and knowhow. This
kid has great stuff and seemed pretty polished too. But yeah, closer is like a
regular player.”

It was also funny to hear Torre’s impression on rabid Red Sox fans. He was asked if he’s surprised the rivalry hasn’t toned down any since the Sox actually did win the World Series in 2004.

"I thought some of the anger would subside. Sometimes you
have to remind the Red Sox fans they did win the world series. They still
maintain that personality. I mean, I love Boston, but the anger that has been built up there over the years is still the same.
There’s still a lot of resentment to the Yankeess and stuff like that. That’s
what fuels the whole rivlary. It’s a great rivalry. I thought the Dodgers and
Giants, which I grew up with, was pretty special. But I wasn’t on the field for
those so I really couldn’t give you the true flavor of it. This is something special."

Just an FYI to all you faithful readers, I’m getting on a plane to Boston in the morning and going home to spend six days with my family. Redsox.com will be in the fine hands of Maureen Mullen, who does a very nice job. As long as she doesn’t Wally Pipp me, all will be right in the world!

But feel free to keep chiming in on the blog and all check the comments section on occasion. I’ll be back in the saddle on March 20.

Until then, peace out and sayonara!

Ian.

Tigertown

After my first day off in a while yesterday — you’ll be glad to know I spent a couple hours of it on Sanibel Island with a sunburn on my back to prove it  — I’m back in action today, live here from Lakeland.

There was an extremely lame bench-clearing incident in the top of the fifth. Todd Jones threw a pitch behind J.D. Drew’s back. Then Tigers manager Jim Leyland and Sox third base coach Demarlo Hale started jawing at each other, so everyone trotted on to the field and nothing happened.

Beckett did hit Sheffield in the first inning, and then got Magglio Ordonez on the helmet in the third with a breaking ball, but I’m not sure why Jones felt the need to retaliate.Oh well. The incident was over before it began.

In other news, Terry Francona is extremely high on the Gary Sheffield addition to the Tigers. he thinks it makes Detroit the team to beat this year. With all that pitching the Tigers have, you might be hard pressed to disagree.

A couple of hard throwers take the hill today — Beckett and Verlander. As Tito said, there won’t be a lot of changeups.

Coco, Varitek and Drew are the three position players who made the trip. There’s a lot of Japanese media here to see Okajima, or as I like to call him, "the hero in the dark".

The Timlin thing seems like it might drag into early in the season. I suppose it’s better for him to be hurt now, then for him to pitch through it and never be healthy, as was the case last year. But with the bullpen in a state of flux, they can’t afford to be without Timlin for very long once the games start counting.

T-minus 24 hours until the next Matsuzaka moment. T-minus 48 hours until the Yankees hit the Fort, and, yes, Hideki Matsui is making the trip. I’m sure cameras will be clicking with crazy when he greets Matsuzaka.  T-minus 72 hours until i fly back to Boston for six days to catch up with my family. My three young boys are excited.

Talk to you later,

Ian.

Random thoughts on slow day

Did you hear that Tim Wakefield is going to throw more curveballs this season? That’s probably a good idea. I think it will throw hitters more off-balanced than an 80-MPH fastball.

Jonathan Papelbon was real interesting today, talking about how even his teammates and coaches seem to miss the fact that he’s closing. Pap says that starting is all that he’s thinking about, but I’m not so sure. I think he might be having at least some slight withdrawals. Let’s face it, this Papelbon closing thing is not going to go away until somebody not only becomes the closer, but does a good job at it.

Curt Schilling has now joined the blogging community. Check out his work at http://www.38pitches.com. Also, check out some of the links I’ve added under "Ian’s links". I think Schilling is a really good writer. I just have two thoughts. The first being that I hope he doesn’t steal my job some day and the second that I hope he doesn’t get Carpal Tunnel Syndrome the day before a huge start.

I think we’re starting to hit the dog days of Spring Training. It’s fun being here, but the actual game action is starting to seem less interesting. It doesn’t help that 24 of the 25 players on this roster have already won jobs.  Oh well, just three more days before Matsuzaka-mania hits Fort Myers again during that start against the Orioles. Do you think old friend MIllar can hit the gyro pitch?

On that note … C ya.

Reunion to end all reunions

OK, I am positively dizzy from the morning reunion that took place on the lawn of City of Palms Park this morning. How can you keep track of all these intertwinements?

Nomar is in the house, and some folks were very happy to see him. David Ortiz bear-hugged him. Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield also had conversations with Boston’s former favorite son.

No. 5 also had a nice moment behind the batting cage with Captain Carl Yastrzemski, who made his first public appearance in camp.

Oh, and did we mention Grady Little is here? Grady has a big smile on his face and held court with all kinds of old friends. Jim Rice, Wakefield, Johnny Pesky, et al.

Bill Mueller strolled on the field in casual street clothes and a laptop case. Yes, Billy Ballgame
is a full-blown executive now, serving as Ned Colletti’s special assistant.  Mike TImlin and Doug Mirabelli, in particular, were pretty excited to see the 2003 American League batting champion.

Mike Easler is also here. He’s now a coach in the Dodgers system. It was interesting watching him and Rice. Remember that Rice and Easler were teammates on a relentless Red Sox lineup in 1984. Remember how good that lineup was? Boggs-Evans-Rice-Armas-Easler-Buckner-Gedman-Barrett. That was a lineup and a half that year. Anyway, before I digress any further, Rice replaced Easler as the Boston batting coach in the mid 1980s.

Still, there are more connections. Rudy Seanez and Matt White — a pair of former Sox relievers — are here. Seanez was booed out of Boston last year.

White, a Rule 5 pick from 2003, has recently landed a fortune, thanks to 24 million tons of mica rock. Estimated fortune? Somewhere between $1.2  and $2.4 million.  There’s another angle to the story though. White is sick of talking about his pending fortune and more worried about winning a roster spot in the Dodgers bullpen. Oh well, hey, at least if he doesn’t make the team, he won’t go hungry.

Don’t forget that Damian Jackson is also with the Dodgers. You remember Damian Jackson. The guy who had the crash to end all crashes with Johnny Damon in the 2003 playoffs. My other recollection of Damian Jackson is the throwing contest he once had with Gabe Kapler before a home game at Fenway. Standing behind the first base line, both men were aiming baseballs over the Green Monster. As I recall, Gabe won the competition handily. But Damian is still spry as ever. My pal Rob Bradford informs me that Jackson ran up to Varitek during pre-game drills today, put his hands on ‘Tek’s shoulders and leaped over the Captain.

More crossovers? Dave Jauss, who lives in my hometown of West Roxbury, is Grady’s bench coach. Jauss was a very valued advance scout for the Red Sox during October of 2004.

Also, there’s the J.D. Drew factor. J.D. caused some resentment in Los Angeles when he opted out of his deal with the Dodgers to come to Boston. And one more worth mentioning. Alex Cora played most of his career with the Dodgers and is just one of those guys who looks like a Dodger. Alex enjoyed some reunion time as well.

All this makes me long for my next reunion.

Ian.

Aces collide

Curt Schilling and Johan Santana. If this was September, the entire baseball-watching public would be focused on this game. Instead, it’s just a nice little Spring Training matchup. Santana doesn’t have it though. Three walks in the first inning alone.

The Dodgers come to City of Palms tomorrow. Boston’s former favorite son, Nomahhhhhhhhhh Gahhhhhhhciaparaaaaaaaaaaa will be making the trip. It will be the first time, believe it or not, that Nomar has played in front of a home Red Sox crowd since his departure from the team on July 31, 2004. I bet Nomar gets a loud hand during his first trip to the plate.

It is also reunion day for J.D. Drew and the Dodgers. I know the front office wasn’t particularly thrilled that J.D. opted out of his deal after he had said earlier he wouldn’t.

Meanwhile, t-minus 48 hours until the next Matsuzaka moment. Spies in Jupiter, Fla. tell me that the Marlins are going to have to sit some reporters in left field because of the small press box there and the wave of Japanese reporters who will be on hand.

Speaking of Matsuzaka, one of his translators went around to the clubhouse and passed out flash chards to all the pitchers yesterday that had the translation of english phrases and words in Japanese. That should help the pitchers develop some chemistry with both Matsuzaka and Okajima.

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