April 2010

Ellsbury dodges significant injury

The Red Sox caught a big break on Sunday afternoon, when X-rays taken on Jacoby Ellsbury’s left ribs came back negative. It is just a contusion.

Ellsbury and the Sox thought there was at least a chance there might have been some kind of break when he had a collision with Adrian Beltre on a foul ball in the bottom of the ninth inning of Sunday’s game.

“I mean, it’s sore, but I’ll be fine,” said Ellsbury. “He kneed me right in the ribs so that was the thing I was worried about is a broken rib or something like that. I’m sure there’s quite a bit of swelling because it is tough to breathe but I think I’ll be fine.”

Will Ellsbury play on Monday at Minnesota in the debut of Target Field? With it being a 3:10 p.m. CST game, it’s probably too early to say.

“I guess the thing is wake up tomorrow and see how I feel,” Ellsbury said. “As long as nothing is broke, I think … I guess it’s pain tolerance. I feel pretty good. I know it’s going to be really sore tomorrow. I also hit my hip pretty good. I think I’ll be alright.”

First getaway day in 2010

It is a gorgeous Sunday afternoon in Kansas City, with the waterfall out in right-center in full effect. Perfect day for baseball.
waterfall.JPG
The only real lineup news for the Sox is J.D. Drew being out for a day with a stiff neck.  Bill Hall will make his first start of the year at short.

Of course, it will be intriguing to watch Clay Buchholz pitch today, because, at some point, Daisuke Matsuzaka is going to be in the rotation and someone is going to have to come out. Tim Wakefield didn’t look like that someone on Friday, when he threw seven terrific innings.

And a happy 38th birthday to Sox captain Jason Varitek, who celebrated with a pair of homers last night.

Lowell might retire after season

Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, who is making his first start of the season tonight, can have a better playing situation for himself next year because he will be a free agent. But the catch is there might not be a next year for Lowell. The 36-year-old veteran says there’s a good chance that he will retire after the season, citing a desire to spend more time with his family.

Lowell was asked if his current playing situation made him look forward to next year.

“No, I don’t because this probably is my last year,” said Lowell.

Then, he talked of how he turned down a four-year deal to go to the Phillies and took a three-year deal to stay in Boston. In fact, that was when he first came to the realization that 2010 might be the last of his career.

“Three years ago, to be honest with you,” said Lowell. “I have no qualms about it. My agent wanted to kill me for not taking a four-year deal and I said I don’t know if I want to play four years but I know if I sign a four-year contract, I’m going to play four years. I didn’t know that. I tried to look at the big picture. I see my family, I see the age my kids are at. They’re both starting a new school next year – all that good stuff. There’s a lot of reasons for dad to be there. Has this scenario maybe put baseball a little bit lower? I don’t think so. But it grinds at you a little. That’s where the mental challenge comes in.”

Is there anything that could change Lowell’s mind about playing in ’11?

“”Well, I’m not 100 percent sure [about retiring],” Lowell said. “I would say I’m well up there. Actually I would love for the last year of my career to be the best year of my career if that would be the case. I don’t think there’s any better way of going out than on top. Why not?”

What if his health keeps improving this year? Would that change his mind?

“No, no. If I hit 30 home runs this year or if I hit three, I don’t think that stance is going to change,” said Lowell.

Game 2 of 162

Encore, anyone? It will be hard to top Sunday for pageantry, drama and everything else.

But back they are, the Sox and the Yankees, for the second game of this series, and their second game of the season.

When you score nine runs like the Red Sox did on Sunday, don’t expect any lineup changes, and there aren’t any.

It was a great Opener offensively for manager Terry Francona’s nine.The only two guys who didn’t get hits were Jacoby Ellsbury and David Ortiz, so perhaps they will get their firsts out of the way. Maybe Ortiz will take Burnett deep tonight and hit home run No. 1 on April 6 instead of May 20, like he did last year. Ortiz has three career homers off Burnett.

Clay Buchholz, meanwhile, won’t pitch until Sunday in Kansas City, which is nine days removed from his last spring start. To shake off any potential rust, he will throw a simulated game at Fenway tomorrow for three innings.

Opening Night — 1 of 162

Perfect night. Great pitching matchup (Josh Beckett vs. CC Sabathia). Two age-old rivals (Red Sox and Yankees).

And there Pedro Martinez was, wearing Red Sox jersey No. 45 again and throwing out the first pitch. A pretty cool moment, I must say. It was only fitting that Varitek caught the pitch, since he caught just about every pitch Pedro threw in a Sox uniform.

Everyone ready?

Here are tonight’s lineups.

Yankees.

Jeter SS
Johnson DH
Teixeira 1B
A-Rod 3B
Cano 2B
Posada C
Granderson CF
Swisher RF
Gardner LF

Sabathia SP

Red Sox

Ellsbury LF
Pedroia 2B
Martinez C
Youkilis 1B
Ortiz DH
Beltre 3B
Drew RF
Cameron CF
Scutaro SS

Beckett SP

Hayhurst swings for fences in great read

Another baseball season set to kick off Sunday night, with the latest Armageddon showdown between the Red Sox and Yankees at fabled Fenway Park. In other words, this the time of year when every fan gets revved up about the game again. Perhaps you’ve recently popped in Bull Durham or Field of Dreams to get those baseball juices re-started.

It is also at this time of year when new books on the National Pastime tend to hit the shelves. There are tales of star players, and their rise to greatness. There are books about championship seasons of recent times or long ago.

But this year, another type of book has emerged altogether. It is a highly compelling and great read called “Bullpen Gospels” and its author is a player you might have never heard of. His name is Dirk Hayhurst, a right-hander who has pitched 25 games in the Majors and is currently with the Toronto Blue Jays. Hayhurst is recovering from surgery on his arm these days, and there’s no time-table yet of when he will return to the mound. But after reading his book, you are likely to keep tabs on him once he does.

The focal point of the book is Hayhurst’s 2007 season in the San Diego Padres’ Minor League system, but it is so much more. It isn’t so much a baseball book as a tale about the various twists and turns of life. He takes you on bus rides, in the clubhouse, and, of course, in the bullpen with in-depth descriptions and terrifically written passages.

Hayhurst was by no means a fast-track prospect. Quite the opposite in fact. He was a right-hander fighting for survival. In the early stages of the book, Hayhurst is candid about his family life, which is far from storybook. His father, once a tremendous source of support, has been reduced to a shell of his former self, both mentally and physically. This, after Mr. Hayhurst fell headfirst from the roof of the family home while laying shingles. Dirk’s brother was a raging alcoholic, capable of being violent with anyone in his path, even his parents and brother. His mother is supportive enough, but also preoccupied in the tangled web being caused by a health-challenged husband and an alcoholic son.

The dysfunctional and chaotic home situation left Hayhurst living with his ornery grandmother during the offseason. As Hayhurst explains, part of the reason he was keeping his dream of playing baseball alive was simply to escape from the harsh realities that his family live had turned into.

And fortunately for readers, Hayhurst keeps playing ball for that 2007 season, which he captures it wonderfully throughout that entire year, which starts at the Spring Training complex in Arizona. Here, you get game-within-the-game insight, in the form of Hayhurst pleading the lady behind the desk at the hotel that he needs a suite. As a Minor League veteran, Hayhurst knows that a suite means being able to have a microwave and a refrigerator. He then finds out that the only suite left is one in which he will have to room with perhaps the loudest snorer in San Diego’s entire farm system. Hayhurst weighed his options, and decided that the fridge and the microwave was more important to him then a quiet sleeping environment.

Hayhurst takes readers through the monotony of camp, from locker room banter to on-field drills. He recalls in vivid detail the thrill of listening to Trevor Hoffman, the All-Star closer for the Padres, speak to the prospects. And in humorous fashion, Hayhurst put his foot in his mouth, asking Hoffman a nervous question that prompted weeks of ribbing from his teammates. Much later in the book, Hoffman and Hayhurst are reunited as Major League teammates, and a meaningful one-on-one conversation ensues.

One of the most compelling portions of the Spring Training chapters comes toward the end of camp, when everyone knows that cuts are coming. Hayhurst feared he might be one of the pitchers let go, and for all he knew, that could be the end of his dream. Though he initially dodged the chopping block, Hayhurst is told one night by a team trainer that he shouldn’t pack his bags for the Double-A van. What exactly did that mean? Hayhurst was told he wouldn’t find out until the morning, leaving his fate hanging in the balance for a sleepless night. He was told the next day he could go to Lake Elsinore of Single-A – if he wanted to. After pitching in Double-A the season before, this was a bitter pill to swallow. The goal of a Minor Leaguer is to steadily go up, not down. Alas, Hayhurst took the invitation, not willing to give up his dreams just yet.

Though it is a humbling experience, going back to A-ball, Hayhurst doesn’t sulk. Instead, he bonds with his teammates, even though, unlike many of them, he doesn’t drink alcohol. Hayhurst vows he will never touch alcohol as long as his brother does. It is clear he enjoys being part of a team. Sometimes he sneaks off to play video games with the grounds crew during a game that drags, while at others, he helps his bullpen mates device a humorous contest during home games in which fans can take turns trying to throw quarters into a cup in order to win a free baseball.

Hayhurst eventually gets a reward during that ’07 season, getting the call up to Double-A. It was a great time to call home and tell mom and dad the good news. But Hayhurst is crushed when his father can’t even tell him  that he’s proud of him. His mom tries to console him, but to no avail.

Meanwhile, things go well for Hayhurst at Double-A for the most part. But he is unnerved one night when Padres general manager Kevin Towers is in the audience. Hayhurst winds up having a disastrous outing and wonders if he has blown a chance to open the eyes of the brass.

Again, he calls home looking for support, but instead is blind-sided when his brother takes the phone from his mother and asks Dirk for forgiveness. The brother has quit drinking, has joined AA and truly wants to start over with Dirk. It doesn’t come easy, as Dirk is understandably hostile throughout the conversation, only finally at the very end agreeing to give his brother another chance.

However, a championship feeling is developing for Hayhurst and his teammates in the Texas League. One spine-tingling story is told during that portion of the book, when a mother asks Hayhurst to speak to her three-year-old boy, who is shy. The conversation took place between the bullpen and the stands, and Hayhurst gets the jarring news that the boy has liver cancer. In a poignant scene, Hayhurst and his teammates have the boy sit in the middle of them during the game. The bullpen that took turns signing the baseball for the awe-struck kid.

“We won that night, but the game didn’t matter,” Hayhurst writes. Wins, losses and numbers behind them were rendered meaningless by two perfect innings spent in the bullpen. Something else, something bigger than baseball that can’t be recorded took place. Something no one will read about in the box scores. Something only uniforms with real people inside could make happen.”

Hayhurst’s Double-A squad goes on to win the Texas League championship, and he describes in intimate detail the euphoria that is felt when a team comes together as one.

The book only mentions in passing Hayhurst’s time in the Majors, and concludes with him finding the right woman and getting married. And who knows, maybe there is even some repair work in the difficult relationship with his father. You’ll have to buy the book to find out. Trust me, it’s worth it.

I’m far from the only one who liked the book. Here are some other well-deserved plugs.

Schoeneweis is in

Lefty Scott Schoeneweis, just 10 days after the sting of being released by the Milwaukee Brewers,will be one of the 25 Red Sox to be on the active roster for Sunday night’s Season Opener against the Yankees.

The 36-year-old lefty, who endured personal tragedy last May when his wife died, beat out Joe Nelson for the final spot on the roster.

He will board the team plane to Washington D.C. later this afternoon, as the Sox have a one-day exhbition series in the nation’s capital tomorrow, and then it’s back to Fenway.

“I’m all dressed, I combed my hair. I’m ready to go,” Schoeneweis said.

It is an exciting accomplishment for Schoeneweis.

“It is. It’s been a rough last 10 months or so. Like I said, there’s many times I didn’t know where I was going to be able to play, whether I wanted to play, whether I could play at all,” Schoeneweis said. “At least for the time being, I could take solace in the fact that my family stuck by me, everyone is doing well. I’m doing well. I kept battling. I grew up going to Red Sox games. It’s a pretty special thing. I’ll be real excited come Sunday.”

He was vocal last week after being released by the Brewers, but Schoeneweis explained what a difficult road it has been for him over the last year, as the father of four children who lost their mother.

“I think there’s a lot of things that have been misconstrued, I think, with some of the comments that I’ve made,” Schoeneweis said. “I never was upset with the Brewers. I wasn’t upset with anyone. You’ve got to understand, I was just disappointed with my situation in general. Again, I dealt with stuff that was beyond my control. There’s no blue-print for this. I don’t know what the decision is. It’s not like I can call up Joe Blow up from 2003 and say, hey, when your wife died, how did you go about it? How did you feel about what you should do? This is all new to me. It’s also one of the reasons I really wanted to play this year, to see how I could handle it, how my kids handled it.”

Atchison on team; Tazawa to undergo Tommy John

Manager Terry Francona informed righty reliever Scott Atchison this morning that he is on the team. It is a feel-good story of sorts, as Atchision returned to the U.S. after pitching the last two years in Japan, hoping he’d be able to win a spot in the Majors.

The final spot on the roster is between lefty reliever Scott Schoeneweis — who will pitch today — and righty Joe Nelson. Either way, Nelson will travel with the team to Washington. The Red Sox are hoping to have a better read on Schoeneweis by the end of the day.

Alan Embree, the club has determined, is not ready for Opening Day. They’ve asked the lefty to pitch on a rehab program, which would consist of several outings in the Minors. Embree is going to mull it over and talk to his family. He has an opt-out clause in his contract on April 15.

And Junichi Tazawa, the Japanese prospect, will undergo Tommy John ligament transfer surgery on his elbow. Tazawa will be operated on by the renowned Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala. on Tuesday. The righty won’t pitch at all this season, but given the normal time-table of Tommy John recovery, he could be ready by the early portion of the 2011 season.

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