So last weekend was the second annual Red Sox Winter Weekend at Foxwoods. I was at last year’s event and noticed that I didn’t write about it at the time. (I even brought a recorder for the good stuff and still have audio files from that weekend that I’ve done nothing with but listen to them myself.) I am a pathetic excuse for a blogger these days.
Anyway, this year’s weekend was loads of fun. I was a little disappointed that there weren’t panels for the minor leagues as there were last year (last year, Kelly O’Connor and I attended almost exclusively panels that covered the minor league players and operations) but the panels we attended this year were informative and entertaining.
If I had any doubts about Dave Dombrowski, last weekend erased them for me. (Sure you could argue the team acquiring David Price should have erased them for me but I’m nothing if not stubborn.) The first panel we attended on Saturday was the Baseball Operations update with Dombrowski and Mike Hazen. Two people more eager to discuss baseball operations with the lowly fans you will not find, I promise you. It was less of an update and more of a casual Q&A about the team peppered with some interesting stories from the vault of Dave Dombrowski.
I had conveniently forgotten that Dombrowski was the GM of the Florida Marlins when Kevin Millar was getting his start in baseball and last weekend he shared the story about how Millar ended up as a replacement player in 1995. It came up as Dombrowski and Hazen were making that point that regardless of what Baseball Operations folks see in a player, it’s not an exact science and every so often a player comes around that surprises them. Dombrowski was also making the point that some players, the prospects, get special treatment. Kevin Millar was not one of those special players; they didn’t expect him to go anywhere.
“We also had players in our minor league system at that point and we invited some of them to come play exhibition games, pre-season games at the big league level. We broke those players down, we would not invite prospects to play in those replacement spring training games because we knew that the Player’s Association would frown on them being part of the Association in the future so we really spent a long time – Kevin Millar played in those spring training games for us so we did not think Kevin was a prospect at all at that time. And he worked hard continued to hit basically and he went on to have a very fine big league career and now he’s a top broadcaster with his personality, so we were really surprised. There’s an example of somebody that completely caught us off guard unfortunately for Kevin because we never would have done that if we would have thought he had that type of ability. To this day he’s not part of the Player’s Association; they don’t allow him in because he played in those Spring Training games and they’re not forgiving in that regard.” – Dave Dombrowski
If I need a specific reason to encourage people to go to the Winter Weekend if the Red Sox offer it next year, sound bites like this one would be my first example. It also doesn’t hurt that Dombrowski speaks relaxed and freely – and is personable enough that you want him to keep speaking. The only disappointment from this panel was that it only lasted an hour.
We also sat in on a panel called Covering Ground where we were entertained by Jim Rice, Fred Lynn and Dwight Evans along with Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Rusney Castillo. Sure it was fun to hear Rice, Lynn and Evans recall the good old days – (and I promise you not one of them has forgotten those days and they all seem to be in agreement that they were pretty much the best. Not age nor the fact that none of them brought the team a World Series win has affected their egos – it was glorious!) – but the interactions between the old guard and the new was what made this panel a must see. If NESN wanted to take the sting out of Don Orsillo not being on our tvs anymore they would give Jim Rice and Mookie Betts a reality show. Mookie’s incessant teasing (among other things, telling the three veterans that he didn’t know who they were) finally culminated in Jim Rice telling him to talk to the hand. (Okay, so Jim Ed is a decade behind the rest of us…it was still adorable.)
There were other highlights, I got to meet John Farrell and welcome him back, got a picture with Jerry Remy (and my second picture in as many years with my honey Fred LynN!), we saw Brock Holt giving up his #26 jersey to Wade Boggs at the Friday night town hall meeting, Wally’s little sister Tessie being the belle of the ball all weekend (if I heard one kid scream “THERE’S TESSIE!” I hear ten) and we almost shared an elevator with Roger Clemens (the baseball gods helped me out there and the Rocket ended up not taking the elevator) but they really did save the best for last. The two final panels on Saturday were the Kid’s Press Conference and Red Sox Game Show.
The press conference was what you would expect – kids asking the players questions (“What kind of car do you drive? Where is the best burger?”) but the true highlight of the entire weekend was the game show. Three teams (the alumni, the coaches and the players) competed in adorableness like Lip Sync Battle, Celebrity Name Games, Lil Picassos and the Doo Doo game (where you have to sing a song only singing “doo-doo”. It was a ridiculously entertaining way to end the day and it gave us the chance to see these guys more relaxed than we’re used to seeing them. Fred Lynn especially stood out as being a bit more silly than I would have expected. Steve Lyons was exactly as you would think he’d be and Hanley Ramirez completely won over the room with his huge smile, infectious laugh and the fact that at one point he jumped into the audience and sat with the fans so that he could applaud his own team.
As an aside, Hanley Ramirez is my binky this season. He completely seduced me last weekend and he has my support because I can’t believe someone with that much life and happiness in him can be bad.
The biggest surprise of the game show was Carl Willis, Red Sox pitching coach and guy you want at your party to keep things lively. I can’t do his personality justice, so I offer you the below shaky, blurry at times, video that I took of Carl and the rest of the coaches lip syncing “Uptown Girl” with the alumni at the end giving their props. I honestly walked out of that room in physical pain from laughing so much. (And the coaches got hosed…they should have won!)
Truck Day is February 10th – my plan is to be there because if I know anything it’s that I’m itching for some baseball and this weekend taste has me hungry for more. The entire weekend was a great way to get excited for the upcoming season but now I just want more!
The Cambridge Center for Adult Education is in the midst of a wonderful lecture series titled “Home Run in Harvard Square“. I had my first opportunity to attend last night – and was treated to a double-header of lectures. (You’ll forgive the vagueness of some of this. Knowing I would want to write about it, I was sure to bring my digital recorder last night. Which I left in the bottom of my bag while I drank free Narragansett Beer during the lectures! My “reporter” skills are lacking, I know!)
First we heard from Mike Hazen and Raquel Ferreira (directors of player development and minor league operations for the Red Sox, respectively) in their segment called “Scouting, Recruiting, Signing, Developing and Managing the Lads before The Show“. They talked mostly about what their jobs entail in regard to how they deal with the minor league players. Hearing that, by Hazen’s count, only two or three percent of the players in the minor league system will make it to the Bigs was eye-opening (especially given circa 2004, when the documentary “A Player to be Named Later” was made, the figure was estimated to be six percent). Hazen also referred to many of the players as having to be “delusional” to think they’ll make it anywhere past the minor leagues. Both Hazen and Ferreira agreed that EVERY player in the minors truly believes he has a chance at making it to the majors – even when the team knows it will never happen (and, needing those players to perform, they don’t share that information with them). Without naming names, Hazen said a 25 year-old player, just yesterday, retired. A player who, at 25, realized he wouldn’t be going any further in baseball than he already was, so he’s getting out to give himself time to find another career. It made me think about all the players who stick it out, truly hoping they’ll get their time and it amazes me that so many of them DO stick it out.