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2007: Diary of a Season

Wednesday, February 28 - City of Palms Park, Fort Myers

Red Sox 4, Twins 4, 10 inn.

Curt throws long-toss
Curt Schilling throws long-toss before the game
Wednesday night was the first game of the Grapefruit League season. We arrived just before the gates opened, and there was a small ceremony going on outside to officially dedicate the new Ted Williams statue outside the park. A replica of the one outside Fenway Park's Gate B, it features Ted placing a hat on a Jimmy Fund patient. Charles Steinberg spoke for a few minutes before introducing Dick Flavin, who recited his
"Teddy at the Bat" poem. Then Johnny Pesky spoke about having Ted as his teammate and friend, before the statue was officially unveiled. There were also two large plaques at the entrance to the stadium, one which detailed Williams' stats and accomplishments, and one which contained his Hall of Fame acceptance speech. We went in as soon as the gates opened. Our seats were down the left field line in the furthest section over, up against the railing. My mother and I went down next to the Red Sox dugout, and wound up getting autographs from Kyle Snyder, Alex Cora, Brendan Donnelly, and non-roster invitee Alex Ochoa on a picture of Fenway Park. The Red Sox were taking batting practice, and someone hit a foul ball down the left field line. It bounced into the stands, right over to our seats, where my father was sitting. It was his birthday, so that made a cool gift.

This was the first time I had been to a spring training game that was being televised on NESN. Every year, I'd watch from home, and hear Jerry Remy's stories of people walking past the broadcast booth during the game and passing things in the open window to get his autograph. The booths are up behind the last row of seats. We figured out which one was NESN's, and went up there during batting practice. The window is about seven feet high, so when we were standing in the last row, we still couldn't see in. We tried calling "Jerry, Jerry," and sure enough, the Rem-Dawg came over and leaned out the window. We passed the photos we had brought for autographs up, and he signed them. Mine was a picture of me with the World Series trophy, on which I was collecting autographs of anyone who was part of the 2004 season.

The game pitted the Red Sox against their cross-town rivals, the Minnesota Twins. Curt Schilling started, and needed only 18 pitches for two quick scoreless innings. The lineup actually featured most of the regulars, and they stayed in long enough to get two at-bats. Julio Lugo, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, Jason Varitek, Mike Lowell, and Dustin Pedroia all got a chance, with Wily Mo Pena and minor leaguers David Murphy and Jacoby Ellsbury rounding out the lineup. The Twins got a run off Joel Pineiro in the third, but Lugo and Ortiz each drove in a run in the bottom of the inning. The Sox tacked on two more in the fourth on Ellsbury's single, after which he promptly stole second. He was wearing number 82 and wasn't even among the players in big league camp, but he was one of the higher-ranked players in the organization, and I remembered seeing him play with the Single A Lowell Spinners two years earlier. The Sox' 4-1 lead proved to be short-lived, however, when Julian Tavarez gave up a game-tying three-run homer the next inning.

Big Papi signs autographs When players come out of spring training games, they often run sprints along the warning track while the game is still going on. In the top of the fourth, when Big Papi had gotten his two at-bats and been replaced at DH by minor leaguer Luis Jimenez, he came out to the outfield and jogged back and forth along the warning track. We were seated right next to the railing, and when he was done, everyone called out to him. He came over and started signing autographs, and people from the surrounding rows crushed in around us to get closer. Because we were several rows up, it would have been impossible for my mother or me to hand our photos down to be signed, but my father just happened to have the ball he had gotten in batting practice. He told Papi it was his birthday and tossed him the ball, and actually got it signed. Now that's a cool present!

Manny Delcarmen, J.C. Romero, Bryan Corey, and Runelvys Hernandez each pitched a scoreless inning, and at the end of the ninth, it was still tied, 4-4. Alex Ochoa had helped preserve the tie in the top of the ninth with a great throw from right field to nail a base runner attempting to score on a fly ball. That ended the inning, and Ochoa's teammates met him in front of the dugout with high-fives. In spring training, games can't go more than ten innings. So when Chris Smith (called up from minor league camp and wearing number 97) pitched a scoreless tenth and the Sox couldn't score in the bottom of the inning, the game ended in a 4-4 tie.

Thursday, March 1 - City of Palms Park, Fort Myers

Red Sox 11, NU Huskies 0

Daisuke Matsuzaka signs autographs We were back the next day, for a game against Northeastern University. We got there early, and again I went down near the Red Sox dugout during batting practice. The entire Northeastern team gathered around the batting cage to watch while Big Papi was taking his swings. Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Japanese star whose signing was the highlight of the off-season, was the focus in spring training, too. A huge group of Japanese photographers and reporters followed his every move, and his autograph was one of the most sought-after of the spring. He wasn't scheduled to pitch in a game until the following day, so before the game, he came over to the fans lined up along the left field line and began signing autographs. He was soon joined by the "other" new Japanese pitcher, left-handed reliever Hideki Okajima. I got Okajima's autograph first. My mother had gotten his earlier at the workouts, and he had written it in Japanese characters. I was a little disappointed that when he did mine he wrote in English, "H. Okajima #37". I found an empty spot along the fence and waited there while Matsuzaka went down the line and signed. It filled in quickly, so that I couldn't move after a while, and took almost half an hour. But Dice-K was diligent, signing for everyone along the way, and he did eventually make it to where I was. After signing for over 45 minutes, he and Okajima were interviewed on the field by the Japanese press.

Josh Beckett started for the Sox that day, and he was no match for the college kids. The first batter managed a single on his first pitch of the game, but after that he struck out five of the other six batters he faced. Today was our first chance to see J.D. Drew, the other highly-publicized signing of the off-season. He had a strikeout and a walk in two trips to the plate. The starters didn't stay in very long. Most got two at-bats, but Big Papi was removed for a pinch-runner after he walked in the first. (He was replaced by number 82, Jeff Corsaletti, not to be confused with Jacoby Ellsbury, who had worn number 82 in last night's game but wasn't here today. Each day the numbers in the 70's, 80's, and even 90's were re-distributed among whichever players were borrowed from minor league camp for the game. But that made it tricky to keep score, because a lot of the substitutions aren't announced over the loudspeaker or on the scoreboard, and we had no idea who was who.) Our seats were way out in right field and it was hot in the sun, so after a few innings we moved over behind home plate and found some empty seats there.

City of Palms Park Alex Ochoa knocked in the first run of the game with a double in the fourth. Third baseman Scott White (number 92) hit a two-run homer for the Sox in the fifth, and Corsaletti, Ochoa, and right fielder Luis Soto followed with RBI hits, for a 6-0 lead. In the sixth, White was up again. This time the bases were loaded, and he launched his second home run of the game, a grand slam which gave him 6 RBI for the day. After the eleventh run scored later in the inning, it took a good throw to the plate by Northeastern's left fielder to throw out infielder Joe McEwing trying to score, to finally end the inning. The games against college teams only go seven innings, so it was over after Mike James (number 90) pitched a 1-2-3 seventh.

Friday, March 2 (Game 1) - City of Palms Park, Fort Myers

Blue Jays 9, Red Sox 6, 10 inn.

The next day was a doubleheader, featuring a split-squad major league game against the Blue Jays in the afternoon, and a game against Boston College at night. During batting practice, I was walking past the Red Sox dugout to go get some lunch, when I saw that Doug Mirabelli was signing. He's a member of the 2004 team whose signature I didn't have on my trophy picture yet, so I went over. I was standing behind the dugout, and he was on the top step, so it wasn't easy to pass my photo down. Most people had baseballs, and they could just toss them down. We weren't allowed to stand or sit on the dugout roof in any way, so when I caught his eye and he acknowledged that he'd sign it, I had to stretch until I was basically lying on the top of the dugout (making sure my feet weren't on it, of course) to reach.

Hideki Okajima Kyle Snyder started for the Sox, and went two scoreless innings. The lineup had most of the regulars, and it was the first game for Manny Ramirez. He had arrived at spring training late, so he wasn't in the first few games. Despite most of the regulars starting the game, it was catcher Alberto Castillo who got the Sox on the board with a three-run homer in the second. Then in the third, Kevin Youkilis hit his second double of the day, and Big Papi drove him in. The trouble came when Snyder was done and Runelvys Hernandez entered in the third. He had a dreadful inning, giving up two singles, three doubles, and a home run, for a total of six runs. After that, the pitching was good. Brendan Donnelly and Hideki Okajima each pitched a scoreless inning. Okajima (pictured here) had a unique delivery in which he twisted his head so that when he finished his delivery he wasn't even facing the plate anymore. Bryan Corey and Mike Burns followed with two scoreless innings apiece.

Like the past few games, keeping score was tricky. A lot of the defensive and pinch-running substitutions weren't announced at all. Others were announced over the loudspeaker but not printed on the scoreboard so we had no idea how to spell them. We were familiar with most of the Red Sox players, except for the guys in the low minors, but facing college teams and Toronto's split-squad roster made keeping track of the visitors hard. So for this game we had come prepared, with the projected rosters of all the Sox' farm teams printed off from, but that still didn't help. In the seventh, Ian Bladergroen singled and went to third on Luis Jimenez's hit, but he was injured as he slid awkwardly into the bag. He was replaced with a pinch-runner who was wearing number 90, so we knew he wasn't someone from major league camp. The muffled announcement sounded like Kearns to me. My mother wrote Kurtz on her scorecard. My father looked through all our printouts and couldn't find anyone with a name that sounded anything like either of those. Two innings later he made his next trip to the plate, and the scoreboard read Bryan Pritz. It was still number 90, though, so it had to be the same "Kearns" guy who had been playing left field for the past few innings. We later figured out that the announcer must have mispronounced it as "Pirtz" which could sound like "Kurtz". But now every time I'm at a game and there's a substitution of an obscure player whose name I don't know, I joke that I'm going to just call him Kearns.

At any rate, Pritz (or Kearns, as I call him) came to the plate in the ninth inning with a runner on base and the Sox trailing 6-4. He hit a two-run homer, tying the game, and we gave him a standing ovation. That sent the game into extra innings - or, more accurately, extra inning, because spring training games end in a tie if there's no resolution by the end of the tenth. Justin Sturge (wearing number 89) pitched the top of the tenth for the Red Sox, and gave up three runs. The Sox loaded the bases in the bottom of the tenth, but ended up losing 9-6.

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This page and all photos copyright © 2007-2008 by Kristen D. Cornette.