Traveling to Fort Myers for the first time, I really had little idea of what exactly to expect. I was curious to learn how the minor league complex was organized and what the daily schedule was like. If you’re like me, you will be surprised by the result.
Last Tuesday, for example, I saw one particular player compete in an intra-squad game in the early-afternoon, then get a hit in the double-A exhibition game by the mid-afternoon. Later that night, this guy served as a late-inning substitute for the Boston Red Sox at City of Palms Park, and even in Spring Training, the Sox are a grinding club. (Sorry, Joe West, but it does not look like the Sox will be speeding up for you this season.) A day that began for 7 AM continued well past 10, and it was near midnight when the noggin finally found the pillow.
Yet, at around 6 the next morning, the dreadful alarm buzzer sounded again, triggering another early start to a long day under the hot Florida sun.
The grind is the most underrated aspect of Spring Training, Peter Hissey explained to me.
The lifestyle of the preseason was one of the many topics I touched upon in my fun chat with Hissey, a charismatic young outfielder from West Chester, PA. In 2010, at just 20 years of age, he competed as one of the youngest players in the Carolina League, playing in 112 games for the Salem Sox.
Hissey was kind enough to spend a few minutes chatting about this past offseason (He turned 21), his past life as a tennis player (have you ever heard of paddle-tennis?), and how he prepares for a season differently than he did two years ago.
You can listen to our conversation just as soon as some technical issues that are currently plaguing the audio uploading portion of the sire are resolved.
Much to my chagrin, I am no longer in Fort Myers. It snowed this morning here in North Carolina, whereas it was 88 when I drove north on Saturday. Alas, baseball season is nearing, and consequently the karmic impact should secure a 75 degree evening of Roanoke Valley sunshine on opening night, which is now only 10 sunsets away!
We are on the doorstep, folks. Baseball is nearly back. My voice will retake the airwaves soon (Please, don’t all jump up and down at once).
We’ll talk again soon,
Fort Myers, FL- While many of the players are eager to break camp and begin the 2011 season, I am thrilled and lucky to be here in Florida to spend a few days digesting the massive operation that is spring training. Between the major leaguers that have been playing games for nearly a month now to the minor leaguers who are one week into competitive exhibitions, the entire Boston Red Sox organization is here in the City of Palms, preparing for the marathon summer that awaits.
Spring training is always a time of optimism, but also a time of uncertainty. Minor leaguers, in particular, are not privy to something as simple as where they will live for the next six months. Most players have a healthy hunch and are able to presume their next step up the ladder, but nothing is written in stone, even after spending weeks partaking in the Fort Myers routine.
Though he has not completely let his guard down, pitcher Jason Rice is probably one of the more comfortable Sox in camp. The 5’10” flamethrower has earned his status as one of the organization’s top arms, a progression that began in Salem in 2009. A Rule 5 draft pick from the White Sox, Rice’s Red Sox debut made a big splash.
The California-native struck out 94 in 70 innings and compiled a 2.44 ERA for the Salem Sox in 2009. Last year, he backed up those numbers with a sterling performance in Double-A that earned him a spot on the Eastern League All-Star team. More importantly, perhaps, he was named the 2010 Portland Sea Dogs Citizen of the Year, a tribute to the personality and character that complements his high-90s fastball.
Since his success in Portland, Rice earned an invitation to pitch in the prestigious Arizona Fall League. In addition, he was one of the elite prospects summoned to Boston in January for the Rookie Development Program. It was this opportunity that offered Rice his first ever trip to Fenway Park, and as you will hear, it was the ultimate highlight of his winter.
In between spring training workouts, Rice sat down to chat with me about his electric mound presence, which coaches have helped to change his career, and his underrated dancing ability (For more details, check out the previous post: http://salemsox.mlblogs.com/archives/2011/03/fort-myers-flavor-a-night-of-dance.html ).
Click here to listen to my six minute conversation with J-Rice:
Here we are, just two weeks and one day away from Opening Night at LewisGale Field. That’s only about 360 hours. Just 21,600 minutes. Or 1.3 million seconds. Umm, on second thought, just think about how we are 15 days away from the Salem Red Sox and the Frederick Keys, coming up on April 8 in the Roanoke Valley.
Any more creative time measurement suggestions, or any other clever musing, can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Talk to you soon,
I must admit, I’ve never watched ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”
But, I’m very disappointed to have missed its distance cousin “Dancing with the New Stars,” a Fort Myers tradition that pits Red Sox prospects against one another in a dramatic dance-off during spring training. On Saturday night, Ryan Kalish proved he is not a one-year wonder, successfully defending his 2010 dancing championship against aspiring contenders Ryan Lavarnway, Luis Exposito, and Jason Rice.
“It’s a fundraiser for the Red Sox Foundation,” Lavarnway explained. “It was all in good fun. Some team bonding all in the atmosphere of a fundraiser for a good cause.”
The judges were David Ortiz, Tim Wakefield, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Mike Cameron, Darnell McDonald, Lars Anderson, and Michael Bowden. (I’ve also never watched American Idol before, but the producers could certainly suck me in if Youk, Pedroia, or Papi became regular judges.)
After leading the Red Sox minor league farm system with 102 RBI last season, Lavarnway earned an invitation to major league camp this spring. Little did he know that in addition to catching bullpens for Beckett and Lackey, he would need to find time to search for an appropriate dancing wardrobe.
“I was told that the outfits we should wear–the more flamboyant and ridiculous, the more croud-pleasing they would be,” he said. “So I made a trip to Goodwill and actually spent 20 dollars at Goodwill on this outfit. And I looked great!”
Thanks to the wonderful social media era in which we live, there is photographic evidence of Lavarnway’s ensemble. Heidi Watney, NESN’s peerless Red Sox reporter, tweeted a bunch of action shots from the evening, showing Lavarnway with tight trousers and a shiny red, chest-revealing top. Basically, with an attractive female dancer by his side, he looked like he was a magic carpet shy of being Aladdin.
Each competitor had a choreographed dance routine to perform, but that did not prevent some on-the-spot improvisational creativity.
“They said at the beginning I had a little solo section,” Lavarnway said. “I’m lucky I pulled a Michael Jackson song because that’s something I know how to do.
“Rice did the scripted dance that was choreographed for him, and then he broke into a “Teach Me How to Dougie” number which was very impressive.”
As for Kalish picking up the official victory, it could not have hurt for the lone dancer with big-league experience to have a bunch of his Boston teammates on the decision panel.
“I gotta be honest, I think it was a little political,” said Lavarnway, jokingly. “All the guys that were there that night said that it should have been me or Rice that won. We got robbed.”
Robbed. That’s exactly how I feel after missing this event.
With today being March 8, we are exactly one month away from Opening Day at LewisGale Field. I’m so excited, I could dance.
For steady updates leading up to the season, check out www.twitter.com/salemredsox and www.twitter.com/EvanLepler. As always, the inbox also welcomes all queries, comments, and choreography suggestions at email@example.com
Baseball’s back in 31 days!