Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports

1 Comment

Two Contrasting Styles, But Two Lovable Characters

Yesterday was a tough one in Boston. But life will move on. The Red Sox will play another game tonight, and I have to say, the lineup could look pretty good. Maybe we’ll actually be able to score some runs these next two months. And even if the games won’t mean much, it will be fun watching the new guys for a little while. Anthony Renaudo takes the mound tonight in his major league debut and it will be interesting to see how he copes with the Yankee lineup.

But before I move on, I want to share a few final thoughts on Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes. They are two of my favorite Red Sox players of all time for more than just their play on the field, and I needed to say a little bit more about the two.

At this point, everybody knows Lester’s journey. Drafted by the Red Sox back in 2002, Lester came up through the minor league system before making it to the big leagues in 2006. Then cancer struck, and he was faced with the struggle of his life. But Lester beat the cancer, and was back on the mound the next summer, even winning the clinching game of the World Series that year. After that, he quickly developed into a true ace. And last fall, he was excellent again in the World Series. All of this is leading to a big pay raise in free agency this winter, one the Red Sox seem unlikely to pay given recent change in free agent policy. So instead of letting him go for only a draft pick, they traded him for some extra value.

Lester was a Red Sox through and through. He represented everything right with player development in the Red Sox system, and his quiet style meshed well with all the various personalities that came and went. He was the model of a fighter, having beaten cancer at a young age. And we loved him for it. When he faced a setback on the mound, it was nothing he couldn’t get through. He wasn’t flashy, but he was always effective. The lowest ERA in World Series history speaks volumes about his ability to step up at the most important times. Quite simply, I don’t think the Red Sox would not have won in 2007 and 2013 without the lefty.

As I said in yesterday’s post, I grew up while Lester developed as a pitcher. Every big moment in his career, I can tell you where I was at the time. I can’t remember ever being happier than I was as a 13 year old attending Lester’s no-hitter. That night remains one of my favorite memories in my whole life. And his role in equally valuable championships created a host of other great moments for me and many other fans. And from a young age, he has been a wonderful role model.

I wish the Red Sox had signed him to a contract extension, but it doesn’t fit their new policy of not paying players long term contracts over 30. However, I think they will come to regret not locking him up. It’s incredibly difficult to find true aces, and Lester was one of those. If they aren’t successful in replacing him this offseason, it could be another long year. Ideally, he will be re-signed this winter. But I don’t think that’s as likely as many would hope.

There aren’t many athletes that have had as positive an impact on fans as Lester has. He has been a prime example of courage, strength and grace. Most athletes aren’t real role models. But Lester is one all Red Sox fans over the last ten years have been lucky to watch. I’m really going to miss him.

My relationship with Jonny Gomes is a little different. When I was a kid looking for role models, Gomes was a crazy young player on the fun-to-hate Tampa Bay Devil Rays. When the Red Sox signed him for two years and ten million dollars, I was a little skeptical. It seemed like a lot of money for a fourth outfielder. When I saw him at a dinner in Boston shortly after that, he was not friendly at all, and looked unhappy to be there. He was not off to a great start in my mind. Back then, I had no idea he would soon be my favorite player.

As the 2013 season was starting, my family heard tell that there was a Red Sox player living down the street, and it was Gomes. Sure enough, there was a giant red monster truck parked out front of a house down the street. The crazy, bearded man was my neighbor.

Then the bombings happened, and Gomes stepped up as a true leader of an entire city. He took on the role of team spokesman, and did excellently with it. The inspirational picture of Gomes flexing on second base in the “Boston” jersey on the front of Sports Illustrated was the beginning of Gomes’s role as leader of Boston Strong. And as the year went on, he endeared himself to everyone with timely hits, uncanny outfield play and incredible passion.

Whenever the Red Sox were home, I would see his red truck parked in his lawn – it was too big to fit in his driveway. And if I was lucky, I’d see Mr. Gomes himself. It was always exciting to see him in his unnatural habitat, away from the ball field. Once I saw him with his little kids, and as they waved at me, I saw Gomes in a new light as more than just a fiery ballplayer. It was always comforting to see that red truck, as I felt a connection to my team that I’d never felt before. While Gomes moved out shortly after the World Series, I will always remember the year he lived down the street.

Gomes also did a ton on the field. His pinch hit home runs provided momentum swings that kept the Red Sox streaking all throughout the year. And in the playoffs, even when he didn’t hit, good things happened when he was on the field. It was no coincidence that the Red Sox won when he was playing. He was a leader, one who inspired his teammates to do great things. Few players have the ability to lead quite like Gomes does.

I’m going to miss everything about my former neighbor. I’ll miss all he did for the city of Boston in the aftermath of terrible tragedy. I’ll miss all he did on road to a memorable championship. And I’ll miss all of those wild celebrations, be it punting the helmet or the army helmet and goggles.

Lester and Gomes were two special players. While they had entirely different styles, they both found ways to reach everyone around Boston with their stories and their play. They were two crucial pieces in the Red Sox title winning team and they will be missed. They’ll always be my favorites.



Leave a comment

The Red Sox Only Deserved the One All-Star, Arsenal Begin Pre-Season and a Thank You to Josh Radnor

Good morning, everyone. With another day before we get back to World Cup matches, I thought I’d take this opportunity to write about a couple different things.

I’ll be disappointed once the World Cup ends, but it’ll be nice to have time to focus on baseball again. The Red Sox seem hell bent on keeping fans away this summer though, as they continue to find ways to lose. Yesterday’s game was yet another in which the Red Sox showed glimpses of last year, this time coming back from a 6-1 deficit with a five run seventh. But yet again, all clutch hitting disappeared and the Red Sox fell once more in extra innings. The late-inning magic epitomized by Jonny Gomes that the Red Sox had an abundance of last year has not existed this year when it is needed. They’re a frustrating team to watch at the moment.

It seems fitting that our defending World Champions have only one all-star on the roster selected by their own manager. Jon Lester will be the only one donning the special all-star game hat next week in Minnesota. Reports say David Ortiz told John Farrell that he preferred time off this year, but really, was Ortiz even worthy of a selection?  While I do think Lester was deserving of a spot, he hasn’t exactly been the stopper his team have needed at times. He’s had a lot of games where he pitched well, but not well enough. For an ace to beat other aces, he needs to be almost perfect. And Lester has been far from that.

I made the case for John Lackey to be an all-star a few weeks back, but he’s cooled down a bit since then. The only other player I think should have made it from the Sox is Koji Uehara. It’s hard to believe there have been many relievers better than him this year, and I would have thought Farrell would have wanted to turn the ball over to his closer at the end of the game. Uehara’s success over the last 12 months certainly merited a spot, but ultimately, his team’s failure cost him his place on the team, as Farrell couldn’t give his Red Sox an extra spot they didn’t deserve. Hopefully Uehara gets in as a replacement, but I understand why there is only one Red Sox on the roster this year.

Maybe this announcement will serve as a wake-up call for Dustin Pedroia. The former MVP has seen a dramatic drop in production this year, and it seems like there’s no injury to blame this time. I’m sure Pedroia likes to think of himself as the best second baseman in the game, but he was not even close to making the American League roster this year. Even if the Red Sox don’t turn things around as a team, for Pedroia, a return to his best could help get next season’s team back on the right track.

On a different front, Arsenal’s pre-season is about to get under way. I love the World Cup, but I am dying to see Arsenal get going again. Personally, I really enjoy watching preseason games, as I like seeing young players like Chuba Akpom, Thomas Eisfeld and Kristoff Olsson get run outs. It’ll be fun to watch those guys get another few games under their belts to prove they belong at this level. The friendly against Boreham Wood on July 19th can’t get here soon enough.

But as pre-season heats up, the transfer sagas begin to get more important. It’s at this point that I, along with just about every other Gooner in the world, would like to see Arsene Wenger get something done. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a big slash yet, but I would just like to see some movement. There are a lot of signings needed this summer – backup goalie, right back, center back, holding midfielder, forward – and I would hate to see Wenger need to fill all of those on the last day of the window. Getting a signing out of the way now would help ease some pressure off of his overall load.

I don’t like to comment on transfer rumors because they rarely turn out to be anything more than letdowns for Arsenal supporters. But I will say that a certain Chilean attacker currently heavily linked with a move to North London would be an incredible signing – one that would legitimately put Arsenal squarely in next season’s title race. The other major link – the one with a certain French right back – would also be a useful signing. I’d like to see that deal get done in the next couple days to get things moving towards the new season. I won’t name any names until the signings get done, but these rumors excite me. It’s going to be a fun year.

And on a similar note to yesterday, I’d like to thank How I Met Your Mother star Josh Radnor for reading my post about HIMYM and favoriting my tweet. Little votes of confidence like that inspire me to keep writing, and I’m incredibly thankful for what Josh Radnor and Craig Thomas have done for me over the last few days. If I go on to become a writer full-time in the future, I’ll have them to thank.

As the How I Met Your Mother post has now nearly quadrupled the number of hits that any other post has gotten, I want to ask if anyone has any desire for further HIMYM content. If you have an idea of another piece I could do, put it in the comments or tell me on Twitter (@MrMcGinnis94). Writing a non-sports piece every once in a while would be a nice change of pace, and people seemed to enjoy the one I did. Hope your day is wonderful. And thanks for reading.