Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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Victorino’s Goodbye & Benzema Boards A Plane – Notes From the Sports World

There is one moment from the 2013 postseason that stands out to me above all others. And as the Red Sox slide further from relevancy with each day, my mind has wandered back to this memory a lot recently. It’s of a massively important grand slam against a Tigers reliever, one that sent Fenway into a frenzy. But it isn’t the one you’re thinking of. I think not of David Ortiz sending Torii Hunter into the bullpen, but instead of Shane Victorino bounding his chest and leaping into the air as he rounded first base, the ball landing in the monster. It was passion and triumph on full display.

Shane Victorino in many ways represented the essence of the 2013 Red Sox. He, like many others, had a chip on his shoulder, written off by nearly everyone after a severe decline in play. And he, like the city of Boston, wanted to believe that every little thing was going to be all right. Armed with a golden glove and a walk-up song that made Fenway Park a choir of songbirds, he embraced the city that came to love him as one of their own.

Since 2013, things haven’t gone as well for Victorino in Boston. Muscle injuries have kept him off the field for the majority of the last two seasons, and as a result he became an unreliable option in right field. It’s been sad watching him in the dugout night after night as the parade of right fielders have struggled to fill his void. For 3 years and $39 million, many will say the production the Red Sox got out of him wasn’t enough, given that he has only played a combined 63 times over the last two seasons.

But I’m confident in saying that without him, there would have been no World Series. And in my book, that makes him worth all the time spent hoping he might return to form these last two years. As evidenced by the tears in his press conference last night, Boston and its people clearly meant something to him. This was more than just about baseball. And to me, that is the mark of a player worth celebrating. So as we bid farewell to another stalwart of the 2013 Red Sox, let’s all give one last look at Shane’s grand slam (click here to watch). I will miss that passion.

Switching to soccer, transfer rumors have become increasingly ridiculous in recent days. From conflicting reports of Angel Di Maria’s whereabouts to Arsene Wenger’s supposed courting of Sergio Busquets, very little is credible when it comes to transfer season. But one item stood out this afternoon as it made the rounds. Karim Benzema tweeted a picture of himself on a private plane as his teammates were on their way elsewhere, with the cryptic message, “Leave the past in the past.” Is he on his way to London? Is he the world-class striker Wenger has been hinting at? We will soon know, though I’m inclined to believe this too is a transfer window farce.

Regardless, he would be a sensational signing, and one that would not only make Arsenal title contenders, but in my view, title favorites. It can be hard to judge a forward that gets to play with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, but the reality is that Benzema gets goals, and he does so in a variety of ways. Unlike Giroud, he is not a one-trick pony. He is physical enough to hold up play, but has the mobility and vision to make runs in behind. Plus, he’s clinical.

I still believe Olivier Giroud has tremendous value in a Premier League title contending side. People say he isn’t good enough, but he’s improved every year he’s been at Arsenal and proved last year he could score against the big clubs. Against certain teams, his physicality is needed. But in other games, he seems to clog the space that the midfielders need. Ideally, he’d be your second option, a player capable of starting at a moment’s notice, but also one who can come on off the bench late on. However, this is all speculation about Benzema, who could just be having some fun messing with Arsenal fans, so I’m expecting Giroud to be option number one for better or for worse.

Going back to baseball, the Troy Tulowitzki trade is an interesting one. The Blue Jays didn’t need a right-handed power bat, but when the opportunity came knocking for taking on arguably the best shortstop in the game, and one locked down for the foreseeable future, I admire them for doing so. Their lineup was scary before. Now, it’s just not fair. However, I’m worried about his knees. An injury-prone player doesn’t want to play on turf as he ages. That could prove disastrous in a few years. And then there’s the fact that Toronto needs pitching right now if they hope to make a late run up the standings.

And lastly, I just saw breaking news on Twitter that Tom Brady’s suspension was upheld. This is getting ridiculous. Although I must admit, if he did destroy his phone in early March, that doesn’t look so good. However, it’s worth fighting. Bring it on, NFL. We’ll see you in court.


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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.

 


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When Baseball Is About More Than Just Baseball – Saying Goodbye

Today was one of the toughest days I’ve experienced as a sports fan. It wasn’t that today’s fire sale was unexpected at this point – I wasn’t blindsided by any means. And it wasn’t that I was upset with the overall return from the various trades. Today was about losing role models and people I’ve looked up to for years. It reinforced the notion that being a fan is as much about forming relationships with the players as it is about merely rooting for a group of individuals. Much like when the Celtics traded away Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, I felt a tremendous personal loss seeing players that will define certain parts of my life go.

I’ll proceed chronologically with my reaction to the trades. Early this morning came the news that Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes were traded to Oakland for Yoenis Cespedes. From a baseball standpoint, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that Cespedes was coming to Boston. He is exactly the type of player this team was missing- a right-handed hitting outfielder with a lot of pop who can provide excitement day in and day out. There aren’t many players that are objectively exciting in baseball, but Cespedes is one of that rare breed. And while he becomes a free agent after the 2015 season, he does have a favorable contract until then. He’s not your typical Red Sox player with a high on-base percentage, but I think the fans will love him for his power bat and his rifle of a throw from the outfield.

If the Red Sox weren’t going to re-sign Jon Lester, which I think is a mistake, it was the right move trading him now, as the value of Cespedes and the conditional draft pick received surpassed the value of the compensatory pick they would have gotten had he signed elsewhere. Cespedes’s arrival also signals the intent to compete next year, rather than waiting on any prospects to develop over time. With him only committed through next year, it will force the Red Sox to reload this offseason. And I think that’s a good thing.

For the A’s, this trade puts them in a great position for October. They get one of the best postseason pitchers ever in Lester to join an already loaded rotation, and they add a veteran presence in Gomes who is simply a winner. Whether he plays five times a week or five times a month, Gomes will be ready to produce in October, and he’ll be a spark in the clubhouse.

But as much sense as this trade made given the circumstances, I am still devastated to see two of my favorite Red Sox ever traded. I’ll expand on this in another post soon, but Lester and Gomes meant a whole lot to me. I watched Lester grow on the mound as I grew up as a person, and he will always be an inspiration to me. I can tell you exactly where I was when he announced that he had cancer, and I remember being near to tears. But I can also remember where I was when he returned to the mound triumphantly the next year in Cleveland. And I will never forget being at Fenway for his no-hitter the next year. That will always be my favorite Fenway memory. He was a hero, a role model and a true champion.

And then there’s Gomes. For all of last year, Gomes lived just a few houses from me. He was a connection to the team like I hadn’t had before. And of course he also did wonders for the team and the city during last season’s April hardships. In many ways, although he just played here for a season and a half, Gomes was the ultimate Red Sox. I’ll miss his wild style dearly. I am glad these two are going to Oakland, because I will have no problem rooting for the A’s. Wherever Lester and Gomes go from here, be it a return to Boston or a move anywhere else, I will be their biggest fan.

Before I had begun to get over my sadness about the first trade, John Lackey was traded to the Cardinals for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly. I am not sure about this one, but I do think it could have its long term benefits. Craig would seem to have no place on the field at this particular moment, and unless Mike Napoli goes anywhere on a waiver deal, I don’t see how Craig will find his stroke this year if he’s on the bench. And even next year, where would he play? He’s a standout hitter when he’s going well, but I’m not sure how he fits into the Red Sox’s puzzle. But I like that Kelly is coming to Boston. If Lackey and Lester are gone, there needed to be someone with some level of experience and talent on the roster not named Clay Buchholz. Kelly has had a down year, but he has a great sinker and pitched quite well against us in the World Series last year. He’s one to watch in the coming years.

While I always thought Lackey would retire rather than playing for the league minimum next year, it appears he will honor that with the Cardinals. It’s incredible how quickly Lackey turned his image around in Boston. Two years ago, everyone would have given him away for nothing. That the Red Sox were able to help turn his career back around to even get this kind of deal in return is remarkable. But if he would have played next year for only 500K, I don’t quite understand why the Red Sox didn’t want to keep him around. He’s a solid number two at this point of his career, and I think he would have had a valuable place on next year’s team. But I guess this was a deal made for beyond 2015, when Kelly should be better than Lackey.

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m really going to miss Lackey. He was a work horse on the mound and a true professional in his approach to pitching. He leaves a winner, and he’ll always be remembered around these parts for winning the final game of the World Series. Best wishes in St. Louis, Lack.

Then there was the Andrew Miller trade to the Orioles for 21 year old pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez. This trade didn’t feel nearly as significant as the previous two, but even so, the Red Sox lost a true star in the bullpen. I’m sure many in the organization will be disappointed they couldn’t receive a better prospect in return, but this is still a good deal considering he will be a free agent this winter. Rodriguez has struggled this year, but he’s still only 21, and quite recently the Orioles rated him very highly. I’m sure we’ll learn more about him soon, but he sounds like he could be decent in a few years.

Miller was never flashy on the mound, but he was always there to get the job done. And when things didn’t go his way, he handled everything expertly, never one to give up on himself or his teammates. He had the stuff of a top of the line starter, but never complained about having to be the 7th inning man. I met Miller at a dinner back in early 2013 and he made a positive impression on me. I hope the Red Sox make a serious effort to bring him back this winter, because he’s a real winner. The Orioles will benefit greatly from his presence in their bullpen.

And lastly, there was the news that Stephen Drew was traded to the Yankees for Kelly Johnson. I doubt Johnson will ever get much of a shot in Boston, but this trade was clearly made to get Xander Bogaerts back to shortstop. It also opens a spot back up for Will Middlebrooks, who could really use a morale boost after a tough year and a half of baseball. Giving Drew away right now makes a lot of sense baseball wise, and it’s not like we’re competing directly with the Yankees the rest of the way.

I’ve said it before on this blog, and I’ll say it again. I really liked Stephen Drew. Boston fans never gave him a chance this year, and I felt his defense never got the praise it deserved. Stephen wasn’t J.D. by any means, but fans here weren’t going to see that. Stephen cared a lot, and like it or not, he was the starting shortstop on our championship team. He wasn’t great at the plate in his time here, but he contributed elsewhere, and was a model professional. Re-signing Drew in May wasn’t the best move in hindsight, but he shouldn’t be blamed. Blame the Red Sox management. If Drew gets booed tomorrow when he plays for the Yankees, I will be extremely disappointed. Count me as one who appreciated all he did here.

I would imagine the roster movement won’t stop here. More players will be designated for assignment in the coming days, and we’ll see a dramatically different Red Sox lineup the rest of the way. It won’t be pretty, but signs point to a renewal for next season. Overall, I think we are in good shape if and only if management is willing to commit money to a front-line starter in free agency this winter (I’m still holding out the faintest of hopes that they have a plan to re-sign Lester). But for now, let’s all take a few days to appreciate what this group of players did for the team and for all of us. Lester, Gomes, Lackey, Miller and Drew all leave Boston as World Series winners. They leave behind amazing memories that I’ll cherish as long as I live. In sixty years, I’ll be telling my grandkids stories about the 2013 Sox, about my crazy neighbor and about the player who beat cancer. And while it was an incredibly sad day, it might not be all bad.


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So Long, Doubront

This is my 100th post on the blog. For a few days, I’ve thought about writing a special piece to mark the occasion, but I ultimately decided to save any fanfare for later given the Red Sox drama that is going on. I’m sure there will be a lot more to write by tomorrow afternoon, so I didn’t think I had the energy to expend on a long post about the meaning of being a fan or something like that. I’ll save that for number 200.

While all the big trade talk in Boston has been around Jon Lester, John Lackey and Andrew Miller in the last 24 hours or so, the only trade made today was a deal that sent Felix Doubront to the Chicago Cubs. Having witnessed Doubront’s worst performance in a Red Sox uniform on Monday night, I wrote some pretty negative stuff about him yesterday morning. He looked like he no longer cared on the mound, and for me, that was the final straw. No matter how much you dislike your role, you can never mail in a performance.

So when I saw the news that Doubront was heading out of town, I felt it was the right move even without knowing the return. When a player gives up on his own role, he gives up on the team. A player who has given up quickly can send the clubhouse into a negative spiral, so getting him out of there was necessary, even if the return ending up being only a low-level prospect to be named later.

Doubront was tantalizingly talented on the mound, so much so that many believed he could develop into a top of the line starter in Boston. He showed up at Spring Training this year more in shape than ever before, and it appeared he was on the verge of taking the final step toward becoming that star left hander. But instead, he struggled from the start this year, never finding his rhythm in his return to the rotation following a stint in the bullpen last postseason. Eventually he was demoted to long-reliever as a result of his poor pitching. And he sure didn’t like it.

It’s easy to recall how effective he was at times last year, both as a starter and in the pen. He could always be counted on for 6 innings and 2 or 3 runs, always pitching games that left his team in a position to win. At his best, his plus-stuff left hitters off balance at the plate, and he earned a lot of weak swings. One particular start last June that I attended stands out in my mind as the best Doubront ever pitched – 8 shutout innings on only 93 pitches, 6 strikeouts and 3 hits allowed against a good Rays team – but that game will be more likely remembered for Jonny Gomes’s first Red Sox walkoff home run (i.e. the helmet punt game). And in the World Series, Doubront was excellent as a middle reliever, particularly in Games 3 and 4.

Doubront did some good on the mound in Boston, and he earned himself a World Series ring. But he wasn’t cut out to be a long term starter for the Red Sox, and he drove himself out of town with his poor attitude. Given that he is such a talented pitcher, the Red Sox will be disappointed to be forced to give up on him for next to nothing in return. But GM Ben Cherington had no choice at this point. He had to get Doubront out of the clubhouse. It’s a shame it didn’t work out here in the long run, but I wish him luck going forward. I’ll remember him fondly for that start against the Rays and for his World Series performance. A change of scenery should do him a lot of good.

Many other players will say goodbye to Boston tomorrow, and I’ll have full coverage on all of the goings on with the Trading Deadline. Stay tuned. It could be a sad one.

 


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Red Sox Trading Deadline Preview – Which Players Would I Be Sad to See Go?

With only four days left before the Trading Deadline to fully acknowledge the season’s premature end, the Red Sox will be fielding hundreds of phone calls about many of their players. Here, I will go through a list of the nine most likely players to be traded in my opinion, commenting on their respective values and how I would feel about seeing them go. It is in no particular order.

Jonny Gomes – Despite his .241 batting average and .365 slugging percentage, I would imagine just about every team would love to have Gomes for the stretch run. He brings all the intangibles of a proven winner to a clubhouse, and he can be a clutch right-handed hitter off the bench. He should command a mid-level prospect or two. Personally, I would be deeply saddened to see Gomes traded because he became my favorite player on the team, but I think he’s the one it would seem most obvious to trade given his value and the logjam in the outfield.

Mike Carp – Carp has had a poor year, with a .215 average and 0 home runs. But he still has some value on the market as he is a left-handed bat with some pop, capable of playing a few different positions. He proved last season that he can pinch hit in pressure-filled situations, so any team looking for left-handed options should be licking its lips. Given his poor production and lack of a clear spot on the team, I doubt Carp will garner more than a low-level prospect in return, but I think he could be the next one to go. I appreciated what he did a year ago, but I won’t be upset when Carp is gone.

Stephen Drew – It’s hard to know what kind of value Drew has right now given his poor offensive performance since re-signing with the Red Sox in late May. Of course though, he would bring one of the steadiest gloves in the league to any team he goes, and I can only imagine he’d start to hit a little better. I’ve always liked Drew, and I want to see him succeed. So if he’s traded to a contender, while I’d be sad to see him go, I’d be happy for the shortstop to get another chance at the postseason.

Andrew Miller – The lanky lefty apparently has been the subject of a lot of attention from opposing scouts. He has always had eye-catching stuff, and he’s looked quite good recently. He could conceivably get the Red Sox a top-level prospect given the value of left-handed relievers at this time of year. Miller has been around a long time, yet never quite lived up to his potential, having had various control and injury problems over the years. So if the Sox sell high on him, I think it would be a smart move. I don’t want to see him go, but I’d be okay with it.

Craig Breslow – Breslow hasn’t been very good this year, and he wasn’t very good in the World Series. But for much of last season, he was excellent as a late-inning left-handed reliever. A change of scenery could help Breslow rediscover his best stuff. When the Red Sox acquired him at the deadline a few years ago, they surrendered two major-league type players. I doubt the Red Sox will get a similar return, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a higher return than many would expect given his production this year. I’m pretty indifferent to Breslow at this point, so a trade wouldn’t leave me in tears.

Burke Badenhop – Badenhop has been consistent in the later innings for the Red Sox this year. His right-handed arm would look good for contenders as a sixth or seventh inning man. He should have relatively high value given his success this year, but don’t expect a huge return for a slightly above average middle reliever. Because he wasn’t on last year’s team, most Red Sox fans won’t have trouble saying goodbye to Badenhop.

Daniel Nava – I think it’s unlikely Nava will be traded, but due to his recent surge in production and his versatility across the diamond, Nava could be an attractive option for a National League team looking for a fourth outfielder/backup first baseman. His story is one of the great ones in baseball, and Red Sox nation has fallen in love with Nava in the last 18 months. Trading Nava wouldn’t have a huge impact on the current Red Sox team or future ones, but personally, I’d be quite sad to see him go.

Koji Uehara – As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, Uehara’s situation is unique given his contract and his age. Trading him in many ways would make a lot of sense. And obviously, as one of the game’s best closers, he would have tremendous value. The Red Sox would certainly demand a top prospect or two. If Jake Peavy could garner two top-ten prospects, a deal for Uehara should get the Sox two top-five prospects at least. Obviously, given his postseason heroics and his lovable personality on the field, everybody, myself included, would be devastated to let go of him. But for the right deal, I think I could understand it were he traded.

Jon Lester – Lester has been nothing short of an ace this year. And with a gigantic payday on the immediate horizon, the Red Sox will be fearing the worst. While he’s said he would consider a return via free agency an option were he traded, I think it would be unlikely. So for the Red Sox to trade him now, they’d need to get the equivalent of a first-round pick in return at the very least, as that would be the compensation for losing him in Free Agency. I’d imagine the Red Sox will be holding out for an offer that will blow them off their feet, and I don’t know how likely that is. But should Lester get traded, it would be five times as sad as the day Nomar Garciaparra was traded. Lester has been everything for the franchise, on the field and off, bringing us two championships, a no-hitter and an incredible story of courage. I really hope his time in Boston is not coming to an end anytime soon. But if he is traded, it will be a sad day.

Over the next few days, we’ll see a few of these names leave Boston, and I’ll have much more to say on the subject. Check back for more Red Sox coverage as the week continues.

Who will you be sad to let go? Please comment below