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Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Sox Whinings? What are you up to Theo?

1. Is Pedro done? Time to stick a fork in him? Petey says "No Worries," and insists that when the bell rings for real, he'll be there. Are you convinced? (I'm not.) Makes you wonder if this is the real reason J. Henry, Larry, and Theo have been stalling until they see a few starts before committing $30+ million? We'll see Sunday. Stay Tuned, Sports Fans. (Yeah, like you were planning to tune out.)
2. As the season starting gun nears (drove by Fenway tonight and all the lights were on! Cool!), it must be glaringly obvious that the Sox have signed exactly NONE of the Big Four yet, with Lowe's comments to the press indicating that he won't be signing anytime soon. We haven't heard much from Varitek, and the Nomar situation has been beaten to death. The lights are on but is Theo home? Maybe at the current salary level of $125M, Henry has said "Enough," and let's see if the market softens over the course of the '04 season. Could be.
3. Our site poll from fans gives the '05 heave-ho to Johnny Damon (45%) first, Lowe second (17%), Ortiz and Pedro tied at third (14%), and Nomar last as the Big Keeper at 3% (Varitek at 7% - a Keeper as well).
4. Nice way to start the season! The PawSox have a scheduled Double Header - Saturday, April 10th at 12:05PM vs. Buffalo Bisons. Be there!!!
5. According to the Nashua Telegraph, Nashua City officials agreed to let the Nashua Pride sell the naming rights to Holman Stadium in an effort to help the team stay financially viable. The story notes that Nashua Alderman-at-Large Jim Tollner said the Pride will not remain in operation if the original lease agreement was not revised as earlier reported. The city's next payment on the nearly $4.4 million bond used to improve Holman stadium is $360,209 says the paper - an amount many times the Pride's projected rent payments for this year. The city is additionally responsible for maintenance at the stadium. The report adds that the Pride have about 74 events at the stadium each year, with Pride-related park maintenance expenses tallying $135,000 - or about $1,800 per game. As the Pride have been averaging about 1,800 per game, that's a buck a head, folks. In my experience, it is not like independent and tax-conscious New Hampshire taxpayers to be so generous with their money in support of a private enterprise.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Unfair Comparison?

Comparing affiliated teams with unaffiliated teams is a dangerous and perhaps unfair game, though what has been going on in Lowell the past few days is worth noting. The Lowell Sun reports that when the Spinners put individual game tickets on sale on-line at 11:00 Monday morning, their web site had more than 100,000 continuous hits from fans trying to purchase Spinners tickets. Web specialists say that's the most hits any team major or minor league has ever had at one time. The article also reports that Cyberseats, the company responsible for the on-line sale of the Spinners tickets, handles Major League baseball teams also, and an official there said yesterday's response was unlike anything they have ever experienced - the Cyberseats machine stops counting hits at 100,000. "We handle Major League baseball tickets and we never get that. It is totally crazy. I think it is awesome and the Spinners fans must be the greatest fans in the country," said a spokesperson for the company.
The Spinners are scheduled to play 38 dates at home this year; they played 36 last season. Lowell drew 180,000 fans last year - 5000 per game (also the stadium's capacity). [Ever been? No? You should go! A great baseball take!]

On the other hand, slightly north, the Nashua Pride of the Atlantic League appear to be struggling. The Pride drew 132,000+ in 69 home dates, 1800+ per game. The team recently re-negotiated its stadium (Holman) lease with the city, getting a major concession in rental fees according to the Manchester Union Leader.
The city's new deal with the Pride franchise, which owes the city $140,000 in overdue rent, drastically lowers the team’s ongoing financial obligations to the city while ensuring the Pride will repay the entire debt says the newspaper. The deal cuts the Pride’s 2004 payment to the city from $200,000 to $75,000, which would be paid in equal monthly installments from June until October. The Pride agreed to make good on its $140,000 debt in two installments of $70,000, the first due Aug. 15, 2005 and the second in Aug. 15, 2006. Also, Nashua would receive 80 percent of the team’s net profits, up to an additional $125,000 per year.
Will it help? “We’ve lost a lot of money in the last few years,” Pride GM Todd Marlin said in the article.

The story says the Pride would keep an option, also in the original agreement, to terminate the contract in 2006 unless the team averages a minimum of 2,700 in ticket sales for the '06 season - a sales level the team has never reached. Also, Marlin said in the article that the team is considering going to a short season schedule in 2005, dropping all May and September games. That's one strategy, but it puts the team in more direct competition with the short season Spinners.

Of course, with the addition of the Manchester Fisher Cats this season, the Pride are going to have to find a way to boost attendance while now having to compete with an affiliated AA team near their home turf to the north and the A-level Spinners to the south.
It is only a short drive from Lowell to Nashua - 20 to 25 minutes without the occasional gridlock on Rt. 3. But it is world's apart when it comes to baseball teams. We wish the Pride the best of luck - there is and should be a place for independent ball. It is not apparent, however, that Nashua is that place.

Here We Go Again

Last night I drove by a Ground Round in Nashua, NH. The restaurant's street sign said it all, referring to the upcoming Sox season: Here We Go Again.
While the Ground Round is nobody's example of an elegant dining experience, it could be said that few have described the anticipation of an upcoming baseball season so eloquently and succintly.
A few years ago I took my kids to a water park with lots of downhill slides. My youngest son at the time (8 or 9) made an entire day of marching up the stairs, waiting in line, and then gleefully spiraling down one of the slides - head first, feet first, sideways, you name it - time after time, no matter how many times he did it or how tired he got (earned a good sunburn that day also.) Upon slashing at the bottom he would clear his eyes or water and tell me "Let's go again, Dad!" And we did. After the day was over, sunburn and all, he couldn't wait to go again.

While we may or may not end up getting splashed at the bottom, Here We Go Again, Citizens of RSN. Just thinking about the upcoming season is bringing a smile to your lips. It may be a scary, twisty, bumpy, unpredictable, and a tiring ride - but it will also be thrilling, enjoyable, satisfying, thought-provoking, entertaining, and just fun.
Wipe the water from your face now and up the stairs: Here We Go Again.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Snow Snow Snow

There is no more discouraging word for New England baseball than snow.
Last year, the high school baseball season in New Hampshire, where I live, was postponed for about 10-14 days because of March snow storms. Two days from now, tryouts at the local high school begin--in the gym again.
My son and four of his baseball friends on the AAU team have traveled to Derry and Lawrence, MA, indoor facilities since November to train, and, honestly, they are bored now. They are ready to get dirty, even muddy, rather than field one more ground ball off plastic grass, throw one more pitch off a wooden "mound," hit one more toss from the pitching machine or from their coaches. They are ready to get wet, get cold, shiver in the 40-degree cold of a cloudy late afternoon sky up in Hanover or over in Dover. They are ready to get "stung" -- even through those $40 batting gloves with the scientific padding -- when the ball and bat meet, hop up and down when the ball finds their cold foot in the fifth inning of a 10-8 game. They will be happy to put on their jackets and sweatshirts between innings to stay warm enough to cheer for their teammates.
And I am ready to stand under the same sky, in the same fading light, in the same temperature the kids are playing in, for two and half hours to wait for the timely hit, the right pitch, the nice catch.
But I really hate snow in March. It's out of season.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Patriots Had Major Injuries Too: Don't Jump!!!!

Face it, last year was an anomaly; no major injuries to any of the core players and even Pedro had a decent year in the health department. So the woes of Nomar and Nixon are really part of what you get every year in baseball and every other major sport - No Jumping off the Tobin Bridge just yet RSN Citizens.
Fortunately, the Sox are rather deep this year on the bench, though I would presume nobody will feel good about an outfield with Millar or Daubach out there on an everyday basis. And, it also means that Manny will be in Left more and not at DH, taking another possible bat out of the lineup.
Thinking about '05 Free Agent defections? Well, we might get to see what life is really like without Nomar for a while, as we did two seasons ago. Reese will handle SS just fine, but we will lose 60+ points in BA, power, and are back to trying to fill the 2B slot again.
The disc situation with Nixon is much more worrisome than Nomar's tendonitis. Disc problems don't go away quickly, and tend to reappear the next time an outfielder slams into a wall trying to catch a fly ball. I think the team will miss Nixon's intensity as much as his play; this team doesn't have a lot of natural leaders but Nixon leads just in the way he works at the game.
Hey - we also get to see how Terry Francona deals with adversity and problems. You can bet that before this year is over, he's going to have a few.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Note to NESN: It's About the Game, Not Dumb Interviews

Were you are irritated as I was today when NESN cut away from the Sox-Orioles game to go to the Pedro Martinez post-game "interview"? Yes, I realize it is an exhibition game and that the outcome is meaningless - but little of what Pedro says in post game interviews is very meaningful anyway - and that goes for most TV-era athletes.
Spring training TV games give fans a chance to see those who are contending for the few available spots on the Big Club, how they look, who will likely be on the PawSox this year, and how the pitching staff is shaping up.
If I want to see what Pedro said in his latest press conference, I can tune in after the game or read the newspaper accounts tomorrow. Often, Pedro decides not to talk to the press for a while - an interval I for one don't find particularly objectionable.
Note to the NESN producers and Directors: Unless you have early intelligence that something worthwhile will be said in an interview, stick to the game. If something interesting is ever said (how likely is that?), you can run the clip whenever there is time. That is why we have video tape.
Besides, didn't you notice that The Rem Dawg previewed what Pedro was going to say anyway? And he was right.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Mud and All; Thank God

There they were: two adult “coaches” and about ten 10 year olds, running basepath drills in the mud at a city park nearby my office. Late in the afternoon, in New England mid-March, in sub-40 degree weather, with remnants of snow in the shadows and under the bushes. And, having fun I might add. For me, this is what baseball is about; not steroids, Donald Fehr, A-rod’s mega-contract, or anti-trust legislation. If you haven’t done it lately, go to a little league or high school or Legion baseball game this spring or summer. The kids play hard, they mostly play it well, and they have fun. The price is right too – for you and for them.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

McCain Shows No Fehr

For years, Sen. John McCain faced the North Vietnamese as a captive prisoner of war. Today, McCain took on Donald Fehr, head of the MLBPA, on the steroid issue in baseball and the union's intransigence on agreeing to tougher testing and stiffer penalties. According to an AP report, the Senator scolded Fehr and warned that "the status quo is not acceptable. And we [Congress] will have to act in some way unless the major league players union acts in the affirmative and rapid fashion."

While Bud Selig and MLB have consistently lost battles with Fehr and the MLBPA, how will McCain fare (yes, puns are an awful affliction but permissible in a blog)? Hard to say. It seems unlikely that the Federal Government can successfully become involved in the testing terms of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, unless the agreement violates the law - which now it does not apparently. It is probable that any new legislation attempting to interfere with the CBA would be challenged by Fehr, all the way to the nine elder jurists in black.

The war that is being lost by Fehr, against McCain and others at the moment, is the PR war. The MLBPA has been completely indifferent to public opinion in the past, and largely took the blame for the 1994 Season ending strike. Fehr is now a lightning rod again for a high-profile issue, especially in light of the tough NFL steroid policy, which the Senate Committee lauded for its toughness.

Can Fehr and the MLBPA afford more bad PR? Simple logic says "No," especially when the lore and lure of baseball is often intertwined with and grounded in the game's glorious past and its associated records and legends. Steroids have forever tainted recent accomplishments by beloved - and some not-so-beloved - players in the batting box, and hurt career pitching records in the process. Ugh! But we fear that Fehr will soldier on, steadfastly ignoring the opinions of the game's fans, Selig and the owners, and McCain and the Congress.

ML Baseball is slanted, twisted, distorted, uneven, and unfair as it endures wildly differing salary levels and income distribution at the club level, upending its basic team-to-team competitiveness. The game's essence: one man with a (perhaps drug-powered) bat against one man with a ball. Why do we still pay any attention to a sport that is slowly sinking to the WWF's level of credibility?

Make your own vote count: go to a minor or independent league game instead of MLB. They appreciate the fan support, they play hard, and they are playing because they love the game.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Forget the Circus: Arroyo was Great, That is What Matters from Today.

Bronson Arroyo shone brighter than the august luminaries in the traveling Bronx circus today, pitching three shutout innings and allowing just a single hit - and looking strong doing it. And Pokey looked great at short didn't he?
Ignore the hype, the air of confrontation, the media frenzy. It mattered not at all. Arroyo is the Real Deal folks - I saw him a lot last year in Pawtucket. Forget Kim, Arroyo is the Number 5 starter. End of story. Wait and see.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Chatter on a Smattering....

Yes, that was the reassuring tones of Joe Castiglione and Jerry Trupiano, coming our way on Thursday night; the Grapefruit League has begun, finally. For the Red Sox, everyone knows this is a much-anticipated season, yet it is of course much too early to handicap the outcome. A few musings on what's happened so far:
- While the Sox and the Yankees do indeed meet tomorrow, with TV coverage and lots of press attention, I for one am not that excited about this matchup. Torre and his crew are far too experienced to let an early Grapefruit League game be anything more than what it is: a warm up. OK, we'll get to see A-Rod at third, but we will see plenty of him this year. Like the NFL, my concerns about the Ft. Myers experience relate to having the team's key players emerge from Florida without serious injury.
- The Berkshire Eagle reports that Dan Duquette has been told by the local Planning Board that he has two weeks to apply for a special permit that would allow games played by his NECBL franchise, the Dukes, at his sports academy in Hinsdale. Yet there seems to be a major disagreement between the town and Dan as to whether Duquette needs a permit at all, and what, if anything, the town can or should do about activities at the Duquette Sports Academy. Stay tuned: Dan's communications skills are about to be tested again.
- Speaking (ahem) about communications, The Boston Globe reports that Manny Ramirez will be launching his own Web site, using a name similar to M.R. Make-a-Wish, a site apparently designed to serve as a focal point for his charitable foundation. When Manny signed with the Sox he pledged to donate $1 million to programs aiding disadvantaged Latino children in the Boston area. Manny says the site is being designed by his sister. Though he won't say so, we're guessing the site will become Manny's equivalent of Albert Belle's locker door: the place where he will communicate (one-way) with fans and the press. Last night, I saw Schilling being interviewed by Don Orsillo - a segment where Schilling again said that he felt that communicating directly with fans through the Web circumvented the Boston writers and media, some of whom he accused of having their own agenda or of reporting what served their opinions best. Tough talk folks. This move by Schilling and Manny will really piss-off some of the elitist Boston baseball writers and the even more arrogant WEEI talk-show hosts. These media personalities lose power, influence, and importance when players can communicate directly with fans. While we don't relish having to compete for eyeballs with Manny's new site, being able to communicate directly with the Distant One should be fun. Can't wait!
- Some of the PawSox alum have looked good so far in Ft. Myers - anyone watching Andy Dominique? yeah, he could lose a few but he is a catcher.
- The New Haven County Cutters are trying to see if a Northeast League team can survive in New Haven and Yale Field when AA hasn't been able to. The New Hampshire Fisher Cats, formerly the New Haven Ravens (AA Toronto) gear up to make their debut in Manchester. Several NECBL franchises have moved cities, including the Dukes. The "churn," - franchises coming and going, birthing and dying, at the minor league and independent league level is always both sad and exciting. We are guessing that the Fisher Cats will ultimately be successful; they have relatively deep pockets, a new stadium coming, and attention right now. New Haven's new entry may have a tougher row to hoe, though if they can live on about 1,000 to 1,200 per game, they might survive for a while. Good luck to them.