Today I asked my friend Brendan what year was it we went to Fenway Park, stood in line for tickets and after we got our tickets they pulled a screen over the window and called out "sold out!" He told me it was 2007, and he remembered it because they played the Rockies in that game, the same year those two teams met in the world series. That is the last time I was at Fenway Park and the last time I saw the Red Sox live until this past weekend.
I have a lot of fond memories of going to Fenway Park between 1998 or '99, I'm a little hazy on when exactly I went to my first game, and 2007. What I do remember from my first Red Sox game was that I went when I was in high school and I went on a bus trip by myself to see the game. The bus left from UConn and I didn't know anyone else on the trip. I don't think I talked to another person the whole time, but I had the most amazing sense of freedom to experience the park and the game as I wanted. I remember getting a giant slice of pizza just outside the park, getting into the concourse then walking through a dark tunnel into light. It was more than light, it was an overwhelming bright green and a rushing sense of the history of the games played on that field since it opened in 1912. I sat near the Pesky Pole and saw the signatures that run up it.
After that first visit, I was able to get friends to go to at least one game a year. I was able to see Carlton Fisk's number retired before a game that Pedro Martinez dominated against the Mariners, David Ortiz hit a walk off against the Phillies in extra innings, a few rainy games, several Tim Wakefield starts, and a surprising number of Darren Oliver starts. I saw as the Red Sox started to get more popular, there started to be complaints by some fans of "Pink Hats" who were perceived to be female bandwagon fans, "Yankees Suck" chants when the Sox were playing the Orioles, "Yankees Suck" shirts, depression over "the curse," and ecstasy after the curse was lifted.
Driving into Boston, navigating through the T system and finding affordable tickets became too much of a task. I moved to Pittsburgh after being laid off in Connecticut, then to Phoenix for law school and didn't get a chance to have the Red Sox come to town in either city. I started watching more and more Pirates and Diamondbacks games but still was able to see a whole lot of the Red Sox on MLB.tv. Last fall we moved to Minneapolis and were gifted tickets to the Red Sox by my in-laws for my birthday. We were lucky to make it to three very exciting games and my wife especially enjoyed bringing her camera and taking pictures at the opening game on Friday night.
The Sox have been in last of the AL East three of the last four years, and won the World Series in 2013. This year seems to be a season where the Red Sox have one of their most interesting teams in a long time and they, oddly, can thank their 2010 team that finished third in the AL East. They might have finished 3rd, but they still managed 89 wins thanks to a solid seasons from Victor Martinez (.302, 20 HR) and Adrian Beltre (.321, 28 HR, 102 RBI). The strength of their seasons lured them into free agency where they both earned lucrative long term deals with the Tigers and Rangers, respectively, but the Red Sox gained two compensation draft picks in 2011 for each player, despite losing their first round pick when they signed Carl Crawford in the off season.
The 2011 draft for the Red Sox might be the best draft by a team in MLB history because of the number of star players they got out of it. With the first Victor Martinez pick, the Red Sox got Matt Barnes from UConn with the 19th pick in the draft. Barnes has been a top prospect for a few years and is now a fixture in the rotation, although his ERA just jumped from 2.67 to 3.64 due to giving up a walk off homer to the Twins on Sunday (that was an odd situation where the Sox brought in Mookie Betts from RF to play in the infield so they could have five infielders, however the result was a sub .200 hitter knocking his first MLB homer). He looks like he'll be a very good reliever for the Red Sox with the possibility of being a workhorse starter in the future at 6'4".
The Sox would have had the 24th pick in the draft but gave it up to the Rays by signing Carl Crawford. I guess Boston missed out on Taylor Guerrieri who has had surgery, served a 50 game suspension for PED's and isn't currently in the majors. However, with the first Beltre pick the Sox selected one of their two young catchers, Blake Swihart who is currently injured but had been playing catcher and left field. With the second Martinez pick in the supplemental round they selected Henry Owens, a big lefty who has been listed as a top prospect and future top of the rotation for the Sox since he was drafted. He has had a few brief stints in the majors with fill in starts since the second half last year. As a 23 year old he has 14 major league starts and a 4.66 ERA. He looks like he'll be a good pitcher but he isn't ready to be a regular quite yet.
With the second Beltre pick, another in the first supplemental round at the end of the first round, the Sox selected CF Jackie Bradley, Jr. JBJ, as he's called, has the longest hit streak in the majors this year coming off a hot second half last year after a rough start to his career. He's hitting .309 with 11 homers and is currently second in OF voting for the All-Star game, only behind Mike Trout. The other current Red Sox they drafted in 2011 are RF Mookie Betts (.291, 14 HR, 11 SB this year) in the 5th round and 3B Travis Shaw (.269, 7 HR and beat Pablo Sandoval for the 3B job in the spring) in the 9th round. Betts, Bradley and Shaw are starters and all on the verge of making the All-Star game this year, Swihart is a bound to reclaim his place in left field or as a catcher, and Barnes is a fixture in the bullpen. It's very possible Owens will be back in the rotation soon as Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly have lost their rotation spots.
Xander Bogaerts is one of the younger and hottest stars on the Red Sox is in the current class of amazing shortstops in the league right now that includes Trevor Story, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Brandon Crawford, Addison Russell, and Corey Seager. A 23 year old, he was not in that 2011 draft because he was signed out of Aruba and he is having a better season than anyone at his position or on his team, right now. He was a Silver Slugger last year but he has already has more home runs, eight, this year than last year and is leading the AL in batting average at .357. He is also second on the Red Sox in SB's with 9 and is solid in the field with only 4 errors so far.
Chris Young has been a welcome addition to the Sox this year filling in for the injured All-Star Brock Holt by hitting .286 and 6 HR in under 50 games. Hanley Ramirez moved from LF to become a rather nice fielding 1B with only 2 errors in the transition, and despite some slumps with year is still batting .275. Craig Kimbrel was a big trade acquisition this off season and has an ERA around 2.00, and it seems as the season has gone on he has become more and more dominant.
David Price was the big pick up this off season, but had a difficult start to the season. On May 7th he had a 6.75 ERA through his first seven starts when reports came out that Dustin Pedroia said to him that he wasn't bringing his knee and glove up as high as he did in the past. Price made this adjustment and in the seven starts since then he hasn't given up more than three earned runs in a start and his ERA is down to 4.52. His 7 wins put him in the pack of Steven Wright and Rick Porcello who are both having great starts to their seasons. Porcello was the player last year that seemed to be a big disappointment after joining the team and getting a big contract but he has bounced back this year to a 7-2 record and a 3.81 ERA in his first 13 starts.
Steven Wright has broken out this year to emerge as more of an RA Dickey top of the rotation knuckle ball pitcher than a Tim Wakefield pitcher who might bounce between the rotation and bullpen. Wright throws a knuckle ball with more velocity than Wakefield and has a little more control like RA Dickey, and statistically, the start of Wright's season this year is very close to the start of RA Dickey's Cy Young year with the Mets. Wright has a 8-4 record, 2.22 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 13 starts. His 2.22 ERA is second in the AL at this point of the season and in the middle of yesterday's game he dipped under 2.00 as he was in a streak of around 20 straight innings without giving up an earned run.
Yesterday, MLB.com posted an article about David Ortiz's doubles pace that would break the single season record. I was shocked to see this because over the three games that I saw him this weekend he had three singles that were hammered off the wall so hard he only had time to trot into first for singles. He is having one of the best final seasons the game has seen. He hasn't looked like a spring chicken running around the bases in a while, maybe ever, but he is a technician with the bat. This year he's hitting .341, 16 HR, .422 OBP, and 28 doubles in 58 games. He's a designated hitter but he has a good shot to get into the Hall of Fame based on his offensive numbers alone. For his career he is a .286 hitter, .379 OBP, 519 Homers, and 612 doubles (11th all-time). He has won three World Series with the Red Sox and seems to have had more dramatic moments than anyone in the game. And he might not be the only Hall of Famer from this team, too.
I had high hopes starting in just the first two or three seasons Dustin Pedroia played in that he could be a Hall of Famer, "if he kept it up." Now I believe he has a decent shot at the Hall if he can stay healthy and keep the Laser Show alive. This season Pedroia with 82 hits, .319 avg, and 7 HR in 62 games. He hasn't had a full season since 2013 and has only played more than 140 games five times in his 11 seasons but the 32 year old 2B has 1564 career hits and a career .300 avg. More impressive is that he has accomplished almost everything a player can in his career, already. He has won two World Series, a Rookie of the Year, an AL MVP Award, four time All-Star (two time starter), four time Gold Glover, and a Silver Slugger.
Pedroia is one of the shortest ever league MVP's even as his listed height of 5'8" or 5'9" has had many claims of exaggeration. Jose Altuve is the one other player in the majors now that is clearly shorter than Pedroia at a listed 5'6" and somehow both players the two elite second basemen in the league. Altuve has had a hotter start to his career excluding the major awards and championships as he is a career .309 hitter in six seasons with 921 hits, and he already has 50 more stolen bases for his career than Pedroia. These two players already match up well with other smaller middle infielders in the Hall of Fame: Nellie Fox (5'10", .288, 2663, 1 MVP), Phil Rizzuto (5'6", missed 3 seasons to serve in WWII, .273 hitter, 1588 hits in 13 seasons, 7 World Series Championships, 1 MVP), Joe Morgan (5'7", .271 hitter, 2517 hits, 2 MVP's, 2 World Series Championships), and Craig Biggio (5'11", .281 hitter, 3060 hits, 291 HR, started at C, 2B, CF, never finished better than 4th in MVP voting, never won a World Series). Pedroia and Altuve are in well on their ways to the Hall of Fame, and Pedroia might not necessarily need 3000 hits, but it's not a goal that's out of the question with seven more full seasons.
Who's Your All-Star?
Almost everyone on the team is an All-Star this year. The Red Sox are leading the league in scoring runs and batting average. Bogaerts, Ortiz, and Bradley are all leading in All-Star voting. Shaw and Hanley don't quite have batting averages to make it in but Pedroia and Betts have been playing well enough to be reserves if enough teams get their representatives in. Wright is pitching well enough to be one of the top starters and Price's ERA is gradually getting low enough for consideration. Kimbrell might be edged out just because he is tied for sixth in the AL for saves and other teams may only have a reliever as their lone representative.
The outlook is good for these Red Sox. Their starters are either getting better or losing their rotation spots, and the offense is knocking the cover off the ball. They run a little risk of running out of steam the playoffs like last year's Blue Jays, although they may not suffer their fate because they are not as reliant on the long ball. They are back to prominence and they have built their team in a smart way to last them for years to come. My grandfather was born in 1905 in Vermont and lived his life as a Red Sox fan attorney in Boston. He lived to see his team win four World Series, but he only got to follow them in newspapers probably until he was in law school, well after their last championship in his lifetime. I'm 33 and I've seen them win three World Series on TV, and it's looking promising that their fourth won't have to wait too long, either.