FARM REPORT by Gary Jacobs
September 1, 2006 | PAWTUCKET – The world, it seems, descended on Pawtucket this weekend.
In a rare confluence of scheduling, rehabbing Soxers Alex Gonzalez, Trot Nixon, and Jason Varitek all played for the PawSox as the last step of their return from injury – and McCoy Stadium was bursting at the seams to accommodate the fans eager to get a close-up view of these Big Club Players.
“I’ve never seen [three players rehabbing at once] at any level I’ve managed,” said PawSox manager Ron Johnson. “It’s nice, though, isn’t it?”
Nixon was the first to arrive, with a seven-inning stint in right field and an 0-fer at the plate on Thursday, the opening game of the team’s final series, against the Ottawa Lynx. “I felt fine in the field, but I was not comfortable at the plate,” he said in a prepared statement. “My timing was off…physically I felt fine but was disappointed in my plate appearances.”
Friday saw the addition of Varitek to the lineup. ‘Tek, catching and batting second, signaled his readiness to return by clubbing a 1-2 offering off of Lynx righty Cory Morris out of the park.
Saturday was Alex Gonzalez’s turn to take the field, completing the troika. Gonzo knocked a single in the third, and was his normal silky-perfection self in the field, handling five chances, all cleanly.
Over the weekend the team went 2-1. Gonzalez, Varitek and Nixon combined to go 6-22.
But this is Pawtucket, and as much as everyone wants to win, it’s really about development, and reaching out to the fans. What The Three Amigos accomplished or didn’t accomplish on the field is almost immaterial. The two key points to take away from this weekend were that all three seemed perfectly healthy and ready for prime time, and that the fans at Pawtucket were able to see a good show.
And lots of fans, too: McCoy was sold out on Friday, with a total attendance of 11,711, just 89 SRO seats short of an all-time attendance record. It’s not unheard-of for McCoy to sell out; it’s happened perhaps five or six times so far this season. But given the disappointing season the PawSox had this year, it provided the fans a welcome excuse to cheer for the locals—and some Big Club heroes—in the season’s final weekend.
“I had been thinking about going to McCoy, just to see a Red Sox team win,” said Jon Lurie, who took his wife Renée and kids Lindsey, 11, and Nicholas, 7, to McCoy on Saturday. “When I found out that Trot, ‘Tek and Gonzo would be there, that pretty much sealed it for me.”
Despite the marquis names, Nicholas was happiest to see his favorite player, Corky Miller, who crushed a three-run home run in the third inning. “The fact that ‘Tek and Trot were there was secondary to him,” beamed his dad. “When Corky hit that 3-run shot, my son was thrilled!”
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While a packed house is undeniably good for business, it does make for a hectic day for team officials. The more people in the stands, the greater the need for effective spectator safety and crowd control. Throw in three rehabbing members of the Big Club nine and the headaches multiply exponentially.
For Daryl Jasper, the club’s Assistant General Manager, the arrival of a Boston player presents a set of logistical challenges, all of which have to be met perfectly.
“Our biggest concern is coordinating their arrival, communicating with Red Sox personnel, getting them here safely, and making them feel at home, which is what Ben [Mondor, team owner] and Mike [Tamburro, team President] have always wanted.”
Jasper, who has a hand in just about every aspect of the day-to-day operation of the club, adds some additional responsibilities to his already-full plate.
“There’s handling their access to the media, for one,” says the genial Jasper. “Some don’t care [about media access]; some do. There’s getting them out safely – sometimes we arrange for a police escort if we have to.”
Varitek’s is the biggest name to arrive at McCoy since Curt Schilling’s stint last season. Jasper recalled some of the more memorable Big Club visits to Pawtucket.
“Dennis Eckersley was here back at the old stadium,” says Jasper, referring to McCoy prior to its major remodel for the 1999 season. “We got him out behind a gate behind the old barbeque tent. There must’ve been 100, 120 people waiting for him [to sign autographs]. We told him not to stop or he’d never get out! But he stopped. He told the crowd, ‘give me a foot [of space] and I’ll sign.’ And he signed. He was great.”
Connecting with the fans is a common theme to Jasper’s tales. He clearly reserves his deepest respect for the players that made an effort to make the fans happy.
“The last time Trot was here, he couldn’t spend a lot of time signing, so he brought around 100 cards that he’d signed, and he gave them to Rick [Medeiros, Director of Security] and me to pass out to the fans,” recalls Jasper. “Mark Bellhorn, too – he must have signed everything anyone gave him. Here’s a guy coming off a miserable season, and he gets hurt, has to rehab, and he just couldn’t have been nicer.”
Not every trip to Pawtucket passed without controversy.
“Well, there was the [José] Canseco thing,” remembered Jasper. “He stopped to sign for the fans outside – and it came out that he referred to people as ‘Neanderthals.’ I think that was blown out of proportion, frankly. But I think overall it’s been a very positive experience, for them and for the fans.”
With PawSox and Red Sox fans both well short on positive experiences lately, this past weekend provided a welcome respite from the grim realities of being a Red Sox fan this year.
Gary can be reached at [email protected].