The Boston Red Sox may have their share of pricey free agents on its roster, but from Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury to Jonathan Papelbon and Manny Delcarmen, a growing amount of essential players are in fact, homegrown. This season, especially has seen a plethora of talent come up from the minors to help the big club, including Josh Reddick, Chris Carter and perhaps most notably, Daniel Bard.
As fun as it is seeing players like these develop on the big league level, I thought it would be a great idea to see and cover some of these future big leaguers in their own element someday. That someday was last Sunday.
It was around quarter-to-four on the afternoon of August 30, with nary a cloud in the sky in Lowell, MA when I arrived at LeLacheur Park, home to the Lowell Spinners. It is a Red Sox single-A affiliate that has seen future stars like Jonathan Papelbon and Jacoby Ellsbury play there, among many others.
Game time was set for 5:05 pm, but as a credentialed media member, I was there to get my media pass and hopefully make my pre-game time eventful. In other words, I was hoping to interview at least one Spinner before game time.
Once I got my pass and went upstairs, I saw a guy writing out in blue marker the starting lineups of the Spinners and their opponent, the Brooklyn Cyclones. To my surprise, local product Alex Hassan was written into the lineup, starting at RF. He grew up next to my hometown of Quincy, MA in Milton, so many in my town are quite familiar with this hitter/pitcher’s success at BC High, then Duke University and now career with the Red Sox, whom drafted him in the 20th round of the 2009 draft.
Hassan was previously in Lowell for a few weeks before getting promoted to single-A Greenville. I didn’t see any pregame reports mentioning he was back in Lowell for Sunday’s game, but was glad he was there.
One of my goals was to interview the biggest name and prospect on the Spinners, Ryan Westmoreland, an outfielder who unfortunately broke his collarbone trying to make a play in a game two days earlier. I saw him walk across the field minutes after I arrived but found out later he left the premises soon after.
So my next choice to interview was, you guessed it, Alex Hassan. After asking an usher when and how the media does interview players here, she radioed down to Jon Boswell, the head of media relations for the Spinners and had me meet with him downstairs.
Next thing you know, I race downstairs and the two of us (Boswell and I) walk past the tunnel area that leads to team locker rooms, and into the Spinners dugout, where I awaited Alex Hassan to interview. At this point I didn’t keep track of time but it was before 4:30 pm and I was about to accomplish my main goal of scoring a player interview.
He came out a couple minutes after Boswell left to get him. The rightfielder was taller in person than I thought but he was a low-key kind of guy, which made the interview experience less intimidating. After telling him how pleasantly surprised I was to see him in today’s lineup, he told me that he and Chris McGuiness were told to report from Greenville to Lowell today. He didn’t look at this move as a demotion when I asked him, just looked at it as “a chance to play.” When asked, he was also happy with his progress offensively and defensively, though is always looking to improve. And no, he’s not going to pitch anytime soon.
After a couple more minutes of questions (including what it was like to play for Duke, which he loved and elaborated on for a bit), the interview was over. Boswell tried to get me another interview, with the speedy leftfielder Wilfred Pichardo, but he (much like the rest of the team) were busy getting ready for the game. So one interview was enough for me. Mission Accomplished.
It was then time for me to decide where to sit for the game, as the Spinners staffers let me know I had that freedom to go anywhere I liked. Should I sit with the sold-out crowd of over 5,000 in the hot sun, or take advantage of my press pass and see if there’s room for me in the (cooler) press box. And the press box is indeed where I spent the game, taking notes on my laptop and note pad, chatting with the other couple of staff members and media members who were there, all of whom were friendly and very much into this well-played game.
As I sat down to set up, everyone in the ballpark roared for the ceremonial first pitches, thrown by newly re-signed Boston Celtics big man, Glen “Big Baby” Davis, and legendary Celtic JoJo White. The crowd gave a mixed response to Davis bouncing his pitch to home plate while cheering for the older but still very strong-armed Jo Jo White’s excellent throw. Then it was game time.
The Cyclones got to Spinners starter Pedro Perez early, scoring one run in the first. He had control issues over his four innings, allowing five walks. And the Spinners had little answers for their starter Brandon Moore, who’s only run allowed over six innings occurred in the bottom of the fifth inning when Pichardo scored on a double by shortstop Derrik Gibson.
But as the lights came on and the evening got dark, the Spinners bats got hot. In the bottom of the eighth, this 1-1 game became untied when centerfielder Ronald Bermudez singled home designated-hitter Drew Hedman, who doubled to start the inning. Alex Hassan, who reached first on a throwing error, scored the insurance run to make it a 3-1 game. And with Cesar Cabral pitching four score innings in relief of Perez, and closer Jordan Flasher pitching a scoreless top of the ninth, that’s how it stayed, with Cabral getting the win.
It was one heck of a game, and manager – former California Angels player and Massachusetts native – Gary DiSarcina deserves credit for his part on managing the pitching staff, the clear strength of this year’s team.
Getting to cover the Lowell Spinners was a truly eye-opening experience for me. And did I mention fun? I wasn’t the only one, of course, as Glen Davis had a ball with the fans in between innings, throwing them souvenir balls, dancing around and then helping to give away an autographed basketball to a lucky fan. The friendly atmosphere extended to the stands as well, as one lucky handicapped kid got a foul ball handed to him from a fellow fan he didn’t know. And all the kids got to line up and run the bases after the game was over.
It’s no wonder why the Spinners sell out their games year after year. That and the fact they are now a playoff team for the second year in a row helps too, having clinched the Stedler Division in the NY/Penn League on Wednesday.
When it was time to pack up and leave for the night, some kid with an autographed baseball asked for my autograph (and those of anybody coming out of the media room) which I politely declined, telling them I’m nobody that special, just a member of the media for a day. If I become the next Sean McAdam or Peter Gammons, then that’s different. But you’ve got to start somewhere, and for me, that was Sunday, August 30 at LeLacheur Park in Lowell, MA, covering the Lowell Spinners.