Tuesday, April 7, 2015

After day one, everything's just peachy

I can't stress how happy I was to hear Joe Castiglione back on my radio and Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy back on my television yesterday. I was a bit disappointed that Dave O'Brien was away from the radio booth, but I was happy that the powers that be at WEEI put Lou Merloni on the broadcast with Joe instead of Rob Bradford. Bradford makes me want to turn the radio off. But that's a whole other story.
Here are a few observations from what is one of my favorite days of the year.
Hanley Ramirez will be the American League MVP. After that performance, nothing will go wrong for the rest of the year and he'll finish with 83 homers and 210 RBIs. He won't drop a single ball in left field and will learn to play the wall better than anyone since Yaz.
Dustin Pedroia will finish second in the AL MVP voting, falling short of his teammate by three votes. He will finish with only 78 homers and 190 RBIs and will beat himself up throughout the offseason for slacking off.
Clay Buchholz will win the American League Cy Young Award after going 34-1 and finishing with an ERA of 1.03. His one loss will come in a 1-0 defeat to the Toronto Blue Jays on Sept. 9 when John Farrell elects to sit Ramirez, David Ortiz and Pedroia in the series finale to get playing time for Daniel Nava, Brock Holt and Allen Craig, none of whom had been on the field since the end of April.
Pablo Sandoval will go through the entire month of April without a hit before coming alive in May and only striking out once in the entire month. However, he will be deemed expendable thanks to the impressive Garin Cecchini parade in AAA and will be traded right before the deadline for Jon Lester. Lester will take over the closer job for Koji Uehara, who admits that he's really 55 years old when his arm literally falls off his body in June. Koji vows to be back by the playoffs. Cecchini will take over at third base and never relinquish his hold, winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award.
Shane Victorino won't have a single hit for the entire season, but will be on base three times in every single game before himself being traded to the Phillies for Cole Hamels at the beginning of May. Hamels will come to Boston with his wife, Survivor Amazon contestant Heidi (Strobel) Hamels and become an immediate fan favorite when he drills Alex Rodriguez in the butt with a pitch in his first start for the Red Sox. Victorino's trade makes room for Rusney Castillo to enter the lineup and he becomes the second coming of Dwight Evans in right field. However, he ends up suffering an injury diving into the stands to rob Mike Trout of a game-winning homer in the first game after the All-Star break, opening the door for Jackie Bradley Jr., who goes on to win the Gold Glove in right field despite only playing half a season at the Major League level.
David Ortiz will not step out of the batter's box between pitches once the entire season, and thus the longest game of the season for the Red Sox clocks in at two hours and 23 minutes, against the Yankees on Sunday, May 3.
Ryan Hanigan will make people forget that Blake Swihart is in AAA, hitting an even .350 for the season and will allow only one passed ball. However, he will only have 12 RBIs for the season because the bases are almost never occupied when he comes up.
Mookie Betts will demolish Joe Dimaggio's hit streak record of 56 games by hitting safely in the first 160 games of the season. His streak will be stopped on the second to last day of the season when Cleveland's Michael Bourn tracks down a surefire double into the right-center field gap. The end of the streak will send him into a funk throughout the playoffs, as he only registers one hit in the entire postseason. However, that hit will be a 12th inning walk-off homer against the Cincinnati Reds in game six of the World Series. The ball will soar into the October night and carom off the Carlton Fisk foul pole as Betts waves it fair while dancing down the first base line, leading Peter Gammons to break out his famous, "Then all of a sudden the ball was suspended out there in the black of the morning like the Mystic River Bridge," line in a special piece for the Boston Globe celebrating the Red Sox World Series win.
And finally, hitting coach Chili Davis will come out of retirement for one day and rip a grand slam homer in the bottom of the ninth inning to lead the Red Sox past the Rays on Sept. 21. He will promptly retire the next day and go back to coaching hitting, saying he just wanted to show Pedroia that  anyone can hit homers.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Where were you 29 years ago?

Most of what I write about in my work days is sports related, but today I am taking a trip back in time, back 29 years ago to Jan. 28, 1986.
Back then, I was a kid, not the old man I have grown into now. I was a student at E.G. Sherburne School in Pelham, NH. A testament to how long ago that was is the simple fact that the school doesn't exist anymore. The building converted to other uses years ago.
Jan. 28, 1986 started out as a day for celebration, particularly for the state of New Hampshire. It was the day that New Hampshire teacher Christa McAuliffe was boarding the space shuttle and heading into space. Much had been made of Christa winning the chance to become the first teacher in space and the buildup was fantastic across the state of New Hampshire. As home to the first American in space, Alan Shepard, New Hampshire had a pre-existing connection to the space program, but this was something new. This was a new generation of individuals getting inthralled at the idea of the space program and the possibilities that it presented.
As students in New Hampshire, we'd done numerous projects on Christa McAuliffe's exciting opportunity and Jan. 28, 1986 was the day that we were going to get to see this opportunity reach its zenith.
Nowadays, there are televisions in every classroom, or at least it seems that way. Movie presentations and the like are the norm. Back in 1986, this was not normal. Getting to watch television in school was a special treat.
The fourth grade at EG Sherburne School was in a pod sort of style. There was one big room divided into three rooms and then (for some reason) a fourth room that was separated by cement walls. The fourth graders all gathered in one of the "rooms"  (it wasn't my room) with the television at the front so that we could witness history. This was much the same for other grades (or at least I think it was, the details of that are a little fuzzy).
I remember the excitement leading up to the launch of the Challenger in Florida. The broadcast showed the faces of Christa McAuliffe's parents watching from a safe distance away. As the shuttle shot up into the bright blue sky, the plumes of smoke billowing from its tank, it seemed as if all was right with the world, as if everything was going as planned.
But obviously, we all know that things didn't go as planned. Christa McAuliffe never made it into space. The Challenger exploded in midair shortly after takeoff, as bystanders watched in horror and thousands of kids across the state (and the country) watched from their school desks, really unsure as to what happened when that one single plume of smoke changed to numerous plumes out of a large explosion in the sky.
I remember the teachers ushering us back to our respective classes, unsure themselves what they had just witnessed, but obviously well aware that it was not good. They did their best to not let on that maybe they were as worried as we were.
Quite often on Jan. 28 I recount this story. I've written about it in my weekly sports column in the newspaper and on Facebook. But for some reason, this is one of the most vivid memories of my childhood. It spawned a major science project for me the very next year and always creeps back into my mind at the end of January.
I remember the names of Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Dick Scobee, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair and Michael Smith almost from memory. And I remember watching President Reagan on television that night, giving what has been classified as one of the most significant speeches of the 20th Century, addressing America through the television in lieu of his scheduled State of the Union address. His closing line, borrowed from a poem High Flight, "We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of Earth' to 'touch the face of God.'"
Some memories never escape you. I won't forget just where I was and what I was doing, the last time I saw them.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Championship ups and downs

Over the course of the 13 years or so that I've been walking the sidelines of local high school athletic contests in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, I've had the chance to cover more than my fair share of teams that have earned trips to the finals.
In fact, my very first season, back in Spring of 2001, I remember covering one of, if not the most dominating team I've ever covered, the Kennett girls' tennis team. That team just steamrolled everyone and I distinctly remember being at New Hampton School covering their championship match.
The stories that I get to write after those championship games are always the best. Usually it's easy to find a hook, a way to bring readers in to the story. There's usually plenty of great quotes and happy pictures with championship trophies make great front pages.
However, it's the stories on the other side of the championship games that are a bit harder to write. If the stories of the champions basically write themselves, the stories of the runners-up come across as incredibly stubborn. There's usually lots of tears in the photos and that is never a positive thing.
Probably one of the most memorable finals I covered that didn't go the way my readers would've hoped had to be the 2006 Class I baseball final, Jeff Locke's final high school game. The Kennett ace had been drafted by the Braves a few days earlier, but because his team needed him to go the complete game in the semifinals, he couldn't pitch in the finals. Despite a strong effort from Marcus Levin, Kennett dropped that game.
This past weekend I saw both ends of the spectrum from two teams that had eerily similar regular seasons and playoff runs.
On Saturday, it was the Prospect Mountain boys that battled for the championship. The Timber Wolves were undefeated on the regular season and pushed through the first three playoff games without giving up a single goal. It was only fitting that the teams had to go to penalty kicks to determine a winner. And the Timber Wolves picked up their first-ever soccer championship. That story practically wrote itself, though I will admit that I spent a good chunk of the car ride back from Manchester trying to figure out which angle to open with. But once I got that down, the story flowed easily.
On Sunday, it was the Woodsville soccer girls in the championship game. The Engineers had allowed just two goals all season long, both in the same game. They had 15 regular season shutouts and four more shutouts in the playoffs. But Derryfield dominated the scoring chances and walked off the field with the 5-1 win.
That story was a bit harder, but it was also made harder by the fact that I hadn't been covering the Woodsville team throughout the season. I picked them up in the playoffs after our Littleton reporter left, so I didn't have the connections that I had to the PMHS squad, particularly given that I've covered Prospect since it opened.
I give credit where credit is due as well. Woodsville coach Ann Loud was maybe the easiest coach to talk to after a crushing end to a season that I've ever had to talk with. She was upbeat and positive, though I know there must have been part of her that was just ready to get off the field and put the game behind her.
Whenever there is a chance that a team I cover can win a championship, I am always rooting for them, because, it's just much easier to write the story that way. But either way, the story has to be told and I will tell it.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Joshua Spaulding: Travel Agent

When I booked the trip to Russia to cover the Olympics, I made the decision to go through a travel agent. I gave her the time I needed to arrive, the time I needed to head out and told her to see what she could find.
She did a fantastic job and despite the fact that seemingly everyone in the world was flying to Sochi around that time, she got me in when I needed to be in and out when I needed to be out. There were a few long layovers, but when flying internationally, I always expect that to be the case. And in the weeks leading up to my departure, a couple of the flights had minor time changes. However, once the trip began, there was not one single delay. Every flight left on time and arrived either on time or early.
Just a few weeks before I had to leave for Russia, I flew to California for a Survivor event. I had four flights and of those four flights, three of them were delayed and/or cancelled. In fact, one of my return flights was cancelled before I even took off on the flight out. I had to rebook tickets through a different city and then got delayed in said city (Philly) on the way back and arrived a number of hours later than I should have.
Earlier this summer, I flew to Nashville for the bass fishing high school championships. Again, there were two flights in each direction, so four flights total. Once again, three of them were delayed and/or cancelled. In fact, I had to stay overnight in Manchester because my Tuesday flight was cancelled and I had to take off 12 hours later on Wednesday morning and I arrived in Nashville 12 hours later than planned. For the return flight, I got into BWI as planned, but my flight from there to Manchester was delayed by three hours. Instead of landing in Manchester at 9:30-10 p.m., I arrived at 12:30-1 p.m.
Flash forward to this past week.
I bought a ticket for another Survivor event in New York City. Instead of flying the relatively short distance, I decided to take the train from Boston's South Station. I booked an 11:15 a.m. departure on Wednesday and my return train was slated for 2:40 a.m. on Thursday. On Wednesday morning, I decided I didn't want to deal with parking in Boston, so I bought a bus ticket and drove to Dover and rode the C&J Trailways bus to South Station. The bus arrived about 15 minutes late, which wasn't too bad since I had left myself some wiggle room.
However, the train was a whole other story. It was supposed to be in New York City at 3:19 p.m. but somewhere between Providence and NYC, we stopped on the track for what seemed like an eternity. I have no idea what the issue is, but by the time we pulled into Penn Station we were 55 minutes late. I had hoped to at least see one or two things before a planned dinner with other folks attending the show, but that didn't happen.
I figured I had to be due for a good return trip, since I'd had such miserable luck, but I was a bit mistaken. The train left a few minutes late from NYC, but we still arrived back in Boston on time and I was ready to catch the 9 a.m. bus from Boston to Dover. The bus pulled up to let off passengers coming south and immediately they summoned security. A woman got off the bus, talked to the officials and the police and then left. A guy got off the bus and had a bit of a longer wait, as police and bus company officials talked to him. From the gist of what I heard, it seems like he was exposing himself to the woman during the bus ride from NH.
So, we had yet another delay and by the time we went to Logan and had to switch buses again (because our return bus couldn't make it to South Station due to traffic), we left Boston 40 minutes late. However, the driver was able to make up some of that time and we got into Dover only 15 minutes later than scheduled.
So, the moral of the story: Don't use me as your travel agent. Hire a professional.

Friday, August 29, 2014

And so it begins...

The summer has traditionally been my "easy" time. Like school kids themselves, I often look forward to summer as a chance to take a break, to relax and maybe not work quite as much. While I don't go on vacation or anything, I do see it as a break in the action, a chance to catch my breath and maybe work 40 hours a week instead of 60 or 70 or 80.
My schedule revolves mostly around the whims of high schools. Being as most of the coverage I do is high school sports, I will start full-tilt to the ground with games the final week of August and with the exception of a few weeks around Thanksgiving, a few days around Christmas and New Year's and a few weeks in March, I am constantly on the move until June rolls around.
And that's all just fine. That's part of the job. I know there are much worse things I could be doing for a living. Watching sports and writing stories is pretty darn easy on the list of jobs that people can do. While I may complain a time or two about being tired, I try to restrict those complaints as much as possible.
But for me, summer was always that saving grace. Sure, there were tournaments to cover for Cal Ripken and Babe Ruth, but for the most part, I could count on having many afternoons off during the summer months. That seemed to change this year and though I don't know why, I don't know if I like that change. This summer was by far the busiest summer I've had since I started doing this job in 2003. It seemed I was always on the go, always off to one event or another. I can't put a finger on to why this summer seemed so much busier than previous ones, but it most certainly was.
Now, as the end of August has rolled around, I'm looking at a schedule with every afternoon blocked off with some sort of contest, be it football, soccer, volleyball, golf, cross country or field hockey.
That presents me with my real problem, which is the fact that the fall is also the traditional start of the television season, when new shows crop up and returning shows pop back onto the schedule. I know the television world has changed in the last few years and there are shows that I watched throughout this summer (Under the Dome, Royal Pains, Taxi Brooklyn), but for a television junkie like me, September is the big time.
So of course, the busiest time in the television world has to come at the busiest time in my work life. Thank goodness for the DVR.
This season I am saying goodbye to three shows that have been part of my life for a number of years. Parenthood, Glee and Parks and Recreation are all signing off at the end of their upcoming seasons and while I am sad to see them go, I think it will be a welcome respite for me. My problem is that once I get invested in a show, I stick with it, right to the end (which might explain why I'm the only person in the world still watching Glee as it prepares for its sixth and final season).
In addition to those three shows (two of which aren't coming back until midseason), Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, The Blacklist, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, New Girl, Modern Family, The Middle, Revenge, Nashville, Hart of Dixie and The Amazing Race are all returning this season and most of them get started at some point in September. I've already started glancing over the grid trying to figure out what to watch and how to keep myself on schedule.
Of course, that list above doesn't include my favorite show, Survivor, which is the one show that I will always watch before I go to bed on the day it airs, no matter how late I get home or how early I have to get up.
The crop of new shows looks intriguing, but I am trying not to get too bogged down in new shows. I may try Scorpion and Stalker, the latter of which I am guessing comes from my relationship with Taylor Swift, but I can't be 100 percent sure.
Whatever the case may be, if you see me out and about in the next few months and I look like one of the main characters from the Walking Dead, you might be able to figure out why. And if there's a volleyball or football or the like hurtling toward my head and I still remain oblivious, I hope you at least pull out your camera and record it for posterity sake.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Deadline Day

I spent Thursday morning driving to southern Connecticut for a softball tournament. When I finally got where I was going, I took out the iPad just in time to find out that the Red Sox had traded Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes to Oakland for Yoenis Cespedes.
I found it kind of ironic that I was at a softball tournament when I found out this news. In the fateful summer of 2004, when Theo Epstein sent Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs and helped to engineer an impressive run that ended in the happiest moment of most Red Sox fans' lives, I was also at a softball tournament. I remember it distinctly because I was telling someone in vicinity of the dugout and one of the players absolutely lost it. Nomar was her favorite player and it was not a welcome trade in her mind.
All day yesterday I kept up on the latest news. When I was in my car I had MLB Network Radio on, listening to the latest news and rumors. I also had my iPad and continually checked Twitter for updates from the local Boston beat writers, guys like Peter Abraham, Nick Cafardo and Gordon Edes.
I listened to trade deadline talk the entire four-hour ride back to New Hampshire, switching to WEEI once I got into range and I still am not sure what to make of the whole day, from a Red Sox standpoint.
I was not thrilled to see Jon Lester go. I admired him for all that he had been through and all he had overcome to become one of the best pitchers in the game. His toughness and attitude made him the perfect big-game pitcher and he had proven he can cut it in Boston, unlike other players who have come along the last few years. However, I drew a little comfort from the fact that they didn't send him packing for a couple of prospects. In Cespedes, they have the power hitter they've lacked all season.
Then came the news that John Lackey was heading to St. Louis for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly, again, not a package of prospects but proven Major League talent. It was mind-boggling that teams in contention for playoff spots were shedding talent in order to bring in other talent.
The Andrew Miller trade was also a bit disappointing, but they got decent value for him and he gets the chance to pitch for a competitor. The Stephen Drew trade came completely out of left field, but was not an unwelcome development.
As for assessing the damage, I think for a team that was in "sell" mode, the Red Sox did pretty darn good. Obviously nobody wants to be in the position of selling off assets at the trade deadline, but it was apparent nothing was coming of the season. Other teams valued players the Sox had and were willing to make deals that would also benefit the Sox. In acquiring three Major League players, the Red Sox have begun setting themselves up for next season. In sending Drew to New York, they've also opened the shortstop door for Xander Bogaerts, thus opening the third base door for Will Middlebrooks, giving him a chance to prove himself. They've also left plenty of spots in the rotation, where guys like Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Brandon Workman and Anthony Ranaudo will be given a few months to prove they belong in the big leagues.
I've loved everything that I've seen out of Christian Vasquez and my hope is that the others will not disappoint. Webster hasn't impressed me much, but both Workman and De La Rosa have had moments of brilliance (and they've also both had moments of disaster). While I don't think Jackie Bradley Jr. is a suitable replacement for Jacoby Ellsbury in the lineup, I do believe he may be the best defensive centerfielder the Sox have had in a long time.
The indication that I got from the deals made by Ben Cherington on Thursday is that the Sox will not be in a long rebuilding process. They intend to compete next year and they now have a few of the bats to do so. They believe pitching will be available on the free agent market this winter (including Lester and Miller) and the team will be competitive again in 2015. If all the talent had left the Sox for a string of prospects, I would be of the impression that 2015 was slated to be a down year, a rebuilding process. That is not the case.
Bottom line, I'm sad to see Lester go, but I think, given the circumstances around everything, the Red Sox did what they had to do to set things in motion for next year. In the meantime, we get to see if that touted farm system has done its job.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Fun with Southwest...

I don’t fly a lot. But in the past year or so, I’ve done more than my fair share.
And there’s been some positive and some negative experiences in that time. Of course, the most positive experience had to be the longest of the flights, the flight from Boston that took me to the Olympics. I flew from Boston to Paris, Paris to Moscow and Moscow to Sochi and there was not one single delay. Every flight was either on time or early. Keep in mind there were hundreds if not thousands of athletes, media members, coaches and spectators making their way to Russia for the Games.  This boggled my mind for a few reasons.
First and foremost, just a week before I left for Russia, I made a quick trip to Los Angeles for a Survivor event. That flight had me going from Manchester to Chicago, Chicago to Los Angeles and back the same route. Before I even left Manchester, the flight back from LA was cancelled due to anticipated weather. Then the flight out of Chicago coming back was cancelled. And then my fight from Chicago to LA was delayed by an hour. So out of the four flights I needed to get back and forth across the country, three were either cancelled or delayed. I ended up changing my flight, sending me through Philadelphia, where I ended up waiting a few hours.
Then came this weekend.  And this weekend topped it all. It was the most unpleasant travel experience I’ve ever had. Yes, I haven’t traveled much, but this was just ridiculous.
My plan was to fly to Nashville on Tuesday afternoon/evening and drive to Paris, Tenn. to cover Cody Symonds and Wyatt Stockman in the national bass fishing high school championships. I was planning on seeing them on Wednesday and Thursday before heading back to Nashville on Thursday afternoon and flying out on Friday afternoon after spending some time in the city on Friday.
As I made my way to the airport on Tuesday, I got a text message from Southwest that my flight from Manchester was delayed by a half-hour. As I got closer, there was a message that it was delayed by two hours, meaning I would not be able to make my connecting flight at BWI that evening.
I called the hotel in Tennessee and the gentleman I spoke with was able to refund one night of my stay, which surprised me. I used that money to get a hotel in Manchester for Tuesday night, since the next chance to get to Nashville came on Wednesday morning at 5:30 a.m. That also meant that I would miss the launch on the first day of competition for the tournament, which pissed me off.
However, I was at the airport bright and early on Wednesday morning and through a connecting flight in Chicago, I was able to get to Nashville about 12 hours behind schedule. I got in the rental car and hauled it to Paris to catch the weigh-in for the first day.
After seeing the kids off on the second day and then seeing them back in, I made my way back to Nashville and did a little sightseeing on Thursday night and Friday morning. I then made my way to the Nashville airport for the return flight.
Before I had even checked in at the gate for my flight from Nashville to BWI, I had a text message saying that the flight from BWI to Manchester was delayed to 12 a.m. After double-checking that with the ticket agent (yes, the three-hour delay was correct), I boarded the flight to BWI only to find I was sitting in front of three or four kids who didn’t shut up the entire flight. I had my iPod as loud as my ears could take and I could still hear them. But that’s a story for another day.
I got to BWI and checked at the gate. The agent put me on standby for a flight leaving at that moment, but at the far end of the terminal. I went as fast as my out-of-shape legs could carry me, but I got there just as the door closed and the jetway pulled away. I then tried getting on standby for a 10 p.m. flight to no avail. So here I sit, still waiting on my flight when I should be landing in Manchester and heading home.
And to think, I have the Granite Kid Triathlon tomorrow morning. At this rate, I may make it just in time.