Tuesday, August 25, 2015

On the television... and the radio

So, the news broke today that longtime NESN play-by-play man Don Orsillo, who grew up just down the road from where I live today, was not returning for the 2016 Red Sox season. This came as a shock to most of the people in New England.
When Orsillo came around 15 years ago, he stepped into the shoes of a beloved local figure in Sean McDonough. There was a period of adjustment for Red Sox fans, but Orsillo's easy-going nature and his great sense of humor, along with his skills as a play-by-play guy, won over fans pretty quickly. He bonded with Jerry Remy, the longtime NESN analyst and over the last 15 years they have developed a fantastic give and take that makes watching Red Sox games easy, even when the team is in the tank, which sadly over the last few years has been more often than not.
Additionally, Orsillo has adjusted pretty well to curveballs thrown his way over the course of the last few years. When Remy was dealing with illness, Orsillo worked with many different partners and handled it incredibly well. When Remy took time off to deal with his son's legal issues, Orsillo again handled it beautifully. This is a tribute to his professionalism and his ability.
The word around social media (which as we know, is never wrong), is that Dave O'Brien, one of the WEEI radio voices of the Red Sox for the last few years, will be taking Orsillo's spot in the NESN booth. O'Brien has a long history in television and in fact, misses all Monday Red Sox games to call television games for ESPN, among his other duties.
Because I spend lots of time in my car and in the office (where there is no television), I end up listening to a lot of games on the radio (or on my iPad on the SiriusXM app). Dave O'Brien is absolutely fantastic, one of the most incredible play-by-play guys I've had the pleasure of listening to. He gets the description right on the money seemingly every time. When he takes the day off, the broadcast suffers, despite the best work of the always-fantastic Joe Castiglione. Lou Merloni is a competent sub as an analyst, but frequent substitute analyst Rob Bradford can't string together three sentences that make sense.
I believe Dave O'Brien will do a fantastic job on television, if that is indeed how things are going to go. I love Don Orsillo and will miss him, but I also love Dave O'Brien and respect his work, so I don't expect a drop-off in the NESN broadcasts.
However, the second play-by-play seat in the WEEI booth is what I am worried about, being as I listen a lot. With Joe Castiglione getting up there (unfortunately he won't be in the booth forever), I think WEEI needs to make sure that the person they hire to replace O'Brien is a proven play-by-play guy, not just someone who can offer analysis. One of the best things about the current radio broadcasts is that O'Brien and Castiglione split the games up, with each taking a few innings at a time, giving listeners analysis when they aren't doing the play-by-play.
While I'm sure Merloni would be able to handle the job, I wonder if he's up for leaving the comfort of a daily radio gig. And while I've never heard Merloni do play-by-play, I think he might be able to do it. I have no confidence in Bradford at all and my sincere hope is that he isn't even remotely considered for this position. Dale Arnold would be a great choice (and he's already working on the network), but like Merloni, wonder if he'd be up for leaving the comfort of a daily radio gig.
This will be an interesting offseason as Red Sox fans look to see just how next year's team will take shape (that's a topic for another day), but it will also be interesting to see how the alleged vacant seat in the WEEI booth is filled.
As long as they don't bring back Glenn Geffner (the fact that he was part of the broadcast team that called a Sox World Series win still bugs me), who was by far the worst full-time broadcaster I've heard on WEEI's Sox broadcast, I think they'll be OK. Oh, and yes, no Bradford either.

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.