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January 16, 2008
Boston's babes of summer get a taste of life in the bigs . . . in the winter
BY JOE McDONALD
Journal Sports Writer
NEWTON, Mass. — There was a time when professional baseball players didn’t do too much during the offseason, except maybe get a job. Over time athletes have made their respective sports their full-time jobs in order to excel to the highest levels possible where fame and fortune awaited.
In the past, spring training was used primarily to get in shape for the grueling season. But now players are required to arrive ready to go. Offseason programs continue to evolve, and now organizations — like the Red Sox — hold an offseason workout program.
More than ever, the offseason has become just as important as the 162-game schedule, especially for the Boston Red Sox.
The Sox begin their fourth offseason rookie development program on Jan. 7 and the two-week crash course for 12 of Boston’s top-level prospects ends tomorrow. This year’s participants include pitchers Clay Buchholz, Devern Hansack, Michael Bowden, Hunter Jones, Justin Masterson and Dustin Richards, along with catcher Dusty Brown, infielders Aaron Bates, Jed Lowrie, Chris Carter and outfielders Bubba Bell and Jonathan Van Every.
This program, in which only a few other major-league organizations provide for their rookies, works well for both the players and the team. Players get a first-hand experience of what it is like to a major leaguer, and the organization gets a first-hand look at the players’ work ethics in a controlled environment.
Call it The Boston Project.
“This is something that is fairly unique within the game,” said Red Sox director of player development Mike Hazen. “There are a few other teams that do this and we’ve adapted what we do from the Indians, who have been doing it for about 10 years. We’re not ashamed to say we’re trying to model some things after their player-development system and we’re trying to grow on it. I’m sure there will be other clubs that do it in the future.”
The main purpose of this offseason workout program is to ease the players’ transition from the
minors to the major leagues and minimize any and all possible distractions. These players are exposed to a mountain of information and the reality of what it is like to be a member of the Red Sox. The players are taught how to act on and off the field. They listen to speakers ranging from former and current Red Sox players to owners, management and media members.
Along with their regular twice-a-day workouts, these players participate in community events during their two-week stay and are able to receive a first-hand look at the environment.
These players are at an age, and point in their careers, where big-time baseball is just a line drive or strikeout away. Becoming a major-league player isn’t just about the game anymore because there is a ton of responsibility that comes with fame and fortune, especially in a large market like Boston or New York.
There are temptations around every corner and any player in their early 20s could fall victim to outside distractions that could end a promising career. So, along with this workout program the Red Sox have implemented, the organization has also asked local families to host these players and become their surrogate parents for two weeks.
Peter and Widgie Aldrich of Cambridge have been married almost 37 years and the couple has four children, with their youngest daughter graduating from college this year. All are lifelong Red Sox fans and feel this is a way to give back and help young men become better players and people.
Peter Aldrich, 63, is Harvard educated, worked in a the Peace Corp. during school and now is a self-described retired serial entrepreneur and he and his wife have been host parents since the Red Sox incorporated this program five years ago. He received an email about the program and contacted the team to offer his home and services.
“My wife and I love it,” said Aldrich. “We think it’s a wonderful way to meet these young men and support them. It’s really great fun. . . Not only am I old enough to be their father, but maybe even grandfather to some of these kids.”
The Red Sox have certain requirements for host families, including spacious living quarters so each player can have his own room and bathroom. The house must be located close to Fenway Park and the host families are also responsible for getting their “sons” to the workouts every morning and then picking them up at night, sometime just after 5 o’clock.
In the past the families would feed the players breakfast and then dinner later in the night, but now the players eat twice a day at the workout before heading to dinner with their host families. Each night the players will discuss their day with their hosts, like sitting down with a parent. Aldrich admits sometimes he’s had the daunting task of getting some players out of bed in the morning.
Having a bunch of 20-year-old pro athletes in a big city with thousands upon thousands of college females around could create problems for pro organizations and host families, but that’s not the case according to Aldrich. In his experience there has never been a problem, especially since the players have weekends off.
“I have to say I’m so impressed with the quality of the individuals,” he said. “It’s very truthful that this player-development organization has made it a very high priority to get men of character. There’s no one here that you wouldn’t want to have in your home. They’ve all been on good behavior. I haven’t seen any rowdiness or drunkenness, and I don’t think it’s because they are in Boston and need to be on their best behavior; they are genuinely disciplined guys and incredibly focused on their training and diets.
“I think the players and the organization can get a lot out of this,” added Aldrich. “I think everyone wins. . . It builds camaraderie amongst the players and it builds a set of expectations in them as to how the organization expects them to behave. It’s a great way for the organization to implant the culture in a very emphatic way.”
Currently, Buchholz and Lowrie are staying with the Aldrich family, but their roster of residents is an impressive one. Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Phil Seibel, Ken Perez, Mark Malaska and Adam Stern have all stayed with Aldrich’s.
“We’ve been lucky,” said Aldrich, who said he remains in contact with the players, even the ones who are no longer in the Red Sox organization or in baseball.
“I love it,” said Widgie Aldrich. “For us it’s kind of a transition time because our last kid graduates from college this year, so we have a chance to interact with other kids at a time when we don’t usually see ours. It’s nice. For some Boston is a surprise, it’s like nowhere they have ever been before and it takes some getting used to. They come in the winter when some of them really don’t have much experience with our climate. [This program] makes them less daunting when they find themselves at Fenway Park.”
Posted by Art Martone at 6:27 PM | Permalink
The Boston Red Sox just announced the official signing of Doug Mirabelli to a one-year contract extension.
A backup catcher, and personal batterymate for veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, Mirabelli will return for a his eighth season with the Red Sox. The 37-year-old hit .202 with five homers and 16 RBI in 48 games in 2007.
Posted by Joe McDonald at 5:12 PM | Permalink
Okajima in Tokyo hyping Sox-A's series; looks back on first season in Boston
TOKYO — Boston reliever Hideki Okajima is looking forward to starting the 2008 season on home soil — even though he’ll be thousands of miles from Fenway Park.
Okajima was in Tokyo on Wednesday promoting Boston’s season-opening series with Oakland at Tokyo Dome on March 25-26.
Okajima is no stranger to Tokyo Dome. He pitched there over 12 seasons in Japan professional baseball with the Yomiuri Giants and the Nippon Ham Fighters before leaving for the majors last year when he helped the Red Sox win the 2007 World Series.
''It’s great that Japanese fans will get to see the No. 1 team in the world,'' Okajima said. ''It will be a great experience for me and the other players as well.''
Lefty Okajima may be the lone Japanese pitcher for the Red Sox in the two-game series. Pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka might miss the series because his wife is expecting to deliver their second baby around that time.
The Red Sox and A’s also will play exhibition games against the two most popular teams in the Japan — the Hanshin Tigers and the Yomiuri Giants — on March 22-23 also at Tokyo Dome.
Boston and Oakland will be the third set of teams to open the regular season at the Tokyo Dome, following the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs (2000), and the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay (2004). A scheduled 2003 series between Oakland and Seattle at the Tokyo Dome was canceled because of the threat of war in Iraq.
Okajima was a pleasant surprise for the Red Sox last year, posting a 3-2 record with five saves and 2.22 ERA in his first season in the majors. He was added to the American League All-Star roster as the winner of an Internet vote by fans.
Okajima did have a late-season meltdown in which he allowed nine runs in seven outings. The MLB schedule is longer than the season in Japan, and Okajima found that tough in his first season.
''It was a long season with few holidays and a lot of travel,'' said Okajima. ''But the biggest problem for me in the first year was the communication problems and getting used to the food.”
Okajima’s major league career got off to a rough start. With his first pitch, he gave up a home run to Kansas City’s John Buck on April 2.
''After that ball went out, I said to myself 'Oh no!' '' Okajima said. ''My mind went blank. I went back to my hotel room that night and that’s when I realized the major leagues are no piece of cake.''
Posted by Art Martone at 11:27 AM | Permalink
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Will Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz' conditioning program help him go the distance this season? Also, find out what keeps the San Diego Chargers charging despite injuries to key players.
Posted by Rich Lee at 9:17 AM | Permalink