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ON THE ASTOUNDING RED SOX COLLAPSE & OTHER SEPTEMBER STORIES

[most of this post originally appeared on booktrib.com]
I hadn’t been to Fenway Park in over a decade and on Wednesday September 14th I made my first visit ever to the Fenway press box.

As usual I was wearing many hats when it comes to loving and writing about baseball. I am a board member of the College Baseball Foundation and I was covering for mlb.com the pre-game ceremony honoring Bosox manager TERRY FRANCONA’s recent induction into the College Baseball Hall of Fame.

As I expected Francona was running a relaxed clubhouse despite the team’s recent skid that left longtime Red Sox rooters expecting another late season collapse. DUSTIN PEDROIA’s little two-year old boy was merrily running around a room that was not as small as I thought it would be. It is still very cramped compared to the palatial clubhouses in the many new stadia throughout baseball.

During our brief chat Francona paid homage to his University of Arizona college coach JERRY KINDALL for teaching him “respect for people and respect for the game.” He joins both Kindall, who coached Arizona to three College World Series titles – 1976, 1980 (when Francona hit .458 and was CWS MVP) and 1986 - and Red Sox batting coach DAVE MAGADAN in the College Baseball Hall of Fame.
Magadan was an outstanding hitter for the University of Alabama. He was elected in 2010, a year before his manager and a subject for some good-natured ribbing between them.

Ground-breaking for the CBHofF is slated to begin next summer in Lubbock, Texas not far from the campus of Texas Tech University. The area has long been a hotbed of amateur baseball. A partial list of TTU players in the majors today includes Oakland A’s perfect game twirler of 2010 DALLAS BRADEN and White Sox pitcher ZACK STEWART. In prior years pitchers GREG MINTON and DONNIE MOORE and first baseman DOUG AULT also went to TTU.

HOW FRANCONA’S DEEP ROOTS IN THE GAME WILL SERVE HIM WELL:
Francona’s father TITO FRANCONA, a veteran of 15 years in the majors who hit .363 in 1959, still lives in Beaver County outside of Pittsburgh (“he’ll never leave,” his son told me).

Tutelage from both his dad and coach Kindall will undoubtedly serve Terry Francona well as he tries to steer the Red Sox through the increasingly choppy waters of late September. Having managed MICHAEL JORDAN during his minor league season of 1994 has also prepared him for dealing with media hordes that are always looking for controversy.

The Red Sox have had a strange year. They began the season 2-10 and then roared to the top of the division. Much was expected of them with the acquisitions of free agent left fielder CARL CRAWFORD (plucked from division rival Tampa Bay with the offer of a $142 million contract spread over six or seven years) and pitcher JOHN LACKEY the former Los Angeles Angel.

Both have been major disappointments – “the grass is not always greener on the other side” (artistically although of course it is financially) – and injuries to mainstay third baseman KEVIN YOUKILIS and starting pitcher CLAY BUCHHOLZ have left the Red Sox with some glaring holes. Both may be back for some of the final 10 games but how much they can contribute is questionable.

The remainder of the schedule clearly favors Boston with seven against the Orioles even if my boys this month have played much better and will have an incentive to beat one of their regular tormentors of recent years. Meanwhile Tampa plays seven with the Yankees and three with Toronto a dangerous team.

Yet baseball in September always is fascinating and unpredictable. Despite one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, Tampa on Sunday Sep 18 finished their season series with Boston by winning 6 out of their last 7 head-to-head meetings with the Bosox. They are still 2 games behind but on right on the doorstep of pulling off one of the great comebacks ever and fueling one of the great collapses ever by Boston.

They are doing it with a great farm system and a manager in JOE MADDON not afraid to use the rawest of rookies. Such as southpaw MATT MOORE who in his second appearance in MLB pitched three innings to hold the lead in Saturday’s 4-3 win over Boston.

On Sunday another rookie lefty JAKE MCGEE gave them a big boost and the win by pitching two and a third solid innings in relief of lefty ace DAVID PRICE who got hit near his collarbone by a line drive off the bat of MIKE AVILES. It was a scary moment but Price is a gamer and stayed in for another inning and a third before he was pulled for precautionary reasons.

With that kind of gutsy competitiveness and a roster that Maddon uses creatively, don’t ever count the Rays out despite the rational odds against them. True, they must face the Yankees 7 more times and dangerous often overlooked Toronto in 3 games in Tampa. Meanwhile Boston has those 7 with the Orioles and one last series with the Yankees who have not been playing very well now either but seem a lock to win the AL East.

However, youneverknow, youneverknow!

LOW ‘N’ FISH ‘N’ CHIPS: Random Thoughts on Recent Games
**A kudo to the Yankees YES network broadcaster KEN SINGLETON for noting that Baltimore’s dh VLADIMIR GUERRERO is closing in on JULIO FRANCO’S record for most hits by a Dominican major leaguer.

Franco retired with 2586 and after the Sunday game of Sep 18 Guerrero has 2576. Hope it gets them. [Note: Guerrero tied Franco on Sep 24 and has 4 games to establish himself as all-time Dominican hit leader.] While he has been a disappointment in Baltimore at the age of 36 and clearly in the twilight of his career, he still is enthusiastic about the game. On a team and organization that has been numbed by losing for over a decade, his smile and his joy in competing have been wonderful to see.

Not surprising that Singleton a great Oriole outfielder on the last truly contending Baltimore teams of the 1970s/early 1980s dug up that interesting item. Would that he could have been convinced to work for an organization that so deeply needs new and understanding blood.

Note Well – During EARL WEAVER’S heyday in Baltimore, they won 90 OR MORE GAMES 10 OUT OF 12 SEASONS.

That’s all for now – back to you at the end of the regular season when we should know who’s gonna make the playoffs.

ONCE AGAIN MY EARNEST PLEA TO PEOPLE IN MLB’S HIGHEST PLACES:
DON’T EXPAND THE POST-SEASON PLAYOFFS. LET SEPTEMBER BASEBALL PLAY OUT TO ITS UNIQUE ENDING EVERY SEASON! [Note: An unconfirmed report has both owners and players agreeing to additional wild card teams in each league starting in 2013. It still must be approved in the formal collective bargaining process.]

Remember: Take it easy but take it.
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