Saturday, October 30, 2004

"World Champion Boston Red Sox." Are there five more beautiful words in the English language?

I've had a few days to digest this now, and boy does it feel good. I'm getting used to the concept that we're not going to be let down, there's not going to be another Bill Buckner or Jim Burton. Although I've been around for Celtics and Patriots championships, this one has such a different feel to it. I feel like it's altered the way I look at the Sox, and that it will forever. We're no longer cursed and there's no need for the old "they'll find some way to screw it up" fatalism. They won. Maybe they'll win again sometime soon. With Theo and the front office they have in place, there's no reason why not.

On Thursday we had a Red Sox victory celebration at work. It was originally supposed to be a rally, but no one really expected the Sox to sweep the Cardinals! So there were refreshments and a trivia contest. I not only participated in the contest, I was also one of the multiple choice answers to a question! Here's the question:

Which Red Sox player hit a home run in the 8th inning of game 6 of the 1975 World Series to tie the game?

A) Dwight Evans
B) Bernie Carbo
C) Carlton Fisk
D) Capn Ho (it actually had my real name, but no names here, remember?)

I pointed out that I was only 11 years old when the Bernie hit the home run. It was a fun time.

Thursday was such a strange day. I had a very difficult time concentrating on work. All I wanted to do was check out accounts of the Sox victory on the Web and chat with people about the game. Needless to say, I wasn't at my most productive.

I went back and forth on what to do about going to the parade. I ended up wimping out, along with my friends Bismo and The Hey. After hearing the original plan for the parade, I was worried about bringing J. into those huge crowds and worried about getting into and out of the city. If it was just me, I probably would have taken the chance, but I couldn't leave A. with both kids (who had activities at the same time). As much as I would have liked to be there, I feel like I made the right decision.

That didn't stop me from dropping a wad of cash on Red Sox gear, though. T-shirts, sweatshirts and hats were purchased at the Sports Authority last night. I ended up going back today because they were out of the locker room caps. They had plenty today and I got one. I'm thinking I should have bought two - one to wear and one to keep, but I can always go back later.

It's been a great run, and a period of my life I'll always remember. I just hope it doesn't take another 86 years to get the next one!

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The curse is over.

The Red Sox swept the St. Louis Cardinals tonight, winning their first World Championship since 1918. The disappointments of 1946, '48, '49, '72, '74, '75, '78, '86 and 2003 are now a thing of the past.

The Sox followed up the greatest comeback ever over the Yankees in the ALCS with a crushing defeat of the Cardinals. The Cards never led in the series, and the Red Sox outplayed them in every facet of the game. The pitching was phenomenal, with Schilling, Pedro and Lowe giving up no runs in 20 innings and the incredible Keith Foulke, who gave up only one run and finished all four games. Manny Ramirez won the MVP.

My first reaction was elation, but it feels almost surreal. It's almost like I'm dreaming and I'm afraid to wake up. I'm so used to having baseball seasons end in disappointment, I'm having trouble figuring out how to act. I think it'll take a day or two for all this to sink in. But this is a day I've waited for all my life and it's just such an incredible feeling.

Congratulations, Red Sox! World Champions!!!!!

Monday, October 25, 2004

Game 2:

- My lifetime of conditioning as a Red Sox fan has made me absurdly nervous about blowing leads in big games. During Game 6 of the ALCS, I was having trouble breathing in the 8th and 9th innings. I felt like I had a 20 pound weight on my chest. Even with a 7 run lead in Game 7 and a 4 run lead last night, I kept waiting for something bad to happen. Fortunately, it never did.

- Although, my first reaction when A-Rod knocked the ball out of Arroyo's hand was, "NO!!! NOT AGAIN!!!" That was before I saw the replay, of course.

- Win or lose, Curt Schilling has injected himself into the pantheon of New England sports legends with his stitched up right ankle. It's unbelievable that he can pitch the way he has in Game 6 of the ALCS and again last night with a tendon that's fastened to other tissue in his foot so that it can't move around. When people think of great clutch performances for our local sports teams, names that will come to mind will include Russell, Bird, Orr, Brady, Vinatieri and Schilling, among others.

- What the heck has Mark Bellhorn been eating for breakfast the last few days? Big hits in each of the last four games, including a 2 run double last night. Whatever he's been eating, I want some.

- Guys who have made themselves a lot of money this postseason: Carlos Beltran and Derek Lowe. A guy who hasn't: Matt Morris. He's had a very poor playoff run for the Cards, and got battered around by the Sox again last night.

- If it were against a team other than the Red Sox, I could sit around all night and watch Larry Walker, Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds hit. What an incredible group to have in the middle of the lineup. Of course, I don't really want any of them to start hitting again until next spring.

- If I had to pick a Red Sox MVP for the entire playoffs so far, it would probably be Ortiz, but a very close second would be Keith Foulke. He's been untouchable in the postseason so far, and he just never seems to get tired. In fact, didn't Theo sign the three most important players in this run for the Sox: Ortiz, Foulke and Schilling?

- I keep thinking every night that this will be the game Manny breaks out and has a big game. Hasn't happened since the Angels series. Maybe tomorrow night.

- Pedro pitches his first ever World Series game tomorrow night. He's had an extra day's rest since the one inning stint in the ALCS, and he really should be pumped up for this. Also, being out of Yankee Stadium should help, too.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Thoughts on Game One:

- The number one thing I took from this game is that the Sox defense and starting pitching couldn't have been much worse and they still beat the Cardinals, 11-9. Wakefield's blow up (4 walks) in the 4th and the 4 errors, and the Cards still couldn't generate enough offense to overcome Ortiz, Bellhorn and the rest of the crew.

- Julian Tavarez certainly looked like he wanted to punch something after giving up Bellhorn's game winning homer in the last of the 8th. I guess after the NLCS phone punching incident, where he broke bones in his left hand, he thought better of it this time.

- The Sox offense is an order of magnitude better when Johnny Damon is getting on base.

- What the heck was Manny doing on that attempted sliding catch in the 8th? He tried to slide, somehow got his spikes caught in the turf, and dug up a divot that an 18 handicap duffer would have been proud of. Manny needs to be at least defensively adequate in this series. I was at least mildly surprised that we didn't see Dave Roberts in left joining the usual defensive team of Mientkiewicz, Pokey and Kapler in the late innings.

- Scalper prices for this World Series are completely out of hand. The Globe quoted prices of over $1,000 just to get in the place and up to $6,000 for seats behind the plate. It would actually be cheaper to buy a package from one of the travel agencies to fly to St. Louis and see a game than it would be to go to Fenway.

- Things were pretty calm after Game 1, in contrast to the deadly events following the ALCS win. Hopefully, the warnings from the city, the schools and concerned parents will keep the idiots and thugs off the streets and no one else will get hurt. What is it about a sports team winning a championship that makes people think it's an excuse for behaving like animals, anyways?

- Let the kids stay up late to watch a few innings last night, since it wasn't a school night. My thinking is this: if J. had been his current age the last time the Sox made the World Series, he would be 25 now. You never know when one of these is going to come around again, so I thought it was important that the kids catch a glimpse, at least. Keep in mind that the gaps between Red Sox World Series appearances since 1918 were 28, 21, 8, 11 and 18 years.

- Before we leave the Greatest Comeback Ever, I just wanted to save for posterity the David Letterman Top Ten List from Thursday night:

Top Ten Secrets to the Boston Red Sox Comeback presented by Curt Schilling
10. Unlike the first three games, we didn't leave early to beat the traffic.
9. We put flu virus in Jeter's Gatorade.
8. Lets just say Pete Rose made some phone calls for us.
7. We asked Pokey Reese to be a little less pokey.
6. It's not like we haven't won a big game before--it's just been 86 years.
5. Honestly, I think we were tired of hearing about the Patriots.
4. The messages of encouragement Martha sent on prison napkins.
3. We pretended the baseball was Letterman's head.
2. What'd you expect--we have a guy who looks like Jesus!
1. We got Babe Ruth's ghost a hooker and now everything's cool.

8 wins down, three to go!!!!

Thursday, October 21, 2004

World Series bound, baby!

Yes, the Red Sox defeat the Evil Empire (as Larry Lucchino said, "All empires eventually fall.") in the greatest comeback in baseball history. Going from down 3-0 after a brutal beating in game 3 to dancing on the Yankee Stadium lawn tonight.

This is such an unbelievable feeling to have finally beaten the Yankees after all the crushing defeats the Sox have taken at their hands. The Yankees trotted out Bucky "Bleeping" Dent to throw out the first pitch for tonight's game. Didn't work.

It's really late and I have to go to work in a few hours, so more tomorrow.

Go Sox!!!!!

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Well, who would have ever thought we’d be back in the Bronx?

30 teams before the Red Sox this year had gone down 3-0 in a seven game playoff series. 25 had gone on to be swept. After the beating the Sox had taken in Game 3, I was pretty sure it was over. No MLB team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit. I thought the Sox might win a game, but probably not get much further than that.

All that was before the events of the last two nights. Two extra inning games at Fenway, each taking more than five hours. Sterling work by the Red Sox bullpen, holding the mighty Yankees lineup at bay for inning after inning. And, of course, the two game winning hits by David Ortiz - a home run in game 4 and a single in game 5. No one has ever had a playoff like David Ortiz this year. He’s taken the team on his back and carried them all the way back to Yankee Stadium.

Now it’s game 6. Curt Schilling, remarkably, is back pitching, bad ankle and all. Thankfully, he looks like the 21 game winner we saw all year after 2 innings. We’re currently in the top of the third in a 0-0 tie. John Leiber looks much more vulnerable than he did in game 2, although he’s been bailed out by double plays in the 2nd and 3rd innings.

Win or lose tonight, it’s been amazing how this Red Sox team got up off the mat and fought back in two of the most incredible baseball games the old ballpark in the Fens has ever seen. But wouldn’t a game 7 in the Bronx be a great thing?

I’ve been neglecting the other playoff series, but the Astros and Cardinals hooked up in an classic last night, too. St. Louis Woody Williams and Houston’s Brandon Backe had dueling shutouts until the 9th, when Jeff Kent hit a 3-run, walk-off home run off the Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen. Even though the game started three hours later than the Sox-Yankees, it only finished about 20 minutes later.

Schilling got through the third, a ground rule double by Miguel Cairo being rendered harmless after Jeter popped to center.

One other thing I did this weekend was to finally get around to watching Star Wars on DVD. It really looks and sounds fabulous; as good as any DVD I have in my collection. I had to do a little work to get it working, though; I discovered my right rear surround speaker had come unhooked and I had to get behind the entertainment center to fix it.

Of course, these disks are the “special editions” that George Lucas put out in the late ‘90s. Lucas made a number of alterations to the movies, and the most were done to Episode IV. I don’t really have much objection to most of them. There’s a scene with Han Solo and Jabba the Hutt that was cut from the original movie. The human actor who played Jabba originally was replaced with a CGI Jabba for the theatrical release, and the scene has been reworked again with a better looking Jabba for the DVD release. Another scene added was between Biggs and Luke Skywalker before the battle with the Death Star. Most of the rest of the changes are alterations to background scenes and reworking some special effects.

Then there’s the really objectionable scene. George Lucas decided that a hero like Han Solo wouldn’t shoot first, as he did when he gunned down Greedo in the cantina bar in the original movie. It was a very effective scene, as we saw the evolution of Han during the three movies from heartless mercenary to hero of the Rebel Alliance.

The reworked scene has Greedo shooting first (actually, they fire almost simultaneously) and inexplicably missing Han from about three feet away. It really ruins the power of the scene, and the journey for Han’s character throughout the three movies.

OK, this is really bizarre. Bellhorn hit what looked to be a three run homer in the top of the 4th. The replays clearly showed it hitting a fan and bouncing back onto the field of play. The left field ump somehow called the ball in play! Fortunately, the umpires congregated and decided that the ball did, in fact, go over the fence. 4-0 Sox in the 4th!

Sunday, October 17, 2004

I never thought it would end like this.

We all thought the Red Sox would have had a pretty good chance of beating the Yankees in the ALCS this year. After all, the Sox had gotten better with the additions of Keith Foulke and Curt Schilling, and the Yankees pitching had gotten worse with the loss of Clemens and Pettitte over the offseason. Even the additions of A-Rod and Gary Sheffield shouldn’t offset it. After all, don’t pitching and defense win in the postseason?

Now the Sox stand on the brink of elimination. Down 3-0 in games, and down 2-0 in the 3rd inning of game 4, The Red Sox have virtually no chance of beating the Yankees now. Even if they should manage to rally and win this game, no team in the history of baseball has ever overcome a 3-0 deficit. The injury to Schilling in game 1, the unbelievable pitching of Leiber in game 2 and the brutal 19-8 beating in game 3 have combined to push the Red Sox to the brink.

Going down without even a win is very disappointing. After the sweep over the Angels, it looked like anything was possible for this team. Now it looks like 2004 is going to end the same way the last 86 years have ended; with Red Sox Nation watching someone else celebrating after the last game of the season.

I said to A. after last night’s loss, “Do you think I’ll ever see the Red Sox win a World Series? I’ve probably only got 30 or 40 more chances left.” If that’s not putting your mortality in perspective, I don’t know what is...

It’s been a tough couple of weeks. The collapse of the Pittsfield baseball opportunity, a really tough, frustrating couple of weeks at work and now the demise of the Red Sox at the hands of the Evil Empire have got me pretty down.

Fortunately, there are a few rays of sunshine. The Pats won their 20th in a row, beating a pretty good Seattle team. We had J.’s 7th birthday party today at a sports training place nearby. The kids had a great time and it was fun to watch them run around. My parents came north for a Bat Mitzvah next weekend, and drove up a few days early to attend the party, so it was a nice bonus to have them around. J. also got some pretty cool presents, including a Lego version of Hagrid’s house from Harry Potter. There’s nothing quite like having your own Lego Hagrid.

R. always has an interesting take on things. She was trying to figure out how I could be a grown-up and a kid (with my parents around). A. made the point that I am sort of a kid in a grown-ups body, but that’s a different discussion.

As if I’m not miserable enough, Fox just ran the Aaron Boone home run from last year. Talk about rubbing salt in the wounds.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Game 3 gets postponed due to rain, much like last year's Game 4 (check out my October 12, 2003 blog for the story - the link brings you back to last October's entries.) So we wait another day to see if the Sox can get back on track at Fenway and make this into a series again. I really think they almost have to sweep the three games at home. Even if they win 2 out of 3, it doesn't seem likely that they can sweep the last two games back in the Bronx.

Derek Lowe has suddenly gone from forgotten man in the bullpen to the focal point in the series in the wake of Curt Schilling's ankle injury. Assuming the Sox get to Game 5, Lowe will be starting in Shilling's place and how he does will go a long way toward deciding the Red Sox fate this year.

If the Sox are destined to lose, I really hope they just get it over with in 5 or 6 games (no sweeps, though!) and not put us through some mind-twisting loss like last year. Not that I'm conceding anything to the Yankees, but I just can't take another loss like that.

One good thing about the rainout was that I got to watch some of the stuff that I've Tivo'd and haven't gotten a chance to watch because of the games. I've been watching this show from the INHD channel called "Cathedrals of the Game", where they tour various major league ballparks. The one I watched tonight was about the brand new Citizen's Bank Park in Philadelphia. What a beautiful place. I'd really like to get there next year, maybe even when the Sox are playing the Phillies in June. A. suggested that I take J. with me, and he might really be ready for an adventure like that.

Brian McGrory's column in today's Boston Globe concerned the concept that Yankee fans are stupid. McGrory cited some funny examples, but this is the thing that struck me the most:

"True story: I'm standing outside the stadium wearing a Red Sox cap at the end of Wednesday night's loss. A guy in full Yankee regalia sidles up and says: ''I know how you feel. I was a Mets fan until the 2000 World Series," the one where the Yankees beat the Mets as a nation slept. ''The next year, we switched over to the Yankees. Why make it hard on my young son?" "

This is such a foreign concept to me. If you are a true baseball fan, how do you just switch teams? I can no more imagine not being a Red Sox fan than I can imagine not being male. It seems like it's just ingrained into my DNA at this point. The only possible justification for switching teams that I can see might be if your team moves out of town.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

I’m writing this while watching Game 2 of the ALCS, but first a few comments on Game 1.

It was obvious right from the get-go that there was something wrong with Curt Schilling last night. He was cuffed around by the Yankees in his worst-ever postseason start. There’s a problem with his ankle, and he may not be able to pitch the rest of the series. The Sox are going to have a tough time beating the Yankees without their ace.

Even with Schilling’s bad start, the Red Sox nearly overcame an 8-0 deficit, rallying to within a run in the 8th before going down 10-7. The remarkable thing was how quickly Mike Mussina unraveled in the 7th. Mussina had gone 6 1/3 perfect innings, looking like he was channeling Don Larsen out on the Yankee Stadium mound. Then he gave up a double to Bellhorn and the floodgates opened. Mussina gave up four runs and only got one more out before he left the game.

Now in game 2, the Sox are down 1-0 in the last of the 4th. Pedro is pitching pretty well, although far from dominating. John Leiber looks great for the Yankees, giving up only one hit so far, but I think the Red Sox can get to him eventually.

We have an open house at the kids school tomorrow night. It should be fun. I’m looking forward to seeing what they’re up to in school.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Well, that was quite a weekend.

It was kicked off, of course, by the historic Red Sox victory over the Angels Friday night. I'll admit to being a bit queasy after Vladimir Guererro hit that grand slam to tie the game at six. Mike Timlin, who had previously been invincible for the Sox in the postseason, gave up the bomb that tied the score, after Bronson Arroyo had left in the 7th with a 6-1 lead. Of course, it ended with all of New England jumping up and down as David Ortiz hit one over the Monster to win the game.

A. had called me earlier in the day to see what we wanted to do for dinner. I suggested pizza. A. said she was thinking we might go out. I said, "OK, as long as it's somewhere I can see a TV." We had pizza...

Saturday evening we went to Cambridge for a friend's birthday party. It was pretty nice. Lots of good Chinese food and I got to spend some time with some of A's friends and their husbands. We were naturally talking about the Sox and one guy was acting WAY too confident that Boston was going to win the World Series. My first thought was, "This guy isn't from here." I was right! He grew up on Long Island and only became a Sox fan when he moved to Boston. He hadn't lived through 1972 (Aparicio falls down - Sox lose to Detroit by 1/2 game), 1974 (Sox collapse in September), 1975 (Jim Burton instead of Jim Willoughby?), 1978 (Bucky Bleeping Dent) and 1986 (Buckner). He remembers last year (in fact, he was at Yankee Stadium), but doesn't have the decades of disappointment built into his DNA. As much as I want to see the Red Sox finally win it all, I just can't let myself get my hopes built up that high.

In another sign the kids are growing up, we sold the train table we bought a few years ago and got an air hockey table. We tried ordering one through the Web, but it came damaged so we're sending it back and I went to Sports Authority to buy one. It's pretty nice and the kids are having a great time with it. I am, too, actually.

Today we had another birthday party, this time a surprise party for my good friend The Hey. Several close friends were there and we got to sit, talk and eat for quite a while as the kids ran around like maniacs and we waited for The Hey to get back from the movie his wife had sent him off to. It was so much fun I didn't even mind the fact that his present, the new book Patriot Reign, accidentally got a bit wet in the bag we were carrying it in and I had to run out to get another copy. I'm just keeping the wet one.

Speaking of the Pats, congratulations on them beating Miami for their 19th win in a row, a feat never before accomplished by an NFL team. It's amazing that our once sad sack Patsies are now the leading power in the NFL. Go Pats, and I'll start paying a lot more attention once the baseball playoffs are over!

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Do you think there are network executives at Fox who get down on their knees and pray each night for a Red Sox-Yankees ALCS? Just wondering.

Another win in Anaheim for the Olde Towne Team. Last night the good Pedro showed up and he did a nice job keeping the Angels in check until the offense could score some runs. I was worried about this one at the start. The Sox loaded the bases twice against Bartolo Colon in the first two innings and only came away with one run. Mark Bellhorn could have ended up wearing the goat horns if this game had gone the other way, as he was caught napping on second base with two out, the bases loaded and Ortiz at the plate. David Eckstein snuck in behind Bellhorn and catcher Jose Molina fired a strike to catch Bellhorn before he could scramble back to the base.

Unfortunately, I missed most of the middle innings. With the 10PM start I passed out on the couch sometime in the 4th inning with the score 1-1 and woke up in the 9th with the score 8-3. I did catch a great new NESN innovation this morning before work though. They played every hit, out and other important play (like Francisco Rodriguez’s wild pitch), so you could see all the important points of the game in about 10 minutes.

The Sox really broke it open against the vaunted Angels bullpen. They scored 5 runs against K-Rod and Brendan Donnelly last night, blowing open what had been a close game when Colon left. The Boston bullpen, on the other hand, has only allowed one baserunner in four innings so far in the series.

So, the Sox go home to Fenway up 2-0. Being a Red Sox fan, however, I’m taking nothing for granted. Tomorrow nights game features Bronson Arroyo’s first post-season start against Kelvim Escobar. Arroyo is typically pretty unflappable, but it’ll be interesting to see how he reacts to the October spotlight.

The Yanks barely avoided going into a 2-0 hole last night. The Twins took a 6-5 lead into the bottom of the 12th, courtesy of a Torii Hunter homer. Joe Nathan, the Twins closer, came out for his third inning of work and promptly couldn’t get the ball over the plate. He walked two, and then A-Rod hit a ground rule double to tie the game. Nathan was replaced and Hideki Matsui hit a sac fly, scoring Jeter to win the game for the Yankees.

Now here’s what I don’t understand. Nathan hasn’t pitched more than two innings all year. He’s never pitched three innings in his entire career. The Twins manager, Ron Gardenhire, had no one warming up in the bullpen. Gardenhire claimed that Nathan was his best choice, but wouldn’t it make sense to have someone ready in case Nathan started to tire? And what makes managers think that players can do things in the playoffs that they haven’t done all season? Of course, a manager leaving a pitcher in too long during a playoff game in Yankee Stadium is something of a familiar sight around Red Sox Nation.

I’m really looking forward to the weekend. It’s been a busy week, with the Wahconah Park situation and quarter end at work. I’m writing this from the 8:25 commuter rail train, since I didn’t get everything I needed to do finished until around 7:30. I had anticipated that this would be one of the two worst days of the quarter close - next Tuesday should be bad, too. It’s good to see that I can still pick ‘em.

The weekend is pretty full with the usual events. Soccer, swimming and Sunday School will keep the kids busy. We have a birthday party (for grown-ups!) on Saturday night which should be fun. The weather for Saturday isn’t looking too good, so I might take the kids to see Shark’s Tale in the afternoon. The reviews haven’t been too good, but the kids will probably enjoy it and it would be fun to take them out for a couple of hours. I’ve really been wanting to see Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow, but I haven’t had the time since it came out. Maybe I can squeeze it in next weekend one night after the kids go to bed.

Go Sox!!!

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

First, the bad news. I got the following email from Chip Elitzer today.

For immediate release:

     My partners and I announce regretfully that we have withdrawn our plan to renovate Wahconah Park and bring professional baseball back to Pittsfield, MA.  It is clear that we no longer have the necessary support of the City officials who on January 13, 2004 invited us to return with a proposal we had originally made in 2001, a proposal that was substantially improved by our current
     We don’t want to stand in the way of other opportunities for the City regarding baseball, and we will ask both independent leagues to consider favorably any other Wahconah-based proposals which may come their way.

Jim Bouton
Wahconah Park, Inc.

Needless to say, I’m disappointed. I had really been looking forward to having this team in Pittsfield, and now the chance is gone. I’m angry that it’s gone because of shortsighted politicians who wouldn’t know a gift horse if it came up and bit them in the ass.

The most positive thing that came out of this was getting to meet and work with Chip and Jim Bouton. I won’t repeat what I said in yesterday’s blog, but it was an honor and a privilege to be involved in their attempt to do something great out in the Berkshires.

OK, on to the fun stuff, like yesterday’s thrashing of the Anaheim Angels by the Red Sox. The Sox took the first game of the ALDS 9-3 behind strong pitching by Curt Schilling, Alan Embree and Mike Timlin. Embree and Timlin took up right where they left off in last year’s playoffs, pitching 2 1/3 scoreless innings between them. Schilling didn’t have his best stuff, but he was as good as he needed to be. His teammates staked him to an eight run lead in the 4th on the strength of home runs by Millar and Manny, all aided by a Chone Figgins error. The error led to four unearned runs out of the seven scored in the inning.

Pedro goes tonight for the Sox, and it’ll be interesting to see how he does. Pedro, of course, has lost his last four starts, the first time he’s lost four in a row in one season in his career. I think if he has a good outing and wins the game, it will go a long way toward bringing back a bit of the old Pedro swagger. It would also give the Sox a 2-0 lead in the series heading back to Fenway. Bartolo Colon goes for the Angels. Colon historically hasn’t done well against the Red Sox, and Pedro only has one lifetime loss to the Angels. The only problem is that the game doesn’t start until 10 PM eastern, so it’ll be a late night.

Game 1 between the Yankees and the Twins was actually a more compelling game than the Sox game. Johan Santana, who the Elias Sports Bureau has declared had the best second half of any pitcher ever, started against Mike Mussina in the Bronx. Santana hardly looked invincible as he gave up nine hits in seven innings. The Twins defense constantly bailed him out, though, as the Twins turned five double plays. I stayed up later than I really wanted to last night watching this game, since it appeared that the Yankees could go out and put a big crooked number on the scoreboard at any moment. However, the Twins bullpen kept them in check, aided by a brilliant leaping grab of a potential A-Rod home run by Torii Hunter in the 8th. The Twins ended up winning 2-0.

The Empire goes into game two rolling Jon Lieber out there against Brad Radke. Remember the days when the Yankees game two pitcher would be someone like Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, David Wells or David Cone? No more. With El Duque hurt and Vazquez and Kevin Brown inconsistent, Lieber appears to be the next most reliable pitcher on the staff. If the Yankees go down 0-2 going back to the Metrodome, it’s going to be tough. Of course, it wouldn’t surprise me if last night’s game was the only one in the series the Twins win, either.

The Cardinals could easily sweep the Dodgers. They showed off the big bats that got them to the post-season yesterday, as they hit five home runs, including two by Larry Walker. The other NL series matches the Braves (are they in the playoffs again?) against the Astros, who came back from being four under .500 in July to win the wild card. The Astros have one thing that all the other teams on the NL playoffs lack - two big stud starters at the front of the rotation. Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt anchor Houston’s rotation. Can you imagine if Pettitte, who usually saves his best work for October, was healthy? The Braves, meanwhile, are bringing out Jaret Wright for game one against the Rocket. When I left the office tonight, Houston was up 6-1, so how’s that working out for you Bobby Cox?

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

The following are the notes I used to speak to the Pittsfield Parks Commission on behalf of Wahconah Park, Inc. You can read the whole story of my mission to Pittsfield in the entry below.

Good evening. My name is Howard Cronson. I am planning to invest in Wahconah Park, Inc. I live in Framingham and I have an extensive background in finance as associate controller of a large mutual fund company in Boston. I have come out to Pittsfield this evening to echo the statement that Jim Bouton and Chip Elitzer have made repeatedly: that their investors will take their money and run if the company is subjected to the public bid laws.

I first decided to invest in this venture because I believe in the company’s business plan. Rehab a historic, beloved old ballpark and market it not only to the local community, but to the millions of visitors who come to the Berkshires each summer. Visitors who might have had enough shopping and art museums and classical music and might want to spend an evening watching a ball game and eating a hot dog. It seemed like an obvious fit. My hope, as an investor, was to have some fun as part-owner of a baseball team, and to make a reasonable return on my investment. I had no illusions of getting rich. In fact, I think most people get rich first and then buy a baseball team.

However, the requirement that Wahconah Park, Inc. follow the public bidding laws, even though not one dollar of taxpayers money is being used for the renovation of the ballpark, makes this investment much less attractive. Let me explain why.

Anyone who has run a small business, which is essentially what a minor league baseball team is, knows that two of the keys to survival are cash flow and flexibility. The public bidding process severely impacts both.

The most obvious is cash flow. Because of the inflexible nature of the public bid laws, they almost inevitably lead to cost overruns through change orders. Instead of the business making small changes to the project quickly and economically as conditions warrant, expensive change orders have to be put through. Instead of the business using it’s cash to pay salaries, buy supplies, etc., the cash is chewed up through cost overruns on these capital projects.

The second item is flexibility. Small businesses rely on being flexible and having the ability to react quickly to changing business conditions and customer demands. The bureaucratic public bidding process eliminates flexibility, since every ballpark improvement must be put out to bid with long lead times and little flexibility for changes during the process. It cripples the company’s ability to react quickly and puts management under a huge burden.

Mayor Roberto was quoted in the Eagle as saying, “if they cannot accept the requirements of pubic bidding, I will be open to others who can make it work.” I wish him good luck in finding such a group, because, in my opinion, no competent investor would put money into a minor league ballteam in Pittsfield under the public bidding conditions. I certainly would not. Pittsfield has been offered a golden opportunity - not once, but twice! - to refurbish it’s beloved old ballpark, bring more tourist dollars into the city and bring baseball back at no cost to the taxpayers. All that is being asked is that the licensing agreement between the city and Wahconah Park, Inc. be amended so that the competitive bidding laws no longer apply. These laws, as I think we would all agree, were designed to prevent pubic officials from inappropriately using taxpayers money, not to prevent private businesses from investing in public facilities.

I would strongly urge this board to approve the revised agreement presented by Mr. Bouton and Mr. Elitzer. Otherwise, Pittsfield will be back where it started: no baseball and the need to either renovate Wahconah Park at taxpayer expense or build a new stadium, which, based on history, is apparently an unacceptable alternative to the voters of this city. Thank you for your time and attention.

If you took my recommendation and read Jim Bouton’s ”Foul Ball” , you could be forgiven for thinking that Jim was engaging in a bit of hyperbole in spots. After all, the politicians and other “powers that be” of Pittsfield couldn’t possibly really be as bad as he made them out to be, could they?

Well, they are. I saw it live and in person last night.

The occasion was a meeting of the city’s Parks Commission. In case you haven’t been following the story, Jim and Chip Elitzer’s latest attempt to refurbish Wahconah Park and bring minor league baseball back to Pittsfield had met a major road block. Because of the way the license agreement (essentially a lease) between Wahconah Park, Inc. (WPI) and the city had been written, the Carpenter’s Union in Pittsfield had filed a bid protest, which went to the state Attorney General. The Attorney General came back with an opinion that said that WPI would be subject to the public bid laws, which are the same rules that government agencies have to follow when they build a road or a building.

These laws are, obviously, designed to prevent government officials from handing out favors to their friends at taxpayer expense. They were not meant to prevent private business from investing in public facilities. Because of their unwieldy nature and the huge potential for cost overruns, Jim and Chip were not willing to go forward with the plans for Wahconah Park under the public bid laws. There was a bigger issue at stake as well - this would set a precedent for public-private partnerships throughout Massachusetts, something they were unwilling to be responsible for.

So, when you have an issue like this, what do you do? Logically, you amend the agreement so that the project falls outside the public bid laws. The AG’s opinion practically laid out a road map to do this, as he detailed the two major items that caused the license to fall under the public bid laws.

- The term of the lease was too short (it was only through the end of the 2005 season, renewable annually if certain performance criteria were met).
- The fact that a specific dollar figure ($1.5 million) worth of renovations was used.

This made the AG think that a short term benefit could accrue to the city and bypass the public bid laws. Chip and the city solicitor crafted, in the days just before and after the AG’s opinion, a new lease which removed the offending language and replaced it with a longer lease term and no specific dollar amount of renovations. All that was needed was the mayor’s approval and the project could go on.

Then the roof fell in.

Mayor Roberto announced, quite publicly, that he would not sign any agreement that was designed to get around the public bid laws. He did this in an attempt to curry favor with the municipal unions, a number of which have contract negotiations coming up.

Now there are a couple of problems with this thought process as I see it. First, how exactly is it good for unions if you eliminate $400,000 of work that would be done primarily by union labor? Second, does the mayor really think that the unions are going to ask for one dollar less on behalf of their membership because of this?

Jim and Chip decided, as a last ditch effort, to go to the Pittsfield Parks Commission, the body directly responsible for Wahconah Park. If they could get the Parks Commission to approve the revised agreement, they could then move it on to the City Council for their approval and hopefully that plus the inevitable public outrage when the citizenry heard that they were being bilked out of baseball again might convince the mayor to change his mind.

I was exchanging emails with Chip and Jim and made a rather offhand comment that I was tempted to drive out there to attend the meeting. If it was half as good as the stuff I read in “Foul Ball”, it would be worth the ride.

Chip wrote back saying that if I did come out, I could speak to the Parks Commission as an investor and explain why I (and just about any other investor with two ounces of common sense) would be unwilling invest money in a venture that was constrained by the public bid laws.

With that concept thrown in front of me, I couldn’t resist the need to be there. A. and I discussed it and we got our babysitter to come over and put the kids to bed so A. could go to Mah Jong. My boss (who I really need to write about here someday), not only gave me permission, but encouraged me to take off early so that I could get to the meeting on time. I wrote up some remarks, emphasizing the business reasons why this was an unacceptable state of affairs and my professional experience and drove out to Pittsfield.

I left the office about 3:45 to get out to the Berkshires for the 7:00 meeting. The ride passed uneventfully, and once WEEI faded out I listened to Brian Wilson’s new/old album “Smile” (a topic for another blog entry someday) and made a quick stop at a McDonald’s on the Mass Pike for some dinner. I made it to the Springside House, where the meeting was to be held, at about 6:30. I called home to let them know I had made it safe and sound and to say good night to the kids. While I was talking, Jim, Chip, Jim’s wife Paula, Chip’s wife Cindy and his son Sam arrived.

I walked up and said hello to the group and listened in while Jim and Chip strategized for the meeting. They also had some graphics featuring the team’s new name - the Pittsfield Owls. The name is for the plastic owls hanging from the roof of Wahconah Park to scare away pigeons, one of the many homey touches at the ballpark.

We went inside to get seats at the meeting. A pretty good crowd had shown up and was shoehorned into the small room - I’d guess about 30-40 people were there. Included in the crowd were a couple of the Hillies players and one of the coaches.

The chairman of the Parks Commission started the meeting. The agenda had Wahconah Park as the last item, as it was bound to take the most time. Just as the meeting started the City Solicitor charged in. He wanted to address the commission about the WPI proposal and had to leave for a 7:30 meeting.

His basic message was this: it was not the Park Commission’s place to review or approve the agreement with WPI. That was the mayor’s job, and the mayor was requesting that the Park Commission “file”, or table the agenda item. A few questions were asked by the commissioners and members of the audience and then the solicitor took off. He said a lot about how the Park Commissioners have been stuck in the middle of this. Of course, they are in charge of the parks - shouldn’t they be involved?

This changed the plan. Now Chip and Jim not only had to convince the commissioners to approve the agreement, they had to get them to even consider approving it. After the Parks Commission dealt with their other business for the evening, we got to what most of the people had come for.

Jim and Chip went up. Jim gave the soft pitch first; announced the new name of the team and talked about how WPI’s intention was to give kids in Pittsfield a clear path all the way from Little League through high school, college and then professional baseball.

Then Chip came up with the big guns. He talked about why the competitive bidding process was unacceptable to WPI. Then he said that if WPI and the Owls were successful and exceeded investors expectations, they would go back to the investors and raise a much greater amount of money to fund a new civic center, and provide a minor league hockey team. The civic center would once again be paid for entirely with private capital. It could host trade shows, expositions, concerts and other events that might help fill a lot of the hotel rooms in the area that stay empty once the busy summer season is over in the Berkshires. After finishing, he asked that the chairman of the commission open up the floor to public comments. The chairman refused. I’m not sure exactly why, since the reason he mumbled was so incredibly lame it was unbelievable.

It was at this point that Jim Bouton lost it.

Yeah, Jim really lost his temper. He started going on about how the public had a right to be heard; how an investor had come all the way from Boston to speak to the commission (that would be me). He then started talking about how they had poured their hearts and their money and their families time into this project. How he never would have come back to Pittsfield if he had known he had to deal with the politics again. About how Mayor Roberto had promised that he would clear the decks for this project. It was as if all the frustration built up over the last three years came pouring out. And I don’t think one person in the audience blamed him. I think a lot of the Pittsfield folks were embarrassed that their city had put Jim and Chip in this position.

Jim calmed down and then, inexplicably, one of the commissioners decided that Jim was somehow blaming him for the situation. Where he came up with this idea I’m not sure, but he seemed pretty mad. Jim’s wife Paula defused the situation and the shouting appeared to be over.

A brief recess was taken at this point. When we came back, the public was allowed to speak. Everyone who spoke (even a guy who is in a union) was in favor of WPI and the plans for the ballpark. I took my time to talk about why being subject to the public bid laws made the investment much less attractive. I’ll post a copy of my notes here. Chuck Garivaltis, who was manager of the Hillies and one of the commissioners said his piece. He supported the agreement, and said that the park commissioners needed to show some courage and send the message to City Hall that they thought this agreement was a good thing for Wahconah Park and a good thing for Pittsfield. He then made a motion that the commission send the agreement back to the mayor with their approval.

He couldn’t get a second.

Then one of the other commissioners made a motion that the agreement be simply sent back to the mayor, which was exactly what the mayor wanted. The motion was seconded and passed 4-1, with Garivaltis dissenting. It was over.

A group of WPI folks and supporters hung out in the hall for a bit, and then we began to head for our cars. Jim very kindly asked if I wanted to stay at his house so I wouldn’t have to make the 2 hour drive home. I might have taken him up on it if it wasn’t the end of the quarter and I didn’t have a ton to do at work today.

I asked Jim to sign my notes as a momento, which he was glad to do. He also gave me a poster signed by all the Hillies, which I’m going to have framed.

So what happens next? I’m not sure. Unless the mayor changes his mind (or is forced to change through an outraged public) it’s game over, since Jim and Chip absolutely will not allow the company to be subjected to the public bid laws. We’re also under a time constraint, since the open franchise in the Northeast League won’t be there forever.

It’s unbelievable to me that the city of Pittsfield has turned down a golden opportunity like this - not once, but twice! How many cities in this country would be down on their knees to a group that came into their town, promised to fix up their old ballpark at no taxpayer expense, provide professional baseball and, if all went well, build a civic center for the city?

We’ll see if anything happens, but I’m pretty much writing this off. I’m upset about it, not just because I lost the chance to fulfill a dream of owning a baseball team, but because I won’t get to continue to be in business with Chip and Jim. It’s not often you find businessmen who are honorable enough to strive to make sure all the stakeholders in a business transaction come out winners. If the City of Pittsfield had allowed it, the city would have won, the community would have won, local businesses would have won and WPI would have won. Instead, due to the unbelievable shortsightedness of Pittsfield’s public officials, the city has nothing.

Tomorrow, musings on the MLB playoffs, including the Sox 9-3 demolishing of Anaheim this afternoon.

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