Tuesday, December 11, 2018

NEW BOOK RELEASE: A Win For Every Stitch: A Fan's Diary of the 2018 Boston Red Sox Championship Season



  
                            BOOK OPTIONS (Please Choose Based on Your Location)

My new book A Win For Every Stitch: A Fan's Diary of the 2018 Boston Red Sox Championship Season has just been released and is now available for purchase. For anyone who may have missed my original announcement of this book back in November, here's the blurb from the back cover:  

"There are 108 stitches on a baseball and in 2018 the Boston Red Sox won 108 games: a win for every stitch. At the beginning of the season, Drew Athans decided to keep a running diary of every game to have fun and to see if he could do it. With the Red Sox going all the way and winning the World Series, it turned into the perfect memento of an historic baseball season which he's now decided to share with all Red Sox fans. Containing recaps of every game the team played from late March when the season started to the final game of the World Series in October, A Win For Every Stitch is a book for any Sox fan. Relive all of the ups, downs, thrilling wins, and excruciating losses that made up this Red Sox season for the ages."

The book is now available for you to purchase on Amazon as a paperback for $19.99 and a Kindle e-book for $4.99As a special limited time offer, you can order a SIGNED copy of the paperback directly from me for $19.99. This is something I did for my second book and it was very popular. Just use the PayPal button above to select a copy based on your location, order, and pay (you don't need to have a PayPal account in order to purchase). Please MAKE SURE you choose the correct option and make sure to include your mailing address. For the signature, please include in the notes section of the order form any special inscription you'd like me to sign (otherwise, I will come up with my own). Be careful to choose the correct option depending on where you live: the USA price includes shipping anywhere in the USA, but for international orders there will be an additional $10.00 charge for shipping (this is based on what it has typically cost me to ship books out of the country in the past).

Please keep in mind that I am a one-man operation! I am self-publishing this book and will be handling all of the shipping of orders myself, so please bear with me. I will do my absolute best to process every order as quickly as I can and will email each of you when your order has shipped. PLEASE ALLOW 1-2 weeks for your order to get to you after you place it. If you're ordering as a Christmas gift and absolutely need to have it in time, I would recommend ordering an unsigned copy from Amazon. If you want a signed copy and are okay risking the chance of it getting it to you a few days after Christmas, I will still do my best to get it to you on time. 

If there are any questions about the process, please let me know in the comments section below or email me at rockandrollchemist@gmail.com and I will answer immediately. Thanks and I hope you enjoy my book!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Why I Love Sports

Recently my wife and I were given some free tickets to an Indiana Pacers game. We're all Boston Celtics fans, but we also really love basketball and thought it would be fun to take our kids to the game. Unlike their parents, our kids had never been to an NBA game before and free tickets were the perfect way to give them their first experience. The Pacers played the Utah Jazz and while we didn't really care which team won, we had fun although the constant barrage on the senses (mainly noise) of modern NBA games drove me absolutely nuts (that's a topic for another post). During the game my son asked me who I wanted to win. I told him I didn't care either way, to which one of my daughters said "that's because you just love sports." That got the wheels turning in my head and made me think about why I love sports so much. Ever since I was a kid they've been a huge part of my life;  I would say that along with music, sports is the thing I'm the most passionate about. There are several reasons for this:

The Physical Aspect - Let's get the low-hanging fruit out of the way first: in order to be good at sports, you need to be in good physical shape. It doesn't mean you need to have 3% body fat or run faster than Usain Bolt in the 40 yard dash, but you've got to be physically fit. This also varies by sports because a baseball player doesn't need to have the endurance of someone who plays basketball or hockey, while a soccer player doesn't need to have the upper body strength of a football player. One of my favorite things about playing sports is that it allows me to be physical, to run around and throw and jump and swing and kick and shoot. Playing something is a fun way to stay in shape and do something active with other adults as well as with my kids. It's also a chance when watching sports to appreciate the superior physical condition professional athletes are in after spending their entire lives training and working toward achieving their career goals. The parallels between that and what we can achieve in our everyday lives through that dedication, whether it's physical fitness, academic achievement, career advancement, or honing talents like music, art or writing, leads to an appreciation as well as a valuable lesson we can all learn from.

The Emotional Aspect - Being a sports fan, whether you're rooting on your kid's youth teams or your favorite professional teams, is first and foremost FUN. Getting emotionally invested and cheering for your teams, at whichever level, is one of the most enjoyable things about being a sports fan. Now, there's definitely a balance and some reality checking that goes on with this; if sports fandom takes over your life or subsumes your overall identity then it's a problem, but as long as it's kept in perspective and all in fun, there's nothing wrong with it at all. I've been a fan who lives and dies with the Red Sox, Celtics, and Patriots my entire life, but I don't let that fandom consume me or take over my life. At the end of the day sports are supposed to be a fun diversion that shouldn't be taken too seriously. Still, some of the best (and worst) memories of my life are tied to rooting for my teams and for pretty much all of those moments I can remember exactly where I was and what it was like as though replaying a scene from a movie. The same is true for the moments when I played sports as well as now when I watch and coach my kids.

The Mental Aspect - Sports are typically thought of in purely physical terms because regardless of which sport one watches or plays, there is some significant physical mastery of a skill (or multiple skills) that is required in order to be successful. However, an equally important but often overlooked aspect is the mental approach. For many people, myself included, the strategy aspect to sports is as fun and interesting, if not more so, than the physical. Regardless of which sport it is you're playing or watching, there is a mental game within the game that is as important as the physical game. Take my beloved baseball for instance: so much of the sport is strategic. Whether it's deciding which pitches to throw (and in which sequence) to each batter, how to position the fielders, stealing bases, hit-and-runs, squeeze plays, the strategy is an integral part of the game. Hell, in football strategy pretty much is the game as every single formation and play on offense and defense is devised and chosen to counter what the coach thinks the other team will do. Basketball, hockey, and soccer are more free flowing but no less beholden to strategy with the various plays and deceptions they employ. In fact, when you really think about it deception is the name of the game in just about every team sport. If that's not playing the mental game, I don't know what is.

The Excellence Aspect - Whether it's sports, music, writing, art, film, science, business, or anything else, I enjoy and admire excellence. Just as I am blown away by a musician who writes a fantastic song or plays something interesting or unique on their instrument, so too am I wowed by athletes playing their sport. I'm not exclusively talking about professional sports, either. At any level, including as young as my son's 9U travel baseball team all the way through junior high, high school, college, and the professional ranks there is nothing better than watching people who are great at what they do. At the professional level in particular, these are men and women who have dedicated their lives to their craft and possess skills most of us could never even dream of. As a means of emphasizing just how far superior these people are than the rest of us, I'll share a personal anecdote from my younger days. When I was in college and graduate school I had a group of friends who I played basketball with. We'd play a few nights every week for 2-3 hours at a time, usually finding enough guys at the gym to run 5-on-5 full court games. One time this fellow we'd never seen before asked if he could join us...he was wearing nice-looking Celtics gear and told us he had made the Celtics summer league team the year before but didn't make the cut to get a training camp invite. He joined our group and proceeded to wipe the court with every one of us. This guy ran faster, jumped higher, dribbled and passed and shot better than us, and made everyone else look silly (he was also nice and quite humble from what I remember). It dawned on me as I walked home that night that "this guy was fantastic and he didn't make the NBA!" Think about that: he was by far the best player I've ever shared a court with and he wasn't even good enough to get an invite to an NBA training camp. If he wasn't good enough, that should tell you how good the players who are in the NBA (or any other professional sports league) are. That excellence is one of the most admirable and fun things for me when I watch sports and I suspect it's a major reason most people follow as well.

The Teamwork Aspect - Obviously this only applies to team sports, but one of the things that fascinates and inspires me about sports whether I'm playing, coaching, or watching is seeing how individuals perform within the framework of a team. When a team truly plays together and for each other, the results are usually exhilarating as they bring out the best in each other. In team sports, I dare say that every winning team is a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. I see this in the youth sports I coach all the way up to my favorite pro teams. The lessons learned in parlaying individual excellence into the team, playing for your teammates, hard work and sacrifice are valuable at any age and translate into all walks of life, not just athletics. Whether it was the teams I played on in my youth, my kids' teams that I coach, or watching the Red Sox win the World Series (as but one example), there is something special about seeing stellar individual performances working together to elevate the play of the team. It's as fun to watch as it is to be a part of.

There are numerous aspects to why I and countless other people around the world enjoy sports. Whether it's watching, playing, or debating them, regardless of which sport is your favorite I'm sure you'll agree that the reason we love continue to follow and enjoy them is as multifaceted and varied as the number of sports themselves. What are some of the reasons you enjoy sports? Please feel free to comment below so we can discuss them!

Monday, November 26, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Bring It On Home: Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin, and Beyond - The Story of Rock's Greatest Manager


Everything about Led Zeppelin was larger than life: their music, their live shows, their stage outfits, their road excesses, and their manager. Like most great bands Zeppelin was guided by an effective manager, but in their case Peter Grant was anything but ordinary. For years Grant has been shrouded in as much mystery and mythology as the band he steered, known to fans mainly as an imposing gangster-like mountain of a man who was not to be crossed. Other than a scene in the band's film The Song Remains the Same where he's shown berating a promoter for allowing the sale of bootleg Zeppelin posters, what little fans knew of Grant was via the occasional photograph or interview. In the new book Bring It On Home, author Mark Blake aims to tell the real story of one of rock music's most notorious, influential, and misunderstood managers.

This post contains affiliate links which means that at no additional cost to you, I may receive a commission if you click through and make a purchase. This helps me keep this site going to bring you more great content. Thanks and enjoy!



Mark Blake has written two of my band biographies, both of which I've reviewed previously on this site: Pretend You're In a War: The Who in the Sixties and Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd, so when I heard about his new Peter Grant book I knew I had to check out it. Written with the cooperation of Peter Grant's estate and his two children Helen and Warren, Bring It On Home aimed to pull back the curtain, sift through fact and myth, and show who Peter Grant really was. With access to Grant's archives and extensive interviews with his children, colleagues, friends, and drawing on multiple interviews Blake has conducted with the members of Led Zeppelin over the years, Bring It On Home does exactly what it was intended to do. Beginning with Grant's birth in pre-World War II London and his hardscrabble childhood, we learn about the family history that Grant spent his entire life hiding from everybody. After leaving school at fifteen, he worked various odd jobs including his first forays into show business by working the curtain at the Croydon Empire during the waning days of variety shows and the birth of rock and roll. After starting his own business driving musicians around to their appearances, Grant made his first steps into management with a handful of different pop groups throughout the early 1960s This eventually led him to the Yardbirds who Grant took over around 1967. It was also around this time that he started a joint management business and record label with producer Mickie Most. However, Grant was always smart enough to know that he knew nothing about music. What he did know was how to negotiate on behalf of his clients and how to get his way whether it was via negotiating or some other more persuasive techniques. During his early years Grant spent a lot of time watching and learning from the top impresarios of the day including the notorious Don Arden. By the time he took on the Yardbirds, he was able to improve their income while taking note of how much better their fortunes on the underground live circuit was in America versus how they fared on the British charts. In working with the Yardbirds, he also met the musician he would nurture and cater to for the remainder of his career, Jimmy Page. Out of the ashes of the Yardbirds rose the newly formed Led Zeppelin in 1968; the rest is history at least in terms of their career and it's a story that's been told numerous times by me and others. While I won't rehash it here, what Blake shows in his book is that Grant applied many of the tactics and strategies he picked up along the way in his formative years while pioneering new ones for better or for worse.

Bring It On Home doesn't shy away from discussing some of the more unsavory aspects of Grant's and Zeppelin's career including the drug use, the violence, and the tragedy. What the book does extremely well and which elevates it above a merely salacious tell-all is that the author also attempts to separate fact from myth to spell out the truth about Grant and his methods. Some of the most notorious Peter Grant stories are confirmed while others are corrected or dispelled. What's apparent reading through the book is that nearly everyone who befriended or worked with him for the most part remembers him fondly despite his flaws. What's undeniable is that he greatly improved working conditions and earnings for musicians with the numerous innovations he pioneered during Led Zeppelin's career. From demanding and getting a larger percentage of the take from ticket sales (90%!) to Led Zeppelin having complete ownership and control of their recordings and everything in between, much of what is taken for granted now in the music business is due to Peter Grant. Bring It On Home does a great job describing all of this as the backdrop to his life. There are even new tidbits of the Led Zeppelin story including insight on his relationships with Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham. The story of Grant's life in the wake of John Bonham's death in September 1980 and the dissolution of Led Zeppelin is both poignant and enlightening as it somewhat confirms the conventional wisdom that he was a hermit from the public eye while showing that to his friends and family, Grant was more accessible as he simplified his lifestyle and improved his health. His untimely sudden death in 1995 ended his life but not his legend.

Bring It On Home is an excellent book and one of the rare biographies of a manager that's as interesting as the band they represented. Grant has always been an influential and controversial figure in rock history, but Mark Blake does a wonderful job at humanizing him and sorting through the stories and mythos in order to present who he really was behind the intimidating character clad in scarves, rings, and rumpled suits. For any fan of Led Zeppelin or 1970s rock, Bring It On Home is a great read about the successes and excesses of the biggest band and the biggest manager of that decade. 

MY RATING: 9.5/10

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

ANNOUNCEMENT: MY NEW BOOK: A Win For Every Stitch - A Fan's Diary of the 2018 Boston Red Sox Championship Season

I'm excited to announce that my newest book, A Win For Every Stitch, is due for release in December 2018. This book came about as an idea toward the end of the regular season when the Red Sox were preparing for their postseason run. If you're a regular reader of this site then you'll know that I wrote a recap for every game the Red Sox played in 2018. From Opening Day all the way to the final game of the World Series I followed the team and wrote about what happened each day and my thoughts at the time. At the very end of the season I was left not only with a sense of accomplishment but with an idea: wouldn't it be nice to collect all of my recaps into a running diary of the 2018 season and make it into a book that I could have as a personal memento of this incredible season? It would be something I could go back and enjoy any time. I then realized it might be something that other Red Sox fans may also enjoy. That led to the idea of making it into a full-fledged book and publishing it in order to share it with the rest of Red Sox Nation.

Now for some a couple of quick hits regarding A Win For Every Stitch:

- The book contains every one of my game recaps, from Opening Day in late March all the way to the final game of the World Series. I haven't changed anything other than fixing typos, grammatical errors, and cleaning up some clunky sentences here and there. I didn't add any hindsight or revisionist history, so what you read from me on a particular day is exactly how I felt in that moment. That makes for some interesting reading, especially with the ever-evolving perceptions of the team and certain players which changed for the better (or in some cases, worse) as the season went on. The total length runs around 350 pages.

- There is a freshly written introduction in which I give a potted history of the Red Sox up to the beginning of this season as well as some more detail into what the impetus for the book was. I also touch on my own journey as a baseball fan and what the Red Sox have meant to me over the course of my life. There is an epilogue tying up the remaining loose ends from after the World Series (including the various awards and honors the team and players won in the weeks following winning the championship).

I'm currently reviewing proof copies and finalizing the cover art before I'm ready to publish, but as soon as I have a release date and it's available for purchase I will announce it. There will be a paperback copy available for $19.99 and a Kindle e-book version for $9.99. I haven't decided yet if I'm going to run a promotion and offer autographed copies...it would depend on how many people are interested. Regardless, I'm really excited about this book and the opportunity to share it with other Red Sox fans. I always get a little nervous in the run up to a book release...this is my third book and it never gets easier. Still, I'm looking forward to sharing my passion for the Red Sox and the 2018 season with other fans via this book.

Stay tuned for information on how to purchase a copy as we get closer to the release date...I think (and hope) that you'll enjoy this book!

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

I FINALLY Get One of My Holy Grails: The Beatles White Album Esher Demos from May 1968



If you've read this blog long enough (or if you know me personally), you'll know that I'm a lifelong obsessive Beatles fan. Their self-titled album from November 1968, more commonly called the White Album, is not only my favorite album of theirs but my favorite album of all time. I have both the stereo and mono mixes of the album and have never been able to get enough of it. Besides the two mixes of the album, there are two essential bootleg CDs I've had that contain additional material from these sessions. One is the Peter Sellers Tape (a tape of early/different mixes Ringo made as a gift for his friend Peter Sellers) and the other is the Esher Demos. In February 1968 the Beatles went to Rishikesh in India to study transcendental meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Ringo Starr and his wife were the first to return to England in late February, followed a couple of weeks later by Paul McCartney and Jane Asher. John Lennon, George Harrison, and their wives stayed until early April when they left after alleging the Maharishi of improper behavior toward one of the female attendees. 

This post contains affiliate links which means that at no additional cost to you, I may receive a commission if you click through and make a purchase. This helps me keep this site going to bring you more great content. Thanks and enjoy!

During the time they were India the band had acoustic guitars and wrote a large number of songs. Once they all were back in London, they regrouped at George Harrison's house Kinfauns in Esher to record demos of the twenty-seven new songs they'd written between Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison. Using nothing but acoustic guitars, bongos, rudimentary percussion, and their voices they put these songs down on tape and used them as a starting point for their next album which became the White Album. 

For years I've had a bootleg CD that contained twenty-four of the twenty-seven demos in so-so sound quality. Then in 1996 the Beatles released seven of the demos on Anthology 3 with pristine sound. That was a revelation as it told Beatles fans that the band had the master tape and that the complete demos existed in great sound quality. However, for years I and every other Beatles fan pined to hear all twenty-seven demos with that great sound, but as the years wore on it seemed we were waiting for something we'd never get. I'm happy to say that the long wait was finally rewarded because the Beatles have just released the complete Esher Demos as part of the 50th anniversary release of the White Album. Now we have all twenty-seven demos in flawless sound quality. Every White Album song that was written in India was demoed along with some that didn't make the cut. Of the songs demoed that didn't make the album, some were recorded during the White Album sessions but left off of the album ("Not Guilty," "What's the New Mary Jane?"), some weren't released until their Abbey Road album in 1969 ("Mean Mr. Mustard," "Polythene Pam"), some didn't see release until they showed up on solo albums after the Beatles split in 1970 (McCartney's "Junk," Lennon's "Child of Nature" which he rewrote the lyrics to and released as "Jealous Guy," and Harrison's "Circles"), and one was given away to Jackie Lomax ("Sour Milk Sea," which is the greatest lost Beatles track ever...Lomax' version featured a backing band of Harrison, McCartney, Starr, Eric Clapton, and Nicky Hopkins!). In addition, the White Album tracks we all know and love sound great in an acoustic setting. Some like "Blackbird" are very similar to the finished acoustic versions (although still beautiful) while the tracks that eventually became heavier and electric on the finished album have a completely different (though no less intense or emotional) feeling. What the entire disc shows beyond a doubt is the pure magic and genius of the Beatles. Stripped of any studio enhancements and amplification, this was just four guys sitting around a couple of microphones strumming acoustic guitars and singing and yet they still sounded fantastic. Truly gifted musicians sound great whether they're turned up to eleven or they're playing quietly in their living room and as the Esher Demos show, the Beatles were amongst the most gifted musicians and songwriters of all time. And of course any musician is only as good as the songs they write and the Beatles didn't just write great songs, they wrote timeless classics.

I can't remember being as thrilled and satisfied with a release as much as I am with this one. In essence this is a completely different version of the White Album and any world where there's more than one White Album is a world I'm happy to live in.

Friday, November 9, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Runnin' With the Devil (Van Halen)


From 1978 to 1985, Van Halen was probably the biggest and most popular rock band in America. Fronted by incomparable front man/showman David Lee Roth and guitar wizard Eddie Van Halen, their brand of hard rock coupled with catchy hooks and strong melodies sold millions of records while the high-energy party atmosphere of their live shows won them legions of devoted fans all around the world. Their story is a tale as old as time, one of high school buddies slogging over years until they made it big, enjoying huge successes, and then blowing completely apart. If you look up "sex, drugs, and rock and roll" in the dictionary there very well could be a photo of Van Halen next to it. For many (if not most) fans of the band, the original iteration of brothers Eddie and Alex Van Halen, Michael Anthony, and David Lee Roth was the best version of Van Halen, maybe even the only real version of Van Halen. (I subscribe to the latter). During the years when this band was at its peak, Noel Monk was their road manager-turned-band-manager and his book Runnin' With the Devil is the story of his time guiding the band during this defining and legendary period of their career.

This post contains affiliate links which means that at no additional cost to you, I may receive a commission if you click through and make a purchase. This helps me keep this site going to bring you more great content. Thanks and enjoy!


Having recently read and review Greg Renoff's excellent pre-history of the band, Van Halen Rising, Runnin' With the Devil made a fitting segue picking up just about where Rennof's book left off. Noel Monk was a rock industry veteran, having stage managed Woodstock, worked for Bill Graham at the Fillmore East, and was the road manager for the Sex Pistols on their one and only tour. In early 1978 he got the opportunity to road manage a hot up and coming band called Van Halen on their first national tour as a support act for Montrose and Journey. Immediately taken with their personality and live shows, he developed a close relationship with them and gradually became their de facto manager in the absence of their nominal manager Marshall Berle. By the end of his first year with the band, they fired Berle and hired Monk as their full-fledged manager, but with a catch: he operated on a perpetually renewing thirty-day contract. Monk takes the reader through the entirety of Van Halen's early career, through all of the albums and tours, and gives us the story of what really went on behind the scenes.



The most striking thing about this book is that through it all, Monk doesn't seem like he was particularly a fan of Van Halen as people or musicians. While he does mention enjoying some of their songs, for the most part he's somewhat dismissive of most of their music although he does heap deserved praise on the final album of that run, the massively successful 1984. As far as the band members go, he has nothing but good things to say about Michael Anthony as a person (as most Van Halen fans do) and while he spares no chance to mock Eddie Van Halen's naivety and cluelessness about the world around him, he states multiple times that he had great affection for him and nothing but the utmost respect for his genius musicianship. He saves his ire for the other two members of the band: Alex Van Halen for his alcoholism and backstabbing, and David Lee Roth for his arrogance, sociopathic personality, and mood swings. Monk also didn't have a lot to say about the music other than the few songs he mentioned that he liked ("Jump," "Runnin' With the Devil"). He surprisingly said that Fair Warning, which most Van Halen fans consider to be their best album, was poor and while most fans would agree that Diver Down was their weakest release, he pulled no punches in savaging it. It was a strange thing to read about a manager who was so focused on the business side of the band and had little to no interest in them as people or musicians. Most famous managers didn't meddle with the music but at least were fans of it (think Brian Epstein or Peter Grant to name but two). The thing to keep in mind, though, is that most managers were with their bands from the beginning and endured the struggle to the top alongside them; in many cases they became friends. In the case of Monk and Van Halen, they were basically shoehorned together out of necessity, so it would follow that it wasn't really a match made out of a shared vision or affection.


Runnin' With the Devil was a fun read but it was definitely a tell-all and settled more than a few scores. It was also a chance for Monk to toot his own horn and while it's clear he worked hard and accomplished a lot in the service of Van Halen, there was a bit of a Walter Mitty-like feel to it. There didn't seem to be a single problem he didn't solve or a single innovation he wasn't 100% responsible for (as an example. the band's merchandising). He always seemed to be in exactly the right place at exactly the right time doing exactly the right thing; after a while it seemed more than just a little unbelievable. I'm not saying he wasn't telling the truth as I wasn't there, but if everything he claimed happened the way he said it did then he lived a charmed life indeed. There were also a couple of instances where it seemed like he was mixing up events that either happened before his tenure (such as Kiss manager Bill Aucoin turning the band down, which was chronicled in Van Halen Rising) or Michael Anthony signing away all of his rights to the band's publishing (which happened in the early 2000s as far as I know). Still, overall Runnin' With the Devil was an enjoyable and eye-opening look at the machinations of the classic Van Halen lineup behind the scenes. One thing I will warn potential readers is to make sure you're able to separate the artist from the art. Most of what is known about the guys in the band is not flattering regardless of the source; it's all pretty much true and this book only adds to that. As long as one is able to keep that separate from the enjoyment of their music, Van Halen fans should enjoy this book.

MY RATING: 8/10


Saturday, November 3, 2018

Baseball and Softball Gear Reviews: The Skilz Reaction Ball

Whether you play baseball or softball, have kids that do, or coach a team one of the most basic and primary skills in the sport is fielding ground balls. It's one of the first things kids are taught when they put a glove on and while it's seemingly the simplest of skills, it can take a lifetime to master. Even at the highest levels of play, fielding grounders is a challenge not least of which because the ball can often take wild and unpredictable bounces. Because of this, grounders are something that everyone playing baseball or softball needs to practice fielding throughout their playing careers. The challenge, especially with younger players, is making that practice fun so that proper skills are learned through repetition.

This post contains affiliate links which means that at no additional cost to you, I may receive a commission if you click through and make a purchase. This helps me keep this site going to bring you more great content. Thanks and enjoy!

For the majority of my own baseball career I was a catcher so spent most of my time honing skills such as blocking balls in the dirt, catching pop ups, and calling (and catching) different pitches. When I played in college, I moved to right or left field and was more focused on tracking and catching long fly balls while trying to avoid crashing into the fence. Now as a parent I coach my four kids who play baseball/softball (including two who play year round travel ball). I spend a lot of my free time working with my kids both individually in our free time and also with their teams since I help coach  them. Somehow a catcher like me fathered two players (my oldest daughter and my son) both of whose best position is shortstop...we're not sure what my youngest daughter will gravitate toward and my other daughter was a catcher when she played. I spend a lot of time with all of them working on hitting, fly balls, throwing, and of course fielding grounders. I've always been a firm believer in teaching a solid foundation of fundamental skills and making sure they've mastered those before building any advanced techniques upon that base. With that said, for a long time I had been struggling on how to help my kids field bad hops. As part of our routine, I would purposely hit them choppers or short hop grounders, but it became predicable and I couldn't find a good way to introduce more randomness to better simulate actual game situations.



The solution came when I was attending a baseball camp with my son this past January. At one of the infield drill stations they had buckets of these lumpy yellow balls I'd never seen before. The drill was for the boys to field the balls as they took random bounces and hops and then throw them back to the coaches. I thought these balls were cool so after the camp I asked about them and they directed me to Amazon. They kept calling them "Jeter balls" because I guess Derek Jeter had endorsed them or used them a few years ago, but I found them under the name of "reaction balls." I bought a couple of them and took them to the indoor facility where I work with my kids to use when we did infielding drills. My kids took to them right away and found them fun to use. All I do is have them get in their ready positions for fielding and roll the reaction ball to them. They then have to track it with their eyes while using proper foot- and handwork to field it cleanly as it takes it's random bounces. Sometimes this means they'll have to reach to forehand or backhand it, and sometimes this means it will take a strange hop in front of them that they'll need to block with their bodies. They both had a lot of fun working with it and still do; we've made drills with the reactions balls a regular part of our practice routine. It's definitely helped my two shortstops track and react to strange hops and that's led to fewer errors and excellent hand/eye coordination in practices and games. For $10 it's a really simple and fun way to improve fielding and the nice thing is you can even use it inside the house and practice barehanded during the winter. I always keep a couple stashed in my bag for practices and if you're a coach or have kids that play I'd definitely recommend getting one of these.


Monday, October 29, 2018

World Series Game 5: Red Sox at Los Angeles Dodgers (October 28, 2018)

Photo: www.twitter.com/redsox

THE BOSTON RED SOX ARE WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS! Damn, it feels great to write that. I spent the first twenty-four years of my life convinced that the Red Sox would never win a World Series and now here we are in 2018 and I've seen them win four of them. It's been an incredible run and this season may have been the most fun of all. Nothing can ever top the catharsis of 2004, the brilliance of 2007, or the healing power of 2013, but this 2018 team may have been the most thoroughly fun team of them all. Watching this team from spring training right through to the end of the World Series has been one of the most joyous and rewarding experiences I've ever had. Even better has been what this season has given me beyond the enjoyment of watching great baseball night in and night out. It's given me the opportunity to bond even more with my wife and children, an opportunity to take risks and hone my sports writing skills, the opportunity to write for Guy Boston Sports, and the opportunity to meet new fellow Red Sox fans and writers. This certainly won't be the last Red Sox related thing you'll read from me, but this will be the final recap of the 2018 season so let's get down to it.

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With a commanding three games to one lead in the series, the Red Sox were completely in control while the Dodgers were hanging on for dear life. Game five pitted two starting pitchers with checkered postseason histories against each other in David Price and Clayton Kershaw. While Kershaw had been roughed up in his game one start, Price was masterful in game two. From the beginning, the Red Sox were on a mission in this game and they got things started early in the first inning. Andrew Benintendi singled with one out and was followed by Steve Pearce who blasted a home run to make it 2-0 Boston after only six pitches from Kershaw. Los Angeles answered in the bottom of the inning when David Freese deposited Price's very first pitch in the right field stands to cut the lead in half. That would be all the Dodgers would do, though, as Price proceeded to mow them down over the next 7+ innings. The only spot of trouble he was in occurred in the third inning with one out when what looked to be a routine fly ball to right field from Freese was lost by JD Martinez in the twilit sky and sailed over his head for a triple. Price was able to get out of the jam unscathed with a ground out and a strikeout to end the inning. From there he cruised, going 7+ while only allowing three hits and the single run. He struck out five, walked two, and was in complete control before being lifted in the eighth. Joe Kelly and Chris Sale pitched the eighth and ninth innings, respectively, and both struck out all three of the batters they faced to end the game. In between, the Sox got insurance runs from a Mookie Betts solo homer (the first of his postseason career) in the sixth, an absolute moonshot to dead center field by JD in the seventh, and another home run from Pearce in the eighth. That was more than enough for a 5-1 series clinching win and there was no more fitting ending than to see Sale strike out that bum Manny Machado swinging down on one knee before Christian Vazquez leaped into his arms to begin the celebration. Boston outhit the Dodgers 8-3 and were ruthless and relentless in this final win. Everyone had at least one hit except for Brock Holt and Vazquez, but everyone contributed in this game, this series, and this season and for the third straight series, the Red Sox celebrated on their opponent's field.

Boston Red Sox 2018 World Series Champs

The 2018 Red Sox finished the season going 11-3 in October (4-2 at home, 7-1 on the road) with a total of 119 wins. While 2004 was the most important Red Sox team of all time, I'll declare with no hesitation that the 2018 was the best Red Sox team of all time. The sheer dominance of this team from beginning to end and the vast number of ways in which they could beat you made them a juggernaut. They were deep, talented, and resilient and it all started with Alex Cora. Aside from signing JD in the offseason, hiring Cora was the single greatest move that ownership and the front office made. Except for JD this was basically the same team they've had the last two years, but the maturation of the players under Cora's leadership and the virtuosic way in which he managed the entire season cement him as one of the greatest managers this team has ever had...and after only his first season! Everyone performed great in October, from the much maligned bullpen that seemed to completely flip the regular season script to the bench guys, one of whom became World Series MVP (looking at you, Steve Pearce). Then there's perhaps the biggest redemption story of all: David Price. Price's foibles and failures in Boston and and postseason are well known, but he's all but erased them with his pitching in the ALCS and World Series. This team was carried at times by not only its superstars, but often the supporting players. For much of this World Series while Mookie, JD, and Xander Bogaerts slumped the offensive load was borne by Pearce, Mitch Moreland, Rafael Devers, Jackie Bradley, Brock Holt, and Eduardo Nunez. They got phenomenal starting pitching from Price, Rick Porcello, and Nathan Eovaldi and spent the entirety of the postseason without Chris Sale at his best. The bullpen, so inconsistent and downright bad at times during the regular season was damn near unhittable in October. Joe Kelly, Ryan Brasier, Matt Barnes, and Craig Kimbrel (after the ALCS) were automatic and contributed hugely to the team's success. From Mookie down to the 25th guy on the roster, this was truly a team accomplishment. All season when some guys were down, others guys picked them up. On and on it went, all the way to a World Series victory and after dispatching the Yankees (100 wins), Astros (103 wins), and Dodgers (92 wins), those criticisms we heard all year about how "the Red Sox only beat the bad teams" now seem pretty silly, don't they? Let's enjoy this title, Red Sox Nation; the first flushes of celebration will fade over the coming weeks, but the memories will live forever.

(Also, this isn't the last you'll hear from me when it comes to the 2018 Red Sox. I've got something else coming down the pipeline which I'll be updating you all on soon, so stay tuned!)

Sunday, October 28, 2018

World Series Game 4: Red Sox at Los Angeles Dodgers (October 27, 2018)

I don't know about anyone else, but I was an absolute wreck after the marathon game three. Between going to bed after 3:00am and needing to be up at 7:00am to get my oldest daughter ready for her softball tournament, I was exhausted on Saturday, enough so that I took a nap (and anyone who knows me knows that I hate napping). Still bleary-eyed and groggy, I settled down to watch game four hoping the Red Sox would get some measure of vengeance after giving the previous game away. With every pitcher in the postseason starting rotation unavailable due to game three, Eduardo Rodriguez got the spot start for Boston while the Dodgers countered with former Red Sox (and Massachusetts native) Rich Hill.

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I really had no idea what to expect going into this game, but for the first six innings it was a classic pitcher's duel. Rodriguez was giving the Sox exactly what they needed while Hill stymied Boston's bats and held them to a single hit. For the second frustrating game in a row the top of Boston's order went hitless. I don't know what's happened but Mookie Betts (who, on the whole, has had a miserable postseason), Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts, and JD Martinez flailed away and couldn't get a hit to save their lives. The Dodgers finally broke through in the sixth and got on the scoreboard. Cody Bellinger hit a dribbler to Steve Pearce at first who threw to Christian Vazquez to get the out at home. Vazquez then tried to throw back to first to get the out but Bellinger was in the way and the throw got past Pearce allowing Justin Turner to score. That extended the inning for Yasiel Puig to crush a three run homer and put the Dodgers up 4-0. With the way Hill had been pitching and the Red Sox had (not) been hitting, that looked like it would be the game. With as tired as I was and another early softball wake up call looming (5:00am this time), I decided to go to bed. However, as I was getting ready to hit the sack, the Sox started coming back. The catalyst was Chris Sale screaming at his teammates in the dugout to fire them up, shouting out "this is embarrassing! Let's pick it up!" For some reason, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pulled Hill after he surrendered a walk and brought Ryan Madson in. Madson has been awful in the World Series, allowing every inherited runner to score. That didn't change in game four; with two on and one out, he grooved a pitch to Mitch Moreland that was absolutely obliterated and missed going out of Dodger Stadium by a few rows. That cut the lead to 4-3 and made me decide to stay up and watch the rest. In the eighth, Pearce lofted a ball to left field that sailed over the fence to knot the score at four. Then in the ninth the Red Sox offense finally exploded. Brock Holt hit a double and was driven in by Rafael Devers' single. After loading the bases, Pearce came up again and ripped a double to the gap in right center field to clear the bases and blow the game wide open. The raucous Los Angeles crowd went silent and you could hear the air sucked right out of the place. Xander finished off the scoring with an RBI single to drive Pearce in and make it 9-4. LA got two in the bottom of the ninth when Kike Hernandez hit a two-run homer off of Craig Kimbrel, but it was too little to late and Red Sox stunned the Dodgers with the 9-6 win. That gave them a stranglehold on the series with a three games to one lead.

Boston Red Sox 2018 ALCS Champs

The Red Sox were outhit in this game 9-8, but they made every single one of theirs count, especially the seven they got after Hill exited the game. As has been the case for the last few games of this series, they've been carried by the bottom of the order. Holt and Vazquez each went 1-2, Devers and Moreland were both 1-1, and Pearce went 2-4 with four RBI and two runs scored. The top of the order, apart from Xander (1-4, an RBI and a run scored) was atrocious again, with Mookie going 0-4, Benintendi going 1-5, and JD going 0-4. It's mystifying what's happened to the top of the lineup in this series and the struggles of Mookie throughout the entire postseason continue to baffle me. The fact that this team is one win away from a World Series title and has dominated the entire series with their best hitters struggling is a testament to their depth and talent. They'll try to close it out tonight when David Price gets the start. He'll be going against Clayton Kershaw who did not pitch well in game one. Even if this series heads back to Boston, history and statistics are on the Red Sox side. While it would be nice to see them clinch a second World Series at home (as they did in 2013 versus clinching on the road in 2004 and 2007), I'd have no problem if they ended it in game five. This is for two reasons: so they'd win, of course, but also so that I can start getting some sleep again!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

World Series Game 3: Red Sox at Los Angeles Dodgers (October 26, 2018)

With a 2-0 lead in the World Series heading to Los Angeles, the Red Sox had a chance to take a real stranglehold on the series by winning one of the first two games on the road. They had Rick Porcello on the mound going against Dodgers rookie Walker Buehler and even though the young Dodger had pitched well in the NLCS, to me it seemed like a mismatch: the relentless Red Sox lineup against the inexperienced rookie. We had friends of ours and their kids over for dinner and then we settled onto the couch to watch the game. However, instead of the offensive onslaught I expected from the Red Sox, we ended up with a game-long pitcher's duel and an epic battle of attrition.

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Porcello looked much sharper in this game than he did in his previous start in the ALCS, but the one mistake he made was in the third inning when he hung a ball over the plate that Joc Pederson hit over the right field fence for a 1-0 lead. Buehler allowed two hits to the Sox, one of which was a single to Jackie Bradley that was erased when he was caught in a run down and tagged out. That hurt since Christian Vazquez followed it up by hitting a single of his own. After that, Buehler mowed down the Sox batters and it was surprising to me because he mainly threw fastballs in the zone. His pitches had good movement and he was throwing hard and the Sox usually feast on those pitches; for some reason, they were either swinging and missing (to the tune of seven strikeouts) or hitting the ball hard right at Dodger fielders. The game was tied in the eighth inning when Bradley crushed a ball to right field for yet another postseason home run. That sent the game to extra innings and the Red Sox had a golden opportunity in the tenth inning to take the lead started by JD Martinez' walk. Ian Kinsler came in to pinch run and was nearly picked off of first base. Brock Holt singled to center field and advanced Kinsler to third, although he slid over the base and barely made it back before the tag. Then, Eduardo Nunez lofted a fly ball to center field that was deep enough to score Kinsler. Cody Bellinger made a pretty bad throw home that was very high, but Kinsler didn't slide and stayed upright which allowed Austin Barnes to easily tag him out. It was an atrocious sequence on the bases for Kinsler and a real missed opportunity for the team to end the game. The game remained knotted at a run apiece until the thirteenth inning when Brock Holt led off with a walk. He advanced to second base on a wild pitch. Eduardro Nunez the hit a chopper to the mound that allowed Holt to reach third, but there was no one covering first and Scott Alexander threw the ball away allowing Brock to score the go-ahead run. It looked like they'd close it out in the bottom of the inning when Nathan Eovaldi got two outs. He walked Max Muncy on a blown check swing call that should have been strike three but got two outs including the second one on Nunez catching a foul ball and falling into the stands. That allowed Muncy to advance to second which was costly when Yasiel Puig hit a grounder up the middle fielded by Kinsler. For whatever reason, Kinsler rushed an off balance throw to first even though Puig was loafing it down the line. The ball sailed and allowed Muncy to score and tie the game. Had Kinsler just eaten that ball, the runners would have been on first and third for when the next batter, Austin Barnes, popped up to end the inning and the game. The game slogged along to the eighteenth inning and crossed 3:00am on the East Coast until Muncy hit a solo homer in the bottom of the inning to help the Dodgers escape with a 3-2 win. It was the longest game both in terms of time and innings in World Series history and my wife and I stayed up until the bitter end.

Boston Red Sox 2018 ALCS Champs

This was an incredibly frustrating loss for the Red Sox for a variety of reasons. Mookie Betts, JD, and Xander Bogaerts all combined to go 0-18 and as a team, Boston looked like they forgot how to hit fastballs. I thought Alex Cora pulled Porcello a bit too soon after he only went 4.2 innings. He'd only walked one while striking out five and only gave up one run (the Pederson homer) on three hits. I felt like Cora was a bit too quick with the hook there. Kinsler absolutely cost the team this game, first in the tenth inning with his horrendous baserunning (which they were able to overcome) and again in the thirteenth with his boneheaded fielding error. Had he held on to the ball, Muncy (who shouldn't have been on base anyway...more on that in a minute) would have stayed at third and the following batter (Barnes) would have popped up to end the game. Speaking of Muncy, the home plate umpiring was again atrocious. Home plate umpire Ted Barrett's strike zone kept getting wider and wider and wider as the game went on but he was maddeningly inconsistent. Just like what we saw in the first two games of this series, pitches in the exact same locations were being called balls sometimes and strikes others. There were some pitches over the middle of the plate that were called balls and others six inches too low or off the side that were called strikes. He was doing it to both teams and it made for an annoying night. Also, the umpires absolutely blew the call on Muncy's check swing in the thirteenth. The replay clearly showed the head of his bat went more than halfway, but I think they were fooled by the angle since his hands were so far out in front. That's not why the Sox lost the game, though; their sudden and baffling power outage and Kinsler's gaffe are the reasons why. The National League game is also annoying with the constant substitutions and pitching changes due to have to account for the gaping hole in each lineup (i.e. the pitchers hitting). Both teams had emptied the benches and bullpens by the twelfth or thirteenth inning and from there it was a battle of attrition. One guy who left it all out there was Nathan Eovaldi who pitched six incredible innings of relief and whose only blemish was the final homer to Muncy which, again, should never have even happened. You win some and you lose some and the Sox are still in great shape. It took a rookie pitching the game of his life, the entire Red Sox team forgetting how to hit fastballs, and a terrible fielding error for the Dodgers to win. We'll see how both teams come out for game four on Saturday night. Both squads will be exhausted and depleted and the Red Sox should be doubly angry for knowing they gave this game away. I know I am.

Friday, October 26, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Thanks a Lot Mr. Kibblewhite - My Story (Roger Daltrey of the Who)


The Who are just a hair behind the Beatles as my all time favorite band. Their music and lyrics have meant more to me in my life than just about anyone else and their Quadrophenia album literally saved my life when I was a teenager. When I was learning to play the guitar and write songs, I wanted to be in the Who and listening to and watching footage of them live in their prime still gives me chills. They're one of the few bands I've read about and studied almost as much as the Beatles and for long time readers of this site, you'll remember all of the many different Who related books I've reviewed over the years. Two of my favorites were Pete Townshend's autobiography and Tony Fletcher's excellent Keith Moon biography. With the knowledge that John Entwistle never wrote a book and that no one has bothered to write a detailed biography of him (which is a shame), the only other book I ever wanted was a good one about Roger. A few years back I reviewed the only available biography on the Who's legendary frontman and singer and while it was serviceable, it wasn't terribly insightful or definitive. When I first heard more than a year ago that Roger was finally writing his memoir and that it would be released in autumn 2018 I couldn't wait. After a year of waiting and expectation, his book entitled Thanks a Lot Mr. Kibblewhite - My Story was released. While I found the title strange (until I learned within the book what it meant) I eagerly dove into the book to see if it would measure up to my expectations and how it would compare to Pete's book.

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We all know that Pete and Roger are two very different personalities; that tension and dichotomy was part of what made the Who so great and that's borne out in their respective books even down to the writing style. While Pete is still very much the tortured genius who wrote in a florid, literary style, Roger is just the opposite. He's very secure in where and who he is and very straightforward. There's also a warmth and humor to his writing style that was evident from the first pages. The press release for the book stated that Roger sat down for interviews about his life and wrote the book himself based on that material. His life is presented chronologically starting with his birth in March 1944 during the final phase of the German Blitz of London in World War II.  From here he goes into some detail about his childhood in the waning years of the war, meeting his father for the first time once he was back from the fighting in Europe, and his relatively simple and happy childhood. Roger takes us through his miserable teenage years at school and it is here where we finally learn what the strange title to his book means. Mr. Kibblewhite was the headmaster who expelled Roger from school after telling him he'd "never make anything of your life." From here, Roger takes the reader through an abridged and breezy tour of his life, hitting on several highlights and lowlights but never going into too much depth. The bulk of the story is, of course, made up of the Who's career (and predominantly their "real" career of 1964-1978, but there's also a fair amount dedicated to their resurgent touring career of 1996 to the present). The other major thread running throughout the book is his marriage to Heather, his companion since 1968 and his wife since 1971.



Those looking for new information or a deep-dive look at Roger's life won't find it in this book. As opposed to a soul-baring memoir (see: Pete's book), Roger's feels more like an affectionate look back at all of the things he's accomplished in life. That's not to say that it's bad, it's just different from what I was expecting. Before I continue, I apologize for the repeated comparisons to Pete and his book, but as the two most high profile (and surviving) members of the Who, they're inevitable. Whereas Pete's book is like listening in to him laying on a psychiatrist's couch, Roger's is more like sitting in a pub having a beer while he tells stories from his past. This is helped by the warm tone and dry humor peppering the prose. It was a relatively quick read and at just over 240 pages not a particularly deep one. This isn't meant as a knock, though. Unlike Pete, Roger is a simple man and I am by no means implying that as a slight on his intelligence; while Pete was the musical genius behind the Who, Roger was a genius as well in his ability to get inside of the characters and emotions Pete wrong about to give them a life and a voice. Rather, I mean that Roger is an uncomplicated guy; he handles his problems, moves on from them, and doesn't hold too much resentment or regret over the majority of them (again, contrast this with Townshend). It would only stand to figure that his book would reflect this the way Pete's reflected all of his (Townshend's) neuroses. While it doesn't offer anything too deep beyond what most dedicated Who fans already know about the man, Daltrey's book is an enjoyable read and the portrait of a man who seems to be utterly at peace with his life, what he's accomplished, and where he is now. In a lot of ways, that's more interesting (and unusual) in rock and roll than the opposite. There were no great revelations in Roger's book, but I enjoyed learning about his perspective on his life and career and I'm glad those words straight from the man himself. If you're a Who fan I suspect you will, too.

MY RATING: 7/10

Thursday, October 25, 2018

World Series Game 2: Los Angeles Dodgers at Red Sox (October 24, 2018)

One of the biggest question marks heading into the postseason was what the Red Sox could expect out of David Price. Given his well documented struggles in the postseason, I along with the rest of Red Sox Nation hoped for the best but braced for the worst. After his disastrous game two start against the Yankees in the ALDS, it seemed like he was destined to never win in October. Then a funny thing happened in the ALCS...he pitched well. He was pulled from game two one out shy of qualifying for the win, but he'd been solid that game. He finally did what we all knew he was capable of doing in the game five clincher by spinning a gem and getting his first career postseason win. Of course, being Boston fans the narrative was then "well, did he really throw the monkey off of his back or was that just a one-time thing?" We were prepared to find out in game two of the World Series when Price made the biggest start of his life.

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From the outset, let me make one thing clear: for as bad as Tim Timmons was behind the plate in game one, Kerwin Danley was that much worse in game two. I hate complaining about umpire or referees even when it's warranted, but it definitely merits some comment here. At least Timmons called a (mostly) consistently tight strike zone; Danley was just a mess. He routinely called pitches in the identical location a ball one pitch and then a strike the next, and oftentimes within the same at bat! A pitch that clearly caught the corner of the plate would be called a ball while another pitch that was three inches off the edge would be a strike. He was consistently inconsistent and it affected both teams. To say it was maddening would be an understatement and it definitely extended some innings and increased the pitch counts for both starters, but the best players and teams have to overcome those kind of obstacles. The home plate umpiring didn't determine the outcome, but it sure made for a frustrating night. Speaking of frustrating, Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu was very frustrating for Red Sox batters and fans. Continuing a season-long trend, he was a guy who throws mainly off speed junk and kept the Red Sox off balance for most of the night. Coming into the game he wasn't a particularly good pitcher and his numbers on the road were even worse than at home, but the Sox have had trouble with pitchers like that all season and that continued on Wednesday night. It felt like they should've had five or six runs by the end of the third inning with the slop that guy was throwing, but they could only muster one run. That came in the bottom of the second when Ian Kinsler put them on the scoreboard first with an RBI single which drove in Xander Bogaerts. Price got into a jam in the fourth when he loaded the bases with no outs (and here, he was hurt by some questionable balls called by Danley which led to a couple of walks). Matt Kemp drove in a run with a sacrifice fly and Yasiel Puig drove in another with a single before the inning was over. To limit the damage to only two runs there was excellent and at that point with the Sox down 2-1, I didn't blame Price at all. He'd been pitching well and as I've been saying all season (and my entire life), on any night where your starter is only giving up two runs, you'd damn well better be winning the game. The run support finally came when they began to put real pressure on Ryu in the fifth. After loading the bases with two outs, Ryan Madson came on in relief and promptly walked Steve Pearce to drive in the tying run. Then he surrendered a flare single to right field off the bat of JD Martinez which scored two runs and put Boston ahead 4-2. That was it for the scoring as Price completed six strong innings and Joe Kelly, Nathan Eovaldi, and Craig Kimbrel each pitched 1-2-3 innings to close out the game and the victory. Two wins down, two to go.

Boston Red Sox 2018 ALCS Champs

Offensively, the Sox outhit LA 8-3 and again got contributions from a variety of guys. Mookie Betts was 3-4 with a run scored, JD went 1-4 with those two huge RBI, and Bogaerts, Kinsler, Jackie Bradley, and Christian Vazquez each chipped in with a hit apiece. Andrew Benintendi, who was a red hot 4-5 in game one, went hitless but did walk and score a run and he made one of the best catches I've seen on a ball scorched to left field in the fifth inning. He made a pretty good approximation of the Air Jordan logo and in doing so instantly became a meme. As for Price, he pitched great and the numbers don't do justice to how on he was. He was hurt by some horrible calls behind the plate that extended a few innings and upped his pitch count, but he still went six inning while only giving up three hits and two runs. The five strikeouts and three walks were affected somewhat by Danley's ridiculous strike zone, but I will take those numbers from Price every day and twice on Sunday. Red Sox pitchers combined to retire the final sixteen Dodgers in a row and Kimbrel again looked like his old self. With a 2-0 series lead, the teams now head to Los Angeles and warmer temperatures for the next three games. Rick Porcello will get the start in game three on Friday night and he'll be up against Dodgers rookie Walker Buehler. All the Sox have to do is take one of three in LA to come back to Boston with a stranglehold on the series, but seeing how they've been the ultimate road warriors all season and postseason I'm hoping they can do what they did in Houston and finish it off there. We'll see how it goes this weekend!

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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

World Series Game 1: Los Angeles Dodgers at Red Sox (October 23, 2018)

Based on all of the team's left in Major League Baseball's final four, we ended up with the sexiest and most appealing of all possible matchups. No offense to the Brewers or Astros, but there's just something special about a Boston vs. LA pairing. Whether it's because it evokes memories of all of the famed Celtics/Lakers clashes in the NBA Finals, the cultural and geographical differences between East Coast and West Coast, or simply because the red and blue uniforms have been unchanged for decades (and look so damn good), this World Series is a marquee matchup. Since the Red Sox dispatched the Astros in five games in the ALCS, we had to sit and wait three days to see who their opponent would be and a further two days for the World Series to begin. With a pitching matchup of Chris Sale versus Clayton Kershaw, you couldn't ask for a better start to the series. Strangely for a team that led the league in wins, dispatched two 100-win teams in the Yankees and Astros in nine games total, and won sixteen more than their World Series opponent, most of the national media chose the Dodgers to win this series. As I always say, though, that's why they play the games. With another too-late-for-an-East-Coast-game start time, I settled onto my couch with my wife and kids to watch the game and prepared for another late night of October baseball.

(As a side note, both the 2004 and 2013 World Series started on October 23, which is a strange coincidence. Also, for game one of the 2004 series my wife (who was pregnant with our oldest) and I watched it on the big screen at a movie theater in Maine; now we're watching it at home with our four children. It was a blast in '04 and something we still talk about, but looking at where we are now I can't believe it was fourteen year ago...time flies!)

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You couldn't have asked for a better pitching matchup to lead off the series than Chris Sale against Clayton Kershaw. Both lefties are among the best in their generation, but both also have spotty postseason records. Sale was winless in October prior to this year and Kershaw is the National League's version of David Price. Still, on a cold and damp night at Fenway Park it seemed as though this game might be decided on the pitching and not the hitting...unfortunately the expected pitcher's duel never materialized. The Sox struck early yet again this postseason when Mookie Betts singled, stole second, and scored on Andrew Benintendi's single in the bottom of the first. JD Martinez then singled to drive in Benintendi.  They looked poised to do more damage but the inning fizzled out and heading into the second, it was 2-0 Sox. Sale didn't look sharp from the get-go and the first signs of this were in the second when, after getting Matt Kemp in an 0-2 hole, he couldn't put him away. Kemp fouling off pitches until he finally tagged one over the Green Monster to cut the lead in half. Amazingly, that would be the only extra base hit the Dodgers got in the entire game. In the third, the hated Manny Machado singled to drive in Justin Turner and tied the game at two runs apiece. The Sox answered in the bottom of the inning when JD crushed a ball to center field to push Steve Pearce across and reclaim the lead. There was a bit of a scary moment as JD was rounding second; his foot slipped on the wet base and when he planted his other foot, he rolled his ankle. He seemed alright and he played the rest of the game, but that's not something you ever like to see. Machado struck again in the fifth when his ground out to second base drove Brian Dozier in to tie the game again. Prior to that play, Matt Barnes (who had entered after Sale walked the first batter of the inning...more on that later) had runners on first and second with no outs. A passed ball allowed the Dodgers runners to advance to second and third which ended up hurting because instead of Machado's grounder leading to an inning-ending double play, it scored a run and prolonged the inning. As they did all night though, Boston responded immediately. They had the bases loaded with no outs in the bottom of the fifth and JD coming up to bat. It seemed as though they were about the blow the game wide open, but he struck out and was followed by Xander Bogaerts who grounded out to Machado at shortstop. Luckily, Xander hustled down the line and beat the throw at first to avoid the inning ending double play which allowed Mookie to score from first. Rafael Devers was up next and singled to right field to drive Benintendi in and give the Sox a bit of breathing room with a 5-3 lead. Machado (are you as sick of reading his name as I am of writing it?) hit a sacrifice fly in the seventh to bring Max Muncy home and shave Boston's lead to 5-4, but (repeat after me) the Sox answered in the bottom half of the inning with some much needed insurance. With two on and two outs, Alex Cora pinch hit for Devers with Eduardo Nunez. It was a move that baffled me and I was about to criticize Cora for it when Nunez crushed a pitch onto the Monster for a huge three run homer and an 8-4 lead. Two things here: first, I'm never questioning Cora again. I said that after the ALCS, but the Nunez move confused me enough given the way Devers has been swinging the bat that I was about to do it. Never again. Second, I have no idea how Nunez hit that homer. That pitch was down and in and barely above his shoe tops. Somehow he got the barrel of the bat on it and lifted it enough that it made it out. I immediately thought it would be a wall ball double (which still would've been nice) but he had enough underneath it to just barely make it over the top of the wall. This is Alex Cora's world and we're all just living in it. He's only a year into his tenure but he's been elevated to Bill Belichick status as far as I'm concerned: in Cora we trust. The Dodgers never recovered from Nunez' blast. Nathan Eovaldi shut them down in the eighth and we finally saw vintage Craig Kimbrel in the ninth when he closed out the game with a 1-2-3 inning (one fly out, two Ks). One win down, three to go.

Boston Red Sox 2018 ALCS Champs

Back to Sale; no he didn't look sharp and his command was eluding him all night. He slogged through 4+ innings (he pitched to a batter in the fifth) to the tune of 91 pitches (only 54 of which were strikes)  and while he struck out seven and only walked two, he gave up three earned runs on five hits. With that being said, home plate umpire Tim Timmons had a VERY tight strike zone on both teams, but appeared to squeeze Sale more than once (including in his final walk of the game). There were pitches Kershaw was getting called strikes where Sale was getting balls in literally the exact same location. It was enough that Sandy Leon, Alex Cora, and Sale barked at him; even the announcers commented on it. That wasn't the reason Sale had a poor outing, but it definitely contributed to his high pitch count. Kershaw wasn't much better, also lasting only four innings and surrendering five earned runs on seven hits to go with three walks and five strikeouts. The Red Sox bullpen again did an excellent job in keeping the game close so that the hitters could do their damage and the offense certainly obliged. They outhit LA 11-8 and had numerous extra base hits while the Dodgers only had one. Just about everyone contributed (Sandy Leon even had two hits!) but the heavy lifting was done by Benintendi (4-5, three runs scored, one RBI) and JD (2-3, a run scored, two RBI, and a walk). Throughout the game Boston showed how relentless their lineup is and how they can beat you in so many different ways. They'll look to continue that in game two on Wednesday night as David Price faces off against Hyun-Jin Ryu. I and all of Red Sox Nation will be hoping that Price can deliver another performance like he did in the ALCS clincher and help the team take a 2-0 lead on the road for this weekend's games. There's still a long way to go and this Dodgers team is no pushover, but the Red Sox have been taking it one game at a time all postseason and it's been so fun to watch (fun is an understatement). There's nothing like the World Series, especially when your favorite team is in it and especially when that team is as talented and joyous to watch as the 2018 Red Sox.

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Friday, October 19, 2018

ALCS Game 5: Red Sox at Houston Astros (October 18, 2018)

The Red Sox won the pennant! How great do those words sound? Remember when the Red Sox were considered little more than a speedbump in the way of the Yankees and then the Astros? When the postseason started, the national media, a majority of the Boston media, and even a large percentage of Red Sox Nation thought the team had no chance against the fearsome Yankees. (I'll admit that after game two of the Yankees series, I thought the Sox were finished. It seems foolish now to look back at a series tied 1-1 and think that, but I certainly wasn't the only one. I'll own it.). After winning two games at Yankee Stadium to close out the ALDS, everyone in national sports media picked Houston to steamroll the Sox in the ALCS. I thought the Sox would win the series but that it would go six or seven games. After dropping the opener at home I ripped the Sox for looking overwhelmed and for whining about the umpiring all night. When they bounced back to win game two and tie the series, I thought it was going to be a dogfight to the end. I stated repeatedly on here and on Twitter that my hope was for them to win two of the next three in Houston in order to come back to Boston up 3-2. The Sox responded by winning games three and four to go up 3-1. I then speculated that game five was one Alex Cora was willing to lose if things didn't shake out the way he wanted. This was for a few reasons: David Price was pitching on three days rest (and we're all well aware of his postseason struggles), the Astros had Justin Verlander starting, and the Sox had the buffer of two more games at home to close it out. I assumed Cora would leave Price in the game for five or six innings regardless of how well he pitched in order to eat up some innings and give the already taxed bullpen some rest. As I settled in for the first pitch I was curious to see which, if any, of my predictions would hold true.

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For the fourth consecutive game the Sox struck first. In the third inning it appeared that Verlander had rung up JD Martinez on an 0-2 pitch, but the home plate umpire disagreed and called it a ball. I thought it should have been strike three and acknowledged that the Sox got a break there. The very next pitch was a hanging curveball that JD sat on and crushed to left field for a solo home run and a 1-0 lead. With the way both Verlander and Price were pitching, this was a classic pitcher's duel for the first five innings. All night, the Sox had gotten to Verlander and put men on base, but they hadn't been able to turn those into runs. I kept saying to my wife and kids "if they can keep putting pressure on him [Verlander], eventually they'll break through." It eventually happened in the sixth inning. Mitch Moreland led off the inning with a double that scraped the wall in left field...this time Tony Kemp couldn't make the catch even though it looked like he just might. After Ian Kinsler singled to right field to put runners on the corners with no outs, Rafael Devers hit a towering ball off the first pitch he saw to the opposite field for a three run homer and a 4-0 Red Sox lead. For some strange reason, that felt like it would be more than enough of a lead and I was relaxed and calm for the rest of the game. In the bottom of the sixth Mookie Betts made a great leaping grab of an Alex Bregman drive that was almost identical to the fan interference incident in game four, but there was no dispute on this one. Marwin Gonzalez helped Houston avoid the shut out when he hit an opposite field home run off of Matt Barnes to almost the same spot as Devers, but that was all Houston got as they went down in both the game and the series to the final of 4-1. The bullpen trio of Barnes, Nathan Eovaldi, and Craig Kimbrel took care of the final three innings of the game and apart from the homer Barnes surrendered, they kept Houston at bay and slammed the door. Andrew Benintendi made the final out with a running catch at the warning track on a Kemp fly ball and the series was over. For the second time in just over a week the Red Sox celebrated on their opponent's field and in their clubhouse.

So what does all of this tell you? First and foremost, it should tell you that I'm not particularly good at making predictions! Alex Cora and the 2018 Red Sox are not only a terrifically talented baseball team, but they're mentally tough as nails. They're also now the undisputed best team in baseball after winning three in a row on the road in Houston. Before I discuss anything else, I have two words for you: David Price. He. Was. Amazing in this game. He tossed six superb innings, only allowing three hits and striking out nine batters without a single walk. He did it all on ninety-three pitches and seemed in complete control of his repertoire from the very start. He only had one three ball count and kept the Astros hitters off balance and guessing all night. It was his first career postseason win and couldn't have come at a better time as he outdueled Verlander and held the potent Astros lineup scoreless. He's finally thrown the postseason monkey off of his back and proved me and everyone else wrong who said he'd never be able to do it. I'm really happy for him because I've always cheered for him since I knew that if he did well, the Red Sox would do well. I've never understood the segment of Red Sox fans who cheered against the guy and wanted to run him out of town...hopefully he's quieted them for good with this performance. Also encouraging was Kimbrel finally pitching a clean ninth inning. Other than a walk, he struck two out and got Kemp to fly out to end the game. Of further note, the Sox pitching held Bregman 0-9 over the final two games of the series; he was the one Astro that Cora wasn't going to let beat them and after pitching around him for the first three games they attacked him and shut him down completely. (It was also nice to shove it in his face after his attempt to troll the Sox before game three severely backfired). Another significant point I want to make about this win which is a testament to the Red Sox depth is that the majority of the offensive damage came from the bottom half of the order. Apart from JD's solo shot on a night where he went 2-4, it was Moreland, Kinsler, Devers, and Christian Vazquez who put the pressure on Verlander and ultimately scored the winning runs. On a night where they were facing one of the best pitchers of his generation in an elimination game, it wasn't Mookie or Benintendi or Xander Bogaerts who did any damage and yet the game always felt completely in Boston's control. The win earned the team the AL pennant and sent them to the World Series to await the winner of the NLCS...not a bad way for Cora to spend his 43rd birthday. Jackie Bradley won the ALCS MVP award for his monstrous hitting in games two, three, and four and his superb defense throughout the series. Jackie is a player I've always been a big fan of going back to his rookie season in 2013 so to see him win that award was really nice.

Boston Red Sox 2018 ALCS Champs

Wrapping up the series in five games showed that the Sox are the ultimate road dogs this postseason: they're 5-0 away from Fenway Park this October and have outscored their opponents 40-13 in the visitor's ballparks. This a relentless offensive lineup that can beat you in so many different ways while the pitching (both starting and relief) has been, on the whole, nothing short of spectacular. The win now gives the Red Sox four full days to rest, study film, prepare, and line up their rotation for the World Series. (It also gives Chris Sale extra time to fully regain his strength from the stomach virus that sidelined him). It will be interesting to see who they end up playing with the NLCS currently heading to game six on Friday with the Dodgers leading the Brewers 3-2. The baseball fan in me wants to see a Red Sox vs. Dodgers World Series because it would pit two marquee original franchises against each other and evokes shades of another legendary Boston vs. Los Angeles rivalry, that between the Celtics and Lakers. However, I can't stand the current Dodgers team (nor can I ever root for any team from LA), so you can see how confusing my rooting interests are in that series! Regardless of who Boston plays, the World Series will be a challenge for this team, but after seeing them overcome obstacles and doubters all season, who would bet against them now?

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