Baseball BeatAugust 21, 2005
By Rich Lederer

Analyzing and writing about baseball the past two-plus years has been an extremely enjoyable experience. One of the biggest rewards is meeting others who share the same passion for the best game ever invented.

I have met dozens of baseball writers, bloggers, and executives in person and communicated via email and telephone with many, many more. I have even been fortunate to attend ballgames with the likes of Brian Gunn, Jonah Keri, Rob McMillin, Dayn Perry, Joe Sheehan, Bob Timmermann, and Jon Weisman. I have had pre-game meals with Ken Arneson, Mat Gleason, and Sean Smith, and have broken bread with Jim Callis, Will Carroll, Alex Ciepley, Jay Jaffe, Bill James, Nate Silver, Bryan Smith, and Peter White. The purpose of the foregoing isn't to name drop but to add color to the wonderful friendships I've developed over the past three summers.

Well, Thursday night television was known for Friends, so it was appropriate on that very night to hook up with another baseball writing pal of mine, Patrick Sullivan. Pat, known to most in the blogosphere as Sully of The House That Dewey Built fame, is vacationing in Long Beach with Johanna Wise, his girlfriend of five years, and Ryan McDonough, his longtime friend from Boston.

Johanna was born and raised in Long Beach, and her parents live within a couple of Manny Ramirez Juan Rivera home runs from me. In the department of this is a small world, she and my son Joe went to the same middle school even though we didn't live as close to each other back then as we do now. After graduating from high school, Johanna attended Penn, where she and Sully met for the first time. Pat now works for a leading global financial services firm in Boston and Jo is going to law school at Boston College.

Sully just so happened to time his trip to Southern California while his beloved Red Sox were in town for a four-game series with the Los Angeles Angels. He invited me to go the Thursday night game with Johanna and Ryan, the son of the late great Will McDonough.

I picked up the threesome at the home of Johanna's parents a couple of hours before the game. Dressed in Red Sox garb, Sully and Johanna (who is actually a Cubs fan at heart) were raring to go. Ryan's outfit was more non-descript. Like me, he is more passionate about baseball than any one particular team. However, just as I lean toward the Angels and Dodgers, Ryan, if pressed, would root for his hometown Red Sox over the other 29 teams. His first love though is the Boston Celtics. You see, Ryan works for the team as a Special Assistant in Basketball Operations.

Wearing a button down short-sleeve, cranberry-red shirt with no team name, I could pose as a Red Sox or Angels fan. You might say I was sitting on the fence. If so, you wouldn't be far off because we sat in field box seats down the right-field line. We had one future Hall of Famer and a retread from the Japanese leagues playing directly in front of us all night. (Sorry, Johanna.) Our view of center field was totally obstructed by the seats in right field. As a result, we had to rely on the crowd noise and the video screen above the grandstands in the outfield to determine if a ball hit to deep right-center, center, and left-center were fly outs or home runs. As an example, we had no idea what happened on this play until checking out the replay on the scoreboard.

Oh well, we more than made up for the missed plays with good chatter and banter throughout the game. Trying to bridge the gap with my Bostonian friends, I told them that Joe, when asked by a park director who his favorite player was, replied, "Ted Williams." I get a kick out of that story because Joe was just seven years old at the time and The Splendid Splinter had been retired for 26 years. Williams is actually one of my favorites, too, and, if the truth be told, he died on my birthday.

Looking like Teddy Ballgame, Casey Kotchman hit a line drive that almost literally knocked Tim Wakefield out of the box in the fifth inning. Kotchman, who homered in the second inning to give the Angels a lead they never relinquished, has surprisingly hit for more power than average in his second stint in the big leagues this year. I have to keep reminding myself that the rookie is only 22 years old. A first-round pick in 2001, Kotchman has hit well in the minors and is generally regarded as one of the top dozen prospects in the game.

Kotchman is good enough right now to start at first base for the Red Sox. Sully won't disagree with me here. He knows more about Kevin Millar's failings than just about anybody. Did you know the Sox first sacker is slugging .285 on the road (with no HR in 190 AB) this year? The Bruce Springsteen wannabe isn't dancing in the dark or hitting in the dark (.241/.332/.319 at night). To put it bluntly, Millar is the worst-hitting first baseman in the big leagues.

Although Kotchman is usually compared to Mark Grace, it's possible that his upside could be as high as Don Mattingly. The 1985 American League MVP--has it really been 20 years?--displayed little power in the minor leagues while hitting .332, yet slugged 30 or more HR in his second, third, and fourth full big-league seasons. At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, there is no reason why Kotchman shouldn't develop into a 20-30 HR type (whereas Grace never went yard more than 17 times in any season).

In any event, make Sully the Boston manager and Roberto Petagine would be his first baseman. Granted, the 34-year-old hasn't played in the majors in seven years, but he tore it up in Japan from 1999-2004 (223 HR in six years) and was putting up big numbers at Pawtucket (.327/.452/.635) before he was recently recalled. Although the native of New York, New York didn't have a plate appearance on Thursday night, he had a 10-pitch walk as a pinch hitter on Friday evening. Given his age, he is obviously not the answer to Boston's problems at first base longer term. However, Petagine could be the solution to their woes this year. Sully just wants Terry Francona to give Roberto a chance.

Following Sully's lead, we headed for the exits after the Red Sox batted in the top of the eighth. I thought that was something only Southern Californians pulled, but I guess even Boston fans leave early when their team is behind 10-3. Had we stayed 'til the finish, Sully would have had to endure the Angels padding their lead with three more in the home half of the eighth. Bill Mueller hit a home run in the top of the ninth--or so I'm told--to narrow the final margin of defeat to less than a touchdown and PAT plus a field goal.

I better quit now before we start comparing notes on the New England Patriots and the. . .and the. . .hmmm. Baseball, friends, Thursday nights. It sure beats the heck out of TV.

* * * * *

Speaking of Friends and Bruce Springsteen, who did the Boss pull out of the audience and onto the stage in the Dancing in the Dark music video?


Kotchman's good enough to start at first for the Red Sox? Heck, he's good enough to start at first for the Angels, too...

Yeah, I had actually worked that into my first draft but decided against it once I realized how far off track it was going to lead me. Plus, I didn't want to offend Steve Physioc's and Rex Hudler's boy, "Ersty."

Why, none other than Courtney Cox shared the stage with the Boss

Would the Sully in question be the oft-referred to chum of Bill Simmons?

"Would the Sully in question be the oft-referred to chum of Bill Simmons?"