WooSox host Fidrych Foundation, Challenger players take the field

On August 21, 2021, Challenger League players had the chance to live in the shoes of a WooSox player as they took the field at Polar Park as part of a Mark Fidrych Foundation event.

This was an awesome opportunity for the players, who were kids of a variety of ages with special needs. It’s all thanks to the WooSox partnership with the Fidrych Foundation.

A longtime partnership

Even back in Pawtucket, the Red Sox AAA affiliate has always given back to the community around them and made their ballpark accessible to all audiences. As part of this, they have longtime partnerships with both the Challenger League, a baseball league for those with physical and developmental disabilities, and the Mark Fidrych Foundation, an organization that enhances the lives of those with special needs through sports and sports education. The Fidrych Foundation was started by the family of Mark ‘The Bird’ Fidrych after he died in a tractor accident back in 2009. Fidrych, a former MLB pitcher who spent time with the AAA Red Sox, was highly involved in the community of his hometown of Northborough, MA prior to his death and his family wanted to continue his legacy.

When the team moved to Worcester and became the WooSox, it was the perfect opportunity to bring their Fidrych Foundation and Challenger partnerships together, as the Foundation supports Challenger teams in many nearby towns.

I caught up with Ann and Jessica Fidrych from the Foundation as well as Joe Bradlee, the WooSox Vice President of Baseball Operations and Community Relations, who spoke about the partnership.

Challenger League comes to bat

To begin the day, Challenger League players and their buddies were welcomed onto the field and each player got the chance to bat and run the bases.

As players came up to bat, their names were announced, just like the real WooSox players.

Bradlee pitched to the players and multiple coaches and WooSox staff members, including former Red Sox catcher and current WooSox hitting coach Rich Gedman, played the field.

I caught up with Gedman after the game. Gedman is a Worcester native and is proud to be involved not only with the WooSox but also in giving back to the Worcester community.

I also spoke with several long time Challenger League players: Krish from Shrewsbury, Tobin from Southborough, and Jay from Framingham. All three of them had nice hits off of Bradlee, and Krish had one of the biggest hits of the day as he drilled the ball down the third base line. Krish said it was a result of him continuing to work on his swing.

Parents were able to watch their kids from the berm. I spoke with the parents of Ryan Love, a longtime Shrewsbury Challenger League player. They were ecstatic about Ryan having the opportunity to take an at bat at Polar Park.

Outstanding volunteers honored

After the players finished batting and running, the Fidrych Foundation announced the honorees of their annual Citizenship Award. The award was given to four individuals who have volunteered as buddies in Fidrych Foundation programs. According to the Foundation’s website, the Citizenship Award is for “young men and women who have actively participated in and advocated for special needs athletic involvement within their surrounding communities.” This year’s winners were Kyle Daunais, Gianni Colonero, Michael Warwick, and Chase Collins.

Kyle and Gianni, both longtime Challenger League buddies, were in attendance. I had the chance to speak with both of them after they received their awards. They were glad the Foundation was so appreciative of their volunteer efforts and were happy to take part in this welcoming community.

Ken’s Foods welcomes Challenger League back

Thanks to Ken’s Foods, all the Challenger League players, buddies, and their families were welcomed back to Polar Park later that day for the game against the Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, the AAA affiliate of the New York Yankees. The Fidrych Foundation was honored as part of the pregame ceremony. This topped off a fun day for everyone involved in this evolving partnership.

The Fidrych Foundation not only improves the lives of the players, but also gives teenagers in the area a chance to make a difference in their community. I have several friends who have gotten involved either as players or volunteers, and when I played in the Northborough Challenger League for its first five years, I truly saw how much the Foundation did to make the Challenger players feel special.

The WooSox have continued to welcome people from all backgrounds to the ballpark with open arms, and I think it’s amazing that they’re supporting an organization like the Fidrych Foundation.

Sale leads to first Polar Park sellout, WooSox win on Autism Acceptance Day

It was Autism Acceptance Day at Polar Park and it was a beautiful day for some baseball. The WooSox faced the Toronto Blue Jays AAA affiliates, the Buffalo Bisons. Before the game, the WooSox honored many organizations that support people affected by autism. The New England Center for Children (NECC), a leader in autism education and training (and the school that taught me to talk) was honored during the pregame ceremony. Many NECC students, teachers, and family members also received tickets to the game.

Autism Acceptance Day was also the first 100% capacity sellout at Polar Park (9,508 fans) as Chris Sale took the mound for a rehab start after undergoing Tommy John surgery back in March 2020.

While Sale’s rehab start made this game even more exciting, large crowds can be a challenge for individuals with autism. As a result, the WooSox added an additional sensory-friendly space in the DCU Club. The Unum Sensory Friendly Room was also open, as it is for every game, along the first base line adjacent to fan services.

I covered the game and events of the day on behalf of the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism. I was focusing not only on the game but also on the inclusive environment Polar Park had created.

I caught up with Jared Bouzan, NECC’s Chief Development Officer, before he was honored on the field. I also spoke with Jeff Arnold, a member of the NECC marketing team. Both Jared and Jeff were excited for the events of the day and very appreciative of the WooSox.

Marie Roy, an autistic WooSox employee, was working at the nacho stand. I met Marie last month during the Polar Park open house and caught up with her again at this game at the nacho stand where she works:

Joe Bradlee, WooSox VP of Baseball Operations & Community Relations invited me to come to the park at 1 p.m., three hours before the game, to catch batting practice (BP). It was a pretty incredible experience to be welcomed on the field to cover BP along with several other press members. Many extra media members came to Polar Park for Chris Sale. Red Sox utility player Marwin Gonzalez, like Sale, was also on a rehab assignment and took BP with the team. After BP, I had the chance to interview WooSox first baseman and designated hitter Josh Ockimey as well as WooSox coach Bruce Crabbe.

I also had the chance to speak with reporters like Joe McDonald of the Worcester Telegram (who I had originally met in 2015 during my first press box experience with the Bruins), and Alex Speier, a Boston Globe baseball writer and researcher who is frequently on NESN during Red Sox games to provide unique insight on the players. I was surprised to learn that despite the wealth of information that Alex shares during a game, like the percentage of change-ups a pitcher has thrown all season, that he is a one-man research team. He noted that he comes up with the good questions and then finds the data on the internet.

After covering BP and the pregame ceremony, I found a spot behind home plate next to the press box to watch the game. I was able to see Sale’s warm-up in right field in front of the Worcester Wall, and the game began shortly afterwards.

In the top of the first, the crowd roared as Sale took the mound. Even though he let a couple of baserunners on in the first, he kept the Bisons scoreless. Marwin Gonzalez, who I saw smash a few balls to right field during BP, gave the WooSox an early lead by crushing a solo homer over the Worcester Wall in the bottom of the first.

Over the first three innings, Chris Sale struck out six batters and he looked very sharp in the third inning when hitters Christian Colon, Corey Dickerson, and Tyler White all went down swinging for strike three. I performed some play-by-play from the stands during the top half of the second inning.

The fourth inning wasn’t as easy for Sale as he struggled with his fastball command. Sale gave up his first run in this inning on a pair of doubles. However, if it weren’t for center fielder Tate Matheny leaping up against the wall to rob Kevin Smith of a home run, the Bisons would have taken the lead. Matheny also had a running catch for out #2, with the third out coming on Sale’s seventh strikeout.

In the bottom of the inning, Matheny showed how great defense can lead to offense by hitting a two-run shot over the wall and onto the left field berm. Michael Gettys, who had reached base in all four of his at bats, scored on the HR blast.

Sale left the game with the score 3-1, after throwing 81 pitches, striking out seven, and giving up one run in five innings. Shortly after Sale was done, several media members exited the press box and a few of them asked me if I wanted to go see Chris Sale, so I followed them out of the ballpark.

The WooSox set up a temporary press tent just outside the ballpark specifically for the Chris Sale post game interview. He spoke to the media during the bottom of the 6th inning. I was told that I could observe, as Joe McDonald and Alex Speier asked the bulk of the questions, but I was encouraged to take a spot up close on the side of the tent just before Sale came out to speak.

Sale said he was very encouraged by the results and that this was different than the previous rehab outings. He said he “felt normal” for the first time in a long while during this game. He knows what the Red Sox are doing is special and that he needs to be ready to help them when he rejoins the club.

While Sale was speaking, the WooSox continued to build on their lead as #2 Red Sox prospect (according to MLB.com) Jeter Downs, hit a huge solo shot into deep left field and well past the berm seats.

Buffalo made the game closer in the seventh inning. Nash Knight who had already knocked in the first Bisons run, tripled for his third hit before scoring on a Rodrigo Vigil groundout.

However, Durbin Feltman came in to pitch the last two innings, and prevented the Bisons from scoring any more as the WooSox secured a 4-2 victory. Sale was the winning pitcher with his first official win since August 2019.

After the win, fans headed onto the field for the Sunset Catch. Fans are invited to play catch after every Saturday WooSox game at Polar Park.

I had a thrilling day at Polar Park as I had the opportunity to enjoy all the events of the day as a press member, a fan, and a member of the autism community. I’ll be back at Polar Park again on Friday August 13 to see the game and watch fireworks afterwards, something Polar Park does for every Friday night game. If you haven’t had the chance to go to a game yet, I highly recommend it.

Sox Overcome 4-0 Deficit despite German’s 7 No-Hit Innings

Graphic from Extra Innings Live on NESN

The Red Sox lead the MLB in comeback wins, with today being their 32nd. Even with all these comebacks, today was probably the most impressive of the entire season.

Domingo German absolutely dominated most of the game as he had a no-hitter through seven innings, and there were no signs of him slowing down. In the seventh inning, German had to face the middle of the Red Sox lineup: Jarren Duran, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and J.D. Martinez. In what one might see as an opportunity for the Red Sox to break up the no-hitter, German was looking unstoppable. He ended up with a total of not three but four strikeouts in the inning. Bogaerts reached first on a passed ball after striking out. German remained focused and was able to strikeout Devers and Martinez, and keep the no-hitter going with 10 K’s on the day.

This game started out as a pitchers duel but the Yankees quietly got out to a lead, scoring single runs in the third, fourth, sixth, and eighth. Second baseman Rougned Odor was a large part of the scoring, as he had two RBI including a solo homer.

The Red Sox headed into the bottom of the eighth in a bad spot. It appeared they were about to lose the AL East lead, split with the Yankees, and let the Yankees get back to within seven games of first place. However, even with German’s dominance, the Red Sox were inspired by Alex Cora’s words during the seventh inning, as Kike Hernandez noted during the postgame press conference.

“Things weren’t looking great,” Hernandez said. “When [Alex Cora] went up to the mound and he took Yacksiel [Rios] out of the game and brought in [Josh Taylor], he said to us, ‘If JT gets out of this inning we’re winning this game…’ You trust what AC says, a lot of times he sees things before they happen and you just go with it. If he says we’re going to win this game, it’s probably going to happen… we’ve said it many times, we’re not out of a game until a game’s over and we proved that today.”

Alex Verdugo led off the bottom of 8th by breaking up the no hitter as he nailed the ball to deep right center for an off the wall double. With that hit, Yankees manager Aaron Boone decided to pull German after 93 pitches. Jonathan Loaisiga entered the game in relief, but he didn’t have any success against this Red Sox lineup.

Against Loaisiga, Hunter Renfroe drilled the ball down the third base line for another double to knock in Verdugo. The Red Sox were on the board, but they weren’t done there. They were ready to rally. Christian Vazquez’s ball dropped into the outfield for an RBI bloop single. Franchy Cordero, who was up next, had struggled at the major league level so far this year despite success in Worcester. Cordero, the potential tying run surprisingly tried to bunt on the first pitch. Fortunately, the bunt was hit foul and out of play and then with two strikes, he hit a ground ball single right up the middle quickly over the mound and by second base.

Kike Hernandez was 0-3 on the day, but after playing a major part in the two other victories of this series, he came up clutch. He drilled another one down the third base line for a double and made it a one run game. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The Red Sox had gone from a hitless day to five consecutive hits, two runners in scoring position, and still nobody out in the inning as Kevin Plawecki came in to pinch hit for Duran. The Sox were down 4-3 and now had a chance to take the lead.

Duran had struck out three times on the day so Sox manager Alex Cora opted for Plawecki to face the tough lefty Zack Britton who had come in to replace Loaisiga. Plawecki, a good contact hitter, hit a soft roller to short, but with both Hernandez and Cordero running on contact, both were able to advance with Cordero touching home to tie the game. The Red Sox still had Bogaerts, Devers, and Martinez ready to hit after Plawecki. Bogaerts hit a fly ball into right field just deep enough for Hernandez to try to tag up and score. He began charging towards home plate and arrived just in time to beat the throw with a diving head first slide. The crowd was on their feet as the Sox now had a 5-4 lead and a well rested Matt Barnes ready in the bullpen to record his 21st save and secure another Red Sox comeback win, and the 10th win against the Yankees out of the 13 games with their longtime rival.

Barnes came in to pitch the top of the ninth inning and retired the first Yankee batter helped out by a good running catch by Verdugo on a hard liner to left by Greg Allen. D.J. LeMahieu grounded out to second for out number two. DH Giancarlo Stanton followed with a base hit off of Barnes though, and the Yankees brought in Tyler Wade to pinch run. Meanwhile, coming up to bat was Rougned Odor, the same guy who had knocked in two of New York’s four runs. Wade stole second, and with a runner in scoring position, Odor had the chance to get another run on the board for the Yanks and tie the game back up. However, Odor popped one up to third base and Devers was there to end the ballgame. Barnes had survived a scare and the Red Sox had gone from being no-hit to pulling off their best comeback of the season.

I think this game really shows what the 2021 Red Sox are capable of, and I’m excited to see how the Red Sox can improve themselves with Chris Sale close to returning and the MLB trade deadline approaching fast.

The Sox are now 61-39 after 100 games. With 62 games left in the regular season and 13 of them against the second place Rays, fans may look back on today’s game the as the one that defined their season of success.

Fun day at WooSox with Advocates despite rain complications

The WooSox were set to play two games on Sunday, July 18. Saturday night’s game had been postponed after just over an inning, and was scheduled to resume at 12:05 on Sunday followed by Sunday’s regularly scheduled game, which would be reduced a to 7 inning game.

Sunday was also Advocates Day as a group from Advocates, a non-profit organization that supports people with disabilities like me, was in attendance. The game was originally set to start at 1PM but with two games being played, the start time was moved up an hour.

Despite the change of plans, Advocates Day went forward. I was invited to join Advocates, and they collaborated with the WooSox so I could have special press credentials to report on the happenings of the day around most areas of the ballpark.

I started out on Polar Park’s Hanover Deck, a great viewing area high up in right field with views of the field and the city of Worcester. I spoke with Diane Gould, President of Advocates:

Advocates, like the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism, continues to help individuals like me. Meeting with Diane, a big sports fan, was a great start to the day despite the overcast skies and expected rain. I was given the opportunity to report on all the action so I watched the continuation of the first game from the Hanover Deck, and did some play by play of my own with my dad serving as my personal cameraman:

Rain began to fall during the 5th inning, so after 5 scoreless innings combined for the first game carried over from Saturday, the WooSox grounds crew brought the tarp out for another rain delay.

Despite the rain delay, there was plenty to enjoy at this brand new ballpark. Behind home plate in the upper level is where the press box and broadcast booth are located. The WooSox provided me special access to the DCU Club which is adjacent to both. It’s a huge premium area with couches and other special seating areas where you can avoid the elements outside but still watch the game.

In the DCU Club, I ran into WooSox broadcaster Mike Antonellis, who I had met at the open house on July 10. He was very generous with his time and gave me the chance to speak with him for a spontaneous rain delay report:

I also had the chance to stop by the press box, which was full during the game but had space during the delay. In the press box I met Cassandra Riley, a graduate of my current high school (Algonquin Regional High School) who is now a WooSox photographer. She had always been interested in photography and baseball, so this was a dream job for her. It turns out that Cassandra’s mom, Patricia Riley, is a teacher at Algonquin who has been a big supporter of my career aspirations and has gone above and beyond for me during my time at Algonquin. It was a pleasant surprise to meet Cassandra because I did not know she worked at the WooSox and we had a lot in common to discuss:

The day was also the first Bark in the Park day at Polar Park, where fans were allowed to bring their dogs to the stadium. The remainder of the games scheduled for the day were eventually called off due to the on and off rain (game 2 was rescheduled to August 19 as another Bark in the Park day), but the WooSox did an excellent job keeping fans (employees too) and their dogs engaged, allowing them onto the field to walk the warning track after the game was called:

Despite weather complications, it was a fun day at the ballpark thanks to Advocates and the WooSox staff. While I wish I could have watched more baseball, the rain delay opened the door for opportunities I may not have had at a typical WooSox game. In addition, even though there wasn’t much action on the field, it’s really exciting watching players like Jeter Downs and Marcus Wilson who could be playing for the Red Sox at Fenway some day, maybe even in September when major league roster sizes are expanded. I’ve been invited to return to Polar Park again as a reporter on July 31 for Autism Acceptance Night and I can’t wait.

Fans can come again to Polar Park with their dogs on August 19 and August 22 (the make-up date for the July 18 game)
I hope to catch up again with Cassandra at future WooSox games at Polar Park, including July 31, Autism Acceptance Night

Red Sox Second Half Preview and Midseason MLB Power Rankings

We’re coming off a quiet, yet also busy week in baseball, both for the Red Sox and the rest of the league. The week started off with the MLB draft, in which the Red Sox landed top shortstop prospect Marcelo Mayer. Pete Alonso took home his second straight Home Run Derby, despite impressive performances by two-way star Shohei Ohtani, Coors Field hometown hero Trevor Story, and cancer survivor Trey Mancini among others. Five Red Sox players contributed to the AL’s All Star Game victory, with Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers each knocking in a run, Nathan Eovaldi and Matt Barnes each pitching a shutout inning, and J.D. Martinez also batting in the game. Additionally, after strong performances in Worcester, the Red Sox announced that Jarren Duran and Tanner Houck would get the call to the majors. They had been set to join the team in this weekend’s series against the Yankees. With Yankee COVID problems postponing the first game, everything’s up in the air, but when the Red Sox play again, Duran and Houck will be able to make their mark. This is all happening while Chris Sale begins his rehab assignment with the FCL Red Sox.

The first half has come to a close, and I’ve written about my thoughts on the Red Sox’s first half performance as well as what I expect in the second half, from the rest of this month to the trade deadline to the playoffs. I’ve also included my power rankings from the end of June, and while a couple things have changed since then it seems we have already began to establish which teams have a chance at a playoff run.

Red Sox: First Half in Review

Red Sox: Xander Bogaerts climbs franchise list for shortstops with latest  home run

Heading into the year, I was expecting a middle of the road type of season from the Red Sox, but at the same time, I saw a low floor and a high ceiling. In this first half, this team has played close to their ceiling. Martinez, Bogaerts, and Devers have led the way for one of the best lineups in baseball. The team has come up clutch as they lead the league in 2 out runs. Chaim Bloom has hand crafted the outfield that leads the league in outfield assists, bringing in Alex Verdugo in the Mookie Betts trade and signing Hunter Renfroe and Kike Hernandez this past offseason. The rotation has been inconsistent, but it has definitely had its moments. After a rough patch in May and June, Eduardo Rodriguez has began to rebound. Eovaldi was in that All Star Game for a reason, as a healthy season from him has been exciting to watch. Additionally, Nick Pivetta has been able to completely revitalize his career in Boston after struggling to maintain a starting job in Philadelphia. The question in whether the Red Sox can keep playing at this level to secure the AL East victory and make a playoff run.

Red Sox Outlook for the Second Half

Red Sox ace Chris Sale inches closer to return after rehab start - The  Boston Globe

I think what we’ve seen so far this season is the ceiling of what the current Red Sox roster can do. However, there’s more talent on the way. Jarren Duran has a lot of potential between his power and his speed, and he’s a great addition for the outfield that can allow Kike Hernandez to spend more time at other positions and show off his versatility. Tanner Houck can be another talented arm for this rotation. The Red Sox could be looking for ways to further improve the team at the approaching trade deadline. However, what might be the most significant is the fact that Red Sox ace Chris Sale is working his way back to the majors, and could rejoin the team as soon as August. The rotation is decent right now, but adding Sale to it (assuming he can return to pre-injury form) puts the Red Sox at another level. I think the combo of young talent, trades, and the return of Sale can fix some of the issues the team has had and put them in an even better position to contend this October.

The Red Sox do have some tough competition though. The Astros’ lineup has been unstoppable even after the resolution of the cheating scandal. The White Sox rotation has been near unstoppable. The Dodgers, Padres, and Giants are all battling it out for the NL West and could also end up battling it out for a World Series title. Whether the Red Sox win a title is going to come down to how they handle this elite competition. Will they falter against some of the league’s best talent and end up back in the middle of the pack, or will they stand strong and win a ring in a historic season? Boston’s outlook likely falls somewhere in between, but there are lots of possibilities.

Check out my midseason power rankings below. The Nationals have began to slump and the Reds have began to rise since the end of June, but many of these teams are still in the same spot.

Midseason Power Rankings (as of June 30)

That wraps up the first half this baseball season. During the All Star Break, I also began to look ahead to football season. Check out this podcast my cousin and I put together to begin to preview this year’s AFC.

Polar Park, a ballpark experience everyone can enjoy

On Saturday, July 10, I visited Polar Park for the “Saturday at the Park” open house event. With the WooSox on the road, the park was open to the public for a few hours for fans to explore all areas of the the new ballpark in the heart of Massachusetts.

Fans were also encouraged to give their feedback on how to improve the ballpark. The WooSox value fan feedback so much that they had 21 planning meetings with fans that resulted in 877 ideas and suggestions on how to design the ballpark (me with WooSox President Dr. Charles Steinberg holding a book with the 877 fan ideas pictured below).

The event was held on what would have been the 100th birthday of Harvey Ball, the Worcester-born inventor of the smiley face. Much of the design of Polar Park and the WooSox logos were also based on Worcester history. Smiley Ball, the team’s mascot, is a reference to Harvey Ball’s roots in Worcester. Since Worcester is often called the “heart of Massachusetts,” the road signs around Kelley Square, Worcester’s downtown area, contain hearts.

Polar Park is located in a redesigned Kelley Square, so it’s fitting that the team’s logo contains a heart and this theme is incorporated throughout the ballpark including the seats as you can see pictured below.

The sides of the game seats are not only a reference to Worcester being the heart of Massachusetts but also a tribute to the Worcester’s, an 1800s baseball team that played in the city.

The ballpark also took inspiration from both Pawtucket’s McCoy Stadium and Boston’s Fenway Park. The WooSox wanted to make sure that they had a lot of unique and good seating options. I caught up with a WooSox employee on the Hanover deck, where there’s a great view of both the city and the ballpark. We spoke about a wide variety of seating options.

I had the chance to visit the seats behind home plate later on, which were in front of NESN’s broadcast booth.

The left field berm is a grassy area that’s just about to open. Berm tickets will be sold to the general public for $9, and kids under 12, college students, and veterans can purchase tickets on the berm for $8.

The Worcester Wall is Polar Park’s version of the Green Monster. The main differences? The Worcester Wall is located in right field and stands at 22 feet high, as opposed to Fenway’s Green Monster which is in left field and stands at 37 feet high. In addition, as opposed to Fenway green, the Worcester Wall was painted with a new color known as “Woo Blue.”

I also had the chance to see some of the private suites.

In addition to good seating options, the WooSox have found ways to accommodate fans that may need a break from typical ballpark noise. The Unum Sensory Friendly Room was designed to make Polar Park welcoming to fans with disabilities like autism who may have sensory overload challenges. The room is located adjacent to Fan Services.

According to WooSox employee Marie Roy, the organization is a very welcoming employer. I spoke with Roy, who shared with me that she is autistic and described her experience working at the ballpark.

This day was also filled with opportunities to explore ballpark areas not normally open to the public. Everyone was welcome to check out areas usually reserved only for members of the media: the press box, the broadcast booth, and the control room.

In the broadcast booth, I had the chance to meet Mike Antonellis, one of the WooSox broadcasters. He was extremely friendly and even provided me advice on my sports broadcasting pursuits.

In the control room I saw a lot of familiar graphics and designs on screens across the room, and caught up with two control room employees.

Just outside the control room, I was able to meet WooSox Chairman of the Board (and former Red Sox owner) Larry Lucchino and WooSox president Dr. Charles Steinberg. Steinberg has been a part of many memorable events with the Red Sox organization. He orchestrated the ceremony at the April 20, 2013 Red Sox game right after the Boston Marathon bombings that I attended and wrote about. I caught up with Steinberg about his thoughts on how Polar Park has done in its first few months as well as plans to improve the ballpark.

After the event, I interviewed some fans to see what they thought about the experience at the ballpark.

Before leaving, we also stopped by the Team Store to pick up inaugural season merchandise.

The Team Store has merchandise containing the main WooSox logos as well as their “Los Wepas de Worcester” logos. The WooSox have worn “Los Wepas de Worcester” uniforms for a couple of their games to honor the Latino community. “Wepa” is Spanish slang for words like “wow” or “amazing”, and the logo contains rockets to honor Worcester-born rocket inventor Robert Goddard.

I had a great time visiting Polar Park on this open Saturday. It’s a really nice ballpark and I’m looking forward to attending some games at the ballpark this season. The team has a lot of exciting players to watch and some of them could be called up to Boston soon. Polar Park is a great venue to see a game.

If you want to see a game this week, the WooSox come home to Worcester on Tuesday, July 13 for a seven game series against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees. I’ll be attending on Sunday, July 18, and you can buy tickets for any of these seven games at https://www.milb.com/worcester/tickets.

MLB 2021 Predictions: National League

April is almost here, and when the month begins, so will the MLB season. Just like in my last 7 years writing this blog, I have put together predictions for the season. We only got 60 MLB games last year, but for this year we’ll have a full 162 game season. I just went on my cousin Michael Philipkosky’s podcast, the Master Plan, to discuss all 30 teams, with one episode for the AL and one episode for the NL. Monday, I posted the AL podcast alongside my predictions. You can check out the NL podcast here, and I have my full NL predictions below.

NL East

  1. Atlanta Braves (100-62, #2 seed)
  2. New York Mets (91-71, #5 seed)
  3. Philadelphia Phillies (89-73)
  4. Washington Nationals (82-80)
  5. Miami Marlins (78-84)

This might be the best division in baseball. The Braves and Mets will be competing for the division title most likely. Atlanta has a great duo of star hitters in first baseman Freddie Freeman and outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. Their rotation is also starting to come together between younger pitchers like Ian Anderson and veterans like Charlie Morton (signed this offseason). The Mets were purchased by Steve Cohen this offseason, and he told Mets fans that the Mets would leave mediocrity behind them and act like the big market team they are. Cohen hired a new GM, and the team made a ton of moves, highlighted by a trade for shortstop Francisco Lindor and starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco. You also can’t forget that they have Jacob deGrom who’s arguably the best pitcher in baseball.

That doesn’t mean the other teams won’t be competitive. It will be difficult to secure a playoff spot in the NL, but the rest of these teams will at least fail trying. Philadelphia has their flaws, but between outfielder Bryce Harper, first baseman Rhys Hoskins, and a nice top two starting pitchers in Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, they have a lot of talent. This should be a somewhat competitive team, but the bullpen among other minor problems could hold them back, similar to how the Celtics have struggled this season in the NBA. The Nationals experienced a World Series hangover last year, and I think they’ll see some improvement in 2021 even though that will be tough in this division. They brought in first baseman Josh Bell alongside outfielder Juan Soto and an amazing rotation. Washington has as much star power as most teams in baseball, but they lack the depth to make a run in this NL East.

The Marlins were the joke of the division back in 2019, but they saw many young pitchers break out and lead them to a 2020 playoff spot. The outfield has really come along as well with Adam Duvall joining Starling Marte and Corey Dickerson. I think the Marlins have definitely made progress in their rebuild, more so than the Tigers and Orioles who saw surprising starts to the season last year. However, it will be hard for Miami to make the playoffs again now that they are back down to 10 teams (you never know though).

Even though the Mets and Braves are frontrunners, I wouldn’t be shocked to see any of these teams in the playoffs.

NL Central

  1. Cincinnati Reds (88-74, #3 seed)
  2. St. Louis Cardinals (87-75)
  3. Chicago Cubs (80-82)
  4. Milwaukee Brewers (65-97)
  5. Pittsburgh Pirates (53-109)

I doubt more than one team makes the playoffs out of this division. Compared to the depth of the NL East and the star power of the NL West, the NL Central is not in a good spot. I think the Reds and Cardinals will be competing for that spot. The Reds lost starting pitcher Trevor Bauer, but the lineup is still strong and the rotation is still serviceable despite depth problems behind Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo. The Cardinals were already decent last year. Now they brought in star third baseman and MVP candidate Nolan Arenado. That could put them in a position to contend, but I still don’t see them dominating this division.

The Cubs were looking like they were in for a long rebuild after cutting contracts early in the offseason. However, after lots of rumors they decided to hold on to third baseman Kris Bryant and add some rotation depth. If they were trying to rebuild, they halted that effort. If they’re trying to contend, I don’t see them achieving that goal. The Cubs haven’t really chosen what direction to go in, and I expect that they will decide by the time the Trade Deadline rolls around. If not, they’ll be stuck in the middle for now.

The Brewers may have 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich in their lineup, but this rotation is not anywhere close to the other teams in this division. They’ll need to add pitching before they think about contending again.

They’ll still be better than Pittsburgh, a rebuilding team in their own realm. They already traded first baseman Josh Bell and I bet outfielder Gregory Polanco will be gone by midseason. That will leave an inexperienced roster with no sign of improvement anytime soon. They’ll need some prospects to develop before they contend again. That development will start by letting the MLB ready prospects like third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes start.

NL West

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers (107-55, #1 seed)
  2. San Diego Padres (94-68, #4 seed)
  3. Arizona Diamondbacks (81-81)
  4. San Francisco Giants (77-85)
  5. Colorado Rockies (65-97)

The Dodgers are another team that will be in their own realm: a realm of dominance. This lineup is highlighted by outfielders Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger but has a lot of talent and depth around those two including Corey Seager and Justin Turner. The lineup isn’t even the best part here. The Dodgers have David Price, Dustin May, and Julio Urias competing for their final two rotation spots! That’s because they have Clayton Kershaw, Trevor Bauer, and Walker Buehler as their top three. No team in baseball has a rotation that can compete with that. The Dodgers are the closest thing I’ve seen in a while to a lock for the best record in baseball. The question is whether the Dodgers will choke in the playoffs like they did in 2017, 2018, and 2019 before winning it all in 2020.

Everyone’s been debating whether the Dodgers or Padres will win this division. I don’t understand how you can have that debate. The Padres are a really good baseball team. In some other divisions they’d come out on top. In this division they seem to be a lock for a Wild Card spot. The Padres rotation went from inconsistent at best to one of the better rotations in baseball. This offseason they brought in Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, and Joe Musgrove to bolster the pitching staff. The lineup was already strong, headlined by third baseman Manny Machado and the young Fernando Tatis Jr. at shortstop. However, you can’t put them on the same level as the Dodgers.

Behind those two teams, this division isn’t anything spectacular. The Diamondbacks might be the definition of average. They don’t have many standout players, but they have a serviceable lineup and a serviceable rotation. This is a high floor, low ceiling team. They will most likely be close to, if not exactly .500. They should beat up on the Giants and Rockies but cannot come anywhere close to competing with the Dodgers and Padres.

The Giants have improved between developing young talent and bringing in a couple of veterans. This isn’t their year though. Maybe next year they’ll see more improvement and cook up some even year magic. The Rockies have actually regressed since last year. They dealt away Arenado and shortstop Trevor Story and outfielder Charlie Blackmon could be gone soon too. The core of the lineup is beginning to disband and though the rotation saw some success last year, it’s nothing spectacular.


That’s all for my MLB predictions this year. Stay tuned for more baseball coverage soon, including my MLB playoff bracket which I’ll be posting at some point on Twitter.

MLB 2021 Predictions: American League

April is almost here, and when the month begins, so will the MLB season. Just like in my last 7 years writing this blog, I have put together predictions for the season. We only got 60 MLB games last year, but for this year we’ll have a full 162 game season. I just went on my cousin Michael Philipkosky’s podcast, the Master Plan, to discuss all 30 teams, with one episode for the AL and one episode for the NL. You can check out the AL podcast here, and I have my full AL predictions below.

AL East

  1. New York Yankees (96-66, #2 seed)
  2. Toronto Blue Jays (89-73, #5 seed)
  3. Tampa Bay Rays (84-78)
  4. Boston Red Sox (80-82)
  5. Baltimore Orioles (58-104)

I think the Yankees are in a good position to win this division. They lost some of the pitching depth they had last year, but this lineup is still on another level compared to the other teams in the AL East. Even with some injuries last year, the Yankees were able to dominate the AL East, and I expect the same this year. The question is whether they have the pitching staff to go all the way.

This should be a competitive division behind the Yankees. The Blue Jays, Rays, and Red Sox should all finish somewhat close in the standings. The Jays are really starting to come together. The young talent in the lineup is improving and they’ll be supplemented by new outfielder George Springer and new middle infielder Marcus Semien. Their rotation is also really starting to look sharp.

Tampa was the AL pennant winner last year, but this was a team that was highlighted by its dominant rotation and the Rays lost two of their top three starting pitchers. As a small market team, they tend to subtract in the offseason as opposed to adding. As they lose a key element of their 2020 team, they will see a significant World Series hangover.

The Red Sox should get Chris Sale back towards the end of the year, and when they do they could force the Rays into 4th place. After bringing back Alex Cora and making some underrated signings, I see the Sox finishing around .500 like they did back in 2019. However, this team is hard to read. They have a low floor (they could be a repeat of last year), and a high ceiling (they could potentially contend for a Wild Card). The signings by GM Chaim Bloom have included multiple utility players. Bloom, a University of Pennsylvania alumnus, explained some of his reasoning behind this in a Q&A at a UPenn event on Wednesday. He stated that in the past, utility players were often limited to utility role because they weren’t good enough to play a position every day. However, in modern baseball, there are utility players who can play every day at a variety of positions, like Enrique Hernandez and Marwin Gonzalez who he signed. These players likely flew under the radar due to the fact that they’re utility guys.

I can’t really see the Orioles competing with these teams. The Orioles have improved since 2019, but their early 2020 success was a bit of a fluke. I think the young talent is starting to come along but it won’t be enough to make a noticeable difference just yet.

AL Central

  1. Chicago White Sox (101-61, #1 seed)
  2. Minnesota Twins (90-72, #4 seed)
  3. Kansas City Royals (77-85)
  4. Cleveland Indians (75-87)
  5. Detroit Tigers (66-96)

The White Sox are really starting to come together. They have a good ace in Lucas Giolito. The lineup is looking great between young talent like Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez, and Nick Madigral and more experienced players like Jose Abreu and Yasmani Grandal. I think they have what it takes to make a deep playoff run this year. I have them ahead of the Twins, who choked in the playoffs last year. Minnesota has a strong rotation headlined by Jose Berrios, Kenta Maeda, and Randy Dobnak, but their lack of elite lineup talent compared to other top teams is going to hold them back from more than a Wild Card. The Twins should be able secure 2nd place though, as the rest of this division is unlikely to compete.

The Royals have added talent, including starting pitcher Mike Minor, and they have a decent core led by Hunter Dozier and Whit Merrifield. However, I don’t think they have quite enough firepower to contend. I think they will get third place over the Indians, who dealt away Carlos Carrasco and Francisco Lindor in an effort to lower payroll. Star hitter and third baseman Jose Ramirez is still in Cleveland, but the Indians don’t have any other big name hitters. They also lack rotation depth behind defending Cy Young winner Shane Bieber. Aside from Bieber and Ramirez, the Indians lack star power. The Tigers got off to a strong start last year thanks to the emergence of outfielder JaCoby Jones. They should perform better than they did in 2019, but I still don’t think they’ll be anywhere close to playoff contention in a 162 game season.

AL West

  1. Los Angeles Angels (87-75, #3 seed)
  2. Houston Astros (84-78)
  3. Oakland Athletics (76-86)
  4. Texas Rangers (65-97)
  5. Seattle Mariners (63-99)

This division is not nearly as strong as it was last year. The Angels always tend to disappoint with a lack of success surrounding star outfielder Mike Trout, but I think they’ll be able to win this weakened division. That doesn’t necessarily imply playoff success. The Angels did add some pitching help and that should put them in position to win the AL West but taking down the Yankees or White Sox will be a difficult feat. The Astros should come close as well, even though they lost outfielders George Springer and Josh Reddick. This lineup’s success between 2017 and 2019 was likely boosted by sign stealing, and the depth of the rotation is slowly dwindling, so I have the Angels edging out Houston here, but it will be close.

The A’s will probably have the biggest drop off in the division. They have a very talented young rotation, but without shortstop Marcus Semien and designated hitter Khris Davis, this lineup is lacking standout hitters. Corner infielders Matt Olson and Matt Chapman are improving at the plate, but that’s not enough lineup talent for a playoff team. I have them falling to third place, but finishing ahead of the Rangers and Mariners.

The Rangers failed to contend last year with an awkward mix of young talent and older players, so they’ve torn it down and prepared for a rebuild headed into this season. Joey Gallo is still here but I don’t expect him to stay for long. Seattle has some young talent that is starting to develop and could have a very strong outfield soon once Kyle Lewis and top prospect Jarred Kelenic fully develop alongside Mitch Haniger. Even with the outfield and the rotation improving, this isn’t the year for Seattle to contend.


That’s all for these American League predictions. I’ll have my NL predictions out in the next couple days. In the meantime, feel free to comment with your thoughts.

Celebrating 7 Years of Boston Sports Mania

Today marks 7 years since I took a book out of the library and decided to start this blog, posting an MLB 2014 Preview. That’s pretty fitting considering my sports fandom began with baseball.

Just like I did in 2014 and have done in every year since, I’ll be posting my MLB season predictions before the season begins. For the second year in a row, I collaborated on these predictions with my cousin Michael. I made an appearance on his podcast, The Master Plan. I’ll have a post up about those this weekend. In the meantime, I have some special announcements to make.

I designed this new logo in commemoration of this 7 year blog anniversary as well as the upcoming Autism Acceptance Month this April:

When I was first diagnosed with autism at the age of 2, my parents were told I may never speak. I have made lots of progress since then, from learning to talk, read, and write, to discovering my passion for sports, to starting this blog. After starting this blog, I realized I wanted to become a professional sports journalist, and I have been lucky enough to have some experiences in the industry thanks to connections I’ve made through this blog.

I wouldn’t be where I am today without the supportive communities that helped me along the way. That’s why I’ve launched a apparel fundraising campaign featuring this new logo to help give back to the autism community this April.

Click here or watch the video below for more information on this campaign:

I’m excited to be celebrating 7 years of Boston Sports Mania and Autism Acceptance Month with this campaign, and I look forward to keeping this website active for many years to come.

Red Sox Spring Training Preview: How much improvement should we expect?

It’s been a long winter, but somehow, some way, baseball is already around the corner. As snow melts and temperatures warm up north, the Red Sox and every other MLB team are down south getting ready for the season. The regular season begins on April 1, and leading up to that date I’ll have multiple preview posts out.

That all starts today. I’ll be giving my thoughts on Boston’s offseason moves as well as what the team needs this season to succeed. Feel free to comment with your thoughts.

Off-season in Review

Garrett Richards' stuff reminds Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora of  six-time All-Star Kevin Brown; 'This might be cool' - masslive.com
Garrett Richards is at Spring Training with the Red Sox after joining the team this off-season. Photo via Mass Live

The Red Sox will lose outfielders Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi as well as multiple relievers, but Chaim Bloom was busy making moves this off-season and managed to bring in a good number of players while still staying under the luxury tax threshold. Here are my thoughts on his signings:

OF Hunter Renfroe

Renfroe was Bloom’s first signing of the offseason. His price was low considering a rough 2020 season. At his worst, Renfroe is still a rotational outfielder and depth piece. At his best, he can be an everyday starter. Considering the depth the Red Sox have added, it’s unclear how much Renfroe will be used, but he’s likely to have a significant role with the team. I’m not huge on this signing. It’s hard to tell how Renfroe will perform and I feel the Red Sox could have gotten more with the money they spent on him. He does have potential to contribute something meaningful to this team though.

UT Enrique “Kiké” Hernandez

Hernandez, a long time Dodger, was one of the top utility players on the free agent market and one of two that the Red Sox signed. The Red Sox will likely give him time at second base and in the outfield. The Red Sox were in need of extra personnel at both of those positions, so a jack of all trades like Hernandez is a great fit for the Sox and he came at a bargain, just $7 million per year. 2020 was a down year at the plate for Hernandez. However, he is normally not only a versatile defender but also a reliable starter at the plate. I think the Sox will try to use Hernandez almost every day, it’s just a matter of where he plays.

SP Garrett Richards

The prime of Richards’ career came in 2014 and 2015 with the Angels, when he posted a 3.19 ERA across 58 starts. Injuries derailed Richards over the next handful of years until he underwent Tommy John Surgery in 2018. Richards returned to the mound in 2020 with the Padres, posting a 4.03 ERA in 10 starts. No, it wasn’t a full on bounce back, but it was impressive for someone coming right back from surgery. I’m expecting him to improve upon that performance this year now that he’s had more time to recover. Early reports out of camp have been optimistic about a Richards bounce back year. This is an underrated signing by Chaim Bloom that will make a big difference for the Sox rotation.

RP Adam Ottavino

Bloom acquired Ottavino from a crowded Yankees bullpen. In Boston I think he has the potential to be a reliable late inning reliever. He had a rough 2020 season, but dominated in both 2018 with the Rockies and 2019 with the Yankees before that. Ottavino will have the chance to rebound this year and potentially even become the Red Sox closer if he’s able to do so.

RP Hirokazu Sawamura

Sawamura is coming straight from Japan, where he was a successful late inning reliever. He’s a low risk signing by the Red Sox as he comes at just $1.2 million per year. He has the potential to compete with Matt Barnes, Adam Ottavino, and others for the closer role but even if he’s not able to do that, I don’t mind the signing at that price. I think the Red Sox could have done more to seek out a true closer, but there are some decent options in the current bullpen.

OF Franchy Cordero

Cordero came to the Red Sox in the Andrew Benintendi trade. I expect him to get some playing time as an outfielder, especially in lefty-heavy lineups. Cordero has showed potential in his career thus far but hasn’t had a big break through yet. Until that happens, he’ll be limited to a rotational role. He provides good depth in the outfield though.

UT Marwin Gonzalez

Gonzalez, the long time Astros super-utility, has spent the last couple of years in with the Twins. He has regressed since his Astros days, but he’s still a versatile player and a reliable utility guy. This signing didn’t make too much sense after the signing of another utility player in Hernandez. However, the Red Sox still needed more depth and this is one way to add it.

What the Team Needs to Succeed

Red Sox re-hire Alex Cora as manager despite cheating scandal
Alex Cora was re-hired as manager of the Red Sox after a one year suspension. Photo via USA Today

Last year was an ugly one for the Red Sox. However, Alex Cora is back and this roster is very different from what it was last year. When I look at this roster, I see an average team, but I also see the potential for more (or less).

At their best, this team can compete for a wild card. The lineup contains big names like Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and J.D. Martinez in addition to lots of depth. I don’t expect many traditional positional battles in the lineup, as I expect Cora to experiment with different lineups as he utilizes the versatility of Hernandez, Gonzalez, and others.

The rotation looks to be stronger than it was last year. Eduardo Rodriguez is back and Chris Sale should return by June or July. Behind those guys are Nathan Eovaldi and new addition Garrett Richards. The Sox will have the option to use a promising youngster in Tanner Houck, returning veteran Martin Perez, and/or failed Phillies starter Nick Pivetta to round out the rotation. The Sox will likely make their decision on the starting five in Fort Myers. If everyone plays at their best, this could be a great rotation, but that would be a big ask considering Sale is coming off Tommy John surgery and E-Rod is coming off a lost 2020 season due to myocarditis.

The bullpen doesn’t have a clear cut closer now that Brandon Workman is gone, but has late inning options in Matt Barnes, Adam Ottavino, and Japanese reliever Hirokazu Sawamura. The Sox would be an even better bet to succeed if they added another bat through free agency, but there aren’t many guys left on the market and they can probably piece together a strong season without that.

The Red Sox aren’t going all in on contention yet. They aren’t rebuilding either though. This is a year in which they have a chance to find their footing and gain momentum towards future playoff runs. If they can craft good lineups utilizing the rotational players they have and some of their starters rebound, they do have a chance to be a wild card team, but I’m not necessarily expecting that. I’m expecting an improvement from last year, but that improvement could range anywhere from simply surpassing the Orioles in the AL East to snagging a playoff berth.

I’ll have an official MLB predictions post out later in the spring, so stay tuned for that to see where I have the Red Sox finishing.