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.

The Day I Learned The True Meaning Of Boston Strong

Recently, I entered the 2018 Will McDonough Writing Contest through the Boston Globe and the Sports Museum at TD Garden.  On Monday, I found out that I received an honorable mention at the 8th grade level for my 500-word essay.  Over 1000 kids participated in this contest.  As a prize, I will be receiving a certificate and four free museum passes.  I have been to the TD Garden for Celtics games, Bruins games, and many other events, but I have never gotten the opportunity to visit this museum, and I am really looking forward to it.

You can see the other winners and honorable mentions for the contest and more information about the contest here.

My essay was about the attending the first Red Sox game at Fenway after the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings.  I have also added pictures below that were taken on the day of the game.

Below is my official essay.

The Day I Learned The True Meaning of Boston Strong

It was the middle of the 8th inning at Fenway Park on April 20, 2013.  As usual, Sweet Caroline was playing.  But this time Neil Diamond surprised everyone by showing up to sing it live.  It was the first Fenway game since the Boston Marathon bombings.  The game was against the Royals and I was there for my cousin’s 10th birthday.

 Although the bombings were on Marathon Monday, I didn’t hear about it until Wednesday because I was only nine and my parents didn’t want me to know about the awful news.  While in line at Dunkin Donuts I saw coverage of the bomber manhunt on TV so they had to tell me what was going on.

As the weekend approached, the Red Sox canceled the Friday night game.  The city was on lockdown until the second bomber was caught.  That night I couldn’t fall asleep until I knew the bomber was captured.  Fortunately, he was and Saturday morning we headed to the first game since the bombing.

When we arrived on Lansdowne Street, the entertainment outside Fenway combined with thousands of people singing “Hallelujah” inside the park helped lift the sadness in the city.  We had to wait on a long security line but nobody seemed to mind.  We were just happy that the game was on and the city was safe.

The energy inside Fenway that day was indescribable.  The pregame ceremonies began honoring the Marathon bombing victims, the police that hunted down the bombers, and the paramedics who helped many wounded victims.  The Red Sox were wearing special Boston Strong jerseys and there was a “B Strong” symbol on the Green Monster.  As part of the ceremony, David Ortiz firmly stated, “This is Our F***ing City!” I had been to several games before but this was different.

The game itself started off slow but the crowd was loud after the inspiring pregame ceremony, chanting “USA” and “Boston Strong” rather than “Let’s go Red Sox.”  The Royals jumped out to a 2-1 lead.  But after Neil Diamond’s surprise appearance, Daniel Nava crushed a go-ahead 3-run homer to give the Red Sox a 4-2 lead.  Although Lorenzo Cain hit a solo homer in the top of the 9th, closer Andrew Bailey finished the job for Boston, who won 4-3.

After the game we were ecstatic, but we had no idea how much the Red Sox would turn things around for the remainder of the season.  Following a dismal last place 2012 season, I believe this game propelled the Red Sox to a 2013 World Series victory.

As we approach the five year anniversary of this historic game, what I remember most is how unified the city, as well as the country, seemed to be after such a violent event struck our city.  I wish our country didn’t feel so divided and helpless right now especially after numerous mass shootings.  We need the feeling of unity and resilience that everyone felt that day at Fenway Park.

References

“Kansas City Royals at Boston Red Sox Box Score, April 20, 2013.” Baseball Reference, 20 Apr. 2013, www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BOS/BOS201304200.shtml

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My brother and I enjoying the entertainment outside Fenway Park during the long security lines.

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Keeping score at the game.

I hope you enjoyed reading my essay.  If you would like to enter the contest yourself, sign-ups for 2019 will be open next January.  It is open to students between grades 4 and 12.