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.
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 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.
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
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
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.
Despite a slow start, the Bravehearts took down the Westfield Starfires 7-4 on Friday night June 28. They were led Angelo Baez’s 5-inning, 10 strikeout start and Riley Livingston’s 4 for 4 night.
Though it was hot, it was a good night for baseball, and the stadium was packed. The Bravehearts were wearing special jerseys for Ghostbusters Night. A couple of those jerseys were auctioned off during the game. Bernie Carbo, an ex-Red Sox player on the 1975 American League champions, was in attendance. I got the chance to interview him:
After the game there were fireworks for the nearly sold out stadium. A good show to get everyone excited for the upcoming holiday.
Before the game, I caught up with leadoff hitter Mariano Ricciardi and assistant coach Adam Chase:
Krish Vyas, the team’s honorary captain, was in attendance. He went on the field and in the clubhouse before the game, and spent the game with me and other Bravehearts media members in the press box. Check out my interview with Krish about what he does for the team and how his role with Bravehearts all got started:
The Bravehearts started off slow. They did load the bases twice during the first 3 innings, but they weren’t able to score a run in these innings. The Starfires ended up striking first in the top of the 4th. Star outfielder Thomas Joyce led off the inning with a single, and he advanced on a long single into the left field corner by Danny Crossen. C Tommy Quinn hit a deep double that scored both runners to make it 2-0 Westfield.
But Worcester’s bats had been heating up, and it showed as the game progressed. In the bottom of the 4th, Riley Livingston (who had already singled once), hit a solo shot into left center, making it a 1 run game. The Bravehearts continued to rally their way back in the bottom of the 5th. John Thrasher hit what looked to be a single into center field but he was able to stretch it to a double. That allowed him to score on Mack Cheli’s RBI single and tie the game. Tyler Becker followed with a deep shot into center for a double, putting both him and Cheli in scoring position. Paul Coumoulos’ single drove them both in. It was now 4-2 Bravehearts, and there was only one out. The Bravehearts loaded the bases again with two outs thanks to another hit by Livingston and a walk by Nick Martin, but their bases loaded struggles continued as Ricciardi struck out to end the inning.
With Angelo Baez out of the game in the 6th, Thomas Joyce hit a moonshot, all the way to the Papa Gino’s sign in right. But the Bravehearts still held the lead after this, and extended it when 3B Ben McNeill hit a 2-run dinger of his own into deep center. But this wasn’t it for home runs. Devin Kellogg hit one for Westfield in the 8th to make it 6-4 Worcester.
The Bravehearts extended their lead in the bottom of the inning with a pair of singles followed by an RBI ground out. Bryce Hellgeth earned another save to seal the victory in the 9th.
I caught up with Ben McNeill, one of the game’s best hitters, after the game:
Riding a 3 game win streak, the Bravehearts are now above .500 with a record of 13-12. This week, they travel to the North Shore on Monday and Nashua on Wednesday for a twin bill. Will their win streak continue?
Last night with several dogs and their owners in the stands for the first of two Bark in the Park games, the Bravehearts were down 2-0 after 2 innings. Though it took a few innings for Worcester to get going as warm-ups were shortened by downpours before game time, the team was able to rally their way to the lead in the 4th inning and hold that lead through the rest of the game. Despite being held to just 4 hits, they ended up taking down the Bristol Blues 6-3, with Bryce Hellgeth earning the save for Worcester and Shawn Babineau earning the win.
Going into this game, the Bravehearts had lost 2 games in a row despite the return of star hitter Mack Cheli and shortstop Ben McNeill. But in this game, everyone was settled in for the summer and contributed as the team was helped by having a full roster. Just an hour before the game, it did not look good as it was pouring. But the tarp was taken off the field soon before the original 6:35 PM start time and the grounds crew did an excellent job getting the field ready.
Even with the rain, a decent number of fans still showed up with their dogs for Bark in the Park night. You can bring your dogs again on July 22nd for another Bark in the Park game. I caught up with one dog owner and season ticket holder, Michael, who ran on the field with his dog after the 6th inning along with many kids.
I also interviewed C Jack Gardner, who caught the Bravehearts first ever team no-hitter on Opening Night this year . Riley Livingston would catch tonight for Shawn Babineau (aka “Babs”) in this game, but Gardner was in the lineup as the DH.
You can also check out my pregame discussion with Bravehearts broadcaster Donny Porcaro:
It didn’t look good for Worcester early on. The big hitting Blues lineup didn’t do much in the 1st inning, but in the second, the Blues had 1st and 2nd after a base hit to deep left followed by a bunt single. Jordan Laske drove in both runs with a huge double. However, Babineau got out of the inning with two consecutive outs.
In the 2nd, Cheli became the first Braveheart to get a hit in the game, and a Tyler Becker walk made it 1st and 2nd. But the Bravehearts ended the inning on a double play that stranded both runners. The team didn’t have another hit until the 4th inning, when the team made their comeback.
Blues starter Arjun Thakar was having trouble finding the plate, as he gave up 4 consecutive walks to make it 2-1 Bristol. This was followed by another double play, but another run scored to tie the game. A balk scored the go-ahead run while P.J. Barry, the next hitter, was up at bat. After this, Barry crushed a home run into left field to extend the lead and knock Thakar out of the game after just 3 2/3 innings. But Worcester wasn’t done. Livingston walked during the next at bat, and though he was caught stealing with Nick Martin up, Martin returned to lead off the next inning with a home run of his own and give Worcester the 3-run lead.
Babineau left the game after 6 innings due to pitch count, and in the 7th, the Bravehearts did give up 1 more run. Brandon Miller walked and stole 2nd against Worcester’s relief pitcher Chris Macca. Though Macca struck out a second batter after the walk, Kyle Maves drove Miller in with a single to make it 5-3 Worcester. Nolan Cloutier continued the rally attempt with a single of his own to make it 1st and 2nd. Jordan Laske walked for the 2nd time that night. He had not failed to reach base yet, and it was bases loaded with 2 outs for Danny Roth. But Macca struck Roth out to get out of the jam to hold onto the lead.
The Bravehearts gave their bullpen some additional run support in the bottom of the inning. Livingston walked again, and Mariano Ricciardi got on base for the first time of the night with a walk of his own. There were runners on 1st and 2nd for Jakob Sessa, but also two outs. Sessa has been a performing very well for Worcester this season. Going into this game, he was batting .350. But he was hitless in this game until he smoked an RBI single to extend Worcester’s lead back to 3 runs. Angelo Baez and Hellgeth pitched the final two innings for Worcester and helped secure the 6-3 Bravehearts victory, with Baez maintaining a 0.00 ERA on the season through 5 appearances.
I caught up with P.J. Barry on his home run after the game:
Stay tuned for more of my Worcester Bravehearts coverage with this Sunday’s afternoon game against the North Shore Navigators at 4PM. For the remainder of the week, the Bravehearts will be on the road for 4 games: two in Bristol, one against North Shore, and one in Pittsfield.
This past Thursday, I began my summer internship with the Worcester Bravehearts and attended their Opening Night against the Nashua Silver Knights. The team ended up tossing the first no-hitter in team history. Check out my video recap below alongside a transcript:
This past Thursday, May 30th, the Bravehearts opened their season at home. Before the game started, I had the chance to speak with Manager Alex Dion and leadoff Hitter John Thrasher.
Even with several players out of the lineup because their spring seasons are still ongoing, the Bravehearts kicked off their season historically strong, tossing a combined no-hitter against the Nashua Silver Knights. This was the first no-hitter in the team’s 6-year history. Shawn Babineau started off the no-hitter with 6 shutout innings, and he was perfect through 5 innings. The bullpen gave up 2 runs due to walks and errors but without giving up a hit . Worcester got out to an early 5-0 which was more than enough with the pitching staff in a groove.
Keith Foulke, the 2004 World Series-winning Red Sox closer, was the night’s special guest and threw out the ceremonial first pitch. I got the chance to interview Keith on top of the press box after he tossed free t-shirts to fans in the middle of the 2nd inning.
In the bottom of the 2nd after the t-shirt toss, the Bravehearts got on board with a 2-0 lead. A trio of walks loaded the bases, and Jakob Sessa drove in two runs on a double to deep right center.
Though it was a combined no-hitter, Jack Gardner stepped up in this game, both offensively and defensively catching all nine innings of the no hitter. I spoke with Jack after the game.
Gardner contributed to Worcester’s hot start in the third inning with a base hit. Cleanup hitter Paul Coumoulos drove in the runner on third, Tyler Becker, on a groundout to give Worcester the 3-0 lead. Aidan Wilde’s single drove Gardner in to make it 4-0. The fifth run was scored on a sac fly by DH C.J. McKennitt.
After the game, I also caught up with manager Alex Dion and general manager Dave Peterson.
Despite on and off rain all night, it was an exciting Opening Night, and an amazing start to the Bravehearts season.
Today was the Real Deal as for this practice on August 23rd, the team put on full pads for the first time. The players participated in their first full contact drills. Over the next two days, practice will be like a “dress rehearsal” for their first scrimmage on Saturday, August 25th in Clinton.
Maintaining health is still a top priority and full contact makes it more challenging.
Coaches had players in some head to head match-ups that was as physical as real game action.
Like the last several practices, the team broke into defensive positional groups for drills in each of the first two full pad practices. The defensive lineman and linebackers worked on blocking, faced off in head-to-head physical match-ups, and simulated blitzing. They did this by attaching a football to a hockey stick and pretending it was the quarterback. One of the coaches would move the hockey stick and the players would chase it.
The defensive backs practiced man coverage and tackling. In their first day in full pads, the defensive backs flourished, especially captain Sam Crain, and junior Will Ji. With a new defensive scheme this year, can some of the early success with the CBs be related to DB Coach Tyrone Notice’s unique drills?
The defense overall was strong on both Thursday and Friday. DE and senior captain Chris Santana was one player who shined on defense.
Chris Santana and the other three captains are embracing their roles as leaders on the team and it shows. Another emerging leader on the team is junior and starting center Ryan Carmody. His energy remains high and he continues to help and encourage his teammates. He even taught another center on the team how to improve their snap.
On the field, RB Thiago Filadelfo had an amazing day Friday. Thiago, a Junior, is really fast and his running style complements the rest of talented running back unit. At the start of the day Thiago had a very physical matchup against Sophomore Pedro Ribeiro. Thiago had a lot of great running plays throughout the day. But Thiago wasn’t the only running back with a strong day.
There are several running backs fighting for playing time on Friday nights, and the entire Algonquin RB corps shined throughout the day Friday.
While the running backs dominated in 11 on 11, the wide receivers went into some positional drills.
The competition with tight ends Derek Blanchard and Chris Pacios and is heating up and it shows as both have worked hard and are improving every day. I captured some really good TE action, first with Derek at TE and then with Chris at TE.
The first two days in pads was a success for the team and it was great to see some very competitive 11 on 11 drills as they prepared for their scrimmage on Saturday. The coach opted not to hold the conditioning test in either of the first two full pad practices, but the team did some extra conditioning. On Friday, they alternated between push-ups and running.
Check out my interviews from throughout practice the last two days. I interviewed Head Coach Taylor Allen, defensive backs coach Tyrone Notice, senior captain and WR/DB Sam Crain, senior captain and DE Chris Santana, senior WR/DB Logan Picard, Junior G John Fontecchio, and Sophomore LB/FB Rio Ferguson. (Interviews are in the 2nd video).
The team takes on the Clinton Gaels and Bartlett Indians in their scrimmage at Clinton High School tomorrow, August 25. Stay tuned for the next episode of Gonk Knocks where I report on the scimmage.
The Pirates play in the National Arena League (NAL), one of many Arena Football leagues across the country. The season takes place between April and August, ending right around the start of the NFL season. I’ve been to one Pirates game earlier this year when they played the Maine Mammoths back in May, so I knew that although Arena Football has many differences from NFL football, it was still very exciting.
Arena football is an 8 on 8 game. There are no designated running backs, but offensive linemen will sometimes run the ball. Typically, the starting offense is made up of a QB, three wide receivers, and four offensive linemen. The defense typically has three defensive linemen, two linebackers, and three defensive backs on the field. The Pirates fans are often called the 9th man, because like the Seahawks in the NFL, they are the league’s loudest fans. The game is played on a 50-yard field rather than a 100-yard field and is often played in hockey stadiums. Players will often be pushed into the boards which is considered out of bounds, but sometimes wide receivers dive over the boards to make catches and if they do, it’s considered a completion. The downsized field makes for much higher scoring. Although the uprights are narrower, kickers can often make it through the uprights on a kickoff from the opposite end zone, scoring what is often called a “deuce”, worth two points. The smaller field also makes it so nobody ever punts. On fourth down, teams will either go for it or go for a field goal.
The 10-5 Pirates were scheduled to play the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks, the worst team by win-loss record in the NAL. They had not won a game all season long, and they were 0-14 going into this game, their final game of the regular season. The game was held at the DCU Center in Worcester, the home of the Massachusetts Pirates. The stadium also currently hosts the Worcester Railers, the ECHL affiliate of the New York Islanders, and was formerly home to the Worcester Sharks (now the San Jose Barracuda), the San Jose Sharks’ AHL affiliate.
We all made score predictions on our way to the game:
We arrived at the game, bought some pizza, popcorn, and soft drinks, and took our seats. Before the game, the Pirates welcomed members of the Special Olympics of Massachusetts team, who were attending the game.
The game began and the Pirates got off to a fast start after the Steelhawks won the toss and deferred. Pirates QB Sean Brackett was out with a sprained ankle but QB Darron Thomas was doing a good job filling in. He completed a deep pass to WR Lavon Pearson to get the Pirates close to the end zone. A Pirates o-lineman ran in the TD to put the Pirates up 7-0. Steelhawks kicker Spencer Hotaling was off to a rough start. He attempted a “deuce” on the opening kickoff and missed. He also missed in a Steelhawks FG attempt, but the Pirates defense had shut down Lehigh Valley quickly in their first drive, making for a difficult kick. Despite a nice catch by WR Charles McClain, the Steelhawks were shut down again in their next drive, and Spencer Hotaling’s field goal attempt was blocked.
The Pirates scored another TD on a huge catch by WR Mardy Gilyard. He was being covered very closely by the defense, yet he still scored. Although Pirates K Ali Mourtada missed the extra point, he scored a “deuce” on the kickoff, making it 15-0 Massachusetts.
To start the 2nd quarter, Lavon Pearson made a catch that set the Pirates up to score another touchdown.
The Pirates scored another one soon after on a one-handed catch by Lavon Pearson. The Steelhawks did not make much progress offensively in the 2nd quarter, and they were so far behind that they had to start going for it every time on 4th down. With little time left in the half, the Pirates had one more scoring opportunity. Darron Thomas had one long pass that was deflected into the stands but completed a long pass on the next down to make it 1st and goal for the Pirates. The Pirates tried to eat some clock before scoring in order to make sure the Steelhawks did not get another chance before the half. But they lost the ball in a fumble, losing the opportunity to score. However, they were up 29-0 at halftime. The Steelhawks nearly scored on a nice pass just before the half but failed.
During the half, I enjoyed a mini football game between the Worcester Police Department and the Worcester Fire Department. More fans were rooting for the fire department but it ended in 14-14 tie. Here is some video I took of this mini-game:
The Pirates scored another pair of touchdowns in the third quarter. They scored one on a fumble by Steelhawks QB Patrick Ryan that was recovered for a TD by RJ Roberts, and the other on a deep pass to Lavon Pearson. Ali Mourtada scored a deuce after that one to make it 44-0 Pirates. Mardy Gilyard scored another TD just minutes into the 4th. Here is Gilyard’s TD:
The Steelhawks scored their only TD of the game by recovering their own fumble. The ball was nearly recovered by two Pirates players but found its way into the end zone, where Jason Johnson recovered it for the TD. The Pirates scored 2 more touchdowns before the end of the game. Lavon Pearson scored on a long ball to make it 58-7 Pirates, and another Pirates TD was scored when Spencer Hotaling missed a long field goal that Pirates DB John Hardy-Tulieau returned for the touchdown. Mourtada made one more deuce to make the final score Pirates, 67, Steelhawks, 7. My dad came the closest to predicting the score but we all overestimated the Steelhawks offense.
The Pirates, who finished the season 11-5, will play at home in the NAL semifinals next week. They will host either the #3 seed, the Carolina Cobras, or the #4 seed, the Columbus Lions. It all depends on whether the Jacksonville Sharks beat the Maine Mammoths tonight. If the Sharks win, the Pirates are the #2 seed and play Carolina. Otherwise, the Pirates are the #1 seed and host Columbus. The Steelhawks missed the playoffs after a 0-15 finish.
After the game, they allowed fans to walk onto the field for an autograph and photo session. Paul and I took plenty of pictures on the field, some of them with Pirates players. I gave the players and a couple fans my business card as well. Paul got his Pirates football signed by all the players we took photos with.
I even met Special Olympic powerlifter Joe Morrill, Team Massachusetts’ only powerlifter at the USA Games, on the field. He had his USA Games medals with him. He won two golds (combo and deadlift) and two silvers (bench press and squat). He had roomed with Tyler Lagasse in Marlborough before. Speaking of Tyler, I am meeting with him and his family at APEXtomorrow to celebrate his silver medal win at the USA Games, where I will go live on Facebook with Tyler and compete with him in simulation golf, go-kart races, Olympic bubble hockey, candlepin bowling, and other games.
I had a great time at the Pirates’ final game of the season. Arena football is fast-paced and very exciting. The rule differences from the NFL give football fans a nice indoor viewing experience during the NFL offseason. I’d like to thank Ann Fidrych, Jessica Fidrych, and the Mark Fidrych Foundation for making this amazing experience possible.
Today, I had the opportunity to spend a day at Patriots training camp as a member of the press, shadowing Patriots radio play-by-play announcer and Patriots.com Beat Reporter Bob Socci. I first met Bob at the NFL Kickoff event with the Patriots broadcast team, held at Mr. Sid last year. (Note: I will be going back to a similar event on September 6th).
Bob learned about the work I had done as a sports blogger and offered to help me by inviting me to Patriots training Camp with him.
Before Practice Began: “Pre-Game” Videos and Fan Experience
I arrived a little bit early so I could do a live stand-up in front of Gillette Stadium and also conduct some interviews with fans.
First, I interviewed a long-time Pats fan named Jan. She meets a friend at Gillette every year who gives her the insight on the players at Patriots training camp.
After that, I interviewed Arjun, a 6th grader from Philadelphia who likes the Patriots so much that his parents decided to make the trip north this year. He was very excited to see the team live for the first time.
Many young fans like Arjun also had the opportunity to take advantage of Fan Experience activities held around the practice fields. My Dad further explored some of the activities while I was with Bob and the rest of the media.
They had football activities where they tracked your performance and created a Player Profile. Jimmy from the Patriots staff was really nice and created my card with Pat Patriot’s stats.
There were also a number of booths with give-aways for participating in small games like mini-golf skee ball and photo opportunities like the one with my dad.
Becoming Official Pats Media Member for the Day
Bob Socci met me soon after my interviews in front of the stadium. I said goodbye to my dad and Bob took me to go get my press pass.
We walked to the other side of the stadium and went through media security there. After I gave them my name and affiliation, they handed me my press pass.
All media members received a detailed Patriots preseason roster and media guidelines from the media security table to help us learn about who we were covering and what coverage was permitted and when.
On my way to the media tent, Bob explained a few things to me about the training camp roster:
Since there are many players on the roster and the roster is not finalized, there may be pairs of players who share a number
Rookies wear numbers based on when they were drafted during training camp and their camp numbers do not usually correspond with their position. The team’s first draft pick, T Isaiah Wynn wears #50, their second pick, RB Sony Michel wears #51, their third pick, CB Duke Dawson wears #52, and so on. For the regular season they receive new numbers.
During training camp, quarterbacks wear red while the rest of the offense wears white and the defense wears blue. On the roster, offensive players who share a number with defensive players (and vice versa) have (o) for offense or (d) for defense next to their name.
Bob also mentioned that during camp, there would only be a 10-20 minute session for media to take photos and videos, and that no tweeting was allowed during camp for media members. We were allowed to take notes during the no photo/video portions of practice.
Bob told me that after practice the media guidelines would be more flexible. The only major rules were to stay within certain interviewing boundaries and not take any photos or video of players with their families without permission.
Before practice began, Bob introduced me to the vice president of media relations at training camp, Stacey James, as well as fellow media member Jim McBride. I also had time to catch up with ESPN Patriots beat reporter Mike Reiss, who I had met earlier in the week at Sports Broadcasting Camp. I also met a friend of Bob’s, Steve Yood, along with his sons Alex and Josh.
Watching Practice from the Media Tent
Practice started about 5 minutes after we arrived at the media tent. During practice, I also met Marc Cappello of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Josh Brogadir of WCVB, and Steve Atkinson of Boston Sports Extra. They were surprised to see someone my age in the media tent. Some of them told me what they did at my age and how they wished they had started earlier.
The Patriots practice began with some warm-ups. The team stretched, jogged a little bit, and threw the ball around. Afterwards they began a walk-through of some plays they would use later in 11 on 11 drills.
Positional drills began after the walk-through portion practice. This was the portion of practice when the media photo and video session took place. Offensive lineman competed 1 on 1 against defensive lineman, wide receivers caught balls from a receiving coach, and quarterbacks stayed together as well to take practice throws. During this time, PK Stephen Gostkowski practiced field goals. Here is some of my video coverage.
After the photo and video session ended, positional drills continued. The QBs began throwing to the receivers directly. Soon after that, they had the Pats secondary go 1 on 1 against receivers catching passes from QBs Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, and Danny Etling. The Pats ran a few more offense vs. defense practice plays before starting the 11 on 11 drills.
The Patriots alternated personnel during the 11 on 11 drills with quarterbacks Brady and Hoyer getting most of the reps at QB . Before practice ended, the Pats held a few more running drills on the hills around the field. Then, for most of the team, practice ended. A few guys, including Danny Etling, put in a little extra work after the full team practice.
Some of my Observations from Day 4 of Patriots Training Camp
Keep an eye out for Phillip Dorsett and Jacob Hollister
I kept a tally of Brady’s ball distribution during a couple of his drills, and his most frequent target during those drills was Dorsett. Dorsett had an especially strong catch on a deep pass from Brady during the offensive walk-through. Hollister had a nice jumping catch in the end zone that Brian Hoyer threw to him during 11 on 11 drills.
Patriots RBs could be a big part of the offense again this season
Brady wasn’t just throwing to receivers and tight ends today. Brady, Hoyer, and Etling all participated in a drill where they threw short passes to RBs including James White and Pats 2018 2nd draft pick from the first round, Sony Michel. Michel caught a short pass at the 30 yard line and took it to the house during 11 on 11 drills.
After practice, I was happy to see Meredith Gorman who I worked with last summer at the Boston Herald. Meredith, now with Patriots.com, conducted a 1 on 1 interview with Michel.
Great to see Julian Edelman back on the field
I enjoyed seeing Tom Brady connecting with WR Julian Edelman for the first time since Super Bowl LI. Even though he is suspended for the first four games, Edelman missed the entire season last year and now he is back and seems ready to play and make more amazing catches like the one that most remember as “the catch” from the Pats 5th Super Bowl win. Edelman looked like his old self out there making some good plays along with Pats newcomer WR Jordan Matthews. Other pass catchers I liked seeing were TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Chris Hogan. Gronk had a catch deep up the seam even though he was tightly covered, which is one reason Pats fans love watching him.
Brian Hoyer had some good end zone connections
I watched all 3 of the Pats quarterbacks perform today but the QB I was most impressed with was Brian Hoyer. Hoyer made successful end zone connections on his first two passes, including a great throw to Jacob Hollister in the corner of the end zone.
Don’t Discount New England secondary
Even though one of last year’s starting CB and Super Bowl XLIX hero Malcolm Butler signed with the Titans in the offseason, I still believe that Pats will have a good secondary. For example, today I saw CB Stephon Gilmore break up several pass plays in 1 on 1 coverage against Julian Edelman, nearly intercepting one pass thrown by Tom Brady. Rookie and Pats 2018 #3 draft pick CB Duke Dawson also came close to picking off Brady while covering Phillip Dorsett.
Trey Flowers was back at practice with bandage on forehead
Flowers returned to practice after leaving yesterday with an ice pack on his head. In other injury news, Jordan Matthews left today’s practice with an unknown injury, and CB Keion Crossen (back) and RB Mike Gillislee (unknown) did not practice. Bob Socci told me that WR Kenny Britt, CB Cyrus Jones, CB Jonathan Jones, and WR Matthew Slater were on the PUP list. However, I did notice Britt participating in warm-ups. According to the official training camp roster, WRs Darren Andrews and Cody Hollister are on the Reserve/NFI list.
After Practice: Media Session and Tour
After practice ended, Bob and I headed to the designated player interview zone. I watched some of the interviews. Bob Socci conducted a stand-up recap with Megan O’Brien as they discussed their own observations from the day. Some of the topics he mentioned in the interview were things we talked about in the media tent together during the practice:
James White, Sony Michel, RB Rex Burkhead, T Trent Brown, DE Derek Rivers, and QB Brian Hoyer were among those interviewed. Although he didn’t stop for interviews, I did see Gronk walk by, as well as a few other players like Phillip Dorsett and Dont’a Hightower. I also saw the McCourty twins with all their family on the field. I think it is really cool that after many years on different teams they will now play on the same team and they seem to be enjoying camp together.
Nobody was interviewed at the podium today like Tom Brady was yesterday. This area is primarily used for interviews with star players like Brady and Rob Gronkowski.
In between and after the media interviews, I met some media members including Levan Reid of WBZ, Joe Gallant of WNRI (a radio station in Providence), and Megan O’Brien of Patriots.com. I also said hello to patriots.com’s Meredith Gorman and the Boston Herald’s Meghan Ottolini.
After the post practice interviews were over, Bob took me inside Gillette Stadium so I could see the media area. He showed me the TV studio where Patriots All Access is aired. The studio was filled with football helmets on the shelves and Patriots logos all around. Bob mentioned he hosts a show with Scott Zolak in the studio next door. We also walked by the game day media workroom, the writing rooms for various newspapers and blogs, and the weekday press conference room which was the biggest room of them all.
In total, I spent about 4 hours with Bob today and feel like I learned so much about covering the Patriots. In addition, I saw so much from the media’s point of view. It was truly incredible and surreal at times.
I’d like to thank Bob Socci and Stacey James for making this experience possible for me. I’d also like to thank all the media members who spent the time to talk to me and give me tips on sports reporting.