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Diary of a Red Sox Season 2007
By Johnny Pesky, Maureen Mullen
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2007 Johnny Pesky and Maureen Mullen
All rights reserved.
December 14, 2006
There is no real off-season for the Boston Red Sox. Today's press conference announcing the signing of Japanese pitching sensation Daisuke Matsuzaka is evidence of that. In addition to the $51.1 million posting fee the Red Sox paid for the rights to negotiate with him, Matsuzaka agreed to terms with the Red Sox on a six-year, $52 million contract. It is safe to say that Fenway Park has never hosted a press conference like this one before. Hundreds of local, national, and international media representatives arrive hours before the 5:00 pm press conference to claim seats in the EMC Club inside the ballpark. Boston mayor Thomas M. Menino is also on hand to welcome the Sox's newest international sensation. Scores of satellite trucks clog the narrow streets outside the ancient ballpark. Red Sox principal owner John Henry calls it a "joyous day in New England."
For Johnny Pesky, the Red Sox legend, the day signals the start of a season unlike any other in his time with the Olde Towne Team — a time that spans parts of eight decades. Pesky, who gave up three playing years — 1943, 1944, and 1945 — early in his career to serve in the navy during World War II, has often been asked his thoughts on Japanese players coming to the United States. On Matsuzaka's big day, he had nothing but good things to say.
I've never seen anything like it. I think I've seen a lot of press conferences in my time, but nothing like this. There were cameras and flashbulbs everywhere. I thought I was on a movie lot. It was great. You couldn't get up that street. You couldn't move. I wanted to stick around, but I had to leave to take a driving test. I was there when he arrived. I wanted to see him, so I waited as long as I could. Finally he showed up and went into the ballpark. But I thought he handled it very well. He seemed very calm, very respectful. I think he's probably used to a lot of attention.
It's a big thing, and rightfully so. They say he's the best pitcher to ever come from Japan. So he had a good thing going for him over there. I thought he handled it very, very well. I like what I saw. He was very genteel. He had humility. He was very polite. He bowed. I wanted to see what he looked like. He's a nice, clean-looking kid. They always say listen to people you trust, and everybody I talked to liked him. So that's good enough for me.
I don't have any problem with Japanese players coming over here. How could I? My parents came over here to have a better life. That's what they're doing, too. The thing was, where I came from we had a lot of every nationality. You name it, we had it. We had Japanese and Chinese kids in the neighborhood. So I got to know them. I went to school with them, and the Japanese kids I knew, geez, they were great kids. There were two brothers named Tokami and the Okasakis that lived right in my neighborhood. The Okasakis were twin boys. And the war had been on for six months or so and they went back to Japan. They became flyers and fought in the Japanese Imperial Navy. That's what I heard. And there was the Tokami brothers, Bobby and Ralph. Bobby was a basketball player and Ralph was a baseball player. One went to Oregon State and the other went to Oregon. Those were the days when they put the parents in camps. That was sad. Their parents went in. They were well scrutinized. But they never caused any trouble. I went to school with them. They were my friends. They were in my house, ate my mother's bread. I didn't consider them enemies. I was Catholic. Half of them were Catholics, too. Some of them had the little statues of Buddha in their homes. The Okasaki brothers were the twins, and you had to go up about eight or 10 steps to get to their house. And at the top of the steps they had a Buddha. It was pretty neat. But they were my friends. We went a lot of places together and had no problems. But the sad part was when their parents had to go to internment camps. They separated them there. But in my neighborhood, we weren't separated. We had everyone. We had Japanese, Chinese, Slavs, Germans, Jewish. We had the League of Nations there. And we all got along. It was a different time. Late '30s, early '40s. And most of us were in school.
When they bombed Pearl Harbor, it left a bad taste for a lot of people. In fact, I was coming out of church, coming up on Overton Street. It came on the radio that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. Now where in the hell was Pearl Harbor? I didn't know. I knew it was somewhere in the Pacific. But I was in Oregon. I was just starting to play ball for the Red Sox.
We had a black family in my neighborhood, the Bells. I went to school with Billy Bell. We were confirmed together. He was a great guy. He went to the University of Oregon and was on ROTC. He went into the air force and became an officer. He had medals all over his chest. But he had a tough time of it when he was in the service down South. When we were kids, he used to come by my house. We'd play together. My mother would bake bread. We'd have some of her bread. "Beeely," she'd call him, with her accent. "Beeely, sit down and have some bread." Turns out that bread saved his life. During the war he was flying over Germany and got shot down. He landed in a field and three guys come to get him. I think they were farmers, not soldiers. So, he doesn't know what to do. So, he says to them, "Daime kruva," which means "Give me bread" in Croatian. He learned that from my mother. "Daime kruva." Those German guys must have been thinking, "We have a black Slav on our hands." Well, he survived. He got to the underground. I think he flew a few more missions. But he made it home safe.
And now we have Japanese players, black players, Latin guys. Everyone's playing for the same team. It's better now. Yes, it's better now.
February 10, 2007
Johnny has just wrapped up fantasy camp, and is waiting for the start of spring training. The week of fantasy camp is as much of a chance for former teammates to get together, reminisce, renew acquaintances, and remember the good old days as it is for the "players" to get a taste of baseball life. Along with fellow Red Sox alumni Jerry Moses, Bill Campbell, Gary Bell, Rick Miller, Steve Crawford, Jim Corsi, Bob Stanley, Lee Stange, Gary Allenson, and Rich Gale, Johnny spent the past week putting wannabes from all walks of life through the paces of big-league baseball. Well, sort of.
Yeah, that's a bunch of old guys trying to play ball. Someone always gets hurt. You got muscles and stuff popping all over the place. It's a fun time. There're a lot of young guys in there, too. A lot of frustrated ballplayers out there. I have a friend who's a lawyer from San Francisco. He's a great Red Sox fan. He brings his wife and one of his sons and some other friends. They come out every year. They play ball every day, and then we get together to have dinner at night. They have a helluva time. The funniest thing I ever saw was a father pitching to his son. The father was in his 80s, the son was in his 60s. He threw the ball pretty good. That was two years ago.
We have a kangaroo court. Everybody gets fined for something. You looked to right field and you should have looked to left field, you get a fine. Everything goes to the Jimmy Fund. [The Jimmy Fund supports childhood cancer research and care at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.] But it's a good time. There are a lot of wealthy guys who show up. Sometimes they pick up the tab for the whole team. If the team gets fined, the rich guy just gives a credit card. There are about eight or 10 teams. For coaches and managers you get all us ex–Red Sox players. You get a lot of pulled muscles. We always tell them to take it easy, especially on the first day. But nobody does. Some guys are in pretty good shape. The best part of the whole thing is at dinner when they give out all the fines. You'd think you're in a big-league camp. It's pretty funny to watch. You can't argue a fine or then it gets doubled. Well, you can try. You say, "I appeal." But if you lose the appeal, it costs you $2 instead of $1. But it's all good-natured. And no one ever squawks. The players know they're going to get fined for something. If you have 15 guys on your team and 10 get fined, somebody says, "Okay, who didn't get fined? Raise your hand." And then you get fined for not getting fined.
You meet the people and they all want to talk baseball. I still hear from some people throughout the year. They're very friendly, nice people. We get some women. Janet Miller, Rick Miller's wife, she's pretty good. We had a little Japanese girl. She played the infield. She wasn't very good, but she tried. There're about two or three Asians, some Latins, mostly Americans. And everyone gets along. By the third day you'd think they were friends all their lives.
I like it because it gets me ready for spring training.CHAPTER 2
February 16, 2007
Pitchers and catchers officially report to Fort Myers for spring training today. Daisuke Matsuzaka held his first spring-training press conference last night, at City of Palms Park. Although it didn't quite reach the fever pitch of that December press conference at Fenway Park, with approximately 150 media members in attendance here in Florida there is definitely no shortage of interest in the Japanese star.
I'm anxious to see the new Japanese pitcher. I didn't go to his press conference last night, but I heard it was quite a scene. I can't wait to see him pitch. He's supposed to be something. He's got that pitch, what's it called, a gyroball? Something like that. I have no idea what that could be. I'm glad I don't have to face him.
I'm really excited to see this team. They made some good pickups this year. It will be exciting to see everyone once they get here. I always look forward to spring training. Oh, sure. I used to love it because I was much more active, but now we bring so many coaches ... but I do a few things. And then I get to meet all the fans. That's always fun. But I can't wait to get going. The best part about it is everyone comes in, you haven't seen people for a while, and you see them again, and it's like you haven't even missed a beat. And once you get going with the workouts, it's just great to be out there on the field, in the sun. I always look forward to spring training.
February 20, 2007
The Red Sox work out at the minor league complex at the end of Edison Avenue, about two miles from City of Palms Park, where the Sox play their spring-training games. All the players work out here. There are five fields at the minor league complex. One field is named for Eddie Popowski, who spent 65 years in the Red Sox organization before his death in 2001 at the age of 88. Another field is named for Pesky. The big leaguers work out in the morning and the minor leaguers take over in the afternoon.
Spring training is a baseball fan's paradise. In one day, several hundred baseball players will work out at the complex. While tickets to games at City of Palms Park are difficult to get — the Sox have sold out every game at City of Palms since March 16, 2003 — admission to workouts is free. Knowledgeable fans scout prime real estate near the white fence outside the clubhouse where players take turns signing autographs after workouts. Johnny is set up on a folding chair inside the first-base dugout of one field. There is a line of autograph seekers from the time he sits down until after the workouts conclude three or four hours later. Johnny will be there for hours every day, until just about everyone has gotten an autograph from or had a picture taken with the legend. The last thing he'd want to do is disappoint anyone.
I really enjoy it. I do. It's fun to meet people. I'll tell the little kids, "You don't remember me playing, but your parents do." And then I have to remember that their parents probably don't. It's their grandparents. But I really enjoy it. They're great. They're all very nice and very complimentary to me. Some of the folks will say, "Johnny, I remember when you did this or that." And I say, "You do? You must be as old as me!" It's a lot of fun. I don't work as much as I used to. So I sit over here and sign autographs and talk to people. But I really enjoy it. I guess people like it, too. I guess they wouldn't stop by if they didn't want to. I think signing autographs is part of the job. I always did. That's part of the deal. I've always thought that. My rookie year, my brother came to Boston to see me and we're leaving the park after the game. And we're going up Lansdowne Street and there were some kids out by the gate. We're going to Kenmore Square to get something to eat. My brother grabbed me by the arm and says, "Sign these things." They all had pennants and things. So instead of getting down there in 10 minutes it took us a half hour. But that was okay. I didn't mind at all.
Ha! I remember the first time someone asked me for an autograph. I thought they were kidding! I said, "Are you sure?" But the fans here have been very, very good to me. Excellent. I couldn't ask for anything better. People come up and ask for autographs or pictures, and it's fun. It really is. People say, "My grandfather saw you play, Johnny." I say, "Really?" And they flatter the hell out of me. "You were this and you were that." It's very flattering.
February 28, 2007
The Red Sox's first spring-training game is tonight at City of Palms Park against the Minnesota Twins, whose spring-training home is on the other side of Fort Myers at the Lee County Sports Complex. There are a lot of jokes about the Mayor's Cup, awarded to the team that wins the spring series between the two teams. The Red Sox are looking to avenge the Twins' Mayor's Cup victory last year. As he did at the minor league complex, Johnny will resume his autograph-signing duties before every home game, sitting for hours in a folding chair near the stands on the third-base side.
This is always fun. I always look forward to spring training. You see people you haven't seen in a long time. There are people who come down to spring training every year for vacation. It's nice to see them coming back every year. They stop by and say hello. The whole atmosphere of spring training is just different. And it sure beats being back home, where it's cold! We'll play teams we don't see during the season, and we'll see young guys just starting out who might get in for a game or two. I look forward to when the Dodgers come here. I'll see Tommy Lasorda, I think, if he makes the trip. But yes, spring training is one of my favorite times.
I always look forward to this time of year, when the games start. I can see some of the older guys, the veterans who've been around for a while, and some of the kids and the new guys. It's fun to watch the new guys because sometimes I've heard of them, but maybe I haven't seen them before. We got a new shortstop this year, [Julio] Lugo. I'm anxious to see him out there. We've got a bunch of new pitchers. The two kids from Japan. Matsuzaka, he's the righty, the starter. He's been marvelous to watch so far. He handles everything so well. We've got another Japanese kid, the lefty [Hideki] Okajima. I don't know much about him. So it will be fun to see him in games. We've got a bunch of new relievers.
[Brendan] Donnelly, [J.C.] Romero, [Joel] Pineiro. We've got the workhorse back, [Curt] Schilling. [Josh] Beckett's back. [Jason] Varitek, Papi [David Ortiz], Manny [Ramirez], [Mike] Lowell. When you look around, we've got a pretty good team. Drew in right field. He's new. He's a great athlete. When you look at every position, this is a very good baseball team. Papelbon. He's solid. He was in the bullpen last year. But he'll be fine no matter where he pitches.
I like watching the kids, too. We've got some exciting kids. The little second baseman, [Dustin] Pedroia. [Jacoby] Ellsbury, he looks real good. He's another Oregon boy, so that says something right there! And I'm really happy to see Jon Lester. [Lester was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2006, but his cancer is now in remission.] I'm just happy he's here and healthy. That's a helluva thing to go through, and he looks great. Yes, I think we've got a very good team.
March 26, 2007
The Sox enter the last week of spring training with games against the Reds, the Pirates, the Twins, and the Devil Rays before heading to Philadelphia for two games with the Phillies.
Excerpted from Diary of a Red Sox Season 2007 by Johnny Pesky, Maureen Mullen. Copyright © 2007 Johnny Pesky and Maureen Mullen. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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