Life of a Sportsaholic

This blog is intended to be insight into my life as an irrational, stats-driven, obsessive sports fan in Boston. I am a fan of all types of sports with an emphasis on Boston teams and am a proud UConn alum.

Category: Boston Red Sox (page 2 of 12)

What to Watch For During Spring Training

Barry Chin/Boston Globe

Let me begin by saying I love spring training. Baseball is my first love, so any sign that the season is around the corner gets me giddy. There is just one problem… It’s too damn long. Pitchers and catchers reported mid-February and won’t play any meaningful baseball until April 2nd on opening day. That’s 6+ weeks of drills and meaningless baseball games, which can be hard for the casual fan to follow. An added challenge for most is that many games are not on TV  or are afternoon games during the week.

Over the years I have developed a system for knowing what to look for (and not look for) during spring training games. Hopefully it helps you decipher what’s really important this time of year.

What to Watch For (and Ignore)

Watch for Pitcher Ramp-Up, Ignore Pitcher Stat Lines

The most reasonable explanation for a long spring training is the need for a slow build-up of stamina for starting pitchers (and even some relievers). In order to reduce injury risk, most pitchers slowly add workload throughout the month of games in order to be ready for opening day. Watch for starters to begin with an inning or two, around 20-30 pitches initially, then slowly add pitches and innings leading to a more normal-looking start in late March.

During that span, ignore pitcher stat lines. There is nothing more frustrating for me than to read an alarmist article about a starter giving up 4 runs in an inning in March. Every pitcher is unique and their throwing schedules vary greatly. Some pitchers will spend an outing just working on their fastball with very few (or no) secondary pitches. Some will work on their curveball almost exclusively at times to try and improve that particular pitch. ERA and record mean very little in the spring, unless you have a pitcher with a fragile level of confidence (a whole other conversation).

Watch for Quality At-Bats, Ignore Batting Averages

Another mistake made in the spring is looking at player batting averages and projecting regular season success based on them. There are sometimes the case of a young player getting hot in the spring and carrying it over into the season, and that shouldn’t be fully ignored, but the majority of the time it just doesn’t matter. If you are watching a spring game, take a look at how the player approaches an at-bat, how many pitches they see, how fluid and comfortable they look in the batters box. Those things can be much subtle, but also more telling than average.

Let’s take the 2016 Red Sox spring training as an example. David Ortiz played in 18 games, had 45 at-bats, and hit .178 with 2 doubles, 1 HR, and 10 Ks. In the first month of the regular season, Ortiz hit .321 with 5 HRs, 11 doubles, and 14 Ks (22 games, 78 at-bats). Ortiz came right out of the gate with a HR and double on opening day and played well in April, even though his spring was bad. Zero correlation in his case. It’s an extreme example, but proves the point.

Watch for Young Prospects, Ignore Records

After spending time telling you to ignore batting averages, I’m going to slightly modify my stance here in reference to young prospects. Spring is the best time to see young players get reps and try to impress their organization honchos. This may be the only time most fans are able to watch the young guns perform, so take advantage. Sometimes a strong spring for a young player will result in a longer look for a minor league promotion or even a future big-league roster spot. Just ask Jackie Bradley Jr. or Travis Shaw if spring can be the difference in making the MLB roster or not (hint: it did for both of them).

The absolute #1 thing to ignore in the spring is a win/loss record. It is by far the most meaningless stat, because players are slotted in prior to each game to give everyone appropriate playing time. It doesn’t matter if the team is up 10 or down 10, the manager has a plan for player usage and usually follows it closely. On top of that, it is rare that a full regular season lineup is all starting on the same day with an MLB caliber starter on the mound. It will be even less likely this year with the World Baseball Classic happening in conjunction with spring training games. For example, Xander Bogaerts left to play for team Netherlands on 2/28 and won’t play in another game for the Red Sox until at least mid-to-late March, and perhaps not again until the regular season. If you are hoping to see the Red Sox opening day lineup anytime soon, you will be disappointed.

Rick “Cy Young” Porcello

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After a 9-15 forgettable 2015 season, it looked like the Red Sox signing of Rick Porcello was going to be a flop. Thankfully for the Red Sox and Porcello he finished 2015 stronger than he began and took that momentum right into a stellar 2016 season, guiding the Red Sox into a postseason birth with his 22-4 record and 3.15 ERA. On Wednesday night he received the highest individual pitching honor in baseball by being named the AL Cy Young award winner for 2016 joining an illustrious list of former Red Sox pitchers to win the award (Pedro Martinez (2x), Roger Clemens (3x), and Jim Lonborg).

It’s hard not to be happy for Porcello. He was rushed to the big leagues with the Detroit Tigers at the young age of 20 with the weight of the world on his shoulders and expectations through the roof. In the 2009 MLB Top 50 prospects list rated his upside potential as “Ace, All-Star, Cy Young candidate, you name it. He’s been compared to Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander, Roy Oswalt and Josh Beckett.” No pressure kid, just follow in the footsteps of some of the best pitchers of this generation. The pressure clearly impacted Porcello’s development and he never quite reached that level of success…until now.

With 8 seasons of experience under his belt and just entering his prime at age 27, Porcello has looked better than ever. He is finally living up to the expectations and thankfully for Red Sox fans, it’s happening here in Boston. No one knows what the future will hold, but this could very well be the beginning of a special run for Porcello and the next few years may just elevate him as one of the better pitchers in baseball. He’s not flashy and won’t blow 100 mph heat past you, but is experienced, smart, and knows how to win ballgames (at least this year).

Congrats to the real ace of the Red Sox staff, Rick Porcello!

Sidenote: That 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 Detroit Tigers rotation consisted of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and Rick Porcello – three Cy Young Award winners and the 3 guys that got the highest vote counts in 2016. Scherzer won the NL Cy Young this year and Verlander finished just 5 points behind Porcello for the AL crown. In 2014, David Price joined the staff, making it now 4 Cy Young award winners on the same staff (they obvious weren’t all winners at the time). Is that the best rotation in the modern era? Maybe.

New D’Backs Manager Torey Lovullo

Jim Davis/Boston Globe

The news at the end of last week that Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo was headed to the Diamondbacks to be their manager was not surprising. When Mike Hazen left to become the GM of the D’Backs a few weeks back, much of the speculation was around Lovullo joining him. It’s a great opportunity for Lovullo to get a sniff at managing for a franchise that is rebuilding and get a chance to prove that the short sample at the helm of the Red Sox was not a fluke. Despite being happy for Lovullo, his departure leaves a hole in the Red Sox dugout.

Lovullo has long ties with the Red Sox organization. He was the Pawtucket Red Sox manager in 2010 and took them to a 68-78 record. Despite the record, he was considered to be a candidate for some type of MLB coaching job. When John Farrell left the Red Sox for the Toronto Blue Jays managerial job, he took Lovullo with him to be his 1st base coach. After 2 seasons in that position, Farrell was released from his contract in Toronto at the push of the Red Sox and he became the Red Sox manager. Farrell brought Lovullo over as his bench coach and he has been in that position since 2013.

The most talked about story is in 2015 was when Lovullo took over for Farrell when he underwent treatments for lymphoma. He took a bad team and finished the season on a 28-20 stretch, creating a buzz around his future as a manager. He decided to stay on as bench coach for another year when Farrell returned and frankly was a back-up plan in case things when south. Since things did not go south (at least not aggressively enough), Farrell kept his job and it was only a matter of time until Lovullo either got the Red Sox managerial job, or would leave for one. Now is that time. If it wasn’t the D’Backs, it’s likely another team would have come calling.

Lovullo is a calm and intelligent presence in the clubhouse and according to many reports has a great relationship with the players. Turn on almost any Red Sox broadcast in 2016 and you will see Mookie Betts in Lovullo’s ear asking him about anything and everything. Lovullo was always in the ears of younger players and I credit him, at least partially, for some of the success that the young core had in 2016. Although Lovullo leaving isn’t going to have a significant impact on the field, it will have at least some impact in the dugout. How much? We’ll find out next year.

Repercussions for Red Sox with Mike Hazen’s Departure

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Less than 2 weeks after the quick end to the Red Sox season, there have been a few major headlines regarding management. The first was president Dave Dombrowski announcing manager John Farrell and his entire staff will be welcomed back for the 2017 season just hours after the season ended so abruptly. The 2nd big piece of news involved a departure on Sunday. Red Sox GM Mike Hazen agreed to become the Arizona Diamondbacks GM yesterday, leaving the organization after 11 years. The move makes sense for Hazen and could be great for Arizona, but could leave the Red Sox in a bit of a bind.

After spending years in various scouting and development roles, Hazen spent 4 years as the Red Sox assistant GM before becoming the GM following Ben Cherington’s departure last off-season. After president Dave Dombrowski was hired, it was clear that Hazen was #2 in command despite dropping the assistant off of his title. The move to Arizona gives him a better title (Executive Vice President and GM) and gives the 40-year old more authority than he had in Boston with a basically clean slate. His departure alone isn’t a major issue, but who he might take with him to Arizona may be.

With a vacancy at manager and other front office positions to fill, Hazen will likely be taking a closer look at the people he knows well from his time in Boston. One name that continues to surface is Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo, who Hazen reportedly has a good relationship with. Lovullo made a managerial name for himself after stepping in for John Farrell following a lymphoma diagnosis in August of 2015. He led a bad and struggling team to a 28-20 record to finish the season and seemed to have a great ability to bring the team together and help the younger players develop. For many, he is seen as the heir apparent for Farrell if things go south to begin next season. Many, myself included, believed he would be the manager going into the 2017 season.

Hazen will likely at least interview Lovullo for the Arizona job. It’s certainly not the end of the world if Lovullo leaves for Arizona, but it removes a stable and knowledgeable voice from the dugout, which Farrell desperately needs. Lovullo and Farrell are good friends and having a sounding board for big decisions in Lovullo has been critical to limiting Farrell’s odd in-game mistakes. Also, without Lovullo it will be much harder to cut ties with Farrell in the event of a slow start to 2017, because there isn’t a clear next-in-line to take over.

Whether it is Arizona with Mike Hazen or another team who comes calling, Lovullo will likely have an opportunity to manage in 2017, making the decision to keep Farrell even more costly if he isn’t successful.

A Personal Thank You to David Ortiz

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As a Red Sox fan who’s peak watching years have coincided with David Ortiz‘ tenure in Boston, last night was tough. It wasn’t tough because the Red Sox lost, realistically their fate was sealed in Cleveland, but rather to see Big Papi walk off the Fenway Park grass for the final time as a player was more emotional for me than I care to admit. Hell, I’m getting emotional just thinking and writing about it today. The words ‘thank you’ aren’t enough, but they’re the best I can muster: Thank you David, you will be missed more than you could ever know.

When Ortiz emerged on the Red Sox scene in 2003, my first instinct was that he was Mo Vaughn 2.0. Mo was one of my favorite players growing up. At 6’1″ and 225lb, he could put a baseball into orbit and that entertained me to no end. At the time, I thought no one could hit the ball harder or further…until I saw David Ortiz in a Red Sox uniform. During the first few games of Ortiz’ career, I was in awe that someone could be even bigger and stronger than the great Mo. Standing at 6’3″ and 230lbs (although at times I think that number was a little light), Big Papi filled the entire batters box with ease.

It took a while in that first season for Ortiz to get going, but one of the most telling moments of future success was his first HR in a Red Sox uniform. It came against the Anaheim Angels (or whatever they were called then) in the top of the 14th inning. He pinch-hit for Jeremy Giambi to lead off the inning and hit an opposite field bomb on a pitch on the outer-half of the plate to give the Red Sox the 1-run lead. It was followed by a Jason Varitek HR and the game ended 6-4. It was just a late April regular season contest, but it was the first of dozens of late-inning clutch heroics for Big Papi in Boston.

As much as I would like to re-hash every great moment in Big Papi’s career, I only have space and time for my favorites. At the absolute top of the list, and frankly should be at the top of every Red Sox fans list, is his performance in the 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees. We know the story: down 0-3 after getting pummeled 19-3 in game 3, the Red Sox went on to win 4 straight and get to the World Series in which they swept the St Louis Cardinals and broke the 86-year curse. The script that was written in 2004 is arguably the greatest story in baseball history given the intense rivalry and unreal individual and team effort. At the center of it all was Ortiz.

Because today is a day for nostalgia, let me take you back. Game 4, bottom 9, down 4-3 with the season on the line and the greatest closer of all time (Mariano Rivera) is toeing the rubber. The situation does not look good from a Red Sox perspective. Kevin Millar leads off the inning with a walk and is immediately lifted for Dave Roberts (Rivera had just 20 walks all season in 2004 in 78.2 innings). Even though every single person at Fenway Park and every single person watching at home on television knew Dave Roberts was going to try and steal 2nd base, he slid in safely by the thinnest hair on my chinny chin chin to give the Red Sox a runner in scoring position. Still to this day when watching the replay of Derek Jeter applying the tag to Roberts, I honestly can’t tell if he was safe or out. After the steal, Bill Mueller hit the 3rd pitch of the at-bat into center field for a game-tying single. Hope was alive.

Fast forward to the bottom of the 12th inning. Manny Ramirez singles to lead off the inning and David Ortiz steps into the box against Paul Quantrill. On the 4th pitch of the at-bat, Ortiz crushed one over the 380 sign in right field for a walk-off win that will never be forgotten. By my estimation, that one swing is the most important hit in Red Sox franchise history. It propelled the Red Sox to a 7-game series victory and led to the most important moment in Red Sox history, the final out of game 4 of the 2004 World Series. Ortiz went on to hit 2 more HRs in the series as well as a walk-off single in the bottom of the 14th inning in game 5. His legacy truly began being written in that Yankees series and the story grew longer and more impressive as each passing year and clutch hit occurred.

All of this unfolded during my sophomore year at UConn. Being uniquely situated between Boston and New York, the UConn campus was rife with trash talk and bad blood between Yankees and Red Sox fans. I heard it from every single Yankees fan, real and bandwagon, after the 19-3 game 3 drubbing and I just had to grin and take it. There was no response and very little hope for a comeback. Just 4 days later, I was watching game 7 with my girlfriend, now wife, who is an avid Red Sox fan from the Boston area. Even though the Red Sox had a 7-run lead entering the 9th inning of game 7, our hearts were pounding out of our chest and our nerves were fried. Once the final out was recorded, tears of joy (and relief) began to flow and outside you could hear hundreds upon hundreds of cheers and screams across campus.

As any college students would do, we all ran outside and began running around campus like complete idiots. Hoards of students ran past Gampel Pavilion (basketball arena) and to the old football stadium on campus, Memorial Stadium. Dozens of students (mostly drunk) decided to take down the goal posts in celebration and after several minutes of trying, were successful. Even though I watched from a safe distance, that moment sticks with me to this day. It was finally time for Red Sox fans to celebrate.

All of this is just to say, in the most heartfelt way possible, Thank you Big Papi. You have single-handedly changed everything about being a Red Sox fan. You created expectations that are just unrealistic and nearly impossible to reach, yet somehow, you reached them over and over again. We now expect wins and championships on a yearly basis and anything else is a failure. In the 8th and 9th inning last night, most of Red Sox nation was expecting a big late-game comeback because you have set bar so damn high. It was a honor to witness your career unfold in Boston; the void that is left behind with your retirement is to large to fill.

As my brother-in-law Jonathan said on Facebook last night after the game, “Thank you 34 for the memories. See you in Cooperstown in 5 years with Brian Phair!”

Red Sox Need a Miracle

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Jim Davis/Boston Globe

Another sub-par outing from a Red Sox starting pitching and in less than 24 hours the chances of making a deep postseason run almost disappeared. Being down 0-2 in a best of 5 series is a worst case scenario for any playoff team, but hope is not all lost until the 3rd win is official. The series shifts to Fenway Park on Sunday with the Red Sox on the ropes. Now the Red Sox hopes lay squarely on the shoulders of Clay Buchholz.

If you want something to hold onto until game 3 on Sunday: the Red Sox have a rich history of coming back from down 0-2 in the ALDS. The Sox are the only franchise to come back from 0-2 more than once in their history and one of those, in 1999, was against the Cleveland Indians (the other was 2003 against Oakland). As an optimistic person (mostly), that stat makes me feel slightly hopeful, but still not good. What we have seen so far in this series, bad at-bats/weak offense and bad starting pitchers, tells the story. Unless the Sox can have a much better offensive approach and get better starting pitching performances, this series is not going back to Cleveland for game 5.

Who would have thought before the season that all hopes for playoff survival rest with the unstable Clay Buchholz.  He had an up-and-down year that saw him in and out of the starting rotation on numerous occasions. I have a strange feeling that he will throw a gem on Sunday to prove everyone wrong. Redemption is the name of the game this weekend.

Game 3 is Sunday at 4pm eastern. Not only could it be the final game of the 2016 season for the Red Sox, it could be the final game of the illustrious career of David Ortiz. What a sad way for a Hall of Fame career to end: a sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Indians. Let’s go Buchholz!

A Deeper Dive on Rick Porcello

Photo from NESN

Photo from NESN

The Red Sox unexpected defacto ace and game 1 starter Rick Porcello struggled against the Indians last night allowing 5 runs in 4.1 innings. It was a tough time to have one of his worst outings of an otherwise very impressive 22-win season. Most fans were surprised at the emergence of Porcello as a #1 pitcher in 2016, but he has always shown signs of greatness, just without any real consistency and the right guidance/experience to bring it into the forefront.

Porcello made his major-league debut at the young age of 20 with the Detroit Tigers. He was an impressive 14-9 in 31 starts that season with an ERA of 3.96. Not too shabby for a young kid being thrown into the majors. He was able to begin learning from veteran guys like Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson and showed real promise. Porcello spent the following 3 years trying to match the success of his rookie campaign, but his ERA didn’t cooperate and he finished those 3 seasons with an OK 34-33 record and a mediocre 4.75 ERA. The pressure to become a top tier pitcher didn’t help his development. Instead of time learning to pitch in the minors, Porcello was forced to learn against the best players in baseball every 5 days.

After a better, but not great 13-8, 4.32 ERA 2013 campaign, Porcello entered the 2014 season with something to prove and a contract to earn. He pitched well, finished the season with 3 shutouts (the only 3 of his career) and posted a very respectable 3.43 ERA. He helped the Tigers reach the postseason, but was the odd man out in the ALDS as the Tigers got swept by the Baltimore Orioles in 3 games. To be fair, he was beat out in the rotation by the ridiculous 1-2-3 of Cy Young Award winners*, current teammate David Price, Justin Verlander, and Max Scherzer. It’s pretty damn hard to break into that top 3. Interestingly, Porcello could become the 4th member of that 2014 Tigers rotation to win a AL Cy Young Award. *Interesting fact, Verlander, Price, and Scherzer won the AL Cy Young Award in 3 consecutive years (2011, 2012, 2013), but Price won his when he was with the Tampa Bay Rays.

After the strong 2014 campaign and an overabundance of pitching, the Red Sox came calling and Porcello was traded for Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Wilson and minor-leaguer Gabe Speier. The Red Sox had Porcello under control for just one season ($12.5 million) and they wanted him locked up long-term, so offered him a huge 4 year/$82.5 million deal that would give him a base salary of $20 million a season. At the time, critics (myself included) destroyed the Red Sox for giving Porcello so much money, but the front office clearly saw the potential of a still young, but experienced MLB starter.

After spending his entire career in Detroit, the transition in 2015 was less than stellar. After a terrible 2/3 of the season an injury kept him out for most of August. Porcello returned much stronger and looked much more comfortable, as if he just needed the time to reset and adjust to Boston. His ERA dropped from 5.81 at the time of the injury to 4.92 at the end of the season in just 8 starts, putting him on the trajectory we all witnessed in 2016. Since his debut in 2009, expectations were that he would be a top of the rotation arm, so the only surprise is that it took him an extra 6 years to reach his potential. Now that he is comfortable and has learned how to pitch and not just throw, Porcello is an incredibly valuable member of the Red Sox rotation now and into the future. Even with 8 years of experience, Porcello is still just entering his prime years at age 27.

It has definitely been a long-game approach with Porcello in his career and now it is paying off. The Red Sox front office deserves credit for identifying his potential and giving him the time to grow into the role he currently holds at, or near, the top of the rotation. Last night aside, expect Rick Porcello to be a mainstay in the Red Sox rotation for years to come.

Down 0-1, David Price Must Shine

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

After a heartbreaking 5-4 game one loss to the Cleveland Indians Thursday night, the Red Sox have to put this game behind them and turn right around for a late afternoon game two on Friday. John Farrell hands the ball to David Price for the most important start of the season. For those who need a reminder, let’s take a gander at Price’s career in the postseason (hint: it’s bad).

In 14 postseason appearances (8 starts) Price is 2-7 with a 5.22 ERA. His ALDS numbers are even worse (1-6 with a 5.48 ERA). That’s the guy Red Sox Nation is relying on for a strong outing opposite the Indians ace and one of the best pitchers on the AL, Corey Kluber, the owner of a 3.14 ERA and 18-9 record. Does anyone in Boston feel good about this matchup? If you do, you should get your head examined.

I’m an optimist, so this is where I say things like: on any given day, you never know, and anything can happen. Despite saying those things, in my heart I know the Red Sox are up against it in a big way. If there was ever a time for Price to endear himself to Sox fans, this is it. A gem tomorrow leading to a W would erase the memory of a handful of really bad starts this season and make his $30+ million per year salary seem slightly more justified (just slightly).

No pressure Price, it’s just a must win postseason game.

Cleveland, Cleveland, Cleveland

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For New England sports fans, all attention is focused on Cleveland sports teams this weekend. The Red Sox open postseason play in Cleveland tonight, then play again tomorrow and Sunday, while the New England Patriots are preparing to play the Cleveland Browns on the road on Sunday afternoon. This odd overlap of Cleveland and Massachusetts teams has me digging up some history on previous Cleveland/New England sports matchups.

Going back to 1901, the Red Sox have played the Indians 2,021 times in their history and have a 977-1,036 record against the franchise. However, since 1990, the numbers favor the Red Sox slightly (251 games, 133-118 record, including a winning record in Cleveland – 64-59). Since I love numbers, I looked at the past 10 years as well and it shows similar success to the past 26 years, the Red Sox with a solid 47-34 record against the Indians. Overall, these two teams have played each other well but a slight recent historic advantage swings to the Sox.

On the football side, the Patriots have played the Browns 23 times (first matchup in 1971) and have a 10-13 record against Cleveland. In the same vein as the Red Sox/Indians history, more recent matchups have looked different. The Patriots have a 7-2 record against the Browns since 1995, with their 2 losses coming in 2010 and 2001. The Patriots will likely move to 8-2 over their past 10 meetings on Sunday when the 0-4 Browns host the Pats. This week’s match-up gives the Patriots a significant advantage even on the road (spread is around 10/10.5 points).

Even though the Boston Celtics are not playing the Cleveland Cavaliers this weekend, I figured it’s worth bringing them into this look at Cleveland/Boston “rivalry”. The Celtics and Cavaliers have matched-up 232 times since 1970 and the Celtics hold a commanding 141-91 record against the Cavs. Like the Patriots and Red Sox, recent history is also kind to the Celtics. Since 2000 (78 games), the Cs are 42-34 against the Cavs. Now I know, like the Browns, there were come lean years in that stretch for the Cavs, so looking at just the last 10 years, not surprisingly the record shifts slightly in the Cavs favor (Cavs 28-27).

Overall, New England professional teams have had some decent success against Cleveland teams over the last 15-20 years (as have most franchises in most sports). Thankfully for Cleveland sports fans, the streak of no professional championships for the city ended this year with the Cleveland Cavaliers winning the NBA title and the Indians are back in the playoffs, so life is better now. What does that mean for tonight and into this weekend? Nothing, but it was a fun ride, wasn’t it?

*All stats are courtesy of Baseball Reference, Pro Football Reference and Basketball Reference

Hanley Ramirez: Get David Ortiz a Ring

…It took me 12 years, but I’m finally getting a chance to play playoff baseball at Fenway. I’m just really happy to have that opportunity after how last season went. You know, in spring training this year, we all got together and set one goal: Get David a ring in his final season…

…We don’t know what’s gonna happen, but you got a team here that never gives up. We got 25 names, but we’re all one person. We are gonna do our best so that David can go out dancing.

Hanley Ramirez in The Players Tribune

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