Red Sox

David Ortiz, Derek Jeter already recognize greatness in Red Sox' Rafael Devers

David Ortiz, Derek Jeter already recognize greatness in Red Sox' Rafael Devers

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Rafael Devers understands most questions in English before they're translated into Spanish by Red Sox communications manager Bryan Almonte.

But on Friday morning at JetBlue Park, he waited to hear a question about David Ortiz in his native tongue before breaking into a broad smile. A day earlier, Ortiz had said he never leaves the room when Devers bats, which means one of the greatest hitters in Red Sox history considers the 23-year-old appointment viewing.

Devers looked positively giddy at the concept.

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"It's great to hear that, especially from a legend like David Ortiz," Devers said, via Almonte. "He's someone I watched growing up and obviously he's someone I hold in high regard. Knowing that he's watching me, I just try to pick his brain as much as I can. I know the knowledge that he has and passes down to me is very important to my growth."

As the Red Sox ponder a future without Mookie Betts, they take some solace in the knowledge that Devers has not even approached his ceiling, even after a breakout 2019 that saw him lead the league in doubles (54) and total bases (359).

He has certainly caught the eye of Ortiz, the franchise icon who's in camp as an instructor. It turns out he's not the only baseball legend impressed with the young slugger, who officially checked in to camp on Friday after taking a couple of extra days with his newborn daughter in the Dominican Republic.

"True story, his first year they went to play the Marlins," Ortiz said. "I was sitting right next to Derek Jeter. And I asked Derek, 'Hey, which one is the player in the lineup that scares you the most?' And he said, 'Devers.' His first year. And I totally agreed with him because he was fearless. That's when you know that a hitter is going to be dangerous. So, what he did last year, it was not surprising to be honest with you. I saw that coming."

Told jokingly that Devers was only 14 years old last year, Ortiz laughed.

"That's what makes it even crazier," he marveled, "a guy that young figuring things out that quick."

The story of Devers' 2019 is well known. He didn't drive in a run until Game 13 despite opening the season batting third, he didn't homer until May 3, and he finished April on pace for more than 40 errors.

But once he flipped the switch, he couldn't be stopped. He ended up hitting .311 with 32 homers and 115 RBI, and his move to the 2-hole in the lineup led to a team-wide offensive explosion. For his efforts, he finished 12th in the MVP voting and earned one diehard fan who needs no introduction.

"I don't need him to do more than what he did last year," Ortiz said. "His numbers last year were sick. Last year was my first year really watching a lot of games, to be honest with you. I was sitting at home, so of course, I'm going to be watching games more than ever. It seems like every day that guy was doing some damage. Every day. Now I understand why I have people coming to me and telling me, 'Bro, I couldn't wait for you to come to hit. I was always expecting something out of you. Your at-bats were good enough even if you got yourself out.'

"I have the same feeling about him. I couldn't wait for him to come to hit. Because if he gets himself out, he was fighting. He was hitting a rocket at somebody. It was a pitcher making a nasty pitch on him. It was not a giveaway at-bat at all. I saw more than 250 at-bats coming out of him and bro I'm telling you, this guy is on another level."

Devers practically blushes at Ortiz's praise, but says what he has really learned from the future Hall of Famer is the value of consistency and hard work.

"I want to improve on everything," Devers said. "I don't feel like I'm a finished product yet. I want to improve on offense, defense, whatever it is that I can work on every single day because I feel like we always need to keep improving."

The pressure on Devers to replace Betts will be immense, but he's not sweating it, and that's a good thing, as far as Ortiz is concerned.

"Devers, all he has to do from now on is have the same mentality," Ortiz said. "He had a phenomenal year last year, phenomenal. I can't ask him for more than that."


 

Judge tosses suit against MLB for sign-stealing scheme, but rips Red Sox and Astros

Judge tosses suit against MLB for sign-stealing scheme, but rips Red Sox and Astros

The lawsuit against Major League Baseball filed by daily fantasy game players, who claimed to be defrauded by the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal, has been dismissed, but not without harsh criticism of the teams by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff in his ruling blasted the Red Sox and Astros for "shamelessly" breaking both baseball's rules and "the hearts of all true baseball fans."

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In throwing out the suit brought by five daily fantasy players, Rakoff invoked the New England Patriots "Spygate" scandal from 2007, agreeing with MLB lawyers' contention that rulings in similar suits brought by fans against the NFL after the Patriots were caught illegally taping opponents' defensive signals had set a legal precedent for this suit to be dismissed. 

While the suit charged that the Red Sox and Astros had engaged in consumer fraud that created "corrupt" and "dishonest" fantasy contest for companies such as Draft Kings, Rakoff agreed with previous decisions in the NFL cases that ruled fans should know teams will look for any advantage - even "foul deeds" - to try and win.

From Rakoff's ruling: 

[D]id the initial efforts of those teams, and supposedly of Major League Baseball itself, to conceal these foul deeds from the simple sports bettors who wagered on fantasy baseball create a cognizable legal claim? On the allegations here made, the answer is no.

The Astros' sign-stealing scheme led MLB to fine the team $5 million and the one-year suspensions and subsequent firings of manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow. The Red Sox then parted ways with manager Alex Cora, who, according to MLB's findings, was the mastermind of the scheme as Houston's bench coach in 2017. 

That team won the World Series, as did the 2018 Red Sox, who are accused of using a similar system to steal signs under Cora.

MLB has yet to release a report on the Red Sox allegations. Commissioner Rob Manfred said it has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic but will be released before MLB begins its 2020 season. In comments last month in court an MLB lawyer seem to imply the Red Sox are aware of Manfred's findings and that they disagree with them.

 


 

Say hello to Arizona Red Sox? How MLB's Cactus League could save 2020 season

Say hello to Arizona Red Sox? How MLB's Cactus League could save 2020 season

Nothing says Red Sox home game like iguanas, scorpions, and cacti, but these are desperate times.

Barring millions of instant tests or a miracle cure, COVID-19 will just be a fact of our pent-up, penned-in lives for the foreseeable future.

This makes embarking on the baseball season problematic, since one infection would theoretically sideline an entire team for two weeks, and good luck staying virus-free while flying all over the country. Visiting hot spots would not only increase a player's risk of illness, it would also up the odds of one becoming a vector himself, which is bad for the brand, not to mention public health.

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But what if baseball could maintain some control over its players' whereabouts while limiting travel to a fleet of buses? Could a season happen under these tightly managed circumstances? And if so, where?

It may be a long shot, but the more one considers the alternatives, the more it sounds like the best hope we've got is for MLB to hold its entire season in Arizona.

The logistics are nightmarish regardless, but in a situation this unprecedented, the fewer variables the better. And MLB won't find a higher concentration of acceptable facilities than in the 48th state.

The Cactus League features 10 ballparks that host 15 teams in two months of spring training. Unlike the far-flung Grapefruit League, with teams scattered across Florida's east and west coasts, the Arizona sites are compact.

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Parks stretch from Mesa in the southeast to Surprise in the northwest, a drive of only 45 minutes. Everything else lies in between, a constellation of moons tightly orbiting Phoenix.

Decamping to the desert for the duration would eliminate air travel and give the league a chance to closely monitor its players. The challenge is Herculean: hosting roughly 800 players, plus at least that many coaches, staff, families, umpires, and broadcasters without anyone contracting the world's most contagious virus, against which we possess zero natural immunity.

Players would need to be quarantined in league-controlled hotels, tested constantly, and shuttled to and from the park. For such a plan to work, they'd have to sacrifice their most basic freedoms of movement, because a single failed test would grind the season to a halt while at least one team spends two weeks in isolation, potentially triggering a cascade of shutdowns, too (the mere possibility of which prompted the NBA to suspend its season, after all).

Convincing the union to sign off on such draconian restrictions won't be easy, but the alternative may very well be no baseball.

The games would be made-for-TV events without fans. If each ballpark hosted one or two games a day, a regular schedule could be played.

The challenges would be enormous. Do three teams share one clubhouse? Could ballpark and hotel staff be expected to live in isolation as well to avoid infection? How long could players live like prisoners? Will testing capacity ramp up enough to accommodate an entire league? Are the results even reliable? And how would teams keep their facilities germ-free if they're in use all day?

Politics matter, too. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey only belatedly ordered a stay-at-home order on Monday, and it has drawn criticism from the state's mayors as one of America's weakest, with exceptions for "essential" services like golf courses, nail salons, and hotels. If Arizona experiences an outbreak, then this little thought experiment dies on the vine. The same goes for extending the order past its current April 30 expiration and into the summer.

But we're here to ponder best-case scenarios, not fill your heads with more unrelenting negativity. And though the task would be monumental, if there's to be a baseball season, our best bet might be to play it in the desert.