Red Sox

Why never meeting Kobe Bryant will 'haunt' Red Sox's Kevin Pillar

Why never meeting Kobe Bryant will 'haunt' Red Sox's Kevin Pillar

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Kevin Pillar grew up in Los Angeles in a family of five: his mother, father, brother, and Kobe Bryant.

Such was the bond Angelenos felt with the NBA superstar. Pillar's family ate dinner to Laker games. They sat on the couch together to watch Laker games. They watched Bryant grow up over 20 years in L.A.

"It's a crazy thing to be so connected to a professional athlete," the Red Sox outfielder said. "I felt like he was the older brother of me and my brother. He felt like part of the family. It's hard to understand if you didn't grow up with him on your television screen, and it's weird to say, but that's just how we felt about him."

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When Pillar and his wife Amanda were expecting their first child, a daughter, in 2017, they wanted to give her a K name so she'd have the same nickname — KP — as her dad.

They eventually narrowed their choices to two: Kennedy and Kobie. They went with the latter, in honor of Bryant.

"We want to be the best at whatever we do, whether it's being a professional athlete, a reporter, a journalist, the way I attack being a dad, the Mamba mentality is with me," Pillar said. "The name just seemed fitting. In some small way it was a tribute to Kobe Bryant, more so it was a K name that we just thought was cool. We kind of always thought that the boy name or unisex name was cool for a daughter. I would love nothing more as my daughter grows up to have the same passion for sports that I did."

The name feels tragically poignant now, thanks to the helicopter crash that killed Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, last month. Pillar got the news while at a park with his wife and daughter and hoped against hope it wasn't true.

"I'll have that memory as long as I live," he said.

Pillar never met Bryant, but he had hoped they would cross paths during Bryant's epic second act, which included an Academy Award for the animated short film "Dear Basketball," opening the Mamba Academy, and becoming a fierce champion of women's sports.

"It's been a slow process, the healing process," Pillar said. "Even more so now with him gone, a lot of his greatness has surfaced. I probably watched three or four hours of Kobe Bryant games on NBA TV last night, and I still end up in tears, because I feel for him, I feel so much for his family, just how much he gave to that sport, and he was entering that second chapter of his life and being a full-time father and loving every second of it, and his passion for women's sports is something that I guess immaturely, I never really thought about a whole lot until I had a daughter of my own.

"You have a girl and you want to be able to give her the world and you want to be able to see gender equality in sports, but more importantly in life."

Pillar always viewed Bryant as a fully formed person, not just an icon. The 2003 sexual assault charges that complicated his legacy are a part of his story.

"What I started to realize as I got older is he's flawed and he's a human being and he owned up to his mistakes, and it's how you rebound from them," Pillar said. "In the second act of his career, he had that Mamba mentality and the desire to be the best at whatever he does, and that's something that transcends sports. People apply the Mamba mentality to anything they're doing. In some ways, if you're not applying that to your profession, your life, you're cutting yourself short."

Bryant co-authored a number of children's books after his playing days, and Pillar had wanted to pitch him on a series about baseball, but now he'll never get the chance.

"That conversation's never going to happen," he said. "That's going to haunt me for the rest of my life."

Yankees GM Brian Cashman holds high opinion of Red Sox executive Chaim Bloom

File Photo

Yankees GM Brian Cashman holds high opinion of Red Sox executive Chaim Bloom

If you're an MLB general manager looking for an endorsement, there are few that you'd rather get it from than long-time New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman.

Cashman, who has been the Yankees' GM since 1998, is one of the longest-tenured GM's in baseball. Only Oakland Athletics Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Billy Beane, hired in 1997, has been around longer than him. And during Cashman's tenure, the Yankees have won four World Series titles and have made the playoffs 18 times.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox have won also four World Series titles during that span, but they've gone through six different GMs/heads of baseball operations. Their latest hire was made this offseason when they lured Chaim Bloom away from the Tampa Bay Rays. And the man running the Yankees is a fan of Bloom's and thinks that he will run the Red Sox well.

"I think Chaim Bloom is going to be a fantastic general manager," Cashman said, per Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe. "From my interactions with him, he’s got intellect. He’s got personality. He’s got empathy. I just feel like all of those attributes are going to serve him extremely well as he navigates running a big-market operation, one of the best franchises in the industry."

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That's some seriously high praise considering how well Cashman has guided the Yankees over the course of the past 22 years. Perhaps Bloom, 37, will have a chance to turn into a long-term staple of the Red Sox front office if he can live up to that potential.

So far, Bloom's tenure in Boston has been a rocky one. He had to deal with the fallout from Alex Cora's involvement in the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal and also made the decision to trade Mookie Betts and David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Feb. 10.

The latter move may ultimately work out, especially considering that the team may not have been able to deal Betts amid the coronavirus pandemic with all MLB actions now frozen. But it was still a tough pill for some Sox fans to swallow considering Betts' talent compared to the lack of talent the team brought in during free agency.

At the end of the day though, it's still far too early to judge Bloom's moves. And he did get a solid haul in the revised edition of the Betts deal. If Cashman has confidence in him, that should be a good sign for the Red Sox and perhaps Bloom will bring stability to the team's front office for the first time in quite a while.

Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers admits he still experiences anxiety before games

Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers admits he still experiences anxiety before games

Boston Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers doesn't always have the easiest time preparing for games. 

After a breakout season in 2019 (.311, 32 homers, 115 RBI, .916 OPS), the 23-year-old has turned into one of Boston's best at the plate, but that doesn't mean he doesn't experience anxiety. 

The Boston Herald's Jason Mastrodonato sat down with Devers for an interview before the MLB postponed its season due to the coronavirus, and Devers indicated that he still feels a rush before games begin.

“The hardest thing I still go through is every game I still get this anxiousness of the game starting," Devers said, according to Mastrodonato. "It’s this happiness of being out there and being on the field and playing and getting over that anxiety. I’m just over-emotional about the opportunity and being out there playing.

“Because it’s not like a nervous thing, it’s more of an excited thing. That first inning is a big rush. But after that first inning settles, I get an at-bat and it’s like, alright, the game kind of settles. It’s just me being overly emotional about how happy I am.”

“It’s something I’ve been working on since I’ve been here. I’ve been working with previous people in the organization that led me to some of my breathing techniques that I do now. But it’s all about controlling myself. I know it. It’s still there and I’m still working on it. But I have gotten much better at it.”

Of course, you can tell that Devers can't wait to take the field -- he lights up like a kid on Christmas -- but you'd never know truly how emotional he gets. 

In three seasons with the Red Sox, Devers has hit .282 with 211 RBI, 63 home runs and a 5.8 WAR. Based on his 2019 stats, those pregame jitters must've been a little easier to deal with last season. 

Whatever's in store for the Red Sox in 2020, and whenever the baseball season begins, we should expect some big things from Devers in his fourth season.