by Bill Murphy
I began working on this piece while covering last night’s Red Sox game at Fenway Park. Since the evening was feeling like one of those nights, just sitting there watching paint dry, why not start doing something of importance.
The crowd of 37,767 was sitting on their hands with the home team down 5-1 and the Yankees in town, when David Ortiz lifted the spirits of both the crowd and the dugout, with yet another Good-Bye Tour home run, less than two minutes after “Sweet Caroline” began to wake up the crowd.
By the time Hanley Ramirez danced his way around the bases to secure possibly the biggest Red Sox win this season, many were wondering what woke them up from a long evenings nap.
In the clubhouse hysteria, I asked Hanley “how much an impact Ortiz’ home run had on the comeback and he stared me down and said, “why do we always have to talk about David.?”
Before readers in any way think Ramirez was shortchanging his favorite teammate, you have to realize how far Ramirez has come. I have known Hanley since his days in Portland, when he was a young prospect. He saw player after player with less talent moved on to the major leagues and he wondered why not him. He probably should have known why, BUT, he didn’t get it.
During those days, Hanley fell short in his every day approach to the game. He was a lonely soul in a foreign country, playing a game and was disillusioned by what was necessary to be successful. I watched him pout when teammates were elevated on more than one occasion and actually felt sorry for him, because although the answer to his promotion was in many ways simple, it was in no way easy for him to sort through. His talent alone, had always been enough until now.
Back to 2016 as Ramirez quickly moved on from his Ortiz comment. Ramirez was actually right. He got it and I didn’t. This was Hanley’s moment. Both Mookie Betts and David Price called the occasion, their best moment in baseball. He didn’t say it, BUT, it was probably’s Hanley’s too. The big point is though, Ramirez now completely gets it. Every time he is in the spotlight, he deflects praise. He doesn’t take the credit, it’s a team thing and that is likely one of the biggest reasons, he may play in a World Series some day. He is still a follower to a certain extent inside, BUT, he found out ways to lead.
After putting the media in laughter with his “I was trying to go to the moon,” comment about his home run swing, Ramirez settled in to what his lingo has been all year. “I’ve been saying all year, we don’t give up as a team. We play 27 outs. This win was unbelievable after a tough loss last night. I’m not satisfied. We haven’t got the job done yet. We have to keep going. I’ll talk to you after November.”
My last question on the night was about the accelerated pace he has shown lately on his way to 100 RBI’s, which were officially in the book with his three run blast. He looked into my eyes and never took any credit, saying, “The whole team is zoned in. It’s September. We’re playing team baseball. It’s why we are where we are right now. Everybody, pitching, bullpen, offense, defense. We just have to keep going.”
YES, Hanley now absolutely gets it. A player who over the winter could have been a player for someone else theoretically for a bag of used balls or a couple of broken bats, is in the middle of a great story. Could there be a bigger moment in the cards?
VERMONT HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL
Moving on to Week three in Vermont High School Football, there are numerous big games, BUT, the biggest of all, come in a pair of games, both held on Saturday. In Division I, Essex will travel to St. Johnsbury, while in Division III Woodstock is at Otter Valley. Both games kick-off at 1 p.m .Three of those four teams were expected to finish near the top of their divisions, BUT, I never heard anyone even whisper Essex’s name before September. All four teams are 2-0 and in Essex’s case, although they haven’t played an iron team as yet, a combined 89-16 count against Colchester (40-6) and Mount Anthony (49-10) has many people, including this weeks’ opponent Hilltoppers, shaking their head.
St. Johnsbury Coach Rich Alercio sees Saturday as a measuring stick. He tells us, “it is only recently that St. Johnsbury has been mentioned among the top teams. This one will give us a good idea if we are really a good team OR are still just below it.”
Alercio is close to a master at building football programs. He reached high levels with his work while at Castleton and the curve to the present time, has been the same at St. J. He does not buy the fact that Essex is anything less than a clear contender. and is and has always been a competitive team in Vermont Division I circles.
“Essex was a better team than you may realize last year. Division I is tough. I know what their record was and I will tell you, for the most part, they were a good team. The problem was they lacked speed and that really hurt them.”
Turning to his own program, Alecio said, “our kids have confidence. They feel pretty good about themselves right now. We like where we have been in our first two wins and now face another test against a traditional program who is playing well also.” There should be a good crowd at St. Johnsbury for this one.
Division I still has five unbeaten teams remaining, HOWEVER, it says here that number will be cut to close of half of that before Sunday. Obviously someone must lose the showdown in St. Johnsbury and Hartford stands about as much chanceFriday night at home against powerful Catholic Memorial from Massachusetts, as I do of forecasting every game correctly this week. The team from West Roxbury, Massachusetts fell in a heavy upset last weekend, questioning the strength of a team many people felt would reach a Mass Super Bowl. The parochials have never been more focused going into this game.
Also on Friday night, there are four additional D-I contests, which are of great importance in the seasonal races. First, Brattleboro (0-2) is at Middlebury. The Tigers are undefeated, BUT, there are still a good contingent of those in the know, who expect Brattleboro to find their way into the top four seeded positions in the division. That will be mighty tough and if the Colonels don’t win this week, those chances may disappear. The schedule has not been kind to the southerners, who have played two unbeaten teams in Hartford and Middlebury and were very short handed in a 41-3 defeat the first week. The Purple and White outfit fared much better in their 28-12 loss to St. Jay.
Bellows Free Academy of St. Albans is 1-1, with a win over Rice 20-18 and an offensive absent loss to Middlebury 14-0 and will look to keep moving in the win column as they host D-II Mount Mansfield (1-1), who is coming off a competitive win over Milton 28-22 last week. The records of the teams in the other two Friday night games are all 0-2, AND, if those teams don’t win this week, the possibility of reaching the play-offs, when a team sits winless after close to forty percent of the schedule is complete, comes down to slim and none. In these two games, South Burlington is at Rutland and Colchester travels to Mount Anthony. There is one lone Saturday encounter featuring a Division I team and that is a real intriguing one with Champlain Valley Union (2-0) at Rice (0-2). In one way or another, big games are all around this weekend in D-I.
Moving on to Division III, that Woodstock-Otter Valley game is certainly the headliner. The rule is usually, the champs are the favorites until someone defeats them, BUT, if you read last weeks’ column you know OV Coach Jim Hill tried to turn the favorites role around when he said, “Woodstock is loaded with senior talent and seniors win championships.” Hill praised his own team and warned they may be better than people expected following graduation losses, BUT, he clearly put the target on Woodstock’s back. The teams may possibly end up meeting twice this fall, the only guaranteed one comes up Saturday and should be worth the price of admission.
There is a second D-III Saturday contest with undefeated teams facing each other as Mill River (2-0) is at Bellows Free Academy of Fairfax (1-0). Neither team has met an opponent expected to finish near the top, BUT, both teams are in that stratosphere on paper, until they suffer a loss. Another team in the division yet to be tagged with a loss is Windsor and on Friday night the 2-0 team will be at Springfield (0-2). Union-32 (1-1) considered by most observers as a contender, will host near-by rival Spaulding (0-2) at the same time 7 p.m. The other D-III game will be on Saturday as Poultney/Mount Saint Joseph will travel to Oxbow for a get together of 0-2 teams.
Division II still has three undefeated teams waiting for bigger games with no showdowns between them set for this week. Recordwise, there are two games to watch North Country (1-1) at Bellows Falls (2-0) Friday night and Milton (1-1) at Burr + Burton (2-0) Saturday afternoon, BUT, expect both games to be onesided. The other undefeated team is Burlington (2-0), which travels to Lyndon (0-2) on Saturday. Mount Abraham (0-2) at Fair Haven (1-1) Friday evening, rounds out the Vermont State schedule.
We complete today’s piece with a look back at last week, which was a more competitive, yet not competitive enough week, in the high school ranks. While in Week I, 12 of 16 games saw the wining team tally 40 points, the number dropped to 7 winners with 40, this time around. The winners outscored the losers in week I, 668-157 and that improved to 577-197, BUT, still is no where close enough. It is a difference of 131 points though, which is improvement. In Week 2, only 8 teams tallied under 10 points compared to 10 the week before.
From a prediction standpoint, this scribe was 14-2 and a step below the opening week 15-1. Missed Rice both weeks, while also was off target with the Mount Mansfield 28-22 victory over Milton last week. In case you are wondering this weeks’ winners will be: BFA of St. Albans, Middlebury, Rice, Mt. Anthony, St. Johnsbury, Catholic Memorial, and Rutland in D-I, Bellows Falls, Burr + Burton, Burlington and Fair Haven in D-II and BFA (Fairfax), Otter Valley, Oxbow, Union-32, and Windsor in D-III. I also pick this as a more competitive week and that forecasters should be considered as successful with 11 selections right this time around.