Same Road, Different Directions

Life in the Minors
January, 2004
Part 3

Paw Sox front office sets the standard
By Joe Kuras

“It really is the best Triple-A franchise to play for, in our opinion. They treat players and staff as if they’re family and that really goes a long way. When we don’t have that kind of environment, it really hurts performance. So we’re very fortunate to be here in Pawtucket.”

Those were the opening comments from Ben Cherington, Boston Red Sox Director of Player Development, as he kicked off the Pawtucket Red Sox’ Hot Stove 2004 media luncheon on a cold January afternoon. Each year, Ben Mondor, Mike Tamburro and the Paw Sox front office have continued to set the standard and raise the bar for all of the Red Sox’ minor league teams. In turn, media coverage in Pawtucket has rivaled that of a major league team, with multiple TV stations, newspaper and media outlets converging on McCoy Stadium all season. And being 45 minutes away from Boston, Paw Sox fans have become an extension of the major league fans in Boston.

So what kind of players does Ben Cherington look for to fill the minor league rosters?

“A certain type of player or personality that tends to perform better in a market like Boston,” he revealed. “They love the game, know how to prepare themselves to play, care about and take responsibility for their performance. We want players in Pawtucket that fit that same mold so that when they get that opportunity to go to Boston, they will be in a better position to perform and help our team win. There is no honeymoon period in Boston. They are expected to be part of a winner right away and that needs to be reflected in the minor league teams and players brought in to the organization.”

Acquiring the right players is only half the battle for Cherington. The other half involves the right coaching staff, one that will respond and work hard to implement the philosophy or ideas for the minor league organization. At the minor league level, there is more to coaching than fundamentals and strategy. Coaches must distill a sense of pride in the organization. They must make sure their players work hard at all levels, from Pawtucket down to the Gulf Coast League. Coaches are expected to create and support an environment where the players can feel comfortable to perform well.

One coach who fits that description very well is Pawtucket manager Buddy Bailey.

“He’s a survivor, there’s no question about that,” said Cherington. “He’s a true baseball lifer. He’s been around the game in just about every capacity in the minor leagues. If there is a problem, he’s seen it before and can address it accordingly.”

So how do you know if a veteran minor league free agent is the right fit for the Red Sox? That’s where the scouts come in. Scouts can determine the personal makeup of a player sometimes. They observe players coming to the ballpark early. They see who is getting extra work and how they play the game. Scouting reports, statistical research and analysis, and personal networking with contacts on other team’s staffs, all lead up to the ultimate decisions on which minor league free agents to bring into the fold.

“As we are still building the organization from the ground up, we knew that Pawtucket & Portland, to some extent, would be stocked with free agents,” Cherington offered. “The situation in Boston requires depth, with 45 players that can contribute to the Red Sox over the course of the season. As the years progress, we will want more of our own prospects on the Pawtucket roster, but there will always be free agents at the Triple-A level.”

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