PAWTUCKET — The art of running a minor-league franchise isn’t solely based on ticket and merchandise sales or making sure the paying customer enjoys the utmost experience. The success and vitality of the on-field product is just as important to the cause, the belief that if there’s quality in place, the rest will take of itself.
To that end, the powers-that-be entrusted with running the Pawtucket Red Sox couldn’t be more pleased with the way the 2012 campaign has gone to date. According to President Mike Tamburro, the PawSox concluded the nominal end to the season’s first half with the second-best record in franchise history. That’s quite an accomplishment for any team to feel good about, let alone one that has been simply staying the course despite losing many a key piece to Boston.
“What’s amazing about this ball club is that as call-ups come, which are part of our business, this team seems to get better,” was Tamburro’s assessment of Pawtucket heading into the start of an eight-game homestand.
Take away the recent four-game swoon in Syracuse and the PawSox entered Friday as owners of the best record (45-29) in the International League. As the parent club has demonstrated time and time again in the first three months, bumps are going to occur. Unlike the BoSox, the PawSox have not spent the first half treading water, waiting for some white knight in cleats to ride in and lift the squad out of the realm of mediocrity and into playoff contention.
Arnie Beyeler & Co. have had every reason to let the pieces exiting through the revolving door – one that metaphorically speaking serves as the means by which players come and go through any Triple-A clubhouse – gnaw away at club morale, accompanied also by a precipitous drop in the standings. Thanks to Beyeler’s guiding hand, the PawSox have been able to keep things pretty close to business as usual despite losing a hearty dose of talent.
To wit, you’ve got a third baseman (Will Middlebrooks), left fielder (Daniel Nava) and center fielder (Ryan Kalish) that not too long ago were fixtures in Pawtucket. Now they’re part of the life-raft crew that’s being asked to keep Boston’s season from completely sinking. The best bullpen in the International League has undergone personnel changes with Mark Melancon and Clayton Mortensen swapping the ‘P’ on their hats with a ‘B.’ Even the shortstop wiz kid (Jose Iglesias) hasn’t played in a game for the PawSox since May 25.
What might be a surprise to some isn’t necessarily one to Tamburro or PawSox General Manager Lou Schwechheimer. The pulse they have on the current state of affairs surrounding the 2012 Pawtucket Red Sox is so on target that when asked how a team that has lost so much is still performing at an exceedingly high level, neither hesitated.
“I think that the job Arnie has done in getting this club ready … Lou and myself say all the time that no one works harder than Arnie Beyeler,” was the heady praise offered by Tamburro about Pawtucket’s second-year manager. “You can’t say enough about the job he’s done.”
Schwechheimer expounded further on the stamp Beyeler has been able to place on this particular group. “He doesn’t expect them to work any harder than he does. There will be times, and I witnessed this during the last homestand, that Arnie will be on his hands and knees behind the screen at second base, flipping balls at the feet of (infielder Pedro) Ciriaco during batting practice. You see the little attention to detail.
“Then he’s out in right field, hitting one-hop blasts to left because Lars Anderson is learning a new position. He’s hitting them not directly at Lars but away from him so that Lars can gauge the ball,” Schwechheimer continued. “Arnie doesn’t have a coach or another playing doing this. He’s the one hitting the fungo after throwing batting practice.”
The general manager also referenced back to a conversation he had with Red Sox Minor-League Director Ben Crockett during January’s Hot Stove gathering at McCoy Stadium. Besides relying on homegrown talent, Crockett told Schwechheimer that the PawSox would also feature a high caliber of veteran talent. Three players that immediately spring to mind are starting pitcher Justin Germano (eight wins, 2,40 ERA), first baseman/DH Mauro Gomez (15 home runs) and Ciriaco, someone who hasn’t skipped a beat since becoming the everyday shortstop. All three have a strong chance to represent Pawtucket at next month’s Triple-A All-Star game in Buffalo.
Of course time will tell if the PawSox are able to maintain their current pace over the final two-plus months of the season and repeat as I.L. North champs. Nipping at their heels are familiar foes Lehigh Valley and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, two teams that entering Friday sat two and five games, respectively, behind division-leading Pawtucket.
“The story of the second half of the season, it’s still waiting to be written,” said a smiling Tamburro.