Making the rounds before heading to Tropicana Field for Opening Day, which remains, after all these years, and all acquired cynicism aside, my favorite day on the sports calendar.
- Kudos to the Red Sox for allowing Major League Baseball to investigate knuckleballer Steven Wright’s domestic violence case without a lot of crowing and armchair lawyering.
This stands in sharp contrast to Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who did some grandstanding last summer as the NFL was looking into a domestic violence charge against running back Ezekiel Elliott.
After multiple appeals and judge-gaveling, Elliott ultimately sat out a six-game suspension.
After Wright’s 15-game suspension was announced late last week, the Red Sox released this statement: “We fully support MLB’s Domestic Violence Policy, the discipline set forth by the Commissioner’s Office, and Steven’s acceptance of the ruling. While we are disappointed that this incident occurred, we are encouraged that Steven is taking meaningful steps to learn from this unfortunate incident.”
If teams have problems with the manner in which the home office investigates these type of episodes — especially after charges have been dropped by the police — the place to hash it out is behind the scenes, not in front of the cameras. Elliott’s guilt or innocence notwithstanding, Jones came across as a guy who just wanted to get his player back.
- Back in the days when the University of Maine had a national powerhouse baseball program, coaching legend John Winkin had a run of more than a decade when he basically had just three shortstops — Pittsfield native Russ Quetti, Portland (Maine) standout Pete Adams, and then, after a lull, Winterport, Maine’s Mike Bordick. All three went on to play pro baseball, with Bordick enjoying a stellar 14-year career in the big leagues.
As for that “lull” I cited, that took place in 1983. Winkin went through several shortstops that pre-Bordick season until, just as the playoffs approached, he turned to a senior out of Oxford Hills High School in tiny South Paris, Maine, named Fred Staples, who died suddenly last week at the way-too-young age of 56.
Staples had been cut, had been red-shirted, had been ignored. If he even dressed for games, which wasn’t often, he was just a kid at the end of the bench; going into ’83 he had just 10 at-bats spread out over two seasons. He had been given a chance very early in the ’83 season, but went right back to the bench after an error let in two runs in a loss to New Hampshire.
At the start of the postseason, Winkin surprised everyone when he turned again to Staples. That’s when magic happened. The quiet kid from small-town Maine emerged as a defensive rock at shortstop in the ECAC playoffs and NCAA Northeast regionals, catapulting the Black Bears into the College World Series.
With Maine clinging to a 1-0 lead in a regional showdown against Harvard at Mahaney Diamond, Staples made not one but two dazzling plays in which he gobbled up the ball and threw out the would-be game-tying run at the plate.
By now, Staples was playing baseball with house money. He would soon be graduating with a degree in electrical engineering, and he already had a job lined up with IBM. In a column I wrote for the Portland Press Herald — I covered the Black Bears for two years — Staples told me, “I guess I always have been nervous, but now I’m not feeling it in the stomach so much every time I go out there. All of a sudden I had a chance to contribute, and I said the hell with it and tried to get tough. And do you know something? I’m having fun.”
I never saw him again after 1983, but over the years Staples has been a, well, staple of mine at many a banquet. Whenever I’m asked about the best baseball players I ever covered, I role out the usual suspects — Griffey, A-Rod, Pedro, etc. — but then I say, “But let me tell you about Fred Staples and three weeks in 1983 …”
I’m told Staples hardly ever talked about his brief appearance in the Maine baseball spotlight. I’m here, then, to tell his friends and family that he was, and remains, one of my favorite stories in 40 years of writing about sports.
- And speaking of favorites, have you seen what Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray is up to? As if he doesn’t have enough on his plate, with this year’s marathon just 22 days away, McGillivray was feted at a launch party last week at Tresca in the North End as his new children’s book, “Dream Big: A Story of Courage and Determination,” was unveiled.
Given the size of the crowd — including Bruins legend Raymond Bourque, a part owner of Tresca — McGillivray turned “the loneliness of the long-distance runner“ into a myth. In the book McGillivray chronicles a part of his own childhood, when, says the book jacket, he was “a small kid who wants more than anything to be a professional athlete. But there’s a problem. You have to be tall to play basketball and big to play football. And Dave? He’s little.”
Spoiler alert: The book ends with McGillivray completing his first Boston Marathon. I don’t want to tell you how many marathons he’s run, since it’s possible he’s completed a couple more since I’ve written these words.
- More 26.2-related news: Herald sportswriter Steve Hewitt completed his final long run yesterday and, like thousands of others, is now in tapering mode as he prepares for his first Boston Marathon. Hewitt is running for a cause, raising funds for the Martin Richard Foundation, known as Team MR8.
If you want to help Hewitt reach his fundraising goal and you have 20 bucks to spare, head to Bleacher Bar on Lansdowne Street on Wednesday, April 4 from 6:30-9:30 p.m. for “Steve’s Ninth Inning Rally for MR8.” You can also donate online at crowdrise.com/stevehewitt.