My hero,Christian Vazquez is now (officially) a Red Sox Hero


The Red Sox won Game 2 of the 2021 ALDS over the Rays in dramatic fashion. Catcher Christian Vazquez hit the walk-off two-run home run in the bottom of the 13th inning to give the Red Sox the game and the advantage in the series. The Boston catcher’s blast capped off a grueling battle complete with stellar pitching and defense, blown chances and controversial call. I am not going recap the game here or weigh in on ground-rule doubles- an area of baseball law that has been especially kind to Boston in the play-offs. I am writing today to honor the game’s hero, the ginger backstop Christian Vazquez.

I love Christian Vazquez. I loved him long before he came up in the bottom of the 13th inning and caught a first-pitch fastball sending it into the monster seats for the win. I will love him long after he has left the Red Sox and baseball and this mortal coil.

I think there are two main ways that baseball fans love players. The first is the simpler one. We love our stars. That is not difficult to understand. It is not different than other sports. Red Sox fans love Perdo and Papi and Pedey and Bogey and on and on. Yankees fans love Jeter and Judge and Mo and Pettite and all the others with guady monuments and somber-toned Yankeeographies. It is the same in football and basketball and soccer and hockey and any other sport you can think of. We love stars because we love excellence. We love elite performances and big numbers and highlight-reel heroics and the stars give us those on the regular. That is what makes them stars.

But there is another way that baseball fans love players, a more complicated one. If you talk long enough to any baseball fan, you inevitably find out that they have at least one player who they love that is not a star, possibly not even a starting player or high-leverage reliever, and at times, not even a very good player in the general reckoning. I remember once disparaging Mets back-up catcher Rene Rivera in a text to a Mets fan friend, only to discover Rivera was his favorite player. The Mets team in question had Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Bartolo Colon. I understood immediately. This is borderline irrational love is just a part of being a baseball fan.

I am sure it happens in other sports as well (shout outs to my Smarf mob homies) but it isn’t as common and it usually tracks a little closer to performance or at least to personality. I just alluded to Marcus Smart, a Celtics fan cult favorite, but Smart has been an elite defender and the visible pulse of the team for years now. That love is not at all disconnected from high-level performance. I’d bet there are some diehard football fans out there with inexplicable attachments to place-holders and long snappers and forgettable special-teamers but this is a rare thing. It is not rare in baseball, not at all.

This is the way I feel about Christian Vazquez. I love him beyond what can be explained by his stat sheet and his player rankings. I am happy to assign all kinds of magic to his playing that cannot be justified by the evidence and is rarely lent the credence of heroics like last night’s. Catcher is my favorite position. I love watching catchers. I can (and do) watch whole games focused only on what the guy behind the plate is doing. And Christian Vazquez is a joy to watch behind the plate. He has always been a joy to watch catch.

By all the advanced metrics, Vazquez is a very good catcher. He has a great arm, soft hands and a still poise behind the dish. He rates well in all the things that catchers need to do. He frames well, controls the running game, blocks balls in the dirt and calls good game. He isn’t much of hitter in general, but he isn’t bad for a catcher, ranking 22nd out of the 32 catchers will at least a 1000 plate appearances since 2017 in wRC+ (85). Vazquez isn’t just some bum I have affection for, but certainly isn’t a star either. Yet, I hold him in roughly the same regard as I do Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts and Nate Eovaldi and I harbor the possibly irrational belief that he matters as much to this team as those superior players do.

This is partly just my obsession with catching, but it also has a lot to do with the Red Sox last playoff run. In 2018, Boston had a juggernaut of team, but they also faced one of the most difficult playoff runs in history. To win the World Series that year, they had to beat three 100-win teams. Against the Yankees in the ALDS, Vazquez stood out in stark contrast to Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez. Sanchez is a star, at least at the plate, with a 107 wRC+ and an eye-popping .245 Isolated Power mark. Sanchez is not, however, a catcher. I don’t mean that he isn’t a good defensive. I mean he doesn’t belong at the position. His fielding stats on Fangraphs aren’t great, but they don’t show the whole picture. Sanchez is not good at throwing baserunners out and his framing metrics are so-so. None of that really matters through, because watching the 2018 ALDS is was clear that he did not have the confidence of his pitchers. Time and time again, with runners on base, Yankee pitchers were hesitant to go with the breaking ball, unwilling to bury a hard slider or a dying curve.

Vazquez was the polar opposite. Even when he was struggling with his location, closer Craig Kimbrel kept trying to get Yankees hitters (and later Astros hitters and Dodgers hitters) to chase sliders that dove toward the earth. The Red Sox survived a gauntlet of power hitters in New York, Houston and Los Angeles with a bullpen that had been their Achilles-heel all season. The man behind the plate was a big reason why. Christian Vazquez was the unsung hero of 2018. Now, he is getting a well-deserved moment in the spotlight. You love to see it.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that Aaron Boone didn’t start Sanchez in the Wild Card. Vazquez was also passed over for the start with back-up Kevin Plawecki getting the nod to pair with Eovaldi, who he caught in nine of the ace’s last ten starts. Plawecki delivered both behind the plate and with the bat in that game, and has been great in his role as Nasty Nate’s personal catcher. Alex Cora didn’t hesitate to get Vazquez in the game as soon as Eovaldi was done and he looks brilliant for his confidence in the catcher now. Me, I never had a doubt. I love Christian Vazquez. Now and forever.

The Red Sox and the Yankees Wild Card Game: History, hauntings and A Season for the Ages


One of my mild obsessions is books about baseball framed around the story of one season. The best of these books combine history, baseball and personal drama together to create an entertaining and insight for snapshot of a moment in time*. In the years and decades to come someone will undoubtedly write a fantastic book about the 2021 season. Not only was this an incredible year for baseball, it was set against the backdrop of the second year of the COVID 19 pandemic as the Delta variant rose and political turmoil engulfed the country, creating battle lines around vaccinations and masks and ballot counts. From out of this storm, baseball emerged to give us one of the great seasons of the game, complete with once-in-a century performances, down-to-the-wire pennant races, miracle turnarounds and a playoff picture filled with rivals, heroes and heels, and so much potential for heartbreak. I cannot wait to read that book.

When I think of baseball in 2021, I will think of Shohei Ohtani dominating on the mound and at the plate, of his foot twisting as he loads up that beautiful left-handed swing. I will think of the highlight videos of him hitting 99 with a fastball than hitting a fastball 116mph into the stratosphere. I will think of the pure violence of Vlad Jr.’s swing connecting with a baseball. I will think of Sal Perez having one of the greatest seasons any catcher has ever given us. I will think about the Dodgers and the Giants battling all season long, both teams winning more than 100 games and one having to land in one-game playoff against a Cardinals team that won 17 straight games down the stretch on the back of Adam Wainwright and a cast of relative unknowns stepping up at the right time game after game. I will think about the home run derby and Trey Mancini and the underdog Mariners and grumpy Tony LaRussa asking for pitchers to throw at his own players. I will think about Covid quarantines and the homeless Blue Jays. It was an incredible season and it delivered more wonderful storylines than I can possibly list here.

 But I am Red Sox fan and so whatever I really remember about the 2021 season will be determined tonight.

Tonight, the Red Sox will play the Yankees in the Wild-Card game at Fenway Park. For fans my age and older who can remember the days before 2004, this scenario is the reason the phrase “trigger warning” exists. It may be 26 days before Halloween, but the ghosts will be out tonight- the ghost of Bucky Dent Bill Buckner and Aaron Boone* will fill out the spectral monster seats in the back of the mind of every Red Sox fan over 35. We will all try to guard ourselves with the image of Dave Roberts stealing second and David Ortiz’s fingers pointed to the sky, but the ghosts will remain until the final out brings us either triumph or heartbreak.

This is probably how the season had to end. It is undoubtedly how the season would have to end if this was glossy, star-studded sports movie, which is how the season feels now that this matchup is set. The truly incredible thing is that both Red Sox fans and Yankees fans have their own cut of the film, complete with their own themes and morals.

This was scrappy, under-rated Red Sox team, with fans still reeling from the loss of heroes from their 2018 World Series run, like Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Brock Holt and Andrew Benintendi. The pitching was shaky apart from ace Nate Eovaldi. The bullpen was held together with duct tape and a plug of Rafael Dever’s chaw. They whiffed on getting Anthony Rizzo at the trade deadline only to have Kyle Schwarber emerge as their best hitter down the stretch. They dominated the AL East early then faded as Covid hit the clubhouse and the Rays roared back to life. They were fun to watch and infuriating at the same time. They seemed to have great chemistry together but manager Alex Cora often failed to find definitive roles for players and lasting solutions to their many holes on the field.

In New York, it was the mirror opposite. They started slow and looked like a disaster early in the season. Gerrit Cole was their only reliable starter and closer Aroldis Chapman- once as unhittable as they come- looked washed. Worst of all, though, they couldn’t hit. Up until the trade deadline, Only Aaron Judge (146 wRC+) was hitting well and While Stanton (119 wRC+) and Sanchez (116wRC+) were productive they were striking out at eye-popping rates. Last season’s batting champ DJ Le Mehieu was merely a league hitter and former stand-outs Gleyber Torres, Luke Voigt and Miguel Andujar were borderline unplayable at the plate up to that point in the season. It looked like Aaron Boone had lost the team and was on his way to losing his job. Then in came Texas Ranger Joey Gallo, presumably on horse-back and Cubs star Anthony Rizzo, presumably on Bear-back, and the Yankees surged just as the Red Sox began to falter.

Both teams fan bases have reasons to love the 2021 incarnation of their team and both fan bases have reason to be fearful of the coming clash. The Red Sox get to host because of their early season dominance- they beat the Yankees in their first nine meetings- but the memory of the mini-Boston Massacre- the three-game sweep of the Yankees handed the Red Sox at Fenway between September 24 and September 26 – is fresh in Boston fans’ minds.

Tonight’s game is the sport-movie ending for both teams, win or lose. Neither team will fair much of chance against the Rays in the division series or against the better teams that will follow. When the story of the 2021 season is told, tonight’s game will decide the narrative for Boston and New York, it will deliver the tear-jerker ending of either triumph or defeat that will stand out the most when the story of the 2021 season is written. We are living history and I am full of all the anticipation and terror that it brings.


*the best baseball books I have read that center around a single season are Kait Murphy’s Crazy ’08, Glenn Stout’s Fenway 1912 and Robert Creamer’s Baseball in ’41

*Player Aaron Boone will always haunt Red Sox fans for his home run in the 2003 ALCS (aka the Grady Little game) but Manager Aaron Boone did as much as anyone to help the 2018 Red Sox defeat the Yankees- this distinction is very important.

Poem of the Day 1/28/21


Sitting, like Rodgers Hornsby, looking

Out the window at the bleak winter day

Waiting- yes, for Spring- for the green grass

And the heralding crack of bats,

For Trout and Mookie and Thor, X-man and Judge, the Polar Bear,

For days less full of nights, certainly

But waiting, also for you and me,

For that version of you and me,

Wandering in lone back fields

And riding rough pine beams

Or watching quietly at night

For sometime we have not seen

Yet in the old ballgame,

Quiet, with sweet anticipation,

Waiting, once again,

For the smallest shred of magic to be reborn,

In a Spring night’s journey home.


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Poem of the Day 6/04/19 – From Short


From Short

At his side, the leather glove,
Hand just curled in,
Feels more like home
Then the slab of white
A short throw away.
Everything is before him.
The sun, shield by his cap,
The crowd, that ocean of sound,
The pitcher, bent, staring- serious as death-
The batter, a samurai alone against their army.
For a moment
This moment
All is still
Everything is before him
And behind him the sea of endless green.