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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Spring training on the radio: Mookie Betts and MC Hammer

Don't get the connection? Listen in.

There is a casual feel to spring training games on the radio that puts one at ease, as banter about young hopefuls and new faces can quickly dissolve into topics beyond baseball. Nobody cares much about the score, especially once the starters have left the game, so broadcasters do what they can to keep themselves and their audience interested. 

Such it was in the late innings of last night's Red Sox-Yankees game, as Joe Castiglione and Rob Bradford began peppering their WEEI broadcast with sports, music, and pop culture references going back a half century. 

When center fielder Mason Williams came up for the Yankees in the top of the seventh, Castiglione noted that he was not only the son of former Patriots wide receiver Derwin Williams, but also the great nephew of former big leaguer Walt "No Neck" Williams -- whose baseball cards, Joe attested, made clear the reason for his nickname.

OK, we get it

While Williams was busy doubling in two runs to give New York a 5-2 lead, Castiglione the old disc jockey went one step further. He explained that another Mason Williams, apparently no relation, was a musician who had notched a few hits of his own back in the day -- including the instrumental smash "Classical Gas" in 1968. 

Castiglione and Bradford agreed that the grammy-winning masterpiece would be a great walk-up song for this Mason Williams.

The Yanks scored three in the seventh to go ahead 3-2, and when 5-foot-9 Mookie Betts came up in the bottom of the frame, Joe speculated on whether he and on-deck batter Sean Coyle (5-foot-8) might be the shortest 1-2 tandem in the major leagues this season. He might be right, unless someone signs up Freddie Patek.

Sean Coyle -- short but sweet.

Bradford added that he had heard from Jon Tomase of the Boston Herald that Coyle had learned to hit by studying Ted Williams' book, The Science of Hitting -- required reading for all Little Leaguers born in the 1950s and '60s but largely forgotten in the cellphone era.

I've still got my copy.

Ever wonder what happened to your copy of the old poster from Ted's book that showed his favorite spots in the strike zone? Well, one hung for a long time in the Red Sox clubhouse, Bradford told us, and may in fact still be there -- although now a refrigerator blocks it from view.

C'mon, move the fridge.

Brian Johnson came in to pitch for the Sox in the eighth, and Bradford mentioned that the big left-hander is a favorite of Boston media members not only because he works extremely fast on the mound, but also because his mother was a "Doublemint twin" in the iconic TV commercials. This delighted Joe, who surmised that based on the pitcher's age, his mom and aunt must have been in one of the later ads extolling the virtues of Doublemint gum. 

   Double your pleasure -- 1980s style.

By this point low-level minor leaguers were filling the boxscore. Bradford joked that he had not seen this many unrecognizable Yankees in one game since the Richard Pryor movie "Brewster's Millions" (in which Pryor plays a minor-league pitcher who faces the Yanks in an exhibition contest). 

As catcher Jake Cave stepped up for New York, Bradford quipped, "Who do you think is the worst catcher in motion picture history?" For his money, John Candy in "Brewster's Millions" had to be the winner. 
Pryor and Candy: anything is game.

All the movie talk reminded Castiglione that New York manager Joe Girardi told him before the game that he had passed the afternoon watching a video of the 1978 Red Sox-Yankees playoff (also known as the Bucky Dent Game). Bradford asked if he thought Girardi was needling him, but Castiglione said he didn't think so. "I told him we got over that in 2004." 

Walk-up songs got one more mention when Castiglione told Bradford that his friend Jeffrey Lyons the film critic had emailed him to say Joe's walk-up song should be "You Can't Touch This." Castiglione not only knew this was an MC Hammer tune, but also that Hammer had originally started out life as Stanley Burrell -- a young batboy and front-office worker with the Oakland A's of the 1970s. 
MC Hammer and Hammerin Hank

Naturally, both "Can't Touch This" and "Classical Gas" were played as lead-ins after commercial breaks between half-innings. "He can find anything," Castiglione proudly said of Red Sox Radio producer Paddy O'Day. 

O'Day couldn't find the Red Sox a way to make up the deficit, however, and New York hung on for a 5-3 win. Bradford and Castiglione agreed that Mookie Betts (2-for-2 with a great catch) had been the Red Sox star of the night, but Bradford found a more interesting stat to share with listeners: "There are 27 guys on the Yankees wearing #60 or higher."

Too bad that wasn't the case in 1978. 


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