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Monday, May 26, 2014

One great Red Sox team (2013) recalls another (2004)

Only Papi remained -- but plenty remembered.

Editor's Note: Red Sox historian Bill Nowlin approached each 2013 Red Sox for their '04 reflections, Portions of some of the best are below, with Bill's questions and comments in italics; for the full roster's reflections, check out the "Blog" section of Bill's great new website, Boston Baseball, at

By Bill Nowlin

As the 10th anniversary of the 2004 season was approaching, I asked members of the 2013 Red Sox for whatever memories they might have of the 2004 postseason. Only one Red Sox player was on the 2013 team who had also been on the 2004 World Champions – David Ortiz. His thoughts are recorded elsewhere, and at some length. See, for instance, the book DON’T LET US WON TONIGHT.

The ages the 2013 players had in 2004 ranged from 14 (Jose Iglesias) to 29 (Koji Uehara) – and neither of them saw that year’s playoffs since they were in Cuba and Japan respectively. Only a very few of the players in 2013 were in the majors in 2004 – Ryan Dempster, David Ross, Jonny Gomes, and John Lackey. The latter – Lackey – would likely have started Game Four for the Angels against the Red Sox had Boston not swept the Division Series in three games. The only one who appeared in the postseason that year was David Ross, who was with the Dodgers and got into two games during the Division Series against the Cardinals. Dempster had been with the Cubs and Gomes had appeared in five May games for Tampa Bay.

Perhaps befitting their roles as professional ballplayers and perhaps reflecting their sense that their career might take them from organization to organization, few of the players held a strong rooting interest for any team in the playoffs, though they did tend to pull for individual players.  

Andrew Bailey was a 20-year-old student at Wagner College on Staten Island.
Man, I remember – all of my teammates were Yankee fans and I like rooting against my friends in some competitiveness so obviously I was rooting for the Sox that series. Coming back from 3-0 was incredible. One of the greatest stories in baseball history. I was obviously not in the professional level at that point in time but for a really true fan of the game, that’s something you’ll never forget. Now being part of that organization is such an awesome feeling.

I sort of wondered if most of the students there would have been Yankees fans.

Oh, yeah! It’s like, my buddies are sitting there rooting for the Yankees and my team wasn’t in it – the Phillies weren’t in it. I grew up as a Phillies fan. My team wasn’t in it so I wanted to root against my buddies, you know?

Xander Bogaerts, with an October 1 birthday, had just turned 12 in Aruba a few days before the playoffs began.
There’s a lot of Yankees fans and Boston fans in Aruba, but most of them were Braves fans because of Andruw Jones.  He was a big thing back then.

Did you watch any of that on television?

Oh yeah, definitely. That’s the one with Dave Roberts and the steal.  Pretty much everyone was saying that the Red Sox were done and then seeing them come back. Millar was always positive – Kevin Millar, he said things are going to change. If they win that night, he was positive that they would win the next one. The Yankees were obviously stunned that they came back.

Clay Buchholz, 20, was a student at Angelina Junior College.
We watched all the games. They were down 3-0. Sitting and watching those games unfold after [Boston] being down that much in the series and coming back and winning is obviously the thing that stands out in my mind. I grew up in Texas so I was always for the Rangers and Astros, and my favorite player to this day was always Derek Jeter. I played shortstop growing up.  A lot of the guys who are right-handed pitchers came up playing shortstop in Little League and high school.  So I watched him play.

If the Red Sox were playing the Yankees, then, were you rooting for…?

No, I  just liked Jeter. I liked watching him play. The thing that stands out in my head in that series is just David – Ortiz – and what he did. I definitely watched it.  I just watched all the games. It was neat watching it unfold as they came back knowing no team had ever done that.

Would you say you began rooting for the  Red Sox?

I definitely wanted them to win the World Series that year after they finished that series in New York. It was neat to watch. It had been a long time.

Pedro Ciriaco was 19. He’d played in the Dominican Summer League earlier that year, signed to an Arizona Diamondbacks contract.
I was, you know, a Red Sox fan at that time. I never did like Yankees. You know, Pedro [Martinez] was here at that time. Manny. Papi.  So I was a really huge fan.

You were in the D-Backs system, in the Dominican Summer League, but they weren’t in the playoffs.

Yeah, I was already with the Diamondbacks, but I remember that series. I enjoyed every game. The series with the Yankees, that was unbelievable. I remember every time Pedro Martinez was going to pitch, everybody in the country – the whole country was watching.

Felix Doubront turned 17 the day of Game One of the 2004 World Series. He was living in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela at the time.
I had signed with the Red Sox in July 2004. They were my team.

Were you able to watch some of the games on TV?

At that moment, we were in the Parallela. [The Parallela Liga is a minor league in Venezuelan baseball.] I was a rookie for Boston in Valencia. All the excitement – the guys, the manager, the hitting coach – they came here to watch the World Series. Josman Robles. Miguel Garcia. A lot of those guys. They came up to watch the World Series.

So I don’t have to ask you who you were rooting for? 

No (laughs). It’s weird. My favorite team at that moment, before I signed, was the Yankees and the Mets. Those were the two teams that I followed the most right before when I signed with Boston. My agent told me that Boston didn’t have enough lefty pitchers in the minor league system, so I…

You thought you might have a better chance to move up.

To move up. Quicker. At that moment, it was very exciting to sign.

Jonny Gomes played outfield for Durham and appeared in five games for Tampa Bay in 2004, at age 23.
I don’t pick a team [to root for in a situation like that] but I’ve been to eight World Series. Seven as a fan, one as a player.  I’m a big fan of the game. What really stands out is Kevin Millar’s walk, which led to Dave Roberts’ stolen base and, you know, Bill Mueller. But what I would say stood out to me the most was each series clincher and then, of course, the World Series clincher and the celebration between 25 guys and the staff. Some people might look at it like, “Oh, they were going crazy” but you just really saw the passion of how tight-knit they were. The hugs and the champagne, it was just like…

There was a little criticism that they over-celebrated in clinching a playoff spot in the first place.

Well, it turned out those people were wrong – again. You know, again!  But that’s what stood out – it was like a wedding almost. Just like a family. Everyone having a good time.

Jon Lester pitched for the Florida State League Sarasota Red Sox in 2004. He was 20 years old.
I came to Game 3 up here against the Yankees. The bad one. I was just kind of thinking they were pretty outmatched. Obviously, being part of the organization you watch them. I followed them a little bit, but I was probably like 99 percent of the country, saying, “The Yankees are going to another World Series.” But once they came back, I figured it would be over. They were on that momentum. That’s a big part of the playoffs, momentum. You forget about yourself some. I figured once they got to the World Series, it was going to be pretty easy for them.

John McDonald had just finished his sixth season with the Indians in 2004.
I like baseball so I like watching the playoffs. I was actually in Boston for a little bit of that – not at the games but seeing the madness, and the excitement of the team not wanting to give up. It was really enjoyable and after they won [over the Yankees], I don’t think anybody could reasonable think they were going to lose after that. They just played great baseball. 

The pitching they had – I think that’s what I remember the most about it. How well Derek Lowe pitched. How well Pedro pitched. And I’d played with Dave Roberts in the past – we were teammates in the minor leagues for Cleveland. Watching him go to first base, everyone knew he was going to steal in that situation. I don’t remember how many times Rivera threw over; he still went first pitch. Which was not surprising to me. He was going as soon as he [Rivera] picked up his front leg. That’s what he does. That was his gig. It was fun to watch.

You grew up in Connecticut. Red Sox fans? Yankees fans?

We grew up Yankee fans. Going to the Stadium. We went to both, though. We rooted for the Yankees more. That’s when I was a kid.  You don’t watch as many baseball games after you start playing a lot more in high school and college. As soon as I was an Indian, I was an Indian. I didn’t have any other allegiances besides the team I was on.

By 2004, when you were watching those games, with the Red Sox down three games to none, did your Yankees background kick in for you or did you start rooting for the underdog?

No, I was just watching. My wife is from Boston so I think it was pretty easy to identify with that team the Sox had. They were fun. Plus I knew some of the guys on the team, too. I was a little more familiar with them. You want to see them get over the hump. You want to see that excitement. After they won that first game, you wanted to see them win the second. They win the second, you want to see them win the third, and after they win the third, you want to see them finish it.

It obviously made for a good story but I’ve got a lot of friends and family up in this area so it was fun to watch and listen to their reactions and their excitement going through it.

Will Middlebrooks was 16, at Liberty Eylau High School in Texarkana, Texas.
I was a freshman in high school. I remember watching. I always enjoyed watching playoff baseball with my buddies.  I remember it being really fun baseball to watch – high intensity baseball. A lot of intense situations. It was a lot of fun to watch. 

The Red Sox swept in the first round against the Angels when one of your current teammates homered in the 10th inning.

Yeah, David. I remember that. And I remember the Damon grand slam.  I wanted the Red Sox to win. I just wasn’t a Yankees fan. I wasn’t a Yankees hater, by any means, but when I grew up I liked the Rangers and the Red Sox. That was the team I was able to go watch because I was from there, so I liked them and I liked the Red Sox because of their history.

So you were pulling for the Red Sox against the Cardinals, too.

Oh, yeah. Absolutely.

Dustin Pedroia was in the Red Sox system. He had played with Augusta and Sarasota in the summer of 2004. He was 21.
I was in the Fall League, in Arizona [during the playoffs].

Watching the games on TV with some of your friends?

Yeah.  Everyone saw the games. It was awesome.  I just thought it was great, the comeback, you know? All the stuff they did was awesome.  

And then you were up here for the next one [2007].

Yeah, we gotta get another one of those, you know.

Maybe this year...

There you go.

(Editor's Note: Mission accomplished -- at least in 2013) 

Brandon Snyder turned 18 the month after the 2004 playoffs were over.
I was a junior in high school. My dad was a Yankees fan. My younger brothers – they’re twins – one’s a Yankees fan and one’s a Red Sox fan. At the time, I just kind of sat back and watched them battle it out. It was just one of those all-time greatest moments in baseball where you see a series turn around so quickly. The way they did it, it was just amazing. If you’re going to do it, you might as well make it interesting, right?

After that, it was just a different mentality. We stopped talking about curses and all this other stuff and we started talking about building good organizations to win baseball games.

Alex Wilson was 17, still in high school at Hurricane, West Virginia.
I actually was a Red Sox fan, a huge Nomar Garciaparra fan. That kind of led me to like the Red Sox. I definitely remember watching the games. I think the biggest thing was them coming back from the 3-0 and everything. That was definitely something to remember.

I was a shortstop. I wore #5. I pitched some but I was definitely more of a position player.
I was really happy. I was razzing my buddies that were Yankees fans in the Championship Series and in the World Series everything fell into place.



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