BALTIMORE — It was a terrible trip.
It was a terrible trip because the Sox went 2-7 in Cleveland, Detroit, and Baltimore. It was a terrible trip because the Sox lost six straight after the return of Stephen Drew, then watched Drew strain an oblique muscle and miss the entire Oriole series. It was a terrible trip because the Sox were six games out when they left Boston, and they are nine games out as they ready themselves for Tito and the Tribe Thursday night at Fenway. It was a terrible trip because of interminable rain delays in Baltimore at the end of the junket. It was a terrible trip because the Red Sox can . . . not . . . hit (one run in 27 innings at Camden Yards). And they were dangerously close to going 0-9 on the tour through traditional American League cities.
Most of all — for the Sox ballplayers, manager, coaches, and support staff — it was a terrible trip because hitting coach Greg Colbrunn suffered a brain hemorrhage on the final day in Cleveland and was still at the Cleveland Clinic when the Sox returned to Boston in the early hours Thursday morning.
A baseball team is much more than 25 guys playing three-plus hours of hardball every night. A baseball team is a multilayered family with individuals from diverse cultural, educational, and economic backgrounds.
Fans have a pretty good idea what the players are doing during the games, but like a travelling rock band, the franchise requires numerous talents with specific skills working as a unit to produce maximum performance. There are front office people, medical people, strength and conditioning people, massage people, video people, clubhouse people, interpreters, TV and radio people, and a traveling secretary responsible for the buses, airplanes, and hotels that accommodate the party of 60-plus.
And there are also major league coaches — quiet men who work 12-hour days without getting much attention. Occasionally you’ll see a high-profile coach (Mark McGwire comes to mind), but most of them were marginal big leaguers or perhaps career minor leaguers.
In addition to manager John Farrell, the Red Sox coaches are Arnie Beyeler (first base), Brian Butterfield (third base), Dana LeVangie (bullpen), Torey Lovullo (bench), Juan Nieves (pitching), Victor Rodriguez (assistant hitting), and Colbrunn (hitting). Three of them never played in the majors. None of them were big league stars.
In the words of longtime Orioles coach Jim Frey (he later managed the Royals and Cubs), “We teach these guys a lot of stuff we could never do ourselves.’’
All of the Red Sox coaches were with the team when the Sox won the World Series last year. They have been together for a season and a half, which is why it was odd for them to go to the ballparks in Detroit and Baltimore and not see Colbrunn working with the hitters.
“This is strange,’’ said Rodriguez. “Especially when you have a routine. Day in and day out, you know what to do. It’s different now. We’re all adjusting.’’
Colbrunn is only 44 years old. He lives in South Carolina with his wife and three daughters. Erika and the Colbrunn girls were scheduled to be in Baltimore with the Sox this week, but everything changed June 4 when Colbrunn suffered headaches and became disoriented before the Sox’ final game in Cleveland.
He was transported to the Lutheran Hospital, then rushed to the Cleveland Clinic, where he is still in recovery. Rodriguez has taken over as full-time hitting coach, and minor league instructor Tim Hyers has been added to the big league staff, at least temporarily.
But everything is different when a core group is broken up in the middle of a trip, in the middle of a season. The road Red Sox have three buses leaving their hotel headquarters at intervals on game days. The first bus leaves at 12:30, the second bus at 2, and the final bus at 4. Colbrunn is always on the first bus. But not in Detroit. And not in Baltimore.
“We’re a pretty tight group,’’ said Nieves. “We’ve been texting him and talking to him every day. We’re keeping him in our prayers.’’
“Colby and I go a long ways back to Arizona days when I was a coach and he was a player,’’ said Butterfield. “I know Arnie, Greg, and Victor come to the ballpark together quite a bit.
“This is a good, hard-working group. Everybody’s got your back and there’s the work ethic. It’s a grinding staff. This is the hardest-working staff I’ve been associated with.’’
“We’ve all reached out to Greg,’’ said Lovullo. “I tend to hang with him on offdays. When we had that offday in Detroit, I sent him a message telling him we’d probably be hanging out if he was around.
“It’s a void. He always comes down to me at the end of the dugout during games, and the last few games, I’ve just been down there by myself.’’
“I’ve communicated with him daily,’’ said Farrell. “I saw him at the hospital the day after it happened. He’s very coherent, not nearly as disoriented as he was. But there’s a void with us here. He’s missed.
“He’s making progress and he’s eager to get back. Everything points to full recovery, but it’s going to take a little time. We’re fortunate to have this group and we hope that we can maintain that continuity.’’
The Sox and their staff will remember this June trip as one of the worst trips ever. And not just because of the won-lost record.