Sarah McKenna is the senior vice president of fan services and entertainment with the Red Sox. You may not know her name, but you’re quite familiar with her work.
One of McKenna’s responsibilities is to coordinate the pregame ceremonies at Fenway Park. If you have warm memories of seeing David Ortiz honored, World Series rings handed out or banners raised, McKenna was orchestrating it all.
The Springfield native started with the Red Sox in 2002, coming over from the San Diego Padres where she had worked with Larry Lucchino and Dr. Charles Steinberg.
McKenna also has something in common with Bill Belichick: She had the authority to tell Tom Brady what to do.
In 2002, after the Patriots beat the St. Louis Rams for the first of their six Super Bowl championships, many of the players gathered at Fenway Park for the home opener on April 1 against the Toronto Blue Jays.
A large group of Patriots players popped out from behind a large American flag draped over the Green Monster. Brady, wearing a baseball glove, was among them.
With Lawyer Milloy holding the Lombardi Trophy aloft, the Patriots walked across left field. The group included Tedy Bruschi, Matt Chatham, Tebucky Jones, Troy Brown, and Ty Law.
“There was a lot of excitement because it was the first time they had won the Super Bowl,” McKenna said. “The Patriots players had not been together for a while and they were all talking and enjoying the moment. They were as excited as we were.”
But McKenna had a tight schedule to keep, so she stood on a chair and ordered the Patriots to line up and hit the field.
“I had to yell at them,” she said. “And they’re very big guys in real life.”
Brady and the other Patriots threw out their first pitches to Red Sox players and the ceremony was a big success.
It was the start of a strong relationship between the Red Sox and Brady, which was no surprise given his connection to baseball.
Brady was an 18th-round draft pick of the Montreal Expos in 1995 when he was a high school senior. Brady, a lefthanded-hitting catcher with a good arm, turned down the Expos to play football at Michigan. You know the rest of the story.
Brady returned to Fenway in 2003 and took batting practice before a game. Brady stayed in the cage until he wrapped a home run around the Pesky Pole in right field.
Brady came back to Fenway following the Super Bowl championships in 2004, ’15, and ’17.
In 2015, Brady took some swings in the batting cage off Pedro Martinez, then threw a first pitch to Ortiz. The 2017 ceremony included Rob Gronkowski playfully grabbing the game jersey Brady had stolen from the locker room and returned to him. Gronk ran across the field before Brady tackled him.
Brady also came to Fenway with his family for the ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the park in 2012.
“He was a big baseball fan,” McKenna said.
Sox players also took part in ceremonies at Gillette Stadium after their championships. In 2018, Steve Pearce and Alex Cora grabbed photos with Brady and Belichick before the Patriots played the Packers.
“It’s always fun to see our players interacting with the Patriots or the Celtics or the Bruins,” McKenna said. “There’s a lot of genuine mutual respect for what the teams have accomplished.
“It’s a special thing what has happened in Boston with all the championships, and the players support each other. I’ve always thought that was such a cool thing.”
McKenna is a Patriots fan, but she adhered to professional decorum and never asked Brady to pose for a photo or sign anything.
“That’s just not something I would do,” she said, “but I have great memories of seeing him at Fenway and I hope he does well with the Buccaneers. The Patriots have always been great for us to deal with.
“I think they’ll be fine, too. One thing about them, they want to win just like we do. The Krafts will do what it takes.”
Sox were too hasty with Sale
It was a year ago Monday that the Red Sox announced they had signed Chris Sale to a five-year, $145 million extension that would start in 2020.
How does that deal look now?
Sale will not be ready to pitch for the Sox until June 2021 at the earliest. Depending on how players are paid for this season, Sale will receive roughly $40 million from the Sox without appearing in a game.
Some of that money is deferred, but however the accounting works, it’s now a terrible contract for the Sox.
What struck me when I looked back at the story I wrote a year ago was this comment from Sale: “I made it very adamant at the very beginning of all this that I wanted to stay here.”
Dave Dombrowski said something similar, that Sale wanting to stay with the Red Sox helped the deal come together. The lefthander placed a lot of value in the idea of being able to live at home with his family during the two months of spring training.
Knowing Sale, that wasn’t just talk. He is from Lakeland, Fla., went to Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers (where he met his wife), and lives in Naples. The Red Sox were the perfect team for him.
So what was the rush to make a deal a full season ahead of free agency? The Sox should have waited until after the season to negotiate with Sale.
Instead, he went 6-11 with a 4.40 ERA and missed the final six weeks with a sore elbow.
Dombrowski said at the time the deal was advantageous to the Sox because it was structured in a way to count as $25.6 million against the luxury tax, and offered the Red Sox greater flexibility.
“There was give and take, which we appreciated,” Dombrowski said.
The Sox also wanted to avoid the mistake they made with Jon Lester in 2014. But Lester was healthy after the 2013 championship. Sale was dealing with a sore shoulder for much of the second half of 2018.
The better risk for the Sox would have been to wager on that same spirit of cooperation being there in October. Instead, they put their faith in Sale staying healthy and lost.
A few other observations about the Red Sox:
▪ Now that Mookie Betts and David Price have been traded and Sale is done for this season, the Sox should take full advantage of the situation and commit to rebuilding.
Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom was honest Thursday when he acknowledged the loss of Sale would make it difficult to contend.
“Chris Sale is the type of player you can’t just replace,” he said. “He is an elite performer and those guys are hard to come by … that’s a big blow.
“There’s been a lot of other things on our plate. But it obviously is going to make our climb that much harder. As we’ve said and as we’ve talked about since the beginning of the spring and before, it’s never about just one season. We’re always going to make sure we’re looking to bolster our long-term outlook as well.”
Bloom went on to say the 2020 season remains their focus, and of course he should say that. The season hasn’t even started yet.
But the Sox are not good enough to win with the rotation they have. Once the season starts, they should consider trading anybody outside of Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and Eduardo Rodriguez.
Bloom’s strength as an executive should be making trades that bring back young, cost-controlled talent. That is something Tampa Bay specialized in. Give him a chance to do his thing.
▪ Trading Betts is never going to make much sense. But now that the Dodgers are going to get less than 162 games from him, the Sox could get more value in their return over the long run.
That won’t matter to the Dodgers if they win the World Series. But every game that Betts doesn’t play this season decreases his value, while the Sox have Jeter Downs and Connor Wong stashed in the minors.
▪ Ron Roenicke said the Sox are operating under the premise that teams will have three or four weeks of what amounts to a second spring training before the season starts.
Presumably teams will return to Florida and Arizona. But in talking to officials from Major League Baseball, no decisions have been reached about what type of schedule teams will play or whether fans will be allowed into ballparks.
Maybe Florida is not the place to go. State officials were disturbingly lax in restricting access to public places (such as beaches) in response to the coronavirus.
▪ Need to see some baseball? Starting on Monday, NESN will broadcast games from the 2004, ’07, ’13, and ’18 postseasons over the next eight weeks every night (except Sundays) at 6 o’clock.
The series starts with Game 1 of the 2013 Division Series against Tampa Bay, and will follow the Sox on their 2013 run for two weeks. The 2004 postseason will follow.
How about some November Madness?
Nobody can say for sure when the season will start, assuming it starts at all given that the United States is only in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.
But here are a few thoughts on what Major League Baseball should do if there is a season in 2020:
▪ Mic up the players: The spring training games when some players wore small microphones and television viewers were able to hear what they said on the field were entertaining. The Players Association should put aside its objections to doing this during the regular season.
Baseball has historically done an abysmal job of marketing its best players. In-game audio would be a great way to change that and allow players to show their personalities.
Obviously, some kind of delay will be needed and networks will have to be trusted not to broadcast anything objectionable, but those are small hurdles to achieve the greater goal of making the game more interesting as a television product.
▪ Create a true tournament: Instead of the familiar postseason format, shake it up for a year. Play a few days of regular-season games into October, then seed the 16 best teams by record, regardless of league.
Play eight one-game playoffs over two days to get to the Final Eight. Then play four best-of-three series to reduce the field to four, followed by two best-of-five series to advance two teams to a traditional best-of-seven World Series.
The higher seed gets home-field advantage throughout, including all three games in the first round. Then use a 2-2-1 format in the third round and 2-3-2 in the third round.
Every game uses a designated hitter, too. It’s going to happen anyway in a year or two, might as well get started.
Baseball could complete the postseason in 25 days and be done before November starts. Having more than half the teams in the postseason will create more interest, and eight elimination games to start will be television gold.
Going into November, even at warm-weather neutral sites, is a terrible idea. Election Day is Nov. 3, and baseball should want nothing to do with competing against a presidential race that will command all of the attention.
▪ Expand the rosters: Baseball was shifting to a 26-man roster as it was. Going to 28 and giving each team two extra pitchers for the first two months of the season seems reasonable. Plus, it would help safeguard against pitchers, more susceptible to injuries, being overused.
For most fans, the focus is on when the major league season will start. But the state of the minor leagues will soon become perilous. Lower-level minor league teams are small businesses, and many of them operate independently from the organizations that provide them with talent. Once games aren’t played in April and May, it’s almost certain that some of them will go bankrupt, or at least need some kind of intervention to stay economically viable. At a time when Major League Baseball has put forth a plan to eliminate 42 teams, the pandemic could do some of the work for it . . . Philadelphia opened up a testing site for the coronavirus at Citizens Bank Park on Friday. That makes a lot of sense for other cities. Ballparks aren’t being used, and they’re usually accessible by public transportation and/or have ample parking . . . Looking for a way to occupy your time at home? The Hall of Fame put a significant number of photographs, scouting reports, audio histories, and images of artifacts on its website. Go to collection.baseballhall.org to check it out . . . Happy birthday to Justin Masterson, who is 35. He played for the Red Sox in 2008 and ’09 before being traded to the Indians along with lefthander Nick Hagadone for Victor Martinez. Masterson returned to the Sox as a free agent in 2015, but was released in August. In all, he was 13-10 with a 4.26 ERA in 85 games for the Sox. He retired from baseball after the 2018 season. Dick Ellsworth is 80. The lefthander was 16-7 with a 3.03 ERA for the Sox in 1968, but was traded early in the 1969 season along with Ken Harrelson and lefthander Juan Pizarro to get catcher Joe Azcue, and righthanders Vicente Romo and Sonny Siebert from the Indians. Ramon Martinez is celebrating his 52nd birthday. The righthander was 135-88 in 14 seasons in the majors and had a 3.67 ERA. Pedro’s older brother was with the Red Sox in 1999 and 2000.