Brockton Rox general manager Tom Tracey didn’t intend to build a summer league team that had five sons of prominent former major league players on the roster.
“It just happened that way,” he said. “One call led to another. It was not something we planned to do.”
Now the Rox have a team that includes the sons of David Ortiz (D’Angelo), Pedro Martinez (Pedro Jr.), Manny Ramirez (Manny Jr.), Gary Sheffield (Jaden), and Keith Foulke (Kade).
That’s an extended family with two first-ballot Hall of Famers, eight World Series rings, and 40 All-Star appearances.
The Rox are a member of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, which has eight teams in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont. They play a 62-game schedule through the first week of August.
It’s a lot of baseball and not a lot of comfort. There are long bus rides for one game, meals on the go, and living with roommates in apartments or college dorms.
“It’s a grind,” Tracey said before a recent game. “There’s no special treatment because of who your father is. That was the one thing I was worried about, how they would fit in with the other players. But it hasn’t been a problem.”
None of the big-league scions are prominent prospects at this point.
Foulke, Ortiz, and Ramirez are recent high school graduates who will play at junior colleges next season. Martinez, an infielder and outfielder, is a backup player at Division 2 Lynn University. Sheffield had only 17 at-bats as a freshman at Georgetown.
But they all harbor dreams of playing professionally and leagues such as the FCBL are where you get that chance.
“This seems like the right move,” said D’Angelo Ortiz, an infielder who turns 18 next month. “My whole life has been about taking the next step. Playing with older guys, that’s perfect. It’s better competition and you’re going to have bad days and learn how to come back from there.
“Playing every day, there’s nothing better than that.”
Brockton has had baseball teams at Campanelli Stadium since 2002. There was an independent league team for 10 years before switching over to college summer leagues.
The connection to the Red Sox started last season when Martinez played for the Rox. That led to Ortiz, Ramirez, and the others coming aboard. The FCBL is one of the few college leagues that allows incoming freshmen.
David Ortiz has been an avid supporter of his son’s career, working with him on the side and attending high school games. But there’s no pressure.
“D has to lead his own life,” David Ortiz said. “If that’s in baseball, great. I just want to see him enjoy it.”
The younger Ortiz has hit .364 with a .960 OPS through 10 games with the Rox. At 6 feet 1 inch, 200 pounds, he’s a different player than his father, more athletic and versatile. Some of that comes from his mother, Tiffany, who was an athlete growing up.
“I was there. I saw how hard my father worked,” D’Angelo Ortiz said. “I know it will be tough, but I want to get to the big leagues. But I’m not him. We’re different people. My mom raised me because my dad was always away.”
Is it hard being Big Papi’s son?
“There’s people who want to make it more than it is,” he said. “There’s pressure. I love baseball because I love baseball. I believe if my dad worked at FedEx I’d still love baseball. I know I’ll always be recognized as his son. But use my first name.”
Martinez Jr. understands the pros and cons of having a famous father.
“It’s a fun experience playing so close to Boston,” he said. “People here love him and I understand that. For me, it’s about getting ready for my college season and enjoying the game.”
Ramirez Jr., who bears an uncanny resemblance to his father, is a soft-spoken outfielder with a smooth swing. He will attend Tallahassee (Fla.) Community College next season.
“I work with my dad all the time. He still hits all the time,” he said. “He walks around the house holding a bat. I try to take from his approach to the game and learn from that.”
Kade Foulke was a baseball and hockey player growing up in Florida before focusing on baseball in high school. He plans to play for Galveston College, a junior college in Texas.
He recently took in a game at Fenway Park with his father.
“It’s amazing how many people still recognize him. It was fun,” he said. “People always want to ask him about the 2004 team. It’s fun playing somewhere where he has such good memories.”
Jaden Sheffield, an outfielder with speed and power, needs at-bats after playing sparingly as a freshman. He acknowledged there is pressure when your father spent 22 years in the majors and hit 509 home runs.
“Being the son of a major leaguer brings positives and negatives,” he said. “It’s a thing we all have to embrace. We know we’re going to have people looking at us with a fine-toothed comb. They’ll look at us and see if we match up to our dads.
“We’re just here to be us and play baseball. Maybe we’re held to a certain standard, but I’ve talked to the other guys about it and none of us were pressured to play baseball. It was something I put on myself.”
Depth could be what saves Sox
Red Sox starting pitchers are in the top five in the American League in most of the important statistics, traditional and advanced.
That’s without James Paxton or Chris Sale throwing an inning as they recover from injuries.
It’s tempting to suggest that the season will ride on how well Chaim Bloom does with improving the bullpen ahead of the trade deadline.
But what if the answers are already available?
Three Triple A starters — Brayan Bello, Connor Seabold, and Josh Winckowski — are banging on the door to the big leagues. The Sox also have hard-throwing Bryan Mata coming back from Tommy John surgery with eye-popping results.
The Sox could use those pitchers as multi-inning relievers over the summer. That would serve two purposes: Giving them a chance to break into the majors while eating up innings to protect the late-inning relievers from overuse.
Pitching coach Dave Bush told The Athletic that Sale could work as a reliever as he builds up enough innings to start.
Using options to move rookies in and out of the bullpen would enable Alex Cora and Bush to keep everybody fresh. The Sox have leaned heavily on their starters in recent weeks to get back into contention. But that’s not a tactic they can depend on long term.
In Tanner Houck and Matt Strahm, the Sox have two solid options to close. Austin Davis, Tyler Danish, Jake Diekman, Hansel Robles, and John Schreiber have shown they can handle high-leverage spots.
A reliable veteran reliever would be welcome. But thanks to the organization’s pitching depth, major changes may not be required if the roster can be manipulated properly.
A few other observations on the Red Sox:
▪ Shohei Ohtani faced the Sox twice prior to this season. He allowed five earned runs on nine hits over nine innings and struck out five. In two starts this season: 14 innings, 10 hits, 1 earned run, 17 strikeouts.
He threw a pitch 101 miles per hour against the Sox on Thursday and hit another with an exit velocity of 104.4 m.p.h.
▪ As a group, Sox players are not avid users of social media. So it was noteworthy how many of them — about a dozen — shared an Instagram post congratulating Xander Bogaerts for setting the team record for most games at shortstop.
It spoke to two things: How respected Bogaerts is within the clubhouse and the players using a public forum to send that message to ownership that he needs to be signed to an extension.
▪ Jarren Duran started last Sunday’s game against the Athletics as the designated hitter as opposed to in right field. Cora said he preferred Franchy Cordero in Oakland’s expansive right field.
Cordero has shown vast improvement in all aspects this season, but he’s been a below-average outfield defender over the balance of his career.
It was indicative that the Sox aren’t quite sold on Duran’s outfield skills.
▪ Oakland drew 44,733 fans for its three-game series against the Red Sox last weekend, an average of 14,911. Take those games out of the mix and the Athletics have averaged only 7,547 fans at home this season.
Two takeaways: Sox fans are everywhere and A’s fans have had enough of the mess there.
Subway Series a real possibility
This was the state of New York baseball in October: The Yankees were bounced out of the playoffs with a 6-2 loss in the Wild Card Game at Fenway Park while the Mets were busy firing manager Luis Rojas after a 77-85 season.
The Yankees waited for two long and uncomfortable weeks before deciding to keep manager Aaron Boone.
Eight months later, it’s not unreasonable to think the Yankees and Mets could meet in the World Series.
The Yankees went into the weekend with the best record in the American League by five games on the Astros. The Mets were a few percentage points behind the Dodgers for the best record in the National League.
The Yankees succeeded by showing faith in Boone and making subtle moves to improve their defense. Their pitching is so deep that the loss of closer Aroldis Chapman to an Achilles’ tendon strain has barely been noticed. Clay Holmes has blossomed as a closer, so much so that Boone committed only to Chapman being a “back-end reliever” once he returns.
Meanwhile, Aaron Judge has been the best hitter in the game after turning down a $234.5 million contract in April. Their offense is so powerful that the Yankees have already won eight games when they allowed five runs, four fewer than all of last season.
The Yankees trailed the Twins, 7-3, on Thursday after Gerrit Cole got crushed at Target Field. They scored the final seven runs to win, 10-7.
The Mets had a busy and expensive offseason, remaking their roster with high-profile free agents and hiring Buck Showalter as manager.
Talent matters. But as new general manager Billy Eppler noted, Showalter’s presence has kept the players focused on the day-to-day business of the game. The small problems that became tabloid headlines get dealt with quickly.
“Buck has been perfect for us,” he said.
As the Mets build a lead in their division, it has been without Jacob deGrom. The ace righthander didn’t pitch the final three months of last season because of a forearm strain and has been out all this season with a shoulder injury.
DeGrom started throwing in the bullpen last weekend and will soon face hitters. The Mets are not discussing timetables, but the All-Star break is a reasonable goal.
DeGrom has a 1.94 ERA over 91 starts since 2018. If he’s even 75 percent of that pitcher, it’ll be a huge lift for the Mets.
Joe Maddon leaned against the railing in front of the visitors’ dugout at Fenway Park before the Angels played the Red Sox on May 4 and said how much he was enjoying this season. That he could spend more time with the players after the socially distanced seasons of 2020 and ‘21 had made his job fun again. That the Angels were 15-10 at the time and in first place certainly had something to do with it, too. That Maddon would get fired 34 days later seemed impossible, but a 12-game losing streak did him in. And so it goes with the Angels. Since Mike Scioscia’s final season in 2018, Los Angeles has had Brad Ausmus, Maddon, and now Phil Nevin as managers. Perry Minasian is the third GM since 2015. The Angels were the first team since the 1970 Cubs to lose at least 12 in a row after being 10 games over .500 … Maddon and Joe Girardi were the first managers fired before September since 2018, when the Reds let Bryan Price go on April 19 and the Cardinals canned Mike Matheny on July 14 … Unless you’re in Miami, the Marlins exist in a vacuum. But Sandy Alcantara is changing that. The 26-year-old righthander is 6-2 with a 1.61 ERA and has gone at least seven innings while not allowing more than one earned run in six consecutive starts. In the last 10 years, only Clayton Kershaw (three times) and Jake Arrieta (once) have done that … I miss the old punch cards at the ballpark, but All-Star voting has started at MLB.com … Albert Pujols has made it clear he’s retiring after the season. It seems a little strange he’s not getting the same retirement tour sendoff that Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, and David Ortiz received. Pujols is a sure first-ballot Hall of Famer just like they were … MLB announced 19 of the participants who will take part in the All-Star Celebrity Softball Game at Dodger Stadium on July 16. The group includes Boston native Coi Leray, a singer and rapper who has 6.2 million followers on Instagram … It’s not easy playing college baseball in New England. Much of the season is cold, muddy, and often the only fans on hand are friends and family. But 2022 sure was a success. UConn is playing in the Super Regionals at Stanford this weekend. The Huskies’ roster includes junior Matt Donlan, who transferred from Stonehill and has caught nearly every inning. Sophomore outfielder Korey Morton, who is hitting .411 with a 1.097 OPS, is the son of former Red Sox lefthander Kevin Morton. Eastern Connecticut State, just down the road from Storrs, won the NCAA Division 3 championship. It was the fifth in program history. The Warriors were 48-3 and finished the season with 22 consecutive wins. The Division 3 field had seven other New England teams: Bridgewater State, Endicott, Johnson & Wales, Husson, Middlebury, Mitchell College, and Wheaton. Southern New Hampshire made the Division 2 tournament … MLB’s draft combine in San Diego on Thursday and Friday is scheduled to include South Kingstown, R.I., righthander Ben Brutti; UConn lefthander/first baseman Reggie Crawford (who missed this season recovering from Tommy John surgery); and Northeastern righthanders Sebastian Keane and Cam Schlittler … The Cape Cod League season starts Sunday with five games and runs through Aug. 2. The postseason starts Aug. 4 … Happy birthday to Bob Heise, who is 76. He played for the Red Sox from 1975-76 as a backup infielder. Heise was acquired from the Angels for Tommy Harper on Dec. 2, 1974, and appeared in 63 games in ‘75, but was not used in the postseason.