Hot stove talk around Fenway Park this past week was that the Red Sox were thinking of adding a former MVP to their lineup. The mystery player was a power-hitting lefthanded bat, in the late prime of his career, and on a decent contract to boot.
Let’s squash that talk. Taylor Hall only played one summer of baseball, when he was 12.
Also, he won’t drop his allegiance to the Blue Jays.
If the Bruins were to create a sandlot baseball team, it would be built around Hall. A December survey of the Black-and-Gold dressing room found that the broad-shouldered winger is the only player to have cleared a major league fence.
During a 2016 batting practice session at Rogers Centre with fellow Toronto-area “hockey guys,” Hall said, he fouled off several offerings from the pitcher, Josue Peley, a Blue Jays translator. Hall eventually tagged one down the right-field line and over the wall, 328 feet away.
Is it too late for a PTO @BlueJays? Thanks for having us out to batting practise. pic.twitter.com/cy02hIDNXS— Taylor Hall (@hallsy09) August 24, 2016
“I’m not surprised at all,” defenseman Connor Clifton said. “He’s built like a truck.”
“He’s been bragging about it,” teased winger Jake DeBrusk. “He wants to hit it out of Fenway.”
Several of Hall’s teammates had similar dreams before they turned to hockey.
Forced to choose
Nick Foligno hung up his spikes at age 14, but it was a tough call. He played second base in Hershey, Pa., youth leagues while his father, Mike, was coaching the AHL’s Hershey Bears.
“It was a blast,” Foligno said. “Unfortunately they make you make a decision. I think it’s so stupid.”
If Hall is the No. 3 hitter in a Bruins fantasy baseball lineup, we’ll make Foligno the leadoff man.
“I could field,” said Foligno, who believes his “dad strength” would allow him to poke one deep today. “I was an on-base guy,” he said. “Get a single, get a double, steal a couple bases.”
Several Bruins pointed to Foligno as the catalyst for a team outing last spring in the North End. The Bruins, unbothered by onlookers, took over a corner of Langone Park one afternoon, playing slow-pitch with a squishy ball and oversized bats. It was 10 against 10, Clifton said, with four outfielders.
According to the participants, even those with semi-recent playing experience looked like the Bad News Bears.
“Last time I played was when I was playing juniors,” center David Krejci recalled of a day some 18 years ago in Gatineau, Quebec. “I was in the [outfield]. Guy hit it high, so I see the ball, I’m trying to catch it, I’m running to it . . . and before you know, damn, it’s 20 yards behind me. I appreciate how those guys catch the ball.”
Krejci was the only one of five Czech players on the Bruins’ roster who had seen a baseball game before coming to North America.
“Didn’t know the rules when I came here,” said David Pastrnak, who prefers soccer and tennis. “Didn’t really get into it. Then I went to a lot of playoff games. Great atmosphere. A home run over the Green Monster is great and I saw a couple.
“It looks like a great sport. Playing a professional sport and eating pizza on the bench there, it’s pretty nice.
“I definitely would not be good at hitting, but maybe catching. I could probably get ahold of a fastball, but as soon as you start throwing curveballs I would swing and miss.”
Easy strikes were mandatory that day in the North End. Clifton, like most of his teammates, could not recall the finer details of the game: the score, who pitched, the kinds of beverages consumed.
“There were some home runs,” Clifton confirmed. “On errors.”
Clifton, of Long Branch, N.J., committed his summers to hockey. But he’s eager and focused, and so we’ll make him the No. 2 hitter in this lineup. It’s his defense we’re concerned about.
“I played third base up until the big field,” he said. “Then, it was Wiffle ball. I started throwing curveballs [across the diamond]. I didn’t have the arm strength.”
It wasn’t an issue with Trent Frederic. An ex-catcher, he played in St. Louis every summer until 10th grade. His coach was former St. Louis Cardinals catcher Mike Matheny, who later managed the Cardinals and Kansas City Royals. When Frederic returned home from the US National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., he would fill in.
“I liked hockey better,” said Frederic, the Bruins’ No. 3 right wing and Spoked Sox cleanup hitter. “But I loved baseball. If I could have done both in college [Wisconsin], I would have tried to do it.”
Based on physical stature and hours logged playing Wiffle ball, Weymouth’s Charlie Coyle slots into the five-hole. He hasn’t swung a wood bat in years, but he would enjoy mimicking a righthanded Big Papi.
“When I was in middle school, they were winning championships,” said Coyle, 30, who has made dozens of Fenway trips for Red Sox games, concerts, and the 2010 Winter Classic.
Defenseman Charlie McAvoy grew up appreciating Nick Swisher — “He had a sweet swing” — and owns many ticket stubs from Yankee Stadium and the Fens. Pencil him in as the No. 6 hitter, ahead of defenseman Hampus Lindholm.
Lindholm, who is from Sweden, enthusiastically recalled playing a schoolyard game called “burn ball” (Swedish: Brännboll) where batters self-toss a tennis ball and fielders try to catch with one hand. Taking batting practice in Anaheim several years ago didn’t shake his belief in his athleticism.
“It took me a little while to figure out my swing,” said Lindholm, a left shot in hockey who didn’t know if he would bat lefthanded or righthanded. “If I used my hips, I’m sure I could get it.”
Though goalie Linus Ullmark has more experience with a mask and pads than any Bruin, Frederic has a lock on the catching position. That’s fine with him.
“I’m more of an outfielder,” said the 6-foot-5-inch netminder, who could surprise as the eighth hitter. “I don’t have a great throwing arm. I’m more of a first baseman.”
Though a total newcomer, he believes he could hit a fastball.
“Yes,” Ullmark said. “Definitely. A hundred percent. [It’s] hand-eye coordination.”
Defenseman Brandon Carlo, a product of one sixth-grade season in Colorado Springs, will bat ninth and be relied on for his glove.
“I couldn’t hit the ball,” Carlo said. “It was not my calling. But I enjoyed shagging balls in the outfield. I’d like to give it a shot now.”
We will be calling on DeBrusk as a pinch runner.
“Give me five tries,” the speedy winger said, “I think I could hit one.”
The Bruins’ would-be pitching rotation is even lighter on arms.
Pastrnak, though he dazzles like Pedro Martinez in his day job, has only ever thrown tennis balls. Frederic, who believes he could reach the 70s on the radar gun if properly warmed, would be the ace. Defenseman Derek Forbort’s arm would get sore when he took the mound. He’s out.
Coming out of the bullpen: Brad “Wild Thing” Marchand, who smiled when he recalled his limited repertoire as a middle-school pitcher in Nova Scotia.
“I had a fastball,” he said. “I’d throw it as hard as I could. Spray and pray.
“I hit a lot of kids. Might have been on purpose. Might not.”
Managing this crew: Jim Montgomery, whose sandlot days left him singing a familiar tune.
“I played until Babe Ruth. I led Little League in hitting, and all of a sudden my long drives for hits were outs to the shortstop,” said the coach, who played the middle infield on Montreal fields.
“All of a sudden people started throwing curves. I could not hit a curve.”
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Matt Porter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyports.