Lasting images for BC
FORT MYERS, Fla. - Dane Clemens grew up 15 minutes from Yankee Stadium and came of age as a baseball player when David Ortiz was torturing the Yankees with towering blasts in The House That Ruth Built.
Yesterday afternoon, Clemens, 21, found himself standing on the mound at City of Palms Park, staring at Ortiz, thinking about what all of his friends back home in New York would say if they could see him facing Big Papi.
Clemens is a sophomore righthander at Boston College. He's endured three knee operations and Tommy John surgery since 2006 and has pitched in exactly one college game since coming to BC. And yet, there he was, working the count full on Ortiz after retiring Julio Lugo and Rocco Baldelli to open the third inning of the annual BC-Red Sox spring training opener.
Ortiz turned on the payoff pitch and launched a moon shot a little to the right of the deepest part of center field.
"It was a two-seam fastball and I thought it was gone, immediately," said Clemens.
Papi's blast had more hang time than a Ray Guy punt. This was good for Clemens. The wind brought it back a tad and when the ball finally came to earth, it landed in the glove of center fielder Robbie Anston, who was standing on the warning track.
And so for the rest of his life, Dane Clemens can tell people he got David Ortiz out. When he's in a rocking chair, Clemens can talk about his rocking-chair inning against the Boston Red Sox: 1-2-3.
The Red Sox beat the Eagles, 7-1, but the loss represented a big improvement for BC baseball. The Eagles managed only one hit last season and made a bundle of errors in a 24-0 beating. Yesterday, the college kids led the Sox, 1-0, going into the bottom of the fifth of a seven-inning game. It looked like we might be in on some history.
Then reality struck. The Sox routed the BC bullpen for six runs in the fifth and beat the Eagles for the 17th consecutive year.
It's a nifty tradition, this clash of NCAA and MLB. And like so many other things, it's unique to baseball. We don't see Jerry York's Eagles skating against the Bruins, or Tyrese Rice going one-on-one vs. Rajon Rondo. Think Bill Belichick would agree to play a preseason football game against a bunch of college kids trying to impress their coaches and parents?
But baseball does it. And has for a long time.
The first game ever played at Fenway Park featured the Sox beating Harvard April 9, 1912. The Sox played Boston College in 1916 and 1933, winning both times. In 1993, when the Sox were being run by BC grad John Harrington, the club made BC part of the annual Grapefruit schedule - usually the opener. In recent years, the Sox have added Northeastern to the spring schedule and they'll play the Huskies at City of Palms Park Saturday.
"Baseball's the only sport that can do this," said BC coach Mikio Aoki. "The physical disparity makes it impossible in the other sports. But this is a tremendous day for us. And the Red Sox are so good to us. They manage to get their work done even when their players are getting peppered by our guys for autographs and pictures."
There were a lot of photo ops around the cage early yesterday. Jason Varitek went out of his way to pose for a picture with two of the Eagles catchers.
Ortiz had some jocular advice for the kids who were going to face Josh Beckett ("start your swing when you see him start his leg kick"). J.D. Drew, a former Florida State Seminole, offered tips on what to expect when the Eagles visit Tallahassee March 6-8.
The courtesy carried over into the game. Baldelli struck out twice, and in each instance, he signed a ball and had it sent to the other dugout. Young men named Geoff Oxley and Kyle Prohovich forever have personalized trophies, commemorating the day they struck out a big leaguer.
The game took on a circus-like feel in the fifth when ancient Ino Guerrero came up to hit for Ortiz. Guerrero is best known as the longtime caddy to Manny Ramírez. The Sox list him as "major league staff" and claim Guerrero is 48, but no one knows what he really does or how old he really is. We do know that he is a beloved figure in the Boston clubhouse and the Sox dugout came alive when Ino shuffled to the plate carrying a bat, wearing No. 80. Guerrero walked on five pitches and tossed his bat in disgust before jogging to first. Jeff Corsaletti came out to run for Ino. When Guerrero returned to the dugout, he was greeted like Kirk Gibson after the World Series walkoff.
Things were pretty loose on the other side as well. The young wife of the young BC coach fed their baby daughter in the dugout while the Eagles were making their last outs in the seventh.
All in all, a good way to start any baseball season.
"This is awesome," said Eagles first baseman/closer Mike Belfiore, who had two hits and an RBI. "We're playing against big leaguers. Most people never get a day like this in their whole life."
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.