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Red Sox Notebook

Calhoun goes the distance

Coach fires from 60 feet 6 inches

Jim Calhoun throws the ceremonial first pitch atop the Fenway mound, a place he’d been before. Jim Calhoun throws the ceremonial first pitch atop the Fenway mound, a place he’d been before. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / April 10, 2011

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Jim Calhoun may be 68. But the coach of the NCAA champion University of Connecticut men’s basketball team threw out the first pitch from the top of the mound at Fenway Park yesterday and hit the glove of Terry Francona on the fly.

“I pitched here three innings in an American Legion All-Star game,’’ said Calhoun, who believed it was in 1960. “It was a little different then. I was more nervous today than that game.’’

Calhoun passed on throwing the pitch from a little closer.

“I never really liked playing from the senior tees,’’ he joked. “I’m just not going to do that. I could throw a baseball pretty good at one time.’’

Calhoun was born in Dorchester, grew up in Braintree, and coached at Dedham High and Northeastern before taking over at UConn in 1986. He was accompanied to the game by his brother, Bill, a cardiologist who lives in Hingham.

“To come back home is really nice,’’ he said. “To come back home under these circumstances is even nicer.’’

UConn beat Butler, 53-41, in the championship game on Monday. Calhoun said he has not decided whether he will retire. He has won three NCAA titles and has 855 victories, sixth all time in Division 1.

“Right now I can guarantee you I haven’t made my mind up any way,’’ he said. “I’m just going to try and get this team ready for next year and we’ll see what happens, if it happens.’’

Calhoun had planned to accompany Huskies All-America guard Kemba Walker to the Wooden Award ceremony in Los Angeles, but changed his plans when the Sox called.

Walker, who is from the Bronx, is scheduled to throw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium Wednesday. A dedicated Red Sox fan, Calhoun has turned down that opportunity in New York previously but may go to watch Walker.

Inside dirt The new infield at Fenway Park received wide approval from players on both teams. After years of having one of the worst surfaces in baseball, the Sox may have one of the best now.

“Everything about it is better,’’ Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “It’s awesome. You can really tell the difference. It’s a true infield now. We haven’t had that since I’ve been here. You see me go to my knees when I field the ball all the time. Now you can actually field it because you don’t get the bad hops. I could tell a big difference running the bases, too, because your spikes don’t dig in.’’

Director of grounds Dave Mellor said the team worked with the Natural Sand Company of Slippery Rock, Pa., to find the right materials. They supplied the clay, sand, and silt based on a scientific study. The Sox use a product called DuraEdge Pro.

“Think of marbles in a jar,’’ Mellor said. “You want it so the water goes through it, but those marbles don’t shift under your feet and it holds its integrity with the clay. It’s really exciting.’’

The Sox also put down new grass that is denser and plays like artificial turf.

“We were all talking about it. It’s much better. It seems flatter to me and the ball comes up nice,’’ Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano said. “Before you never knew what would happen. I’m glad they did it.’’

Francona said the texture of the dirt is “really good’’ and should get better over time.

“The entire infield was changed at Fenway,’’ said Grant McKnight, president of Natural Sand. “In New England there’s soft soil naturally and now they have a compact surface.’’

Six teams (the Sox, Cubs, Royals, Brewers, Reds, and Nationals) have new infields this season and several others switched last year. Natural Sand has worked with 12 teams in all, starting with the Phillies in 2005.

Reflecting on era After reflecting a bit on Manny Ramirez’s sudden retirement in the face of another suspension for drug use, Francona declined to pass judgment.

“He’s not our player and I don’t know anything about it,’’ he said. “I guess I really don’t have a comment.’’

Francona isn’t sure baseball ever will entirely shed the drug controversy. But he believes the climate is “way better’’ around the game.

“I think that the general public would be somewhat shocked in a good way how hard these guys work and I do get to see that,’’ he said. “The younger players coming up, the testing is pretty stringent and I think that’s good.’’

Francona doesn’t know how baseball solves the issues of Hall of Fame admission or recognizing statistical achievements in the wake of the Steroids Era.

“It’s never going to be fair to everybody and we’re paying a price for what happened in general. And that’s a shame,’’ he said.

A limber lineup Francona has used seven different lineups in eight games. Yesterday featured Jacoby Ellsbury dropping to the ninth spot and Jed Lowrie at shortstop in place of Marco Scutaro. Lowrie was 3 for 4 but Francona said Scutaro would play tonight. Ellsbury was 0 for 4 and is off to a 5-for-32 (.156) start . . . Kevin Youkilis broke an 0-for-17 skid with a single in the fifth inning. He is hitting .125 but has a .364 on-base percentage thanks to nine walks . . . Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira was robbed of two hits. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez made a diving stop in the third inning and Pedroia one in the sixth . . . Pedroia’s three doubles tied his career best. Since the start of the 2007 season, Nick Markakis of the Orioles leads the American League with 182 doubles (through Friday). Cano is second with 169 and Pedroia third with 168 despite having played 114 fewer games than Markakis and 115 fewer than Cano . . . J.D. Drew has hit safely in five straight games (6 of 16) . . . Carl Crawford is 1 for 10 as the leadoff hitter the last two games and is 5 for 33 (.152) on the season with two runs . . . Sox owner John Henry sat next to the Red Sox dugout with former first baseman Kevin Millar. That must have been a fascinating conversation.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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