The ninth annual New Stars for Young Stars, presented by the Jimmy Fund Council of Greater Boston, was held at Jillian's on Saturday with new Red Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski highlighting the roster of new and upcoming players on hand.
Catcher Blake Swihart, second baseman Mookie Betts and pitchers Drake Britton and Rubby De La Rosa rounded out the bill, playing pool with Jimmy Fund Clinic pediatric patients and VIP attendees prior to an autograph session and bowling contests.
Standing in the shadows of Fenway Park with a little over a month before pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers, baseball was not far from the players' minds despite the onus being on the goodwill of the day’s event.
For Pierzynski, the upcoming season, his 17th, provides him the chance to work with a World Series winning pitching and coaching staff.
“I’ve talked to John [Farrell] and I’ve obviously know [pitching coach] Juan [Nieves] forever, so we talk a lot, especially around the holidays,” said Pierzynski. “I’m looking forward to getting to know [Farrell] on a personal level.”
Nieves and Pierzynski forged their relationship while both were with the Chicago White Sox, giving the new catcher some comfort as he joins the fifth different organization in his career.
He also feels the added comfort of having played with or against many of the starting pitchers over his 16 years in the majors.
“I know so many of these guys,” Pierzynski said. “Obviously I know Jake [Peavy] from playing with him. I know [Ryan] Dempster from facing him a thousand times and being in Chicago with him. But a lot of these guys, [Jon] Lester, [Clay] Buchholz, I was fortunate last year getting to do the World Series [for Fox] and meeting these guys and talking to them. It was a huge advantage.”
Swihart, considered by many to be the top catching prospect in the organization, planned to take advantage of the opportunity to gain a little bit of that knowledge Pierzynski totes around.
“I’m still new to catching,” said the 21-year-old Swihart, who only started catching as a junior at Cleveland High in Rio Rancho, NM. “I definitely want to pick any catcher’s brain whenever I get a chance.”
And on the flip side, so do the pitchers.
“They make you do the right thing,” De La Rosa said of a catcher’s importance. “They are always positive and they push you. You can tell when they are good guys.”
The 24-year-old righthander, a key cog in the blockbuster trade with the Dodgers two years ago, did not pay immediate dividends in his first season with the organization, but he did learn a lot about himself and the fan base.
“It was different to play here than in L.A.,” De La Rosa said. “I feel that here the fans are real fans and that what we do makes everybody happy. So I’m like, “I have to do something right” I want these people to love me.”
Although eager to get on the mound and start earning some love, De La Rosa and the others soaked in the atmosphere of the event as they interacted with kids throughout the day.
“I love to help people,” De La Rosa said. “To see the faces, they look so happy and for me it’s an amazing show, being here, trying to help and play with the kids. I’m trying to do the best I can to make people happy.”
“It’s something that I believe in and I believe people should do more of,” Pierzynski said. “The Jimmy Fund is a great organization and they do amazing things. When they asked me to do this it’s impossible to say no to something like this.
“To come up here, I was able to take my kids sledding at Fenway and we had a good time. Plus it kind of introduces me to the community and any time you have that opportunity, you can’t say no.”
Prior to this year’s event, over $221,000 had been raised by New Stars for Young Stars, with all proceeds benefiting Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund.