After Aaron Hernandez’s arrest for murder put a stain on the franchise, some theorized that the Pats might make roster decisions with public perception in mind, and perhaps prioritize character and community over pure football when it came time to finalize the 53-man roster.
They didn’t. Golden boy Tim Tebow's pink slip is evidence of that to a certain extent, but more obvious was Saturday's release of punter Zoltan Mesko. In order to save more than $900,000 against the salary cap, and avoid having to pay the incumbent a raise next season, the Patriots opted to keep rookie (and two-time Ray Guy Award winner) Ryan Allen over Mesko – recipient of the team’s coveted Ron Burton Community Service Award just a year ago, founder of his own charitable foundation, host of Zolioke, and a fixture at the team’s service events since the day he arrived.
It all wasn’t enough to keep him, even at a time when the Pats could seem to use any bit of positive off-field news they could possibly conjure, and even if the competition on the field revealed little in the way of discernible differences between he and Allen as a punter or a holder on place kicks. But Mesko was by all accounts one of the genuinely nicest players and best teammates the Patriots have employed in some time, and that was reflected in the gracious goodbye he left on his Facebook page Saturday morning.
“First and foremost, I want to thank the New England Patriots for everything they have done for me,” he wrote. “I have nothing but love in my heart as I depart this great organization. Mr. Kraft, the coaches, the strength staff, the trainers, the media personnel, the marketing department, the rest of the amazing staff members at Gillette, and especially my teammates…THANK YOU for all that you have given and have done for me.
“I want to say that I see the silver lining in things now more than ever, and am a true believer that things DO happen for a reason. This goes out to anyone that will ever come across a mere bump in the road; be thankful, be positive, because there’s a deeper purpose of WHY things happen that we may not yet, or may never come to understand. Just believe. I will miss New England, and more than anything, I’ll be missing the smiles on those kids whom I visited and acted like a goofball in front of. It was ALL worth it. God bless.”
Pleasant and positive 'til the end, he even ended the post with a smiley-face emoticon.
Already a veteran of five pro seasons and three months in the big leagues, Jon Lester wasn't a kid in age when doctors told him he had cancer at 22 years old. But he was a kid in attitude.
"I feel like kids don't have the 'why me?'" said the Red Sox lefty. "They're so naive to the process and what's going on. It's more kind of the hand that they're dealt, and they go about it as best they can every day.
"That's what I like about dealing with kids; they kind of have the same attitude as I did, as far as, 'What's my next obstacle -- and what do I need to do to try and beat it?'"
In November it'll be seven years since Lester was told he'd beaten non-Hodgkins Lymphoma -- but he vows that he'll never forget that period of 2006, and he'll never quit fighting the battle alongside those young people, in particular, who continue to wage war with cancer.
That's why he and his wife teamed with the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation to create the NVRQT Foundation -- that's hashtag-speak for "Never Quit" -- and why the Lesters invited his teammates along with a variety of local and national notables to the House of Blues on Monday night to raise money for the cause. It was the second annual NVRQT Night, and like the first it featured a game of "3 Up 3 Down," which was a Hollywood Squares-style competition where the Lesters were the contestants and celebrities manned the squares.
Across the top row of the grid sat Bruins winger Shawn Thornton between "Chelsea Lately" comedians Sarah Colonna and Josh Wolf. In the middle row went Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster, funnyman Lenny Clarke, and Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The bottom row featured NESN's Leah Hextall, Sox pitcher John Lackey, and Boston Marathon bombing heroes Jeff Bauman and Carlos Arredondo.
Jake Peavy, Clay Buccholz and Felix Doubront were also on hand as spectators, meaning the entire starting rotation came out in support, as did manager John Farrell and several other teammates, including reliever Craig Breslow. He started the Strike 3 Foundation with a mission similar to NVRQT, and since being traded to Boston last summer he and Lester have spoken of their common goals and about how to collaborate in achieving them.
"Jon and I have spent a lot of time discussing this cause, why it's meaningful, and the things that we can do to help each other. One of those things is to come out and support his event," Breslow said. "He's an incredibly personable and approachable guy to begin with, and I think whenever someone comes by with a connection to pediatric cancer like he has, and he understands the unique position he's in to be able to relate to these kids and kind of shed some comfort for these kids because he's been through all this."
Others on the red carpet included Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, MBTA Police Officer Dic Donohue, New Hampshire Motor Speedway Executive VP Jerry Gappens, ex-Patriot Jermaine Wiggins, Sox teammates David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Mike Napoli, and injured Sox reliever Andrew Miller -- who rolled in with one leg propped on a scooter. There were also a variety of intriguing auction items that fetched donations, including a helmet and jersey signed by Rob Gronkowski, a guitar signed by the Zac Brown Band, and an autographed Boston Strong 617 Red Sox jersey. Afterward the party continued down Lansdowne Street at Game On, where Peavy played guitar with Dalton and the Sheriffs before country star David Nail performed.
But Lester was most excited to talk about the kids who brought them all together. With the help of the PCRF, the southpaw has had the opportunity to meet and greet young cancer patients at parks all around baseball, and bring them around his team prior to the game. Last week he met with kids in both San Francisco and Los Angeles, and recently he says he's done the same in Tampa Bay, Minneapolis, Baltimore, Seattle, and a couple times in New York. Each time the experience is geared toward giving the child a chance to have some fun for a while.
"Obviously, anytime you're dealing with kids it pulls at your heart a little bit," Lester said. "I got to meet a kid out in LA this last trip, named Zein, and it really hit home with me. Just to see them smile, and have a good time at a baseball game, and get their minds off treatment and being in isolation for six weeks -- it's just little things that we can do for these kids to put a smile on their face.
"When I went through my treatment, that was something that was very important to me: trying to have as normal days as I could, away from thinking about treatment, away from thinking about being sick. Just being able to do that for that family is rewarding."
Lester said he's "got to met a lot of great kids along the way," and though his event was originally scheduled for late July, the new date probably couldn't have worked out much better. With WEEI's and NESN's Jimmy Fund Radio Telethon taking place Tuesday and Wednesday, and August having been declared Jimmy Fund Month by the Red Sox, NVRQT Night effectively became the event that got everything kicked off.
"The Red Sox Foundation and the Red Sox organization as a whole understand their unique role in the community, how visible they are and the unique impact they can have when it comes to fundraising, obviously," Breslow said. "The Red Sox and the Jimmy Fund partnership goes hand in hand, and it's probably perfectly fitting that although the event wasn't scheduled for right now originally, that it comes during this month is appropriate."
On Saturday morning, former Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra will join the famed Jared from Subway at Volunteer Stadium -- site of the Little League World Series -- for a simple reason.
"For me," he said, "there's no greater joy than seeing a smile on a kid's face."
So before he goes into the television booth to broadcast the United States championship game later in the afternoon, Garciaparra will be on the field at the Little League World Series presenting a donation from Subway and hanging with players from the Challenger Division, which is a program for physically and developmentally challenged children who want to play baseball or softball. The donation will go toward covering the travel expenses of the two teams that made it to Williamsport, Penn., one from the Chicago area and the other from near San Francisco.
"These kids, you see them out here, the challenges that they have to live with in their life on a daily basis, every single day," Garciaparra said Friday. "To see them come out and see the smile on their faces -- because I'm sure there's not always smiles on some of their faces because of what they have to live with -- to see them come out here and truly enjoy this, and see the smiles, and see the enjoyment that they have, and see these wonderful people that are their buddies that are taking the time. It's not about money, it's just about time to go out there and make sure these kids have a smile on their face."
Each player has a "buddy" who helps him or her play the game, and Garciaparra said he'll be meeting, hanging out, and taking pictures with everyone involved before they play an exhibition game to begin the penultimate day of action at the World Series. Come Sunday they'll crown the world champ, and finished for the year will be a tournament Garciaparra said is one of his annual baseball highlights.
After all, it's a place where smiling kids abound.
"It's something that's really so hard to put into words, the enjoyment these kids have when they come to Williamsport," Garciaparra said. I tell people it's on their bucket list if you're a baseball fan. You walk in with a smile because everybody's smiling, and enjoying, and having a good time watching these kids play their hearts out, make great plays, and do the little things that we all remember as a kid playing.
"When you leave here, you leave with a smile. It has that atmosphere, and it exudes that everywhere in this place."
Four New England Revolution stars would love to serve you as they serve the community on Thursday night.
To benefit the One Fund, Matt Reis, Bobby Shuttlesworth, A.J. Soares, and Andrew Farrell will step behind the bar at Clerys on Dartmouth Street in Boston starting at 6:30, mixing, pouring, and serving cocktails for the after-work crowd. They'll be there for a couple of hours, joined by the ever-popular Revs Girls, and any tips they receive will go directly to the foundation that has raised roughly $65 million for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.
That's a particularly dear cause for Reis, the goalkeeper whose father-in-law was critically injured by the first of the two bombs, and who has participated in a variety of One Fund benefits since April 15.
“Our celebrity bartending event is a really fun event, and it’s a great opportunity for our fans to see us out of our element,” Reis said. “And with this year’s event benefiting the One Fund, which is a charity that’s close to our team’s heart, we’re very excited to see a lot of fans come down and show their support. Anything that we can do to give back and help those affected by the tragic events at the Marathon, we’re all in.”
The event itself starts at 6, and will include giveaways. It's free, too, with no cover charge.
Between their current 11-game roadtrip and next week’s visit to the West Coast, the Red Sox return home this weekend for a three-game series with the Yankees – and while they’re in town, fans going to Fenway Park have a chance to help the Jimmy Fund merely by getting rid of their old electronics.
This weekend, and at any home game the rest of this month, the Red Sox will be collecting old cell phones – any year, any model – to be “upcycled,” which means that they’ll be refurbished and resold, with 50 percent of the money from those sales going to the Jimmy Fund’s care and research.
“With over 400,000 cell phones thrown away each day, Upcycling provides a no cost way for individuals and organizations to turn retired devices into funding in support of Dana Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund,” said Julie Shane, founder and CEO of Causes International, the Needham-based company that collects, refurbishes, and resells the phones and other electronic devices.
All data on the phones will be destroyed in 100 percent compliance with legal regulations, and there’s also the additional benefit of disposing of the electronics in an environmentally friendly fashion.
“We are thrilled to partner with Causes International through its Upcycle program for this unique and forward-thinking fundraising opportunity,” said Suzanne Fountain, director of the Jimmy Fund. “Donating your outdated device to this program is a great way to protect the environment through responsible recycling while channeling an old phone or laptop’s value toward the fight against cancer.”
The Deutsche Bank Championship returns to Norton at the end of the month, and fans interested in not only seeing the 100 best golfers, but also walking the TPC Boston course before those players do, will have the opportunity to make all that happen – while raising money for diabetes research, to boot.
The Covidien Wellness Walk, scheduled for Aug. 27 at 5:30 p.m., will allow participants a chance to walk the course’s front nine (in reverse order) just three days before the pros tee off in the second event of the Fed Ex Cup Playoffs. The walk covers 3.2 miles.
Participants who register prior to Aug. 21 will pay $25 for the walk – it’s $30 thereafter – and the best part for those interested in seeing the pros is that included with that registration fee is a good-any-one-day grounds ticket to the DBC. Also included as part of the package are 15 percent off a purchase at Marathon Sports and commemorative gifts (for the first 300 registrants).
“This event provides our fans with a unique opportunity to experience TPC Boston,” said tournament director Eric Baldwin, “and support a great cause on the eve of our Championship.”
All proceeds from the Wellness Walk go to Joslin Diabetes Center of Boston, by way of the Covidien CARES program. To see pictures of last year’s event, click here; and for more information, or to register, visit www.dbchampionship.com/walk.
All photos courtesy of Pretty Instant.
Shawn Thornton came to Boston – and subsequently endeared himself to Boston – as a hockey player who is willing to lead, willing to stick up for people, willing to literally fight the battles of others every time he puts on his skates.
And as many around the city can attest after he’s been here for six years, the same is all true, too, when he puts on his street shoes. Or his golf spikes, as the case was Monday.
Sometimes seeming omnipresent at charity events around the area, the Bruins winger went to Middleton to host one on behalf of his own foundation, putting on the fourth annual Putts and Punches for Parkinson’s Golf Tournament at Ferncroft Country Club, raising funds and awareness for the fight against the disease that took his grandmother after she lived with it for 14 years.
Starting with a long-drive contest, the 18-hole event included the participation of teammates Tuukka Rask and Daniel Paille, some former Bruins, as well as other local celebrities and personalities – and came a day after the Shawn Thornton Foundation organized a team that raised $11,649 by running in the Falmouth Road Race.
Thornton started his foundation to help attempts to find cures for both Parkinson’s and cancer, with its “Cuts for a Cause” event heavily supported by his teammates every year. This past April it raised more than $76,000, the biggest chunk of which came when a company paid $5,000 to see Brad Marchand get his head shaved.
His own events make up just a fraction of the appearances Thornton – the Bruins’ 2009 winner of the John P. Bucyk Award for community service -- makes throughout the course of a year, though. He is a frequent visitor to patients of area hospitals, he’s a spokesman for Athletes for Heroes in its efforts to help the children of fallen or injured soldiers, he supports other athletes in their charitable endeavors seemingly whenever he can, he is appearing at a fundraiser in conjunction with UFC this week – and while it may not directly result in moneys raised, he has immersed himself in the culture of Boston by embracing the city like he’s been one of us all along.
A son of Ontario who played all around North America before signing with the Bruins in 2007, he considers this home now, and said during a radio interview last week that this is where he’ll be settling when he retires.
At 36 and after a long career built on his reputation as a tough-as-nails enforcer, that day when he’s forced to unlace his skates for the final time may be coming sooner than later – but it’s safe to say that even if he’s no longer wearing black and gold, Thornton will still be plenty visible and active in the community. Six years of evidence suggests that putting in the hard work to help make things easier for others is as much a part of his fabric as a person as it is a player.
And so even after he’s dropped his gloves for the final time, along with his foundation he’ll have plenty of battles still to fight.
First it was Paul Pierce and Vince Wilfork. Now it's David Ortiz's turn to attempt to speak with a Boston accent -- and he even makes a joke about how losing his "tempah" when he smashed the dugout phone in Baltimore a couple of weeks ago. Not sure how that'll play if he tries to express contrition in appealing his fine from the incident, but it's funny nevertheless.
Given that it's a Boston accent on top of his Dominican tongue, it's honestly not a bad attempt. Even more impressive, though, are those blingin' shoes.
Enjoy the clip -- and if you just can't get enough of these, Honey Boo Boo's mom made one, too. (We're not sure why, either.)
The Red Sox' only home games between now and Aug. 27 will come in the form of a three-game weekend series with the Yankees, Aug. 16-18 -- but fans aching to watch baseball at the old ballyard will have a chance to do so on Aug. 21, too, the team announced today.
Starting at 8 that night, fans can go to Fenway to watch Scotty Smalls, Benny the Jet, Ham, Squints, and the rest of their crew on the center field Diamond Vision screen as the Red Sox mark the movie's 20th anniversary with a showing of "The Sandlot."
Fans will sit in the stadium's lower bowl along the first-base line on a first-come, first-served basis, and will have the long-awaited opportunity to see what Wendy Peffercorn looks like on a 40x100-foot high definition video board. Concessions will be available, and admission is free for season ticket holders and members of the Red Sox Kid Nation.
Other general admission tickets for the public are priced at $10 for adults, $5 for children 3-12, and free for kids 2 and under. They can be purchased at redsox.com/sandlot, by calling (877) REDSOX-9, or by visiting the Fenway Park ticket office. The park will open at 7 that night.
Golf fans looking to get a glimpse into the preparations and expectations for the upcoming Deutsche Bank Championship will have the chance to peek behind the scenes Thursday, when DBC Director Eric Baldwin holds a Twitter Q&A session starting at noon.
Baldwin, who is also vice president of the Tiger Woods Foundation, will field questions for an hour using the tournament's handle, @DBChampionship. To get a question into the queue, fans should use the hashtag #AskBaldy in their post.
Now in its 11th year, and the second event in the FedEx Cup playoffs, the DBC will be played at Norton's TPC Boston from Aug. 30-Sept. 2. Over its history, the event has generated more than $24 million for Woods' Foundation, which supports underserved students.