Man, what a year it’s been to be a Boston Red Sox fan! First, saratoga living landed David Ortiz on our Saratoga After Dark Issue cover—and my colleagues got one of my baseball cards signed by the man himself. (It got a little smudged, but all is well in the world.) Then, I got to be just feet from Ortiz in the VIP tent at the Saratoga Wine & Food Festival. (“This is my f—ing city!” I though to myself.) That, and all summer long, the Red Sox just kept winning and winning and winning. Outfielder Mookie Betts ended the year the favorite for the American League Most Valuable Player award (and teammate J.D. Martinez wasn’t far behind). The oft-shaky pitching staff gelled at the right time, and even David Price came through in a big way. (He was on my fantasy team, as was Rick Porcello.) The Sox ended the year with 108 wins, a franchise record, and blasted through the formidable New York Yankees in the American League Division Series. Then they took down the seemingly unhittable Houston Astros’ pitching staff in the American League Championship Series. And then they trounced the Dodgers in the World Series, winning it handily, 4-1.
Did you know that the championship Red Sox have more than a few Capital Region connections? Below are five ways the World Series-winning Sox are inextricably tied to our little part of Upstate New York.
J.D. Martinez (Troy)
Recently, I got to talking with a local comic book store owner in Troy, who also crunches stats for the New York-Penn League’s (NYPL’s) Tri-City ValleyCats, an affiliate of the Astros, and he told me that he remembered working a game in 2015 and seeing this kid absolutely crushing it for the opposing team, the Lowell Spinners (the NYPL’s Red Sox affiliate). He thought to himself, “This guy’s not going to be long for the NYPL.” And he was right. It was the Sox’s future star outfielder and hitter, Andrew Benintendi. Several years before Benintendi rolled through town, another future Sox star spent a summer playing ball at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium. Back in 2009, a much skinnier J.D. Martinez, who this year hit .330, clubbing 43 homers and 130 RBIs, was, at the time, a 20th-round draft pick with little upside, according to the ‘Stros (he was eventually cut by the team.) His statline with the ValleyCats was actually pretty damned good, if you ask me, though. In 53 games, he batted .326, with 7 homers and 33 RBIs. In all, his minor league career turned out to be pretty strong; after eight years of hard time, he logged a career .328 batting average, 56 dingers and 257 RBIs. The beginning of his rise to greatness came in 2014, when he signed a minor league deal with the Detroit Tigers, getting call-ups in 2014, ’15 and ’16, and eventually, doing major damage during a pennant race with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was an offseason signing by the Sox, and the rest is history.
By now, you’re familiar with saratoga living writer and former Kansas City Royals/Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Jonah Bayliss—because, well, you read the tome I wrote about him. In my story, you’ll remember that Bayliss played for the Pirates near the end of his career in the bigs, ping-ponging between the majors and minors, during the 2006 and 2007 seasons. The latter year, he overlapped with current Sox slugger—and newly crowned World Series MVP—Steve Pearce, playing with him for a brief stint with the Indianapolis Indians, the Pirates’ AAA affiliate. “It’s remarkable his story of perseverance,” says Bayliss of his then-teammate. (After leaving the Pirates organization, Pearce had the dubious distinction of having played for every team in the American League East before landing on the Red Sox near the end of the regular season in 2018. He also played briefly for the Astros.) “When you start jumping around that much, it gets tough. I jumped around from team to team, and to see somebody at 35 sticking with it and eventually ending up being the World Series MVP is pretty remarkable.”
The aforementioned Ortiz, who is now an in-studio analyst for Fox, was part of the broadcast team for the network throughout this year’s playoffs and World Series. (A video of Ortiz going nuts when the Sox’ Jackie Bradley, Jr. hit a grand slam in Game 3 of the ALCS recently went viral. See above.) As all in-the-know Saratogians are aware, Ortiz has not only made a pair of appearances at the Saratoga Wine & Food Festival, but also owns Arias Wines, which has been featured at a number of saratoga living events this year. (I have a pair of bottles signed by Ortiz in my liquor cabinet at home.)
John Smoltz/Glens Falls
Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz, who worked in Fox’s broadcast booth with Joe Buck throughout the playoffs and World Series, played for the Glens Falls Tigers in 1987, an affiliate of Detroit’s MLB team, going 4-10 with a 5.68 ERA in 21 games. (Yes, it’s that Glens Falls, and no, the team is no longer around.) Smoltz also pitched for the Red Sox in 2009, his last season in the majors.
Red Sox Nation’s Indubitable Presence In The Capital Region
I don’t know about you, but I always get asked why I’m a Red Sox fan. Usually, the person doing the asking is asking me in a way that would make it seem like I have a rare, incurable disease or that I’m a distant relative of Benedict Arnold. All I know is that my older brother was photographed in a Yankees hat early on in his life, and then, a few years later, we all liked the Red Sox. I had Red Sox birthday cakes, T-shirts and mountains of baseball cards. We made pilgrimages to Fenway Park and to pay homage to our Hall of Famers in Cooperstown. So what’s the source of our Sox pride? Here are a few ideas: My mom’s brother, who grew up in Schenectady (like she did), settled in Cape Cod, so our two cousins grew up in Sox Country. We spent quite a bit of time out there during our formative years, so it’s possible we picked up our loyalties from them. But then again, my grandfather, who I was really close with, was a diehard Yankees fan ’til the day he died (he grew up in Schenectady). And I’m not the only Sox fan in Upstate New York, though: You will have no problem finding a sea of Sox caps up here—especially, right in Saratoga Springs. Why? My wife’s boss swears that it’s because, back in the days before baseball games were broadcast on TV, more people in the Capital Region landed a radio signal for Sox’ than Yankees’ games. And he might be onto something. If you check the list of the Sox’ and Yankees’ official radio affiliates in New York State/Capital Region, there’s only WOFX 980 AM in Albany (Sox), which dates back to 1940; and WTMM 104.5 FM in Schenectady (Yankees), which is a relatively new signal, airing first in 1993. That may explain my grandfather’s loyalties (though, he was a fan a long time before ’93). My best guess on the Sox front is that, given the fact that the strongest radio signals were likely coming from the state capital, Saratoga listeners probably were able to tune in Sox games more easily. And it’s entirely possible that since WOFX 980 AM has been servicing the Capital Region since 1940, it might’ve been the only sports radio station of record for decades in the greater region. Of course, that does nothing to explain why I ended up a Sox fan, because I grew up in the era of TV sports. But I’ve always been one, and well, it’s a better time than any to make this known: Yankees Suck! (Joking, of course. Have you read my story on Mickey Mantle in the Luxury Issue?)