Earlier today ITM went down to Fenway Park to take part in the Hot Stove Cool Music Round Table Discussion. The panel included baseball writer Peter Gammons, Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein, Manager Terry Francona, second baseman Dustin Pedroia, pitcher Justin Masterson and from the Tampa Bay Rays Fernando Perez. CC Sabathia was available by phone for the first few minutes; Harold Reynolds and Torri Hunter were scheduled to be on the panel as well however, inclement weather stranded them at Airports. Mike O'Malley MC'd the event and the lovely Heidi Watney was on hand as well.
The event allowed fans to ask the panel questions and raised money for The Foundation to be Named Later; the charity that Theo started to help children in and around the Boston area. Gammons spoke highly of Theo, the Red Sox and Sabathia's tireless efforts to be positive influences on youths, providing support for parents and children.
ITM was fortunate enough for the opportunity to ask 2 questions during the event. I asked Peter Gammons what were the biggest differences between the current Red Sox ownership and the past, specifically his opinion on why the Red Sox have won two World Series titles since the new ownership took over. Gammons first pointed out the Red Sox ability to find new revenue streams which allows them to have one of the top 5 payrolls in baseball every year. He also pointed out that Theo has done a remarkable job as General Manager, especially the organizations ability to "draft and develop players", referencing Pedroia and Masterson.
Fellow blogger D Vicino asked Theo Epstein how the current economic conditions has affected the game as well as strategy for the 2009 season. Hearing Theo speak about this topic was really impressive, he pointed out that "The season ended before the economy really bottomed out.", however he expects that the game as a whole could be hit really hard. Theo also spoke about the Yankees contract commitments, near $1 billion while the Red Sox have around 20% of that . "We (the Red Sox) have a number of short term deals that allow the us increased flexibility."
Answering other questions, Epstein spoke about stockpiling pitching saying "you can never have enough pitching throughout the year", and having all these arms puts them in a position to hold onto their young prospects at the trading deadline.
Peter Gammons stated that if Josh Beckett was healthy the Red Sox will win the World Series; Terry Francona agreed if gives them a really good chance.
Tampa Bay outfielder Fernando Perez spoke about how far the Rays came last season and what it was like to be on the field celebrating after defeating the Sox in game 7 of the ALCS. Pedroia jumped in half way though his answer telling Perez, "Don't get use to it!"
Keeping with the theme of the event, athletes getting involved in their communities, Francona spoke about how his dad who was a pro baseball player worked as a recreation park director in the off season to make ends meet. Certainly athletes today have a greater opportunity to be positive influences to children in their communities. Theo added every guy on the roster has the ability to help out the less fortunate.
Justin Masterson spoke about how he helped some of the Latin players in the rookie development league who didn't speak English very well. Masterson joked that his Spanish sucked, so he used that to get the Latin players comfortable speaking English.
The last question asked of the panel was for their best Manny Ramirez story. After some hesitation and nervous laughter Tito told a gem. In the 2004 World Series Manny was up at the plate and yelling back and fourth with the catcher. Tito ran out before umpire Chuck Merriweather could throw Manny out of the game, Tito heard Manny jawing in Spanish with the catcher. Apparently Manny was being accused of stealing signs, to which Tito told the umpire, "Chuck, Manny doesn't even know our signs!"
Overall the event was very successful, check back tomorrow for our interviews with Mike O'Malley and Heidi Watney (including more photos). Yes, we were able to string together coherent sentences when talking with Heidi.