A little of this, a little of that …
The gate to the memory bank swung open Wednesday upon learning that Ryan Westmoreland was retiring from the Red Sox.
My mind drifted back to the summer of 2002 when I covered sports as a college intern at the Newport Daily News. One of my assignments was to follow the Portsmouth Major Division All-Stars, which I did throughout the District II and State tournaments. One of the preteens on the Portsmouth squad was some 12-year-old who was so talented and so head and shoulders above his peers that your eyes couldn’t help but be drawn to him upon seeing him pick up a baseball.
The young phenom’s name? Ryan Westmoreland.
Ryan made waves as a pitcher. After firing a one-hit shutout against Middletown, he told me that he had two pitches in his arsenal – an overmatching fastball and a knuckle-curve combination that “you flip off your finger.” Later in the state playoffs – the site Cosimini Field at Slater Park – Ryan’s legend grew when one opposing coach admitted that he purposely turned up the juice on the pitching machine in the days leading up to the finals.
While a good idea in theory, the tactic was no substitute for the genuine article.
Ryan turned in a one-hit masterpiece with 11 strikeouts in a contest that punched Portsmouth’s ticket to the New England Regionals. Looking at the article that appeared in the Newport paper the next day, Ryan mentioned that he was basically a one-trick pony. “I really didn’t have to use my curveball because Warwick was not catching up to my fastball.”
It’s hard to envision future greatness at that particular moment in time, watching some 12-year-old baseball wiz play chess while the rest of the field is reduced to playing checkers. Deep down, though, I couldn’t shake the feeling that what Ryan Westmoreland accomplished that summer 11 years ago would not serve as the final time he would be heard from on an athletic front.
He had “future greatness” stamped across his forehead, which in turn made the news that he was comfortable with stepping away from baseball tough to digest. Yes, Ryan faced overwhelming odds after undergoing two brain surgeries, but he should walk away with the comfort of knowing that he did all that was humanly possible to fulfill a promise first made as a 12-year-old wunderkind.
Ryan will go down in the books as the first truly special athletic talent that I had the good fortune of covering, and as they say, you never quite forget your first.
On the opposite end of the career spectrum from Westmoreland is where you’ll find 36-year-old Woonsocket native Brian Boucher, who was at the T.D. Garden on Saturday when the Flyers faced the Bruins. The former Mount St. Charles product began the lockout-shortened 2012 season in the AHL before getting called up on Feb. 12.
He’s appeared in four games with Philadelphia, his most recent outing coming in a relief role this past Thursday. Boucher stopped 5-of-6 shots, though the one he couldn’t corral allowed the Penguins to skate off with a 5-4 win.
Good idea by all involved parties to announce the separation date for the Catholic Schools to officially depart the Big East prior to this week’s men’s basketball conference tournament in New York City. The last thing probably everyone wanted was to head to Madison Square Garden with an important piece of business still unresolved. Now everyone can sit back and romanticize about the end of the Big East Tournament.
On the subject of the last days of the Big East, two thoughts come to mind. What does it say about the University of Cincinnati when the Big Ten tabs Rutgers over a school that for geographic purposes is smack dab in the heart of Big Ten country?
You can’t tell me that Big Ten leaders are more smitten with the prospect of including Rutgers, a school that is located along the eastern seaboard but has no real tradition in terms of men’s basketball and football to speak of, as opposed to Cincinnati, which would bring more to the table as far as those two sports are concerned.
Second, would the UConn women’s basketball program ever consider going the independent route a la Notre Dame football? The Lady Huskies have a TV deal with SNY and given their reputation as one of most dominating programs in their sport, they would have no trouble concocting a schedule that’s competitive with a dash of tough foes – two elements that figure to be in short supply within the confides of the America 12.
We’re still a long way away from finding out the five names who will comprise the PawSox’ starting rotation, yet it’s not far-fetched sketch the following names on a piece of paper: Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Steven Wright, Chris Hernandez and Terry Doyle.
Everyone in the projected five-man unit is in their 20s. That would prove a far cry from past practices that have seen Pawtucket have at least a couple of 30-somethings as part of the starting staff. If everything shakes out accordingly later this month, perhaps the marketing crew at McCoy Stadium should run with the slogan, “youth is served.”