Sunday, April 19, 2009

Big Papi fades; my bees rally

Let me say first of all that Big Papi, a.k.a. Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, is a huge favorite in my house. Last year my wife named Papi and Emmylou Harris as her two living heroes, and while I tried not to take the choice personally, husbands were eligible for the draft. I like him, too. Not as much as I like Emmylou, but, then, she can't hit a high fastball either.
...Papi's been a breath of fresh air since coming to Boston in 2003. He single-handedly improved the city's race relations with his sunny disposition and broad-based popularity; he took the edge off Manny Ramirez; he was a clutch hitter in the post season of both the 2004 and 2007 World Series victories that removed the world-class chip from Boston's shoulders; and he talked Celtics star Kevin Garnett into coming to Boston when Garnett was a free agent and was on the fence. Papi was the best.
....Which is why I take no pleasure in writing that he's done. Toast. Put a fork in him, and a fork in the Red Sox if they keep batting him third. Papi can no longer catch up with the high fastball.
...I had a very good seat at the Red Sox-Orioles game on Friday night, which is why I can say this with a sad degree of certainty. Ortiz struck out twice with the bases full, left about 8 guys on base in the Sox come-from-behind 10-8 win, and generally looked like a man waving a butterfly net at a chimney swift in a high wind. He was fed a steady diet of high fastballs. Not exactly lasers, either. The garden variety 93-94 m.p.h. variety, a speed about 90% of the pitchers in the majors can reach. Papi wouldn't have touched them if he'd been swinging a tennis racquet. And he's healthy.

....A little research shows he's not alone. Papi's a big man, listed at 6'4"-230 pounds. He's 33, which just happens to be the age most big men's production numbers fall off a cliff. Papi's certainly have. When he came to the Sox in 2003 as a 27 year old, he hit 31 homers; then 41, 47, 54, and 35. Last season, hampered by a wrist injury, he hit only 23 dingers. His slugging percentages have followed a similar pattern: .592 in 2003, then .603, .604, .636, .621 and last season only .507. His batting averages? .288, .301, .300, .287, .332, then .264. This season, after the first twelve games, Papi is hitting an abysmal .170, with only 4 RBIs and one extra base hit, a double. His slugging percentage is .191. No homers. He's struck out 14 times in 47 at bats. Once the rest of the league discovers he can't catch up with the high heater, that's all he'll see. That, and curves in the dirt.
...It happened to Ted Kluszewski, the big Cincinnati Reds first baseman of the 1950s. When Klu was 32, he hit 35 homers. In the next seven seasons the big guy with the muscle shirts never hit more than six.
....Same with former Red Sox first baseman George Scott, another first sacker with a gargantuan girth. He hit 33 homers when he was 33, but once he turned 34, he never hit more than 12 in a season. Former Red Sox first baseman Mo Vaughn, who was 6'1"-230 lbs., hit 36 homers when he was 32, missed a season with an injury, fell to 26 homers at age 34, then had only three more homers before he retired.
...Look, a lot of people are predicting that when the weather heats up, so will Papi. I hope it happens. I really do. And I know he'll still hit mistakes--low fastballs, hanging curves--to the tune of about 20 homers this season. But in the post season? When he won't see many mistakes, and will be facing teams with the strongest pitching staffs in the league? And the cold weather returns? Bye-bye, Papi. Bye-bye Red Sox. 2009 will not be their year.
....Okay, now for some good news. My bees arrived the same day that Papi's struggles became apparent to me, and I installed two packages into my waiting hives. Here's what they look like in the package, driven up from southern Georgia by Vinny and Joe Gagliardi of Peabody, MA.

...Here's Joe, standing in his garage filled with 450 packages of bees, each containing some 5000 honeybees and one queen. Kind of looks like big Klu, doesn't he?

...This is what the queen looks like in her cage. It's plugged with a sugar cube and the worker bees have to eat their way in to free her. To speed up the process, I put a hole through the cube with a nail. In this way, the queen is gradually accepted by the bees in the hive. If she were introduced more suddenly, they might think she was an intruder and kill her.

.....This is what the bees look like when I dump them into the hive body I've prepared for their arrival. They are rather docile at this point, since they haven't yet identified their new home as a home, and are not defending it. I assume they are disoriented. Plus they've been in a damn cage driving up from southern Georgia for the last 36 hours and are probably beat. In any event, they aren't in the least aggressive. It's almost like shaking jelly beans into a box.

....And here they are in their two new homes, all shuttered up for the night. In the next 24 hours, I'll check to make sure the queens have emerged from their cages and are busily running over the frames, laying eggs. I'm feeding them sugar water, a 1:1 ratio, that is medicated to help them fight various bee ailments. They are hungry and thirsty, for in just one day they went through an entire jar of the sugar water. Soon there will be apple blossoms and multiple other nectar-bearing flowers in bloom around Breakwind Farm. But for the next couple of weeks I will have to feed them as they get used to their new home.
....And as I get used to the idea that our beloved Papi is no longer the horse that he's been around here. We still love you, big guy. We always will.


  1. Is the elephant in the room with Papi drug testing? Or can we believe the hero that we share that he never went down Steroid Rd.? I would prefer twilight coming as a natural consequence of aging. And, like you, I hope he proves you wrong and the only "toast" is what you put your bees' honey on.

  2. The steroid question is one I've wondered about. But since he was always big and strong, I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt...Now Trot Nixon...

  3. I have to believe that it is neither steroids nor twilight but the nagging injury that he suffered last year. Remember how Nomar suffered and hasn't been the same since, but unlike Nomar, I believe that David Ortiz will return. He has been on a meteoric rise for the Sox, platooning with Jeremy Giambi (an admitted steroid user) when he arrived in 2003, earning playing time, serving as a tremendous complement to Manny, exceeding Manny in homeruns, RBI, good drama and heroics, becoming the all time homerun king for the Sox, and serving as a steady presence on the team and in the community. I know that all that rises must fall, but I also believe that he is struggling at present, but will right his ship before too long. I know that my evidence is only my hope and my heart--and you have been in the park and you have seen him--but he has been too good for too long to fail now.

  4. If wishes were changes, we'd all sleep in roses...I hope you're right!

  5. For those interested in seeing what the NY Times wrote about Big Papi's slump, check out Wednesday's paper. (Three days after I wrote this post).

  6. Here's the link: