My Night to Shine

I am honored to be a recipient of the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation Shining Star Award which I received at the 2018 Night to Shine gala on Saturday, May 5th.

 

I was selected after emceeing the Flutie 5K in 2017.  For the last five years, The Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism has awarded a select group of people and companies who have truly made a difference in the autism community.

My family and I arrived at the TripAdvisor headquarters right when Doug Flutie and his wife Laurie did.  Doug was carrying a huge cymbal but he and Laurie stopped to say hello and congratulations.  This was a great start to the night that would only get better.  We checked in at the desk in the lobby and I was handed a special honoree magnetic name tag to wear.

We headed down the hall and saw Milo, a robot boy built to help learners with autism learn social and behavioral skills (https://robots4autism.com/milo/).

 

We spent the first hour networking, catching up with people I knew, and meeting new people.  We talked to Nicole Gugleimucci from the Foundation who had helped me prepare for the Flutie 5K event last October and notified me about this exciting honor.  We also met the new Executive Director of the Foundation, Nick Savarese.

After meeting several more people, we looked at the many awesome sports-related silent auction items to bid on.  At our table, we met Paul Alexander, the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for Eastern Bank.  Shortly after, we decided to wait on bidding and get seats near the stage.

We sat in stadium-style seats in a 4-story atrium area at the center of the TripAdvisor Headquarters, which had an amazing view of all the floors.  I also noticed walls made out of live plants which looked really cool.  The ceiling had a sky with clouds which made it feel like the outside was inside.  They had a huge movie-sized video screen counting down the time to start the ceremony.

Susan Wornick, a longtime reporter and former anchor from WCVB-TV in Boston was the emcee for the event.  After Wornick introduced herself and Doug and Laurie, she passed the stage and microphone over to MUSE.

MUSE stands for Music, Unity, and Social Expansion.  They are a school that teaches independence and more skills to people with autism through music (http://www.muse-foundation.org/).  A MUSE band got on stage to play two songs and they were very impressive.  Everyone clapped to the beat for their second song as the crowd got really into the music.

After a standing ovation, Wornick returned to the stage to thank the sponsors and invite Nick Savarese to talk about his first year with the organization.  Nick asked me and a few other guests to stand up and everyone cheered which was pretty cool and I really appreciated.

Lisa Borges was called to the stage.  Lisa had worked in Nick’s position nearly as along as the Flutie Foundation had been around.  They handed her a large flower arrangement and thanked her for all she had done.  Laurie and Doug came up to the stage and thanked her as well.

A video was shown about the history of the foundation, which dates back 20 years.  The video gave an update on Doug Flutie’s son Doug Jr. and showed how the Flutie Foundation started Autism Awareness and wants to continue to build on that.  They have helped so many with autism, including me.  Thanks to the Foundation, I learned to ski with my brother in one weekend and now skiing is one of my favorite activities.  This year I was able to join my school’s ski club which has been a great social opportunity for me.

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After the video, Nick talked about how the organization has evolved and will continue to do so.  I was happy to learn that they will also add focus on the many children with autism that will be entering adulthood soon, like me, or already are adults like Doug Jr.

Wornick returned to the stage to begin announcing the Shining Stars.  I was ecstatic when my name was announced and rushed to the stage as she read my bio discussing some of my achievements including my sports blog that I started when I was 10 (https://andrewr1008.wordpress.com/).  She handed me the award, a glass star-shaped trophy with my name on it.  They took photos of me with Doug Flutie, Nick, and Susan as people continued to applaud.

Get Air Sports (a trampoline park that supports the foundation http://getairsports.com/ ), Luca and Danni jewelry (https://lucadanni.com/), John Breen, Alan Seymour (Doug Flutie’s good friend from Junior High School), Wegmans (https://www.wegmans.com/), NCGIT (https://ncgit.com/), and Amy Weinstock (http://autismhighereducationfoundation.org/amy-weinstock/) were the other Shining Stars and Get Air gave the foundation a big life-sized check for over $200,000 on the stage.

Susan then began a live auction for four very significant donated prizes.  The bidding for some of the items went over $10,000 and it was really exciting to see some of the bidders go back and forth trying to win with the final bid amount.

After the auction was over, many of the hundreds of guests came up to me to congratulate me and we exchanged contact info.  I said hello to Lisa Borges and I told her I would be back for the 2018 Flutie 5K and hoped to see her too.  I met Tyler Lagasse who Nick had asked to stand up with me.  He has autism too and plays golf competitively and wrote a book with his mom (https://www.amazon.com/What-Do-You-Say-Character/dp/1503556840).  We even caught up with Susan Wornick who wants to put me in touch with legendary sportscaster Bob Lobel to see a Red Sox game!

I did not end up winning any silent auction prizes but Jayme Parker, a longtime NESN reporter, took a picture with me and said she would keep in touch with me.  The experience of meeting her was like an auction prize that I had bid on and I went home with just as much excitement as I had at the start of the night.  The event was so much more than I could have ever imagined and I am so grateful for the experience!

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I would like to thank the Flutie Foundation for sharing this post on their own blog: http://www.flutiefoundation.org/blog/my-night-shine.

I would also like to give photo credit to Jenny Nourse Photography and thank them for the amazing pictures.

 

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Ranking The Teams 6-1: My Version: How The Best of the Best Line Up

Welcome to the 5th and final part of my MLB pre-season power rankings.  Although the season has started, I am still finishing this series.  I will also have my first Red Sox Report article of 2018 coming soon, as well as coverage on NFL free agency and the upcoming Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins games.

Last time, I covered the teams that are true contenders but are not quite on the level of the MLB’s best.  That consisted of 5 wild card competitors and the Indians, the lowest ranked of what is known as the MLB Super Seven.  They just missed the Top 6, at #7.  I looked at how they did this off-season, how they’ll do this season, and what’s holding them back.  I also discussed best and worst case scenarios for each team and projected their records and division placements.  Today I will do the same for the for the Top 6 teams in the league.  What are their chances of winning it all, and what are their Achilles Heels?  Read below to find out how the best of the best line up.  Every team on this part of the list is part of the Super Seven I have been mentioning.

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Boston Sports Mania MLB Pre-Season Power Rankings

Friday, March 23: Ranking The Teams 30-25, My Version: Who’s In The Basement?

Sunday, March 25: Ranking The Teams 24-19, My Version: Teams That Will Struggle

Monday, March 26: Ranking The Teams 18-13, My Version: The Middle of the Pack

Monday, April 2: Ranking The Teams 12-7, My Version: Who Will Contend in 2018?

Thursday, April 5: Ranking The Teams 6-1, My Version: How The Best of the Best Line Up*

*My pre-season Baseball Bits are also up.

6. boston-red-sox Boston Red Sox

Off-Season Review

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The Red Sox were pretty quiet for much of the off-season despite the rumors that they were the front-runners to sign OF J.D. Martinez, and that it was near inevitable that the Red Sox signed him.  They did bring back 1B Mitch Moreland and 2B Eduardo Nunez.  With that, they had a pretty good roster.  But they had no home run hitter, which was crucial after the Yankees added Giancarlo Stanton and formed what has the potential to be a historic HR duo between Stanton and Aaron Judge.  Eventually, they did sign Martinez despite a lack of a position for him to play.  If there was an open position called “designated home run hitter (DHH)”, it might be fitting, but now he has to split his time between left field and DH, with Moreland, Hanley Ramirez, and Jackie Bradley Jr. losing at-bats to him.

The Case for the Red Sox

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If the Red Sox are meeting their expectations, they will make the playoffs, and they will make it to at least the ALDS.  Red Sox reporter Tony Massarotti thinks we are a good team but can do a lot better, and I agree.  Sure, the Yankees had a great off-season and are now favorites to beat us out in the AL East.  But the Sox are capable of winning the division, and if they cannot win the division, they are definitely capable of making the playoffs.  Hopefully, Chris Sale and David Price will be able to lead the rotation together after Sale’s strong 2017 and Price’s strong Spring Training, and I’m hoping J.D. Martinez and Mookie Betts can lead the lineup (with the help of Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers, who are off to a great start).

But if they cannot, we need someone else to step up their game.  In fact, no matter what, we need someone else to step it up.  Whether Bogey keeps going and breaks out, or Devers builds on his late 2017 success, or Andrew Benintendi has the season he was supposed to have one year ago, I will be satisfied.  They just need one more player to build on the consistency they have had and turn it into dominance.

The Achilles Heel

Like I said, the Red Sox have an ace, and they have a pretty strong lineup. But they just need some of their good players to achieve greatness. It would be nice if they could have the beastly rotation people were expecting of them, and so far, it’s looked pretty good. It would also be nice if the Red Sox had a couple more players who broke through and joined Betts and Martinez as the All-Stars of the lineup. World Series contenders aren’t led by a couple superstars and a bunch of other good, but not great players. They are led by a group of star players that work well and fit well together.

Best Case Scenario: The rotation dominates, several players in the lineup breakout and the Red Sox go on to win the World Series, which you will notice is the Best Case Scenario for all 6 of the top teams.

Worst Case Scenario: The rotation continues to be inconsistent, the lineup is no more than good, and the Red Sox lose out to other teams like the Twins and Angels in the Wild Card race.

Projected Finish: 92-70, 2nd in AL East

 

5. Chicago_Cubs Chicago Cubs

Off-Season Review

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The Cubs lost star pitcher Jake Arrieta, but they made up for it by signing SP Yu Darvish and SP Tyler Chatwood.  They also added Brandon Morrow to a strong bullpen.  The Cubs appear to be pretty confident in their lineup, but does their lineup need an upgrade if the Cubs want to win another World Series ring?

The Case for the Cubs

About a year ago, the Cubs were viewed as the best team in the MLB.  But the competition has caught up with them, and the Cubs experienced a World Series hangover early in 2017.  The Dodgers, Yankees, and Astros have all caught up, and the Indians, Nationals, and Red Sox are close.  They have a nice young roster with a dominant rotation, and their lineup is great but could use a bit of a boost in the power department.

The Achilles Heel

The Cubs have a lot of good, consistent, hitters.  But they were hoping that they could get some power out of guys like Jason Heyward, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo that they have signed/kept around.  Bryant and Rizzo have done well at the plate, but are good hitters for average, not good hitters for power.  Heyward was signed to add some power to the lineup, and it would have been nice to see some power out of Ben Zobrist.  Who will emerge as a home run hitter for the Cubs?  If they cannot find one, then that means the league’s elite teams are one step ahead of them.

Best Case Scenario: The Cubs go on to win a World Series after Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward have dominant years at the plate and get help from Chicago’s younger players.  The rotation also continues to dominate.

Worst Case Scenario: The rotation underperforms, the lineup cannot find their power hitter, and the Cubs just barely snag a Wild Card after losing their division to the Cardinals or Brewers.

Projected Finish: 92-70, 1st in NL Central\

 

4. los-angeles-dodgers Los Angeles Dodgers

Off-Season Review

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The Dodgers kept their roster at World Series level.  They did lose some of their starting pitchers, but they had at least eight viable starters on their World Series roster.  They added Tom Koehler to the bullpen, and he could even start in the case of an injury to another starter.  They also brought back Chase Utley and acquired Matt Kemp from the Braves in exchange for Adrian Gonzalez and a couple extra starters they had.  Gonzalez was no longer needed with Cody Bellinger ready to start at first base full time.

The Case for the Dodgers

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The Dodgers could still be a World Series contender, but other teams may beat them out.  The Astros are looking even better this year, the Nats have extra motivation to do well with many star players in contract years, and the Yankees have more power in their lineup than any other team in the league.  Their lineup and rotation still look great.  Clayton Kershaw has continued to dominate the league, and the lineup has done well despite the lack of a true leader.

The Achilles Heel

The Dodgers do not have any major holes.  But they need two smaller things.  The first thing is some bullpen help.  They need to find a reliable set up man for Kenley Jansen, and even Jansen has struggled so far.  They also need a leader for the lineup.  They have a lot of great hitters, but who is their true star?  Kershaw is the rotation leader.  Who will be the Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers lineup?

Best Case Scenario: Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, and Justin Turner will lead the Dodgers lineup to dominance, the rotation continues to thrive, and Kenley Jansen gets back on track as the Dodgers win the World Series.

Worst Case Scenario: Kershaw, along with the rest of the rotation regresses, the lack of depth hurts them, and the lineup cannot quite dominate without a leader.  Jansen and the bullpen continue to struggle too, and the Dodgers are left to compete for a Wild Card.

Projected Finish: 95-67, 1st in NL West

 

3. new-york-yankees New York Yankees

Off-Season Review

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The Yankees already had a strong lineup, and they made a splash this off-season by adding to that.  They acquired Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins, and with that, they had the top two home run hitters in the league in Stanton and Aaron Judge.  They also added 2B Neil Walker late in the off-season to help out while Gleyber Torres recovers from his injury and continues to develop.  They acquired Brandon Drury to help out Miguel Andujar at third too.

The Case for the Yankees

The Yanks have a lineup that is stacked with home run hitters, but they are lacking depth, especially in the infield.  Judge and Stanton will balance things out though, making the lineup look dominant.  The rotation also looks good but is the one portion of their roster that does not quite match up with the Red Sox, who can rely on the combo of Chris Sale and David Price.  The good thing is, the rotation will be backed up by a strong bullpen, much stronger than the Red Sox bullpen.

The Achilles Heel

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The Yankees do have a bit of an infield depth problem, but their real depth problem is in the rotation.  Jordan Montgomery has been forced into the #5 starter role, while the Sox will have E-Rod and Steven Wright once everyone is healthy.  The Yankees have a nice group of starters, but they lack depth, and they lack a true ace.  Sonny Gray, Masahiro Tanaka, and Luis Severino are great but are not quite ace material.  The Red Sox have Chris Sale to lead their rotation, so they are ahead of the Yankees in that department.

Best Case Scenario: The rotation dominates the league with multiple #1 level starters, the bullpen backs them up, and the lineup hits the most home runs in the MLB by a long shot as the Yanks win the World Series.

Worst Case Scenario: Depth problems come back to bite the Yankees, the Yanks must depend on their bullpen after rotation struggles, and the lineup cannot find much talent around Gary Sanchez, Stanton and Judge.  The Yankees are left with a Wild Card spot and do not make the ALDS.

Projected Finish: 96-66, 1st in AL East

 

2. houston-astros Houston Astros

Off-Season Review

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After winning the World Series (as I predicted) in 2017, the Astros only got better.  They acquired Gerrit Cole from the Pirates, and now they will have Justin Verlander for a full season.  They arguably have seven viable starters, and their first three starters were all #1 starters on different teams before this season.  They also added Joe Smith to a strong bullpen.

The Case for the Astros

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The Astros are coming off a World Series title, and I do not expect much of a hangover.  They have a dominant rotation, and a strong lineup led by Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, George Springer, and AL MVP Jose Altuve.  I don’t see much of a chance for them to regress.  But will they be beaten out by a motivated contender who was not won in recent years?

The Achilles Heel

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The Astros do not have any major weaknesses, but with DH Carlos Beltran gone, and 1B Yulieski Gurriel suspended, they will have some depth problems in the lineup.  They will have to rely on Marwin Gonzalez, Jake Marisnick, Derek Fisher, and J.D. Davis more this season.  Other than that, they do not have any other problems, at least major problems.  That will likely resolve itself as the season progresses.

Best Case Scenario: The stacked lineup dominates, the rotation is led by three aces, and the Astros dominate the league for the second consecutive year, winning the World Series.

Worst Case Scenario: The rotation underperforms and struggles, depth and World Series hangover problems affect the lineup, and the Astros fail to make the ALCS after losing the division to the Angels surprisingly.

Projected Finish: 95-67, 1st in AL West

 

1. washington-nats Washington Nationals

Off-Season Review

The Nats did not make any big moves this off-season besides resigning Howie Kendrick, and I think their roster looks good as it is, although it could have used one more starting pitcher.  They should sign somebody who’s still available if A.J. Cole struggles in the rotation.  But the Nats have many star players, including Bryce Harper in contract years, so the Nationals are in win now mode, and for that reason, they are my favorite to win the World Series.

The Case for the Nationals

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Like I said, the Nats are in win-now mode.  The window is closing for this team to win a World Series with this era of players, but I think this could be the year.  With a great roster flooded with young talent and led by superstars in Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer, and Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals are in good position to take advantage of the fact that they have one more year to win it all before they lose Bryce Harper and other strong players on the roster to free agency.  But will they be motivated enough to lead themselves past other dominant teams like the Dodgers, Cubs, Astros, and Yankees?

The Achilles Heel

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The Nationals have a nice lineup that is still doing well early on, even with Daniel Murphy starting on the DL.  Later in the season, Murphy will help lead them.  But the rotation has a depth problem.  If A.J. Cole struggles, the Nationals have nobody to replace him with Joe Ross injured. There is no guarantee that any free agent pitcher will willingly sign here, but if Cole struggles, they will need to try, or it may hold them back from winning now like they are hoping to.

Best Case Scenario: Motivated to win it all before losing Harper, the Nats lineup dominates, carried by an MVP season by Bryce Harper where he nearly wins the Triple Crown.  The rotation also dominates as A.J. Cole does well and Strasburg and Scherzer dominate all year.  The Nationals win the World Series triumphantly.

Worst Case Scenario: Depth problems cause rotation struggles and injury problems add to it, Bryce Harper cannot carry the lineup alone in a contract year, and the Nats just edge out a division win and struggle in the NLDS.

Projected Finish: 97-65, 1st in NL East

 

That’s all for my MLB pre-season power rankings.  My next power rankings update will come at the end of April as I begin my Monthly Power Ranking series.  I will also have Red Sox recaps, more Baseball Bits, and my first Red Sox Report of 2018 coming soon (The Red Sox Report article will be up tomorrow and I will try to post them every Friday from here on out.)

Betts’s Big Night, Porcello’s Deep Outing Lead Red Sox to Victory

1 out.  Man on 2nd.  All-around big hitter Mookie Betts was at the plate.  The count at 2-1, he nailed it high into left field and it was gone!  Mookie Betts had hit his third homer of the season, as it flew over the monster then hit a stairwell and bounced back down onto the field.

That was the mood for most of the night as their lineup powered them over the Rays, 7-3.  After losing Joe Kelly 0.2 innings in last night to injury, the bullpen was exhausted, but Rick Porcello helped them out by going 7 innings, giving up just 6 hits, 3 runs, a walk and a homer and striking out 9.  He got the win; he is now 3-0 with a 4.66 ERA, a large improvement from last season so far.  Chris Archer continued his slump. Giving up 8 hits, 6 runs, 3 walks and a homer and striking out just 6 in a 4.1 inning outing.  He got the loss and is 0-4 with a whopping 7.32 ERA.

The Red Sox went big in the 1st inning as they stole the first run.  With Mookie Betts walked, Dustin Pedroia hit a one-hopper into left, sending Betts to 2nd.  Xander Bogaerts drove Betts in and advanced Pedroia to second on a single to left.  David Ortiz drove in Bogaerts and Pedroia with a line drive double into center.  It was 3-0 Red Sox already.  The Red Sox carried their momentum to the 2nd.  With JBJ on second, Mookie Betts blasted a homer over the monster to score two more.  It was now 5-0.

In the top of the 3rd, the Rays couldn’t score but at least got their first hit off Rick Porcello when Steven Souza Jr. reached on an infield single.  The next play was similar, a grounder to 3rd, but this time the Red Sox challenged the hit.  They won the challenge and it was 1 down with a man on 2nd.  Souza stole third when the next batter came up, but the Rays didn’t have the chance to drive him in.

In the top of the 4th, after a Corey Dickerson double and a walk by Desmond Jennings to make it 1st and 2nd, Mookie Betts made a jumping grab for out #3.  In the bottom of the 5th, Xander Bogaerts got back on base and Big Papi drove him in on a sharp line drive double to right.  That did it for Chris Archer.  Dana Eveland came in for him with one out on the inning.  Brock Holt kept things going with 2 outs on a base hit, and stole second with Vazquez up, but Vazquez struck out.  Vazquez may not be a benefit in the lineup, but he is behind the plate.  The Red Sox are currently trying to move Blake Swihart (a good offensive catcher who struggles on defense) to the outfield.

However, when the 6th inning came, Brock Holt was at shortstop and Chris Young in left.  Bogaerts had hurt his quad on his way home in the 5th.  He was day to day, but it was since announced he will play in Thursday’s game vs. Tampa with David Price on the hill.  With that, the Rays took off.  Logan Forsythe tripled, and after Logan Morrison’s strike out, he went home on Evan Longoria’s ground out.  Up came Corey Dickerson, who they got from Colorado for reliever Jake McGee to add a little power to the lineup.  He hit a solo blast off Rick Porcello, his 4th tater of the season.

In the 6th, Mookie Betts got a base hit and stole second.  Chris Young drove him in on a two out line drive single.  Young only had 2 hits until that, and that was his first RBI.  In the 7th, the Rays answered on a Kevin Kiermaier double and Hank Conger RBI single.  It was now 7-3, the Rays still trailing the BoSox.  In the next couple of innings, the Red Sox bullpen took control.  Between Junichi Tazawa and Noe Ramirez, they only gave up 1 hit and 1 walk, and struck out 2.  Red Sox, 7, Rays, 3.  That was the final score from Boston.

The Red Sox have a chance to win the series if they grab a W in today’s 1:30 game.  Do you think this year’s team has a chance?  Comment below.

Sox & Bruins Win On Road,Bruins Make Next Round in Playoffs

Boston teams who played today were undefeated,which meant the BoSox and Bruins won today.Operation Domination In Detroit worked for the Bruins as they won all three road games and both my predictions(See NHL Playoff Picks and Boston Bruins:Domination in Detroit)were 100% correct.They will now go on to face the Montreal Canadiens in Round 2.The same Canadiens who swept the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round. The Red Sox won as well as healthy as ever(See MLB Week 5 Power Rankings:The Boys Are Back).Their record is 12-13.The Blue Jays have a 11-13
record.The Red Sox passed Toronto in the standings by beating them twice!They’re almost as good as Baltimore and even the Yankees!If they keep this up they’ll be leading the AL East in no time!The Sox would not have won without Middlebrooks hitting a solo homer or without A.J. Pierzynski’s grand slam that made the difference in the game.Middlebrooks and Victorino not being healthy is why the Red Sox struggled early in the season.