Tag: Brian Willwerth

Willwerth: What A Lost Minor League Baseball Season Means To Me

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McCoy Stadium will not be hosting the final season of the Pawtucket Red Sox

By Brian Willerth

So, it’s official: there will be no Minor League Baseball this summer due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

It’s a tremendous loss, not just for the teams, but for families who say it’s an affordable way to spend a night out.

But there’s more to this cancelation for one team in New England: it also means the end of the Pawtucket Red Sox. The team will be playing games next season in Worcester.

The PawSox are celebrating their 50th anniversary this summer. It will be marked by the season that never happened. Fans won’t even get the chance to take in one last home game. Can you just picture what the final regular-season home game would’ve looked like?

I’ve been to several minor league stadiums over the years, and McCoy Stadium was always at the top of my list.

The tickets, both at McCoy Stadium and other places, were (and have been) cheap. And so is the food, along with the parking, which is usually free.

You could go down to McCoy Stadium and spend less than $20 on everything. And there wasn’t a bad seat in the house.

I remember going to games on Saturday nights for a ballgame and fireworks, spending Sunday afternoons in the sun, and even the occasional weekday 12:05 first pitch.

I hadn’t been there in several years due to changes in my work schedule, but what made McCoy Stadium special to me, was that the gameday experience was about the game.  That was the focus. You knew when you watched players play, you knew they were busting their butts, hoping to make it to the majors.  And yes, you can say that at every minor league ballpark, but the atmosphere at McCoy just felt special to me.

I wish Worcester good luck when the AAA affiliate moves there officially next season, and hopefully, they will be able to play next year. But to me, they will always be the PawSox. And I will miss McCoy stadium, still, home to the longest baseball game ever played.

Willwerth: NASCAR Notebook

Paul Menard is certainly a NASCAR name that one needs to know!

By Brian Willwerth 

The list of first-time winners in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series just keeps growing.

The latest: Paul Menard, who pulled off a big upset Sunday in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This was Menard’s first win in 167 career starts.  He is the fourth driver this season to win his first Cup race, joining Trevor Bayne, Regan Smith and David Ragan.

This one was decided by pit and fuel strategy. Menard played his cards perfectly, and was able to hold off a fast-charging Jeff Gordon in the closing laps. Had the race been two or three laps longer, the outcome probably would’ve been different.

Gordon finished second, followed by Smith, Jamie McMurray and Matt Kenseth.  Chevrolets took the top four spots.

Carl Edwards hung on the points lead, despite finishing 14th. Menard jumped five spots in the standings, to 14th. Win Sunday’s win, he’s in contention for one of the two wild card spots for the Chase.

THE WRECK WRAP:

This was a clean race for the most part, with one exception. Landon Cassill went for a spin, as he was four-wide heading into Turn 3.  Cassill spun out. Kasey Kahne avoided the wreck, but briefly turned his #4 car into a lawnmower, as grass ended up all over the racetrack.

NEXT WEEK: the second race of the year at Pocono.  Gordon won there back in June.

The Thrill of NASCAR in New England

Get Your Engines Ready, New Hampshire!

By Brian Willwerth 

On the New England sports scene, we have the Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, (do we ever have the Bruins now), but for a couple of weekends each year, the focus turns, if not entirely to, auto racing.

Get ready, Loudon.  It’s NASCAR time…again!

The stars of NASCAR’s top series roll into New England this weekend. There are races on Friday and Saturday, and then there’s Sunday’s headliner: The Lenox Industrial Tools 301, when there will be about 100,000 people at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a.k.a. the “Magic Mile.”

I remember when a co-worker invited me to my first race in June of 2007 at New Hampshire International Speedway (the “International” has since been replaced with “Motor.”). I had no idea what to expect, but decided to give it a try. I was wearing a Tampa Bay Buccaneers shirt and beige pants – typical of a new race fan, I suppose. I remember rolling into the parking lot for the first time and seeing the tailgating. Oh, was there tailgating.

So what, you say?  You can find tailgating at any football game. But once you roll into this racetrack (or any track for that matter,) it becomes pretty clear that this is not your average party.

I remember seeing a sea of multi-colored flags with different numbers on them: 88, 24, 48 and 20 just to name a few. I had heard a few of NASCAR’s names before: Earnhardt Jr., Gordon, Stewart, but I didn’t know who the “good guy” was, and who the villain was.

At NASCAR races, there is no “home team.” Yes, Dale Jr. may be the sport’s most popular driver, but each fan has a reason for being allied with his/her favorite driver.  I had no idea that some guy from Virginia named Denny Hamlin would be the winner of my first-ever race.  For what it’s worth: I’m still waiting to see Kasey Kahne in victory lane.

Anyway, back to NHMS. The race fans of New England are passionate. The track had a long sellout streak halted a few years ago, and last summer there was more empty seats than usual, given the midst of the economic downturn. But this is a period when very few tracks sell out anymore. I don’t know whether Sunday’s race will be jam-packed, but I can assure you that you’ll find a lot more people there than you will at any Patriots or Red Sox game.

And then there’s the track itself, the “Magic Mile” (the actual length is 1.058 miles.)  At a time when 1.5-mile tracks are dominant in the circuit, Loudon has carved out its own niche. Throw in the friendly hospitality of the track staff, and you’ve got the perfect destination for race fans. In terms of the weather: I’ve seen hot.  I’ve seen cold.  I’ve seen bright sunny days, and I’ve also been stuck in a downpour that made me more drenched than I’ve ever been in my life. I’ll never forget the image of beer cans “flowing down a river” under the grandstand that day.

I’ve been to several other tracks around the country: Las Vegas, Richmond and Charlotte. They’re all great, with terrific fans.  But New Hampshire will always be special for me, since it was the first race I ever attended.

As for the Lenox 301 on Sunday, Jimmie Johnson won this race last year (Clint Bowyer won in the fall.)  The 5-time champ hasn’t exactly been dominant this season.  But when the Chase rolls around, he knows when to turn on the gas.

So the stage is set for a big day on Sunday.  Oh, and about that Bucs’ T-shirt of mine?  Not a chance.  I’ll be decked out in my Kahne gear, hoping for the #4 car to pull off some magic at the Magic Mile.

Willwerth: NASCAR Notebook

Where does Denny Hamlin go from here?

By Brian Willwerth 

Is this the race that jump-starts Denny Hamlin? We shall see.

Hamlin drove his #11 Toyota to victory lane Sunday for the first time this year, taking the checkered flag in the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

A late caution enabled Hamlin to take the lead coming out of the pits. From there, he held off a fast-charging Matt Kenseth in the final five laps.  Hamlin also won this race last June – one of eight victories for him in 2010.  But it took him until June to finally break through this year.

Kyle Busch, Paul Menard and points leader Carl Edwards rounded out the top five. Edwards is still atop the standings with a 20-point advantage over Kevin Harvick. Hamlin’s victory moved him up three spots, from 12th to 9th.

THE WRECK WRAP

*It was a rough afternoon for five-time champion Jimmy Johnson. He went for a spin early in the race and never recovered.  He finished 27th.

*Brad Keselowski brought out the yellow flag when he blew a tire, and ended up with a nice, long mark along the side of his #2 car, a.k.a. the Blue Deuce.

*Andy Lally ran into the back of Juan Pablo Montoya, who may have run out of gas. Montoya went for a ride in his #42 machine.

*The unhappiest driver after the race was Dale Earnhardt Jr.  He got pinched into the wall by Mark Martin, prompting Junior to give some interesting comments during his post-race interview.  He finished 21st.

Next up: the drivers head west to Sonoma, CA for the first of two road-course races on the calendar. Yes, they’ll actually be turning right in addition to left.

Willwerth: Few Quick Notes on NASCAR

By Brian Willwerth 

Until the final 32 laps at Dover International Speedway, Matt Kenseth was not the best driver on the track. It was a race dominated by Carl Edwards and Jimmy Johnson.

But it was Kenseth’s strategy to take just two tires on the final pit stop that eventually put him in position to win Sunday’s FedEx 400 at the “Monster Mile.”  It was his second win of the season; he also won at Texas Motor Speedway.

When Juan Pablo Montoya spun out to bring out the final caution, Kenseth opted for two tires, while most of the competition took four. Mark Martin stayed out while the leaders pitted, and inherited the lead on the restart. But once the #17 car took over the top spot, there was no looking back.

Martin finished second, followed by Marcos Ambrose, Kyle Busch and Brian Vickers. Edwards retained the lead.

If you happen to be one of those fans that watch races for big crashes and tempers flaring, well, this wasn’t your race. There were several, long green-flag runs. One week after their pit road blowup at Darlington, Busch and Kevin Harvick behaved themselves.  Both drivers were placed on probation this past week.

Next Saturday night is the All-Star Showdown at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a non-points race.  Then the following Sunday night, it’s one of NASCAR’s crown jewels: the Coca-Cola 600. I was in North Carolina for the 600 last year. Charlotte puts on an emotional, moving tribute to those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom. Combine that with the longest race of the year in terms of miles, and it is definitely worth tuning in for.