1-2-3 Inning: Dan Wheeler

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1-2-3 Inning: Dan Wheeler

By Jessica Camerato
CSNNE.com Follow @JCameratoNBA

Welcome to the third edition of 1-2-3 Inning, a step inside the Boston Red Sox bullpen and a look at the individuals who make up this cohesive unit. We have brought you unique glimpses at Alfredo Aceves and Matt Albers . . . now up, Dan Wheeler.

After pitching for the Tampa Bay Rays, New York Mets, and Houston Astros, the Rhode Island native is playing closer to home this season. Wheeler, a 33-year-old right-handed reliever, has posted a record of 2-2 with a 4.31 ERA in 46 games. In this edition of 1-2-3 Inning, he talked to CSNNE.com about honing his game in the desert, going from an expansion team to one of the most storied franchises in baseball, and turning a childhood dream into a reality.

1. Wheeler graduated from Pilgrim High School in Warwick, Rhode Island, packed his bags, and moved nearly 3,000 miles from home to improve his baseball skills. His time out west eventually landed him in Florida, the first step in a career that would lead back to New England.

I went to college in Arizona, so that was a big step for me. I was 17 years old when I graduated high school and I went to a little, small junior college in central Arizona. It was halfway between Phoenix and Tucson. If you know anything about Arizona, theres nothing out there, middle of the desert. Thats kind of where it all started for me. I wasnt drafted out of high school. I went out there and started playing more baseball than I ever had in my life. We were practicing every day because theres really no restrictions in junior college. Im throwing every day, throwing bullpens three times a week. Thats when I started building some arm strength and throwing harder than I did in high school. I was topping out at maybe 85 (miles per hour) in high school and by the time the fall semester was over, I was throwing 92, 93. Then I started to open some eyes to scouts.

2. Wheeler was drafted by the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 34th round of the 1996 amateur draft (he signed with the team in 1997). As the Red Sox begin a three-game series against the Rays on Friday, Wheeler has seen the development of the organization from the start. Starting his career with an expansion team gave him a different perspective once he joined one of the most historic organizations in all of sports.

I signed with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at the time. I figured, You know what? Expansion team, maybe if you do something good you might have a quicker chance to get to the big leagues. . . . I think playing for an expansion team, theyre looking for an identity. I think that was the most important thing. It took them a while to get their identity. I think they have a great game plan now because I started off in Tampa, they released me (in 2001) and I went to a couple different spots before I actually went back to Tampa again (in 2007), so to see the two ways the organization was, one was just trying to sort of survive and the other one, we were a team to be reckoned with. That was kind of fun to be part of that from one aspect to the next. But coming to Boston, you know what to expect. You expect to win every single day, so thats really great to be a part of. You know the history and the drought that the Red Sox had, and then all of a sudden were a team that legitimately can win the World Series every year.

3. As a child watching baseball in New England, Wheeler always dreamt of playing for the Red Sox. He didnt know if that fantasy would become a reality, though, so he dedicated himself to becoming a professional baseball player first and foremost. Now that hes in Boston, he is focused on helping the Red Sox win, rather than the fact that hes on the team.

Growing up in Rhode Island, I never even really thought about playing for the Red Sox. When I was a kid, I absolutely wanted to, but my main goal was to make it to the big leagues. I didnt care where I played -- I just wanted to become a big-league pitcher. This offseason when the opportunity arose for me to become a Red Sox, I kind of jumped at it. I was really excited about it. My family was definitely excited about it, me being up here more instead of just three times a year coming in as the enemy (laughs) . . . Im not going to think about it too much now. I try to live in the moment as much as I can. I think when its all said and done and Im retired thats when I can reflect back on things and say, Ok ,that was kind of cool. But right now I know its cool, believe me, dont take that the wrong way (laughs), but I think that stuff sidetracks what the ultimate goal is. You try everything in your power just to try to help win todays game. I think thats the thing for everybody. You throw out personal statistics, personal goals because at the end of the day, if you want to win, thats the most important thing. When youre in this clubhouse thats all you want to do. I think whatever you can do to help this team win a game, youve done your job.

Jessica Camerato is on Twitter at http:twitter.com!JCameratoNBA.

Ramirez, Leon homer, Red Sox beat Angels 9-4 on Papi's night

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Ramirez, Leon homer, Red Sox beat Angels 9-4 on Papi's night

BOSTON - David Ortiz became one of the most celebrated players in Red Sox history during his storied 14-year run in Boston.

On the night he returned to Fenway to have his No. 34 take its place among the franchise's other legends, his former teammates did their part to make sure it was a memorable one.

Hanley Ramirez and Sandy Leon hit two-run homers and the Boston Red Sox beat the Los Angeles Angels 9-4 on Friday to cap a night in which Ortiz's number became the latest retired at Fenway Park.

It was the 250th career home run for Ramirez, a good friend of Ortiz who was also born in the Dominican Republic. Leon finished with three hits and four RBIs.

Ramirez said he played with Ortiz on his mind.

"He's my mentor, my big brother. He's everything," Ramirez said. "Today when I saw him on the field crying, it made me cry."

He said his home run was in Big Papi's honor.

"Definitely, definitely, definitely," he said. "I was going to do his thing (pointing his hands in the air) but I forgot."

The homers helped provide a nice cushion for Rick Porcello (4-9), who gave up four runs and struck out eight in 6 1/3 innings to earn the victory. It was the 13th straight start Porcello has gone at least six innings.

"It was vintage Porcello," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "A couple of pitches that cut his night short, but he was crisp throughout."

This could serve as a needed confidence boost for Porcello, who had been 0-4 with a 7.92 ERA in his previous five starts, allowing 47 hits and 27 earned runs.

He had command of his pitches early, holding the Angels scoreless until the fourth, when a catching error by Leon at home allowed Albert Pujols to cross the plate.

Porcello said he isn't sure if he has completely turned a corner yet after his slow start, but he has felt better in his recent starts.

"Today was a step in the right direction," he said.

Alex Meyer (3-4) allowed five runs and five hits in 3 1/3 innings.

Los Angeles scored three runs in the seventh, but cooled off after Porcello left.

Boston got out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning, scoring on an RBI double by Xander Bogaerts and then getting two more runs off wild pitches by Meyer.

Ramirez gave Porcello a 5-1 lead in the fourth with his two-run shot to right field.

Ortiz: 'A super honor' to have number retired by Red Sox

Ortiz: 'A super honor' to have number retired by Red Sox

BOSTON —  The Red Sox have become well known for their ceremonies, for their pull-out-all-the-stops approach to pomp. The retirement of David Ortiz’s No. 34 on Friday evening was in one way, then, typical.

A red banner covered up Ortiz’s No. 34 in right field, on the facade of the grandstand, until it was dropped down as Ortiz, his family, Red Sox ownership and others who have been immortalized in Fenway lore looked on. Carl Yazstremski and Jim Rice, Wade Boggs and Pedro Martinez. 

The half-hour long tribute further guaranteed permanence to a baseball icon whose permanence in the city and the sport was never in doubt. But the moments that made Friday actually feel special, rather than expected, were stripped down and quick. 

Dustin Pedroia’s not one to belabor many points, never been the most effusive guy around. (He’d probably do well on a newspaper deadline.) The second baseman spoke right before Ortiz took to the podium behind the mound.

“We want to thank you for not the clutch hits, the 500 home runs, we want to thank you for how you made us feel and it’s love,” Pedroia said, with No. 34 painted into both on-deck circles and cut into the grass in center field. “And you’re not our teammate, you’re not our friend, you’re our family. … Thank you, we love you.”

Those words were enough for Ortiz to have tears in his eyes.

“Little guy made me cry,” Ortiz said, wiping his hands across his face. “I feel so grateful. I thank God every day for giving me the opportunity to have the career that I have. But I thank God even more for giving me the family and what I came from, who teach me how to try to do everything the right way. Nothing — not money — nothing is better than socializing with the people that are around you, get familiar with, show them love, every single day. It’s honor to get to see my number …. I remember hitting batting practice on this field, I always was trying to hit those numbers.”

Now that’s a poignant image for a left-handed slugger at Fenway Park.

He did it once, he said — hit the numbers. He wasn’t sure when. Somewhere in 2011-13, he estimated — but he said he hit Bobby Doerr’s No. 1.

“It was a good day to hit during batting practice,” Ortiz remembered afterward in a press conference. “But to be honest with you, I never thought I’d have a chance to hit the ball out there. It’s pretty far. My comment based on those numbers was, like, I started just getting behind the history of this organization. Those guys, those numbers have a lot of good baseball in them. It takes special people to do special things and at the end of the day have their number retired up there, so that happening to me today, it’s a super honor to be up there, hanging with those guys.”

The day was all about his number, ultimately, and his number took inspiration from the late Kirby Puckett. Ortiz’s major league career began with the Twins in 1997. Puckett passed away in 2006, but the Red Sox brought his children to Fenway Park. They did not speak at the podium or throw a ceremonial first pitch, but their presence likely meant more than, say, Jason Varitek’s or Tim Wakefield’s.

“Oh man, that was very emotional,” Ortiz said. “I’m not going to lie to you, like, when I saw them coming toward me, I thought about Kirby. A lot. That was my man, you know. It was super nice to see his kids. Because I remember, when they were little guys, little kids. Once I got to join the Minnesota Twins, Kirby was already working in the front office. So they were, they used to come in and out. I used to get to see them. But their dad was a very special person for me and that’s why you saw me carry the No. 34 when I got here. It was very special to get to see them, to get kind of connected with Kirby somehow someway.”

Ortiz’s place in the row of 11 retired numbers comes in between Boggs’ No. 26 and Jackie Robinson’s No. 42.