Dreams fulfilled in Futures at Fenway

Spinners, Sea Dogs produce dramatic walk-off victories

(Brent Asay/MLB.com)

By Evan Mohl / MLB.com | August 11, 2007 4:51 PM

BOSTON -- If you looked at Aug. 11 on the schedules of the Hudson Valley Renegades, Lowell Spinners, Harrisburg Senators and Portland Sea Dogs, it would seem like any other day in a long Minor League season: Hudson Valley at Lowell, Harrisburg at Portland.

But Saturday was different in more ways than one.

Some 100 Minor Leaguers got to live out their dreams for a day as they played at a Major League stadium in front of 30,000 fans on a beautiful, sun-filled afternoon. And it wasn't just any old stadium. The games were played at Fenway Park, the most storied, historic ballpark of them all.

"Sitting in the dugout, I was looking at a couple guys wondering who else has sat in this spot," said Spinners right-hander Scott Lonergan. "Obviously, you step up on that mound and you know all the great pitchers that have pitched there before you. The Green Monster, whose dents are those from?"

And even though they were just a couple of regular-season games, they were special for everyone involved.

"This is a dream come true," Lonergan added. "I mean, look around you."

The games certainly had an All-Star quality to them. Before the starting lineups were introduced, players were out on the field with their digital cameras, going their best poses on the field on which Ted Williams once played. During batting practice, fans oohed and aahed as players dared to hit balls over the Monster.

"It's kind of intimidating," admitted Spinners catcher Ty Weeden, who cleared the famed left-field fence during BP. "You think you hit a ball good, it goes halfway up the wall and you're like, 'Wow.'"

Add to that the thrill of playing in front of a packed stadium and it's truly a big-league experience.

"I've never played in front of crowd like we have tonight," said Spinners catcher Dan Milano, who played at Fenway while attending Northeastern University in Boston.

The Futures at Fenway concept developed last year when Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino proposed the idea that Fenway Park should host Minor League games. After several brainstorming sessions, the result was a twinbill featuring two Red Sox affiliates.

It's the perfect idea.

The game gives players the chance to experience playing in front of a sellout crowd in a Major League facility.

"It's good for the players because a lot of these guys have never been here," said former Major Leaguer and current Senators hitting coach Tim Raines. "They get to see what it's like playing in a big-league ballpark."

Futures at Fenway also offers a chance for members of the zealous Red Sox Nation to see their future stars and cheer them on as passionately as any Boston player.

The fans did just that, coming out in droves to fill Fenway with 34,746 fans.

"It's great," said Sea Dogs outfielder Jeff Corsaletti. "I played in a College World Series in front of about 25,000 people, but it's nothing like playing in Fenway Park with all these hometown fans here."

"Playing in front of all these people is a whole different story," Weeden added. "Getting a chance to play for this organization is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

This year, the Futures at Fenway featured the Spinners of the New York-Penn League and the Sea Dogs of the Double-A Eastern League. Their respective opponents were the Renegades and Senators.

Lowell opened the doubleheader in dramatic fashion. After a pitchers' duel that left the Spinners down, 1-0, through seven innings, Lowell tied it in the eighth. With two out in the ninth, Jorge Jimenez stroked a double over the right fielder's head to drive in Luis Segovia for a walk-off win.

It was almost as if David Ortiz had just gotten a hit against Mariano Rivera to knock in Jason Varitek.

That idea might not be too farfetched, at least a few years down the road.

"It's really a dream come true," said Milano. "It's hard to describe in words. I couldn't ask for anything more."

Of course, the game wasn't played without some nerves. There were three errors committed in the first inning, not including a foul pop that landed in the middle of three Spinners.

"They've been nervous since two weeks ago," said Spinners manager Gary DiSarcina. "And it really hit home how nervous they were in the first inning when they weren't themselves."

In the second game, it looked like the Sea Dogs would fall victim to the Senators as they trailed, 8-3, after four innings. But there must have been something special in the Fenway air -- or maybe the Spinners sent the Sea Dogs a memo -- because Portland blasted its way back with a five-run sixth to tie it, 8-8.

Harrisburg's Steve Mortimer hit a solo homer in the top of the eighth, but Portland countered with another run in the bottom of the inning. The Senators scored twice in the ninth, but the Sea Dogs loaded the bases with one out against Alex Morales, thanks to Andrew Pinckney's single and two walks.

Morales also walked Jeff Natale to force in a run before David Trahan took over and got ahead of Jay Johnson, 0-2. Trahan hung a slider and Johnson ripped a two-run double for a 12-11 walk-off win.

The old Fenway Park columns felt like they were starting to shake.

"He hangs a slider and I just let my hands do the work," Johnson said. "It was awesome and pretty intense."

Not a bad day for Red Sox Nation at Fenway -- two come-from-behind walk-off wins and a chance to play on a big-league diamond.

"Once you step through that gate out there onto the field, it's something like you've never experienced before," said Corsaletti. "Once you're out here and you look around, it's something pretty special."

That surely was the case for anybody at the second annual Futures at Fenway.

Evan Mohl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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