scrabble is apparently a big part of my life these days"I don't give any credit to those hitters," Papelbon said. "They're out there trying to beat me and I'm out there trying to beat them. I give credit where credit is due, but I'm not going to go out there and give somebody credit for just showing up with a bat in their hands. For me, I go out there and kick somebody's ass any day of the week."
Oh, Pap. From here and honestly, I feel like I've posted this article before, but it swears to me it's not that old. And there are some "new" facts, so perhaps it's a rework of something linked before? Whatever, it's REALLY enjoyable if you like to gush about Papelbon and I think we know I do.
And then! This is the part of the week where we thank my brother for his ESPN Insider status and re-post an entire piece for those who aren't so lucky. Which is really fine because frankly, I don't think I could have picked a quotation if I had to.
The bullpens in Fenway Park are separated from the right-field stands above by only a short chain-link fence. So it's not unusual for Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox closer and people person, to chat up fans and flip a few balls over the barrier.
Emboldened by Papelbon's approachability, or perhaps what Mike Timlin calls "a couple of cups of courage," a fan wandered down to the fence one day with an odd request. "Hey, Papelbon," the guy called, slurring his words, "will you sign my leg?" Before the pitcher could respond, a prosthesis landed at his feet. "Oh my god, dude!" Papelbon shouted. Of course, he and the other relievers dutifully signed the right thigh, handed it back and gawked as the guy attached it to his hip and walked away. "The fans were hooting and hollering," Papelbon says. "It was wild."
So it goes for the 25-year-old rookie from Baton Rouge, who's embracing his role as one of the most important players in the AL East race. Of his first 29 saves, 13 protected victories for aces Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling. Like them, Papelbon seems born to his role. "He loves the pressure of playing in Boston," says his mother, Sheila, who was a pitcher on LSU's first women's softball team, in 1977. When Jonathan was in eighth grade, he challenged his mom to pitch to him. "I struck him out," she says. "He didn't like that."
No doubt because he had to battle for attention with his younger brothers, twin pitchers drafted this June (and off to good starts in the low minors -- lefty Jeremy for the Cubs and righty Josh for the Red Sox). "It was a very competitive environment," Sheila says.
These days, Jonathan is mainly inflicting embarrassment on others. What makes him so lethal, says an AL scout, is his ability to complement a mid-90s fastball with an 89-91 mph splitter. And, the scout adds, "You can tell he's feeding off all that energy the fans are bringing him."
Papelbon infuses that energy into what has become a low-key clubhouse. Bullpen catcher Jason LaRocque, a Harvard man, says Papelbon has "social intelligence." That means Pap not only gets along with people, but also beats them at Scrabble.
"The last word I think we tested him with was 'duplicity,' " Timlin says. "He got the definition and spelled it right."
"He's always asking questions about random things," adds reliever Javier López. Just then, Pap walks by and yells out to no one in particular, "Hey, ever tried OxiClean?"
"See, that's what I mean," Lopez says, shaking his head.
It's Papelbon's nearly spotless season that's driving The Nation's adoration. Clutching a McDonald's bag, he was spotted at the Pittsburgh airport while waiting to board his flight home from the All-Star Game. By the time he fulfilled every autograph and picture request, his Chicken McNuggets and fries were stone cold.
"At times it can get intrusive, and you can get a little overwhelmed," he admits. "You never get used to the fans wanting a piece of you."
Or, for that matter, giving you a piece of them.
It's got almost everything I really want in a Papel-piece: Scrabble reference, old-timey and yet still intimidating Timlin quote, reference to fighting the twins for attention, wacky character note (Oxi-clean works wonders, btw). The only thing missing is a vaguely insane line about "kicking ass" from Pap himself. Good times, ESPN, good times.
And, last, speaking of ESPN:
Dave Matthews's biggest fan proves that he should always stay in his uniform. (For further evidence, see previous post.) Besides, the uniform has to guarantee him one extra undergrad girl a night, if not more, right?