Patriots Prepping for ’06

The Patriots learned what their 2006 schedule will look like and also signed a pair of players of moderate interest yesterday. Kicker Martin Gramatica who sat out last season rehabbing an injury that had severely curtailed his effectiveness as a kicker, was signed yesterday for a look. It would seem likely that he will compete with another yet to be acquired kicker for the job of replacing Adam Vinatieri. The other move was the signing of former Patriot Tebucky Jones, who re-joined the team that he started at safety for in Super Bowl 36.

Jerome Solomon has a look at the moves, focusing mainly on Gramatica. Alan Greenberg centers more on the signing of Jones, who he says the Patriots always valued for his special teams play, they just didn’t think he should be the highest paid safety in NFL history. Tom E Curran says that the Patriots are bound to bring in another kicker or two to compete with Gramatica, he also looks at the signing of Jones and the schedule. Chris Kennedy weighs in on the signing of Gramatica, while Christopher Price welcomes Jones back to New England. Michael Parente has more on the pair of signings. John Tomase’s notebook also takes a quick look at the moves.

John Tomase talks to Deion Branch, who admits his agents have been talking with the Patriots about an extension, and thinks it will get done eventually, but not anytime soon. He hopes to remain with the Patriots and has full confidence that Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli know what they’re doing in the re-shaping of the team this offseason. Curran’s draft card today looks at Ohio State receiver Santonio Holmes. Frank DellApa has a note on Lou Imbriano (Or as Eddie Andelman would call him: Lou…lou…lou…) leaving his post with the Revolution and Patriots to start his own sports marketing business.

The NFL schedules were also released, and Nick Cafardo says that despite a couple rough patches, the Patriots slate overall is a cakewalk. He looks at some highlights of the national schedule as well. Michael Felger examines the schedule and says even though the Patriots probably won’t be a better team than the one that finished 10-6 this season, they may not need to be to post a better record. Albert Breer also has a breakdown of the schedule for the Patriots, including some games of interest following their bye week. Tomase also looks at the schedule, noting that at this point, the Patriots have one of the softest schedules in the league, a contrast from the last several years.

Chris Snow examines fielding data from John Dewan, author of ”The Fielding Bible.” Using the formulas and date in the book, it would appear that the 2006 Red Sox are actually worse defensively than their 2005 counterparts.

Jeff Horrigan looks at Jonathan Papelbon, who certainly opened eyes in his performance as the closer on Wednesday night. Sean McAdam says that the emergence of Papelbon presents the Red Sox with a unique problem. David Heuschkel notes that Foulke has certainly lost his job as closer for the time being, and in fact he may never get it back with Papelbon here and Craig Hansen waiting in the wings. Garry Brown and Nick Tavares have more on Pabelbon.

Alex Speier looks at Matt Clement, who gets his first start of the season tonight in Baltimore. Speier observes that it was a take of two seasons for the Red Sox pitcher last year. MIchael Silverman chats with Kevin Youkilis, who didn’t receive any tips on playing first base from Kevin Millar, whom he will see tonight as the Red Sox take on Millar’s new squad, the Orioles. Snow’s notebook has more on Papelbon, who has been able to handle anything the Red Sox organization has thrown at him. Horrigan’s notebook looks at David Wells, who will take the mound for the Pawtucket Red Sox tonight in preparation for joining the big club next week.

Pedro Martinez stirred things up in his first start for the Mets this season, hitting Jose Guillen twice, causing the Nationals outfielder to charge the mound. Check the coverage on the New York Sports Pages.

Steve Bulpett and Shira Springer report on the Celtics deciding to shut down Wally Szczerbiak for the season and undergo knee surgery to get ready for next season.

David Scott has a marathon edition of Shots up for the week.

More later…

Patriots Sign a Pair

The Patriots schedule is out. Mike Reiss has it.

Also, according to Patriots.com, the team has signed Tebucky Jones and kicker Martin Gramatica. I’m thinking even though Gramatica is here the Patriots might still target a young kicker in the draft.

Mark Jurkowitz says that the sports media needs to be more aggressive, and cover sports like the big business that it is.

Ian Donnis says Johnny Damon may be gone, but the Red Sox have plenty of new charisma in Coco Crisp, Papelbon, and Beckett.

Ace 2 Steps Up

Aces allow you to keep losing streaks short, and that’s exactly what Josh Beckett did last night in holding the Rangers to a single run (the first batter of the game) in helping the Red Sox to a 2-1 victory in Texas. Beckett’s performance however, may be overlooked somewhat in light of who Terry Francona called on to close out the game.

Chris Snow looks at Beckett’s impressive debut for the Red Sox, capped with a punchout of Michael Yong to end the seventh inning. Jeff Horrigan says that the Red Sox 1-2 punch of Schilling and Beckett played out exactly as hoped in this opening series. Sean McAdam notes that once the ninth inning came, the focus came off of Beckett’s strong debut for the Sox. David Heuschkel looks at a Pitcher Perfect night for the Red Sox in Arlington. David Borges looks at Beckett laboring early, but getting stronger as the night went on, right down to his final strikeout. Bill Ballou says that last night’s win pointed to some pleasant things to come for the Red Sox.

Tony Massarotti examines Terry Francona’s decision to go with young Jonathan Papelbon to close out the game in the ninth inning. The young righthander set down the side in 11 pitches. Dan Shaughnessy also looks at Francona going with Jonathan Papelbon to close the game instead of Keith Foulke. He calls it a “Belichickian” move. He compares Papelbon to Dick Radatz. If the youngster struggles in the future, you can be sure he’ll compare him to Calvin Schiraldi. Silverman has Foulke accepting the decision, noting that what is most important to him is that the team wins.

Michael Silverman has Coco Crisp and the Red Sox pondering how to best use his speed atop the lineup. Snow looks at some MLB payroll information released by the AP yesterday. Jim Fennell says that Oil Can Boyd won’t be pitching for the Nashua Pride this season after all. Buddy Thomas says that adjusting numbers in baseball record books doesn’t make any sense.

Snow’s notebook looks at Manny Ramirez getting off to a slow start to begin the season. Ballou’s notebook also reports on Manny’s slow start at the plate. Horrigan’s notebook looks at Manny picking up his first assist of the season, helping out to gun down the potential tying run at the plate in the eighth inning. McAdam’s notebook has Josh Bard working hard to try and ensure that he doesn’t have a repeat of Tuesday’s night’s performance catching Tim Wakefield. Borges’ notebook has more from Bard. Heuschkel’s notebook has more from Keith Foulke, who is only concerned with the team’s success.

The Celtics faded down the stretch and dropped a 108-91 loss to the Washington Wizards at the Garden last night. Steve Bulpett says that this was not the type of effort that the Celtics had hoped to finish out the season with. Shalise Manza Young says that a dull thud towards the end of the game was a fitting sound to symbolize this effort from the Celtics. Bill Doyle says that the Celtics played exactly like a team with nothing to play for. Gilbert Arenas once again torched the Celtics. Ever wonder why he always seems especially fired up to play against this team? I wondered too, and an article by the Associated Press tells us why:

Boston had three first-round draft selection in the 2001 draft, including the 10th and 11th picks, but Arenas wasn't selected until Golden State took him in the second round.

"That pain from the Celtics is still in my blood," says Arenas, who added eight rebounds, eight assists and four steals. "When they said they'd pick me with the 10th or 11th pick, they got my hopes all high. I usually hold a grudge for that."

That is something I did not know, and don’t remember reading in any coverage around here. Perhaps I did and just forgot about it, but that’s an interesting little angle which would explain Arenas going off on the Celtics whenever he plays against them. The Globe did not have a game story today, instead Shira Springer’s lead Celtics article looks at Doc Rivers having a meeting with Raef LaFrentz in an effort to clear the air. Mike Fine says that LaFrentz is an important player to the Celtics and isn’t going anywhere.

Bulpett’s notebook has Rivers’ discussing the angry words from LaFrentz the night before. Young’s notebook and Doyle’s notebook also examine the outburst from the big man and the reaction from his bosses. Springer’s notebook has a quick recap of last night’s loss to the Wizards.

Tom E Curran profiles Notre Dame wide receiver Maurice Stovall in today’s draft card. Mike Reiss looks at a few Patriots-related items and also had an extension Patriots mailbag yesterday.

Stephen Harris looks at Bruins coach Mike Sullivan, who is determined to finish out the year strong. Nancy Marrapese-Burrell says that the Bruins are looking for improvement in the final games of the season.

NESN has Bruins/Maple Leafs at 7:00. TNT has Pistons/Heat at 8:00 and Lakers/Nuggets at 10:30. ESPN has Mets/Nationals at 7:00. ESPN2 has the Frozen Four with BC/North Dakota at 3:00 and Maine/Wisconsin at 8:00.

Sox Passed By

Well…as good as things went for the Red Sox in their opener on Monday, they went just as bad last night in the second game of the season, as Tim Wakefield and company were roughed up by the Rangers, 10-4 last night in Texas. Expect the inevitable stream of calls and shouting on WEEI that the Red Sox should never have traded Doug Mirabelli, as he obviously was the reason for Tim Wakefield’s success the last few years.

Sean McAdam notes that Wakefield knew right away last night that he was going to have no idea what his knuckleball was going to do for him once it left his hand. Jeff Horrigan looks at the Rangers getting to Wakefield early and often last night. Chris Snow focuses on the struggles of Wakefield and new catcher Josh Bard in the loss last night. David Heuschkel also reports on the struggles of Wakefield and Bard. David Borges has Wakefield being sure not to place the blame on Bard for the rough evening. Bill Ballou notes that Wakefield has never had much success in Texas, and last night was more of the same.

Gordon Edes looks at a former Rangers duo who had their struggles at times with the knuckleball, Jim Sundberg and Charlie Hough. Michael Silverman examines the rough debut for Josh Bard in trying to catch the knuckleball. Tony Massarotti notes that the Red Sox have sacrificed a lot of offense at the bottom of their order, perhaps too much.

Massarotti looks at Josh Beckett getting set for his Red Sox debut tonight. Dan Shaughnessy attempts humor in saying it might be time to panic. He’s topped by Jim Donaldson, who makes fun of young GM’s in baseball and says that they run their major league rosters as if they were Rotisserie Leagues. Horrible column, just horrible.

The Globe notebook has a look at a deposition giving by Derek Lowe in which he tells about using alcohol and ritalin during his time with the Red Sox. Horrigan’s notebook cites Terry Francona’s confidence in Keith Foulke despite his shaky season debut on Monday. Heuschkel’s notebook has Francona saying that the thinks Josh Bard will be just fine catching Tim Wakefield. Borges’ notebook has more on Beckett getting set for his first start with the Red Sox. Ballou’s notebook has Francona and Mike Lowell saying that it could serve Beckett very well to be pitching in the pressure of Boston.

Shira Springer looks at the Celtics finishing out the game strong and coming up with a 124-120 win over the Raptors in Toronto. For the second straight time, a win over the Raptors was punctuated with an explosive, thundering Gerald Green slam dunk. The rookie was on the floor during crunch time and did well. scoring 11 points in the win. Steve Bulpett also has a look at the win and the role played by Green. Jim Byers of the Toronto Star and Robert MacLeod of the Toronto Globe & Mail each also look at last nights game as a decidedly ho-hum close to the playoff race for the Raptors and their fans.

Bulpett’s notebook has Raef LaFrentz expressing his frustration after being moved out of the starting lineup in favor of Kendrick Perkins last night. He had some choice words for the coaches and their lack of communication with him. He did well on the court, however, scoring 20 points and grabbing 8 rebounds. Springer’s notebook has more on LaFrentz adjusting to his bench role quite well – on the court – last night.

Steve Conroy looks at the Bruins falling once again to the Canadiens, this time 5-3 at the Bell Centre. Nancy Marrapese-Burrell and the Globe don’t even have a game story on-line, instead the game summary takes up a paragraph in the notebook, which leads with a look at defenseman David Tanabe pondering his future. Conroy’s notebook says that the Bruins could end up with a shot at the first pick in the draft. I happened to be in Montreal over the weekend, and the papers up there were actually expressing sympathy at the struggles of the Bruins and how the Canadiens should want their rivals to be competitive. There was at least one article calling for Harry Sinden to be finished with the club once and for all.

Mike Reiss and John Tomase look at the newest Patriot, cornerback Eric Warfield, who hopes he has put his troubled past behind him once and for all, and wants to just focus on football. Tom E Curran also has a look at Warfield, who attends AA meetings twice a week. Chris Kennedy talks with Doug Flutie, who is still pondering his future. He says if he returns to play, it will only be with the Patriots. Curran’s draft card today looks at Michigan receiver Jason Avant.

John Molori’s Media Blitz gets the take of a Cleveland media person on the addition of Willie McGinest to the Browns, and also looks at TO joining Bill Parcells, Drew Bledsoe and the Cowboys.

Amalie Benjamin and Dan Ventura look at Maryland defeating Duke 78-75 in overtime to capture the womens NCAA championship last night at TD Banknorth Garden. Jennifer Toland, Shalise Manza Young and Lori Riley all also have coverage of the game. Jackie MacMullan looks at the young Terps getting the experience of a lifetime. There’s plenty more coverage from the Globe and Herald.

Jim McCabe looks at some changes – not all good according to some – at Augusta National for this weekend’s Masters.

NESN has Red Sox/Rangers at 8:00. FSN has Celtics/Wizards at 7:00. ESPN has Kings/Spurs at 8:00 and Clippers/Suns at 10:30. ESPN2 has Cardinals/Phillies at 7:00. TBS has Braves/Dodgers at 10:00.

Red Sox Open Up Right

For Red Sox fans convinced that this team is going to be good this season, yesterday’s 7-3 opening day win provided much validation for them. The received a strong starting effort from Curt Schilling, timely hitting including home runs from David Ortiz and Mike Lowell and some good defense with Manny Ramirez and Coco Crisp making nice catches in the outfield. In fact aside from a shaky ninth inning from Keith Foulke, this was just about a perfect way to start the season. Chris Snow looks at Curt Schilling and the Red Sox starting the season off in fine fashion. Sean McAdam has Schilling saying that he’s feels as good as he has since 2002, and it showed in his performance. Jeff Horrigan says that with all the changes to the roster this offseason, it was a pair of holdovers in Curt Schilling and David Ortiz that led the Red Sox to their first win of the season. David Heuschkel has a look at Schilling making a statement with his performance yesterday. Bill Ballou writes that the Red Sox came close to playing a perfect game yesterday.

Dan Shaughnessy says that the Red Sox are happy to see the return of their ace in Schilling. Tony Massarotti notes that Schilling pitched as a true number one, and used his number one weapon of old…the blazing fastball. David Borges reports on Schilling shining in his opening day outing. Jon Couture observes that things couldn’t have started much better for the Red Sox.

Gordon Edes says that despite not getting that new contract extension yet, David Ortiz is ready to get to work on the 2006 season. Michael Silverman also looks at Ortiz, who “resumed his unchallenged claim to being the best left-handed slugger in the American League” with his opening day performance. Edes also looks at the debut of Coco Crisp, who displayed some fine form in the outfield. Massarotti says that Crisp’s speed was on full display yesterday and responsible for the sparkling moments he had in the opener. Massarotti also has a quick look at Mark Loretta, who appeared right at home in the second slot in the batting order.

Silverman has a look at Roger Clemens stopping by for a chat with the Red Sox, and the possibility of a reunion with his old club. Shaughnessy also looks at Clemens’ visit to the Red Sox clubhouse and his meeting with the media. McAdam says that Clemens in right now only taking pitches from the Red Sox and other clubs, not making them. Borges has more on the meeting with Clemens, who insisted that retirement is on his mind, but admitted interest in the Red Sox situation. Ballou says that Clemens doesn’t seem in a hurry to return to baseball, and is enjoying the life he has at the moment.

Horrigan’s notebook looks at Keith Foulke, who isn’t too upset over his outing yesterday, blaming the struggles on control issues. Snow’s notebook has more on Foulke’s ninth inning struggles. McAdam’s notebook says that a home run for Mike Lowell made it a perfect opening day debut for the Red Sox new third baseman. Heuschkel’s notebook contrasts the outings of Foulke and Jonathan Papelbon. Borges’ notebook has more on Papelbon, who threw heat in his debut yesterday after getting the chance to meet his idol, Clemens, on Sunday night. Ballou’s notebook looks at the debut of Crisp, who was spectacular in the field, but a little less so at the plate.

The Patriots took a little dip in the free agent waters yesterday, signing former Kansas City cornerback Eric Warfield to a deal. Jerome Solomon has a look at the signing, which adds depth to the Patriots secondary. John Tomase and Tom E Curran also each have short reports on the addition of Warfield to the Patriots. Curran’s draft card today looks at Oregon State wide receiver Mike Hass.

Mark Blaudschun, Matt Eagan and Mark Murphy look at Florida knocking off UCLA 73-57 to win the men’s NCAA basketball championship. Bob Ryan says that Joakim Noah used this NCAA tournament to “make perhaps the biggest leap in NBA esteem ever.” Blaudschun’s notebook says that the tournament was great, but the final lacked drama. Murphy’s notebook has Florida coach Billy Donovan lauding the defense of UCLA.

Ryan also has a profile of Dave Gavitt, a huge figure in New England basketball, who was elected to the basketball Hall of Fame this week.

Shira Springer and Steve Bulpett report on Doc Rivers pondering putting Kendrick Perkins in the starting lineup to see how he plays together with Ryan Gomes.

Nancy Marrapese-Burrell has a look at 20-year-old Patrice Bergeron, who despite the rough season the Bruins have had, remains optimistic for the future. Steve Conroy looks at Tom Fitzgerald, who is not yet ready to hang up his skates.

Mike Reiss has a sports media column looking at ESPN’s coverage of the NCAA Womens Final Four here in Boston. He spent an evening in their production truck watching the broadcast come together.

FSN has Celtics/Raptors at 7:00. CN8 has Bruins/Canadiens at 7:30. NESN has Red Sox/Rangers at 8:00. ESPN has the NCAA Women’s Championship with Duke/Maryland at 8:30.

FSN “Sports Tonight” to air nightly in New York City

FSN New York announced this afternoon that Beginning Monday, April 3, (today) it will begin carrying sister network FSN New England

Another Opening Day

It’s another opening day, and your Boston Red Sox enter the season as one of the more intriguing teams in baseball. Despite having won 95 games last year, and adding several key pieces, not many of the experts in the media give them much of a chance to win the division or even make the playoffs. Fan expectation is still just as high as ever. I’m high on them, being a believer that their improved pitching and defense is going to win them a lot of games this season.

The sexy team for many media people this season is Toronto. I just don’t see it. The Blue Jays are going to be a pretty good team, but I don’t see them making the huge leap that everyone is predicting this season. Glenn Ordway is the leading Blue Jay booster in the local media, which immediately sends up all sorts of red flags and suspicions in my mind. What’s his angle? He’s not basing this prediction solely on his vast baseball expertise, I can guarantee you that much.

Here’s some links from the major papers this morning: Red Sox Daily Links page.

Here are some stories from the smaller papers today:

Rob Bradford takes a look at an incident 12 years ago which helped shape Keith Foulke into who he is today. Alex Speier says that the Red Sox are idiots no more. He has a look at the off-season overhaul this team went through in changing their identity. Garry Brown says everything with the Red Sox starts with Curt Schilling. Joe Haggerty has a look at Coco Crisp, who has both the Red Sox and their fans excited. David Borges says that a lot of the Red Sox success this season will hinge on Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke.

You can check previews of this opening series with the Rangers with the Fort Worth Star Telegram and the Dallas Morning News.

A couple notes from the weekend:

It pains me to bring this up, but Bob Ryan had a major brain cramp when writing his Saturday article on the NCAA Final Four. He wrote a column about “Certified Wide-Bodies” in College basketball, listing out some of the most memorable ones from the last 20 years or so. He then tells us:

Now, if you're a fan of the genre, boy, do we have a game for you. Make sure you tune in at 6:07 tonight, when contemporary college basketball's two best Certified Wide-Bodies -- one you probably know and one you might not be as familiar with -- will be playing each other.

He then tells us about LSU’s Glen Davis and George Mason’s Jai Lewis. He tells us that :

The idea of an occasional low-post joust featuring Big Baby and Just Plain Big Jai is an intriguing thought.

Intriguing, yes. One problem. LSU and George Mason didn’t play each other Saturday night. Whoops.

This is a double-whammy. Ryan got the matchups confused and wrote the column under the wrong premise. Then he submitted the column, and no one caught the error. Editor Joe Sullivan has gone all-out with the NCAA hoops coverage, but whiffed on the biggest stage here. Details…details.

The second item is also in the Globe, and is frequent offender Ron Borges, who alleged in his NFL Sunday notes column that the Patriots engaged in unfair business practices with Stephen Neal’s new contract. He gets Texans GM Charley Casserly on the record to make the accusation that Neal’s free agency was nothing more than a show.

Mike Florio on ProFootballTalk.com (Scroll down to the entry for 12:03 PM on Sunday) addressed Borges’ issue, noting that “the article raises new questions regarding Borges’ objectivity when it comes to the Patriots.” He notes that:

For example, Borges doesn't mention that his own paper ran an AP item indicating that Neal had visited the Vikings and the Bills. Another article from Nick Cafardo of the Globe said that Neal also had visited the Dolphins. The fact that Hurst took Neal on three visits undermines Borges' implicit suggestion that Hurst wouldn't let Neal talk to other teams.

Borges also fails to mention that, if Casserly's version of the events is true, it means that Casserly has admitted to an attempt to negotiate directly with a player who is represented by an NFLPA-certified agent, which arguably violates Article VI, Section 1 of the CBA.

It is curious that Borges is making a big deal about this, when his own relationship with agent Brad Blank could be called into question, giving him an “unfair advantage” (Borges’ description of the Patriots situation with Neal) when it comes to getting stories about say, the full negotiations of David Givens.

NESN has Red Sox/Rangers at 2:00, and a repeat at 7:00. ESPN2 has Giants/Padres at 7:00 and A’s/Yankees at 10:00. CBS has the NCAA Championship at 9:00 with Florida taking on UCLA.