How the Red Sox called an audible when moving minor leaguers

Rob Bradford
March 23, 2020 - 2:06 pm
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(The following is an excerpt from "The Monday Baseball Column: A World Series MVP's Tom Brady conundrum". To read the entire column, click here.)

The last two weeks have presented plenty of chaos for everyone. But for the Red Sox organization, one task within the recent coronavirus-induced bedlam stood out as more challenging than most.

Getting its minor-leaguers home.

Not only was the Red Sox front office dealing with a sea of teenagers and players in their early 20’s, but so many came from different pockets in the world. They could stay if they wanted, but in such a time of crisis it was going to be understandable if the youngest wave of the professional ballplayers wanted to return to the comfort of their home countries.

“It was about determining logistically what made sense where to send these guys,” said Red Sox assistant general manager Eddie Romero. “Our American players, a lot of them had places to go. But even with them it was an uncomfortable situation. We had a lot of guys who wanted to go home internationally. We had Taiwan. We had Panama. We had Colombia. Venezuela. The Dominican. So we were able to set into motion with the green light from upstairs to get these guys home as soon as possible.

“We were able to get the majority of them where they wanted to go.”

There was one roadblock, however.

The 15 or so Venezuelan players who had expressed an interest in leaving Fort Myers, Fla. and returning home were facing an issue players from the other countries weren’t. It became clear early in the process that because of the travel ban to Venezuela getting the group to its home nation wasn’t going to be an option.

“We ran into a few complications with Venezuela,” said Romero.

So the team of Red Sox executives being charged with executing the minor-league mobilization — farm director Ben Crocket, assistant farm director Brian Abraham, assistant general managers Raquel Ferreira and Romero, director of major league operations Mike Regan and coordinator of minor league operations Patrick McLaughlin — had to get creative.

“We have a pretty significant number of Venezuelans in our system so we ended up realizing the best situation for them was that we were to accommodate them at our Dominican (Republic) facility,” Romero said, “which very fortunately, had just been renovated over the past years and is much more comfortable. So we were able to guarantee everybody a room there.

“Those guys are safe and sound over there. They are able to go out to the field. That’s secondary right now but at least they are able to go out and while we can’t have any organized activities, they can go out. We explained to them the social distancing. But at least they can go out and throw a ball around somewhat which I’m sure helps them mentally. … Given the alternative, I think that is one of the better places they can be.”

While some Venezuelan Red Sox minor-leaguers chose to not make the trip to the Dominican Republic — with a smattering visiting friends in the locations of Sox minor-league affiliates, or find places to stay in among a heavy South Florida Venezuelan population — the Dominican option has proven to be a Godsend.

Fortunately for the Red Sox, that situation proved to be the biggest hiccup when it came to placing the minor-leaguers where they wanted to go, whether it was in the United States or abroad. 

The two players from Australia — Dan McGrath and Jack Bowins — chose different paths, with McGrath staying with friends in Massachusetts while the 18-year-old Bowins flew back to his native country.

A TOP PROSPECT’S WHIRLWIND WORLD

When it comes to relocating, perhaps no member of the Red Sox organization has had more of a unique situation than Chih-Jung Liu.

The 20-year-old pitching prospect first was held off on joining his new team after flying from his homeland of Taiwan to Fort Myers out of precaution due to the coronavirus. Then, for a few days, Liu finally got the chance to don his new uniform and head out to the backfields at Fenway South with coach Mickey Jiang (the only person other than Tzu-Wei Lin in camp who spoke mandarin).

But then organized baseball activities were halted, leaving Liu with a tough decision. 

“He came here and he was progressing,” Romero said. “We got him out on the field a little bit. He was acclimating quite well obviously with the huge help of Mickey Jiang. He decided he wanted to go home. Taiwan is not a Level 2 or Level 3 country so we ended flying back home.

“Just imagine being thrown into Taiwan or Japan and playing baseball over there with just one confidant on the field. Nobody speaks mandarin outside Liu and Micky. And watching him through PFPs and the fundamental work, he’s definitely not scared. He has tried to engage and interact. It was obviously a short look but I think he has acclimated him really well. I don’t see any problem. He’s a likable kid and social and Mickey has done a heck of a job.”

Liu’s decision to return to Taiwan was based in large part because of his comfort level when it came to finding reliable place to workout, having returned to his former team at Chinese Culture University in Taipei.

“We wanted a slow ramp up with him anyway,” Romero said of the pitcher whose fastball touches 98 mph. “It took him a while to get his Visa. We were fortunate to get it. Whenever we can get through this we can bring him right back and ramp him up again He said he had a safe place to work out in Taiwan with members of his old college team. And of course that’s secondary in making sure he’s safe. …With a lot of these guys we are going to have to start over from scratch.”