Rookies take on big roles in Classic
Youngsters prove indispensability on road to World Series
BOSTON -- Defensive linchpins, offensive spark plugs, starting rotation stalwarts and bullpen bulwarks. Rookies, all.
Wherever you look in the 2007 World Series, you see a youngster. From the top of the Red Sox batting order to the front of the Rockies rotation, rookies abound in the 2007 Fall Classic. And it's not just sheer numbers -- though nine first-year players are expected to appear on the two rosters. It's the marquee appeal.
The Baseball Writers' Association of America has yet to reveal its '07 award winners, but there's a solid chance that both Rookies of the Year will are still playing. Boston second baseman and leadoff man Dustin Pedroia is a favorite for the American League award. Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is neck-and-neck with Brewers third baseman Ryan Braun for National League honors.
The last time that the Rookie of the Year from each league appeared in the World Series in his rookie season was 1981, when Fernando Valenzuela and Dave Righetti squared off for the Dodgers and Yankees, respectively.
"I don't look at it as young and old," said Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, who made his big league debut when Tulowitzki was 4 years old. "It's just talent. These guys are talented, and part of the change in philosophy here is their ability to measure the character and the makeup of guys that they draft and bring here. They realize that it's different to play here and you have to be different to play here and have success here. That goes into account when you bring guys here. Age aside, these guys are good ballplayers and they know how to win."
The Red Sox have begun incorporating young, homegrown talent along with their high-dollar superstars. It's a choice, one with financial benefits down the road but not necessarily something they had to do.
The Rockies, on the other hand, essentially had no choice. They had to build from the farm system, and that's what they've done. Tulowitzki, pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales and bench players Chris Iannetta and Seth Smith are products of a Minor League program that has churned out scads of talent in recent years. They join Garrett Atkins, Matt Holliday, Brad Hawpe and Game 1 starter Jeff Francis, all of whom are Rockies draftees.
It has all come together beautifully.
"It's exciting to me to know that this is my first year with the team and now we're getting some recognition, so you know you're doing something right," Tulowitzki said. "I'm not sure what it is. Obviously, we play the game for one reason, and that's to win games -- do whatever it takes to help our team. Sometimes you don't always get that."
Unlike Colorado, Boston's rookies aren't all kids. Pedroia and outfield phenom Jacoby Ellsbury were drafted out of the Pac-10 and came up through the farm system. Like Long Beach State product Tulowitzki, they're new to the World Series, but they've been seen high levels of competition before. Then there's No. 3 starter Daisuke Matsuzaka and setup man Hideki Okajima, both successful veterans of the Japanese major leagues. Matsuzaka starred in the Olympics and the World Baseball Classic as well.
And though Matsuzaka was the most heralded when the season started, it's Pedroia who has become a New England hero. He hit .317 with a .380 on-base percentage and a .442 slugging percentage during the regular season, and delivered a huge home run in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.
"He was our second baseman, and [manager Terry Francona] did a great job not turning his back on him in May," said Boston general manager Theo Epstein. "And good things come to those who wait. Really, the whole organization [deserves credit]. Tito [Francona] is awesome because he'll listen to people. The whole organization stood by this guy."
Now they're reaping the benefits. As are the Rockies. As are baseball fans, who are witnessing the arrival of a slew of names to remember for a long time.
"There's not a lot of postseason experience, but there's a lot of baseball experience," said Hawpe. "Everybody here has played baseball since they were a child. Just because one game is more important than another, we've all played games that were more important than the ones before. These games are more important than the last ones, but I think we've risen to the challenge each time."