May 8, 2005 was Mother’s Day. The Seattle Mariners were in town, and I surprised my mom with the best tickets I’d ever had to see the Sox. Little did I know what was in store for us, though. A rainout the night before was played as the opener of a Sunday doubleheader, pushing our game’s start to the late afternoon. Checking SoSH before we left I learned we had called up young Cla Meredith, who’d scarcely acquired a roster number in Pawtucket after being lights-out for Portland.
The game started badly. Bellhorn played shortstop and made an error on the first ball he touched. It was cold, and wet. I bought Mom a ten dollar poncho. But the skies were gray, and the air held more mist than should have been possible, and when the winds tore through you would have sworn there were ghosts in the lights shining on the field.
Wade Miller pitched well, but Halama struggled a bit, and in the seventh young Meredith was called in with two outs and a runner on second. He very uncharacteristically walked his first batter. And his second. The rain fell, the wind swirled, the ghosts hovered and dipped… and Richie Sexson came to the plate.
Perhaps on any other day Meredith would have had what he needed, would have been ready for his Fenway debut. Perhaps he was rushed; perhaps there were ghosts in the sky that night that knew his time had not yet come. However it happened, the wind took a long fly ball from Sexson, carried it out and wrapped it around the Pesky Pole, and the Sox could not come back.
And neither, for the moment, could Cla Meredith.
It’s a huge jump to the majors under the best of circumstances. The pool gets smaller, the competition harder. Maybe you were something special at a lower level–suddenly you look around and everyone is at least as good as you are. At least. And so you fail in a way you’ve never actually failed before.
My thinking at the time was that his brief foray into the majors before he was prepared cost Meredith a year. And indeed, he went back to the PawSox and did all right, but not better than that. The momentum from his ascent from AA was gone.
I got to see Cla in Spring Training last year:
March 14, 2006
March 16, 2006
but he didn’t make the club out of Spring Training. Back to Pawtucket.
In the first few weeks of the season, as Josh Bard struggled to catch Tim Wakefield, Theo Epstein decided (perhaps too hastily) that the best solution was to bring Doug Mirabelli back from San Diego. With the Yankees also short on catchers, Brian Cashman could plausibly put forth an offer to SD, and Epstein added Meredith to the deal. I was glad I was already a Padres fan!
May 13, 2006 was the day before Mother’s Day. I was in Chicago to see the Padres. It was cold, windy and rainy. Have you heard this story before? The day before, Woody Williams had suffered a calf injury, and called up to patch the bullpen was Cla Meredith.
May 13, 2006
This time Cla came in for the eighth with his team losing, and this time he pitched well. Mike Piazza put the Padres ahead in the ninth, Trevor Hoffman came in for the save, and almost exactly a year after his ill-fated debut, I watched Cla earn his first win.
Cla went back to the minors for a while, but as fate would have it he was called up on July 2 just before my trip to see the Padres on July 4. (Incidentally, that was also the first day I used my new telephoto adapter…)
Shooting into the bullpen during a rain delay.
July 4, 2006
Cla pitched two innings and picked up the loss this time, but he was with the big club to stay–and, as everyone knows, went on not merely to be one of the top relievers in MLB but to set the Padres record for scoreless innings! I was able to see him in Washington
July 8, 2006
July 9, 2006
in Cincinnati, even if he didn’t pitch
(I joke all the time about getting busted when it appears players are looking at me, but there was no one within twenty feet of me for this shot, so I really was!)
September 14, 2006
and back in San Diego.
Whoops. Looks like Cla’s better pitching than just tossing the ball back after catching…
September 22, 2006
Holding the game steady so Trevor could come in for his record-setting save.
September 24, 2006
Trevor’s day of history was the same afternoon as the Padres set off on their last road trip, with the traditional surprises for the rookies, so this is my lingering memory of the last time I saw Cla…
As Dorothy, September 24, 2006.
Most of my other favorites are gone from the Padres roster now, but as long as Cla is there they’ll have a piece of my heart. I got to speak with Cla a couple of times during the year and he was unfailingly polite and genuine, a real sweetheart. And it was interesting to watch the change in his reflections on Boston, from his memories of being booed at Fenway and a certain willful arrogance about whether he’d been ready for what he faced that day to a growing understanding as he achieved success with the Friars of how far he’d come and how only now he truly was ready.
Who knows if he’d had the season he had if he had stayed in Boston? Sometimes our setbacks and disappointments are as important to our ultimate happiness as our triumphs and successes; sometimes it’s the unexpected upheavals life throws us that land us where we were supposed to be all along.
(P.S. Yeah, I know, the song says “Norfolk.” A little slack, OK?)