The irony was welcome, but the lack of sports bars wasn’t.
Red Sox farm director Mike Hazen joined special assistant to the general manager David Howard in driving the streets of Kinston, N.C., Wednesday night searching high and low for a place that might have the Sox game against Cleveland on one of its television sets. One of the players Hazen had watched play in Kinston while serving as a member of the Indians’ front office, Jonathan Van Every, was starting in right field for Boston, adding a bit of motivation in terms of tracking the big league team’s goings-ons.
After failing to find a North Carolina hot spot, Hazen adjourned back to his hotel to try and track the game via the internet. Thanks to a spotty connection, that wasn’t working either. So, as it turned out, the way Hazen learned about the first career homer — a game-winner, no less — of a player whose career he had followed since Single-A Lake City in 2003 was via text messages from Howard.
No matter. It wasn’t how the message was delivered, but that it was just finally delivered.
“Everybody is so happy for this kid,” Hazen said. “He doesn’t say a word and just goes out and plays hard every day. You talk to (Pawtucket manager) Ron Johnson about him and he talks as highly of this guy as any guy I’ve talked to with him about in the last four years. He’s been saying for the last two years that this guy can really play. Who knows where this is going to take him, but it’s good for the kid.”
When Van Every hit the 10th-inning home run off his former minor-league roommate, Jensen Lewis, it sent folks scrambling to find out more about who exactly this 29-year-old was. The logical connection to the Red Sox staff was pitching coach John Farrell, who was Cleveland’s farm director ever since the outfielder began his pro career in 2001. And then there was the relationship Van Every had with Hazen, who had come to the Red Sox from Cleveland in ’06.
But the Sox farm director acknowledged the familiarity he and Farrell had with Van Every, it was actually pro scouting, led by Allard Baird and Jared Porter, coupled with Red Sox’ general manager Theo Epstein‘s ability to close the deal with the then-minor league free agent, that brought the former 29th-round pick to the Boston organization.
“We knew of him, don’t get me wrong. But Allard and the pro scouts were pounding the table pretty strong for this guy,” said Hazen, who remembers Van Every being close to signing with another team before the Red Sox came in with an opportunity to be a member of the organization’s 40-man roster. “They pushed really hard to sign him and Theo basically did the deal.”
The reason for the optimism surrounding Van Every was obvious. He was a power-hitting outfielder (27 home runs at Double-A Akron in ’05) who also had a keen batting eye. And it was that skill set that was put on display last season with Triple-A Pawtucket where Van Every 26 homers to go with 56 walks.
Besides consistency, the problem for Van Every in his time in the Cleveland organization was that he was in a minor-league system that also boasted well-respected outfielders Franklin Gutierrez, Trevor Crowe, Jason Cooper and Brad Snyder.
“The report that came back said, ‘Look at this guy. He’s an above-average athlete, a plus-defending outfielder who can play all three outfield positions, and has ridiculous power. If the power ever translates on a consistent basis look what you’ve got,” said Hazen. “But it was definitely the pro scouts pounding the table for this guy. Look at this guy’s statistical track. He has power and he has walks. He does two things we like a lot. There were a lot of different things that lit up about this guy that made the scouts so excited about him.”
Van Every has seemingly taken his game to yet another level since coming to the Sox organization, displaying a much healthier wave of consistency. But much of the improvement, said Hazen, has more to do with the player simply “working his (butt) off” rather than any major adjustments.
“What you see now when you watch him run around — you see the body, the swing — it’s very close to the same,” said Hazen of his first encounter with Van Every in ’03. “He was hitting balls off the top of the scoreboard at Lake City way back then. That power has been there as long as I’ve seen him play. I just think he’s gotten a lot more consistent with his approach. That has allowed that power and athleticism to translate on the field.”