Tuesday, Jan. 26

PITTSFIELD - It's a dream of New England baseball players to play for the Boston Red Sox. For Chad Paronto, that dream is one step closer to fruition.

The Pittsfield resident has signed a minor league contract with the Red Sox and will get a chance to make the team in spring training.

"I can't wait to get down there," Paronto said Monday night. "I can't even imagine the opportunity to have that uniform on and pitch at Fenway Park."

Paronto, 34, has pitched in 177 major league games during a seven-year big-league career. He is 6-12 with a 4.33 earned-run average.

The former University of Massachusetts standout has spent time with Baltimore, Cleveland, Atlanta and Houston. Paronto has been with the Astros organization the last two seasons and has appeared in six big league games in 2008 and six more last year.

He had a 12.15 ERA in 6 2/3 innings last year, giving up nine earned runs. He also appeared in 44 games for Triple-A Round Rock, going 2-1 with a 1.39 ERA and 24 saves in 51 2/3 innings.

"I've played [in Fenway Park] when I was with Baltimore, Cleveland and Atlanta, but to play for the Red Sox," Paronto continued, "I'm very excited."

Paronto will join the Red Sox in Fort Myers, Fla., when pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 19, and their first workout will be Feb. 20. The other Sox position players will report to Fort Myers on Feb. 23.

"A guy with [seven] years of major league experience [can be] pretty valuable to a team like the Red Sox," he added.

Paronto was drafted out of UMass by the Orioles in the 1996 amateur draft. He made his Major League debut for the Orioles during the 2001 season. But he said that signing with the Red Sox has a feeling of starting fresh -- especially among friends and family.

"Around here, it's like I just signed a contract," he said with a laugh. "It's such an interesting story line."

He would be the third pitcher with Berkshire County ties to pitch in the Red Sox organization in the past decade. Matt White of Windsor pitched three games with the Red Sox in 2003 and also spent time at Pawtucket and Double A Portland. Ryan Cameron of Williamstown pitched for Pawtucket in 2003 and split time between Triple-And Double A in 2004.

Paronto's agent, Western Massachusetts-based Jim Masteralexis, had been talking with several teams during the off-season about finding the right-handed reliever a job after the one-year contract with Houston expired. Paronto said that his agent had heard from San Diego, Florida, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

"We were talking to a bunch of teams. About two weeks ago, the Red Sox called my agent," he recalled. ‘That would be my No. 1 choice. I told [Masteralexis], ‘Let's see what they have to offer.' "

The offer of a chance to pitch for the Red Sox or at Triple-A Pawtucket was good enough for Paronto to say yes. The split contract would give him $550,000 if he makes the Red Sox out of spring training and stays the entire season.

"I told [Boston], I wasn't going to sign there if there wasn't an opportunity," he said. "It's a bullpen I think I could help. The back of their bullpen is pretty impressive."

The back end of the Red Sox bullpen includes closer Jonathan Papelbon and set-up relievers Ramon Ramirez, Daniel Bard and Manny Delcarmen.

The Red Sox could be looking for some middle relief to go with the back end of the bullpen. Among the candidates who are currently on the 40-man roster are Scott Atchison and Boof Bonser. Bonser was 3-7 last year with Minnesota, appearing in 47 games and starting 13. Atchison has pitched in 53 Major League games in three seasons with Seattle and San Francisco.

Even if Paronto doesn't make it with Boston, he would likely start the season with the Pawtucket Red Sox in Rhode Island. It'll be much different than earlier in his career, when he spent his Triple-A seasons in Round Rock, Texas (a suburb of Austin), or Richmond, Va.

"That's huge too. My family [wife Karie and two children] won't have to fly all over the country," he said.

Paronto said his father, uncle and brothers are all Yankee fans, although brother Brad said he'd wear a Sox hat in honor of Chad.

And while the newest Red Sox pitcher wasn't a die-hard Red Sox fan growing up, he is excited about the opportunity that awaits.

"Certainly since I've been playing, I didn't have a team to root for," Chad Paronto said. "The last 3-4 years, coming home here, there's something about watching a Sox game on NESN."