Howard Herman: Sox future shines in Salem
It feels like every place you turn, you're in Red Sox Nation.
Don't believe me? I can't get away from it all the way to the Blue Ridge Mountains, more than 600 miles from the Berkshire County outpost of the Nation.
That's because, here in Salem, the locals have seen the future of the Boston Red Sox and that future looks bright.
Red Sox Nation "definitely translates down here. There are a lot of diehard Red Sox fans down here," said C. Ryan Shelton, the general manager of the Salem Red Sox.
Salem is the home of the Red Sox Class A farm club in the Carolina League, and it's the only Red Sox farm club that actually is owned by the parent club. In fact, when you walk into their offices next to Salem Memorial Stadium, the first thing you see after the Red Sox logo is the green Fenway Sports Management logo.
Salem Memorial Stadium is maybe a triple into the Fenway Park triangle distance from the Salem Civic Center, where Williams College and three other schools competed this weekend for the NCAA Division III championship. A solid single to right center from the Red Sox office will roll to Salem Football Stadium, where the Stagg Bowl Division III football championship game is played.
Shelton is familiar with the passion of Red Sox fans. Prior to coming here, he spent three years working for the American Hockey League team in Manchester, N.H. He took the Salem GM post last August.
The Boston Red Sox weren't the only team in the organization to win a championship in 2013. The Salem Sox won the 2013 Carolina League title, and the banner currently hangs from a wall in their front office.
If you have been paying attention to reports out of Fort Myers, Fla., this winter, along with the talk about the team John Farrell is going to bring north, there's also been much talk about how general manager Ben Cherington is building the organization.
If you heard of Garin Cecchini, Deven Marrero, Blake Swihart, Henry Owens or Mookie Betts, then you pay attention to the Red Sox future. They will all be collecting Carolina League championship rings off the performance of the Salem Red Sox last year.
"It's interesting, because I'm in my mid-30s and my assistant GM is also the same age," said Shelton. "We've reached that point in life where we realize we have these kids and they're all very young guys. Mookie turned 21 in October, but he was 20 when we won the championship.
"You have these guys that we're going to be watching on ESPN in a few years. You realize they're just 20, 21, 22 years old. It's interesting to realize how young these talented players are."
Owens is Boston's No. 2 prospect according to Baseball America. Swihart, Cecchini and Betts are the 5, 6, 7 prospects in the Boston organization.
The majority of teams in the Carolina League have their own nicknames -- the better to sell merchandise. Salem keeps its Red Sox handle, and not just because they are owned by Boston.
"It's definitely come up. It's been talked about," said the GM. "Definitely, the Red Sox brand across the front of the uniform is very important to us.
"It is definitely a strong brand."
Fenway Park is also a strong brand, but Salem Memorial Stadium isn't Fenway. It's a very nice minor league park with lots of seats, suites and the like. But the dimensions are fairly standard. That led me to ask if it was ever kicked around that the good people of Salem convert the stadium to a Fenway look-alike, as the Red Sox did with JetBlue Park at Fenway South. The topic has been broached.
"There are benefits in two different directions. From a player development standpoint, if your players are playing on a field that's the same dimensions all the steps through the chain, it creates some comfort when they do get to Boston. There are so many unique things about Fenway," said Shelton. "From a fan experience, it gives people something to talk about."
To reach Howard Herman:
or (413) 496-6253.
On Twitter: @howardherman.
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