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Keeping Score

Keeping Score: Sogard’s pop

Good morning!

Two Oakland A’s players caught my attention last weekend on NESN. Bearded catcher Derek Norris looked like Sasquatch, and bespectacled infielder Eric Sogard looked like my nephew Pete Weiss, who lives in Athens, Vermont and plays in a band called the Weisstronauts.

That was the extent of it until an anonymous tipster emailed me that Sogard’s father grew up in Wendell and played on Vic Colo’s Mahar Regional baseball team.

“Dad’s name is Bruce,” said the source. “I believe he went to college away from the area and never came back.”

Research confirmed that Bruce “Rudy” Sogard was not just Colo’s strong-armed third baseman, but also a two-way starter for football coach Joe Spadafora. Sogard graduated in 1972 leaving his brother Steve to fill the void in the classroom and on the athletic fields. He was a shortstop and quarterback and after he graduated in 1975 he attended Tufts and co-captained the baseball team.

“Bruce was a wild swinger with good power and I always thought he had a major league arm,” said the 84-year-old Colo, who spends many a morning with his wife at McDonald’s, socializing over 83-cent cups of coffee across from the Athol Granite Works. “Steve was different. He’d choke up on the bat and hit singles and doubles. Both were great kids to coach.”

Their father, who owned two businesses on East River Street in Orange, often attended practice. “The mother and father were good parents who’d come and watch in the bleachers,” said Colo. “The father took a great interest.”

Bruce Sogard enrolled at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., and led the Tigers in home runs his junior year. Afterward he migrated west, married a career girl named Anna and they settled in Phoenix. Anna was a pharmacist and, according to two sources, Bruce’s role was to be the stay-at-home dad responsible for developing sons Eric and Alex into pro baseball prospects.

Against all odds it worked. Eric played at Arizona State where he was a second team All American who was taken 81st overall in the 2007 draft. According to the Sun Devils’ media guide, Sogard’s favorite team was the Red Sox and his favorite player was — egad — Alex Rodriguez.

Younger brother Alex enrolled at Oregon State but quickly transferred to North Carolina State where he was under the tutelage of pitching coach Tom Holliday, the father of St. Louis Cardinals’ outfielder Matt Holliday. A southpaw reliever, in 2010 Alex was a late-round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks. He’s still in the minors where he has a career 10-11 record with a 4.10 ERA in 279 innings.

Eric’s big league debut came in 2010 and a year later he hit his first major league home run off Bartolo Colon who was then with the Yankees. The 27-year-old Sogard is the prototypical Oakland ballplayer under GM Billy Beane of “Moneyball” fame: an inexpensive useable part who’s adequate in all phases of the game. His $510,000 salary is just $10,000 over the major league minimum, and though he’s hitting only .203 he has ten walks in 86 plate appearances, four stolen bases in five attempts and no errors in 118 chances.

He’s smart — a 3.75 GPA at Thunderbird High School in Phoenix — and at ASU his turtle-framed glasses got him the nickname “Mad Scientist.” On his major league blog he writes, “Talk Nerdy to Me.”

Bruce Sogard never returned my phone call. Maybe he was fishing at Horseshoe Reservoir, hiking on Camelback Mountain or visiting his brother in California. It didn’t matter, I got my story right down to the anonymous tipster: Ray Zukowski, dimed-out by his Northfield neighbor Rifit Hasanbasic.

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Be sure to wrap your dead fish in last Saturday’s sports section.

“How could we all get it so wrong?” groaned handicapper John Dobrydnio, whose pick to win the Kentucky Derby finished sixth. None of us got it right and yet the winner was right there in plain sight; a steal at 5-to-2 odds (a $100 win bet would’ve netted $250).

The Run for the Roses was California Chrome’s fifth straight win and he’s the prohibitive 4-to-5 favorite to win next week’s Preakness. Last year’s Kentucky Derby winner, Orb, went into the Preakness at 3-to-5 odds. Like California Chrome, Orb had also won five straight races, but in the Preakness he finished fourth.

Dobrydnio reminded me that he’d picked Oxbow to win the Preakness. “And I’ll pick the horse that beats California Chrome. Mark my words, I never lose two in a row.”

The pressure’s on: win the Preakness or swim with the fishes.

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The Red Sox sell standing room tickets for $10 but charge a $4.50 “total convenience fee” and a $7 “per order processing fee” more than doubles the cost. What to do? I went on StubHub and purchased a left field grandstand seat for $12 total, no hidden costs.

Some day, those guys are gonna open a used car dealership and probably make a killing.

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Squibbers: Amherst’s Larry Pruner and other diehard bowling fans took a hit this week with the cancellation of the U.S. Open because advertisers said the sport doesn’t appeal to the all-important 18-35 age demographic. ... On Monday near Yankee Stadium, River Avenue at 161st Street became Rivera Avenue in honor of the great Yankees closer. ... USA Today reports that UMass hoops coach Derek Kellogg’s total payout this year was $843,667. ... Jason Giambi is back on the DL after going 0-for-10 with two strikeouts during his brief stint on the Indians’ active list. ... St. Louis sent Kolten Wong to Triple A Memphis two weeks ago. Manager Mike Matheny said he lacks the mental toughness to handle adversity. Wong was the player picked off first base to end Game 4 of last year’s World Series, giving Boston the momentum it never relinquished. ... There was an unusual 3-to-9 scoring play last week at Yankee Stadium when first baseman James Loney fielded a ground ball near second base and threw to right fielder Wil Myers at first base. Myers had been called in to be a fifth infielder when the Yankees had one out and the bases loaded in extra innings. The Rays went on to win the game, 10-5. ... The New York Times reports that the Florida Seminole Boosters club has nearly $150 million in assets, enough to underwrite much of the school’s athletic expenses. ... The NCAA has decided to bury the Detroit-based Little Caesars Bowl in favor of the Boca Raton Bowl in South Florida and the Bahamas Bowl in Nassau. ... Jacoby Ellsbury is batting .317 with a .463 slugging percentage. Ah, but who needs him? ... My grandson Chase is 3 years old and my other grandson Carter just turns 1 on May 30, so I’ll say it for them: Happy Mother’s Day April, a proud salute to you, Corey and your beautiful family.

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.

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