It’s tough to beat ‘Late Lightning’

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – You may have noticed the Red Sox and Rays players wearing some different looking uniforms this weekend at Tropicana Field. Players’ Weekend began last year and is Major League Baseball’s initiative to let the players exhibit their personalities and flair. For this weekend only, they are allowed to display nicknames on the backs of their game jerseys, and wear accessories and use equipment that are not part of the basic uniform code. This is baseball gone wild.

While you will see many different names on the backs of Red Sox game jerseys, one stands out above the rest. Late Lightning.

Late Lightning belongs to Red Sox first baseman, Steve Pearce. While sitting in the first-base dugout at Fenway Park this week, I asked him what it meant.

“For me, I just made it up. It is a fancy word for not starting. When they ask me if I am in the starting lineup, I say ‘no, just late lightning.’ I know my role will be to come in later in the game and try to deliver a blow.”

For a player who doesn’t start everyday, it’s a tough job, says Pearce. “You only get one crack at it and you have to make the most of it. You know you are going to come into a big situation late in a game, you have to make it count. Definitely one of the hardest things to do in all of sports.”

Pearce is not complaining about not starting. Not at all. He has been a role player his entire career and really understands the game and how he fits in and he loves it. He hails from a great baseball area in Lakeland, Florida, the same town that produced Red Sox ace, Chris Sale.

“We lived near each other, but he was more of my younger brother’s age, so when you look back to when I was 18, he was 12. We were not on the same level growing up, but we played at the same park and he is friends with my brother. I always pulled for him and I have faced him a number of times, and now we are on the same team.” Pearce said.

Pearce grew up a Red Sox fan as his father was originally from Rehoboth, Massachusetts. I asked him if wearing the Red Sox uniform was a fantasy of his.

“It’s a dream come true. To wear this jersey, because of my dad, it means a lot more to me here than in other places. I get to see players here that I grew up watching like Jason Varitek and it is really cool to be able to play here.”

Cora ejected during last Players’ Weekend

Last season during Players’ Weekend, Houston Astros Bench Coach, Alex Cora, found himself getting ejected by umpire Laz Diaz. In the top of the first inning, Cora was upset that Angels pitcher Parker Bridwell threw the ball to first and it hit the dirt. The ball was allowed to stay in the game after Cora pleaded with Diaz to inspect the ball. Cora wanted it thrown out of the game, but ultimately he was the one who ended up getting tossed.

“I have known Laz since my days at the University of Miami, and I wasn’t very polite to him in Spanish. Martin Maldonado, who is the catcher for the Angels and is a friend of mine, says, ‘It looks like Alex wants to leave early.’ I say something else, he (Diaz) calls time, takes off his mask, starts swearing in Spanish and asks if I am done. I asked him in Spanish if he was done clowning around or something like that, and that got me run, that was it,” Cora told me this week with a smile and a laugh. He told me he will do his best to stay in the games this Players’ Weekend.

The Red Sox wrap up with the Rays today at 1:05 p.m. then enjoy a rare off day at home tomorrow. They will begin a brief two-game interleague set with the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night at Fenway Park.

Tim Neverett is in his third season as Red Sox Radio Play-By-Play Announcer for the WEEI Red Sox Radio Network throughout New England. Tim can be followed on Twitter @timneverett