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Fenway talk stokes Hot Stove for charity

Fenway talk stokes Hot Stove for charity

BOSTON -- Hockey has been the rage at Fenway Park for most of this young new year. But, despite the game that was being played on the rink dominating Fenway's lawn, baseball talk took its rightful place inside the ancient ballpark Saturday afternoon at the Hot Stove Cool Music roundtable.

The event -- a fundraiser to benefit the Foundation To Be Named Later (FTBNL), the organization started by Sox general manager Theo Epstein and his twin brother Paul -- featured the Sox GM with Mets GM Omar Minaya, Sox assistant GM Ben Cherington, Sox coordinator of Latin American operations Eddie Romero; MLB.com columnist and MLB Network and NESN analyst Peter Gammons, Sox pitcher Manny Delcarmen and Minor League outfielder Ryan Kalish, and Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo.

The talk focused on the internationalization and globalization of the game.

"I just think international baseball is such a fundamental part of Major League Baseball," Epstein said. "As we speak, over 40 percent of the players on 40-man rosters are international, yet fans don't have a really clear understanding, just from following the big league game, of what actually goes on in Latin America and the countries around the world that play baseball. So, hopefully, some of the panelists today sharing their first-hand experience made that a little bit more clear and [explained] just how difficult but compelling a road it is for players from certain countries to make it to the big leagues."

Minaya represents many aspects of the international sphere. Baseball's first Hispanic GM, he was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Queens, N.Y., played Minor League baseball in the U.S. before playing in Italy, and has scouted internationally.

"It was a culture shock for me as a city kid going to play in Bend, Ore.," Minaya said. "I ended up playing in Tuscany, Italy, a resort town on the beach."

Pausing and turning to his right, Minaya spotted Arroyo, the former Sox pitcher who grew up in Florida.

"Bronson, you would have loved it there," he said.

The players talked about their experiences dealing with different clubhouse cultures and playing in other countries.

Kalish, one of the Sox's top prospects, talked of playing in the Dominican and how difficult it can be for young players from other countries to play in the U.S.

"It's a totally different world. You're taken aback a little bit," he said. "It's a lot on those kids."

Which is why it's a focal point for teams.

"It's an issue that's in front of us," Minaya said of the globalization of the game. "It's growing every day. The game itself is growing internationally, not only the number of players, but the fan base that is coming to the games. So it's an issue that we need to talk about and kind of dissect and be educated on, because it's going to impact the future of this game that we love."

It was more than halfway into the two-hour event before the inevitable mention of a former Sox left fielder, who, as a Canadian, also happens to represent the internationalization of the game.

Answering a question from the audience regarding how he constructs a team with regard to international players, Minaya said that he looks for talent first and how a player can best help his team, almost sheepishly mentioning Jason Bay, as the crowd of several hundred chuckled with him. Bay, the former Sox left fielder, signed with the Mets as a free agent last week.

"I didn't even want to bring it up," Minaya acknowledged after the discussion. "I just brought it up in the situation. It's about getting good players. Jason Bay did a great job here and we're just fortunate to be able to have him."

With several major free-agent signings of his own, Epstein said after the event that he is likely done with primary signings for now.

"We might have some non-roster move or things along those lines," he said, "but we pretty much have our building blocks in place."

Asked how he sees his team compared to the World Series champion and perennial rival Yankees, Epstein replied:

"It's not really our goal to stack up with any one team. It's our goal as an organization to build a healthy foundation where we can put ourselves in a position to win 95 games every year. We've done it six out of seven, so I hope when we look back at this offseason, we can say we put ourselves in a position to win 95 in 2010 and also in future years with the Draft picks we accumulated and the inventory of young players that we maintain."

His team, as currently constructed, appears to be much more defense-centric than past Sox teams.

"Well, I hope when we look at it on the field, it looks like a well-balanced team," Epstein said. "But there's no doubt we have the potential to be an excellent defensive club, and we have the potential to be an excellent pitching club as well. I know there's been a lot of talk about the offense. We do have nine guys out of our 13 position players who've hit 25 or more home runs in a big league season before, six out of the nine starters, and tough outs, maybe not one through nine, but pretty darn close. I still think we'll score plenty of runs and if we don't, it's something maybe we could address in the middle of the year."

The Mets, similarly to the Sox, will be contending within their division against their league champions.

"You have to respect the Phillies," said Minaya, who is looking to add pitching and a catcher to his club. "The Phillies are world champions [in 2008]. They won the National League twice. We just have to go out there and win games and hopefully we win more games than them. But they are the champions and you have to respect that."

Before the baseball talk began, representatives from Boston and Massachusetts cited Gammons and his charitable works by proclaiming Saturday "Peter Gammons Day" in the city. Additionally, the four-year full scholarships awarded annually to Boston Public Schools students by the FTBNL were renamed the Peter Gammons Scholarships.

The Hot Stove Cool Music event was launched in 2000 by Gammons and Jeff Horrigan, then a Boston baseball writer. For the last six years, FTBNL, which supports several Boston-area non-profit agencies, has been the prime beneficiary.

"We knew we wanted to help the organizations that were doing great work in the city," Paul Epstein said. "When we started, the only thing we didn't know was how are we going to raise the money. So this is where this [event] comes in. To have the music concert and then a few years ago adding the baseball roundtable discussion, it's just such a nice thing."

The event continued Saturday night with a concert at the House of Blues across from Fenway's left-field wall, where Gammons, Epstein and Arroyo would be among the featured performers.

Paul Epstein couldn't resist some good-natured sibling needling.

"Peter has the musical talent. Theo has a guitar," Paul said. "He just knows one chord and plays it over and over again."

Maureen Mullen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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