A new beginning

Editor’s note: Longtime baseball and hockey reporter Joe McDonald today begins covering the Red Sox and Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at @ESPNJoeyMac

The Boston Red Sox pride themselves on drafting the very best talent, developing those players and preparing them to be successful in the majors.

Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jonathan Papelbon, Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie, Daniel Bard and Manny Delcarmen all have risen through the organization to help Boston become perennial winners.

I’ve been fortunate enough to watch and report on their minor-league development, and I’ve also been fortunate enough to witness all of them do some pretty amazing things on the big-league stage.

I was there when Kevin Youkilis won a World Series in his first year in the majors, in 2004. Because Clay Buchholz threw a no-hitter in only his second major-league start on Sept. 1, 2007 against the Orioles at Fenway Park, my scorecard from the game will forever be housed at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

While most doubted he would ever be a full-time major-leaguer, I would like to think I was among the very few who thought Pedroia would become a terrific everyday player for the Red Sox because of his determination and little-man swagger that he showed in the minors. Did I believe he would win the Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award?

Hell, no!

I took a bit of a tongue lashing from a young Lester in the early part of 2007, when he was battling his way back from cancer. I had asked him if he ever had a conversation with then-Bruins forward Phil Kessel, who dealt with a bout of testicular cancer the same year.

Because of that brief discussion with Lester in the clubhouse at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, R.I., I quickly learned no one wants to deal with cancer, let alone someone else’s, too. So I promised him I would never to mention the “C” word again.

I lied.

I had to apologize to him the day before Game 4 of the World Series that year in Colorado when I asked him what it would be like, as a cancer survivor, to celebrate a clinching victory as the possible winning pitcher for the Red Sox in the Fall Classic.

He understood the situation and gracefully answered my question. Then he went on to accomplish the feat and became one of the biggest inspirational stories in sports that year.

I’ve also learned to keep anything valuable away from Papelbon and his dog because you never know what the pet will eat, including a World Series ball.

As I think of their careers, it’s easy also to reflect on my own as a sports writer for the last nine years. During that span I’ve covered the Sox, Bruins, Patriots, PawSox and P-Bruins for the Providence Journal. I spent nearly 18 years at the paper, beginning my career in circulation before eventually becoming the No. 1 Red Sox beat writer.

I am forever grateful for that beginning.

Like many of the players I’ve covered, my career path has changed, too.

Beginning Wednesday morning I will join Gordon Edes in Fort Myers, Fla., covering Red Sox spring training for ESPNBoston.com. When I return from Southwest Florida in mid-March (no doubt with a nasty, blistery and flaking sunburn on my fair Irish skin), I’ll turn my attention to the Bruins for the remainder of their season.

I recently had dinner with the ESPNBoston staff and it didn’t take me long to realize that the World Wide Leader in Sports had drafted some of the best talent for its site. I’m hoping my contributions will help my new team be even more successful.

Thanks for reading,