Organizers of the Granite State Baseball Dinner do well with digging up personalities that carry both intrigue and relevancy to New England’s baseball fanatics. This year’s guest list will be no different, but one name quietly sticks out as far as intrigue and relevancy go.
Former Boston Red Sox shortstop and 2004 World Series champion Orlando Cabrera will be on hand for Saturday night’s event at the DoubleTree by Hilton Downtown Manchester. The 44-year-old, who played 15 MLB seasons, was coincidentally a late addition to the guest list, just as he was a late but important add to the 2004 Red Sox squad that broke “The Curse” and brought fans their first World Series title in 86 years.
“I’ve known about the dinner for quite some time after moving to New Hampshire five years ago,” said Cabrera, who resides in Windham with his family these days and is a regular face at New Hampshire Fisher Cats games and events. “They got in touch with me through Shawn Rienert over at Twins Cigars and I obviously accepted the invitation.”
Cabrera’s stint in Boston lasted just 72 games, including 14 in that prolific postseason run. Many lose sight of Cabrera’s contributions toward the 2004 championship while remembering him more for being part of a franchise-altering trade.
Nomar Garciaparra was an MLB star, team cornerstone and known commodity when Boston elected to trade him in a four-team deal at the non-waiver trade deadline in July 2004. The Red Sox obtained Cabrera and first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz in the deal, which was done with Garciaparra’s impending free agency in mind while Boston was not prepared to hand out a raise in salary due to health and declining defense.
Cabrera was tasked with patrolling shortstop after the Garciaparra’s departure, which clearly worked out well for Cabrera and the Red Sox. However, playing the game was not Cabrera’s challenge as much as replacing an icon was.
“I asked for a trade (from the Montreal Expos) and when I was traded I honestly thought I was going to be playing another position,” Cabrera said. “Then I find out I was traded for Garciaparra. I was stunned and super nervous. There was excitement, but I knew what I was going to face.
“The thing that helped me was each player on that team embraced the way I was and the energy I was bringing to the clubhouse. They basically fell in love with me the first week, which made it easy to manage a lot.”
When it was all said and done, Cabrera provided the Red Sox exactly what they needed. Boston brought Cabrera in for his glovework, but his bat proved to add much-needed pop to the bottom of the order. Cabrera hit .294 with six homers and 31 RBIs in 58 regular-season games with Boston. Those numbers were all up from his totals through 103 games with the Expos prior to the blockbuster trade.
“I think I hit with the bases loaded more in those two months of the regular season than I did at any point in the last couple years with Montreal,” said Cabrera, who added 15 hits, 11 RBIs and nine runs scored in the 2004 postseason. “When you have better players around you and a different attitude about winning, everything changes. You feel that and it really started a fire inside of me.”
The performance of Cabrera and his teammates in 2004 turned the tides as far as baseball in Boston goes. That much is clear these days as the Red Sox are a month removed from winning their fourth World Series, which is the most by any club in this century.
“I didn’t grasp it all at the beginning,” Cabrera said. “You hear about the curse, 86 years and all the stuff, but for me, I thought ‘OK. I can do this. I can win the World Series every year.’ But still, living here now after 16 years and all the titles, they still embrace that 2004 team.”
Boston’s championship roster this season included some Cabrera-like additions. World Series MVP Steve Pearce and starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi came via trades in June and July and, like Cabrera, provided performances that fueled another banner year.
“This is why (former Red Sox and current Cleveland Indians manager) Terry Francona is so good, and (current Sox manager) Alex Cora too,” Cabrera said. “You were acquired for something. As much as the media wants you to do everything, the team wants you to do one thing. Pearce was amazing doing that. He was an occasional hitter that would give you two home runs. He came through when they needed him most.
“You have a team that wins 100 games in the regular season and they still go out and make trades. You do it because you can always use that help in the end.”
Cabrera is co-headlining Saturday’s dinner. He’ll be joined by Baseball Hall of Famer and four-time Cy Young Award winner Steve Carlton and 1977 National League MVP and 17-year MLB veteran George Foster. Other notable attendees include Colorado Rockies top prospect and Bedford native Grant Lavigne and 2005 Cy Young winner and New Hampshire native Chris Carpenter, along with former Red Sox players Bill Lee, Luis Tiant, Rico Petrocelli, Bob Stanley and Rich Gedman.
Saturday’s event starts with an autograph session from 5 to 7 p.m. Dinner and a question-and-answer session with guests will follow. Tickets are $80 and available through the event page on the New Hampshire Fisher Cats website.