Boyd, 45, says he 'could feel it'
BROCKTON, Mass. -- Bouncing around on the mound, challenging the umpires, talking to himself or the baseball or maybe even to Satchel Paige.
The Can is back.
Eight years after his last professional appearance, Oil Can Boyd returned to the low minors on Monday night, pitching six solid innings in his Can-Am League debut for the Brockton Rox. The former Boston Red Sox star allowed two earned runs and seven hits in six innings, walking one batter, hitting another and striking out four to receive a no-decision in a 5-3 loss to the Worcester Tornadoes.
"The atmosphere felt pretty good. The crowd was into me. I could feel it," the 45-year-old right-hander said. "Very good. Very welcome back to the game of baseball. I can still compete, and I feel good about it."
After retiring the first seven Worcester batters, Boyd missed covering first on a grounder in the third inning to allow his first hit. He made up for it in the fourth when he started a 1-6-3 double play, but he left a 3-3 game after throwing 85 pitches.
"You asked how far can you stretch out a 45-year-old pitcher? A normal one, not too ... far," Brockton manager Ed Nottle said. "He's not normal."
Omar Pena, the younger brother of Detroit Tigers first baseman Carlos Pena, hit a two-run double in the top of the ninth to give the Tornadoes a victory in the franchise's first game. Worcester, which had a National League team in the 1880s, hadn't hosted a professional baseball team at any level since 1935.
But most of the crowd of 4,296 was there to see the Can make his first professional appearance since 1997.
"There's a lot of people in a lot of places that want me to succeed," said Boyd, who wrapped up a 10-year career -- most of it with the Red Sox -- in 1991 with a 78-77 record and a 4.04 ERA. "Right now, there's a lot of love going for me."
Although he had significant talent -- he threw 13 complete games and 272 innings in 1985 -- Boyd's career disintegrated quickly because of blood clots in his right arm. He spent a year and a half with Montreal and a disastrous half-season with the Texas Rangers -- 2-7 with a 6.68 ERA -- before his big-league career.
"The big goal is for him to have the satisfaction that he got all the baseball out of his system," said his son, Dennis, a high school pitcher in Rhode Island who's called "Little Can" and "Baby Can." "He always had the feeling that he left before he wanted to go. He always wanted to show people that he still had it in him."
But even after injuries cut short his career, Boyd was remembered as one of baseball's most colorful players, with a country quotability that made him a legend beyond his statistical accomplishments.
"There are charismatic people in the world, and he's one of them," Nottle said. "People react to him, and they always have. On a cold night on Memorial Day, I don't think there would be 4,200 people here."
Boyd fits right in at Campanelli Stadium, where the ushers wear shirts with the logo "Fun is Good" in the spirit of comedian Bill Murray, a part-owner, and consultant Mike Veeck. The Can pitched two exhibition games for the Rox before he made the team, allowing five hits and striking out eight in seven scoreless innings.
But Monday night's game -- billed by the team as the "Can Opener" -- was his first real game as a pro since he appeared with the independent Massachusetts Mad Dogs in '97.
At a table in the stands, fans could have "Oil Can Fan," complete with a dripping oil can, painted on their faces. A luxury box proclaimed itself the home of the "Dennis Boyd Fan Club"; it was probably his family, because no one else calls him that.
He walked to the back of the mound between most pitches, going through his pitch sequence aloud. After getting a double play to escape serious trouble in the fifth, thrust his arms down in triumph, shouting to himself as he walked off the mound and back to the dugout.
"A 45-year-old man doing what he's does on the field -- to me, that's amazing," his son said. "I guess everybody else feels that way, too."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press