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Hot Stove brings hot takes

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WZON hosts 13th annual Hot Stove Night

BANGOR – Baseball’s hot stove was burning at the Cross Insurance Center, thanks to local radio station WZON, who hosted their 13th Annual Hot Stove Night on Dec. 12.

For the past decade-plus, WZON has been bringing this event to local audiences every year. The event plays host to noted names in Red Sox media; these broadcasters make the journey to sit down and talk baseball to the people of the Bangor area. Hot Stove Night always draws a crowd; even with weather that was less than cooperative, hundreds of people turned out to talk baseball.

(And not just from the Bangor area, either – people had made the trek from as far away as South Dakota to join the fun and check in on the Sox.)

This year featured Hot Stove Night mainstays Joe Castiglione, the longtime radio voice of the Red Sox, and Dave O’Brien, who has made the seamless transition from radio to become the TV voice of NESN’s Sox coverage. Radio broadcaster Tim Neverett was supposed to make it a trio, but the inclement weather rendered him unable to attend.

For over an hour, Castiglione and O’Brien – along with Rich Kimball, host of “Downtown with Rich Kimball,” who served as the emcee for the evening – basically had a conversation about the state of the Red Sox in 2017 and beyond.

As you might imagine, the recent acquisition of pitcher Chris Sale in a trade with the Chicago White Sox was a particularly hot topic of conversation. Both Castiglione and O’Brien expressed approval for the trade, noting that – while the price in prospects was high – it was a move that cemented them as the preseason favorite in the American League.

They also talked a bit about the rest of the rotation beyond Sale, David Price and Rick Porcello; names like Steven Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez and Drew Pomeranz were bandied about, though it remains to be seen who will wind up nailing down those spots in the back end.

A fair amount of time was also spent discussing the retirement of Red Sox legend David Ortiz. What once seemed like a lock is now a bit hazier; O’Brien guessed that there was still a 25 percent chance that Ortiz came back, while Castiglione hazarded that if he did unretire, a June or July return might serve him a little better.

Still, when the two related a vaguely sad story of their walk with Ortiz through a largely empty Logan Airport near the end of last season, their talk of just how tired Big Papi seemed sure made it sound like that was a guy who was ready to hang up the spikes.

I’m someone who is fascinated by the Hall of Fame, so it was interesting to hear O’Brien and Castiglione talk about their thoughts regarding Ortiz’s chances at Cooperstown induction. O’Brien in particular pointed to the recent changes in the voting – specifically, the culling of the rolls to only include a more actively engaged electorate – as something that will impact how the era of performance-enhancing drugs will be viewed going forward.

(O’Brien’s calling for a first-ballot induction for Ortiz; that seems a bit far-fetched to me, but I think Ortiz definitely makes it.)

Other topics of conversation included the acquisition of first baseman Mitch Moreland and how that might impact Hanley Ramirez, the development of the bullpen (O’Brien thinks it’s going to be really good), the general conditioning of Pablo Sandoval and how the catching situation will shake out with Sandy Leon, Christian Vasquez and Blake Swihart all potentially in the mix.

Part of what made the evening so compelling was the easy rapport between Castiglione and O’Brien. These are two men who are extremely familiar with both the Boston Red Sox and one another. The thoughtful nature of their exchanges with Kimball resulted in a conversation that managed to be wide-ranging without ever losing focus; the audience was treated to A LOT of compelling Red Sox talk in a fairly compact timeframe. It’s no surprise, really – these are all guys who have spent their working lives being engaging and succinct.

And it doesn’t hurt when your team is looking like the team to beat.

It’s hard to believe that the World Series came to an end just six weeks ago. It seems like ages – though not as far away as Opening Day feels right now. There’s plenty of offseason left to go, but after hearing the high hopes of Joe Castiglione and Dave O’Brien expressed so plainly about this team, it’s enough to make you wish the season started tomorrow.

But seriously – spring training can’t get here fast enough.

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