Welcome back. For some of you, this has been a four-month hibernation from reading or thinking about professional baseball. I’ve kept tabs on all of you. In Dallas, you despaired for the plight of Tony Romo, agonized over Wade Phillips, and fell back in love with Jason Garrett. In Alabama, you invested your life savings in a Cam Newton legal defense fund and vowed to take those bureaucrats at the NCAA to the Supreme Court over Newton’s eligibility, if it came to that. In Green Bay, you went to your neighborhood Packer shrine and thanked the Cheesehead gods for giving you a general manager with the guts to say “no” to Brett Favre and “yes” to Aaron Rodgers when it came down to it in 2008. In New England, you thought that this year was going to be better than the 18-1 2007 season, until it wasn’t.
It’s time to wake up and see the light. The entire baseball landscape has changed, and for Boston, the future seems much, much brighter. Red Sox fans can re-characterize every single offseason transaction in terms of its overwhelming benefits to the Red Sox. Don’t think so? Let’s take a look, in chronological order.
1. The Tigers sign Victor Martinez: This move frees up money for future Red Sox acquisitions. See (2) and (3).
2. Red Sox trade for, agree to long-term deal with 1B Adrian Gonzalez: Red Sox get the best human (non-Pujols) first baseman in the National League
3. Red Sox sign CF Carl Crawford: Red Sox take one of the Rays’ top players.
4. Phillies sign P Cliff Lee: Yankees don’t get Cliff Lee.
5. Royals trade Zack Greinke to Milwaukee Brewers: Now, the Red Sox can rest the regulars for all three games of a weekend series against the Royals.
6. Yankees sign Rafael Soriano: The Rays lose their closer, and the Yankees’ owners are one step closer to losing the disgruntled general manager who brought them Robinson Cano and Phil Hughes, not to mention the dynasty of the 90s.
Now, it’s time for spring training. This is the occasion when many New Englanders, like birds in some alternate universe, migrate south for the spring (or just a week, depends on how much school the kids can miss and get away with it) to watch the players practice. The concept of fans attending spring training is confusing to even the best and brightest. Drew Barrymore, in the Red Sox-centric 2004 movie “Fever Pitch”, asks if spring training means that fans actually get to practice with the players. No, that’s not spring training; that is Red Sox Fantasy Camp, where men past their baseball primes live out their baseball dreams by paying thousands of dollars for a few days of instruction from Red Sox old-timers. While repeated attempts to reach Allen Iverson’s Turkish interpreter for comment failed, A.I., the legendary guard for the basketball team Besiktas Cola Turka who also had some stints in the NBA, would have surely frowned upon the notion of spring “practice”. As Iverson once said, “ … we’re talking about practice, man. How silly is that?”
A family vacation to Fort Myers, Florida, is a great excuse for Red Sox-crazy dads and moms across New England to indulge their Red Sox obsession. The variety of ways you can spend your time at spring training is stunning. Given a full 10-hour day at the park, you could watch batting practice for four hours, fielding practice for three hours, and pitching practice for three hours. Alternatively: batting practice for three hours, fielding practice for four hours, and pitching practice for three hours. I can’t remember all the other ways at the time of this writing, but please contact me directly if interested.
In reality, spring training is a time when fans go to watch the players and collectively build up their expectations for the season, and this will never be the case more so than this year at Red Sox spring training. Even from the perspective of unbiased observers, the Red Sox had a superlative offseason, and spring training will be a joyous time for all. Truly, all is well, until Carl Crawford tears his ACL, Jacoby Ellsbury breaks his ribs, and Jonathan Papelbon blows his first save on Opening Day, April 8, against the New York Yankees.