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Saturday, February 15, 2003

  Going to Spring Training

IT'S COLD! GET ME OUT OF HERE!

Just had to get that off my chest. I've been stuck here in central Massachusetts during the coldest winter I can remember. Which has nothing to do with baseball, except ...

I'm going to Spring Training!

Red Sox pitchers and catchers reported yesterday, but for me training camp doesn't really begin for 12 more days, at which time I get on a wide-body jet bound for Florida. I will arrive in Fort Myers, site of Boston's spring training and minor league complex, just two hours before the first Sox exhibition game of the year.

I'll be there for a week. In that time, I will attend seven games in six days, thanks to a double-header on Friday and two away games against the Twins across town. On the seventh day I'll fly home. But I'd rather not think about that just yet.

Instead, I prefer to contemplate the weather in Fort Myers, which as I write this is 78°F, on its way to a high today of 81°F. At night it's been as low as the 50s, which is still toasty compared to the 5°F it is outside my window right now.

Don't get me wrong. I'm excited about the start of baseball after a long winter's absence, and the fact that for the first time in my life I'll be watching it in person. I look forward to seeing the results of off-season acquisitions, though they weren't all I had hoped for. I'm even optimistic about the boy wonder, new GM Theo Epstein, despite the fact that I swear he looks closer to my son's age (18) than the 29 years old they say he is.

But did I mention how warm it is in Fort Myers? And that I'll be staying at a condo by the beach?

In contrast to the talk radio naysayers, I feel good about the prospects of our bullpen, even lacking a bona-fide closer. Hell, I don't know a closer in history who started out that way. And I don't especially care how many saves the current bullpen had among them in 2002. As far as I'm concerned, saves are a bogus statistic. Case in point: Ugi Urbina had a pile of them last year, but that didn't keep the lining of my stomach from bleeding every time he took the mound.

The only save I'm interested in at this moment is saving my fingers from frostbite.

When I'm sitting in the stands at City of Palms Park, I'll be watching the new position players to see who has the potential to work some defensive magic. Can Jeremy Giambi improve enough to take over at first base? Will Kevin Millar live up to the off-season hype? Where does Sweet Lou Merloni fit into the mix, now that he's been signed to a multi-year deal?

I will ponder these and other questions as I work on a late-winter tan. I plan on wearing shorts, you know. Maybe even a tank top.

Sure, the starting rotation could be stronger. A lot rides on veteran Tim Wakefield's ability to put together some steady production for the second consecutive season. And naturally we'll need Derek Lowe to repeat, or at least approach, his brilliance of last year, and Pedro to stay healthy. An unexpected career year by any other current or prospective starter wouldn't hurt either.

I wonder if I'll need sunblock? Note to self: find a Rite-Aid somewhere between the airport and the stadium and pick up some SPF 15.

I don't expect much difference behind the plate, the one area where nothing has changed. And hitting isn't a problem, except to the extent that it can be streaky and Manny still doesn't understand that he needs to run, not mosey, to first base. I hold out faith that the new coaching staff can address those issues in due time.

Of course, it will take more than spring training to know for sure. But isn't it nice to see it begin? My frozen toes can hardly wait.

Just my opinion.


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