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Sunday, February 29, 2004

  Only Four More Days

In just 91 hours, I will arrive in warm, sunny Fort Myers for my second annual Spring Training expedition. Spring Training is more than just the start of another baseball season. It's a much-needed prelude to summer after the brutal New England winter.

When I went last year, I left behind 10 degree weather in Boston and landed in 85 degrees in south Florida, which was quite a shock to my system. This year, it's quite a bit warmer here in New England, and the forecast calls for slightly more moderate temperatures in Fort Myers. But it will still be a welcome change.

Last year, I saw seven games in 6 days, thanks to a double-header one day. On the seventh day, I flew back home. I stayed with a friend a little more than an hour's drive south, and it ended up being lots of tiring driving back and forth.

This year, I will see five games in 6 days, including another double-header. That leaves two days free, plus half of the seventh day, to hang out at the beach and swim in the warm Gulf waters.

Baseball and the beach. In early March. Does it get any better than that?

The airport limo will pick me up at 3:30 Thursday morning and deliver me at Logan Airport in plenty of time for my departure just before 6:00 a.m. After a layover and switching planes in Chicago (?!) I'm scheculed to touch down at Southwest Florida International Airport at just after 1:00 p.m. I will meet up with one of my RedSox.com message board friends, relax at her place, and stay overnight. I've decided to skip the first exhibition game that night, a matchup at the Minnesota Twins' complex across town, in favor of recuperating from a day of sleep deprivation.

Friday, it's full swing into baseball. The Red Sox host two college teams, Boston College in the afternoon and Northeastern University in the evening. One of the nice things about spring training games is that it's easy to get autographs before the games, and Friday will afford two such opportunities.

I'm taking Saturday off (another game at the Twins), so if the weather cooperates, I'll slap on some SPF 30 and hit the beautiful Marco Island residents' beach with my friend Patty, go out to dinner, maybe hit the shopping outlets in Naples.

There are afternoon games on Sunday and Monday, against the Yankees and Twins. By that time I expect to have seen most of the Red Sox pitching staff, as early exhibition games typically utilize pitchers for not more than 2-3 innings per game. Can't wait to catch a glimpse of the new guys, Schilling and Foulke, in their brand new uniforms.

Tuesday night I'll watch the Sox play Cincinnati. Being at an American League park, we'll use the designated hitter, which will likely mean a look at the returning Ellis Burks or perhaps one of the several minor leaguers invited to training camp. During the first week of spring training, every roster member and non-roster invitee typically gets to play, before the manager starts cutting people or sending the prospects over to minor league camp. Last year I saw prospects like Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Brown, and Cesar Crespo. Youkilis is back this year, along with our catchers of the future, Andy Dominique and Kelly Shoppach. Which of them will be the next big star?

Wednesday will afford me a luxury I didn't have last year -- being able to actually have some fun before boarding the return flight to Boston. Last year, I took off at 9:00 a.m. This year, I don't have to be on the plane until 1:45. Perhaps one last dip in the Gulf before coming back to wintry weather?

I don't know what the weather will be like when I land at Logan. After a week of acclimating to warmer temperatures and stronger sun, even unseasonably mild weather will be a shock. But I will be primed for summer and baseball, all ready for games at friendly Fenway starting in April. It'll be a beautiful thing.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Monday, February 23, 2004

  The Pitcher Who Cried Wolf

Pedro Martinez is scheduled to arrive at training camp today, three days after every other pitcher was expected to (and did) show up.

I love Pedro, I really do. Even with his annual trip to the disabled list (seldom, if ever his fault, as he has to work with the light build God gave him) and increasing need for pitch count management (ditto), he's still better than 95% of the pitchers out there, and most of that other 5% aren't as consistently good as Pedro is from one year to the next.

But these little power plays annoy me. And I have no doubt that the late spring arrivals are just that.

Perhaps there really was a legitimate family emergency this year. I don't think Pedro is inclined to make up stories in the same way, say, Manny is (sick grandmother? dead grandmother? fainting mother?). It doesn't look good, though, in light of all the previous late arrivals for which the ace offered no explanation. "Emergency" is a relative term, and I wonder if he took advantage of a borderline situation so he could offer something to the new manager as an excuse for not being where he was supposed to be.

For the record, this is not, in my view, the same thing as taking an extra day or two off to open the Pan-American Games in Santo Domingo last summer. The Pan-Am Games are like a mini-Olympics for the Americas, and it was a great honor for Pedro, as a citizen of the host nation, to be invited to participate in the torch-lighting ceremony. He requested and received permission to attend, and he was absent for only the amount of time necessary to get there, participate, and get back.

Nor was I the least bit critical of Pedro's brief absence because of a throat infection. He consulted with the team trainer, was advised to go to the hospital, and was sick enough to be kept there for several hours of tests and observation.

In short, Pedro simply doesn't miss games for frivolous reasons.

But being part of a team is more than just being there for the games. It's also necessary to be there for workouts, as well as the occasional non-game-related obligation (read: team picture). That last one really irks me. What possible inconvenience could it be to show up for an extra hour or two, one day out of the year?

We all understand that Pedro is different from other players. His abilities are different, and his results are different, so we sense that he asks for and gets different privileges. The pattern is so well known--missing the team picture, arriving late for spring training--that when Pedro does have a legitimate excuse (which the "family emergency" may very well be), some of us don't believe him. That may not be fair, but who can blame us?

Update 03/02/2004 4:16PM - Reports are that Pedro was legitimately late for spring training because his son was having surgery. No, I didn't know he had a child, but apparently he has two. No, as far as I know he isn't married. But neither am I, and I've been a mother for 20 years.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Friday, February 20, 2004

  And now, the words you've been waiting to hear since October 17, 2003...

Pitchers and catchers report today.

Spring training tells a lot, but even before the first workout, we know this team is significantly improved in virtually every respect since last year. We replaced the defensively weak Todd Walker with Pokey Reese. Last year's closer-by-committee has been replaced by the young yet proven Keith Foulke. Our solid 1-2-3 starters (Pedro, D-Lowe, Wakefield) are now a more solid 1-2-3-4 with the insertion of Curt Schilling, and we have two strong possibilities (Arroyo, Kim) for number 5. We have a glut of reliable middle relievers and set-up men. Almost all the booming bats are back. Look for Pedro, Lowe, and Nomar to have great years as they make their case on the field for why they should get better contracts next year than they have now.

By contrast, our closest competition, the Yankees, cannot say the same thing. They added some big names (Sheffield, Lofton) who are not known for being great clubhouse guys. They brought in the best shortstop in baseball (Rodriguez) and promptly moved him to third base, a position he has played for one inning in his career. The defensive liabilitiy that plays first base (Giambi) may not produce offensively either, if the rumors of his coming off the juice are true. The starting rotation consists of one really good pitcher who can't seem to carry it through to October (Mussina), a bundle of as yet unrealized potential (Vasquez), someone held together from month to month with duct tape (Brown), and a couple frightening question marks. They have two top closers (Gordon and Rivera) and no one to set them up.

While both Toronto and Baltimore have the potential to win enough games in division matchups to affect the final standings, neither is likely to contend deep into the season.

As they say in sports, I like our chances.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

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