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Thursday, March 31, 2005

  Don't Forget to Watch the TRSFF on ESPN

Just a reminder to all visitors that this Sunday is the premier of Boston's Winter of Bliss, an MLB Productions look at Red Sox fans after the Championship. The Triumphant Red Sox Fan, and this forum, will be featured, so be sure to tune in.

Telecast times are as follows:

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

  But Do They Have to Carry Their Own Luggage?

In the most ridiculous gripe since Roger Clemens complained about having to carry his bags when the team traveled, players from the Red Sox and other professional sports teams are furious about new IRS rules that consider free tickets for players' family and friends to be part of their compensation. They still get the tickets free, but now they have to pay taxes on the value of the tickets they use.

"It's going to be a little more difficult," Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek said. "You're just going to have to limit who you leave them for. I won't blink an eye about leaving tickets for my wife and kids. I don't think that your direct family should have to pay."

To put it in perspective, Varitek made $6.9 million last year, before he negotiated a new long-term contract extension for even more money. Presuming 40% taxation, that leaves him with $4.14 million, or $25,555 per game if he plays every game, which he doesn't because Doug Mirabelli catches every Tim Wakefield roughly every fifth game. So in just one game, Captain Tek nets enough money to pay for the tickets himself. But remember, all he has to do is pay tax on them.

But what about players who earn much less? Under the collective bargaining agreement, the current minimum salary for a major league player is $300,000. Again assuming 40% taxation, that leaves $180,000, or at least $1,111 per game. That's net. If I made that kind of money, I would buy myself a block of season tickets at Fenway, and I wouldn't be complaining about it.

To be fair, Varitek isn't the only one making a stink. Johnny Damon has expressed displeasure over the rule (more for the players who make much less money than for himself), as have players from other teams and other sports. On the coaching side, Terry Francona has weighed in as well.

What these guys have to realize is that they have been getting a tax-free benefit that people in other industries don't get. If an executive's perks include use of a company apartment, car, or country club membership, she has to pay taxes on it. Professional athletes, who make much more than most business people, have no reasonable expectation of being treated any differently.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

  Pitching Staff: Done

It looks as if the Red Sox have finally found a way to unburden themselves of problematic submarine pitcher Byung-Hyun Kim. A trade is reported to be one of several moves that will likely round out the pitching staff for the start of the season.

The Sox reached a tentative agreement last night to send Kim to Colorado for an undisclosed minor league player. The deal was pending approval by Sox ownership, who must agree to the provision of paying more than $5.6 million of Kim's $6 million salary.

$5.6 million is a lot of money, but in the case of Kim, it could clearly be considered what they call "addition by subtraction."

For that money, the team is getting 1) a potentially valuable prospect, 2) a slot on the major league roster for a more reliable player, and 3) rid of a problem that may very well be bigger than the amount of cash they are paying to let him go. After giving Kim more than his fair share of chances to prove himself, this is the right move and I applaud Theo for finally finding a way to get it done.

In other pitching-related moves, Anastacio Martinez has been designated for assignment, while Mike "Blue Eyes" Myers comes back in exchange for two single-A prospects. And in a semi-pitching move, infielder/outfielder/lefty reliever David McCarty has apparently made the 40-player roster, something I have been pulling for since hearing he was invited to spring training. I love the flexibility McCarty offers, especially at first base where he is defensively superior to both our starter (Kevin Millar) and our backup (David Ortiz).

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

  Fenway Remains Home

This is great news.

The Boston Red Sox [Wednesday] will announce that the team is staying put in Fenway Park, baseball's oldest and smallest stadium.

[ . . . ]

The announcement would end a long cat-and-mouse game by the team's ownership, which has every year made considerable improvements in Fenway such as expanded seating and concessions but refused to commit to staying long term. It is also a dramatic reversal from the Red Sox's stance just five years ago, when the previous ownership argued that the team needed a new ballpark to be financially competitive in the league.

Recent efforts by the current ownership to add seating, improve restroom facilities, upgrade concessions, and expand the concourses suggested a commitment to staying at Fenway, but this makes it official. The new plan apparently calls for expansion of organization facilities to abutting property.

Earlier this month, the Red Sox confirmed they were in discussions to buy three relatively small properties around Fenway Park that would allow them to continue to move offices out of the ballpark and make more room for revenue-generating fan activities.

That certain makes sense; Fenway Park sits on a parcel of property barely big enough for a ballpark, never mind administrative and operational space. Fortunately, it is also surrounded on all sides (and across the street) by property that could be developed for needed purposes. Skywalks crossing the streets might provide convenient and safe connection between buildings. And the possibility of a parking garage...that would be downright luxurious for us fans.

The players evidently like the idea too.

"When they talk about tourist attractions in Boston, the top one is Fenway Park," right fielder Trot Nixon [stats, news] said. "Even in a city with as much history as Boston, everyone wants to see Fenway Park. It might even be more popular than the team."

"I'm sure they could pull in more money if they had a 50,000-seat stadium, but that would take away from the specialness of people only being able to come to a couple of games because the prices are kind of high," pitcher Bronson Arroyo said.

"It's old school, man," Kevin Millar said. "It's baseball. If you're a baseball player, that's the place you want to play. Sure, you want bigger clubhouses and massage parlors and steam rooms but Fenway Park brings so much more."

Even other teams' players, such as the Reds' Sean Casey.

"That's when I found out what passion for baseball was," he said. "It's no wonder baseball is a religion in Boston. ... I can't imagine baseball without Fenway Park."

It sounds as if the planned move of some of the offices out of the main Fenway structure will open up space for expansion of player facilities, which are important to many on the team, including catcher Jason Varitek.

The Sox captain said he wanted assurances that improvements would be made at Fenway before he re-signed with the team in December. Little did he know his requests for a better weight room and closer batting cage had already been addressed and were under construction.

"You have to change," Varitek said. "You have to keep up to the Joneses because we were falling behind with things like a video room and amenities."

The fly in the ointment is the millions in off-site and municipal infrastructure work that needs to be done, which would require cooperation from the city. To Boston Mayor Tom Menino, that means dollars, which he is already saying he won't provide.

Menino, who met at the Parkman House with Red Sox owners yesterday, said the team did not ask for public money, but he nonetheless ruled out city assistance.

[ . . . ]

Menino said the owners specifically mentioned that the Red Sox would like to see improvements to the Fenway stop on the MBTA's Green Line and a new commuter rail stop.

[ . . . ]

The team is also looking for improvements to streets and sidewalks, a cleanup of the Muddy River, and a commitment that the park will be protected from encroachment by high-rise buildings that would block fans' view of the skyline and cast shadows over the field, according to the individual briefed on the plans.

Clearly there is much work to be done to turn the owners' plans into reality, and it won't be done overnight. Think along the lines of the timeline of the Big Dig. But such a long-term commitment underscores the seriousness of the team's commitment to stay. I have no doubt they'll get it done.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Thursday, March 17, 2005

  Politicians on Steroids

As steroids are to baseball, grandstanding for the television cameras is to politics. I watched a bit of this afternoon's Congressional hearings on steroid use in baseball. Did anyone else find Rep. Dennis Kucinich's addressing Sammy Sosa in Spanish to be the most patronizing moment of the hearings? Hats off to Sammy for responding in English.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

  Good-Bye, Monster

Dick Radatz, reliever extraordinaire of the 1960s whose best years were spent with the Red Sox, died yesterday of a head injury suffered in a fall at home. Younger and more recent Sox fans would know Radatz as one of the Red Sox' rotating pre- and post-game television analysts.

A workhorse known for having struck out the Yankees' Mickey Mantle 47 times in 63 appearances (but Mantle was drunk for 44 of those strikeouts, according to Imus in the Morning sports), Radatz was also an educated man in a day when most ballplayers were not. I recall hearing him once say that he was only the 13th major league player in history to have been a college graduate. I found him to be an astute analyst who contributed to my understanding of pitching. He was also known as an all-around nice guy. He was a member of the Red Sox Hall of Fame.

Condolences to his family. May he rest in peace.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

  Back from the Fort

The trip to Fort Myers was, as I feared it might be, cut short by Grandma's death. In order to get to the wake and funeral, I came back yesterday morning rather than my scheduled flight this evening. Nonetheless I saw four games, attended the benefit dinner for Curt's Pitch for ALS, snapped a few pictures, and socialized with Sox fans from near and far.

My plane landed late Wednesday afternoon in the rain, and though the weather cleared up nicely the next day and stayed that way for several days, the team didn't do so well. They lost the home game I attended on Thursday, the away game on Friday, back at home Saturday, across town at the Twins stadium Sunday, and on the raod again Monday, before finally winning up in St. Petersburg against the Devil Rays on Tuesday. It was my last game before cutting the trip short, so I was gratified to know that I wasn't a pox upon the team.

Two highlights were the performances of minor leaguers George Lombard (outfield) and Hanley Ramirez (shortstop). Lombard, who made it up to AAA last year and played quite a bit in Pawtucket, impressed me with his hard play in the field and with his bat. Look for him to be a call-up in case of a rash of injuries, or in September when rosters expand.

Ramirez, no relation to his countryman Manny, has no hopes of making the big club this season but is obviously being looked at closely as he moves his way up through the farm system. Considered the organization's top prospect, may very well show up in Pawtucket later this season, at the ripe old age of 22. His status as the shortstop of the future is in question as long as the club is carrying Edgar Renteria's contract, but word is that he can also play the outfield.

As for starting pitching, it was with great anticipation that I saw David "Tub o' Lard" Wells start against the Rays on Saturday. Without a radar reading it was hard to judge his velocity, but he seemed to be hitting his spots and induce a few ground ball outs before allowing two runs on a couple extra base hits and an error.

Matt Clement appeared to have some decent stuff but was largely ineffective, allowing three runs on seven hits against the Twins on Sunday. The results could simply be attributable to spring rustiness. The good news was that he struck out five without allowing a walk.

More details this weekend after I have gotten some sleep, finished my laundry, and caught up on a week of mail.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

  Fort Myers or Bust

The weather outside is frightful, but who cares as long as my flight for Florida takes off on time?

The Triumphant Red Sox Fan's third annual Spring Training vacation commences tomorrow, and it promises to be a good time as usual. In addition to attending six games (four at City of Palms Park, "on the road" across town at the Twins' Hammond Stadium and one up in St. Pete against the Devil Rays) I am also attending the second annual Springing for a Cure dinner to benefit Curt's Pitch for ALS, and the first annual Daughters of Kevin Youkilis ("DoKY") barbecue. With a little luck, Curt and Kevin will show up at their respective events and I'll end up with a couple autographs and some good pictures.

I managed to find a cyber-cafe at Fort Myers Beach, so there is a slim possibility of updates during my trip. If not, I promise to have a recap posted by March 19. Later, Nation.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Sunday, March 06, 2005

  New Player Profile — Jay Payton

First, a confession. I keep calling this guy Gary Payton. It isn't that I don't know that Gary Payton is a basketball player, not a baseball player. But considering the recent Boston sports news, you could forgive me for misspeaking, even though the only thing the once-and-again Celtics guard and the newest Red Sox outfielder have in common is a surname.

Jay (that's short for Jason) Payton, you will recall, came to Boston via the trade that sent one of the most memorable heroes of the ALCS, Dave Roberts, to San Diego. A career .285 right handed hitter on a team with that features an outfield of Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, and Trot Nixon, Payton shouldn't expect to play in anything close to the 143 games he played (despite hamstring problems) as the Padres' starting center fielder in 2004. But look for him to sub for Nixon against lefty pitchers or even provide occasional backup for Manny (Payton played most of his games as a Colorado Rockie in left field). Think Gabe Kapler, with smaller biceps.

ESPN.com's scouting report makes it sound a little as if Payton has a bit of Manny in him:

His good speed serves him well in the outfield, but inefficient routes made a number of flyballs unnecessarily exciting. His arm is both strong and accurate, but mental lapses often gave the opposition additional opportunities.

That's the downside. So what's positive? He did hit over .300 in 2002 and 2003, but those were the seasons he spent in the thin air of Coors Field. Could he possibly be more productive as an other-than-everyday player, much as Doug Mirabelli has been as the regular catcher for knuckleballer Tim Wakefield? Expect Terry Francona to explore that and other possibilities, since Payton gives him the luxury of having essentially four starting outfielders. Apparently, Payton is ready to adjust to that new role:

He'll have to come up with a whole new method of preparation and establish a whole new rhythm for himself. It's much too early for him to know whether he'll ever develop a liking for the role, championship team or no championship team.

It's an interesting dilemma for Payton, and also for the Red Sox, who went from bringing in bench players for big salaries and starting roles under Dan Duquette (example: Mike Lansing) to having a bench that could fill out a lineup card for lesser teams. It's an enviable position for a team. As for Payton, someone else's loss could be his gain, if for example Nixon has injury problems again in 2005. For the time being, it's nice to see him playing so hard in Fort Myers and making the effort to solidify an important role.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Friday, March 04, 2005

  They're Playing Baseball Again

The 2005 exhibition baseball schedule is underway, and I love the fact that the ESPN recap link says, "What else? Spring opens with another BoSox win."

World Series or exhibition opener, the Boston Red Sox don't lose anymore.

The champions beat the Minnesota Twins 4-3 Thursday night, their ninth straight win in a streak that started after they trailed the New York Yankees 3-0 in the AL Championship Series last year.

How sweet it is. This must be what they mean by "getting the monkey off your back."

Still recovering from my week-long bout with the vicious influenza virus for which I foolishly failed to get immunized (won't be making that mistake next year), I didn't watch much of last night's pre-season opener against the Minnesota Twins. What I did see was early in the game, so I got the A-team, or what passes for the A-team at this point. I saw new starter Matt Clement look good for early March, Byung-Hyun Kim throw over someone's head, Mark Bellhorn strike out, and Edgar Renteria walk to load the bases. Random images, but they were images of baseball, and after a long winter that isn't over yet, they were welcome.

A quick look at the box score reveals that the Sox got hits from starters Jay Payton, Jason Varitek, Kevin Millar, and Kevin Youkilis, as well as a few of the subs. The pitching lines look solid from everyone except Denney Tomori, who got the Maalox save despite giving up 2 runs on 3 hits. But at this stage of the game, it's silly to read too much into individual performances, good or bad. Keith Foulke spend most of the 2003 exhibition season pitching like the evil twin of the crack closer we signed the previous winter, but none of that mattered seven months later when he waved the World Series-clinching victory in St. Louis.

It has been my habit to attend the first week of spring training games. That gets me to the traditional opener against the cross-town Twins, a game or two against New England college teams, the sold-out Yankees game, and at least one or two others. This year, due to another commitment to which my attendance was promised a year ago, I am seeing week two instead. The schedule has me missing New York but hitting the World Series rematch against the Cardinals. At this point the long-range forecast doesn't look promising for the Triumphant Red Sox Fan's third consecutive spring training vacation sans clouds and rain, but there are worse things than watching a game in a cozy ballpark on the Gulf Coast of Florida in a 75° drizzle.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

  The Champs Go to Washington

President Bush and Vice President Cheney recognized members of the Red Sox championship team in a short ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House this afternoon. I must say I found it fun to watch. The President's address was lighthearted and elicited frequent chuckles. Before I add my own observations, here is the text of the Bush's remarks, which I'm pretty sure I transcribed accurately:

So, like, what took you so long?

Welcome, and welcome to the citizens of the Red Sox Nation.

I'm proud to be joined by the Vice President. He's a Chicago Cubs fan, so, like, he knows what you've been through.

We're really glad you're here. There have been a lot of people in this town waiting for this day to come. Some have said it would be a cold day when the Red Sox made it here.

I am honored to welcome the World Champs, the mighty Boston Red Sox, to the White House. I want to welcome the members of the Massachusetts delegation who are here. I know that Senator Kennedy is here. Senator Kerry is on his way; we have just finished a certemony honoring Jackie Robinson. I know members of the congressional delegation are here from, like, Massachusetts and everyone else that claims to be a Red Sox state. Y'all are welcome here.

I appreciate the commissioner coming, and Bob, it's good to see you, sir. I thank the members of my cabinet who are here. I appreciate the mayor being here, the mayor of Boston. You've had a heck of a year, Mayor.

I want to thank and welcome my friend Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino. I'm sorry John Henry's sick. You know, Lucchino, I knew you'd amount to something eventually.

I appreciate the way this team played baseball. You know, it took a lot of guts, and it took a lot of hair. It took a great manager and coaching staff. And I'll never forget calling Terry Francona after the team won the championship. And he, the only thing I remember him saying is that it all depended upon the players. Which is why he's a good manager, isn't it?

I appreciate the fact that Dom Dimaggio and Jimmy Piersall are with us. You guys represent a lot of great Boston Red Sox players that a lot of us grew up watching play and you're welcome here in the White House, and you're representing a great tradition of wonderful folks.

You know, the last time the Red Sox were here, Woodrow Wilson lived here. There were only 16 teams in baseball then. After the World Series victory in 1918, a reporter from Boston said, "The luckiest baseball spot on earth is Boston, for it has never lost a World Series." That's one optimistic writer.

[The President paused to acknowledge the previously mentioned late arrival of John Kerry.] Senator, welcome, good to see you. I like to see Senator Kerry except when we're fixing to debate, if you know what I mean.

No one really expected the answer to the curse of the bambino would come from a group of players that called themselves "idiots," except for maybe idiots who don't understand baseball. It is a heck of a team. This is a team that came together from South Korea and Dominican Republic; from Anchorage, Alaska; Fort Riley, Kansas; and incredibly enough, Midland, Texas. Oh yeah. Finally somebody from Midland amounted to something.

I love the way this team played, and so do baseball fans. I mean, this is a team that won eight games in a row when it wasn't supposed to, it's kind of, courage, a couple of stitches. You answered 86 years of prayer. That's an amazing feat, isn't it? I mean, when the Red Sox won, people all over the world cheered. They cheered in New England, and they cheered in Baghdad, Iraq. One guy said from Boston, "Now we just have to wait for the other six signs of the Apocalypse."

I really appreciate what Boston does off the field, too. The Jimmy Fund is a classic example of a sports franchise giving something back to the community in which they play. You created the Red Sox Scholars, which awards scholarships to disadvantaged fifth graders. I appreciate what individual players do. I know first hand what the Schillings do: the Shade Foundation to work to prevent skin cancer, and Shonda and Curt's leadership in the battle against Lou Gehrig's disease. I appreciate what the Red Sox are doing in the Dominican Republic with Señor Octubre.

But most of all our purpose here is to welcome champs. We wish you all the best in the upcoming season. We know that you've been able to do what's been viewed to be the impossible. And just like that sportscaster said in 1918, you know, Boston is the place to cover champs. Welcome to the White House. May God continue to bless you all.

Observation number one: the players cleaned up really well, decked out as they were in jackets and ties, except Mike Timlin who for some reason went tieless. Maybe he felt exempt, he and W being homeboys and all (Timlin is the player Bush mentioned from Midland, Texas, the President's hometown). Everyone on stage was on their best behavior, obviously heeding the Secret Service's advance instructions NOT to move from their appointed positions until the program was complete and the President had left. Kevin Millar, who because of his position was visible behind the President for pretty much the whole speech, never stopped smiling—a nice smile, not his typically goofy mug. Jason Varitek looked adorably star-struck; it seemed as if he wasn't expecting the President to enter via his end of the stage and be suddenly standing before him.

When Bush made reference to a particular player (Timlin, Schilling, Johnny Damon, David Ortiz) he turned and nodded toward him; he obviously knew the particular players. As a former major league owner, I suspect Bush watches his share of baseball and is probably among the more knowledgeable fans, even with bigger things on his plate. He acknoweldged the commissioner, Bud Selig, but I don't know who the person he addressed as "Bob" was—perhaps another baseball executive Bush knew from his days with the Texas Rangers.

I wondered if Bush's mention of Piersall being there with Dimaggio was a mistaken reference to Johnny Pesky. But then I realized that Pesky was on stage with the team, whereas Bush looked and gestured toward the audience when he made the comment. Piersall is still living, so it's not out of the question that he was in fact there.

After the prepared remarks, Schilling presented Bush with a personalized white home jersey with the number 43, and Varitek presented Cheney with an alternate red jersey with the number 2, which seemed to amuse the Vice President. Bush and Cheney then posed for group pictures and spend several minutes greeting each player and coach individually.

Commentary on WHDH television, which covered the ceremony live, suggested that this gathering might have been larger than others honoring championship sports teams in the past. If so, it is certainly consistent with the magnitude of the impact this championship has had on professional sports. I'm sure the Sox wouldn't mind making it an annual event, like the Patriots have.

Cheers of Red Sox triumph so far: 0

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