Awoke this morning, a bit earlier than the last, and with a springier step than the previous day. Small changes that mean nothing, when melded-together….mean everything. Spring is on our doorstep, we can almost touch it.
The boys have been down in Florida preparing for the grind of daily games in the most intense media spotlight ever seen in these parts. The 2009 season ended abruptly, and not the way it should have….so the team and their fans have a chip the size of Oregon on their shoulder after watching rival team, the zillion-dollar New York Yankees take home the World Series trophy last fall. Closer and obvious fall guy Jonathan Papelbon re-signed with the Red Sox in the offseason, and returns a humbler, more mature and focused competitor. We have a new starting shortstop Marco Scutaro, who I believe will only help the lineup, and should be a great fielder, with young Jed Lowrie still available for play time also. Ortiz showed-up to the Fort Myers Training Facility early, as did Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie, and 2008 AL MVP Dustin Pedroia. They showed-up early to show eachother that they mean business, they want to win (not place or show) in 2010.
Victor Martinez will get the bulk of the time behind Home Plate as lead catcher in 2010, but will rely heavily on direction from team mate Jason Varitek and coach Gary Tuck. Victor is an exceptional bat for the middle of our lineup, but does not throw too many base-stealers out, and does not call a game anywhere near what our Captain is capable of. You can check your stats on that one. But with Varitek only catching 2 of every 5 or 6 games, his strength will be preserved more effectively for the long season ahead. I watched the man play game after game, with hardly a break or day off because Kottaras’ bat was so weak, until he could no longer be effective in his at-bats in August/September of 2009. The man who was hitting home runs like crazy in Spring Training, into April/May/June (including a Grand Slam in late April at Fenway against the Yankees) was not the same man at summer’s end.
The addition of what some consider to be a third Ace in John Lackey, was one of the biggest offseason stories. Lackey has power, and came to Boston to win a championship….and will hopefully be just the addition needed to get us over the large hump and into the final stretch of the post season. You can never have too much pitching. Just ask Theo, he’ll tell you. I am sure that Clay Buchholz was not pleased at the addition of Lackey to the pitching staff, because he felt that he put his time in, and deserved to be lit-up at last. Let’s not forget our very expensive import, Japan’s MVP of the WBC….Mr. Daisuke Matsuzaka….who also needs a spot in the rotation. And oddly enough (and surprising to me) the front office decided to offer a pitching spot to returning veteran Tim Wakefield.
There is lots of talk of young Casey Kelly, the addition of Boof Bonser to the pen and another Ramon Ramirez !! Can’t wait to watch the guys throw for myself. Reliable lefty Hideki Okajima also returned to the team with a contract this offseason. Wagner and Saito are gone, both to the Atlanta Braves. Just hope there’s enough pitching in that pen to last us through a whole season. Any way we can buy-back Justin Masterson ? Young Daniel Bard should be quite effective as a setup guy in the 8th, or as an alternate closer when Papelbon has a night off.
Young Jacoby Ellsbury will become our LF guy, as Mike Siverman predicted in his Boston Herald article way back in late November/early December of 2009. Jason Bay left us for more money from the NY Mets, so we are left with a need that Jack-Rabbit Jacoby will fill at LF, and his previous position of CF will be played by veteran newcomer Mike Cameron. I am not sure if I agree with that move, because Ellsbury was so quick and limber, and jumped and stretched and caught almost everything that was thrown near him in that huge outfield in 2009. How will an aging Cameron do ? J.D. Drew will return in RF, and be a reliable bat in our lineup once again. I welcome young Jeremy Hermida as a utility outfielder, and effective bat.
2009 3B Mike Lowell is being replaced on an everyday basis by Adrian Beltre. Not a popular move on Theo’s part, but we have to remain competitive, and Mike Lowell’s injuries keep him from playing everyday, whether he wants to admit it or not. Don’t get me wrong, Mikey has a great feel for the game, he is a great 3rd baseman, and an exceptional hitter who knows how to send a ball over the Monster….but he is no longer an everyday player of the caliber that we need to compete for a World Championship title in 2010. The poor guy can barely walk without limping (and he’s not the only one). Sadly, this will be the last full playing year for several of our favorite heroes in the Red Sox uniform.
They will bond as a team this month, and return to us at Fenway Park on Sunday April 4th eager, and powerful, and hungry for another great year. We will cheer, and pray for warmth, and chant as we watch them from our Blackberries, our slingboxes, our expensive HDTV hookups, Direct TV dishes, even 3D televisions !! We will collectively gather on Easter night and each night after in our dens, recreation rooms, corner bars, fancy living rooms, computer screens, backyard radios, social clubs, and everywhere people gather to be amazed and entertained by these amazing and entertaining men….who happen to be in a Red Sox uniform.
I will make my pilgrimages down to Boston to watch them play, from my little perch behind the net as often as I am able…..because I am a Red Sox fan….and can think of no better way to spend my precious time than to watch them play ball right at my toes, as I scream at the umpire and opposing players….please stop-by and say hello to me whenever you can, you will be greeted with a big smile.
– Fenway Fruitgirl “Behind The Net” 2010
So far, the 2009 Baseball season for my Red Sox has not been great. Thanks to the World Baseball Classic, we are short some of our best players. Can’t they have the Classic right BEFORE the Spring Training season starts, so it does not interfere with getting the MLB teams ready for a long, grueling season?
Some publications have called the Sox the “Walking Wounded” this year, because of the signings that Theo Epstein made in the offseason to beef-up our lineup. I am beginning to agree with that nickname. Calm-down Red Sox Nation, I am in no way saying that the team will not be great…..I believe it will be great, when they get together in one place.
NESN is not airing very many games this preseason (nor is MLB free). And by the final scores of the games played, they are not at “Great” status yet. The kids they are throwing together as a team in Florida are not doing so hot, and the bargains that were picked-up to help (Kotsay, Penney & Smoltz) are not yet ready to play. And to rub salt on the wound, the playing status of some of our best players is fairly uncertain. Mike Lowell still has not played, so hopefully he will return to his exceptional infield/slugger status by season-opener. J D Drew got his shot, and will hopefully return to greatness soon, because he is a dangerous hitter when healthy! And let us not forget David Ortiz and his legendary swing, and our Ace Josh Beckett hopefully returning to greatness in 2009. Let’s face it, that’s a lot of Hopefully’s !! Oh, and hopefully Bay, Youkilis, Pedroia, Lopez and Matsuzaka will not be exhausted from playing in the WBC when they get back to City Of Palms Park.
On the positive side, Varitek’s swing has improved, as has his throw. Bard is working-out well as a backup catcher. Lester is doing great, as is Masterson…in whatever role Tito puts him in. Papelbon is consistently excellent, and Lugo appears to be ready to go on Opening Day.
You may have noticed that I have left out some players from this blog, because I may have nothing to report on them, or perhaps I do not care about them very much. But since they are playing the kids so much while waiting for our real team to get back together, keep an eye on Mike Bowden, Dan Bard and Lars Anderson….they are really a joy to watch.
Can’t wait for the little league play to end, and for all the boys to reunite and practice some big boy baseball. Opening Day is only a month away!!