February 2012

CHANGING TIMES

     I’ll be honest.  I have been watching the early coverage from Spring Training at Fort Myers and I find it fascinating.  Everyone from John Henry down to the bat boys are saying and doing the right thing.  Trying to exorcise the ghosts of 2011 seems to be first and foremost for the Sox.  New attitudes are the order of the day.  It seems those singled out most often are Josh Beckett and John Lester.  The two were there early and ready to work.  They were also two of the men who were thought to be responsible for the beer drinking and chicken eating last season ion the club house.

     Bobby Valentine stalks around the new facility, keeping a watchful eye over everyone and everything in his domain.  It looks like he will not leave a stone unturned.  Now that Terry Francona is gone, the “experts” are saying that Bobby V is just what this team needs.  For years, though, Boston had a great desire for a “players’ manager”.  Don Orsillo pointed out that Tito had NO rules at all, other than to be on time, and not to dress worse than he did on charter flights.  I suspect that Valentine will have substantially more regulations.  He will not risk his shot at redemption, believing the players will do what they are supposed to do.  He will make certain they do the right thing.  His first step in that direction was bannng beer and all alcohol from the Boston clubhouse.  It will not be allowed on the final leg of charter flights either. 

     Everyone, at least publicly, is on board.  Not that they have any choice.  David Ortiz, now the longest-tenured Red Sox player says it is no big deal.  “This ain’t a bar.” quipped Big Papi.

     Maybe the most telling “Mea Culpa” was issued by team owner John Henry.  Henry apologized to outfielder Carl Crawford for his earlier statements, saying he was never “on board” with the signing   of the former Tampa star.  The two met, and Crawford graciously accepted the apology.  So far so good at JetBlue Park.  Injuries seem to be healing.  Arms seem to be lively.  Bats are being swung with authority and power.

     There seems to be a catharsis going on.  Out with the old and in with the new.  Players will fight for playing time and roster spots.  Complacency will not be tolerated.  No standing around while you’re supposed to be working.  It;s a new era in Boston and there is definitely a new sheriff in town.

READY FOR TRUE LOVE AGAIN?

    Who among us hasn’t had their heart broken at some point?   Last fall the Red Sox broke our hearts. A September swoon of biblical proportions.  I was saddened by it.  I was hurt.  I couldn’t understand it, even though I endured every agonizing minute of it.  Why us?  We had stopped saying that for a while.  The Patriots had their dynasty early in the new millenium.  The Sox reversed the curse in 2004 and for good measure, won again in 2007.  The Celts and the Big 3 bested the Lakers in 2008 and even the Bruins skated off with Lord Stanleys’ Cup last season.  We were riding high.

     We have had all winter to digest the debacle at Fenway.  Terry Francona and Bobby Valentine have essentially switched jobs.  Tito will work on ESPN, while Bobby V manages the Red Sox.  In the meantime, we’ve been further emotionally crippled by the Pats’ inability to beat the Giants.  We’ve seen the Celtics age before our very eyes, and we’ve been bludgeoned to death by Tebow mania and now Lin-sanity.  My question is- “Are you ready to love again/”

     It’s not quite Spring yet, but it is the time of year when ANYTHING is possible.  Anything.  Every man, woman and child has the chance to be happy.  You’ve been beaten up in the past.  We all have.  You can say “screw it!” or you can get back up on the horse.  I think I’ll choose to embrace the Sox again.  Give it another try.  My friend, “The Colonel”, was a Sox fan his entire life.  The Aaron Boone home run in 2003 was the last straw.  He announced a change of allegiance, to, of all teams, the Yankees.  He remained steadfast until the Sox ended their 86 year drought.  He wanted back in.  Too late.

     When you love something or someone, you want to be loved back.  Last season, the Boston Red Sox didn’t love us back. They cut us off at the knees.  They pulled the rug out from under us.  They “bonked” us over the head with a giant hammer.  You may not yet be ready to profess your love. I can’t blame you.  Proceed with caution. You don’t want to get clobbered again.  If you do love the Sox, don’t be afraid to stand on the rooftop and yell it out.  Certainly, there’s a risk.  But, how about the reward?  Sometimes in life, you have to play a hunch.  Go with your gut. The payoff could be the sweetest reward of all.  Getting loved back.  

SAY IT AIN’T SO, CAN, SAY IT AIN’T SO

     One of the most colorful and popular players in Red Sox and PawSox history, dropped a bomb  on us the other day.  Nothing really surprises me any more, but Dennis Oil Can Boyds’ revelation that he very often was high on cocaine while he was pitching for the Sox, was a bit of a stunner.  We live in a “tell-all” society and the Can has decided to tell on himself.  Ironic, when you consider how hard others work to keep their dirty little secrets.   

     His book, “They Call Me Oil Can” is scheduled to come out this Summer.  Give Boyd credit.  He knew exactly how to whet the appetites of Red Sox fans.  Boyd admitted to cocaine use, down in Fort Myers, as fans, hungry for the latest about the Sox, were getting ready for the loaded equipment truck to go south.  Boyd was an average Major Leaguer in his 10 years in the “Show”.  He was 78-77 with an ERA around 4.00 through his career.  He claims a lot of things.  That he could have won 150 games if he was clean.  That “everyone” was doing it back in the ’80s.  That he did it in every city and every ballpark.  Says he was never tested.  Oddly, the lanky right hander claims that he has no regrets.  I tend to think that he’s lying.  If he had been clean and had won 150 games, it’s less likely that he’d be airing his own dirty laundry at this stage of his life.  Why else “come clean” for other than financial reward?

     Boyd played parts of four seasons in Pawtucket.  He notched 129 strikeouts to lead the club in 1983.  He twice struck out 15 players in a game while a member of the PawSox, a team record he shares with Jin Ho Cho.  One has to wonder if his bad habits began in the Big Leagues, or if he began cultivating them while he was on the road to the Majors.

     We knew about guys like Darryl Strawberry, Doc Gooden and Steve Howe.  I sat back and smiled smugly, content that none of “my” guys were ever incriminated.  What a joke.  First Roger Clemens and his steroid mess and now Oil Can and his admission.  What a 1-2 punch to the gut!  The Rocket is scheduled for trial next month and Boyd’s book hits the shelves this summer.  Hope they both get what they deserve.  

JUST LIKE THE OLD DAYS

     We were spoiled.  Let’s face it.  We did deserve it, though.  We went 86 years without a World Series.  Before the holy trinity of Kraft/Brady/Belichick united, a Super Bowl was merely something for the Cowboys or Steelers or 49ers.  Before the Celtics’ big 3 got together, we had known for years that the trio of Bird, Parish and McHale were not walking through the door.  We were the loveable losers.  Every once in a while Boston would get close, only to get clobbered in the end.  The Sox in ’67, ’75, ’86 and ’03 stand out.  Before the Patriots won their three Lombardis, they were beaten by Chicago and the Packers.  No one felt sorry for the Celtics.  They had 16 banners hanging from the rafters before their most recent win over the Lakers.  To be honest, I’m not a big Bruins fan, although I am happy they currently reign as Stanley Cup Champs.  So that was us.  A mere annoyance to the Yankees.  A minor obstacle to Jerry Buss’ club. Not even an NFL afterthought.

     I go back to when Dick Williams was managing at Fenway.  I vaguely remember Phil Bengston in Foxboro, but certainly remember the Chuck Fairbanks era.  Tom Heinsohn ruled at the Garden, after a Hall of Fame career and before he started his thirty plus year run with Mike Gorman.  While I was rooting for the likes of Yastrzemski and Plunkett, only Havlicek and, Cowens delivered.

     The first decade of the twenty first century will forever be known as the Glory Days.  We went from perennial losers to Title Town, USA.  I dare say we began to take it for granted.  My kids thought that this was the greatest place in the world to be a sports fan.  They love teams that I love.  Recently, they’ve gotten the cold reality that we endured for decades.  This year has been hard.  The September Swoon at Fenway. Titos’ dismissal.  The 21-17 loss to the Giants on Sunday and the realization that Coach Bill is not a genius.  Learning that Doc Rivers is only as good as his players.  There’s a very brief, fleeting window for success.  You only get so many chances.  Very quickly you go from hero, to someone whose supermodel wife has to defend you from her luxury suite.

     It doesn’t take long to get from the top of the heap to has-been.  From the NFL’s leading pass catcher to Super Bowl goat.  It’s frustrating, but it’s a part of life.  Can the Sox rebound after their epic collapse of 2011?  Will the Pats be able to re-tool, because as soon as Brady hangs up his cleats, let’s face it, all bets are off.  Will Danny Ainge start selling off pieces to contenders?  He was there the first time when Auerbach didn’t pull the trigger.

     I guess the hard times just make you appreciate the good times more.  I hope I’m wrong, but I get the sense that the hard times are just around the corner.

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