Sunday, September 14, 2014

What a difference a year makes

On this day in 2013, I wrote a post entitled #GetBeard, reveling in the facial hair, antics, and camaraderie of the eventual World Champions. Even though I didn't want to jinx anything, I (like much of Red Sox Nation) could tell that team was something special.

They rose to the occasion after a terrible tragedy, taking on the rallying cry of "Boston Strong" and fulfilling the dreams of a city and region that desperately needed something to celebrate.

This year has been disappointing almost from the get-go. Aside from the ring ceremony, which was as touching as expected, there's been precious little to celebrate on Yawkey Way this season.

The Red Sox have been mathematically eliminated for a week now, when last year at this time we were on the edge of our collective seats, watching an unbelievably charismatic team dominate down the stretch.

The most ironic part is that what we've seen from this year's squad is what we were supposed to expect last season, but while last year everything seemed to go right, this year has been marred by underperformance, injuries, and trades. The 2013 Word Champion Boston Red Sox were like the Goonies: they never said die. They expected to win, and they played like it.

Not so this season. There's been an aura of surrender all season, and if it was a mere hint in the spring and early summer, it was practically the company line after the trade deadline fire sale.

Sure, there have been some promising performances from a few of the young players, and just today, Daniel Nava partied like it was 2010 with a grand slam.

Sadly, 2014 has been a forgettable season overall, but if you were to have asked me last year if I would take this season in exchange for the fun of 2013, I would have said yes a million times over.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Never change, Papelbon

I was so caught up with the trade deadline yesterday that I neglected to share one of my favorite anecdotes so far. It concerns perhaps the most quirky former Red Sox out there, a pitcher who once told Amalie Benjamin to "put the fact that he's a sheriff in Mississippi into a story."

Of course, I'm talking about former closer Jonathan Papelbon, Lord Cinco Ocho himself. The man Manny Delcarmen described as the strangest he's ever shared a bullpen with. Even though I knew the Phillies were in Washington for a four game set, it totally slipped my mind that Paps would be in town.

Which is why it took me a moment to realize that the player who poked fun at the camera setup Julianne and I were using yesterday on the field was the same man who once danced around Fenway Park with a beer box on his head.

We were shooting a pre-game standup regarding the Nationals trade deadline activity, and I wanted to frame up the shot with the field and the scoreboard in the background. Because neither Julianne nor I are particularly tall, we achieved this by having her stand on the camera case.

Halfway through the first take, we heard a voice drawl, "I've never seen anything like that before." I turned around, and out of the dugout behind me emerged Jonathan Papelbon, gesturing at the case under Jules' feet.

He chuckled and added that it might be easier if we were taller, and before we could formulate any kind of reasonable response, he was walking away for team stretching.

I've been able to mostly shed the baseball fan inside of me when I'm working, but after that interaction I indulged in a moment of reflection. If seventeen-year-old me had ever anticipated something like that, as casual as it was, I would have freaked out. 

Five weeks into covering every Nationals home game, the thrill of interacting with major league ballplayers has become all but mundane - but I spared a grin for Papelbon, if only for nostalgia's sake.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Sentimentality of the Jon Lester Trade

©Kayla Chadwick 2012
In pure rational baseball terms, I don't hate the Jon Lester [and Jonny Gomes] for Yoenis Cespedes [and a draft pick] trade. Cespedes is a solid player, Lester's contract extension talks weren't going well, and it's certainly still possible that Lester returns to Boston as a free agent.

But I'm not a baseball fan because I'm rational - and I'm certainly not a Red Sox fan because I'm rational. I fell for this sport and this team in the same head-over-heels, giddy, out of control way that you fall for a first love. Sure, the fact that I was born and raised in New Hampshire made the Sox an obvious choice, but how could you not fall for the classic beauty of Fenway Park? For the fun-loving antics and absolute domination of Pedro Martinez, who dazzled Red Sox fans in his heyday?

Jon Lester didn't come onto the scene until I was already a diehard, but I fell in love with him just the same. Everyone knows Lester's amazing story: touted prospect is diagnosed with cancer, makes a miraculous recovery and returns to the game in time to win the clinching game of the 2007 World Series. Oh, and the very next season he threw a no-hitter, the eighteenth in franchise history.

Lester is a favorite among fans, teammates, and managers. The looks on Lester's and Terry Francona's faces as the two embraced following Lester's no-hitter never fails to make me tear up.

Even when Lester was part of the infamous Beer and Chicken Incident of 2011, he was one of the only players involved to come forward, admit it was wrong, and work to move past it. He's grown from the rookie who looked up to Josh Beckett to a player John Farrell can point to as an example when pitchers come up through the system. The student has become the teacher.

Sure, Lester has had poor games, and even the odd mediocre season - but he's a good lefthanded pitcher who can be absolutely dominating under the right circumstances. He typically takes responsibility for his mistakes, and gives his teammates ample credit for their contributions to his successes. 

Lester is a fan favorite - and for good reason. He'll certainly help the A's down the stretch, and give Red Sox fans a good reason to watch the playoffs, even though the Sox are all but mathematically eliminated.

Even though the Lester trade makes good baseball sense, it's hard to see him go. He's yet another piece of the 2007 team gone, a home grown player with a story worthy of a blockbuster film, headed to the west coast in the blink of an eye. Sure, he might be back by next Opening Day - but it's just as likely that we'll never see him in a Red Sox uniform again.

Somehow, Lester is more than a baseball player to me (and, I suspect, to many of you). I hope he's successful going forward, that he wins a lot of games down the stretch, and most of all, that he comes home to us over this offseason.