Friday, April 20, 2012

Happy 100th Birthday to America's Most Beloved Ballpark!

One hundred years ago today, the Boston Red Sox defeated the New York Highlanders on the very first Opening Day at Fenway Park.  There's been a lot of turmoil between now and then, but Fenway remains the center of baseball in Boston.

I know there are a lot of fans feeling jaded about the Red Sox lately, given the way last season ended and the way this one has begun.  People are feeling more attached to the nostalgia of Fenway than to many of the players on the team - and even that feeling has been cheapened by the never ending attempts to monetize the 100th Anniversary. You can buy bricks, shirts, hats, fan photos, and who knows what else.

But aside from the shameless attempts at profit, there's something magical about Fenway Park. You can sit in the same (uncomfortably small) seat your grandfather sat in and watch baseball on the field where Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and Jim Rice used to patrol.  There's something special about a manual scoreboard and the lack of between-innings gimmicks that own the day at many other MLB parks (ahem, Yankee Stadium, I am looking at you).

Yes, the prices are much higher than they used to be, and the players are (as a rule) overpaid - but Fenway Park has remained relatively static through the years. Sure, there are seats on the Green Monster now, and many of the once-wooden seats have been traded in for plastic, and there are more video boards than in yesteryear. But the Park is a living piece of history. According to team officials, it has about 40-45 more years of safe occupancy, and then the Red Sox will have to move out forever.

I'm sure they'll get a shiny new ballpark, where all of the seats face the infield, and where there aren't any beams to obstruct your view, and with a capacity much larger than what we're used to.  I don't know about you all, but I fully intend that when the time comes, I'll be that crotchety old lady who won't shut up about the way things were better "in my day."

That's what is so special about Fenway: this IS the ballpark of your grandparents - with a few small changes. It's creaky and old - but it's ours.

Sadly, I'll be missing the festivities this afternoon - both live (because I couldn't afford tickets) and on television (because I said I would work Trinity baseball before I checked the timing). Oh well, that's why NESN invented Sox in 2 at midnight... I can stay up until 2am on Spring Weekend, right?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

I'm betting on Lester

Lester will target the strikezone just like he targeted the deer/boar/whatever on this hunting trip.

After two fantastic starts that sadly ended in Red Sox losses, Jon Lester will take the mound tonight at friendly Fenway, looking for his first win of 2012.  Meanwhile, the 2011 American League Champion Rangers will trot out Colby Lewis, who has a win and a no-decision so far this season.

You all know my opinion of the "win" statistic: it's kind of like the cubic zirconia of baseball stats, shiny, pretty, but mostly worthless.  A lot of wins look nice, but since you can be charged for a loss while giving up one earned run in nine innings (or an unearned run, for that matter), and earn a win after giving up fifteen runs in five, wins and losses aren't a great way to test a pitcher's caliber.

That being said, Colby Lewis is a talented pitcher, with 15 strikeouts and a sparkling 1.42 ERA so far this season (stats accrued against the White Sox and Mariners, but still impressive). Last year Lewis helped to anchor a pennant winning rotation after the departure of Cliff Lee (with the help of new-Angel CJ Wilson).  However, Lewis does have a history of struggling against the Red Sox, with just 2 wins and three losses with an ERA of 5.01 in his career against Boston.

On the other hand, Lester's one loss and 2.40 ERA  so far this season come at the hands of the Tigers (against AL Cy Young and MVP winner Justin Verlander, no less) and the up-and-coming Blue Jays.  Over the course of his career, Jon Lester has a 3-1 record with a 3.48 ERA against the Rangers.

Add to these statistics the fact that Lester has been pretty dominating so far this season - even if the number in the "win" column doesn't back that up.  I also think it's safe to say that Lester's teammates are itching to get him a win after failing to do so in Detroit and Toronto.  Lester is a popular - if reserved - man in the clubhouse, and it's clear his teammates hold him in high esteem.

I see an early hook for Lewis tonight - the Sox took the weekend and teed off against the Rays (with the exception of yesterday morning) scoring 31 runs to the Rays' 12 in four games.  The bats have been heating up in Boston, and the way Lester has been going, he won't need that much run support to come out victorious.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Happy Jackie Robinson Day!

I'm headed to Fenway this morning to see the Red Sox battle the Rays - and keep hopes for a sweep alive.  It will be my first time at the park since Game 81 of last year (which ended in a Red Sox loss), and I could not be more excited about the fact that today is Jackie Robinson Day across MLB.

I'm taking a couple of sports related classes this semester (Baseball as American Culture and History of US Sports), and so we've obviously talked quite a bit about Robinson, both as an incredibly talented baseball player and as an amazingly strong and resilient human being.

Robinson took more abuse from fans, opposing teams, and even coaches, than any of us will ever understand - he not only paved the way to end segregation in baseball, but he was a beacon of hope to African-Americans all over the United States.  The best book I've read on Robinson is called Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and his Legacy, by Jules Tygiel.  If you're interested in reading about Robinson's journey, or about Dodgers' mastermind Branch Rickey, this is the book for you.

The Red Sox in particular have cause to reflect on Jackie Robinson today, because they were the last MLB team to integrate, when Pumpsie Green debuted in July of 1959, TWELVE YEARS after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.  The Sox remained a notoriously racist organization far beyond Green's tenure on the team, and this fact was a big part of some terrible Red Sox teams - even when the Red Sox were ready to bring in African-American and Latin players, said players wanted nothing to do with an organization with that kind of reputation. (For more reading about this topic, check out It was Never About the Babe: The Red Sox, Racism, Mismanagement, and the Curse of the Bambino, by Jerry M. Gutlon.)

Of course, the Red Sox aren't discriminating against non-white ballplayers these days, but it's important to understand the scarred history of the franchise, because it all led up to today.

Today, every player in Major League baseball will wear 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson, and all that he stood for.  It's a meaningful and important sight, and I feel privileged to have tickets on this day specifically.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Ellsbury out 6-8 weeks, Sox call up Lin

According the's Extra Bases blog, Jacoby Ellsbury's collision with Reid Brignac, the Rays' shortstop has resulted in a shoulder subluxation (a partial separation) and will be out 6-8 weeks.

Brignac apologized profusely, and it was obviously an accident, so I don't think there will be any hard feelings.  Unfortunately, all the apologies in the world won't allow Che Hsuan-Lin to replace Ellsbury's production while Golden Boy rehabs.
By all accounts, Lin is more than capable of duplicating Ellsbury's defense, as rates him well with "Plus speed.  Ability to steal 20-25 bases in the big leagues.  Well-above average defender.  Possesses outstanding defensive instincts.  Seems to get a head start on balls off the bat.  Covers excellent ground from gap-to-gap.  Plus-plus arm, with improving accuracy."

Sadly, Lin will probably be unable to live up to Bill James' projections for Ellsbury: .304 BA, .362 OBP, .476 SLG.  If Ells is back in exactly eight weeks, we should see him for the beginning of interleague play in Washington, DC on Friday, June 8th.

Can the Red Sox do it without him until then? They've already lost their closer, Andrew Bailey, until sometime around the All Star Break, and the loss of the runner-up for the 2012 MVP Award can't be overlooked. Personally, I think they'll be able to hang in - so long as the pitching staff can hold things together.

Check out this link from ESPN Boston for more info on the injury:

Friday, April 13, 2012

Optimism rewarded!

Due to a series of unexpected events, I was able to catch the last four innings of today's game - I had thought I was going to miss the whole thing.  So after running back to my room after an ESPN info session at Career Services, I immediately turned on the TV and was pleased to see that the Sox were leading 4-1 in the sixth inning.

I did pretty well with my morning predictions: Beckett went out there and pitched his heart out, going eight innings (and it would have been nine if the Sox half of the eighth hadn't been so explosive) giving up a single run on one hit and one walk.

The lineup certainly rose to the occasion, as everyone but Cody Ross had at least one hit - and Ross had a sacrifice fly for an RBI. Kevin Youkilis in particular had a great day, going 2-for-4 with 3 RBIs, while Adrian Gonzalez continued his early success with a 3-for-5 day and an RBI.  Sadly, my only incorrect prediction was about Pedey: he didn't manage to hit a home run today, but he did beat out an infield hit once I started watching.

The funniest moment of the day had to be Kelly Shoppach's first career stolen base (above) which included a failed slide and then a flop.  I wondered at Shoppach's presence over Salty when I saw the lineup this morning, but obviously Bobby V. knew what he was doing when he put the lineup card together.

It wasn't all sunshine and rainbows today, as Jacoby Ellsbury left the game with a shoulder injury after going 2-for-3 with an RBI to start the game. Here's hoping Golden Boy makes a quick and full recovery.

When we know more about the extent of Ellsbury's injury, I'll post an update here - after his killer season last year, the Red Sox cannot afford to lose Ells long term.

Opening Day optimism

I'm guessing that most of you, like me, are on the mailing list, and you also woke up to the above picture in your email.  It's a beautiful photo (and really just makes me want to sneak into Fenway in the early morning with a camera) to start off Opening Day - here's hoping at that time tomorrow the Sox will have kicked off a winning streak.

By chance, I was at the final home game of last season, and like most of September, the day ended in a loss (to the Orioles, no less).  At the time, I wasn't too worried, since there six games still to play and I figured they would clinch soon enough. I won't rehash it now, on the morning of a fresh start, but you all know how that worked out.

I know that there are mixed feelings about the movie Fever Pitch, but there's one scene from it in particular that encompasses how I feel today (and on all Home Openers): the main character's season tickets have arrived, and after he's embraced the delivery guy, he and his friends open the box, touching and smelling and caressing the tickets.  "A new season," says one of them with awe, "a clean slate." The main character smells his sheet of tickets and declares that "this smells like the year."

From all the way in Connecticut, this smells like the year. Soon enough we'll have forgotten this 1-5 start, the bullpen will shake out the kinks, and the field players will find their groove.  Opening Day is about unbridled optimism, and since I won't be able to watch this year (I have to commentate Trinity baseball this afternoon), I'm broadcasting my good feelings now.

I'm predicting Josh Beckett will go out there looking to prove himself after an abysmal start last week in Detroit, and pitch deep into the game.  The lineup will rise to the occasion of performing in front of the Fenway crowd, and those who have been struggling (I'm looking at you Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis) will get in in gear.

Sox take Opening Day, and for my final prediction, Dustin Pedroia goes yard - because that's just what he does on Opening Day.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Johnny Damon headed for the Tribe

 Just some of the photos that come up when you Google "Johnny Damon."

Old friend Johnny Damon has apparently signed with the Cleveland Indians for a one-year deal with "$1.25 million in base salary with $1.4 million," according to

The Indians are off to a 1-4 start, and though that gives them a better winning percentage than the Red Sox, they have more reason to worry - namely the .176 team batting average and going 1-for-11with runners in scoring position.

The Tribe will be Damon's seventh team, and somehow he's never played in the National League, having played for Kansas City, Oakland, Boston, New York (Yankees), Detroit, and Tampa Bay.  Of course, we know him best as the once fun-loving Idiot who broke our collective hearts when he jumped ship for the Evil Empire after promising that he wouldn't.

He resurfaced in New York without his iconic hair and beard, and had some solid years for the Yankees, winning the World Series with them in 2009.  When he went off to the mid-west in 2010 to play for the Tigers, I for one thought that the healing could begin, but then he vetoed a waiver-trade back to us late in the year, and I decided to never look back.

Johnny Damon is a quality baseball player: he's approaching 3,000 hits, and by all accounts he's a great guy to have in the clubhouse. But I'll never forgive him for shunning us TWICE - and the second time it wasn't even about the money.  So Johnny Damon is becoming an Indian... maybe that's karma?

Ozzie Guillen garners the wrong kind of attention

 If you're not following Ozzie Guillen on Twitter, you should be.

Whatever problems you might already be having with the new manager (and trust me, I understand if you have concerns), you can at least rest assured that it could be much worse. The Red Sox could have gone the route of Marlins owners Jeffrey Loria and David Samson and hired the one and only Ozzie Guillen.

In case you haven't heard, Guillen recently did an interview with Time Magazine, and, as usual, he had some questionable things to say, most infamously, "I love Fidel Castro."

What Guillen was trying to get across is that he admires the Cuban dictator's survival and longevity, not his philosophy of governing, but the intent doesn't matter.  The Marlins are at the beginning of a new era: they just spent huge amounts of money in the offseason for the biggest name free agents (and for Guillen himself), and opened up the season on national television with the unveiling of their new $500 million ballpark in the Little Havana section of Miami.

Yes, that's correct, Little Havana. New manager Ozzie Guillen just announced his love for despised Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in the city with the largest concentration of Cuban refugees in the country, just as the Marlins are trying to recruit them into the fanbase.  It would be like walking into the Upper West Side Jewish Center and announcing to a group of Holocaust survivors that you loved Hitler, then asking them to please support your business.

Needless to say, the fallout has been immediate and messy. Marlins ownership has suspended Guillen for five games for his comments, and the Cuban population in Miami is livid and calling for a termination of Guillen's contract.

It's a safe bet that the Marlins ownership brought Guillen in to garner them some much-needed publicity in a state that is mostly apathetic about baseball.  It's an even safer bet that this was not what they had in mind.

So I understand the frustrations with Bobby V.'s bullpen handling, or the angst about his radio show gig in New York - but at least he hasn't professed his love and admiration for any evil, murderous dictators lately.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A look on the bright side.

I'm tempering my alarm, using every ounce of logic I can come up with to keep the hot bubble of panic from rising up inside me. It's only six games. It's one more win than we had last year at this time. We'll lose 5-of-6 in July and no one will notice.  Sometimes it works. More often, I get more creeping thoughts encroaching on my logic: The bullpen is in shambles. Bobby V is a nutcase (though admittedly nowhere near as nutty as Ozzie Guillen - but that's another post). Youkilis is falling apart. And on and on and on.

But enough of those crazy voices in my head (is it just me, or do you guys have them too?). There is plenty to be excited about so far this season, and if you - like me - sometimes have difficulty bringing these to mind, here they are in a convenient list.

  1. Jon Lester is in mid-season form, and seems to be taking the whole "make up for September" thing very seriously. Lester has traditionally struggled in April, but he has absolutely dominated in his first two outings, and the fact that he doesn't have a win yet is just more evidence for how useless a stat the win can be.
  2. Daniel Bard's first start was promising, though the surface numbers (5IP, 5 earned runs, and a loss) are less than ideal. Bard recorded six strikeouts, allowed just one walk, and induced eighteen swings-and-misses at his pitches. His BABIP was way above average (a fancy way of saying more balls fell in for hits than is normal - the law of averages should make up for that over a full season).
  3. Dustin Pedroia looks ready, willing, and able to carry this team on his back all the way to the playoffs. The sparkplug second baseman began late rallies multiple times this week, seemingly willing the Red Sox to score runs. I don't think the Red Sox will be awarding a "C" to a player any time soon, but we all know who the leader is inside that clubhouse.
  4. Adrian Gonzalez seems to have come to understand us. Last year he was calling for fans to relax after the 0-6 start.  Not so this year, after an off-season of Sox mea culpas, Gonzo was out there claiming that the first game in Toronto was a must win. Gonzo came prepared - he has six RBIs so far this season.
  5. [This one is more personal, so I apologize in advance.] I am in the United States of America, in Red Sox Nation, where I can watch baseball on my TV.  At this time last year I was in Dakar, Senegal, praying that the power/WiFi wouldn't go out, and paying a classmate 10,000 CFA (about $20) to use his account. This is much better.
It's all going to be okay. This team is solid (though the bullpen is more suspect than I would prefer), and over the course of 2012 they are going to win a lot of games. There will probably be more drama than we've been used to since Manny took off, courtesy of Bobby V., but what's Boston baseball without a few shenanigans?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Fans who use "we:" normal or annoying?

I've blogged about my History of US Sports class in this space before, but we had a particularly spirited debate this evening - and it wasn't about a team, or a player, or even a sport. It was about the fans. Specifically, how attachment to a particular team is displayed.  There were students who were personally offended when fans used "we" in most contexts, students (including myself) who use "we," and some who didn't care.

Personally, I only get annoyed when people will say "We won," when their team wins, but "They lost," when their team loses. Don't lump yourself in only when the team is successful, then seek to distance yourself during the bad times.

In class, there were more people who used "we," or who didn't mind when others did, than those who disliked it. However, when I asked if people minded the use of "we" on social networking sites, opinions seemed to be more split. On Twitter I got two responses, one on each side of the issue.

 On Tumblr, I got five responders who bristled at the use of "we," and four who either didn't care or embraced it.  On Facebook I got four answers: three didn't care, and one was particularly vocal and articulate about her support for "we:"

"I've got my time, money, and emotions invested into these teams, go through the ups and downs with them.... sometimes fans can be the difference maker in a game... Teams can't thrive as professional teams without us... I def feel justified using "we""

The crux of the issue (on both sides) seems to come down to ownership and attachment to the team in question.  Those who thing "we" is inappropriate seem to be concerned that fans who use the term feel too close, and that they should step back some.

For me personally, sports are EXTREMELY personal. I have a visceral, emotional response to the team. I feel elated when they win, and depressed when they lose - the Boston athlete's accusation that the fans take things too seriously sometimes describes me to a "T."  I feel like my Facebook friend quoted above: I spend a huge amount of time, money, and energy on the Red Sox, and I use "we." [I do NOT feel invested enough in the Pats, Celts, or Bruins to use "we."]

What do you all think? Am I crazy and/or annoying to refer to the Sox as "we?" Do you ever do this?