Friday, March 29, 2013

Catching up with old friends

Sometimes when players leave the Red Sox, fans are content; for whatever reason, sometimes it's just time for them to pack up and go. Other times, we wish they could stay, even if what we get in return is incredible.  No matter how players leave town, it's always fun to see where they end up.

As you all know, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez got traded to the Dodgers last season - the laid back style of LA seems to be suiting them, at least based on this photo tweeted from the Dodgers account:

Meanwhile, out in Houston, former Red Sox shortstop Jed Lowrie, who was always rather more cerebral than his fellows, is making a serious hobby of photography:

Outfielder Josh Reddick, now with the Oakland A's, has reportedly accepted a beard-growing challenge from WWE wrestler Daniel Bryan

And perhaps most hilariously of all, Manny Ramirez is currently playing professional baseball in Taiwan, for $25,000 a month.  For comparison's sake, Ramirez made nearly six times that PER GAME in the Red Sox Championship season of 2004.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cheap seats in April

The Red Sox are absolutely desperate to get fans into Fenway this April. After the home opener on April 8th, ticket prices on start at $9 for the very next game. Sure, it's for crappy bleacher seats, but you'd pay $3 more to buy them directly from the Red Sox.

The team fully expects the record-setting sellout streak to officially end this month - though, let's be honest, there were swaths of empty seats by the end of 2012.  It's hard enough to entice people to shell out for night games in April when they're optimistic about the team's prospects, but after the disastrous 2012 season, expectations are much more subdued.

Recognizing this, the Red Sox are offering all kinds of incentives to fans who show up to one of their seventeen games in April. To start with, they're offering free meals to children 14 and under (a hotdog, a juicebox, and Goldfish), which is a particularly cunning ploy, because how many parents bring their young kids to midweek night games?

For the adults among us, they're offering 2-for-1 Fenway Franks, half priced hot chocolate, and, perhaps most exciting, $5 beer.  According to the Red Sox website, they haven't sold beer that cheap since the 2004 season, and if you're the sentimental type you might say they're trying to recapture the magic of the Championship run. If you're cynical, you're probably assuming that they're trying to get fans so drunk that we won't notice if the team gets off to a poor start.

Either way, I fully intend to score some bargain-basement seats. It's been a long, cold, snowy winter, and I'll watch the Red Sox for $9 any day.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Congrats, Jeff Locke!

I've mentioned Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jeff Locke before in this space, because he's the first major leaguer that my hometown of North Conway, New Hampshire, has ever produced.

Of course, locals have followed Locke's career closely, from the time he was drafted by the Atlanta Braves, through the trade to Pittsburgh, and every step up the minor league ladder. He made his major league debut as a September call-up in 2011, and his friends and family made the trek to Pittsburgh to see him.

Last season, he made six starts for the Pirates, racking up a 1-3 record.  This year, Jeff Locke has officially been named the fifth starter in the Pirates rotation coming out of spring training, and my Facebook newsfeed has absolutely blown up with hometown pride.

Locke will be one of three southpaws in the Pirates rotation, joining Wandy Rodriguez and Jonathan Sanchez, while the other two spots have been claimed by righthanders James McDonald and AJ Burnett.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Time for a balanced schedule

The way that the major league schedule is set up is absolutely appalling. Let's just look at the state of the American League for a moment. Over in the AL West, the A's, Angels, Rangers, and even Mariners will benefit from the arrival of the Astros in their division - they can beat up on Houston nineteen times this year.

Meanwhile, on the opposite coast, the AL East is pretty much up in the air. Toronto had a HUGE offseason, Baltimore is coming off of a playoff appearance, and those two are the usual basement dwellers. The Blues Jays, Orioles, Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays will play each other for almost half of their seasons - think about how that changes things in terms of Wild Card chances.

Now that each league has fifteen teams, and large blocks of interleague play are over (in favor of spreading those games from beginning to end), it's time to demand a balanced schedule. We've all pretty much accepted that the playoffs are essentially a crapshoot; any team can get hot at the right time, and ride that all the way to the World Series. But getting to the playoffs (yes, even with the new expansion) take quality play all season long.

But when the Rangers get to play the Astros nineteen times, and the Red Sox only play them seven times, how can we pretend that their records can be fairly compared? It's obvious to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention that a balanced schedule needs to be next - at least within each league.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Casey Kelly to get Tommy John

Remember former Red Sox prospect Casey Kelly? He was a big part of the package that pried Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres, and a first round draft pick for the Red Sox in 2008. When he was drafted, he played shortstop as well as pitching for his first two years in the minors.

When the Red Sox signed Jose Iglesias, Kelly finally made the permanent move to pitching. Well, hindsight is twenty-twenty, and the promising young pitcher will soon undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery. Of course, this might not be the worst thing for Kelly, as many pitchers come back from the surgery better than ever.

The news does make the failure of the Adrian Gonzalez trade somewhat less painful, as the central piece in the trade (who was legitimately hard to part with) is somewhat less valuable than we would have predicted. I definitely feel for Kelly - he and Ryan Kalish should get together and commiserate over injuries stalling their promising careers.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Return of D-Ellsbury?

Jacoby Ellsbury left today's spring training game against the Phillies in the second inning with an injured right heel, sustained after the center fielder lept back to first base on an attempted pickoff.  The Red Sox reported that he was lifted from the game as a precautionary measure - but there hasn't been an update on his prognosis since early this afternoon.

Obviously, Ellsbury has a significant history of "minor" injuries that turn into major problems, most notably during the 2010 Parade of Carnage, when he played just eighteen games after breaking some ribs early in the season. It makes sense for the team to tread cautiously when it comes to Ellsbury's health.

There's nothing to even speculate about in terms of how severe the injury will be - though it does make me nervous that the team hasn't released a statement about his status. Anything serious would be as big a blow for Ellsbury as it woud be for the Red Sox, as it's a contract year for the Scott Boras client and he desperately needs to prove to potential suitors that he's more like the MVP runner-up of 2011 than the fragile player from 2010.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Lucky in Houston - for once

After all these years of hardship, and being the laughingstock of the National League (now in the AL West - you're welcome, Mariners), the Houston Astros had to catch a break sometime. The Astros have kicked off their first season in the American League by introducing a new logo and new uniforms, but that probably won't be enough to turn their fortunes around.

However, it's interesting to note that there is a certain anomaly that is currently favoring the Astros over all twenty-nine other MLB teams. According to the injured player list that MLB provides (mostly for fantasy baseball players looking to set their rosters), the Astros are the only team without any current injury concerns. There isn't so much as a strained hamstring on the entire roster.

Now that I've called attention to it, I'm sure the entire pitching staff will require immediate Tommy John surgery, so I apologize in advance to any Astros fans who stumble upon this blog. They say that you have to control the controllables, and injuries certainly fall into the "uncontrollable" category. Perhaps some kind of fate or karma or higher power of your choice decided that since the Astros couldn't control anything about themselves, the injury bug could skip them - for now.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Lackey's coming back

I'm calling it right now: John Lackey is about to embark upon a season that will do wonders for his likeability among Red Sox Nation. It's not as if Lackey could do much to make Sox fans dislike him more, short of drinking beer while on the mound, so an improvement in that area isn't such a bold prediction.

But I see a solid, if not great, season from the sometimes-ornery righthander. After a year's rest while recovering from Tommy John surgery, and losing a significant amount of weight, Lackey should be able to turn in the innings-eating performances that have sporadically occurred during his career. If we're lucky, he'll also win some games.

Lackey's had a strong showing so far this spring, and while spring training results must always be taken with a grain of salt, it bodes well that he's given up just three walks, and that his velocity is back into the low nineties. With partner-in-crime Josh Beckett on the opposite coast, Lackey seems determined to turn over a new leaf, and I think he'll succeed - this strong spring training is just the beginning.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Send Bradley down - for now

Go ahead and add me to the list of people who think that sending Jackie Bradley Jr. down to the minors to start the season is a no-brainer. This post from's Extra Bases blog sums up the details nicely, but the short version is that if the Sox keep Bradley at AAA for just eleven days, they get another year of service time out of him before he hits the open market.

Make no mistake, Bradley will go to free agency when he gets the chance - players don't sign on with superagent and evil villain Scott Boras because they're sentimental and looking for "the right fit." No, players sign with Scott Boras because he will get them the most money, and you get the most money by getting to free agency as fast as possible.

On the flip side, it's obviously in the interest of a team to keep their young stars from free agency as long as possible. While the major league minimum salary is eye-popping to the average American at just under half a million dollars, it's chump change to owners who hand out salaries six times that for mid-level relief pitchers and bench players - and it allows them to give big deals to players with more service time.

Sending Bradley down to the minors (here's a friendly reminder - he has played exactly zero games for Pawtucket) for less than two weeks allows the Red Sox to hang on to him for an extra year. If Bradley is as incredible a player as he appears, trading eleven measly days in April of what is expected to be a bridge year for an entire year of service time down the road is an obvious choice. I fully expect the Red Sox to make the prudent decision regarding service time - it fits their pattern - and when Bradley makes it to the bigs by the the end of April, I'll be first in line to buy his jersey.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Shorter Red Sox/Yankees games?

The Red Sox and the Yankees have a legendary history, individually and combined. Both franchises have had proud moments at the expense of the other, which has only intensified the rivalry - even if it has somewhat lost its edge in recent years.

But even as brazen insults between the teams have given way to measured discourse emphasizing "mutual respect," there is one thing that seemingly never changes about the Red Sox and the Yankees: they can claim the longest running games in the league.

In today's spring training game, regulation play took up just 2 hours and seventeen minutes - veritable hyper speed when it comes to these two teams. Of course, there are a variety of different reasons for the marathon contests during the regular season, starting with the fact that (this year excepted) the Red Sox and Yankees are featured on national television more often than any other combination. Games on Fox and ESPN, aside from suffering terrible commentators, have extremely long commercial breaks, which leads to longer overall run time.

But even when the games are aired on NESN and YES respectively, they seem to take forever - and that's a testament to team strategy and skill. In September of 2011 (just before the Red Sox's epic collapse) ran a blog post about this very phenomenon. It turns out that not only were the Red Sox and Yankees ranked #1 and #2 in the American League in terms of plate appearances per game, but they were also #1 and #2 in pitches seen per plate appearance, which obviously eats up a chunk of game time.

But even in the past year or so, as fans, bloggers, and media types have opined the Sox getting away from the fundamental skill of patience at the plate, the games have still dragged on rather longer than average. Well, it's time to shift attention from hitters to pitchers, and Red Sox pitchers are often atop the list of those who take the longest time between pitches.

That's something that the staff is working on this spring training, so perhaps the four-hour (yet only nine inning) Red Sox/Yankees games are destined to be a thing of the past. If the edge can be taken off the enmity, perhaps an hour or so can be shaved off the game times - we can only hope.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Out of position umpire

In a strange series of events today, umpire Tim McClelland ended up standing about twenty feet behind Brewers pitcher Wily Peralta for a portion of the first inning after an errant pitch took out home plate umpire Seth Buckminster.

Buckminster left the game and was attended to by Brewers training staff, and another umpire, Anthony Johnson, left the game briefly to don home plate umpiring gear. This exodus left just two umpires, McClelland and Jim Joyce, to cover the entire field and call balls and strikes, leading to McClelland's bizarre field position.

On the players' side of things, how long must it have been since Peralta pitched to a catcher without the looming presence of the umpire behind him? Even in Little League, where games often have just one umpire, that umpire is always behind the plate.

Everyone involved handled the situation admirably, and when Johnson ran out to take his place behind the plate, the crowd showed its relief with a round of applause. If you'd like, you can watch a video of the incident here.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Bold predictions for Jon Lester

Jon Lester was the first Red Sox pitcher on the fantasy baseball rankings, and 118th overall. Rankings are mostly based off of the player's previous season's performance, and Lester was certainly not his usual superb self in 2012.

Although easily lost in the fiasco of 2012, Lester's season was particularly poor by his lofty standards. Prior to 2012, the most games Lester had lost in a season was nine, and he managed to lose fourteen last year, while his ERA jumped a full run higher than it was in 2011.

Jon Lester is rightfully embarrassed about 2012, and September of 2011. He's coming into the season determined to prove that he can be the ace of the Red Sox staff, and a leader in the clubhouse in the absence of longtime teammate Josh Beckett. I took Lester a round or two earlier than I might have needed to, but I truly believe that this is going to be a monster year for him.

So far in spring training, Lester has thrown the ball very well, and he has the results to prove it. Interestingly enough, John Farrell has not yet named him as the Opening Day starter, but I can't imagine he'll pick someone else. Jon Lester has overcome a lot of obstacles in his career - bouncing back from his first losing season to contend for a Cy Young seems like the next logical step.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Fantasy Draft

The live draft on was a new experience for me, even though we used Yahoo for the last fantasy baseball league I was part of, because this time around I wasn't on a bus in Africa. I won't pretend I didn't miss the dusty van full of friends just a little, but it was nice to have the internet at my fingertips during the draft rather than just a printout of the top 300 players.

Anyway, I ended up drawing the first selection. I went back and forth about whether to take Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera, knowing that I wouldn't get another pick before everyone else in the league selected twice. I ended up with Trout, and I think it was a solid choice to go with a solid team.

Here's my lineup - feel free to leave your encouraging or disparaging remarks in the comments below:

C: Victor Martinez (Tigers)
1B: Adrian Gonzalez (Dodgers)
2B: Ben Zobrist (Rays)
SS: Starlin Castro (Cubs)
3B: Evan Longoria (Rays)
OF: Mike Trout (Angels)
OF: Nelson Cruz (Rangers)
OF: Carlos Gomez (Brewers)
OF: Andre Ethier (Dodgers)
MI: Dan Uggla (Braves)
CI: Will Middlebrooks (Red Sox)
Utility: Kendrys Morales (Mariners)
Utility: Jason Kubel (Diamondbacks)
SP: David Price (Rays)
SP: Gio Gonzalez (Nationals)
SP: Max Scherzer (Tigers)
RP: Mariano Rivera (Yankees)
RP: Joel Hanrahan (Red Sox)
Bench: Jon Lester (Red Sox)
Bench: Brandon Belt (Giants)
Bench: Lorenzo Cain (Royals)
Bench: Marco Scutaro (Giants)

In twenty-two players, I've managed to represent fifteen of the thirty major league teams. I have three current Red Sox and four former Red Sox - I have to admit that Marco Scutaro was more of a sentimental pick than a practical one, though he was the 2012 NLCS MVP and part of the World Champion San Francisco Giants.

I'm counting on Jon Lester to bounce back from last year's mediocrity, and on Mariano Rivera to perform like the android I KNOW he is in his final season. But most of all, I'm counting on myself to remember to set the roster every day - because forgetfulness was my downfall the last time I played.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Career DHs: A dying breed

With David Ortiz out for at least the first few weeks of the season, Manager John Farrell is in a bit of a pickle - and he knows it:
"We don’t have another David Ortiz," the manager said. "We’ll probably look at some matchups as we plan against a given starter on that day. ... You can keep guys a little more fresh." 
It actually makes a lot of sense in the absence of a franchise player like Ortiz to use the DH spot to rest and rotate others, rather than panicking and signing a high-priced, under-performing replacement. Of course, the beginning of the season is when players typically need the least rest - but it's also much less damaging to the team to lose a player like Ortiz right now than it would be in September.

The trend for teams in the American League has lately been using the designated hitter position as a place to send aging sluggers who have outlived their usefulness defensively, or a place to rotate several aging players in order to keep their bats in the lineup and their creaky knees protected.

In keeping Ortiz as their exclusive DH, the Red Sox are pretty unique, and so the situation as it is now is actually something much more typical among their AL counterparts. Come the end of Ortiz's career, it is unlikely that the Red Sox will sign another full time DH - versatility is much too important to them. In that vein, we can see the first part of the season as a dress rehearsal of sorts.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Cleveland Indians Shake

I'm going to keep things short and sweet tonight. You all need to see this video of Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona leading off a rendition of Harlem Shake. It will make you miss him even more.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Limping Pinstripes

While the Red Sox are pondering what to do without David Ortiz for the first couple weeks of the season, the Yankees are having a similar problem - though multiplied in severity. We already knew that Alex Rodriguez was going to be out for at least half the season recovering from hip surgery, but his absence is just the tip of the iceberg.

Mark Teixeira is out at least until mid-May with a strained tendon in his right wrist, and he's lucky to be avoiding surgery. Curtis Granderson fractured his arm on February 24th when he was hit by a pitch, and will also be out more than a month.

Luckily for the Yankees, CC Sabathia has seemingly recovered from his offseason surgery, and is scheduled to return this Friday. Meanwhile, it's only due to Ichiro Suzuki's unique brand of badassery that he emerged from a car accident unscathed last week.

The Yankees are getting desperate as some of their most talented (and well-compensated) veterans succumb to freak accidents and the ravages of aging, apparently asking Chipper Jones to come out of retirement to shore up the roster (he declined). Kevin Millar, unable to resist a joke, had this to say:

But even GM Brian Cashman isn't content with contributing to the team by signing players. No, he felt the need to show his solidarity with his battered troops by earning a fracture of his own - while skydiving, of all things.

So while it's certainly a huge bummer to be missing David Ortiz for a little while, we can take comfort in the fact that things could always be worse - and that they're finally worse for the Yankees.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Aceves back in camp

In case (by some miracle) you haven't seen this yet, I give you the video of the brawl that took place between the Mexico and Canada World Baseball Classic teams. As far as baseball brawls go, this one is actually pretty intense - less standing around and puffing up of chests and more actual contact than I'm used to seeing. Who knew Canadians harbored that much aggression?

In totally unsurprising news, Red Sox pitcher Alfredo Aceves was mixing it up with Canada's Tyson Gillies, a player he'd never met:
Mexico has been eliminated from the WBC, and Aceves is back in camp, relatively unharmed and ready to pitch. Given Aceves' history of surliness and griping about his role, it will be interesting to see how things pan out in camp: though he has always wanted a spot in the rotation, there's simply no room. He'll probably end up in the bullpen, in a much less glamorous spot than last year, and hopefully he'll handle that with some maturity.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

David Ortiz is irreplaceable

The Red Sox page is currently running the headline, "How could the Red Sox replace David Ortiz?" As I'm sure you all know, Big Papi will be sidelined for at least five days with inflammation in both heels, meaning he is unlikely to be ready for Opening Day.

So how DO the Red Sox replace Ortiz? has a few suggestions, ranging from Mike Napoli (with Lyle Overbay at first) to Juan Carlos Linares. But the answer is much more simple than any of that: you absolutely cannot replace David Ortiz, not in the lineup, and not in the clubhouse, and not in the hearts of Red Sox Nation.

We've long known this day was coming, and now we're getting a (hopefully) short glimpse of what life will be life after Ortiz - uncertain, unnerving, unpleasant. Papi has been a Red Sox stalwart for a decade  now, coming through in the most stressful games, and providing a constant smile in the clubhouse.

Ortiz has hit 343 homeruns while in Boston, and, perhaps more impressively, has legged out thirteen triples in that time (last season was the only triple-less year for Ortiz in his Red Sox career). On average Ortiz has hit .290 each season, with a .389 OBP and 34 homeruns - you can't replace that kind of production at this stage, and you can't replace one of the leaders in the clubhouse.

Though the team will try to brush this off like no big deal, the loss of Ortiz for even the first week of the season is huge, and if this is a sign of things to come for the big lefty, the Sox could be in serious trouble this year. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Stephen Drew, concussions, and responsible journalism

I was listening to sports radio this morning in the car when the topic of Stephen Drew came up. The hosts thought that being kept out of the lineup with minor concussion (which is a league rule), proved that "he really is  JD Drew's brother." Get it? Because JD Drew was obviously fragile and wimpy, and minor concussions are totally no big deal!

Well, first of all, JD Drew was one of my personal favorites - can't we just let him enjoy his retirement without making him the butt of jokes all the time? But more importantly, concussions are not a joke. Stephen Drew got hit in the helmet on Thursday while batting, didn't show any symptoms immediately, but later that night his vision began to blur. The team took action as required by Major League Baseball.

It is a Major League Baseball rule that any player exhibiting signs of a concussion must be cleared before returning to regular play:
Protocols for clearing a concussed player or umpire to return to activity; prior to the time that a concussed player is permitted to play in any game (including Major League, Minor League or extended Spring Training games), the Club must submit a "Return to Play" form to MLB's Medical Director; submission of the form is required irrespective of whether the player was placed on the Disabled List.
You can read the rest of MLB's concussion regulations here.

More importantly, concussions are a serious and growing problem among younger and younger athletes, many of whom hide or downplay their symptoms in an attempt to stay on the field - to the serious detriment of their health and cognitive function. When radio personalities (and any other media members) downplay the seriousness of concussions, when they equate professional athletes who sit out when concussed to wimps, they send the message to kids that concussions are no big deal, that they should be able to play through them.

Playing through concussions is dangerous and irresponsible, and insinuating otherwise is likewise dangerous and irresponsible. Not only is Drew simply following the rules, he's being smart.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Is this the real life?

Today, I signed up to play fantasy baseball for the first time since my ill-fated foray when I was studying abroad. I wasn't planning to do fantasy baseball this year - I too often forget to make sure my roster is set every day, and then end up with guys on my bench who have monster games. But there's a league of people from my high school, and they needed another person, so I figured why not?

Of course, I'm totally unprepared, but I have about a week before our league draft to skim the Bill James 2013 Handbook for projections for players not on the Red Sox. If any of you have some suggestions, I'm all ears - leave them in the comments, or let me know on Twitter or Facebook!

[I'm also sorry for the brevity of this post; the spacebar on my computer is broken, so you can imagine how time-consuming the workaround for that is.]

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Rivera's final season

Mariano Rivera is one of the greatest pitchers of all time, and not a soul in the game could find a bad word to say about him.  Of course, I always hope for a rare blown save from him when he faces off against the Red Sox (or, even better, a Red Sox blowout and no save chance for Mo at all).

But when Rivera tore his ACL shagging flies during pregame warmups last May, I was as sad as any dyed-in-the-wool baseball fan. Rivera is too talented, too accomplished, and too well-respected to lose what he hinted might have been his final season to a fluke injury.

And so Rivera is back in pinstripes for this season, and he'll apparently be announcing his plan to retire at the end of the Yankees' 2013 run in a press conference on Saturday. I sincerely hope that Rivera enjoys great success in his final year - just not against the Red Sox.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The end of interleague as we know it?

Baseball is a strange sport. In most sports, your goal is to take the ball (or puck), and carry it past the defenders, across the court/ice/field to score. In baseball you're still trying to get the ball past the defenders, but scoring runs with your body - back in the exact place you started. Major League Baseball is pretty strange even among other major professional sports, in that it's actually comprised of two leagues, with significantly different rules.

 Obviously, I'm talking about the designated hitter rule: the National League has the pitcher hit, and the American League sits the pitcher down and gets an extra offensive player in the lineup.  Because interleague games are played with home field rules, the American League pitchers typically get drilled in the finer points of hitting (mostly sacrifice bunts and how not to get injured swinging the bat and running to first) in the weeks before interleague play starts.

But due to the Astros shift from the NL to the AL, interleague play will no longer be limited to two stints before the All-Star Game. No, now that there are six divisions of five teams, scheduling will require one interleague contest each day, meaning that AL pitchers must be prepared to hit about once a month all season.

For instance, the Red Sox pitchers will have their first taste of batting in interleague at the end of April, with a two-game series in Philadelphia, then they'll head to San Francisco for a three-game set against the defending champs and to LA to play three against the Dodgers in late August. The last chance for Red Sox pitchers to make their case for the Silver Slugger award will come in the second-to-last series of the season, two games in Colorado at the end of September.

All in all, the Red Sox will have to do without the DH for just ten games - but at random intervals. Joel Sherman of the New York Post thinks that the overhaul in scheduling is bound to lead to more pitcher injuries, and eventually the end of pitchers hitting in any league. The players union would be much more likely to accept an expansion of the DH role, because it allows aging sluggers to prolong their career.

Personally, I think it will be a sad day indeed when some pitcher steps up to the plate for the last time. I understand the practicality of phasing out the rule disparities between the two leagues in this manner, but at its heart baseball is a game of nostalgia. Every rule change meets resistance (ranging in severity from the horrible threats faced by the great Jackie Robinson to the minor chorus of whining about last year's playoff expansion), but over time most fans come to realize that change can be good - while still reminiscing about the good old days.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Red Sox and the World Baseball Classic

There's less buzz about the World Baseball Classic among Red Sox fans this time around than there has been in the past - mostly because far fewer Red Sox players are among the participants.  In 2009, the Sox lent out David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Marco Scutaro to various teams, while this year the Sox major league players at the WBC are limited to Shane Victorino and Alfredo Aceves.

Aceves, playing for Mexico, and Victorino, playing for the USA, are both in Pool D for the first round, and are playing in Phoenix, Arizona. It's likely that at least one of them will advance to the second round, which will be played in Miami, and should USA or Mexico make the semifinals and finals, they'll be headed out to AT&T Park in San Francisco. If you want more detailed info about this year's World Baseball Classic, check out this awesome infographic from MLB.

Former Red Sox Daisuke Matsuzaka was the MVP in the 2006 and 2009 tournaments, leading Japan to the title in both of the first two WBCs. However, the thirty-two year old pitcher is not on Japan's roster this year, guaranteeing that there will be a new MVP for the first time in the WBC's short history. My money is still on Japan to take the whole thing, but I couldn't begin to make an MVP projection.

The Red Sox will face off against the Puerto Rican WBC team in an exhibition tonight at JetBlue Park. John Lackey will start the game for the Red Sox, but he is just one of five Sox pitchers scheduled to get his work in during the contest.

Monday, March 4, 2013

On aging and injuries

If one of the single greatest thing about being a baseball fan is watching young prospects come up, contribute every day, and become stars, then one of the hardest things is watching as franchise stalwarts age out of their heydays. Every year we citizens of Red Sox Nation speculate that this will finally be the year that Yankees' core shows some age (Mariano Rivera can't be human), and every year we seem to be wrong.

But we spend very little time anticipating the inevitable decline of our own players, perhaps in denial that our heroes can succumb to trivial human weaknesses like age. But of course, members of the Red Sox do get older, and they eventually bow out, or we have to watch them struggle through their slow decline. Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield might have been able to scrape out another year or so, but they elected (under some pressure, admittedly), to step aside gracefully.

So where am I going with this? If you looked at the photo at the top when you got to this page, you already know: I'm talking about David Ortiz. I certainly don't think that Ortiz is done, not by any stretch of the imagination, but I do think that the years of 140+ games are probably over.

It's only mid-spring training, but we're still dealing with the aftermath of the achilles problem that Ortiz suffered last year. The designated hitter is confident that he'll be available for Opening Day, and the medical reports out of camp don't suggest otherwise, so barring a setback, we should see #34 on the field when regulation play starts.

I sincerely hope that Ortiz can make it through the season without a stint on the disable list, but that's a gamble for players fifteen years his junior, so realistically it's likely he'll lose some games. Even though it's certainly not going to be this year, David Ortiz's final season as a Red Sox is on the horizon, and I for one am going to begin to prepare myself for that emotional time right now.

It's going to be even harder to see Big Papi go than most players, because he is now officially the last holdout from the 2004 Championship squad still on the team. When he goes, that is officially the end of an era. But Big Papi is on the Red Sox for the foreseeable future, and I plan to enjoy it to the fullest - as soon as he's healthy.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Geeking out over Ichiro Suzuki

I once theorized that Ichiro Suzuki was secretly related to Spiderman, given his success in climbing fences and robbing homeruns.

I don't regret that comparison at all - Ichiro is crazy flexible, unreasonably quick, and ridiculously agile, and he very well might be fighting crime in his off time.

But I would like to make a different superhero comparison for Ichiro, this time to one of the X-Men. The Yankees outfielder is thirty-nine going on twenty-five, seemingly immune to the scrounges of aging, and he's impressively injury-resistant (the fewest games he's ever played in a season? 146). Yesterday, Ichiro was in a car accident that left his SUV completely totalled, and him without a scratch.

I think you can see where I'm going with this: Ichiro is self-healing and clearly ageless. I know nobody has seen adamantium claws slide from between his knuckles, but can anyone prove they don't? It's become clear to me that Ichiro Suzuki is a mutant in the mold of Wolverine, with a dash of Spiderman (this kind of splicing is totally allowed, because both characters exist in the Marvel universe).

I was devastated when the Yankees dealt for Ichiro last season, because he's one of my all time favorite players, and it's always a bummer to have to like a Yankee - not to mention my naive wish that he play for the Mariners his entire career. I think it's especially unfair for the Yankees to be allowed to have a superhero like Ichiro when they already have an android on their pitching staff (Mariano Rivera), but apparently badassery isn't considered a performance enhancing drug, and as such is not regulated by MLB.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Local hero > local 9

Last night's spring training game was a strange one for people from my hometown. Being from the White Mountains in New Hampshire, most people are diehard Red Sox fans; sure, you get people transplanted from other parts of the country who bring their fandoms with them, but anybody local is a Red Sox fan for life.

But last night, there was a conflict of interest. No, not because there are an unusual amount of Pittsburgh expats around, but because local hero Jeff Locke was starting for the Pirates. Locke took the loss, giving up three runs in the first inning, but the thrill of watching him pitch on NESN won't wear off for residents of Mount Washington Valley anytime soon.

Unlike Californians and Floridians who frequently see their local high school heroes playing in the bigs, Jeff Locke was a once-in-generation second round pick for northern New Hampshire. As such, he is followed closely by local fans, who are much more used to producing world class skiers than major league ballplayers.

It's simple to root for Locke when he's playing against 28 of the thirty major league teams, but there's a certain feeling of conflict when he faces off against the local nine. Most New Hampshirites hoped that the Red Sox would select him in the 2006 draft, but the Atlanta Braves got there first (Locke ended up with the Pirates as part of the 2009 Nate McLouth trade).

Yesterday was the first time Locke faced off against the Red Sox, and given this year's schedule, it will be the last for a while (barring a trade, of course). But I know I'm not alone in saying that yesterday I rooted for Locke, and I'll root for him again - the Boston Red Sox will always be a household name in baseball, but watching a local hero become a national name is something new and exciting.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Season tickets no longer scarce

The Boston Red Sox are losing season ticket holders in droves - to the point that they are having players and executives call deserters personally to try to entice them to stay. Upon reading about this turn of events, I was briefly tempted to add my name to the list, but then I remembered that I don't have any money.

I don't know how the Sox brass can be surprised by this turn of events, since the Boston Red Sox haven't won a playoff game since 2008, and haven't even played in the postseason since 2009.  Meanwhile the ticket prices are among the highest in baseball, but even if they were much lower the Red Sox would be in fine financial shape, as NESN would continue to be lucrative.

Fans - and especially season ticket holders, who shell out for dozens of games - are tired of being expected to pay premium prices for a product that has been overwhelmingly mediocre recently.  The resale market is in dire straights, as anyone who has been to a game in the last year could tell you; you can hear the desperation of the scalpers camped out between the Kenmore T stop and Yawkey Way.

There's something to be said for buying low, since the Red Sox will recover eventually (whether that takes one year or five) and season tickets won't be so available when that rebound eventually comes. Personally, I'm going to keep buying my tickets one game at a time, and capitalize on the below face value rates I'm sure to encounter on mid-week games this April.