Tuesday, September 30, 2014

AL Wild Card: A's vs. Royals

I'm sure I'm far from the only Red Sox fan rooting for Jon Lester to lead the A's to a Wild Card win over the Royals tonight. But hoping for victory from one of Red Sox Nation's most mourned 2014 departures isn't the only reason to back Oakland over Kansas City.

The starter for the Royals is James Shields.

Yes, this James Shields:

(Interestingly enough, former Ray/A/Red Sox and current A Jonny Gomes is also involved in this fight)

And the presumable center field starter for the A's? None other than Shield's long-lost brawling partner (and former Red Sox), Coco Crisp.

Now, I won't go so far as to suggest that a Brawl 2.0 between the Crisp and Shields would be ideal, but it would lend even more drama to the win-or-go-home Wild Card game.

Given the choice between former (and hated) Ray James Shields and perennial Red Sox killer Billy Butler, and the horde of former Red Sox playing for the A's, and the choice is clear. Perhaps it makes us mercenaries, and it certainly makes us bandwagoners, but today, Red Sox Nation may as well be A's Nation.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Wild [Card] Choices

The leaves are changing, the air is cooling, and playoff baseball is here again! Though yesterday's events ensured there would be no one-game playoffs to reach tomorrow and Wednesday's Wild Card one-game playoff, the excitement begins in earnest tomorrow, and I'm in a strange position.

The Red Sox are out of it (and have been for what feels like forever), and I'd be pretty much okay if any of the remaining playoff teams won the whole thing. Sure, I have a preference for the Nationals - I spent six weeks this summer covering them. Watching from the press box and interacting in the clubhouse, I discovered that the Nats are an easy group to like - plus, the franchise hasn't ever won it all, in Washington or Montreal.

But I can find a reason to root for nearly every team involved - except perhaps the Cardinals, mostly because I'm over shenanigans like these.

Just out of the teams playing in the Wild Card games tomorrow and Wednesday, there's no bad choice. Sure, I'm rooting for the A's over the Royals, but mostly because Jon Lester is on the mound for Oakland, and I want to see more Jonny Gomes postseason antics. Plus, the A's are like a Red Sox alumni club: Lester, Gomes, Jed Lowrie, Josh Reddick, Coco Crisp, Brandon Moss, and Nick Punto are all on the active roster.

But if the Royals come out on top, I'll have to be happy for their fans: they haven't had anything to cheer for in October in almost thirty years.

On the National League side of things, the Pirates have an edge in my heart. Partly because Pittsburgh fans have endured years of futility, but also for a more personal/regional reason. One of the Pirates starting pitchers, Jeff Locke, hails from my home town.  We're used to Olympic skiers up here in New Hampshire, but a professional baseball player is much more exciting for us - we've all been converted Pirates fans since he was traded to Pittsburgh in 2009.

But I became a (casual) Giants fan during their 2012 World Series run. Marco Scutaro is no longer in San Francisco, but they have former Red Sox pitcher Jake Peavy, as well as their own unique cast of characters - how can you root against a guy who's nicknamed Kung Fu Panda?

It's kind of nice to know that no matter which teams make it out of the Wild Card round, I won't be crushed by the outcome. Sure, I have my preferences, but I can find it in my heart to be happy for whichever team wins. Nothing that happens in the next month will measure up to last year - but it's time for the playoffs! With or without the Red Sox, October is the most wonderful time of the year.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Steven Souza Jr. is the best kind of goofball

Since Steven Souza Jr. is going be all over SportsCenter for his spectacular catch, I feel obligated to tell you all that he’s an enormous goofball.
When I was covering the Syracuse Chiefs (the Nationals Triple-A team) this season, he used to roam the hallways shirtless so we reporters would have to look, pick up teammates' children and tell them they wanted to be interviewed, and impersonate Ricky Bobby when cameras were rolling: 

He was a bit more subdued when first called up to Washington, but I’m sure by now he’s back to his boisterous self. In all seriousness though, I couldn’t be happier for him about his part of today.

He was always happy to speak to the press after games, whether the Chiefs had lost or (more frequently) won. Gracious and friendly, his fooling around was almost as entertaining as his routinely spectacular play on the field and at the plate.

Today's play to cement Jordan Zimmermann's no-hitter was just the beginning. Souza will continue to impress through the Nats playoff run and in the years to come - you can quote me on that.

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 had 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.