Saturday, February 19, 2005

Nine innings: Springing forward

I had this - well, I guess you'd call it a riddle - rattling around in my sports-saturated brain a few days ago. It goes like this:

If hope springs eternal, as we Sox fans like to say this time of year, then what should our mantra be now since all of our hopes were fulfilled last fall?

The best possibilities I could think of:

~ Hope is for dopes, Myron Cope, and also the Pope!

~ Who needs hope when you have Schill, Manny and Tizzle!

~ Hope this, A-Rod!

Pardon me for lame sarcasm, but I'm guessing you get the point. The start of the new season means the last one is officially over, and I for one am not quite sure how to handle that. Considering that 2004 was the best season of your lifetime, your dad's and your granddad's, it's human nature to be a little reluctant to move on, to tuck last year away in the scrapbook of your mind and make room for some new memories. I believe it was the great philosophers Boyz II Men who put it best:

It's so hard/To say goodbye/To yesterdayayayayyyyay!

Yeah, I do wish we could savor last year just a little longer. But then I see postcard-perfect pictures like the one atop the page and even this hard-boiled cynic can't help but look forward to another summer of sunny days and the Sox. I suppose you could say it gets your hopes up.

Now let's just move on to Nine Innings now before I think of any more pitiful rhymes, shall we? , , ,

1) I really don't care whether the Sox get their World Series rings on Opening Day against the Yankees - but I damn well do hope Dr. Charles Steinberg and the Sox honchos put on the party of all parties during the pregame festivities. I have a few suggestions:

I want Ray Charles brought back from the grave to sing "America, The Beautiful" one more time, and if he's unwilling to be resuscitated for the occasion, I want Alicia Keys.

I want Bucky Dent - the real thing, not a silly effigy - dangling from the Coke bottles near the very spot where his dinky-ass home run landed in '78.

I want Yaz, Rice, Dewey, Pudge, Looie, Boomer, Lonborg, The Eck, Clell Lavern Hobson Jr., Chico Walker and any other legendary Sox of the past on the field, just so they finally know how it feels to be saluted as a champion.

I want Billy Buckner prominently involved, just so he can hear the cheers and remember that we forgave him long ago.

I want Star Wars footage on the big screen, especially the scene when the Death Star blows up. (Symbolism, you know.)

I want highlights of Games 4-7 played on an endless loop on the big screen.

I want Bronson Arroyo to walk over to the Yankees dugout, beeyatch-slap A-Rod, and say, "The name's Bronson. Not Brandon. Bronson. Remember it, Assclown."

I want Dave Roberts to appear as a special guest star. The Padres can wait.

I want the "2004 World Series Champions" banner to be the biggest and most beautiful I have seen, and I want it to say "2004 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox" on everything from the Green Monster to the hot dogs.

I want Georgie Porgie there, in the same box seat he sat in in '78, just so we can watch him spotaneously combust . . .

2) . . . and I want Johnny Pesky throwing out the first pitch. And if for some reason Mr. Red Sox can't do it, then let it be Mr. Patriot, Tedy Bruschi.

There. That's all I want. I don't think it's too much to ask.

3) I have no doubt that at this moment the Sox are a more talented ballclub right now than the one that concluded last season with a joyous pigpile on the Busch Stadium pitcher's mound. My only concern is that much of the new talent comes with a "Fragile: Handle With Care" label. If David Wells, Matt Mantei and Wade Miller, among others, can stay out of the trainer's room, this is going to be one heck of a baseball team. But I'm not sure we can count on it at this point.

4) I'm on record with my belief that Japanese import Roberto Petagine will be a valuable contributor, this season, but he's not the only intriguing player among those stuck wearing the high jersey numbers in camp. Three other sleepers:

Jeremi Gonzalez: Always has had good stuff, rarely has had good health. He's a superior alternative to the Joe Nelson/Jamie Brown/Jimmy Anderson meatball specialists that found their way onto the roster during the darker times last summer.

Shawn Wooten: The player Andy Dominique hoped to become. Just plain looks like a hitter, and was a productive one at times (.312, 8 homers in 221 at-bats in' 01) during a five-year stint with the Angels. Might wind up being a valuable stick off the bench.

Billy McMillon: Yep, my ex-Sea Dogs favoritism shines through again. The former top prospect of the Marlins has never established himself during several stints with several ballclubs, most notably with Oakland in 2003, when he hit 6 homers in limited time. But he has some interesting qualities - a Griffeyesque lefthanded swing, for one thing, and more importantly, Bill James's belief that his best days are ahead of him. I'm pulling for him.

5) It's a good thing Pedro didn't leave behind his personal mini-me, Nelson de la Rosa, when he left the Sox. Were the little feller still hanging around as the Sox's "mascot," I suspect David (Fat Bastid) Wells would be waddling around after him around the clubhouse, hollering, "Get . . . in . . . mah . . . belly!"

(Editor's note: Not David Wells. Just an uncanny likeness.)

6) You know Wells wishes he were in Pinstripes - he practically said as much during His State Of The Boomer address in Ft. Myers the other day. But when all is said and done, I think we'll be glad he was here. Wells has 212 career victories - just 34 fewer than the great Randy Johnson. Contrary to common perception, it's entirely possible that Wells, the epitome of the Portly Lefthander, could gain some ground on his achy-kneed fellow 41-year-old this season. All right, I'll say it: David Wells wins more games than Randy Johnson this season. Remember where you read it first.

7) It doesn't take much to make me grateful that The Trade never happened. The first shot from Ft. Myers of Manny Ramirez - whoops, make that World Series MVP Manny Ramirez - wearing his disarmingly goofy smile should do the trick just fine.

8) It's not like we needed Trot Nixon and Curt Schilling to remind us that the Sox don't consider A-Fraud a true Yankee, but Derek Jeter's halfhearted reaction to the Sox's verbal salvos did prove revealing. By saying little and acting less than enthused at the prospect of defending the Purple-Lipped Preener, it seems to me the Yankee captain basically said this: "You think you don't like him? Hah. Try playing with him."

A-Fraud and Captain Jetes in happier times . . .

. . . hey, who's the short guy with the beak?

9) One interesting byproduct of A-Fraud's emergence as Public Enemy No. 1 is the Sox fan's newfound appreciation for all that Jeter means to the Yankees. Oh, sure, the "Jeter Sucks" shirts will still make a killing, and you can't help but want to smack the ever-present smirk off his face - it's not like we actually like him. But the Nomar/Jeter debate is now in the past tense, which cooled our smoldering disdain a little, and it doesn't hurt that the Sox finally beat the Yankees when it mattered. Truth is, the respect for Jeter has always been there, below the surface - while A-Fraud's stats are far gaudier, Jeter is the guy who scares the bejeezus out of you when the game is on the line - but we just couldn't risk giving a Yankees fan more ammo by admitting as much. Now we can. Because A-Fraud is dragging him down.

My buddy CJ articulated the Jeter-Doesn't-Suck-So-Much-Anymore phenomenon pretty well in a recent email:

A-Rod sure managed to fool a lot of people for a while . . . with his glossy, Jordan-esque public persona, but he's been exposed now. What's funny is I actually like Jeter a lot better now. I saw him on "Best Damn Sports Show" (maybe the first time I've ever seen a whole show -- I swear) and he just seemed so much more genuine. And he's certainly not willing to fight A-Rod's battles, which I respect. The other thing is, I was watching Game 5 of the ALCS the other night (I taped 4-7 when they were rerun on NESN), and I just came to the conclusion I don't hate the guy at all. Bottom line is, he's a winner, and A-Rod's a loser . . . oh, and don't let anyone know I said this or I'll break your (expletive) legs.

CJ also sent me his all-time favorite picture of his beloved Captain Jetes, the one he keeps in his wallet:

In a related story, does anyone know where I might get a motorized wheelchair, one of those tricked-out ones that has spinning silver rims, metallic paint, and a PlayStation II in the cockpit? I'm hearing I may be in need of some new kneecaps soon.