Friday, March 25, 2005

Nine innings: 03.25.05

As happy as Papi, I'm breezing through nine innings before I board a bird bound for Ft. Myers to check in on the champs . . .

1) Even though my, er, "hindquarters" haven't fit comfortably into a grandstand seat since I was slightly older than a fetus, I'm jacked and pumped with the news that the Red Sox will remain at Fenway for the forseeable future. My reason is simple: I want to see my daughter's awe-struck eyes the first time she walks up the ramp and becomes engulfed by the breathtaking sea of green. I imagine it will be an exact replica of the look my parents saw on this 8-year-old's mug one perfect day in the summer of '78.

2) Interesting question sent to me a few days ago by "KP," one of my 12 readers - heretofore known as the Dirty Dozen:

I think most fans would agree that not only was last year's Sox team the best we have seen in terms of talent, but also in terms of likable players that are easy to root for. Damon, Ramirez, Foulke, Mueller, Varitek. They all seem like great guys, genuine. Which made me wonder about the opposite -- what was the most unlikable Sox team of your time as a fan (i'm guessing the last 20 years) and who is most unlikable player?

Let me tell you, I had to think about this one just about as long as it would take me to say "You're damn straight I will!" if a scantily clad Jennifer Aniston . . . (thwack!) . . . c'mon, you know I'm just kidding, dear. Anyway, yeah, this one was easy to answer:

Until George Steinbrenner develops the technology to clone himself - and I have on good authority that he has a trained pack of evil monkey scientists working on it as we sleep - the 2001 Red Sox will go down in baseball history as the most despicable collection of personalities ever to share a clubhouse. Carl Everett, who was not only insane but the evil kind of insane, was the ringleader of the jerks, and the indisputable answer to your second question. I can't imagine disliking an athlete more . . . and yet he was barely the worst of the mangy crew. You also had Dante Bichette a spacey, washed-up semi-slugger who was as delusional about his own ability as any athlete I've ever encountered; Mike Lansing, a pompous, talentless ass-clown who's inflated self-image almost rivaled Bichette's; and pitching coach/manager Joe Kerrigan, who won 8 major-league games and carried himself with the arrogant righteousness of someone who won 308. The nice guys - Derek Lowe, Scott Hatteberg, Manny Ramirez - were poisoned by the atmosphere, Varitek and Pedro were injured and nowhere to be found, and Shea Hillenbrand was so influenced by it all that he morphed from a likeable, wide-eyed rookie into a standoffish, confrontational dinkus in a matter of months.

It was awful. Ugh. I feel like I need a shower now. I hate even talking about that collection of individuals. (Team is not the appropriate word here.) That season was the only time in my 27 years (nice guess) as a fan that I stopped paying attention while they were still mathematically in contention. Thank goodness those days - and those players - are long gone.

3) One of the simple perks of my job is having access to the Globe's electronic archives, which contain just about every word that was published in the paper the last 30 years. For a newspaper nerd like me, it's a treasure trove of great stuff, and during my moments of downtime lately, I've been looking up the some of the classic sportswriting that inspired Young Me to want to do this for a living: the Leigh Montville and Ray Fitzgerald columns remain remarkably engaging and relevant decades after they were published, and Will McDonough was a great read 'til his last day. But what I'm really digging are Peter Gammons's old Sunday baseball notes columns from the late '70s and early '80s, and if you read his work back when no other baseball writer could touch his fastball, you know this: The Globe could make a killing if it sold a collection of this stuff in book form. The Juan Bustabad and Mike Brown references would be worth the cover price alone.

4) If I could attend any Red Sox game this year, excluding, of course, the 19 epic bloodbaths-to-be with A-Fraud and His Greedy Band of Chokers, I think I'd pick the Friday, June 3 game against the Mighty Angels of Los Angeles/Anaheim/The O.C. I have a feeling Orlando Cabrera is going to get a wonderfully warm ovation that night, and of all the departed Sox with the possible exception of Dave Roberts, he's the most deserving of such a reception. Not only did he field his position with the utmost grace, but he handled his farewell in much the same manner, admitting that the Sox are better for signing Edgar Renteria and that he will cherish his memories of Boston without a shred of ill will. Such professionalism by someone who admitted he was disappointed the Sox didn't want to keep him is downright impressive, and in these parts, practically unprecendented. Si, Pedro?

5) Maybe you've noticed, maybe you haven't, but Nomah is smoking the ball this spring, batting near .500 with 6 homers while setting the stage for a huge redemption season with the Cubs. Most importantly, he's thus far managed to dodge all heat-seeking line drives aimed at Achilles' tendon during batting practice. Or however the alibi went.

6) All right, so Curt Schilling's not pitching opening day. Cue Arthur Fonzarelli: "I was . . . wrrr ... wrrrron . . . wrrrr . . . wron . . ." Ah, the hell with it - no "my bads" for me today. Instead, I'm going to play a little semantics game and amend my prediction: He'll pitch opening day . . . at Fenway. How's that for pulling an Ordway? "That's . . . not . . . what . . . I ... said . . ."

7) I've been to Pawtucket, Lowell and Portland, and if I had to rank the Red Sox farm teams' respective ballparks, I'd rank Hadlock Field, home of the Sea Dogs, last. It's not that it's unappealing; it's actually quite nice in a faux retro way. Hadlock just lacks the classic charm of the other two, probably because the incessant clanging of the metal bleachers inevitably has you checking to see if they sell Advil at the concession stand. But make no mistake, for Sox fans who are eager for a glimpse of the team's future, Portland is the place to be this summer. Not only will primo prospect Hanley Ramirez start the season there, but last season's top pick, the Eckstein-esque Dustin Pedroia, has been assigned to the Sea Dogs, where he'll learn to play second base. And several of Boston's most intriguing pitching prospects will begin there as well, including Jon Papelbon, the poised righty who played Sammy (Chico Escuela) Sosa a few notes of chin music a few days ago. Should make for an heck of a team, and for $6 a ticket, you can't beat the price. Just remember to pack the Advil.

8) I'm pretty sure that stoic tough-guy Jason Varitek's appearance on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" is a sign of the apocalypse. After all, this is the same macho dude who was reportedly furious when A-Fraud's blush got smeared all over his catcher's mitt during their infamous rumble. No, really.

9) My Tampa/Ft. Myers itinerary, as I understand it from my buddy's bachelor-party planning committee: Sox-Pirates Sunday, followed by fine dining at Hooters. Head to Clearwater for Monday's Phillies game, followed by delicious snacks at Hooters. Try to get Sox-Yanks tix on Tuesday. After failing miserably, watch the game at a restaurant. Possibly Hooters.

Since I'm traveling sans laptop I won't have a new column up 'til at least Tuesday, but I will be hauling my digital camera along with me, so I may get some pics posted the next few days. Keep checking in, and if you need me, well, I think you know where to find me. (Hint: Hooters.)