Monday, April 03, 2006

Why time begins on opening day

Best damn day of the year, ain't it?

While this Opening Day may not promise the here-we-go-again drama of last season's debut against Randy (Father of the Year) Johnson and the Empire, and while it certainly cannot deliver the same sweetly cathartic joy of the 2006 home opener, it is a dearly welcomed arrival nonetheless.

This winter was particularly long and tumultuous for Sox fans. Theo Epstein, the bright, popular GM, left his post in what jaded eyes recognized as a vicious power struggle, only to return, refreshed and empowered, 11 weeks later. Bill Mueller, Kevin Millar, Johnny Damon and Bronson Arroyo - four of the signature "Idiots" from 2004's eternal darlings - moved on to other destinations, with Damon's defection to the Yankees coming as a particular shock to the Pink T-Shirt Brigade. Edgar Renteria, the Matt Young of shortstops, was dumped on the Braves. Phenom Andy Marte arrived, then caught a connecting flight to Cleveland before we ever got introduced. And through it all, memories of the limp, inevitable end of the championship reign at the hands of the White Sox lingered.

Finally, at 2;05 p.m. today, a long offseason's worth of soap-operatic dramatics, 96-point headlines, uninformed talk radio banshees, stunning trades and transactions, hellos, goodbyes, and who-the-hell-is-hes? will again be secondary to the reason we willingly put up with all the nonsense: Real, live Boston Red Sox baseball. Like the commercial says: We live for this.

I think I've made my high hopes regarding the 2006 Sox apparent in the past months, so I'll forego the usual 5,000 word season-preview diatribe; it would tell you nothing you haven't read - gratuitous plug alert! - in the Maple Street Press 2006 Red Sox Annualalready.

Instead, allow me to recommend my friend and former colleague Dave D'Onofrio's Bill James-inspired look at the better-than-you-think Sox offense, suggest you devour the Globe's Baseball Preview section if you haven't already, post a link to the timeless bookthat inspired the title of this post, and finally, offer this Cliff Notes version of what my daydreams tell me the summer months will bring:

I think Manny and Papi will continue to amaze with their modern day Ruth/Gehrig stylings, compiling 90 homers and 290 RBIs between them.

I think Josh Beckett wins 20-plus games, is a shoo-in for the AL Cy Young award, and commands the stage again in October.

I think Wily Mo Pena will whiff like the second coming of Rob Deer, mash 25-plus moonshots, make Manny look like Roberto Clemente by defensive comparison, and finally provide Trot Nixon with a capable platoon partner. Yes, Wily Mo's going to be equal parts fun and infuriating, a mini-Manny if you will. Prepare yourself.

I think Alex Gonzalez will do a passable imitation of Orlando Cabrera and Mark Loretta will make us forget all the other transient second basemen of recent years.

I think Curt Schilling will be 80 percent of what he was before his Bloody Sock Heroics, and by my calculations, that equates to a perfectly acceptable 16 wins.

I think David Wells will alternate between making it look easy and making us wonder there's a 43-year-old obese guy getting his brains beaten out on the mound.

I think Julian Tavarez beans at least one Yankee, and if it happens to be Gary Sheffield, may they fight to the death.

I think the effervescent Coco Crisp will own this city.

I think Keith Foulke will find the changeup, the extra five m.p.h. and the peace of mind he was missing last year.

I think Mike Lowell will remind us more of Bill Mueller than Kevin Millar.

I think Mike Timlin will pitch like a man 10 years younger and Jonathan Papelbon will prove effective beyond his years.

I think the World Champions Once Removed have as good or better a chance of winning the final game in October as anyone.

Hey, I said I was optimistic. But before we ponder the ending, let's get on with the beginning.

Play ball. Finally and at last.

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As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Twenty years after he was drafted by the franchise, Curt Schilling makes his first Opening Day start as a member of the Red Sox.