Thursday, April 12, 2007

Happy trails, No. 11

Catching up on some things while waiting for the impending monsoon/blizzard/hurricane/locusts/etc. . . .

A half-dozen years ago, before Mo Lewis's helmet was violently introduced to his rib cage and New England Patriots' destiny was forever altered, would you have ever thought that Drew Bledsoe's retirement would barely register a blip on the Boston sports radar screen? I suppose a certain fade to irrelevance is natural when your successor achieves all the things that you were supposed to somehow couldn't. Still, it left us a bit disappointed that Bledsoe's departure from the NFL after 14 seasons wasn't more of a story around here.

I mean, sure, we all know about Bledsoe's flaws - he had the mobility of the Route 1 dinosaur, he was reluctant to alter his let-it-fly game to fit the Belichick/Weis offense, he was a rocket-armed prodigy (he started as true freshman at Washington State) who didn't always seem to care that much about enhancing his secondary quarterbacking skills, and it was largely his own fault that he never quite became what his talent (and that legendary Minnesota game) suggested he could be. The truth is, once Tom Brady took a few games' worth of snaps, it was apparent to everyone but Bledsoe's blind loyalists that the new guy was just the jolt of energy the franchise needed.

But without No. 11, we probably never get introduced to No. 12, for had Bledsoe not arrived in New England in 1993, along with a certain gruff coach with a fondness for doing his own grocery shopping, who knows what might have become of this franchise. Maybe it would have ended up in St. Louis (though if I recall correctly, Bob Kraft was already close to purchasing the team when Parcells was hired). More likely, the Patriots would have continued to be the sport's preeminent laughingstock under the "leadership" of Rick Mirer.

In his early years, Bledsoe gave the Patriots immediate on-field credibility, a signature player who, when he was on, was the most breathtaking pure passer east of Green Bay. Through the seasons, we came to appreciate other attributes: he was as tough as old shoe leather, he played hurt (quick, name another quarterback who won a game in the last seconds with a pin sticking out of his finger), and that in the face of personal disappointment, he still remained a good teammate. If you weren't happy for him after the 2001 AFC Championship game, then you weren't a Patriots fan.

Did we wish, especially during those maddening Pete Carroll years, that he'd have dedicated himself more to improving rather than retreating to his Montana getaway mere moments after the season's final buzzer? Well, sure, and had he done so, maybe he'd be a Hall of Famer rather than a pretty good quarterback with gaudy stats who somehow lost three different starting jobs in the final six seasons of his career. But we've got a feeling that Bledsoe is okay with his football legacy, just as long as he has his family, his health, and his place in mountains. He walks away from the game knowing what we all should remember: there's no shame in being the second-best quarterback in Patriots history.

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I think we've found the early frontrunner for Red Sox quote of the year, plucked straight from Mnookin's blog.

“I’d never do anything like that. There are f----ing kids in the stands."

– Brendan Donnelly, when asked if he’d made an obscene gesture at Seattle's Jose Guillen.

Mark these words: If this guy can still get it done, he's going to be huge here. Donnelly takes *%&# from no one, yet by most accounts he's as down to earth as they come. Sounds like a New England kind of guy to me.

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Other Red Sox remnants: I don't care what Buster Olney says, Dice-K reminds me of a young Mike Mussina more than any other contemporary pitcher. After two starts, I'm putting him down for 17 wins and a 3.20 ERA, and yes, I'm deliberately being conservative . . . Seriously, how sick was Felix Hernandez the other night? That might have been the most dominating pitching performance I've seen since Pedro's heyday. The Sox hitters had no chance. It'll be fascinating to see what he can accomplish if he stays healthy and away from the Cool Ranch Doritos . . . I realize Josh Beckett started out pretty well last season, winning his first four starts if I recall correctly, but right now he looks vastly superior to anything we saw from him a year ago. The true test will come when he has to use his curve and changeup to get outs in a crucial situation, but it sure looks like he's evolving into a pitcher from the mule-stubborn thrower he was a season ago . . . Tito Francona needs to make a point to work Eric Hinske and Wily Mo Pena into the lineup more often, not only to keep the two former regulars from rusting on the bench, but to keep the likes of Mike Lowell, J.D. Drew, Coco Crisp, and even Manny from wearing down over the long haul. I actually wouldn't mind seeing Hinske take more than a few of Lowell's starts at third . . . There's a fun thread going over at Sons of Sam Horn, with posters recalling the most electric they ever saw Fenway. Mine would be Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS, when ol' Trot Dirty Hat hit the walkoff homer off Rich Harden. I was working, and Fenway was shaking so much as he circled the bases that it was hard to line up the keys on the laptop . . . Shhh, don't tell the 'EEI imbeciles, but Francona's shrewd eighth-inning use of Jonathan Papelbon Friday night was straight out of the Bill James/Closer By Committee playbook. You use your best reliever to get crucial outs, whether that's in the ninth inning, the eighth, or the sixth. For at least one night, it worked to perfection.

* * *

The heat seems to be increasing on Danny Ainge these days, and if he gives M.L. Rivers a contract extension without an out clause, I'll agree that he deserves to be scalded. But I've said it before, and I'll say it right up until we know the results of the draft lottery: Ainge deserves credit for taking a dull but decent team that had two quality players and absolutely no young talent or chance of winning anything substantial, and having the Spauldings to blow it up and start over. Three years later, he has an atrocious team with at least a half-dozen talented kids . . . and a potential winning lottery ticket. Given that the goal should be to get that 17th banner my any means necessary, I have no problem with that strategy, even with the inherent risk that they could end up with the likes of Joakim Noah once the ping-pong balls have settled. Hey, if he enters 2007-08 with a starting five of Oden, Jefferson, Szczerbiak, Pierce, and Rondo, with, depending on potential trades, Perkins, West, Gomes, Allen, and Green on the bench, how can you not feel pretty good about about the rebuilding job Ainge has done?

* * *

Damn, there sure are some fringe benefits to being an actor, huh? If I were Will Ferrell, I might never wash my hands again. And as if we needed yet another reason why Jenna Fischer is the Official Muse of TATB (Non-Wife Division), there's her take on filming what we now consider the greatest scene in the history of celluloid:

“The first take is like [Will] said, ‘Okay Jenna, you're married and I'm married and no funny business. Anything that makes you uncomfortable I want you to tell me. I just want you to feel comfortable.’ I said, ‘Okay, let’s just go for it and make it funny.’ He's like, ‘Yeah.’ So we just went for it and as soon as they yelled cut, his hands came off like he was touching a hot iron. He was so respectful. But then around hour 8 [of filming] it's so normal that they yelled cut and we are discussing the scene with the director and I said, ‘Yeah, dude, your hands are still on my boobs.’ And that was cool, but when we went to lunch and he was still squeezing my boobs and then that night at my car... I haven't been in a lot of films, but he said that was normal - but I'm still not sure. I'm not positive that that was right. He said that was okay and he suggested to promote the film he should play with my boobs. I think that's cool, right? That's how it's done. That's what he said. Yeah.”

Cute, funny, and down with some good old-fashioned boob humor? I don't care what you haters say - she is perfect.

* * *

I've received 20 or so emails asking me if there's any truth to the little nugget buried here - not to mention a puzzled query from one of my bosses. While it's always flattering when someone says nice things about your work, there's a part of me that's annoyed by the conjecture, and I suppose I should address it. So let me break down my professional status this way (I'll try not to sound like a Simmonsish egomaniacal dinkus here):

Lets's see . . . I just hooked up an affiliation with FoxSports and, soon, . . . I get to blog here about the Sox and anything else I'm obsessed with (you did read the above item, right?) without having to deal with idiot pro athletes and impossible deadlines that would surely jade the perspective I've managed to maintain as a fan . . . I live in lovely coastal Maine and don't really feel like commuting to freakin' Lawrence . . . I've dreamed of working at the Globe since I was a kid and have so much fun with and respect for the people I work with that sometimes I can't believe I'm so fortunate . . . I work four nights a week now for what I'd guess is more compensation than I'd make there in seven days . . . And because of the short week, I get to spend more time with my wife and two young kids.

But other than that, yup, I'd consider it.

* * *

As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

As far as we're concerned, there can never be enough homage paid to the most courageous man in baseball history.

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