Major League Baseball Knocked Down My Door and Stole $130 (aka Part 2 of My Red Sox Audition)

Fine, Major League Baseball, take my stupid 130 bucks. You win. I can’t go around telling the world how I’ll buy the baseball package if the Red Sox get off to a hot start and then not buy the package after they open the season 4-2 on the road. I want to hold onto my money so badly that before I purchased the package this morning, I scoured all the Boston newspapers hoping to find a hint of drama inside the Red Sox clubhouse. A tiny divide between the players. Discord between the team and ownership. Something…

Nothing. Not one ounce of bad energy in there. Everyone just yucking it up over Will Middlebrooks’ three home run outburst on Sunday. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think these guys actually enjoy playing with each other.

On the bright side, they took two of three in New York before winning two more in Toronto. Most experts didn’t have them winning their fourth game until the All-Star break. Among their four wins, they beat Cy Young Winners C.C. Sabathia and R.A. Dickey (but they couldn’t beat J.A. Happ…more importantly, has any team ever faced three guys with initials as first names in the opening week of a season?). Middlebrooks and Mike Napoli seem ready to fulfill their roles as the power threats for the Sox lineup. Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia seem like they’re in midseason form at the top of the order. This team hasn’t made an error in six games and the pitching looks strong…only three years late the “run prevention” team may have finally arrived. And no word of a setback for David Ortiz. All positive stuff. And I almost forgot to mention that this 4-2 start is largely the work of homegrown talent. Nine guys who have been regulars in the first week of the season came up through the Sox’ minor league system. If only Daniel Bard were still alive, he could make it an even 10.

On the not-so-bright side, the Lackey injury sucks. Not that I had high hopes for the guy this year, but you gotta feel bad for him after missing last season and committing to a reverse-steroids regimen in the winter to get his weight down to 89lbs. He was primed for a 12-win, 4.65 ERA in 2013. Hopefully the injury isn’t serious. We may also be saying goodbye to Jackie Bradley Jr. and Jose Iglesias sometime soon. Not because they haven’t been good enough to stay on the major league roster, but because better players are getting healthy. It’s a good problem if the Boston fans are freaking out over these pending demotions. I know John Farrell’s commitment to being aggressive and the Red Sox’ speed should be under the “bright side” paragraph, but what about the fact that this team may set a major league single-season record for most times a runner is gunned down at home plate by the opposition. I think Victorino alone may get thrown out 25 times at the plate this year. It’s definitely a negative for the team, but it’s going to make every inning with base runners exciting.

If the Sox drop 12 of their next 13, I don’t want to hear it from my readers that I jinxed them with my optimism. More likely it would be because this first week of the season was all smoke and mirrors and they really are as bad as we feared. Somebody already bet me that I’ll be regretting my purchase of the baseball package by May 15th.

So here’s to the 2013 Red Sox playing great baseball through May 16th.

My Seven-Day Audition With The Red Sox

I’ve mentioned more than once that buying the major league baseball package for the 2012 Red Sox season was one of the worst investments I’ve ever made (this is coming from someone who bought bongos during a hazy hippie phase sophomore year of college and never used them…needless to say I’ve made some bad investments).

For the first seven years that I’ve lived in California, I bought the MLB package no questions asked. With the way this team was winning since 2003, it was a no-brainer. But we all know things are different now. The Sox aren’t expected to be in the playoff mix this year. They’re certainly not considered one of the favorites to win the World Series. It’s very tempting to blindly say no to even the smallest investment in anything Red Sox-related. Besides the possibility that this team just won’t be that enjoyable to watch, there’s also the notion that watching 150 baseball games isn’t the best use of time for a 30-year-old unemployed aspiring writer. Those three hours of baseball-watching each day should probably be going towards something a bit more productive.

But in the interest of fairness and equal opportunity for all Boston teams, I’m giving the Red Sox a seven-day try out. In this first week of the baseball season, the Sox have already been on ESPN twice, and the MLB package through DirecTV gives subscribers a free week of all the games. So by Sunday afternoon I will have seen six games and my decision will be made. Am I going all in on the 2013 baseball season, or am I going to casually watch from a distance (and hop on the bandwagon should they be 35-15 after their first 50 games)?

The February 2013 version of Ross would be stunned to see the present day Ross even considering paying $130 for access to Boston Red Sox baseball. But what can I say? I’m a sucker for the hope that comes along with a new season.

It’s only been two games so far, but let’s check in on how the audition is going:

  • A 2-0 start against New York will make even the biggest pessimists question their attitude toward this team. I’m not blind to the fact that the Yankees are marching out a lineup that might not outhit the September 2012 Red Sox lineup, but they did have their top two starters pitching in these games and the Sox didn’t struggle at all to score.¬†
  • You know what I see when I open up the Boston Globe every morning? Not a hint of drama. No talk of the manager showing up his players. No references to some of the players trying to find a clubhouse snitch. Nobody freaking out about a pitcher playing golf on his off day while injured. Nothing. It’s so peacefully quiet.
  • You know what’s taken the place of the drama? Discussions about Jackie Bradley Jr.’s immediate impact, the ridiculous fielding of Jose Iglesias, the fact that Shane Victorino might actually be worth the big contract, the resurgence of Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz at the top of the rotation, and the potential for the Sox bullpen to be one of the best in baseball. Again, I know we’re only 1.2% of the way into the season, but there’s a lot on the field to be encouraged about.
  • And it turns out David Ortiz might be less than two weeks away from returning. Could this team have a sneaky-deep bench?
  • What if we go beyond the fact that they’re winning games and focus instead on how they might win games this year. I didn’t pay attention to John Farrell’s managing style when he was in Toronto, but by all accounts he’s going to be a more aggressive in-game manager than Terry Francona ever was. And with a team that could have four guys capable of stealing bases in the lineup every night (Ellsbury, Pedroia, Victorino, Bradley Jr.), Farrell might have the weapons he needs to make those bold moves (i.e. play some small ball).
  • And what if 2013 John Lackey (apparently hit with the “Thinner” curse from that Stephen King book) is healthy for a full season? Same for Ryan Dempster. Notice I didn’t say “what if they return to all-star levels”. How about they just each make 30 starts this season. That would be huge compared to last year when Aaron Cook (18 starts), Dice-K (11), ¬†Daniel Bard (10), Franklin Morales (9) and Zach Stewart (2) combined to make 50 starts, which is about 49 starts too many.

I think what’s most appealing to me as a Red Sox fan is that for the first time in a decade, it feels like we’re working with a clean slate. They’re not the juggernaut with crazy expectations that they were from 2004-2011. They’re not the 2012 team that had us tuning in only because we might see a meltdown on the field or in the dugout. They feel like a brand new team. Wipe the championship years from your memory along with the 2012 “oopsie,” and all of the sudden you’re rooting for a team with no expectations or baggage. That’s a nice unfamiliar feeling, isn’t it?

I think you can tell which way I’m leaning regarding the purchase of that TV package, but I’ll let the week fully play out before I make my final decision. It might take a four-game losing streak combined with a string of injuries and an out-0f-nowhere steroid scandal to make me change my mind, but with the Red Sox you can’t rule out anything. I’ll check back in on Monday with the decision.

And now for a few more random Red Sox notes that are dying to get out of my head:

  • As Red Sox fans, we really can’t complain about the team not making the playoffs for three straight years. We shouldn’t bitch and moan about rebuilding or these “bridge years” because it’s a guarantee our rebuilding process is going to be shorter and smoother than a lot of other teams. The Astros are going on year eight of rebuilding. The Royals have gone 28 years without a playoff appearance. And even that Indians team that almost beat the Red Sox in the 2007 playoffs are knees-deep in a rebuilding process that’s gone on for six years. So as Boston fans, we’re even spoiled in our down years. Don’t forget that.
  • Speaking of the Indians, I read Terry Francona’s book over the past few weeks. I definitely recommend it to anyone who was as invested in the team during his years managing as I was.
  • Re-reading the parts about the end of his career with Boston opened up those old wounds for me. I don’t know if there was anyone more stunned or pissed off when he got fired than I was. Just inexplicable. The Red Sox owners got what they deserved last year after getting rid of Francona. But that’s not good enough for me. I want Francona to be able to throw it in their faces a little more. So when the Indians play the Sox for the first time this year, April 16th-18th, I’ll be rooting for a Cleveland sweep. Tito deserves that gratification of showing the Red Sox owners they made a mistake, even if it’s just for a day.