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.
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My Desperate Attempt to Extend the Date I’m on with my Readers: Conversation Starters (Bad Habits, Worst Costume and More)

To my loyal readers who don’t give a damn about football, I think it’s obvious that we have a problem. After months and months of us having so much to talk about, the well’s run dry. It’s like we’re on a first date, and the first six months of this blog was the part where I talk and talk and talk about anything under the sun. And you’re like the quiet girl on the date who doesn’t have much to say but thinks I’m hilarious and spends all her time laughing at my stories. And the last couple months has been the part where I’ve kinda run out of things to say, so I pull out my wallet and start showing you pictures of my kid (or in this case, my dog). But now we’ve exhausted that part too. I see you nodding and giving a polite smile whenever I talk about my dog, but I can tell you’re thinking “Will it seem obvious if I pretend to get an emergency phone call that forces me to cut this date short?” So instead of having this magical night end abruptly, I’m turning to a device that any desperate man who’s looking to get laid would turn to…the google search results to “conversation starters on a date.”

That’s right. I’m not below relying on someone else to provide me with topics of discussion. In fact, I feel like it’s the only shot you all have of reading non-football posts over the next two months. I’ll admit this is a risky road to travel. Rather than blog about noteworthy things I’m observing in my everyday life, I’ll be talking about past experiences/inner thoughts that might only pertain to me. And there’s a good chance you’ll hate me after reading some of these. But this blog needs page views and I have no better idea on how to generate them.

When you google “conversation starters on a date,” you inevitably get a mix of lame topics (where were you born? what do you do for exercise?), and outrageous topics (what animal besides humans do you think would make the best world leaders?). I’m going for the topics that are somewhere in the middle. I’ll limit it to just a few questions on this first post, and if it catches on, I’ll post a series of them over the coming weeks. Sound good? Great. Let’s roll.

1). Do you prefer the window seat or the aisle seat on a plane?

Starting with an easy one. This depends on the length of the trip and what my goals for the flight are. Usually if it’s a two-hour-or-less kind of flight, I’m taking the aisle seat because there’s a good chance the people in my row won’t be bothering me with repeated trips to the bathroom, and because I always wanna get off the plane as quickly as humanly possible. But if it’s a long flight, I’m all about the window. That way I can be in my own little world, not have any tiny bladder people asking me to move every hour and can use the window as a pillow and sleep the flight away. The only other reason I’d pick the aisle is if I know I’m going to be drinking heavily on the flight (i.e. any time I fly to Vegas). Because that’s when I turn into a tiny bladder person myself.

2). What’s the longest you’ve ever waited in line?

Originally I was thinking it was on one of our family trips to DisneyWorld when I was a kid and we waited FOREVER to get into the Indiana Jones show. But actually I once slept overnight in a line on the sidewalk next to Fenway Park to try to get Yankees/Red Sox tickets for the next day. I believe I was in line from 11PM until 10AM the next day. I remember having an incredible amount of adrenaline over the first three hours because it was such a cool thing to do. But when that faded, I decided it was one of the three worst ideas I’d ever had. I used a wine bottle as a pillow that night. And if memory serves, I believe me and my buddies got kicked out of that game in the fourth inning. So yeah, 11 hours of waiting in line to see one-third of a baseball game. Good times.

3). Do you prefer baths or showers?

I have absolutely no patience for baths.

4). What’s the habit you’re proudest of breaking?

Well I’m still working on some of the typical bad habits like biting my nails and picking my nose. And I still catch myself with my hand down my pants in public sometimes. Would love to break all those some day. I guess it would have to be going into a casino and spending every single dollar I have to my name. That was a pretty bad habit I had in college.

5). What’s the first thing you wash in the shower?

Legs. I’m a “start from the bottom and work my way up” kinda guy. Although I often wonder if I should wash my face first before the soap has all of my armpit and ball residue on it. But then I just remind myself that soap can’t possibly be dirty because it’s soap.

6). Where were you on September 11, 2001?

Jesus this got serious quickly. Listen, it was a Tuesday morning at like 9AM. Where do you think a freshman in college who had probably been out late the night before was? Asleep in my (or someone’s) bed. I was woken up by my brother calling from the West Coast to tell me to “stay out of tall buildings today.” I’m sure my first thought was “Does this get me out of classes for the day?” That call started a disturbing trend…whenever Neil wakes me up with an early morning phone call, it’s bad news (runner-up to the 9/11 news was him calling to tell me that the greatest Red Sox player of all time, Ted Williams, had died. I admit it’s a distant runner-up, but still…).

7). What was your best, or worst, Halloween costume?

I can actually answer best and worst with the same costume. It was senior year of high school. My friend Sam and I wanted to dress up in something outrageous for the party we were all going to. I believe we had just learned in religion class earlier that month what a partial birth abortion was. Naturally we decided to be partial birth abortion doctors. The execution of this plan was nothing more than wearing doctor scrubs, squirting some fake blood on ourselves and taping a sign to us that said “partial birth abortion doctors.” So I showed up to the party in all my glory, and I found Sam dressed in a poncho and sombrero. His explanation? “My girlfriend wouldn’t let me dress in our original costume idea.” Are you fucking kidding me, Sam? Do you know how insane it looks for one guy to be dressed as a partial birth abortion doctor? But it was too late for me to change it up. I just had to own that creepy costume, and I did. (Yes, you’re allowed to be disgusted with me right now. I’m pretty disgusted with myself.)

There I go doing all the talking again. This is the type of blog post where it would be really cool for my readers to respond with some of their answers to these questions. That way I don’t feel like the clueless guy on the date who can’t pick up on a signal that you’re bored out of your mind.

Biggest Dilemma of 2012: Should I pay to see the Red Sox or not?

I’m facing a big dilemma with the Red Sox this year.  I’ll be back in Boston at the end of May, right in time for their home stand against the Rays and the Tigers.  And the tough decision I have to make is whether to buy a ticket to see them or not.  As soon as I write those words, I want to chop off my fingers because this is absolute blasphemy.  How could I possibly be in Boston for nine days and NOT go to Fenway at least once?  If this was any other year, I’d be getting tickets for two or three games, with the distinct possibility that I’d get kicked out of at least one of them.

And I’ve got a pretty nice streak going where I’ve been to Fenway at least once a year since 1998.  Why would I want to screw that up?  Well, I don’t.  And I probably won’t end the streak, but for the first time in many years I’m not saying to myself, “I’m going to Fenway this year no matter what it costs.”

I’m the same guy that went to 25 games a year in college, spending all of my money (at least the portion that wasn’t going to alcohol and Slim Jims) on tickets.  The day I moved into the BU dorm freshman year, I shooed my parents off before my mom could even get her third tear out because I needed to go scalp a ticket to Pedro vs the Yankees that afternoon.  I’ve slept on a sidewalk outside Fenway for a chance to get tickets to a Sox/Yankees game.  I’d categorize myself as a devoted fan.

The problem is that the Red Sox are off to a “blazing” 1-5 start, and they have another 39 games to play before I’m in Boston.  Do I want to buy tickets now to see a team that might be 5-40 by that time?  Can anyone promise me that injuries won’t ravage the starting rotation and I won’t be forced to watch Kyle Weiland implode in a four-inning spot start?  (Oh, Weiland isn’t on the Sox anymore?  Bummer, really gonna miss that “I just shat myself” look he has whenever he pitches to major league hitters)

At this point in my life, no magical comeback in sports could surprise me, not in a single game and not over the course of the season.  So even if the Sox started 1-20 in a typical season, I wouldn’t panic or count them out.  But this isn’t a typical season because of last year.  Even though it’s only 1-5, it is not out of line for Sox fans to be panicking a little.  If any team needed to get off to a fast start in 2012, it was these guys.

It’s not that I question the team’s talent or personnel.  And it’s not that  injuries are already a problem (which they are).  It’s that I can’t trust this team because all the key players were involved in last year’s mess.  And anyone not involved in the 2011 meltdown is new to the team, and it’ll take a while to see if we can trust them. Two guys who we always knew were giving 100% effort are gone in Varitek and Wakefield.  We have no clue on a yearly basis what Beckett, the shortstop position or the entire outfield (healthy and unhealthy guys) will bring to the table.  The entire team keeps calling the bullpen a “work in progress,” and they’re trotting guys out of the pen nightly who I’ve never heard of….Justin Thomas?  And we are all extremely uneasy with the manager situation.  I also don’t know anything about the General Manager, and I no longer feel like I know the owners.  It’s like the entire team/fan relationship is starting from scratch.

This is our first impression of the newly non-reliable Red Sox.  And as soon as we shook their hand, they shoved us to the ground and ripped a nasty fart all over us.  It’s not irreparable, but it stinks.

Am I going to shell out the $30 for a crappy bleacher seat and another $60 for eight beers during the game?  Of course I am.  I might even talk myself into seeing two games.  But if the Bruins or Celtics have a playoff game on that same day, I might gladly hand over my Red Sox tickets and watch the two teams that I know and trust.