Monday, April 06, 2009

Thoughts on Opening Day

Weather depending - and as of this writing, things look iffy - the Red Sox open their season today at Fenway Park.

I enjoy most sports, and can follow them reasonably knowledgeably, but baseball.....

Ah, baseball/ah, Red Sox: my one and only, my first, my true, my 4VR sporting love.

Oh, we've broken up on occasion - I've cried bitter tears, stormed off in a huff, slammed the door and gotten into bed with the covers pulled over my head, refused to play the game of being driven nuts by a bunch of highly paid overgrown boys. But I always come back. Always.

This year looks promising for the Olde Towne Team. But, then again, on Opening Day it always does. Still, this year's edition is a good one. And thanks to the presence of Jonathan Papelbon, there is enough zaniness to keep things lively, and I will not regret for one inning that we no longer have to put up with the drama and sometimes odious antics of Manny Ramirez, late of left field and currently of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In addition to some excellent baseball from the Red Sox, which I will experience via a nightly game-dose on NESN and a couple of trips to Fenway, here's what I'm especially looking forward to this season:

The Opening of the New Yankee Stadium: Sure, I may root against them. (See below.) But I'm enough of a baseball lifer and fan to admire their history. I watched the televised last game at the original Yankee Stadium, loving every moment - even the petty, nasty little omission of any mention of Joe Torre, which just reminded me of why this is a team you love to hate. I don't know if I'll get to New Yankee any time this season, but I will get there someday.

The Collapse of the Yankees: Hoping that the Yankees place no higher than third in the AL East is an evergreen wish, but I'll make it again. May there be dissension in the club house, as all those high priced prima donnas get their egos in a swirl, with the swirling pot gets all stirred up by the NY tabloids who will not for a NY minute let anyone forget what Yankee neophytes Mark Texeira and CC Sabbathia are getting paid, especially if they founder for even a few seconds out of a NY minute. And what it there to be said about Alex Rodriguez?

A-Rod: I will admit that, when A-Rod was homering up a storm (was it just last season, or was it the season before?), I was somewhat rooting for him to break all the home run records. That's when I thought he was clean of steroids, and I was hoping that a home run spree on A-Rod's part would let him surpass the feats of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds. Alas, we now know that A-Rod "used". Now, what we have to look forward to is the reception that A-Rod will get at Fenway, and every place else he plays (including Yankee Stadium, where he's no fan favorite). I aa-rodm not someone  who typically wishes trouble raining down on anyone's head - even as I write this, I feel a tiny bit guilty about reveling in what must be some pin-striped mental anguish - and yet, any ball player, in this day and age, who consorts with Madonna and allows himself to be photographed in such a way that he appears to be kissing himself in a mirror. Well, it's hard not to feel that he has brought whatever it is that's coming his way on himself. I can certainly imagine that when the Yankees hit Fenway for the first time, a least one third of the fans will be holding up mirrors and making smooching noises. And that, as he comes to the plate, the music playing with will be "Like a Virgin."

Manny Being Manny Somewhere Else: For those who don't follow the Red Sox, last year was the last year of a lengthy and hefty contract that Manny Ramirez had with the Red Sox. The Red Sox had a couple of option years tacked on at the end, but Manny - believing he was worth more than the paltry $20M the Red Sox were paying him - wanted out. He made his feelings known, then proceeded to act out in a most unpleasant way: slapping a team mate in the dugout; knocking down the much older Red Sox traveling secretary during a club house flare up; and, perhaps most notoriously and unforgivably, dogging it on the field - including keeping his bat on his shoulder in the final inning of a crucial game against the New York Yankees. By the time Manny left mid-season, the Red Sox had pretty much given him away to the Dodgers for free, and the Red Sox players had pretty much unanimously voted in favor of getting rid of him.

Alas, the Dodgers will likely get the "good Manny." He's on a short contract - for not much more than the Red Sox were willing to pay him -  and no doubt believes he can get a multi-year, bigger-bucks contract in LA or elsewhere if he hits like he's capable of hitting: brilliantly.  Alas, the Red Sox do not meet the Dodgers in inter-league play this season, or I could have looked forward to Josh Beckett  (or Jon Papelbon, who a few weeks ago referred to Manny as a "cancer" on last year's club; or someone brought up from Pawtucket specifically for the purpose of) drilling him in the butt. (If the Red Sox were to face the Dodgers in the World Series, I would not look forward to Manny getting drilled, unless it was in the fourth game of the Series, with the Red Sox up three games to none, and a lead of 10 runs in the 9th inning. (Then, and only then, should the Red Sox risk a pitcher suspension.)

All the Surprises and Suspense that the Baseball Season Offers: Will Tampa Bay repeat their Miracle in the Trop performance of last year, in which a team with one of the lowliest payrolls made it to the World Series? (I know they're the Red Sox sworn enemy, but it's hard not to like this team.) If not, who's this year's Cinderella team? (There's always at least one.) Will the insanely protracted World Series drought of the Chicago Cubs continue? (Probably.) Will the National League win the All-Star game? (God, if they do, I hope it's not thanks to Manny. Go, A-Rod!) Will Roger Clemens - whom I didn't like when he played for the Red Sox, let alone since - end up wearing an orange-jump suit somewhere. (Liar, liar, baseball uniform on fire.)

As for the Red Sox: Will Mike Lowell stay healthy? Will Jon Lester out-ace Josh Beckett? Will the rest of the league finally figure out how to get Dustin Pedroia out? Will the short-stop problem ever get solved? Does Big Papi still have it in him? When will Jim Ed Rice's number be retired? Will I still tear up when I'm at a game where Carlton Fisk is also in attendance, and they play "Like a Rock" while showing Pudge highlights? (1975: that home run!) 

Where it began, I actually can begin to knowin': today in Fenway Park, weather permitting.

Sweet Caroline, good times never seemed so good as they do on Opening Day.

Play ball!

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