Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Faithful: Two diehard Boston Red Sox fans chronicle the historic 2004 season - By Stewart O’Nan and Stephen King

This book chronicles the most magical season in Red Sox history. The authors lucked out big time when they started this diary in the beginning of the season. (Like Stephen King needed any more help selling books.) The contrast of the two authors creates a nice dynamic in the book. O’Nan is more of an “everyfan” excited about an autograph or foul ball. He’s just slightly more advanced and dedicated than most. King, on the other hand, while still a diehard, is a little more upper echelon. He likes his box seats, and VIP parking passes when he goes to a game. The combination gives rich insight into both neighborhoods of Red Sox Nation.

This book is an absolute must-read. It is, obviously, well-written. The diary format allows the reader to remember events as they happened. What did they really think about the Nomar trade. Just how much faith was really there after ALCS Game 3? It’s easy to look back and think, “I always knew it would work out.” This book proves that wasn’t the case. It chronicles the turning point in Red Sox fandom, and is even better every time it’s read.

For a rating, I’d give this book a 4 out of 4 bases. 

Friday, February 22, 2008

Tickets for All

Ok, it happened again this weekend. The waitress was talking about the Red Sox, and mentioned trying to get tickets. She was complaining that the tickets were so expensive and hard to get. She claimed the Red Sox needed to do something to make the tickets cheaper and easier to obtain so she could have the opportunity to go to Fenway.

Why? Why do people feel, when it comes to the Red Sox, that they are somehow entitled to not only be able to go to the game, but to do it cheaply? Why is it the Red Sox’s fault that they can’t go to a game whenever they want? This odd obsession doesn’t carry over to other forms of entertainment. Nobody seems to feel they deserve to go to the zoo, or a museum, or Broadway show. It’s just the Red Sox. Suddenly it’s a birthright to attend at least one game a summer, and it needs to fit into whatever budget they have.

A decent Red Sox ticket at Fenway, in section 36 perhaps, costs around $25. Is that really so unreasonable? If I want to go see Elton John in Manchester, NH I’d have to spend at least $70 for a ticket. If I want to go on a Boston Aquarium whale watch, I’m shelling out $35. If I’d like to see Blue Man Group, I’m looking at $48 and up. Even going to York’s Wild Animal Kingdom will cost $19 for the zoo. When compared to other entertainment activities, does the $25 for the Sox sound unreasonable? It’s certainly not so overpriced that the Sox need to take action. And, it wouldn’t appear that the high ticket prices are stopping people from buying them. So, what are the Red Sox supposed to do? If they cut their prices in half, would more people be able to go? No. They’re already selling every ticket. Would different people be able to go? Probably not. The crowd that’s grabbing up the tickets at $25, would still grab them at $10. So, the prices clearly aren’t the problem.

I’ll admit, that tickets are hard to get. Harder to get than tickets for the other activities I listed. (Maybe Elton John would be as tough…and certainly if I included Hannah Montana she’d be even tougher) But, again, I don’t know what the Sox are supposed to do about that. They’re adding more seats every year to increase the number of tickets. Are they supposed to limit purchases to 1 ticket per person per year? Even that only gets it out to a few million people…and everyone has to go to the game alone. So that’s not exactly a plan. Again, I’ll admit, that scalpers get a lot of the tickets. It’s unfortunate, but hard to avoid. Even if the Sox went with the 1 ticket limit, scalpers would just hire every college student in Boston to get a ticket for them. There’s just no way around it.

In the end, I’m sorry that not everyone gets to go to a game whenever they want. I’m sorry that some things are too expensive for people. I’m sorry that some things are hard to be able to do. People really just have to deal with it. I accept that I will never attend a Broadway Show. Getting to NYC is too expensive and difficult. I’m not screaming that Broadway should lower their prices, and find a way to get me to the city. Why are the Red Sox any different?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Spring has Sprung

You wouldn’t know it by looking out my window, but spring is finally here. Pitchers and catchers officially report to Fort Myers today. We can expect the daily reports on how many strikes Dice-K threw in his 12-pitch warm-up any day now. Generally, Spring Training is severely overanalyzed. All those reporters sent down there for a month need something to write about. If there’s nothing important happening, they’ll make something important. But, this year, there are a few items that I’m anxious to see work themselves out.
Who’s playing in the outfield? Naturally, barring injury, your Opening Day leftfielder is Manny Ramirez, and your rightfielder is J.D. Drew. It’s the man in the middle that makes it interesting. The smart money is on Jacoby Ellsbury to take the job. That would leave Coco Crisp as either a fourth outfielder, or trade bait to get anything we can for him. A couple interesting snags with that though. Coco, apparently, doesn’t want to be a fourth outfielder. Frankly, I can’t blame him. He’s good enough to be a starter almost anywhere else. He’s in the prime of his career, and this is his chance to make a name (and money) for himself. I wouldn’t want to ride the pine either. The Red Sox also haven’t traded him yet. It’s possible they’re waiting for the desperate team with a mid-spring injury to make an offer they can’t turn down. Or, the Sox think he’ll settle for the fourth outfielder gig after all. The Sox also have Bobby Kielty, though. That would make it appear that they have too many fourth outfielders. I wonder if the Sox aren’t thinking about starting Ellsbury in Triple-A. Once they get by the public outcry, that might not be a bad idea. Ellsbury’s only 24, so pushing him into a full season isn’t urgent. They have a suitable guy under contract to play in center, and a qualified fourth outfielder. So, give Coco a few months until the deadline to prove he can still play. His trade value can’t be very high since his last appearances on the field involved stinking up the batters box, and jamming his knee into a wall. By the deadline, he will have a chance to either improve his value, or crush it. If it improves, the Sox can trade him to fill a need. If it drops, they can trade him for the bag of balls they’re currently looking at. And then, in August, they can bring Ellsbury back up to finish the season strong. As a fan, I’d rather see Ellsbury run wild for as long as I can. As a GM, though, waiting might be the correct move.
The other issue is the starting rotation. With the recent loss of Schilling, it will be interesting to see how that comes together. The obvious 1-2 are Beckett and Dice-K, and they were 1-2 before Schilling dropped out. The #3 spot appears to now be waiting for Tim Wakefield. If he’s healthy, he has to be one of the better 3-guys in the league. Jon Lester looks to inherit the number 4 spot. It will be worth watching this spring to see if he grabs the role, or if it’s his by default. He needs to go out there and show that he’s the Lester who closed out the World Series. If he goes back to the inconsistency that had plagued him during his career, there’s a cause for concern. The problem with that, however, is the nature of spring training. Depending on the line-ups they face, and when they face them, pitchers are naturally inconsistent during the spring. Lester will just have to try to stay on track. The final rotation spot looks to fall to Clay Buchholz. Again, it would be nice to see him come out this spring and take the job. I don’t want to get to April wondering if Kyle Snyder would be a better option. It will also be interesting to see how the Sox will handle Buchholz. With his age, I’m sure they’re not thrilled about penciling him in for 30 starts. Do they try to work other starters this spring as well to give Clay some rest? Are they expecting Clay to pitch 5 innings max per start, so they hold Snyder or Tavarez as long men to compensate? Do they hold Snyder or Tavarez for frequent spot starts to give Buchholz a day off?
Opening Day comes early this year. So, the answers to these questions should come around quickly. This promises to be another exciting spring.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Schilling's Shoulder

It looks like the sports gods were tired of all this “Boston, the Hub of Sports” talk that was running around. So, in one week they took down the Patriots and knocked off the Sox number three starter. Just how bad this latest news in depends on how wide of an angle you use to look at it. It’s probably safe to assume that Curt won’t be pitching in any sort of useful capacity this season. He may make it back for a late season push, but I don’t know how much I want to expect from a rusty old pitcher late in the season after shoulder problems. So, what does that mean?
Quick view, it puts Buchholz into the forefront. He would appear the front runner for the now vacant number five starter. Assuming the Sox don’t use Coco to grab a starter, that puts the rotation at Beckett-DiceK-Wakefield-Lester-Buchholz. Not a bad rotation. The Sox have made the playoffs with rotations much worse. I have no problem going into opening day with that. After all, Schilling only gave us 9 wins last year. I can feel comfortable with Clay approaching that total. So, narrow view, not a huge deal to part with Curt.
Slightly larger picture. Buchholz was supposed to be the insurance police in case Curt or Wake needed time off during the season. He’s no longer available for that. So, if Wakefield needs some rest or recovery, we’re down to Snyder. We’re also more likely to see Snyder take some starts since the Sox are still going to be careful with Clay. They’ll want to be able to give him extra rest whenever possible to avoid killing his young arm. So, losing whatever starts Curt would have taken, exposes more starts for Snyder. Is that a big deal? Probably not. They'll figure out some way to rest the youngsters, and still throw a starting pitcher out there every day. Frankly, baseball doesn't have enough good teams to worry about and inconsistant fifth starter.

That leaves the playoffs. With Beckett as the ace, that hides a lot of probelms. Curt would have been nice, but he's really not required. The way Lester handled himself in '07 was great.

Basically, it's too bad since the Sox are already paying for him. But, this certainly doesn't crush the Sox chances this year. Nothing that dramatic. It might even be a good thing if Clay can emerge and show us all that he deserves to be in the rotation anyway.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Casey as the Bat

The Red Sox finally filled out their roster by acquiring Sean Casey for their bench. This was certainly a fine signing. Casey’s a decent bat, and a great clubhouse guy. So, assuming he’s now comfortable with his back-up role, there’s nothing wrong with adding him to the team. The only issue is that there’s really nothing right with adding him either. Casey doesn’t add an extra element to the bench, which is really what the bench is for. I can’t think of a time in the game when I’ll be begging for Casey to come in. Generally, with the 25-man roster, you have four bench players. Position-wise, the Sox now have a decent spread. There’s the catcher, infielder, outfielder, and first baseman. They also have the required pinch runner options with Cora and Ellsbury/Crisp. They don’t have a power threat, unless you count Mirabelli. (which I don’t) Casey doesn’t really help you out there, as his power numbers have been dropping lately. Nor does Casey provide a glove to use for defensive reasons. Not that there’s anything wrong with his glove. It’s just that the starting first baseman is the reigning gold glove winner. Running down the line-up, there aren’t a lot of places I’d put him in as a pinch hitter. Can’t see him replacing a healthy Youk, Ortiz, Manny, Drew (another lefty), Lowell or Varitek. So, possibly hitting for Pedroia, Lugo, or Ellsbury/Crisp in a close and late situation. But even in those cases, I don’t see his chances of getting a base hit high enough to justify the position juggling that would be required.

Basically, he’s a great guy who can give Youkilis a day off here and there against a righty. And, he’s cheap enough that it’s probably OK just like that.

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