Sat, 27 February 2016
Red Sox Spring Training 2016 is reminding me of the old days when spring training was full of nutty stories about nutso players. Back in the day when Red Sox teams were characterized by the “25 players - 25 cabs mentality,” they had spring training shenanigans that you could set your watch by.
I'm talking about pre 2004, pre Terry Francona and before the current ownership group (which to its credit has created a more accountable culture in Fenway South, at least up to this year). I thought Henry, Werner et al. had established a more professional outfit down there. Gone were the days of Roger Clemens showing up whenever he pleased, and when he did, leading Butch Hobson on a jog like a leashed puppy. I thought we'd seen the last of John Valentin throwing a hissy fit and storming out of camp when Nomar took his place at shortstop. Weren't we through with Carl Everett driving himself to games rather than taking the team bus? I thought so. For a few years spring training lacked the drama and nonsense of years past. The players and coaches were there to get ready for the season; focused professionals every one of them. No drama, no selfish acting out.
Now it seems we are back to ownership catering to the stars, making excuses for them and in the process undermining the unity of the team.
This year's cirque de Sox has rotund Pablo Sandoval looking no slimmer than last year. Ownership is not criticizing Pablo Sandoval's poor commitment to fitness. They are supporting him publicly, even saying he is in better shape than last year (17% body fat ?!?) which pushes the bounds of credibility.
What is Pablo's deal? Does he not care enough about baseball to temper his desire to thrown down Tasty Burger with a side of Shake Shack for breakfast, lunch and maybe dinner? Two years in row now, his huge gut has been photographed and put on blast. Who wants that? Anybody in their right mind is going to be at least miffed by that. By some accounts, Pablo does care and is sensitive to this kind of bad PR. Some reports had him leaving San Francisco in part because of the pressure they put on him over his weight. I think it matters to him. He would have to be a cyborg for the weight stuff to not be bothering him. So why doesn't he do something about it? He is still a young man; he can take the weight off if he works at it. And it seems he does work out and put in the time in the gym. So it must be the appetite, the massive food intake. The epic trips to Five Guys - like back up the SUV to the loading dock type epic.
Hanley Ramirez, on the other hand - he don't care. He simply does not care, and he doesn't even try to hide it. I have never seen an athlete give off the “don't give a shit” vibe in more ways and more obviously than this guy. His smirk, his body language, even his comments to the media are ridiculous, “Maybe I'll win a gold glove this year . . . .“ Could he make it more obvious he thinks this all a big joke? It's like he's a deliberate caricature of the aloof, distant, talented, millionaire athlete. He would be the last guy on the team I would want to sit down and have a beer with. He defines “unlikable” for a baseball player. I hope his attitude doesn't infect the team this year. They need their stars to be good leaders.
With the manager, a position one hopes would be a steadying influence, we have potential lame duck John Farrell. I wish the man the best. I'm thrilled he beat back cancer, and it speaks well of the Red Sox brass that they kept him on to start to the season. Some human sensitivity can be inferred from the non-firing. However, think of the bad publicity generated from firing Farrell while he was fighting cancer. No, the Sox were wise enough to take a broader view of the matter and let him start this year and see how it goes, but keep the leash very short. It's all sunshine and lollipops if the team is winning, but this is a bottom line business and this organization has too much money invested on the field to suffer another last place finish. Dombrowski and Farrell have no prior relationship. If the team struggles in April and maybe into May, Dave isn't going to wait very long to let him go.
Piling on, we of course have the David Ortiz Farewell Tour and his feud with David Price. Price actually admitted to being nervous about the first time seeing Papi at camp – wondering when and where it would happen, how would he act. He sounded like a pimply-faced teenager sweating over first seeing his crush after summer break. Now I'm not lumping Papi and his issues in with the two aforementioned clowns in a negative light. In fact, he and Price hugged it out and seem to be on the same page. Rather, this is yet another big story line going on, and it involves a big ego, a monster personality, and a lot of media coverage. Anything Papi says or does is noteworthy, even more so now that this is his last spring as an active player. Papi makes news whenever he utters a word. For the next few weeks and throughout he season this is going to be a spectacle. I hope he goes out with a big season, and produces as he has been recently, because this team does not need any distractions. I wouldn't want Big Papi's Farewell Tour to be one that robs this team of any focus.
Why have we seemingly returned to the days of spring trainings past? Is the culture of the organization changing? Is it becoming one less structured around player accountability and the dirt dog mentality, and more centered around the stars and their issues? This is not the culture that won the World Series in 2013. That was a team, T-E-A-M, team. One that worked its ass off and grinded out every run and win, and rode that attitude all the way to the top. The 2016 team would be wise to emulate that.
Category:Red Sox -- posted at: 1:04pm EDT
Wed, 17 February 2016
The Celtics are H-O-T hot. Brad Steven's crew is on a 10-2 run leading up to the All-Star break, and have a feel of the “it” team right now. With thrilling wins over psuedo-rival Lebron James and his top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers, and the four seed in the west Clippers, the green team has created a buzz around it not seen in a few years. And I'm not just talking locally either - the Cs are making noise and being heard around the league.
The problem is the Celtics don't have a superstar. And in the star-driven NBA, in order for them to win and beat quality opponents, they have to play good team basketball, and play it with grit, determination and resilience. That's the kind of ball we love in Boston. We will give a team a lot of slack on wins and losses if they are busting their asses and giving a real effort every game. Yet, its been a long time since any NBA team won it all without a superstar, or two, or three. So if the Cs are ever going to be more than a gritty pretender, they need to do some wheeling and dealing, and do it by noon tomorrow the 18th. Fortunately, trader Danny Ainge is, as usual, very active in the talks. He didn't get the nickname trader Danny by accident. A new name is attached to trade rumors every day; Dwight Howard (no, please no), James Harden, Kevin Love (yes), Blake Griffin, Al Horford, Boogie Cousins . . . perhaps a combination of some such. I'm betting something gets done, too much noise and too many possibilities.
However, Celtics ownership has come out and low-keyed things, professing no urgency to get a deal done or bring in a big man superstar to get them to the next level. I call BS on that. When does a professional sports franchise front office ever tell the truth to the media around the trade deadline? Yeah, never. And to his credit, trader Danny is an accomplished, experienced fibber in this arena. I think we will see a blockbuster trade this week that at least significantly if not drastically improves the team.
I'm officially getting stoked on the Cs. Imagine: Ainge gets Love, he fits in here like the missing link, Thomas and Love light it up, we get to Game 7 in the East finals against the Cavs . . . Would that not be a blast? Boston would be bathed in green in May and June, and not because it's springtime.
Which brings me around to my admission of being a C's band-wagon rider. I keep an eye on them always, but I make no disguise of my diminished love of the NBA game and the Celtics. There was a time when I was a steady, regular fan. I loved the Big Three in the 80's, just as I was becoming a young sports fan. That impressionable time in one's life when you legit LOVE your local sports team, go ga-ga over them. Your emotions swing with their highs and lows. And when Magic drops a last-second baby hook runner to tear your heart out, it feels like the end of the world. That's what the Celtics meant to me thirty years ago. The Reggie Lewis years and the Walker-Pierce run of 2003-04 were fun, but by then the game had changed and the NBA had sunk to a distant 4th in my sports priorities.
The new Big Three run with Garnett, Pierce and Allen was awesome; I was back on the wagon then. It didn't last long though did it? I'm not alone in thinking we got gypped out of at least that 2nd championship, and a few more years of high-level play. The new Big Three got old quickly. Ask the Brooklyn Nets about that.
Besides rooting for the Celtics being at times difficult, the game itself is not as entertaining. It has become one in which a team must have a superstar or two to compete for a championship. There is no parity. There is no sense that on any given Sunday . . . And the games themselves are dominated by hero ball, ticky-tack fouls, superstar favoritism, and long-stretches of irrelevant play. Too often only the last several minutes are important in deciding the outcome. The first 3 quarters are frequently meaningless and unentertaining.
Even with all that working against it, I can be sucked back in quite easily. Just give me a dynamic, exciting team and some hope for the games to mean something in the Spring and I'm in. So bring in Kevin Love, give Cleveland or New York a Brooklyn pick. Leverage the assets we have for a big-time player. Let's get this team deep into the playoffs. We already have a piece to build with, IT, our All-Star. Give him a playmate or two and see if coach Stevens can get this team to game 7 or beyond. Boston will be a green town once again, and I'm on board.
Category:general -- posted at: 7:34am EDT
Wed, 10 February 2016
Joe and Shawn react to the Super Bowl. With the end of the NFL season, they shift to the Celtics (37:00) and the Bruins (45:00).
Thu, 4 February 2016
The Sports Fan's Dead Zone
It's January 31st and it's 60 degrees outside. It feels like spring is in the air, but don't be fooled. On this day last year winter was just getting going on its way to a record-breaking month of snowfall and blizzards. Remember getting 3 feet of snow, then 2 feet, then a foot, then another 2 feet, day after day, week after week; it just kept falling, piling up to heights not seen before in this corner of the world.
At least we had that excitement last year. The sports fan's Dead Zone is upon us and there aren't any Winter Hurricane Blizzard Super Storm Whomevers coming to keep us occupied. The Dead Zone lasts from whenever the Patriots season ends (1 game too soon this year) to when the Red Sox season begins. The Dead Zone can be delayed by a compelling Super Bowl, which I think this year's is. Roughly we are talking about the period of time from late January to early April. It encompasses the whole month of March. Sure March Madness occurs during this time, but who cares? Seriously, does anybody around here give two flips about college basketball? I haven't paid close attention since the great UMASS teams of the nineties. Sure, every so often Boston College will make some noise and I'll pay attention, and maybe I'll tune in for the Final Four and beyond. But other than that, if the Bruins and Celtics aren't interesting, this time of year is dead.
Unless your thing is All-Star games, of course. And if it is, you have some explaining to do. Hard-core gamblers, okay, I understand it, gotta feed your jones - gamble on. But if you're not risking your paycheck on the NFL Pro Bowl, then why the hell are you watching it?! Team Irvin, team Rice, or whatever the new gimmick was this year - nobody is playing real football, it's not entertaining. How about Team I Don't Give a Crap?
The NHL All-Star game is kind of a joke too. Like the Pro Bowl, the NHL now tries a new gimmick every year to try and make it relevant, aka get higher ratings. This year's 3 on 3 play was a brave attempt at entertainment by the NHL, and its skills competitions are kind of cool. But there was no game to watch, no competition where the stakes are high. The saga of John Scott was the most noteworthy thing about the game.
These all-star events are becoming less about a game where the outcome matters, and more about a weekend of events and irrelevant mini-competitions designed to get ratings. They aren't a showcase of the best at their sport doing what they do at the highest level, and trying to win an important game in their given sport. Perhaps a league will get the formula right some day and an all-star event will mean something again. Until then, they are denizens of the Dead Zone.
What about the Bruins and Celtics? First of all, they are very clearly the 3rd and 4th most important sports in New England. When one of them makes a playoff run or builds a consistent winner, they become more relevant but still won't ever top the Sox and Pats. Secondly, even when the Bs and Cs are competitive, which they both are to some degree this year, February and March can be a real drag. Hockey and basketball teams only play two or three games a week and given that their schedules are bloated and need trimming, some of these games can get dull. Even the players take nights off during the season. They get bored this time of year too!
Spring training at JetBlue Park, with its sun-splashed palm trees and golf-course tanned broadcasters, does provide some relief from the Dead Zone, but it's still a tease. Getting up to speed on the new guys, Greg Kimbrel and David Price most notably, and wondering if Hanley Ramirez will yank a hammy the first time he bends over at first base, will only make us crave the real deal. Watching spring training games is not my idea of a good time. It's similar to watching all-star games; the results don't matter, it's not real competition.
So we take comfort in an old New Englander habit, desperately looking forward to the Spring. The coming of Spring is a time of hope and rebirth, when daylight holds on a little longer every day, mud-colored snow piles slowly give way to grass and pavement and the robins return to signal in each new day. It's a time to assess what was, the Patriots' season was a bust, and anticipate what could be, the Red Sox look like a potential contender.
After all, truck day is only a week away and pitchers and catchers report on February 18th.
Category:general -- posted at: 3:46pm EDT