Thoughts on Bobby Valentine and the Red Sox

It’s more than a little unfair to place all the blame for the Red Sox struggles on Bobby Valentine. The Red Sox were not exactly in a good place before his arrival and seem to still have a lot of issues to iron out behind the scenes in the front office. We’ve had some bad luck and unfortunate injuries. Losing Jacoby Ellsbury was a big blow. Even the Carl Crawford of 2011 or a fossilized JD Drew would be an upgrade to our current outfield predicament. As baffling as he was at the plate, JD was rock solid patrolling right field. The outfield could use some stability. I didn’t think the bullpen would be this horrendous, but I was suspicious of their abilities from the start. There are several words that could be used to describe the current edition of the Boston Red Sox, my favorite is clusterfuck.

I wanted to try to like Bobby Valentine. I really did. I spent a lot of time ignoring the Red Sox over the winter, trying to get over the disappointment I felt in Terry Francona’s unceremonious departure from the team last fall. Initially, I liked what I saw in spring training. Bobby was preaching fundamentals and seemed to have a good program in place to get the team ready to play. He also rode his bike to work and I’m always willing to give out an extra point or two to cyclists. It hasn’t taken long for my opinion to change. I’m not particularly amused at his attempt to call out Youk in the media. I think it was far too early in the season for that kind of thing, and whatever his faults, Kevin Youkilis has always been a gamer. However, it was his insincere, uncomfortable, awkward attempt at retracting those statements that made me angry.

If you’re going to call a player out to the Boston media you better have the balls to stick by it. At his press conference in the aftermath his body language reminded me of Roger Clemens very uncomfortable testimony about his involvement with steroids. If he truly didn’t mean his statements the way they were picked up and interpreted by the media, why not say sorry, we’re clearing this up privately and move on? Why give us some rambling, incomplete mumbo-jumbo about Youk not breaking helmets and generally acting like a 4-year-old having a temper tantrum when he makes an out at the plate? Shouldn’t we see this new-found maturity as a positive step? I don’t know anyone who measures work ethic with a “helmets thrown” yardstick. Bobby Valentine should hire a press secretary to handle his statements to the media, we’d all be better off.

Dustin Pedroia will forever have my respect and admiration, but he didn’t help things out with his knee-jerk reaction. I wish he had kept his statements in-house. It seems a little hypocritical to be saying we don’t call each other out like that here in Boston when you yourself are doing essentially the same thing. It felt like battle lines were being drawn. I understand Dustin is probably still smarting from the loss of Terry Francona, and I absolutely support his decision to defend Youk, I just wish he had made his statement a different way. Simply saying the team stands behind Youk and we know he’ll turn it around soon would have sufficed. Unfortunately, this is Boston and whether we admit it or not, we all love a good Red Sox catfight. I hope Dustin, Bobby and the whole team sat down behind closed doors and hashed things out.

The 2012 season is barely three weeks old. This team is more than capable of winning games and I hope we remember these early weeks in April as growing pains. Teams don’t benefit from mid-season mutinies

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It Was An Honor and a Privilege…

We should be tipping our hats to you Timmy.

It was an honor and a privilege to watch you play in a Red Sox uniform for 17 years Tim Wakefield. Thank you for always putting the good of the team above your own personal interests. Thank you for always being a class act. Thank you for never forgetting how lucky you were to play baseball for a living. Thank you for always being loyal to us, the fans, when you could have sold out. Thank you for 2004 and 2007.

Thank you for the memories.

Thank you for everything.

You will be sorely missed.

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Anger

I’m still mad at the Red Sox. It’s a dull anger at this point, but it’s still anger. And disappointment. And Sadness. Anger at the jackasses who drank beer and ate fried chicken and got paid millions of dollars to not give a shit about their season or their teammates or their fans. Anger that I apparently cared more about the 2011 Red Sox than they did. Disappointment that no clubhouse leaders were able to put a stop to the unacceptable behavior. Disappointment in 3 grown men. One I had previously admired, and 2 I had my doubts about, who live the dream of millions of Little Leaguers all over the world  and who didn’t have the respect for the dream or the game to play it right. Disappointed that a player seemingly turned on a manager who had never done anything besides provide support and encouragement. Sad that a good man was run out of town. Sad that a few had stellar seasons smudged by the grubby, greasy fingers of another few who turned the clubhouse and eventually the fans upside down. Sad that the front office apparently decided to air greivances in public. Sad that an era has ended. Sad that for the first time ever I didn’t wear a Red Sox sweatshirt to the gym because I was embarrassed by my team.  Sad that for me, something has changed.

I haven’t paid much attention to the Red Sox since those dark days in early October. One could argue that it’s the off season so there’s not much to pay attention to, but that’s not the reason. I usually follow the Hot Stove dealings and rumors with enthusiasm. I anticipate the upcoming season like a kid waiting for Christmas. I check all the usual news outlets daily and offer my thoughts on whatever minutia may be happening on Twitter. Not so this year. I quite simply don’t care. I couldn’t even bring myself to have an opinion on a new manager. I was too busy mourning the loss of the old one. I’m not sure how far this apathy will extend. I’m still waiting for an apology that isn’t coming. I no longer believe in my team. It’s not about wins and losses or stats. I’m a Red Sox fan, I can handle losing, I can handle a late season collapse, previous decade aside, I expect that. I can’t handle a blatant lack of integrity.

The Red Sox of 2004 were idiots, but they were idiots who played hard, who loved the game and who never, under any circumstances, gave up on themselves. So we never gave up on them. They built a trust with us and with each other. We learned to accept victory over defeat as our expectation for our team. We learned to trust that 25 guys, occasionally 24 in a a bit of ironic numerology, were doing their utmost to win for us. No small feat for a community accustomed to decades of defeat. The quirkiness was eventually tempered into professional experience in 2007, but the spirit carried on until last fall. In one newspaper article a decade of trust and goodwill was broken. It’s going to take a long time to rebuild.

I don’t hate the new Red Sox manager, but I’m also not convinced he’s the answer. I hate that spoiled brats who play a boys game for a living felt it was ok to abuse the privilege and admiration the fans bestowed upon them. They owe us their best effort, every game, every play. Without us they don’t exist. I want to see Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury emerge as leaders to help right the ship in 2012. I want Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey and anyone else who chose a bucket of chicken and a beer over their team and their fans to issue a public apology over the public address system in Fenway Park on Opening Day. I want the 2012 Red Sox to rebuild the trust I had in April of 2011.

I’m not sure how long my apathy will last. I keep telling myself I’ll snap out of it by Spring Training, but I really don’t know.

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Finish Strong

I don’t like to be the rabbit who leaps out to lead the division in April and May. It’s a long, grueling, grinding season and damn near impossible to stay hot from start to finish. If you recall, the Yankees got off to horrible start last year, much like our start this year. They danced around the .500 mark. Their bullpen looked horrendous. After spending half a billion dollars in the middle of the biggest recession since the Great Depression they looked they might be a bigger failure than Bear Stearns. Unfortunately, the 2010 Yankees turned out to be too big to fail.

The Red Sox find themselves in a similar position at the moment. We humiliated the Yankees at the beginning of last season. I would hope certain members of the Red Sox feel rather humiliated today. If you remove the inning horribilus (the 9th inning Papelbon nuclear implosion if you’ve been under a rock today) from last night’s game, and chose to overlook (once again) Dice K’s shortcomings, the game was not a complete disaster. It just happened to end that way. The club has the talent to be successful. Last night they were down early and rallied like champions. The ending sucked, but there were positive things that happened.

This team seems to have much more life and personality to it than last year, but overall, the offense was not really improved. Dropping Bay and adding Beltre was pretty much an even trade at the plate. The Red Sox didn’t have what was needed to get the job done last year and we’ve been prepared for this team being a possible failure. Or bridge, if you will. We were told to expect a sub par year over the winter by Theo Epstein himself.

I have largely ignored this evenings soggy proceedings, but saw Beckett got pulled with tightness in his lower back. Not good news, but not fatal. Lester and Lackey can anchor the rotation and Tim Wakefield can step back up to the starting role he never should have relinquished to Matsuzaka. I’m going to borrow the mantra used by Florida Gator football. Finish Strong. The season is far from over. We haven’t played ourselves out of contention for anything, yet. There are some tough series ahead in the next few weeks, it’s gut check time. This team will either find an X factor to stand up and fight for or collapse like the weak bridge it was built to be.

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A Time Warner Cable Tale

On March 29, frustrated by my inability to tune into the MLB Network for a Red Sox Spring Training game of complete insignificance, I sent out a Tweet saying “TWC sucks.” In my whole experience with this company that was the complete truth. Frustrating customer service, billing errors, etc., if there had been any other option available to me I would have long since gone elsewhere. However, on this particular day I discovered that TWC had warmed to the idea of “being helpful” and “caring about ones customers” and had set up a Twitter account to monitor mentions of their brand name. About time. I was informed over Twitter that MLB Network was part of the basic digital package and available to me should I decide to sign up this service. I was sort of surprised since this happened to be the very package I already paid for every month. I emailed the Twitter rep my account information and he confirmed that I should, in fact, be receiving this channel. I was at once pissed off that I had been unfairly denied MLB Network for the past 6 months and overjoyed that  Time Warner Cable appeared to give a damn about it’s customers.

The Twitter rep was unable to remotely fix my problem, but gave me the local customer service numbers and assured me they would be able to take care of things. Naturally I procrastinated about this until April 6th when the Red Sox were again on MLB Network, now in the regular season, and playing the Yankees. Important viewing. A half an hour before the game I called my local TWC representative, very skeptical of the treatment I would receive. To my absolute shock, the lady who answered the phone was not only competent, but genuinely friendly and helpful. I can’t remember her name or I’d give her a shout out. Several reboots of my cable box later, she too was unable to remotely fix my problem, but scheduled a time for a tech to come out and take a look the next day. She also credited my account for a week of free service for my inconvenience. Well played TWC, well played. I then discovered the free MLB Extra Innings preview week and was able to enjoy a whole week of Red Sox coverage, not too shabby. (Not from the TWC rep, who, as we will discover later in this story probably wasn’t even told about this by her superiors, but from friends listening to me whine on Twitter)

Now, I feel I should disclose I was less than thrilled at having a tech come out the next day. I knew I was moving in about a month and it seemed silly to go to all this trouble for an account I would soon be canceling. However, having come this far in the process of trying to receive this channel, and after how helpful everyone had been, I also felt like I had to see the whole thing through. So I scheduled the time for the tech to come out the next day, between 3-5 PM, fully expecting to be home from work and the visit to possibly not even happen given the short notice of scheduling, notorious nature of cable service appointments, and my luck in general. I was shocked when my phone rang at 2:40 and I was informed the tech would be at my house promptly at 3 PM. Again, well done Time Warner. The tech was very polite and professional. However, after several technical adjustments to my old cable box, a new cable box, an adjustment to where the cable actually connected to my house, and many phone calls to TWC Tech Central (prolly not what they actually call it), my problem was still not fixed.

It turned out to be a communication problem. Time Warner Cable failed on the worst level imaginable. The very people in charge of trying to help me, and doing an exemplary job of it, were not informed of changes to cable packages made the previous week. The MLB Network had been removed from the basic digital cable package and was now part of the digital variety package. The tech informed me that getting this information was simply a process of coming across someone else in the company who had previously experienced (and somehow figured this out on their own? WTF?) the issue and now knew the packages had changed. HOW DO YOU NOT TELL YOUR PEOPLE THIS? At the very least send out a memo. How do you not inform me, YOUR PAYING CUSTOMER, that my channel lineup is changing and what I was previously paying for I will now have to pay more for. I now pay an extra $6.oo/month for MLB Network and 50 other channels included in the variety package. I ended up feeling so bad for the tech and everyone who had helped me along the way that I just signed up for the new package was instantly gratified with MLB Network appearing on my TV. I’m moving to New York and canceling my account this week anyway.

I won’t even get in to how I was supposed to be receiving the channel all along or NESN (of all things!) somehow magically appeared on my cable for 48 hours before the entire channel lineup was reorganized. I’m quite sure I was only prepared for reorganization because the tech miraculously new about that and told me it was coming. Had I not had this experience I would have been left wondering where MLB Network disappeared to, originally being channel 135 and now being 524. Maybe mail out a new channel list, or send an email Time Warner? After all of this extraordinary improvement in customer service, the individuals I dealt with were truly excellent, Time Warner Cable as an (un)organizational whole still left me feeling annoyed and wanting to switch providers. I appreciate the new effort TWC, but you still left me feeling frustrated and angry that you couldn’t handle the simplest of tasks.

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Great Expectations…

I am not going to hyperventilate, light my (metaphorical) nuts on fire, and run screaming into the streets of Boston demanding that David Ortiz be immediately sat down for the remainder of the season. (Looking at you Shaughnessy.)

But it is time we all sat down and had a serious chat about what, exactly, we should be allowed to expect from David Ortiz. I am not throwing him under the bus, I am not saying he should be pulled from the lineup, and I am not saying he won’t have a productive season. I’m just saying he’s not what he once was, and expecting him to come out and rake like he once did is more than a little unfair.  It would only be fair, to everyone involved, to have Mike Lowell or another guy share some DH time with him.

Terry Francona could have protected Ortiz from some of this undeserved scrutiny by saying he would share some DHing duties with Mike Lowell  (or whoever would have sufficed if Lowell were traded) on Day 1 of Spring Training. Would Papi have been happy about that? Probably not if all he heard was the surface statement, but Tito could have sat him down and told him that he would still get his playing time, Tito still had faith in his abilities, the DH spot was still primarily his job, blah, blah, blah. We all could have been spared this most obnoxious of situations if Tito had been a little cagey with the press. (Seriously Terry, if I was the Red Sox manager I’d lie like a mofo to the press. Can you imagine the fun you could have making up crazy shit and watching the Boston media lose it’s mind?)

As it stands today, if Francona plays Lowell for any reason it’s going to start a wave of speculation about his confidence in Ortiz. Having confidence in Ortiz to be productive and contribute has nothing to do with the fact Papi’s bat has slowed a bit, and maybe Mike Lowell would be the better choice against a lefty every now and then. The world is being placed on Ortiz’s shoulders when the Red Sox are no longer built around winning on his walk off home runs, though that would certainly be a welcomed event. The Red Sox are now built around an Ellsbury stolen base followed by a Pedroia double, steady production from VMart and Youk, pitching and defense.

Everyone also seems to have forgotten that for many years Ortiz had the benefit of hitting beside one Mr. Manuel Aristides Ramirez and was juicing in one form or another. Both of those factors were likely key ingredients to the rise of Big Papi. Hold on to those wonderful memories of walkoffs and glory, but take a good look at what is in front of us today. I adjusted my expectations for David Ortiz last season. I no longer expect him to be the feared clutch hitter he once was. I do expect him to be productive and I do expect him to benefit from sharing DH duties with Mike Lowell. Let go of the Big Papi Era, it’s gone forever.

I also feel I should mention Mark Teixeira is 0-12 on the season. Why isn’t anyone in New York panicking over that?

Oh, right. Because we’ve only played 3 games.

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‘Twas The Night Before Baseball

‘Twas the night before baseball, and in Fenway Park
Not a creature was stirring, the lights were still dark.
The bunting was hung ’round the field with great care
In preparation for the faithful who soon would be there

The players were home, all snug in their beds
While visions of championships danced in their heads.
And I in my jersey, still wearing my cap
Was just heading home for one last winter’s nap

When out from the Monster there arose such a clatter
I sprang up the dugout steps to see what was the matter
Out through the infield I flew like a flash
Into left field, my heart wildly did thrash

The lights came on in an old fashioned glow
Like rays of past sunlight on the field far below
And what to my wondering eyes should appear?
But a pitcher called Smokey and 8 players held dear.

Out after the players, to lead once again
I knew in a moment it must be Rough Carrigan
Then rowdy and proud, the Rooters they came
They whistled and shouted, Nuf Ced called out each name

Now Foxx, now DiMaggio,
Now Williams and Pesky
On Collins, on Conigliaro,
On Cronin, on Speaker

To the bag down at first
Stay right here by the wall
Everyone to your positions
We’re ready, play ball!

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly
The players ran to their posts under a clear night sky
The Rooters went to the stands, their seats were not sold
For that lesson was learned, in the Fenway of old

From the visitors dugout, wearing an N and a Y
they went to the plate, but the ball did not fly
From high on the mound Smokey threw with finesse
Striking out the Iron Horse and the Clipper, no less.

From the very first pitch, the game was a duel
Lefty matched Wood, the bats were quite cool
Playing late in the game, not a run on the board
and in the 9th inning the visitors scored

The score held steady, down by only 1 run
In just 1 more out, the game would be done
A man was on base when he came to the plate
He was thin as a splinter, this lifelong teammate
His first swing was splendid, but he bellowed “aw shit”
And with a sly smile muttered “give me one pitch to hit”
The next ball he crushed, it flew straight over the wall
Landing on Landsdowne when from flight it did fall

The Rooters kept cheering, their team won the fight
I could hear strains of Tessie disappear in the night
After saluting the crowd each player went in
except for the Kid who delivered the win.

Taking an extra swing at home plate, he looked out at the park
And he gave a small sigh as the lights were going dark
A nod of the head, and just loud enough for me to hear
Said have a good night Bobby, we’ll see you next year.

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