By baseball Emmet
As Butch said to Sundance, “Who are these guys?”
That question floated around Florida Auto Exchange Stadium (honest) in Dunedin, Florida on Monday. It was my first look at my (occasionally) beloved Red Sox since I gave up on my $500 Fort Myers spring training tickets, after the team gave up on baseball. Gone to the Dodgers were all stars Adrian Gonzales, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett.
Snooty Sox fans with their new $30 million park Jet Blue Park in Ft. Myers may scoff but Florida Auto Exchange Stadium is ranked by Sports Illustrated as one of the top five facilities to watch a Major League Baseball Spring Training game. So there.
Instead of making the annual pilgrimage to Fort Myers, I am camping out at the home of former Bangor residents Mark and Jane, making forays to the Yankee, Phillies and Blue Jay camps, all nearby.
I have been coming to Red Sox spring training games since 1993, and am well aware of the “split squad” games when everyone, but everyone gets to play. But when I checked the Monday Sox lineup, I assumed it was the Toronto team. I hardly knew anyone.
“Who are these guys?”
Brock Holt. Jonathan Diaz. Ryan Dent. Dan Butler, Drew Hedman. Mauro Gomez. Mitch Maier. Juan Linares. All right, I have heard of a few of them. But clearly this is not the good old days of Yaz and Conigliaro, Freddy Lynn and Dwight Evans.
But still, it was a baseball game and it was snowing in Camden. Again. It was the first time that new Red Sox Manager John Farrell appeared against his former team from Canada. Sure, the 5,509 booed him to start the game. But it was a polite sort of booing. Nothing like A-Rod at Fenway Park. The fan beside me said. “These Canadians are so polite that they don’t even boo the Yankees.”
What is the point of going to baseball games if you don’t boo the Yankees?
Farrell had to have second thought about going to Boston following the Blue Jays’ eventful offseason which saw the likes of Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Melky Cabrera, Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey join the club. But he would never admit it.
In the blazing Florida sun, it was evident I was out of game shape. After a few innings I gave up my plush third baseline seat and fled to the shade. It was so bad that I broke my rule and bought a $7 ballpark beer. Had to. Dehydration.
It was great seeing baseball again, signifying the end of winter. Did I mention that it was snowing in Camden?
I despise the knuckleball since it flies in the face of baseball requirements of speed and power. Naturally Steven Wright started for the Sox and R. A. Dickey (Cy Young winner last year) pitched for Toronto. Both are knuckleball pitchers. The radar gun showed consistently in the 75 M.P.H. range. Hell, I could do that.
Our knuckler was better than their knuckler, The Red Sox took a 3-1 lead then won 4-2 as I fled the scene for the pool in Spring Hill. In the Meara-Twomey fashion, my car’s air conditioning died as I crossed the Florida border, into 80 degree weather.
There was little, if any, confidence among Sox fans in Dunedin. Most expected a last place finish. The pumped-up Toronto fans were just the opposite with all their new additions. The Toronto ballpark announcer bragged at one point “We will be ahead of you in the standings all year!”
I thought these Canadians were supposed to be polite.
But the year might not be a total loss, after all. Pitcher Allen Webster, a throw-in with the Dodger trade looked very strong, hitting 98 on the radar gun in two scoreless innings. Outfielder Jackie Bradley had three hits and looks like the Real Deal. There is one guy every spring that stands out, making the trip worthwhile.
Bradley is it, this year.
It is true that the Blue Jays might be ahead of the Red Sox all year, like the ballpark announcer said. Yes, The Red Sox could be headed for another last place finish with this band of strangers. But we will watch and listen, anyway.
We are cursed. Before the recent World Series success, they used to say “They killed our fathers, now they are coming for us.”