Clinton, S.C., Tuesday, March 4, 2014, 9:09 a.m.
Okay. NASCAR is comfortably under way. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has already won one race and finished second in the other. For much of the sport’s fan base, life is good. Stock car racing may not have as many fans as other sports, but they are intensely loyal. Many of them don’t think much of anything else. They won’t watch the Masters if there’s a K&N race from South Boston on Fox Sports 2.
Football’s on TV because the public demands it. Golf’s on because it brings money in the form of ready-made advertising. Auto racing is most useful for loyalty. There aren’t as many, but they’ll watch NASCAR come hell, high water or a polar vortex. People live-tweet a replay of the 1983 Daytona 500, for God’s sake. For some, it is literally for God’s sake, the trinity consisting of father (Big Bill), son (Bill Jr.) and holy ghost (Brian).
Then there’s baseball, which, like the ruling family of NASCAR, is equidistant to sport and religion. Fans count down to the arrival of “pitchers and catchers” as if measuring a shuttle launch. Training camp is MLB’s version of off-season testing except that they don’t have the gall to call it Preseason Thunder or some such.
Just as NASCAR fans concentrate on their favorite drivers, baseball fans love the sport in principle but the team in fact. I suspect football fans are more prone to watch any old game, particularly if they bet. Baseball fans are as likely to watch their favorite teams trailing 11-1 in the second inning as a potential no-hitter in Chavez Ravine with no score in the eighth. To hell with rare human drama. Big Papi’s due up.
The preceding four paragraphs have tediously introduced the fact that I intend to write principally this morning about the Boston Red Sox, the team I have oddly favored since my earliest memory. I never saw a game at Fenway Park until I was 25, but my late father’s hero was Ted Williams, I grew up with Carl Yastrzemski, and now Yaz is 74, visiting with his grandson in Fort Myers, and I’m still wondering how good or even great Xander Bogaerts is going to be.
Of course, hope springs eternal. The Red Sox are World Series champions. I didn’t expect it. I thought they’d lose to Detroit in the ALCS and St. Louis in the Series. The bearded wonders proved me wrong. It hurt so good.
Not everything has changed, but a hell of a lot has, and most of it was predictable. The Yankees, who failed to make the postseason and yet, still, baseball refused to change the Chase, spent $500 million on every major-leaguer who wasn’t tied down and a Japanese righty who is apparently overwhelming when pitching once a week. Oh, goodness. They’ve signed Brian McCann, Brian Roberts, Carlos Beltran, Kelly Johnson and, forgive me while I pause to weep, Jacoby Ellsbury. They took everything but the Slawson Cutoff#.
The best player, Robinson Cano, left for Seattle. Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettite retired. Alex Rodriguez is vacationing with Mrs. Marion Wermer in Palm Springs.
What’s a sports blog without an Animal House reference?
The Yankees will contend because, for that kind of money, they can’t possibly suck.
The Red Sox have a new catcher, A.J. Pierzynski; a spare closer or two (they needed three last year); an injury-plagued center fielder, Grady Sizemore, to help replace the one the Yankees signed; and they are banking on Sizemore and Jackie Bradley Jr. to patrol the gaps vacated by Ellsbury.
Boston’s greatest virtue in 2013 was depth, and they still have it. The Yankees’ most notable characteristic was age, and they still have that, too. It’s just that more of the aged beef is USDA Choice now.
At this time a year ago, I would have been happy for the Red Sox to win 85 games. Now I expect them to contend for another title. The Red Sox will win because of depth. The Yankees will win because of money. The Tampa Bay Rays will win because, somehow, manager Joe Maddon decrees that it will always be so. The damned Rays play in baseball’s strangest park in front of crowds numbering well into the thousands on most nights, and somehow Maddon gets more out of their money than Jack Benny* would have.
I know all about the Yankees and Rays, not to mention the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays, because they play the Red Sox so often, and from April through October, I watch more NESN than ESPN. Last year it was so convenient being unemployed and all. My life was a wreck, but that was okay. The Bosox, the Sawx, the Carmines, all those silly names, they won the World by God Series in six games. I’m sure I watched a hundred games. Sometimes, when the team was on the West Coast, I’d drive up to Greenville and watch the farm club play. If baseball was Oh Brother Where Art Thou, I’d be bona fide.
Replacing Ellsbury, whom I will revile shortly after the first time I catch a glimpse of him in pinstripes, is impossible to replace in terms of the mayhem he bred in opposition defenses on the basepaths. He is an elegant outfielder. Bradley and/or Sizemore may be as exciting to watch, but they won’t be as proficient.
The Red Sox have so much pitching that some of it is bound to work. The Yankees have so much money that some of it is bound to pay.
#Obscure Johnny Carson reference.
*I hate to use such an antiquated example, but the notion of any celebrity being tight with his money died with the great comic.
I’ll read a lot, too. You should. Reading is fundamental. It’s both good and good or you. Coincidentally, I’ve written a couple novels you can read all about in other corridors of this website.
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