"Hell may have no fury like a woman scorned but heaven hath no sweetness like a sports fan vindicated." - Samcat

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Can't talk, good things are happening!*

Just three days left till REAL baseball and it’s come to my attention that I have some power. Or rather, me and some of the other Sox bloggers, especially those of the female persuasion, have some power. I mean, check out this irrefutable evidence:

  • “Tushies for Tek” is founded on the SGMB, clamoring for the re-signing of our catcher and captain. What happens? The man’s back, ain’t he? Granted, I can’t claim responsibility for this one since I’m a slow kid in coming to the SGMB and was not an actual member of the movement. However, you can be sure I conducted my own vigil involving fasting, binging, swearing and possible deals with the devil.
  • Bring Back the Bullpen Car!” is founded by Amy, Hoo, Sam, Emma and myself during an especially sanity-taxing day. In it, we deliver impassioned rhetoric, heart-wrenching testimony, cold, hard facts and fantastical dreams detailing the need for the return of the bullpen car. Thus far, the Minnesota Twins have reinstated the use of the magical, miniature vehicle. It’s only a matter of time before the other twenty-nine teams comply.
  • Just two days ago on this very blog, I called for the release or disappearance or termination (I mean that in a figurative sense, I don’t want the dude murdered or anything), of BK Kim. Evidently, Theo loves me. See ya, BK, enjoy Colorado! That, I must admit, was satisfying. Jettisoning a particularly infuriating piece of baggage – with baggage of his own – was cleansing. Hey, I’m sure BK is a nice guy, but if you can’t get along in a clubhouse where Kevin Millar does naked jumping jacks and Edgar Renteria sings country songs, well, I’m not sure I want you on my team.

Other baseball things which I had no part in but which I am happy about nonetheless:

  • This hits newsstands soon. I would like to apologize in advance to the nice man who runs the newsstand on the first floor of my office building for my constant presence over the next week and a half and my repeated questioning of, “Has it come yet?!?” I promise to mop up my own puddle of drool. And for those of you who don’t understand my affinity for eye black, take a good, long look at this picture and tell me that does nothing for you. If you can honestly say that, well, I won’t believe you, and then I’ll think you’re an android, but hey, more Tek for me. Thanks to Hoo for pointing it out.
  • Mike Myers has returned to the Boston Red Sox. He was a pretty handy guy to have around during the stretch run last season and came in useful on more than one playoff occasion. Apparently it was Terry’s lobbying and not mine that made this happen but it’s never a bad thing to have a reliever who shares his name with one of the twentieth century’s most famous horror movie villains and who enters the game to the strains of the “Halloween” soundtrack. I mean, I don’t even like horror movies and I think that’s cool. So I’m glad he’s back, if for no other reason than he increases the camp and atmospheric quality of the team.

I have a lot of respect for Jason [Varitek]," Rodriguez said Wednesday. "That's why he's the captain of that team. In the heat of the moment, New York-Boston, sometimes you do things you regret. I'm not really proud of it now that I have a daughter.

"But you play hard, you live and, again, I do have respect for Jason and what he's done. And he's a world champion and I'm not."

First of all, nice approach there, Slappy. We almost forgot you’re a complete tool now that you’re a dad.

Secondly, according to A-Rod:

It's been a lot more stealth, going back under the radar screen and focusing on one thing and that's winning," Rodriguez said. "Everything else is secondary."

Okay, I get it, so he’s a superhero now. All hail, Stealth Man! And this guy has a publicist. That’s what kills me.

And thirdly, it’s not “Jason,” buddy, it’s “Mr. Varitek.” “Captain” if you’re nasty.

Also? “He's a world champion and I'm not?” I believe I speak on behalf of all Red Sox fans when I say, “NEENER!”

Thanks to Sam for the link.

  • I walked past Fenway Park last night en route to a mojito research mission (really!) and I would like to tell you that I didn't squeal, jump up and down and hug the facade. But I would be lying.
  • There is a new McDonald's commercial wherein a guy in a Sox cap sits in his truck at a red light. After a moment, he smiles and pumps his fist. The voiceover says, "Every now and then it hits you." I am not ashamed to say I am that guy insomuch as I do that, oh, let's say once a day. Good on ya, McDonald's. And I didn't think I'd ever say that.

Non-baseball related things that I also find interesting. Y’all can stop reading if you go into a catatonic coma between the World Series and Opening Day. I’ll understand. But for those of you still reading:

  • The Carolina Panthers football program is being scrutinized for suspected steroid use among its players prior to Super Bowl XXXVIII where they played (and lost to) our New England Patriots. Jeff Mitchell, Todd Sauerbrun and former player Todd Steussie had steroid prescriptions filled prior to the Super Bowl. Dudes, Sauerbrun is a punter. A punter, for crissakes! A punter needs steroids in the NFL? I don’t know exactly why but I find this almost unbearably hilarious. Imagine the flack that’d be flying now if the Panthers had won?
  • The NHL Players Association and the NHL Owners are scheduled to meet again for the first time since St. Patrick’s Day. Since then, they’ve cancelled the draft in Ottawa, bandied about the idea of using blue ice, widening the goals by 2 inches to increase scoring and allowing cameras into the locker rooms. Mer (the only person outside of my family that I know that gives two shits about hockey) and I have discussed this in an email exchange.

Kristen: So, making the nets bigger. A proposal of switching from 4'x6' to 4'2"x6'2" or bowing them in the middle to make them wider but not taller. Is this really what they should be concerned about?

Also, how much difference does 2 inches really make in the amount of scoring? Maybe a lot, I'm not a goalie, but still. I feel like there are more pressing concerns.

Mer: It's amazing the things the suits think will help the sport.

Here are the things most detrimental to the NHL:
1. Missing a year due to a lack of CBA
2. Clutching, grabbing, trapping (which leads to the very lack of scoring that they're so worried about)

Have they done ANYTHING to fix either of these problems?

They can talk all they want about bigger nets, blue ice, and smaller goalie pads, but those are miniscule changes in the grand scheme of things. They need to test bigger changes, such as removing the red line and getting rid of the 2 line pass.

It's frustrating to see people wasting their time with things like the color of the ice.

And as for allowing cameras into the locker rooms or miking the benches and penalty boxes? Let me put it this way, for an audio project my freshman year in college, I miked the bench of my brother’s high school hockey team. The shit I came away with would make your toes curl. And this is high school. A private, Catholic high school. In New Hampshire. If the NHL wants to mike the benches in the pros, they’ll end up with nothing but a shrieking constant censor beep. I’m not sure that adds to the enjoyment of the game. And until you have smelled a hockey bag up close and personal, you do not understand that the last thing people need is access to the locker room. Let me tell you, it is the most foul smell known to man, capable of stripping the paint off walls or removing rust from a car bumper. There is no worse smell on this planet. None. “But football players-.” No. “Running shoes are-.” NO! There is nothing worse. I promise you that. My point being that even a visual of a forward’s sopping wet elbow pads, hanging in his locker is enough to give me unfortunate olfactory flashbacks to my high school years when the basement of my house smelled strongly enough to kill all household pets within a 12-mile radius. I do not need implied Aroma-Vision. Keep the cameras on the ice.

Okey doke, I think that’s it. I’m sure other fantastic things are bound to happen over the course of the next few days that will make the seemingly interminable wait until Opening Day seem that much shorter. Until then, to quote Tom Petty, “The waiting is the hardest part.”

*it’s a Scrubs reference. I don’t know.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Dueling Backstops

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(photo from Boson.com)

My phone rings at 7:15 this morning. I'm drying my hair. The caller ID says it's my brother. I immediately start to panic since my bro hardly ever calls me of his own volition (a function of being so damn popular, one assumes), and certainly never calls me at 7:15 in the bloody morning.

"Oh god," I think, "His car is in a ditch somewhere and he doesn't want to call Mom and Dad...again." Or, "He thinks I'll know what to do with the bodies."

"Hello?" I answer.

"I just wanted to tell you that I'm watching Sportscenter right now and Doug E. Fresh hit two doubles against the Yankees yesterday," he says.

"Okay," I reply. "They didn't mention on SportsDesk who got the hits."

"No," he shoots back, "Don't play it off like that. All you haters'll see. Dougie is the man!"

"Um, I have nothing but love for Doug."

"No!" his voice rises, "All of you saying that he's struggling. Pshaw! You'll see. He's gonna be a monster. A MONSTER!"

"Kev?" I say, "I love Doug." I pause, then, I can't resist, "Besides, Varitek was catching Schilling in a minor league game yesterday, so, you know, he wasn't available to go yard. I guess we'll settle for Dougie's doubles."

"SCREW VARITEK! DOUGIE RULES!" he yells into the phone.

I just laugh.

"I have to call Dad and tell him to stop hating on my boy," he says before hanging up.

And so begins the Kristen vs. Kevin Red Sox Catcher Bickering Discussions of 2005. In a game to save the world, who do you want behind the plate? It's so on.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Final Tune-Up

It’s almost that time. Almost time for things to start counting…for real. And not a moment too soon. The Sox take on the Yankees at Legends Field today in another meaningless Spring Training game that will surely only stoke the fires for Opening Day if A-Rod so much as spits his sunflower seeds in the direction of the Sox dugout. Which? Not a bad thing, this passion. I’ll be the first to admit that I like it better when there’s some bad blood between the teams. I’d rather they be sniping at each other and sliding hard into second than playing canasta and drinking Shirley Temples together after the games. That said, the Sox do play 143 games against teams who are not the Yankees. I know, I know, I’ve heard nothing about these alleged “other teams” either. But there’s a nasty rumor that those games count too. Assuming that’s true, there are a few things the Sox need to do to make sure they’re ready for the new season, or, as I like to call it, The Title Defense of Aught Five. All pertinent players and people are addressed personally:

Dear Theo:
Nice job on the Jay Payton thing. Oh, and also Edgah. Really, good work. But about this stubborn insistence on BK Kim? Yeah, what’s happening there, man? Just swallow your pride and admit you made a mistake. It’s okay, we won’t hold it against you. No one wants to trade for him either. What should that tell you? Okay, here’s what you do: Put him in the Witness Protection Program where he’ll be renamed Steve Jones and take up a respectable job as a mid-level paper pusher with a no-name insurance company. You can still pay him his $6 million. And when the roster comes out and his name is nowhere to be found, in the minor leagues or otherwise, you disavow any knowledge of him, Mission: Impossible style. Never admit to knowing he existed. Plead ignorance. Really, we’ll give you a mulligan on this one. Just get rid of the guy.

Dear JD:
I don’t know if this is true. I mean, it’s the flippin’ Herald for crissakes. To be taken with a truckload of salt. But here’s the thing; this is none of my business. None. At all. Dude, I don’t love you because you’re faithful or unfaithful to your wife. I don’t love you because you have adorable children. I love you a little bit because of the hair and the fact that you’re no stranger to the batshit crazy and the possibility that you might need to be medicated but mostly I love you because you’re a damned good leadoff hitter and center fielder for my favorite baseball team. That’s it. That’s what it comes down to. You “wrote” a book and that’s lovely and all but if it’s not about baseball, I really don’t care. I mean, you do what you want in your personal life but really, I’d be happier not knowing. You’re a self-proclaimed “idiot,” man, sometimes, ignorance really is bliss.

Dear Edgah:
Whenever someone offers you a hug, accept it. And hug them back. I’m beginning to think that’s all you need to know to fit in around here. Oh, and keep playing like you do. I think you got that part down pat. We’ll get to the handshakes in due time.

Dear Manuelito:
Actually, you’re fine. Can’t really improve on a World Series MVP type season, now can we? The beads, um, well, whatever you want to do. I’ve given up on giving you advice because you’re gonna do what you want to do and it’s probably going to work. So you just do what you do. Oh, and hug Edgah.

Dear Doug E. Fresh:
For the love of all that is good and holy, shave that godforsaken soul patch! Really. Right now, if possible. We’ll wait. Christ, man, what’s with the insistence on that? It’s got to be more trouble than it’s worth. Also, take Varitek shopping. And nice work marrying a woman named Kristen. Spread the word. Kristens rock. Oh, and when you hear a deranged sounding twenty-something duo screaming your name in the cavernous confines of Skydome this summer for nine straight innings for three straight days, regardless of whether you’re playing or not, that’s me and my bro. Just tug on your left ear if you hear us. Also, we won’t shut up. So no use trying.

Dear Lord Thighsmore:
Since you apparently learned nothing from the Queer Eye makeover, I throw my hands up. Just wear your uniform 24/7. How’d that be? Oh, and congrats on the Captain thing. Your playing? You’re fine. Really, change nothing. Unless you want to stop wearing pants. That’d be fine.

Dear Cowboy Kevin:
I will tell you now because I will probably say it many times throughout the season and I won’t really mean it so I just offer this as a preemptive blanket apology. “Shut up and hit the damn ball!” And, “Sorry, I didn’t mean it.” There, taken care of. Also, hug Edgah.

Dear Papi:
No more Steelers or Colts jerseys. The Celtics are fine. Yeah, like I’m going to tell you what to do. You could crush my head with one of your gargantuan hands. While smiling. Oh, and take Varitek shopping.

Dear Bellhorn:
You can’t even hear me, can you? You’re not even seeing this, are you? Are you even awake? Hello? Well, ECA predicts that you’re going to suck an inordinate amount of rotten eggs this year. So just, you know, prove them wrong. When you wake up.

Dear BillyMueller:
Take good care of your knees. We love Youk so don’t be afraid to tell him he’s got the corner on any given day but really, take care of yourself. Not that you wouldn’t have many attractive and humorous Sox fans willing to nurse you back to health but we’d prefer that wasn’t necessary. I mean, sort of. Watch out for that turf.

Dear Trot:
Learn to hit lefties. Put some more pine tar on your hat. Stop shaving. That is all.

Dear Big Schill:
I don’t care one whit about your politics or your religion or your outspokenness. I care about your pitching. Just keep doing that. You are permanently exempt from ever ending up on my personal shit list because of what you did for us last season. If it’s not too much to ask, could you do it again?

Dear Fat Man:
I’m sorry, that’s your name and ever shall be. I can’t call you “Boomer” with anything other than a sneer. You should send me cookies. Then maybe I’ll like you. Or beat the Yankees. Whichever. And no fraternizing. That’s not allowed.

Dear Matt Mantei:
It’s almost enough for you to just be pretty but if you wouldn’t mind striking a guy out every now and then, that’d be nice too. Thanks, ‘preciate it.

Dear Hot Lips:
Is Manny listening? No? Okay then you totally should have gotten the World Series MVP. I would have given it to you hands down for saving every game. But no worries, right? I’ve just got one small request. Could you stop scaring the piss out of me? I mean, I know you’re great and you deliver in the clutch and I am totally sold on you and I know you’ll come through when we need you to but, um, it’d be nice if I could get through the ninth inning of a close game without suffering eight heart attacks. All faith in you, Keith, really, but, my poor heart, she can’t take it.

Dear Bro-Yo:
I like you very, very much and have a soft spot for you and will defend you to the death (not that you don’t have a catcher for that), and I would like for you to continue doing what you did last year. And you should definitely have your guitar in the dugout for between inning Kumbaya sessions. That would be excellent.

Dear Matty Clement:
Breathe in. Breathe out. It’ll all be okay.

All right, boys, that’ll about do it. I’m not about to tell you how to play baseball. You surely know that already. Just have fun. And if that means you’re doing shots of Goldschlager before the games or pantsing each other in the bullpen then have at it. But just remember, it’s a long season, pace yourselves.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Sam is a Genius, Part the First

You've heard about this already.

Sam has something to say.

Sam rocks.

What you're missing...

(Take that!)

You should be watching this. You really should. “This” being the NCAA hockey tournament. Basketball? Pshaw. Whatever. The real game is college hockey. This is playing with heart. This is playing for the love of the game. How many college basketball players have damn near guaranteed careers and jillions of dollars in the NBA once they decide to leave school? A bunch, that’s for damn sure. How many college hockey players have a lucrative future in the NHL waiting for them? What’s the NHL? Exactly.

College hockey is a fantastic sport. One you should be watching. Granted, it’s easier for me to get hyped up about it because I’m New Hampshire born and bred and though I didn’t attend UNH myself, my dad did and I spent the first 18 years of my life ten minutes down the road from the Durham campus. I come from a hockey family. It’s a great game. I know, I know, none of y’all care. But seriously, this rocks.

At the moment, UNH is deadlocked with the University of Denver in a 2-2 tie, five minutes into the third period. It’s been a good game. But there are a number of reasons why college hockey is so great to watch.

Penalty shots. This almost never happens in the NHL but damned if it doesn’t make for a more exciting game. Forward Daniel Winnik got tripped on a break away during the second period and the refs immediately called for a penalty shot. Ignoring for a second that a penalty shot seems somewhat unfair in that the goalie has to defend the sins of his players who created the penalty in the first place, there’s so much drama inherent in a penalty shot. Goalie vs. shooter. Offense vs. defense. Two players alone. No distractions. It is excellentness. Also, UNH scored a goal. Which was great.

Barry Melrose’s mullet. This is hockey hair at its best. Seriously, Melrose, a mainstay of NHL announcing but, as it goes, most assuredly out of work this season, has taken to announcing some college games. He’s got the quintessential Canadian/hockey fan accent and the entire effect is compounded to an infinite degree when the camera cuts to the booth during a lull in the action and we, the fortunate viewer, get to gaze on the wonder that is Barry Melrose’s hockey hair and his penchant for flashy, brightly colored suits. It’s as if Deion Sanders bred with a family of Nascar fans. It’s awesome.

The Golden Gophers. The Golden Frickin’ Gophers. Of Minnesota, natch. Tell me that is not the coolest mascot name ever to grace the ice rinks of this great land of ours. Assuming your team – if you have one – has either already been eliminated or never made the tournament in the first place (or you’re all, “Hockey? Isn’t that the sport in that movie with the Jamaicans in the Olympics?”), how can you not root for a team called the Golden Gophers? It’s so delightfully absurd. Truth be told, whenever I hear someone mention this team, I am always bombarded with images of that golden idol that Indiana Jones tried to steal in Raiders. Except on skates. And with sticks. That, my friends, is the coolest image ever. And if you can’t root for a team called the Golden Gophers, clearly you are a Communist.

Ghetto cable feed. Pro hockey is obviously not the most popular game around and college hockey is like its bastard little brother that everyone tolerates but no one pays a particular lot of attention to. Well, no one but my family apparently, but still. Nevertheless, we get the feed on CN8 and its, well, “poor” would be being kind. Every few minutes, a line of text appears in the middle of the screen, reading something like “C? andfrh aen? $$$ aedn #####@@!! Dafg dcaCA!” This can usually be removed by changing the channel for a split second and then flipping back. But what the hell is going on? I’ve come to the conclusion that either the closed captioning people have thrown their hands up in frustration at some of this impossible to spell hockey names and have just given up completely and decided to generate text by banging their heads against the keyboards, the same closed captioning people are afflicted with some sort of bizarre Tourettes that manifests itself through their typing or they’ve decided that a grand total of four people are watching this damn game anyway so no one will notice if they do some routine maintenance and it fucks with the feed. Although, as I type that, Denver scores a goal to go up 3-2 late in the third and the screen went fluky again. So maybe the closed captioning people are actually Wildcat fans. Hmmmm…

Heart. As established, these players don’t have piles of money and hookers waiting for them once they make it to the pros. If they make it to the pros. If there even are pros. They play for the love of the game. They play for pride and for heart. For their teammates and their schools. They play for themselves and to make their families proud. In the case of North Dakota or New Hampshire, they probably play because there isn’t a whole lot else for them to do. And hockey players are fantastic athletes. They have to be. They move constantly, on offense and defense. “But what about the goalies? They don’t even move.” No, wrong. Goalies may well be the best athletes on the ice. Have you ever seen some of those slinky-for-a-spine positions some of those goalies contort themselves into while trying to make a butterfly save? Amazing. There are quite a few hockey goalies who could give yoga instructors a run for their money.

My brother. My little bro, in his position as Bauer/Nike intern was put in charge of making sure all the appropriately silk-screened pucks made it to the NCAA tournament. He had to jump through hoops and fix lots of other people’s mistakes but he’s a super star and all the pucks got where they needed to be. Good thing too. Otherwise, presumably this tournament would be played with a sweat sock wrapped in black electrical tape.

Bah! Denver has just scored an empty net goal to put them up 4-2 with 22.2 seconds left in the game and effectively squashed UNH’s dreams of continuing on to the Frozen Four. Soooo…GO GOLDEN GOPHERS!

Saturday, March 26, 2005


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Genetic and geographic predisposition forces me to say:

U! N! H!

U! N! H!

U! N! H!

Go Wildcats!

The UNH Wildcats beat the Harvard Crimson 3-2 in overtime in the NCAA hockey tournament to advance to the next round where they will face the University of Denver. Just so y'all know what's been happening while you've been watching basketball or praying fervently for Opening Day.

As you were...

Friday, March 25, 2005

Man Up

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According to Chris Snow of the Boston Globe, Single A Sarasota pitcher Jon Papelbon took a big step in becoming a legitimate major leaguer yesterday. No, he didn't get out of a jam with the bases loaded or strike out a slugger or pitch a perfect game. But he did show that he wasn't scared of anyone. And that's saying something.

Jon Papelbon
, who has never pitched above Single A Sarasota, was on the mound yesterday for what could be one of those seminal moments in a prospect's career.

Papelbon, 24, went 0 and 1 on Sammy Sosa in the fourth inning of the righthander's first spring training game. In the top of the inning, Baltimore starter Daniel Cabrera had twice gone inside on Jay Payton, hitting him the second time. So, ahead on Sosa, Papelbon busted a mid-level fastball inside. Sosa took one step toward the mound."I didn't know what he was doing," Papelbon said. "He didn't say anything. He just stared at me."

That won over some people in Red Sox uniforms.

"And I'm one of them," Francona said.

Sticking up for your teammates and not backing down to Corky McHopsalot? Nice job, newbie.


Also, this. I'm just sayin'. If this keeps up, people are going to start thinking I know what I'm talking about.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

That's a First

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Today's Diamondbacks/Rockies game was called on account of bees. No, I'm not kidding.

Things were buzzing at Tucson Electric Park on Thursday, and that was not a good thing. Swarms of bees invaded the field and forced a game between the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks to be called after five innings.

Arizona center fielder Jose Cruz Jr. first noticed the bees and was chased from his position during a pitch. The bees then moved to the first base area in the next half-inning, where the Rockies' Todd Helton swatted them away. Then they zeroed in on Oliver.

The bees were reportedly attracted to, among other things, the coconut oil in pitcher Darren Oliver's hair gel. Forget "Spring Break Shark Attack," "Bees in the Bullpen" could well be the best made-for-TV Sunday Night movie ever. It practially writes itself.

Thank to Hoo for pointing out the article.

I don't know about anyone else but this picture sure makes that long, cold winter we've just endured seem like a minor inconvenience. Now that is what spring looks like. Bee-yoo-tee-ful!

(photo yanked from Sam)

So That's What They Talk About

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Clearly Manny and Ellis have been reading The Dugout. So should you.

Thanks to Sam for the link. I also credit her with the many nights I have spent up way past my bedtime, reading these things and laughing uproariously, no doubt scaring the life out of my roommate.

A sampling:

Entitled "David Wells is a shitface"

AllsWellThatEndsWells: If Fenway Park is ever being demolished let me be the one to push the button.

AllsWellThatEndsWells: It's a bad place.

TheoElDio: $18 mill 2 years

AllsWellThatEndsWells: Okey doke.

AllsWellThatEndsWells:Just so you know I pitch perfect games when I'm hammered lol

Or, "Pee Wee's Very Special Thanksgiving:"

PWReese1: This is the worst Thanksgiving ever! My family lives out of state, my friends are all busy doing their own thing, and I have been dead for five years.

PWReese1: I wish I could have a happy holiday just like everyone else!

long_live_giambi: Wish? Did somebody say wish?

PWReese1: Giambi! Oh Giambi, I wish I could have the bestest Thanksgiving holiday ever!

long_live_giambi: All right, Pee Wee. Repeat after me, in Giambese. Mekka Lekka Hi-Mekka Hiney Ho!



And just think, on the site, these come with accompanying mug shots.

It is the greatest thing ever.

Seriously, read. You will be a better person for it. But I advise you to clear away all liquids and perhaps cover your keyboard in plastic.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

All Hail the Church of Baseball!

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(Fenway is staying! Be patient, I'll get to it eventually.)

Aside from the fact that Johnny Damon has apparently shaved (big news in New England), these are the things you learn when you’re sick and you spend the entire day on the couch watching a “CSI” marathon (always wear gloves when you strangle someone), drinking protein shakes that taste like watery chalk and checking the same fifteen internet sites repeatedly:

Barry Bonds may be out for the season, or forever. Or maybe just for a few weeks. Oh, and it’s all the media’s fault.

(photo from ESPN.com)

Per Gordon Edes, Boston Globe:

The man who has shown a remarkable capacity to shut out the cacophony of voices that believe his pursuit of Hank Aaron's home run record is a tribute more to his medicine cabinet than his considerable athletic skills, sounded like a man beaten down.

Poor Barry. Must be tough trying to fend off steroid allegations, deal with multiple knee surgeries, watch the odds of your pursuit of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron diminish and, my god, play baseball, for a mere $18 million a year. Let’s all offer Barry our deepest condolences *snerk*.

"I really don't have much to say anymore," Bonds said. "My son and I are just going to enjoy life. My family's tired. You [media] guys wanted to hurt me bad enough, you finally got there.

"You wanted me to jump off the bridge, I finally have jumped. You wanted to bring me down. You've finally brought me and my family down. Finally done it. From everybody, all of you. So now go pick a different person. I'm done. Do the best I can, that's about it."

Now, I don’t like to see players hurt (except maybe when Derek Jeter breaks his face, that’s sort of funny), but I realize that as players age, their bodies betray them and they break down more frequently. Apparently, Mr. Bonds doesn’t understand this and he fully expects his body to remain in tip top (if chemically aided) shape for years to come. Therefore, by his reasoning, the only explanation for his knees giving out on him is the mental and physical strain the media have put on him. I guess we all missed the part where the media as a whole went to Bonds’ house, took numbers deli style, lined up and took turns beating him about the knees with a lead pipe, Tonya Harding style. Save it, Barry. It’s a little late in your outspoken career for you to be playing the sympathy card.

A baseball official with knowledge of the situation said the Giants were caught off-guard by Bonds's pronouncements that his knee problem will keep him sidelined until midseason at the earliest.

Well right, because it’s not about the team, it’s about Barry. As usual. If Barry wants to sit out the season and pout, Barry’s damn well gonna sit out the season and pout. Because he’s Barry Bonds. And what Barry Bonds wants, Barry Bonds gets.

Barry, buddy, it’s simple really. Two words. Three syllables. “No comment.” We don’t need the verbal diarrhea from you every time you’re asked a question. “No comment” will do fine. Learn it, live it, love it.

Even Bonds’ fans are tiring of him. My dad, a Giants fan for 45 years won’t even defend him. The most he’ll say is, “He’s a great baseball player but he sure makes it impossible to like him.” If he does miss all or part of this season, maybe it won’t be such a bad thing after all. I for one, could use a Barry break.


School kids in Acton have gotten their Superman Underoos in a twist over the lack of handshakes between the teams during Red Sox/Yankees games. According to the Globe, the Merriam School Handshake Project was spearheaded by a group of students and teachers following the Red Sox historic comeback victory in the ALCS.

(photo from Boston.com)

''Fans and players are getting too worked up about what's just a game," the students wrote in their letter to Selig. ''The negativity and intensity is influencing children's sportsmanship after our own sports games. After children's sports games, we shake hands with the team we're playing. . . . If kids can show good sportsmanship, then professionals can too."

I’m all for good sportsmanship but kee-rist, this is what we’re spending our educational dollars on? No one seems to think that our priorities are a bit out of whack if kids are taking time out of their school days to make a PowerPoint presentation aimed at shaming Jason Varitek and neglecting things like, I dunno, geography? Varitek has already made it clear that he won’t sign pictures of the mitt sammich he gave A-Rod because he doesn’t want to endorse such behavior. And I’m pretty sure that most twenty-year-olds I know think that New England is a state and can’t figure out the 20% tip on a $10 check, let alone fifth-graders. Maybe we need to rethink this.

The PowerPoint show begins with an image of students saying, ''We look up to you." A series of photos follows, with one showing Varitek going at it with Rodriguez and another portraying children shaking their fists at one another. One is dressed as Zimmer. Beneath that image, a caption reads, ''We follow your example."

Ah, guilt. That’ll work. Could this possibly be more manipulative? How do you think Varitek, a dad of two young girls with another mini-Tek on the way, will feel about this? That’s not playing fair. There are many things I love about my captain, but one of the best is his fearless, warrior-like attitude. If he needs to throw his weight around to protect his pitcher, I want to know that he won’t hesitate to do so. I don’t want to think that he’ll step away and let Bro-yo or Clement or whoever take the heat all by themselves because some kid in Acton might see him being forceful and start crying. Kids need to learn the difference between school yard games and professional sports. And sometimes, especially in a rivalry as intense as Red Sox/Yankees, emotions boil over. It’s just part of the game. Yes, these players are role models for area children, but that does not mean the players have to parent these kids. The task of differentiating between right and wrong needs to be left up to a child’s parents. It is not Jason Varitek’s job to raise your kids. And there’s something to be said for standing up for your teammates as well. Teach your kids that.

Anyway, shaking hands with the opposing team is against the rules.

There is a rule against the handshake, though it has rarely been enforced. Rule 3.09 of the official playing rules says: ''Players of opposing teams shall not fraternize at any time while in uniform."

So neener. Besides, a little bad blood is good for the soul.


Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi may sit out the 2005 season according to Ron Borges of the Globe. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention to the Bruschi situation for the past month.

On Feb. 16, Bruschi was admitted to
Massachusetts General Hospital after having a mild stroke. He was released a couple of days later, but reports from an Arizona television station had him reentering Mass. General recently to have a hole in his heart repaired.

Bruschi negotiated a new contract last year and if he retires, the contract would be voided. However, both Bruschi and the Patriots have some options.

If Bruschi retires, the deal would be voided, but if he sits out 2005, he could be paid his full salary if the Patriots place him on the physically unable to perform list. If they put him on the non-football-related injury list, they would not be obligated to pay him his salary but still might choose to do so, as the Panthers did with Fields in 2003.

If Bruschi retired before June 1, the Patriots would face a daunting salary cap escalation of more than $2.6 million, the pro-rated portion of the signing bonus, which could not be spread over the four-year length of a nonexistent deal.

Sitting out a year may work in the best interest of all parties, because the immediate salary cap hit would be avoided by the Patriots, while Bruschi would have a year to regain his health and receive his $850,000 salary.

As much as I will miss seeing #54 running around that field and banging into things with abandon, I think this is probably the right move for him. He’s a young guy – only 31 – and these aren’t minor medical conditions we’re talking about here. The brain and heart are pretty damn important areas, for anyone, let alone a professional linebacker. In this instance, I would have to agree with Beth when she says: “Frankly, if he does [play], I'll be a little bit mad at him--he has three little kids at home who need their Dad more than the Patriots need a linebacker.”

It’s possible that he’ll be back in the future. If not this coming year, perhaps the year after that. It all depends. But even if he never puts on a uniform again, I can’t imagine Bruschi leaving football, and moreover, the Patriots entirely. He’s never known another professional team and the Patriots are nothing if not a classy organization. If Tedy Bear decides not to play again, I fully expect to see him on the sidelines, teaching the newbies a thing or two.


The “lyric little bandbox” is staying put. And so is the team that plays within its green and brick red confines. Fenway is here to stay. I, for one, couldn’t be happier. Fenway Park is not simply a ballpark. It’s an institution. It’s history. It’s a living, breathing monument. Yes, the seats are cramped, yes, the bathrooms leave a little something to be desired and yes, “obstructed view” may very well mean that you’ll be watching the game with a support pole between your legs but damned if it isn’t still the best park around. Fenway is baseball.

According to Dan Shaughnessy (I know, I know but I really liked this paragraph):

You'll be taking your children and grandchildren to the same ballpark where your parents and grandparents took you. You'll be craning your neck around those same poles and crushing your knees into those same chairbacks for another 10, 20, 30, or more years. This Old House is going to be home to the Red Sox for a long, long time.

Hallelujah! Praise the names of Williams, Yaz, Ramirez and Nomar. The church of baseball will still hold forth in the one true cathedral. Fenway lives.

Kevin Millar was happy to hear Fenway is staying.

"No doubt about it," said the first baseman. "I don't like all those new stadiums. I love tradition. Some stadiums need to be smoked, like old Milwaukee and old Cleveland, but how can you not play at Fenway? As far as the parking problems and the smells, that's part of it. You deal with that. Walking out that tunnel, smelling that funk, that's where I want to play for the rest of my life."

And this is coming from a guy who’s called Fenway home for a mere three years. Imagine what a lifer would say. Why don’t we let them tell us?

Trot Nixon: When the Sox right fielder was asked if Fenway might be as popular as the Red Sox, he answered, "It might be more popular."

Jason Varitek: "There's been a continuation of trying to make Fenway more modern," said Sox captain Jason Varitek. "That's important. Making it as comfortable as they can for the fans. The closeness of the field is great because it has the people right there on you. But there's going to be dirt wherever I'm at, so I'm pretty happy."

David Wells still doesn’t like it but frankly, I’m still not sure I like David Wells so neener. But it is nice to know that long after the Fat Man has retired, Fenway will still be going strong.

I cannot be rational about this place because it means so much to the team, the fans, the region and, above all, the game of baseball. People do not come to Boston to see the Red Sox, they come to Boston to see Fenway Park. Some day, I want to walk past Fenway with my children, point to the brick and the green facade and tell them, "This was the home of the Red Sox when I saw them win the World Series. This is still their home."

I have been to many of the new parks - Citizen's Bank Park in Philadelphia and SBC (then Pac Bell) in San Francisco are two of the most often referred to when describing the wonders of a new ballpark. I have been to both and they are both exquisite, lovely, comfortable and convenient. But they aren't historic. And they aren't special. They're just "where the team plays." Fenway is home.

In 2012, the Red Sox will become the first team in Major League history to celebrate 100 years at the same ballpark. That’s quite an accomplishment. If that’s not a living link to history, I don’t know what is.

Something about Fenway tends to turn casual fans and hopeless ramblers like myself into poets and bards. We all become bad imitators of John Updike and our speech adopts a reverent tone. It’s hard to explain. Pardon me while I turn to a distinctly non-literary source to help me explain. I quote Annie Savoy from Bull Durham: “It's a long season and you gotta trust. I've tried 'em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.”

The Church of Baseball is my religion too and Fenway is my cathedral. I’m glad to see the old girl’s sticking around.

Monday, March 21, 2005

On the Other Hand...

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(No wonder Syracuse lost to Vermont, their stylish orange headbands got in the way. You can't shoot if you can't see!)

Photo from ESPN.com

I have tried to stay away. I really have. I have even expressed my apathy towards the particular brand of sport that has the whole world in a tizzy right now. To be ridiculously self-referential, I will even declare that I said, "Eh" in regards to this March Madness thing right here on this very blog. But that's the thing with anything labeled a "madness," it's difficult to avoid. I mean, hell, just look at the way people who move to this city become Red Sox fans. It's a fever. A sickness. You can't escape it.

You could say the same for March Madness. I'm not willing to declare my undying love for college basketball just yet. I'm far more cold-hearted and set in my ways than all that, but I will admit to choosing it over, say, bowling on ESPN these past few days. I may have even filled out the bracket in my most recent issue of The Sporting News if only because I like writing in magazines with pen. (Shut up). I wasn't in the slightest bit happy that CBS chose to show the basketball over the "CSI" (shut up) on Thursday but I'm making due. And what team did I pick to win it all? Why look, on this very blog I picked Louisville. And who's in the Sweet 16 now? Oh would you look at that? It's Louisville. Just sayin'.

I know, this is an about face. But not a complete conversion. Don't you worry. Even as I listened to BC lose to NC State on Saturday evening on my way to an 80's party, (yes, I listened to it on the radio, so sue me), I couldn't really feel the drama. Ted Sarandis was beside himself in near agony over BC's collapse but I just kind of shrugged and said, "Oh well." I certainly didn't get that, "I've been kicked in the stomach and beaten about the head with a frying pan and very nearly may be sick" feeling I get when the Red Sox lose a big game. Just "eh."

I was, however, invited to a "Syracuse Rooting" party on Friday night by Amy's roommate Annette and Annette's lovely, if Philly fan, boyfriend Mike. Mike's apartment is a beautiful little one-bedroom in Back Bay off Charles St. and its adorableness and quintessential Boston-ness very much made me want to cry and rend my garments for lack of money with which to afford such a place for myself. But there was beer. And there were koozies. And when there are beer and koozies (and a half-baked idea for Domino's delivery) there are good times. Perhaps not so much for Annette who, outfitted in her teeny, tiny "Real Women Wear Orange" Syracuse t-shirt (and I'm just sayin', I could probably fit Annette in the front pocket of my hoodie with very little problem), watched her boys get beat by dirty, tree-hugging, Phish-lovin', pot-smokin', Burkinstock-wearin' hippies from Vermont. I mean, not that I traffic in stereotypes or anything. All game long Annette fielded phone calls from her brother, father and friends. Her end of the conversation consisting mostly of "Are you watching this crap?" and "What the hell is going on?" To which I listened, shook my head and thought of times, not so long in my past and almost assuredly in my future, when I will be partaking in such calls myself.

Interestingly, it seemed of little condolence to her after the upset when I said, "You have that look on your face like you just want to punch someone. I know that look. I'm a Red Sox fan." I was greeted with a few blank looks as if I was being told, "Is that supposed to make her feel better?" Because I guess people are under the impression that being a Sox fan is no longer a painful experience. As if somehow, the previous 86 years don't matter. And I'm not saying the World Series wasn't great or that it didn't ease the pain, because it sure as hell did. I'm just saying that it's still there. The wound just throbs a bit more dully now. But I mean, Syracuse won the damn thing two bleepin' years ago. That isn't so much a generations-long dry spell there. Anyway…

Mike, because he is a good, supportive sort, donned his Brian Dawkins Philadelphia Eagles jersey so that he and Annette could be united in their stead of being beaten by New England
teams. Then I expressed my respect for Mike's team because, as you all know, the Eagles scared the bejeebus out of me. Turns out I apparently like the Eagles quarterback more than some of his actual fans do and then Mike and I got into a heated argument about which team was hotter; Eagles or Patriots. I gave him Dhani Jones (thanks to Mer for educating me to the wonder of her future husband, Mr. Jones), and D-Nabb, but I insisted on Tommy, Big Sey and Tedy Bear. Whom Mike made a disparaging comment about but I assume that was only to get me all riled up since he can't possibly have been serious and even Amy went, "Oh damn, you did not," and stepped out of the way and Mike saw the look which must have read "intense bodily harm is about to befall you" in my eyes and said he was just kidding. Which is good because, I mean, I can't…let's just move on. He then wondered, when I started arguing passionately about the aesthetic merits of a one Mr. Brady, why he, a straight man, was trying to convince me that his football team was more attractive. We decided to settle our differences over a game of Trivial Pursuit some time in the future. This is a grudge match, kids. I'm 'a be ready. If I win, I might demand that I be allowed to hold his baseball autographed by both Bill Mueller and Jason Varitek. Or, as I declared loudly, "The All-Ass Team of 2005."

I believe at one point, this conversation also took place:

Me: Didn’t someone get all in an uproar about Syracuse’s mascot a few years ago?

Annette: Yeah, they changed it.

Amy: From?

Annette: The Orangemen

Amy: To?

Annette: The Orange.

Me: That’s…better?

Amy: What’s the mascot, a big orange?

Annette: Yeah.

Amy: Oh, I was kind of kidding.

Me: How is that worse than Harvard? Aren’t they “The Crimson?”

Heidi: Yeah but “crimson” sounds so much cooler than “orange.”

Me: Damn Harvard smarties with their synonyms for “red.”

The highlight of the evening, however, may have been the intense koozie* fight that Amy and I engaged in. Minds out of the gutter, kids, it's perfectly clean, wholesome family fun. Except with beer. Seems Amy had procured some especially fantastic beer koozies which bear a striking resemblance to Bruins' great Cam Neely. Or Cam Neely without a head. Or any discernible "people parts." But Cam Neely nonetheless. I mean, they look like little Bruins jerseys with the number 8 and "Neely" on the back. Put those puppies on a beer bottle and it's good times all around. Unless you're Carolyn and you have an unexplained hatred and subsequent fear of koozies but clearly that one just needs help. I had just been lamenting the lack of hockey (blank looks all around),** and the cockles of my little hardened heart were warmed by the koozies. So, at a slow point in the game – and in a game with a score of 23-19 at halftime, there was quite a bit of down time – Amy and I decided to engage in a Koozie grudge match. It was awesome. It looked like this:

Neely won.

So, the moral of the story – if there can reasonably be expected to be one – is that college basketball may in fact be more entertaining than watching paint dry. Just normal paint, though, because I assume that semi-gloss neon paint would put up quite a fight, but that it's undoubtedly more fun to watch with someone who cares. You can root with them (because you like Annette and she graciously lets you crash in her room frequently), or against them (because you like Ben & Jerry's-eatin', dreadlock-havin'
hippies). But one way or the other, there's passion there. And that's kind of what sports are all about.

*The manufacturers really, really need to think of a better name for this product. It's not just me, right?

**And people do so care about the hockey. Not three minutes after the conclusion of Koozie Grudge Match, '05, I got a phone call from my mother asking me if I was watching the Hockey East semi-finals because my brother, in his position at Bauer Nike, had procured tickets to the semi-finals at the Fleet or the Garden or whatever the hell that building is called now, and was sitting four rows behind the UNH bench watching the Wildcats (go Wildcats!) beat the snot out of BU.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Au Natural

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Our very own string bean pitcher, affectionately known as Bro-yo, attempting to prove that the Boston pitchers are refreshingly free of steroids.

Thanks to Annette at the SGMB for the ESPN.com, Page 3 link.

Oh, Bronson! (That other Abercrombie looking boy be reliever Lenny Dinardo. So, yup, cute team we got here.)

Friday, March 18, 2005

Stand-Up Guy

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This discussion was prompted by Beth’s question on the SGMB about why people are so quick to criticize Curt Schilling for being outspoken. When my friend Jen emailed me and asked me what I thought of the whole steroids Congressional hearings issue and what I thought of Schilling’s apparent willingness to participate, I replied with the same response.

Kristen: (On Schilling):

I find that (his outspokenness) exceptionally refreshing about him too. I don't always agree with everything he says, in fact, I vehemently disagree with a lot of what he has to say, but I love like crazy the fact that he's not afraid to say it. Oftentimes athletes or celebrities are afraid to say anything too inflammatory, even if it's what they really think, because they don't want to risk losing popularity. Because of that, they become devoid of any personality and they start issuing the mundane, stock "one game at a time" quotes. You have to respect people like Schilling and Millar who just say what they think. You'd think that if anyone can appreciate someone who is opinionated, it'd be New Englanders. But Boston is hugely different than Arizona in terms of media coverage (and when he was in Philly, he was Curt Schilling but not, you know Curt Schilling) so he didn't get the type of exposure that being a member of the Red Sox brings. I think some people just don't understand how he can seemingly be so comfortable with it.

One disappointing feature of the hearing, (the parts I heard anyway), was each player’s reluctance to go out on a limb and say they would take action if they personally knew about drug use by a teammate. They are all so very willing to let the government go above the league leaders and crack down criminally on the matter, but don’t have the cajones to say they would address it one on one? It’s a thin line to walk, no doubt, and turncoats and squealers are not well-regarded generally, (not to mention the contradictions this raises among these self-proclaimed "team players"), but being outspoken against an issue has its compromises. One senator put it interestingly when he asked them what they thought their duty was. (Schilling, in a warm-hearted yet off-point remark cited god and family first above all else....) Anyway, your thoughts?

Well, it's like I said, I disagree with a lot of what Schilling has to say, but I appreciate his willingness to say it. The whole "I'm a big ole' Christian Republican" business gives me the ibbies but hell, he can damn well be what he wants. What concerns me is the McCarthyism aspect of the whole thing in that I hope they don't expect players to name names or implicate teammates. I do not think that baseball players - or any athletes or celebrities - should be above the law but I do understand that there is a brotherhood of sorts that exists in those clubhouses that is - if the recent run of Red Sox success means anything - incredibly important to the game. I am, however, glad that there is a "Task Force" (which sounds incredibly comic book, Captain America to me) established of which Schilling is evidently a major part. And, like Schilling, I wish that there were more players willing to speak up or to confront teammates on their own. If players do want the game cleaned up, they should absolutely take that responsibility on themselves and not expect Congress, which, frankly, should have much more important shit to keep it busy, to do it.

That’s what I’m saying! Like, if you REALLY care, you will confront Mr. Needle Third Baseman (or whomever) and not have to have Big Brother take over for you. I don’t believe they were looking for, nor did they get names, it was more of a "Let’s assess the failings here and think about how to fix the broken system." Less witch hunt and more bureaucratic do-gooderness.

I tend to agree that certain drug use (such as the widespread scourge of heroin among the young) is possibly a more pertinent problem for the Senate to address.

I tend to think that baseball players need to recognize that playing is a goddamn privilege and if you can’t do it au natural then buh-bye. Period. One strike and you’re out kind of thing. Maybe it’s harsh but why should we be more forgiving than that? They are performance enhancers...it’s embarrassing.

Exactly. And I love fiercely the fact that Schilling wasn't afraid to rail against Canseco by calling him a "so-called" author, (the hopeful writer in me giggles helplessly at that), and denounce his book as unreadable. Schill has said this before, in chat rooms and interviews and what have you so it's not like he just came up with that yesterday. It's also a bit shocking, though sadly so, to see the marked contrast between someone like Schilling who is, for all intents and purposes, extremely eloquent and well-spoken and someone like Canseco who can barely utter a sentence. I've always been highly disturbed by the apparent lack on intelligence on the part of professional athletes (which is part of my problem with kids being allowed to enter the pros right out of high school but that's a whole different issue) and it's refreshing to see someone intelligent actually use their intellect for a good purpose.

What's embarrassing, and what Schilling addressed rather well, I think, is the effect this has on youth. Because of, as I mentioned, the possibility of high school athletes turning pro, steroids has become an even bigger problem. It's the whole role model issue. You are one, whether you want to be or not. Yes, playing baseball, or any sport, for a living (and a damn good one at that), is most certainly a privilege. But with that privilege comes a great responsibility. Some of these guys are simply not mature enough to understand that. I've heard it said about Canseco that if he had brain one in his head, he would have been one of the greatest baseball players of all time. But he's a complete flippin' moron. I think that is part of the problem too. Young kids who are given a lot because of their natural talent or abilities don't learn how to work hard and, as they age, they don't understand about conditioning. So they look for an easy way out. Like steroids. And because they aren't smart, they don't understand the danger or the effect it could have on anyone beyond themselves. Tunnel vision seems to come with large contracts and endorsement deals.

I also have to take issue with Mark McGwire's assertions that he was not there to "talk about the past." Interesting. I wonder if Big Mac will want to talk about the past when he's eligible for Hall of Fame induction. Baseball lives in the past. That's part of its charm. If the past is tarnished, the future has some serious image problems.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Manny Being Manny

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“We're trying to go have fun, and as long as you go out there and play hard that's what matters.” – Manny Ramirez

I seem to be suffering from some sort of post-championship amnesia. Seems I cannot remember a time, not so long ago, I am told, when Manny Ramirez was a surly, quiet, disagreeable malcontent. Legend has it that he didn’t speak to the media, rarely talked with fans and routinely bailed on the team because one of his eighteen “grandmothers” was sick. I think I heard a nasty rumor that he was once almost traded for some punk named A-Rod too. Surely that can’t be right. This must all be a horrible dream since, in the world I live in, Manny Ramirez is a happy-go-lucky man-child, more than willing to pose for photographs, grant interviews and smile for the cameras or just for the hell of it. Oh, and he’s also the World Series MVP. That’s the Manny I know.

Seems like ages ago that we heard the phrase, “That’s just Manny being Manny” used as an excuse for Ramirez’s bizarre and often callous behavior, doesn’t it? When we hear it uttered now, it’s more a declaration of love or affection for our quirky left fielder. A verbal hair ruffling, if you will. There also appear to be far fewer barbs tossed his way. Even my dad, one of the most notorious difficult to sway fans (he still thinks Pedro is full of shit when he said he wouldn’t trade one ring in Boston for three anywhere else), has to admit that Manny is “a space cadet but a damn good hitter.” It’s like as Manny came around, so did all the naysayers.

The turnaround was a dramatic one too. After the offseason following the disappointing close to the 2003 postseason, the Red Sox got involved in the whole A-Rod debacle, enticing him, luring him, seducing him, ultimately fruitlessly, while leaving Manny out to dry in the hot Texas sun. And this was after they put him on irrevocable waivers, hoping someone (cough *Steinbrenner* cough) would bite and snap up his prohibitive (to most teams) $20 million-a-year contract. You know how it all played out. Even though Manny said there were times when he felt he had “one toe in Boston and nine in Texas,” no one snatched him up, A-Rod landed in the Bronx and Manuelito came back to play the angles of the Green Monster at Fenway. No hard feelings, right?

Actually, yes, that is right. Who would have thunk it? Manny arrived at spring training last year (inadvisably wearing a Jeremy Shockey jersey but the sartorial choices rant will be for another day), had a quick talk with the owners who essentially shrugged and said, “Our bad, we love you, big guy,” and went about his business with a new smile on his face and a spring in his step. The July 5th issue of Sports Illustrated featured a cover story, “Hitting Pretty” on the new Manny and his laugh-a-minute approach to the game. He credits Kevin Millar, primarily with getting him to loosen up and have fun. We all know that Millar is capable of that. We know that because Millar is not afraid to talk. And talk. And talk. But evidently, that’s exactly what Manny needed. Since then? Smooth sailing.

Well mostly smooth. There were those errors in the World Series, Marx-brothers inspired pratfall among them that led most of us to roll our eyes, slap our foreheads and go, “Manny!” but damn, he’s been fun to watch, hasn’t he?

It is widely acknowledged that Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz comprise what is perhaps the best “If the right one don’t get you, the left one will” 3-4 punch in baseball. But it’s not even about the numbers. It’s not even about how many times they’ll go back to back over the course of the season, (Did it again last night. Mid-season form, I’ll say). It’s not even about the RBIs or the runs scored or the homers or the averages or the hits or the power. With Manny, it’s all about the pure joy of playing baseball. Because if you watch him closely – and I strongly suggest you do – he’s exactly like a little kid out there. Exactly. Albeit a little kid who can crank a 97-mph fastball five-hundred feet onto the Mass. Pike but a little kid nonetheless. He takes his spot in the shadow of the Monster with a water bottle absentmindedly shoved in his back pocket. He stands in the field and kicks at the grass. He jokes with the fans along the left field line. And he cannot wait to pull his shirttails out once the game is over. Just like a kid.

The thing with Manny is, those of us who aren’t stat heads, love him for the pure, unadulterated joy he displays in playing the game of baseball. My friend Heather, who, before I got to her, thought that Manny was a pitcher and who’s baseball knowledge consisted of the phrases “home run” and perhaps “World Series,” grew to love Manny in a hurry. She calls him her “little dickens” or “love muffin” while I frequently refer to him as “Manuelito” or “monkeyshines.” Conversations between the two of us often consist of Manny stories such as, “Remember the time when Manny started making fun of Schilling’s note-taking in the dugout? Hilarity!” And when we watch games together, it’s not uncommon for us to slip into Mannyspeak with repeated utterings of, “Lemme tell you something,” and “Essactly” per his Olympia Sports commercial. (Most prophetic commercial ever? I think so.)

Along with all of this comes the knowledge that though Manny may appear all fun and games, he clearly scares the shit out of opposing pitchers, and rightly so. The man is simply one of the most feared right-handed hitters in the game. He’s a pure hitter. In his words, he “see(s) the ball and hit(s) the ball.” That’s all there is to it. Don’t let Manny’s modesty fool you. He works incredibly hard on his hitting. The fact that he makes it look so effortless is a testament to not only his talent but also his dedication. He isn’t a stupid man. He knows hitting is his thing. After an error (one of two) in Game 1 of the World Series, Manny quipped, “There goes my Gold Glove.” But he takes pride in his defense as well, working overtime on improving that facet of his game. Manny is prideful but also sensitive. He knows when people are saying negative things about him and despite what he says about letting it all roll of his back, he’s got to take some of it to heart. Red Sox fans are just fortunate that he chooses to prove them wrong with a smile rather than sulk with a sneer.

Many have called Manny a “hitting savant” owing to his spaceshot character and tendency to appear as though he’s only dialed in at the plate, but I think he’s actually brilliant and he knows the score. At the press conference immediately after receiving the World Series MVP trophy, Manny sat behind a podium, his wife Juliana at his side, (and I will go on record right here as saying that Juliana Ramirez is one of the most striking women I’ve ever seen and good for Manny for landing her), and said, “Before the season, I told my wife, I said, ‘Hey, baby, this gonna be my year, you wait and see.’” Damned if he wasn’t right.

It often seems incongruous to hear Manny’s teammates talk about his hard work and his intelligence as those things are not outwardly obvious to those of us who watch him on a daily basis. That’s probably because we assume that most of it is pure talent. And plenty of it is. But I suspect the reason we don’t think of Ramirez as “smart” or “feared” despite the fact that he is most definitely both is that we first see him as happy and joyful. We get distracted by that quick smile and the crazy hair. We don’t notice the power because it has a tendency to sneak up on us. Manny badly misses one pitch way outside and just as the words, “What’d you swing at that one for?” are passing our lips, he launches the next one over the Green Monster and into the night. Then he rounds the bases, smiling, because he knew what was coming. Pretty smart after all.

I don’t love Manny for his hitting prowess or the way he makes pitchers quake in their cleats. That certainly doesn’t hurt but the real reason I love the guy is because he loves this game so much. There’s an entire fan site (The Tao of Manny) devoted to “the wisdom of Manny Ramirez.” What it all boils down to in the end, is a grown man, secure in his talent, happy with his work and realizing how fortunate he is to be playing this game. I can’t seem to remember a time when Manny wasn’t smiling brighter than the Citgo sign and I’m not sure I want to. That’s just Manny being Manny. Wouldn’t change it for the world.