(Photo from mlb.com)
Greta and I were watching the Rockies/Diamondbacks game last night and we got to talking about the playoff teams in general and how there's an overwhelming youth movement among them. Aside from the Red Sox, the other three teams are comprised largely of young guys, farm system players, who have contributed in a big way. Greta is fancy and has an ESPN Insider subscription and she was telling me about a Gammons article discussing this exact point. The gist of it was, I gather, that if one wants to know how to build a successful playoff team, one need look no further than the four teams remaining in this year's playoffs. Even the Red Sox, who have the luxury of working with a very large payroll, are making use of the young guys and their farm system. And you certainly can't argue that this team could have gotten where it is without the impact play of Papelbon and Pedroia. Not to mention the contributions of Ellsbury, Buchholz, Lester, Delcarmen and hell, even Youks is a product of the Sox farm system.
This all made me realize why there's a different feel to the playoffs this year for Sox fans. Or at least most of the Sox fans I know. It's because, for the first time in a long time, we are excited about the future of the franchise, not out of psychological necessity in the "Well, I guess we'll wait until next year and see if there's anything worth caring about in the minors" but in a "these kids are the real deal" kind of way.
"The thing is," I said to Greta, "I don't think this year has a do or die feel to it, you know?"
"Yeah," she agreed, "it is different."
"Because the veterans on the team that we all wanted to get a ring, got one three years ago. Tek has his ring. Manny has his ring. Papi has his ring. Wakefield, thank god, but Wakefield has his ring."
"And the new guys will get there."
"Exactly," I said, "I mean, I'd love for Paps to get a ring this year."
"But," she said, "He's Papelbon. He's awesome. He's young. He'll get one."
And that's the thing. These playoffs don't feel like life or death. Which is not to say that I don't want them to win. Of course I do. I want them to win because they're my team, they're my boys, and you always want your boys to do well. But it does feel different.
"It's not that we care less," I said, "It's that we care differently."
Perhaps some people will conclude that this means I care less about baseball, but I think the opposite is true. This is not 2004 and that kind of situation only comes around once in a lifetime. Instead of losing sleep over playoff rotations and spewing bile and vitriol towards our opponents, I'm excited to be watching baseball for baseball's sake. I try very hard during the regular season to refrain from being a stereotypically myopic Red Sox fan. I want to know what's going on in the rest of baseball. Sure, I could pay attention to the National League more than I do but there are only so many hours in a day. (Plus, I adopted the Mets this year and look how that worked out). But if you take a step back and remove yourself from a foaming at the mouth Red Sox fandom, these two series that are happening right now are excellent baseball. There's a lot to be excited about.
And as for the future of the Sox, I, for one, am very excited. It's going to be a sad day when Manny retires, when Papi hangs it up, when, god forbid, Tek calls it quits. It's going to be a hard time in the Nation. But thanks the the farm system and the players we've got waiting in the wings, it's going to soften the blow. There is no rebuilding on a team like the Red Sox. The fans don't stand for that kind of thing. But the future, as they say, looks bright.
A lot of this attitude amongst the fan base - or those members of the fan base I call my friends - probably owes a lot to the emergence of Pedroia as the Rookie of the Year front runner and the year both Youks and Papelbon have had. It's an indication that maybe, just maybe, the front office and management know what they're doing. They know when these guys are ready. I'll admit it, I didn't think Pedroia was major league ready. I thought we needed another stop gap second baseman for one more season until he broke in. But in this case, I am more than happy to be wrong. My point is, next time, perhaps I'll trust the judgment of the people who are paid to judge a player's readiness. At least so far, they seem to know what they're talking about.
I don't mean for this to read like a farewell letter to the 2007 team or a requiem on a season or even a "let's look on the bright side" kind of thing. Obviously, things are going well for the Sox and their fans right now. There's some excellent baseball about to be played and the Sox could very well win the whole thing. And if they do, I'll be dancing in the streets along with everyone else. For the old guys and the young ones. But even if the Sox fall short, I'm still excited about the future. (Despite the fact that Jacoby has yet to call me). There's a lot to look forward to.