Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Now that was a relief

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After being on the losing end of two fantastic pitching performances by Beckett and Buchholz, the third time proved the charm for the Sox last night. Another pitching duel - this time Jon Lester v. Roy Halladay - another low-offense game. But, the Sox pulled it out in the bottom of the ninth (with two outs, of course) with an RBI single by Youk that scored Big Papi from second. A very exciting climax to a quick game - only 2 hours 18 minutes long - and hopefully the start of good run of victories.

I mean, we're statistically in second place in the AL East - to the Orioles! Yes, yes, it's only April!

And forgive me if I pimp a new blog to which I'm contributing. In the spirit of lolcats, (one of my favorite internet time wasting sites, btw!) check out our lolkyle site!

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mikey is back!

Globe photo (file)

Mike Lowell back in his place tonight after a stint on the 15 day Disabled List. Back at third, flashing the leather. Back in the number six spot in the batting order, hopefully providing some much needed offense. And Ortiz back tonight.

I'm looking forward to some butt kicking. Kill those Jays!!

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No candy, but this!

From yesterday's USA Today:
A new video game in the visitors' clubhouse in Cleveland called Big Buck Hunter, where players fire fake shotguns at four-legged targets, has drawn a crowd of Yankees sharpshooters this weekend.

Sunday, outfielder Johnny Damon and pitcher Chris Britton were squaring off when manager Joe Girardi walked up. "You guys are killing cows," Girardi said.

So, the Yankees are not allowed to have candy or sweets in their clubhouse - even on the road - but they can shoot things. Anyone find this disturbing??


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Time to stop the Rays

Game 2 in Tampa tonight. We lost last night in 11 innings - a bummer of a loss and our 3rd loss in a row.

Tonight: Clay Buchholz takes the mound, and tries to stop our losing steak. And we've got our stopper going tomorrow afternoon - Josh Beckett. So hoping for two great games!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Debuting today!

Photo by Kelly (of course)

Justin Masterson has been called up for AA Portland to start today's game against the Angels! The flu has run thru the Sox, and created an opportunity for us to see one of the hot prospects in action! Yeah!

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Random Wednesday Thoughts

  • What an incredible few days for the Red Sox. It seems like every game has been a come-from-behind thriller. They swept four games from the Texas Rangers, and last night took the first of a three game series with the Angels - in their (recent) typical fashion. They were down 5-1 at one point, yet came back to beat the Halos, 7-6. Jacoby Ellsbury - who might be this year's Rookie of the Year - had two home runs and a stolen base. Dustin Pedroia - the reigning ROY - had three doubles. The kids have really stepped up - and now the vets are heating up as well.
  • Manny now has 496 homeruns! I was hoping he might hit #500 at home - but there are only 2 more Fenway games on this homestand. Still, an awesome accomplishment that we'll celebrate no matter when or where.
  • The rise of Jacoby makes one wonder how much longer we'll have Coco Crisp on the bench. There are reports that he'll play tonight, but he's going to have to pour it on if he wants to remain in the employ of the Sox. Of course, he might prefer a trade to someplace he can play every day. A shame, really, because he is a very talented player and had some key moments in the 2007 Championship season.
  • It sounds like everyone is either sick, recovering or developing a flu bug in the Red Sox clubhouse. Tek has been so sick, he hasn't been able to even drive to the Park. Cannot Tito tell these sick guys to just stay home? No one wants those germs going any further!
  • I loved this item that Deadspin found on the LoHud blog:
The Yankees contacted the visiting clubhouse manager of every stadium where they play and asked that the candy and ice cream be removed before the team comes to town.

All clubhouses have an assortment of candy, gum, sunflower seeds, ice cream and other goodies. Personally, it never has made sense to me. Why would you provide professional athletes with junk food?

The players, of course, aren’t too pleased. They’re used to M&Ms and Snickers bars.

The clubhouse in Tampa Bay replaced all the candy with nuts, dried fruit and granola. It was hilarious to watch as guys smuggled in candy bars and ate them furtively at their lockers.

Further proof that Girardi is a total control freak! Or is treating the Yankees like his own private empire.

  • Eric Gagme - er, Gagne - blew his 4th save yesterday for the Brewers - and for the 4th time, his teammates pulled off a victory. Surely they are getting tired of pulling his bacon out of the fire. On the other hand, it allowed our old friend Gabe Kapler to single in the winning run. Yeah Gabe!
  • Finally, Red's post over at SG from early this a.m. reflects exactly what I've been thinking about the last few days. It is amazing how we've gone from being the pitiful Red Sox to the champs in just a few short years. I spent my whole life as a RS fan, and most of those years were pretty bleak. Oh, occasionally they'd play well and give us hope ('75, '86, '03 even), but then....they'd fall apart. We'd always be just on the brink and our hopes would be dashed. That's what made '04 so sweet, so satisfying. And now? Now it's like we expect them to always pull it off. When they were down 5-1 last night, never did I consider turning off the tv and going to bed. I just knew - knew - that they'd pull something out of their magic bag. That I'd end up turning off the tv after watching Papelbon close it out in grand fashion.
And yet, there's still a tiny bit of the Red Sox pessimist in me. I remember last year at this time I was constantly saying it's only April, it's only April. We were in first place (just like this year), but it's only April. And somehow, April turned into May into June into July into August into September - and we were still in first. Suddenly it was the end of October, and we had fulfilled all that early promise - we were World Champs. We hadn't choked, we hadn't fallen apart, we'd persevered.

So here we are in 2008. It's April 23rd and, guess what? We're in first place in the AL East, with a three game lead over Baltimore, 3 1/2 over the Yankees. Yes - IT'S ONLY APRIL! says the little RS pessimist inside. And that the flame of hope burning within me?!


Some girls got all the luck

Lucky Rene Russo. Although I know some members from the other side of the gender gap might argue that Mikey's the lucky one here, I'd swap places with her in a heartbeat.

Get well soon, Mike - we miss you!


Monday, April 21, 2008

KG comes to Boston

One of the games I attended this summer happened to take place the same day Kevin Garnett's trade to the Celtics was finalized. That evening, after making the rounds of the Boston press outlets, KG threw out the first pitch at the Red Sox-Orioles game. Playing catcher? David Ortiz, a former member of a Minnesota team who found fame, adoration and playoff success in Boston. Looks like KG is following right in Big Papi's footsteps!

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Good Times in Bean Town

What a fantastic weekend to be a sports fan in Boston! First, the Bruins won game six of their playoff series with the Canadiens, 5-4. A very exciting 3rd period in which the lead changed hands several times. Now they're back to Montreal tonight for the seventh and deciding game. A great comeback - they lost the first three games in their best of seven series.Photo by Barry Chin

Then, the Celtics won the first game in their playoff series with the Atlanta Hawks. Won handily, 104-81.
Photo by Matt Stone

And the Sox have won three in a row from the Texas Rangers. Two very exciting come-from-behind victories on Saturday and Sunday, with both the kids (Lowrie, Pedroia, Ellsbury, Thurston) stepping up, but also the resurgence of that dynamic duo, Manny & Ortiz.

Photo by Matthew J. Lee

Manny got home run #496 on Saturday - which scored the two game-winnning RBIs. But any hopes for more on Sunday were tossed in the 2nd inning, when he got ejected for arguing a third-strike call. He was scheduled to have today's game off, and Tito has kept that schedule. So, if he continues on his hot streak, it looks like #500 might take place away this weekend in Tampa. Oh, well, it would be cool to have that happen at home. And they do have three home games before Tampa.

In the meantime, DAY GAME today at 11:00 am! Patriots Day in Massachusetts - a regular work day for the rest of us. So, I'll be glued to my GameDay Audio!

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Papi breaks out!

So, his bat may not be smokin' hot - yet! But Big Papi had 5 rbis last night, including a Grand Slam Home Run, in the Red Sox victory over the Texas Rangers. 11-7. Daisuke Matsuzaka got his FOURTH victory of the young season, although he threw 101 pitches in only 5 1/3 innings. I guess that's something we're going to have to get used to with the Dice - tons of pitches, not tons of innings. But he's been fortunate to have the offense working on his behalf.

AP photo by Charles Krupa

And what an offense! Ortiz hit the grand slam with the bases loaded with the kids: Pedroia, Ellsbury and Lowrie. Awesome. And I loved that the team gave Ortiz the "silent treatment" when he got back to the dugout - waiting several minutes before actually congratulating him. Not a great video here, but you get the idea:

And on a totally un-Red Sox note - this video is very funny!

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Friday, April 18, 2008


I'm a little late in posting these two clips, but I didn't have a chance to look for them until now. They're two great moments from Thursday night's victory over the Yankees.

Here's Sean Casey doing the now famous "Casey Crawl" back to second base:

And I love this Manny and the Munchkin moment:

I tried to find the video clip of this, but no luck. So thanks for the screen grab from Texas Gal. (She's got a great blog, BTW!)

Tonight we're taking on the Texas Rangers for the first time this season. I've been out and just come in - it's the 6th inning - to discover that Big Papi hit a grand slam!! Yeah!

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Stop the Yanks!

Photo by Getty Images/Jim McIsaac
Not a pretty game last night. The Sox lost to the Yankees 15-9, in what seemed like a marathon game (over four hours!). When I saw that it was 10:00, and only the 6th inning, I knew I'd never make it until the 9th. When the Yankees went up 11-9, I must admit to throwing in the towel and heading to bed. Just as well!

It was a seesaw game - it seemed like the lead changed hands every inning. And adding to the game length was umpire Tim McClelland, pitched above. The guy seems to stretch out every ball and strike call as long as he can. Several players were on their way to first, thinking they had a walk when McClelland decided that, no, in fact, that was a strike. Remy did say that he has a reputation for being very accurate in his calls, but, man, he needs to be called for delay of game.

So, tonight is the second game in this short homestand for the Yankees. And we've got our a**-kicker on tap:

We're tied with the Yankees for first place in the division, so we could leave the Bronx tonight in sole possession!

I know, it's only April....but every chance you get to best the Yankees is, well, the best!

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Long nights

The Red Sox (and, therefore, me) have had some busy, long days. The Sunday game against the Yankees was a typical marathon - almost 4 hours. Fortunately, we held on for the win! And last night's game in Cleveland (also nearly 4 hours) was a fantastic come-from-behind-win. Okay, most of the game was very long and at time, unendurable. Lester pitched himself into a bind at one point - bases loaded, one out. So Tito went to the bullpen for - Julian Tavarez. Say what you want about whether the guy is sane, but he was awesome last night. Got two strike outs in that bases loaded situation, keeping the game in reach. In reach for the offense - which came to life in the last two innings. Youkilis had a homerun in the 8th, and Manny's 2-run homer in the 9th put us ahead 6-4 - and we never looked back. Yeah Red Sox!

I'm not into the hockey thing anymore (went thru a hockey phase in my college years, but you're supposed to dabble in crazy things during those years!). But I have to admit that I love this NESN commercial for the Bruins:

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Waiting for baseball

Killing time until a late start of 8:00 for the Sox and Yankees (thanks alot, ESPN)

*Been a whirlwind of a few days. I hosted my Bunco group Thursday night, went up to Nashville for an (overnight) seminar Friday/Saturday, and then had a wedding to go to Saturday night. Phew. So, today, Sunday, has been catch-up day.

*I belong to a wonderful group called Delta Kappa Gamma. It's an international society for "key women educators," and I've enjoyed being a part of it. As a faculty member in an independent school, it's a great way to connect with my public school counterparts; as a taxpayer, it's great to get a different perspective on how my tax dollars are being spent. My chapter, Gamma Lambda, is fairly new - I was initiated in only the second year of its existence. Recently, I was elected Chapter President (!), and I went to a workshop for new officers. Got me very excited about my two years in office.

*One of my dear friends on the faculty, Suzie, married off her eldest daughter Saturday night - and threw a fantastic party. Suzie is from New Orleans originally, and the reception paid tribute to her roots. They passed pralines and Hurricanes; there was crawfish, crab cakes, beignets...Yum! And premium liquor at the open bar - I ordered a vodka tonic and was surprised to see Absolut being poured! The reception was at the Fairyland Club ( it's pronounced "Fairland") atop Lookout Mountain, a fantastic spot with a view of the whole valley . It's right next to Rock City - and I'm sure I saw 7 states last night!

*Am I a really horrible person to be cheering AGAINST Tiger Woods this weekend? I'm so bored with him - yes he's great, but I want to see someone else have success. That's why Trevor Immelman's story is so fantastic.
Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images

*Round one of Red Sox vs. Yankees this weekend, and they've split so far. I haven't been able to watch either game - Friday I was out of town and yesterday I was at the wedding - so I'm really looking forward to following tonight's game LIVE!

In the meantime, some great photos from Kelly from last night:

Let's win this series!

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Happy Birthday Captain

Yes, today is Jason Varitek's birthday. Happy Day, Capn. These are some of my favorite shots of him!

Yes, we all miss Millar. This was during the filming of their "Queer Eye" special.

An all time favorite photo for most Red Sox fans. Tek shows ARod what the inside of his mitt looks like. Hmmm, foreshadowing for this week's series vs. the Yanks?

No commentary needed. A great moment and a great ***

So, happy day. One of the greatest signs I ever saw hoisted at Fenway said:
Captain Kangaroo
Captain Morgan
Captain Crunch
Captain Varitek...

My 4 favorite captains

And even though you can't catch his knuckleball, I'm sure Tim Wakefield says Happy Birthday too!

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Recipe: Chocolate Passion Bowl

This is really yummy, looks very elegant, and is WW friendly!

Chocolate Passion Bowl

1 pkg. No Pudge Brownies

3 cups skim milk

2 pkgs (4 servings each) chocolate flavored fat-free, sugar-free pudding mix

1 tub fat-free Cool Whip

2 cups raspberries or strawberries

Make brownies as directed. Cool, and cut into 1-inch pieces

Pour milk into a large bowl. Add dry pudding mix, and beat with a wire whisk for 2 minutes or until well blended. Gently stir in 1 cup of Cool Whip.

Place half of brownie cubes in a 2-quart serving bowl. Top with layers of half of each of the pudding mixture, the remaining Cool Whip, and berries. Repeat all layers, ending with berries on top.

Refrigerate 1 hour at least before serving. Store in refrigerator.

Serving size = 2/3 cup

WW points: 3

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Ring Ceremony

All photos from Getty Images/Pool photographers
So, the rings have been distributed. What a beautiful day! The Baseball Channel over on actually broadcast the whole ceremony over the Internet - so I was able to watch it live! (Although I also DVR'd it and I'm settling to watch and cry all over again)

Some great photos on the day - but the best should come later from Kelly. In the meantime, I'm satisfying myself with these. I think the one above is one of my favs - such a wonderful expression of delight from a vet receiving his second ring.

According to John Henry, David Ortiz was consulted on the ring design - and recommended more bling! Here he shows off his two rings.

There were many fabulous moments in the ceremony - including Pesky and Papi raising the World Champions banner. A weepy moment. As was this one:

Bill Buckner returns to Fenway Park for the first time since 1990. For many years, Buckner was made the scapegoat for the Red Sox' loss of the 1986 World Series. During game 6, he let a Mookie Wilson single go thru his legs, allowing the Mets to score the game winning run. But, really, there were so many factors that led to that loss. And in many ways, Buckner's gaffe became the trademark image for our hapless Red Sox.

It was great to have him back. He's someone who's really suffered - undeservedly. He really was a good player in his day and it was so terrific of the RS Front Office to acknowledge and celebrate his many contributions to the team.

And doesn't Dwight Evans look fine??

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The Boston Globe's George Rizer got what looks like the first photo of the World Championship rings:

Sources say that the players who were on both World Championship teams - 2004 & 2007 - will get a little different one, one that celebrates their being a part of two WS champs!

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The Tattooed Librarian

Is this not all kinds of awesome?? Thanks to my pal Kelly for these. Perfect for Opening Day!


Monday, April 07, 2008

Happy Birthday, Bobby Doerr

When I made my annual pilgrimage to Fenway last summer, I was in attendance for Bobby Doerr Day. Doerr is one of the greats, a Hall of Famer whose #1 is one of the few retired numbers for the Red Sox. His lifelong friendships with Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky and Ted Williams is the subject of one of my favorite books about the Sox, The Teammates by David Halberstam.

It was made clear throughout the ceremony that this would be Bobby's last visit to Fenway in any kind of an official capacity. He's 89, and not able to travel as easily from his home in Oregon. From Wikipedia:
Upon the death of former New York Yankee Phil Rizzuto in August 2007, Doerr became the oldest living player in the Baseball Hall of Fame..

Bobby threw out the first pitch, with Johnny Pesky close at his side. He was given a big HD TV so that he could continue to follow the Sox on NESN, and he mentioned that he was particularly excited about following our scrappy young second baseman, Dustin Pedroia!

He threw the pitch to Mike Timlin, one of the old vets on today's team - although there's no truth to the rumor that Mike actually played with Doerr.

So happy birthday to #1, Bobby Doerr. I hope this veteran's luck will carry us to another title in 2008. Because tomorrow is the Ring Ceremony!

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

The painter of light (blech)

I loathe Thomas Kinkade, the self-named "painter of light." I think his art is pure crap, really not art at all. He paints one scene, then cranks out thousands of copies, with fake brush strokes to imitate real art. Further, he has found a way to market himself to the masses, appealing to those with really no taste in art. He's also found a way to tap into in to the Christian market - selling himself through Christian publications as the wonderful Christian who you need to collect. He convinces "common folk" that if you buy one of his mass-produced pieces, you have taste. And better yet, if you cough up so more money, you can have a worker in one of his sweat shops paint "highlights" on your masterpiece. It's such an incredible racket - and I find his pictures (I can't call them paintings) treacly and amateurish.

That said, I was out at the mall today, and what should I spy with my little eye:

Yes, the painter of light has produced a portrait of Fenway during the World Series. And it's actually not bad. Not that I'd waste thousands on it, but it just shows how much the Red Sox have permeated popular culture, how they've become the "it" team of this century.

Which somewhat makes me sad....


In the Shadow of the Moon

I don't often watch or recommend documentaries. But this one was well-reviewed, and well-received at Sundance - so I thought I'd give it a try. And on my heavens (!) it is wonderful!

"In the Shadow of the Moon" is an oral history of the Apollo moon program, told by the men who flew the missions. Imagine, there are only 24 men who have stood on the surface of an alien planet, and these are the men. Here, they narrate their story - from being chosen as astronauts to the actual experience of standing on the lunar surface. You can't imagine that, can you? Standing on that desolate rock, looking up and seeing our planet. The experience of being one of only 2 people who are outside of our atmosphere. Wow.

The men are all articulate and humble. Of course, Neil Armstrong is not to be seen - he has been fairly reclusive since returning to Earth. But we do meet Michael Collins (who is at times philosophical and hysterically funny) and Buzz Aldrin (who says that as he paused before stepping onto the lunar surface, he filled his urine bag - "we all have our firsts")

As a piece of history and as truly wonderful film (I was crying as they recounted the worldwide reaction to the first lunar landing), I highly recommend this documentary!


Time to go home!

Photo from Home Run Derby

Yes, at long last, it's time for the Red Sox to head home. Time to put the 16,000 mile road trip behind them. Time to wear clean underwear again. Time to get reacquainted with their families and friends. And time to get back to the "friendly confines of Fenway Park."

Not to worry, boys, the winter residents of Fenway have been keeping it safe from invaders. Now, if we could just train these critters to get the REAL A-Rod...

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Saturday, April 05, 2008

Kyle, we hardly knew ye

It seems that every year, I pick one slightly-mediocre-but-cute player to lust after. For a while, it was Mark Bellhorn. This past two years, it's been Kyle Snyder. That striking, 6'8" relief pitcher with the lovely golden locks.

On our road trip last summer, I often sought him out - to snap him in action during warm-ups and on the field. It was those lovely golden locks...

But, alas, today, he became a victim of the dreaded roster paring. To make room for Beckett and Timlin as they come off the Disabled List, someone had to get cut. Sadly it was Kyle.Out of options, Kyle was DFA'd. If he clears waivers and is not claimed by another team, he could find himself back in Pawtucket, awaiting the call that will bring him back to the bigs. And we may see him Tuesday, as he collects his World Series ring.

In the meantime, I like to remember him like this - from the World Champions Parade last year:

Good-bye, dear Kyle, and Godspeed.

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Blame Canada

Okay, granted the Red Sox are playing in their 3rd country in two weeks. Granted, they are probably suffering from massive jet lag. Granted, they had spring training cut short by a week and are still trying to blow the cobwebs out. But...

I hate those pesky Blue Jays. They've always been a pain in the side of the Red Sox. And this weekend has proven that it will continue to be true in '08. In both games, the 6th inning has proven to be our undoing. And I can't place all the blame in the lap of our bullpen. Our offense has truly - excuse me - sucked.

Our one hope arrives tomorrow at 1pm. Josh Beckett - our stopper, our Commander Kick Ass - will be making his first start of the year. He's coming off a rough spring - he was on the DL due to back spasms and hip issues. But he seems to be healthy and whole tomorrow. He's going to be allowed five innings, it's been reported. And he's going up against THEIR ace, Doc Holliday.

If we could salvage one game - if Josh can be our Ace again - if we can head home with a winning season - well, we might be able to put this long, at time nightmarish, road trip behind us. Until tomorrow!

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Take me out...

As a warm-up for tonight's Eastern Time Zone Opener (also known as the Red Sox' THIRD opening day of 2008!), I watched one of my favorite old-timey movies. "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," starring Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Esther Williams. It's a classic 1949 MGM musical, one of many that the studio cranked out and the public ate up.

This one uses baseball as its basis. Sinatra and Kelly are 2/3 of a double play combo for the "Wolves," and in the off-season are a vaudeville team. They come into Spring Training and find distressing news: the owner has died and a distant realtive, KC Higgins, has inherited the team and will be an involved owner. Of course, KC turns out to be Esther Williams. Romantic complications ensue, with a happy ending.

There are a few great production numbers. But my favorite is the number which celebrates the double play combo, "O'Brien to Ryan to Goldberg." It's so easy to picture OUR favorite dp combo. Pedroia as the skinny, underweight Frank Sinatra - our Jew (Youk) as Goldberg. Although I'm not sure I picture Lugo as Gene Kelly.

ETA this Youtube clip

Anyway - a guilty pleasure for baseball fans....

And tonight!

Our favorite knuckleballer starts tonight in the East Coast Home Opener for the Red Sox! The Red Sox are in Toronto - and Tim Wakefield is on the mound. How will he perform without his binky, Doug Mirabelli? The Sox have given the vote of confidence to Kevin Cash - and he did well in his first start with Wakey. I really HOPE he does well - because I don't think the Sox will be flying Dougie back in from somewhere a second time.

Go Sox!

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Manny being...Different

Photo from Surviving Grady

Maybe it's the long, unpredictable winters. Maybe it's because we were founded by Puritans fleeing persecution. Maybe it's because we're a melting pot mixture of Irish, Italian, Portuguese immigrants, with a bit of French Canadian mixed in. Maybe it's a long tradition of liberal politics.

Whatever the combination, it's made New Englanders tolerant of those who are different, always anxious to be politically correct. As a result, we're willing to appreciate and enjoy the many inconsistencies and idiosyncrasies that swirl around us daily.

It's made us not only tolerant of oddities in our sports heroes, it's made us embrace them. Think of some of the characters that have played for the Red Sox: Bernie Carbo and his gorilla; Bill Lee and his weird ramblings on politics and pot; Luis Tiant and his quirky delivery; Wade Boggs and his chicken fetish. These players would have been vilified and ridiculed in other cities. But in Boston, they're beloved.

Part of that love comes from the fact that they could back up their insanities with good, hard play. Do you think the idiots of 2004 would have been as endearing if they hadn't come back against the Yankees? They would have been chased out of town faster than you can say "Grady Little."

Which brings me to our current favorite cartoon character: Manny Ramirez. I've given it to Manny a few times in this space. I was growing tired of the whole "Manny being Manny" routine. But something seems to have changed - not just in me, but in the minds of many of the Boston Faithful. Our attitudes have changed because Manny's seems to have changed.

The changes started to be noticed during the ALCS last fall. Suddenly Manny was speaking to the press - and actually making sense! And he did a lot of talking with his bat during the post-season, something we notice and appreciate.

But this spring has truly been a revelation. Manny spent the off-season at the Athletes Performance Institute in Arizona. He worked hard for six weeks, getting himself into the best shape he's been in years. He arrived at Spring Training on time - a first. And he came into camp with a renewed enthusiasm. Some might argue that it's all based on money - his contract is up at the end of this year, although the Red Sox can exercise two more option years. But it's clear he's out to prove that he's one of the best hitters around, determined to break records. And he's talking. Talking directly to the press and, by extension, to us, the fans. He's not using a "translator" like Millar or Ortiz or Tavarez any more. What he's revealing to us is that he's not an idiot-savant. He doesn't just have a hitter's brain - he's got a real brain. He's discussing BOOKS, for heaven's sake!

What brought about the change? Did the new leaders of our club - no longer the "idiots," but the "character guys" Theo has brought in - did they have a "come to Jesus" meeting with him? One of the things I noted on my road trip last year was how Manny was always hanging with Mike Lowell during BP and warm ups. My admiration for Mr. Lowell is well documented, and I can only think that he's been a positive influence on Manny.

There's a cynical part of me that thinks his new agent, the Evil Boras, could be behind it. Perhaps he's cultivating Manny's positive image - his "I love baseball" attitude - to make him more marketable, should the Red Sox decide not to pick up his option next year.

But if that is the case, my pure hatred for the EB has lessened a dash. Because this Manny is the one that could secure his place as a Boston icon. This Manny is endearing, charming, funny, enjoyable. He's always been enjoyable to watch at the plate, but now we're enjoying the total picture.

Manny being Different - I like that!

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