Josh "I Wear My Sunglasses At Night" Beckett makes his seventh start tonight and is looking for his seventh consecutive win without a loss or ND; the game tonight is slated to start at 7:07.
Beckett is quickly emerging as this staff's true ace. He got off to a hot start last year, too, only to fail miserably at times later in the year and especially on the road, but this year anybody who's watched more than a few baseball games can tell you he's a fundamentally different pitcher, mentally in some cases, physically in others. All of that puts some much-needed refinement on the massive and undeniable talent that has always been his gift, and it's clear watching him right now that the sky's the limit.
Beckett is also emerging as a new favorite of mine, although that is less of a clear-cut situation, as just last year I was about one road-game homer away from fashioning my own Josh Beckett Dartboard, Girl-Scout-Camp style, out of popsicle sticks and glue. It's not that failure rankles me so much--it's stubborn, arrogant, senseless failure that drives me up a wall. Even now, arrogant is a word that would spring to my mind quickly if asked to list adjectives that describe Beckett.
Thing is, this season, that arrogance is being channeled in a positive direction. Because it is also true that a certain amount of arrogance is what allows pitchers to be effective--all of the great ones have it in one way or another. In cases like Curt Schilling's, I often shake my head at fans who love how brazen he is every fifth day on the mound but can't take it as part of his personality the other four days. It's a complete package. Something about Beckett being kind of a prick ties in to the mental, physiological, and circumstantial conditions that have made it possible for him to gun that heat in there, consistently, and with accuracy. You can't have sweeping curveballs for swinging strikeouts without a healthy streak of audacity in your personality. You have to thrive on dominating the field; you have to first and foremost consider yourself worthy of controlling the game.
So it is that little by little I've started to become a Joshie fan this season, though the cognitive dissonance is threatening to make my brain implode. The only thing I can compare it to right now is that kid in your class in third grade who always pulls your hair, and you kick him in the shins, and if you were a little older you'd realize that the two of you are crazy about each other and just want each other's attention, but you aren't socially developed enough to deal with it yet. In other words, yes, I am at this point nurturing a fairly sizeable, if incredibly weird, elementary-school-style "you stink but I love you" crush on Josh Beckett. It's true. I've just got to break down and admit it, confront the problem.
Because while this beautifully written biography on JockBio (which I recommend in general to any and all sports fans who share my passion for obsessively scouring the Internet for player information) made my hair stand on end through passages like the following:
A year later, Josh cemented his status as the nation’s No. 1 high school prospect with a lights-out senior campaign.. Never lacking for confidence, he had the word "Phenom" stenciled on one of his jackets.
...the cold, hard truth is that I've also read it about 23 times since Joshie's last start. I am not even going to tell you how many times I've watched the strikeout highlights from his last appearance on RedSox.com.
In fairness, most of the incidents detailed in that article happened when he was between the ages of 16 and 20 years old. I also was quite the asshole when I was any of those ages, so I can't be one to judge. Clearly he's matured since then, and it's not totally fair to paint him as that same character now.
But you can still see it sometimes, can't you? Like the way he won't make eye contact with John Farrell or Tito when they come to the mound to talk to him. That drives me nuts--he just stands there and looks straight ahead, or looks through them, so obviously not listening that it makes me think, would it kill you to aim your vacant gaze at least in their general direction? Would it kill you to give your coach at least some minimal respect with a national TV audience watching? And here we are again, drawing up plans for aforementioned dartboard.
Know what I think? I think at least when it comes to not being such a stubborn douchebag with the technical aspects of pitching, Curt Schilling has made all the difference with Josh. Because he's got to be one of the few guys who walks the walk and so can be critical of our young fastball prodigy in a way that doesn't fall on deaf ears. Sometimes you need that one teacher who kicks your ass in life; Schilling-haters may not want to admit it, but I think Curt's verbal skills have been crucial to the team in this instance, to the extent you can credit him with getting through to Beckett.
But that doesn't mean he's had much effect in the public-relations department. Witness any of Beckett's rote, palpably bored, prickly press conferences, or his solitary, sullen gum-chewing on the bench in the dugout. Granted, it's easy, if he just doesn't want to deal with the media, for his discomfort with them to come off as aloofness in general, but we in the audience unfortunately have no other way to get to know him. And it should also be pointed out that for all their respective faults, every one of this teammates has gotten across at least one endearing personality quirk or two to come across through the media, limited as it may be.
Anyway, call me naive, but I've never had quite this kind of love-hate view on a player before. Usually I can find at least something to latch onto about everyone's personality (hell, even Julian Tavarez has grown on me), but in general, Joshie still gives me fits.
There's one thing, though, I can know for sure: tonight, when he takes the ball, I'll be pulling for him on every single pitch. Because the bottom line is, as long as he's pitching the way he has been, that laundry can hide a multitude of sins.