Pitchers and catchers officially report for the Red Sox in Ft. Myers, Florida today, but the last week has already been busy with Red Sox news, many early reports to camp, and a sense of tension in the air, already, unlike anything I've felt this early in the year in quite some time.
This isn't really so surprising. You wouldn't have to be a rocket scientist to sense the urgent expectations are coming down, and without subtlety, from the very top this time.
From the massive roster overhaul this off-season, to the ultra-jinxy flamebait message on the side of The Truck,this year the Red Sox are approaching the fan base with what feels like a whiff of desperation, hat in hand, promising us a better product on the field.
I can understand why Larry Lucchino might be sweating bullets already over this season and respect the fact that they are aware that the wolves are not far from the door, given the outcome over the last few seasons. And of course, as always, we are not without our "issues" already.
As a fan, though? Today? Pfft to all that.
I've been spending more of my time sniffing out as many of the snippets and glimpses of the Sox in camp as I can find, the highlights of which, for me, of course, mostly involve pitchers.
- Josh Beckett Will (still) Tear Your Still-Beating Heart from Your Chest . . . The first moment I knew my inner baseball / football switch had officially flipped back to baseball was the moment I recognized the body language of a pitcher lackadaisically playing catch on an overcast field in Florida in this video.
I've written before about the way you get to know baseball players as individuals, down to their individually unique ways of kicking the dirt in the batters' box; just the sight of one of my favorites making familiar gestures was enough to do the trick.
And of course, given that this is me we're talking about here, that pitcher just happened to be Josh Beckett.
One of the first things I noticed about Beckett in the video was his handshake with Theo at about 0:30. It seemed to involve the full mighty strength of his "monstrous" hands, not to mention his right arm, and, for good measure, featured a quick, wrenching, twisting motion. I think if most of us mortals were on Theo's side of that, we'd probably require the amputation of at least several fingers afterwards.
This may also have been part of what led to Theo saying, in that same video, that the starters he'd seen so far all "look to be in improved physical condition, which is nice." (Oh Theo. You robot. ☺)
Another thing I noticed about Josh in that clip was that he had a kind of hunched, shoulders-forward aggro stance, even when just playing long-toss or standing around talking to somebody. I recognized it as the same kind of body language he brought to, say, game 5 of the 07 ALCS, the same kind of body language he's used after a strikeout while taking a step toward the plate as if to say, now get off my field, you damned dirty ape. In other words, looks like dude's got his swag back. Let's just hope it's actually borne out in his actual performance this year.
- Buching Up Speaking of "the head game" and pitchers, there's also been some talk -- between me and another Tweeter, in the form of a Rob Bradford piece about how Buchholz used to be afraid of John Farrell, as well as an interview and fluff piece on Boston.com -- about how our little Buch is all growed up.
- The Bard: to close or not to close? Apparently Daniel Bard has been talking about someday returning to the starting rotation, despite the general assumption around here that he's the heir to the closer's throne in the bullpen.
This is something Bard definitely COULD do if he truly wants to...he still has a range of pitches, and he's young, so the stamina / stretching out wouldn't be that much of a problem. He also just has never seemed to have a closer's personality to me.
I know that really doesn't mean much, especially not when the kid throws Tic-Tacs at 100 mph and the team at least for this year may need him more to anchor the 'pen, depending on how Paps does...but he just doesn't seem to have the Rod Beck / Dennis Eckersley crazy-eyes, the Keith Foulke 'tude or the Papelbon fire in the belly. He seems more the thoughtful type, one that might be more inclined to handle the ups and downs of a start gracefully than the sudden heavy pressure of the closer's role.
It does seem silly to talk personality as a factor in all this, but remember Papelbon's transition from starter to closer...it seemed a very personal thing.
That said, Mo Rivera isn't exactly a fist-pumpin' fool. If Bard's stuff stays good, I could see him developing a similar sort of unflappable intimidation factor in a reliever's role as well.
This is what they call one of those good problems to have. ☺
Meanwhile, per early Spring Training tradition, the new guys are saying all the right things..
- In a USA Today piece on Adrian Gonzalez and Crawford being introduced to the madness that is East Coast baseball (Surviving Grady, which is where I first encountered this, has already nicely excerpted it today as well.)
- And finally, Bobby Jenks, reportedly described among baseball press as looking like "a tattooed Amish farmer," has also been doing his best to sweet-talk his way into our hearts right out of the gate, with numerous gushing quotes to be found about how he truly, madly, deeply wanted to play for the Red Sox, and no one else, for the rest of his natural life, so help him God.
Back at the ranch, new Fenway renovations, including the new HD screens, are almost complete.
Down in sunny Florida, all the beat writers are assuring us the sky is blue, and the air is warm, no matter what Clay Buchholz thinks. Well, at least, compared to what we've been dealing with back here this winter, I would say right now it actually sounds like a divine paradise even if it is (maybe?) an un-Texas-like 44 degrees. . . Clay.
Anyway, I'm sure soon enough we'll be back to our usual pedantic arguments on the Web, in the paper and on the radio, and treating those new guys to the love-hate roller coaster every player can expect that dons the Boston uniform. But for today, it's as Cyn wrote at Toeing the Rubber a few days ago --
"This is the time of year that everything is possible in the eyes of baseball fans. Not a pitch has yet been thrown, but we can believe that our team will be in the World Series because there is no one who can tell us differently. Not yet, anyway."