Saturday, February 14, 2009

Third is the Word

The most famous 18-wheeler in America is probably the one that carries all the Red Sox’s gear from Boston to Florida for Spring Training.

It would not surprise me if fans could track the truck’s journey in real-time, though anyone who does that should have their Internet access taken away for a year.

(No problem; just have them switch to Fairpoint).

For all its troubles, baseball is the only major sport that brings with it the promise of spring. That link, in itself, is powerful enough to overcome any steroid scandal.

That’s why you can find at least one baseball fan in just about every social situation you encounter.

It’s also why no one will bat an eye for writing a column previewing the upcoming season before the end of February.

What short memories we have. We saw none of this hype back when The Curse was still active. Prior to 2005, we greeted each season with as much dreadful anticipation as enthusiasm.

I, for one, say these are still the Red Sox. Pessimism is prudence. Better to keep expectations low.

But even the most starry-eyed Fenway freak must concede that the Sox can’t be considered favorites to win their third World Series of the decade.

The Yankees are doing their part to stimulate the economy by spending $709 billion on new players like C.C. Sabathia, Mark Tiexeira, Ty Cobb, Clark Kent, Roy Hobbs, and Muhammad Ali.

With a line-up like that, they are sure to contend for a championship. If they have a weakness, it would be the preponderance of players who are too old or injury-prone to stay healthy.

But they’ve signed House, MD as their new team physician, and Hank Steinbrenner has just patented new cybernetic technology so he can replace any defective body parts with ultra-powerful mechanical ones as needed.

And don’t forget about the Tampa Bay Rays, the first minor league team to make it to the World Series since the 2007 Colorado Rockies.

Tampa’s roster is loaded with talented young players whose names I can’t remember. They all missed big chunks of last season due to injuries and trying to get all the driving hours in for their learner’s permits, but still won the pennant somehow.

What will they do with a healthy season, and the addition of pitching phenom David Price and his absurd 132 mph sliding fastball thing?

The Red Sox could be in for a long year, even though they have two of the best starting pitchers in baseball, an absurdly deep bullpen, the reigning league MVP, a line-up full of solid, patient, versatile hitters, and zero overpaid prima-donna choke artists.

But it won’t be enough to overcome both the Yankees and the Rays.

They will need solid production at catcher and shortstop.

They need Matsuzaka to pitch more than five innings per start.

They need Drew to stay healthy (ha!) and consistent (ha ha!).

They need Ellsbury to finally channel his inner Johnny Damon.

They need David Ortiz to be Big Papi again.

They need some good bounces and some lucky breaks, (starting with Derek Jeter’s right arm, perhaps).

If at least three of these things happen, I can see the Sox making the playoffs. Otherwise, we’re looking the best third-place team in the history of baseball.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go break into the Yankees’ tractor-trailer. I’m going to smear some kryptonite on Clark Kent’s batting gloves.

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