NOT FORT MYERS, Fla. — I miss baseball. I miss the Red Sox being a pleasant diversion and an important topic of conversation at this time of year.
I miss spring training.
Red Sox pitchers and catchers report to Fenway South this week. Player physicals are scheduled for Wednesday, with the first workout for pitchers and catchers Thursday morning. The first full-squad workout is Monday, and the Sox’ Grapefruit League opener is Feb. 28 against the Minnesota Twins at Hammond Stadium.
The last time I was on an airplane was Friday, March 13, 2020 — one day after spring training was canceled — when I took a JetBlue flight out of Fort Myers bound for Boston. About a half-dozen folks wore masks on that flight, and it seemed like an overreaction at the time. Here we are, almost a full year later, and most of us are still grounded. For the first time in 35 years, I will not be covering the Red Sox at spring training.
A few things I’m going to miss …
▪ The Red Sox running one grueling lap around the practice fields after the two-hour, state-of-everything team meeting that precedes the first full-squad workout.
▪ Rafael Devers telling us he’s in the best shape of his career.
▪ John Henry (Globe owner)and Tom Werner getting testy answering questions at their once-a-year availability with Boston media on the day of the first workout.
▪ Alex Verdugo getting a shot to play center field every day.
▪ Dustin Pedroia playing catch with his three sons on the small lawn outside the Sox clubhouse.
▪ At least one player delayed by visa problems. (Where are you, mystery man Robinson Checo?)
▪ Watching Tanner Houck throw live batting practice, then writing the Tanner Houck phenom story.
▪ Ever-thoughtful Chris Sale at the public relations bench, answering questions about his Tommy John surgery, the state of the Red Sox, the state of the game, rules changes, and pending warfare between the owners and the Players Association.
▪ Watching Garrett Richards give up three homers in his first spring start, then hearing that he had a great spin rate on all those gopher balls.
▪ Cigar smoke wafting out of Luis Tiant’s black SUV parked outside the Bell Tower’s Homewood Suites every night after dinner. Many a night while walking back from Bell Tower restaurants, I’d smell that smoke and stop by Luis’s SUV, then get him to tell stories about the 1975 World Series.
▪ J.D. Martinez carrying his iPad and making Adrián González-type excuses.
▪ Players watching March Madness on the clubhouse television.
▪ Dwight Evans, in uniform, looking like he could give Alex Cora nine good innings in right field.
▪ Franchy Cordero hitting a prodigious homer, drawing comparisons with a 515-foot shot Bo Jackson hit off Oil Can Boyd at Baseball City in 1989.
▪ Chaim Bloom talking about coveted “club control” and “payroll flexibility.” (OK, I’m not really going to miss this one.)
▪ Pedro Martínez and Jason Varitek riding around the practice fields in a golf cart.
▪ Dozens of 75-year-old men in Sox-issued blue shirts waving orange flags and directing traffic in the vast fields that surround JetBlue Park.
▪ The Pirates’ old-timey ballpark in Bradenton.
▪ Seeing Rio Gomez, a Sox minor league lefthanded pitcher and son of the late, great Pedro Gomez, get into some spring training games and dazzle.
▪ New England snowbirds greeting me in the stands with, “We used to be able to get the Globe down here every day. How come they don’t have those news boxes anymore? Ask Mr. Henry about that, will you?”
▪ Nathan Eovaldi telling us that his shoulder and elbow have never felt better, and he thinks he’s good for 32 starts.
▪ Yaz arriving at the park super early, Garbo-style, and interacting with just one or two clubhouse guys before working in the dark, covered batting cages with minor league hitters. Yaz’s annual appearance is a mere rumor for most folks. It’s as if he’s never there — just the way he likes it.
▪ The cornball PA announcement before every game, when the guy behind the microphone tells the JetBlue crowd, “Temperature in Fort Myers, 81 degrees. Temperature in Boston, 10 degrees!” A real knee-slapper. Works every time.
▪ Stephen King, Sox cap pulled down over his eyes, keeping score in a box seat near the on-deck circle.
▪ WBZ’s Jonny Miller asking Cora, “Can it get any worse?,” after the Sox lose their first exhibition game.
▪ The Sox and Twins playing one another almost every day as excitement builds for the awarding of the coveted Fort Myers Mayor’s Cup, or whatever they are calling it this year.
▪ The stampede of card-carrying AARP members when trays of free meatballs are put out at 5 p.m. every weekday at the Homewood Suites.
▪ Tiant and Tony Oliva, two gentlemen from Cuba, playing dominos in the Homewood lobby with their wives after Luis returns from his post-dinner cigar in the SUV.
I’m going to miss all of it. Spring training is the best time of the baseball year, and now, like everything else, it’s out of reach. While the Sox are getting in shape for 2021, we’ll all be up here in the frozen North, waiting out the pandemic.
The sun will rise, the sun will set, we’ll get vaccinated, and we’ll all have lunch.