FORT MYERS, Fla. — Yankees-Red Sox.
Ruth. Gehrig. DiMaggio. Mantle. Jeter. Judge. Williams. Yastrzemski. Rice. Pedro. Manny. Mookie.
What tradition. What folklore. What a galaxy of stars and stories. Fisk vs. Munson. Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium. The greatest rivalry in sports.
And we had none of that at JetBlue Park on a postcard-perfect Sunday afternoon.
We had Allen. Koss. Bauers. Chaparro. Gomez. Costanza. (OK, I made that last one up.)
Quick quiz: Tell me which of those names above are Yankees and which play for the Red Sox?
Nobody knows. But that’s OK. This is spring training. The Sox have 10 players at the World Baseball Classic and sent a whole team to Sarasota for a split-squad game Sunday against the Orioles. When you combine that with the cost-cutting exodus of homegrown talent — where have you gone, Xander Bogaerts? Sox Nation turns its lonely eyes to you — you’re not going to have a lot of star power for a mid-March exhibition against a Yankees team that didn’t want to put Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Anthony Rizzo, and Gerrit Cole on a 130-minute bus ride from Tampa.
The game ended in a 3-3 tie in a nifty two hours, 50 minutes; speed of sound, by Sox-Yanks standards. For Bloominati and other Sox diehards, the day’s highlight no doubt came in the bottom of the ninth when 20-year-old, can’t-miss prospect Marcelo Mayer cracked a gap double to left on a 3-and-2 pitch to put the potential winning run on base. Alas, Mayer was stranded, leaving the Sox with a spring record of 9-3-4.
This was the ninth Sox exhibition at Fenway South this season and the first sellout (9,950), proving that folks will buy anything Red Sox-Yankees even if it’s Christian Koss hitting against Yoendrys Gomez.
A word about Sox popularity and ticket sales: I came to Florida under the impression that interest in the 2023 Red Sox might be lagging because of a talent drain and another last-place finish, but according to a report issued by Fenway Sports Group after its annual partners meeting last week, it turns out everything is just swell with the ballclub.
“The 2023 outlook for the Red Sox is strong with total ticket sales up 5.6 percent [year over year] and new season ticket sales up by 20 percent.”
Those numbers, while no doubt true, fail to mention that at the same time last year, baseball was shut down by a four-month labor lockdown that threatened to cancel the entire 2022 season. It’s hard to believe anyone was ponying up cash for Fenway summer in those dark days of lockout winter.
For the Red Sox to brag about an increase in ticket sales, citing March 2023 compared with March ‘22, is tantamount to a Home Depot boasting that December’s snow shovel sales were double what they were last July. True, but a tad misleading.
All that said, Sunday was a delightful day at the yard. Alex Cora revealed Chris Sale will not start Opening Day (look for Corey Kluber) and that Sale has known for a month and a half. Regarding playing fewer games inside the division, Yankees manager Aaron Boone said he’s in favor of the change, but expressed concern about scheduling and travel problems if there are rainouts against a team that you face for only one series.
Justin Turner, who was hit in the face by a fastball March 6, got his stitches out and told us it might have been more than the reported 16. Turner’s been eating solid food for two days and plans to resume baseball activities shortly. He reminded he was hit in the face while playing in the 2003 College World Series.
Turner considers himself lucky to have walked away with lacerations, but no bone breaks nor lost teeth. They didn’t even have to shave his ginger beard.
“I’m thankful that this one was as minor as it was,” said Turner.
Minor. Watch the video and see if you think it was minor.
Turner plans to be ready Opening Day. This is when I failed to ask the question I wanted to ask: How can you step back in there after something like this?
They do it because they are not like us. They are superhuman. If you have ever faced a 90-mile-per-hour pitch while standing in a batter’s box — not me, thank you — or stood behind a batting cage when big league hitters face live pitching, you know what I’m talking about.
It looks easy on TV, but none of us can do what these guys do, and few of us would stand in there for any amount of cash.
Which is why Allen, Koss, Bauers, and Chaparro are every bit as worthy and fearless as Ruth, Gehrig, Williams, and Yaz. They step into a batter’s box to face professional pitching every day, never knowing when a fastball might tail inside and threaten their life.
The Red Sox open at Fenway against the Orioles on March 30, two weeks from Thursday. Tickets are still available.