In sunny Florida, the Red Sox are fresh out of hot topics
FORT MYERS, Fla. — While New England braced for an overdue visit from winter, the world champion Boston Red Sox were gathering some 1,450 miles south in their warm winter replica of Fenway Park.
Tuesday was “reporting day” for pitchers and catchers. A bunch of Sox early arrivals worked in the batting cages (Jackie Bradley Jr. did some especially loud hitting), and Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez played catch on a humid, 80-degree day. ESPN sent its A Team to relay the non-news.
It was hard to find a complaint and easy to break a sweat. Sorry.
It has been a mere 15½ weeks since Chris Sale whiffed Manny Machado on bended knee in Dodger Stadium. And the Sox offseason was a study in still life.
Joe Kelly, Ian Kinsler, and Craig Kimbrel (for now) are gone. For the first time in five years, the team made no significant offseason acquisitions. The top questions going into this championship defense are: 1. Who is the closer? 2. Can Dustin Pedroia play second base? 3. Which of the three catchers will be traded? 4. Who is going to the White House and who is not?
Ah, how I miss the chaos, drama, and clown shows of the old days.
I’ve been coming to Florida for spring training since 1976, and it was never this tranquil or buttoned-down. Remember the parlor game of wondering when Manny Ramirez would show up? Larry Lucchino calling the Yankees “The Evil Empire”? Big Schill announcing he was here to break The Curse?
Remember Roger Clemens dissing rookie manager Butch Hobson, then wearing headphones while he went for a jog with Daddy Butch? Remember the golden days of visa problems and Johnny Valentin pitching a fit because the Sox were giving his shortstop job to some California kid named Nomar? Remember Mo Vaughn calling John Harrington and Dan Duquette “the joint chiefs of staff?’’
I long for the days of a petulant Clemens storming out of camp upon learning his contract had been renewed at a cheapo number in 1987. General manager Lou Gorman’s reaction to the Cy Young hissy fit was, “The sun will rise, the sun will set, and I’ll have lunch.’’
That was a few years after we had Jim Rice ripping flesh from the hand of a sixtysomething Sox PR veteran when the two fought over a parking spot in Winter Haven. And who could ever forget when the Winter Haven police slapped a summons into the hand of Oil Can Boyd because of overdue tapes from the local video stores? The tardy titles were all pornos, and the episode was dubbed “The Can’s Film Festival.”
Where’s Wade Boggs when we need him? Boggs once fell out of the family Jeep and was run over by his own wife after the two had dinner at a Winter Haven food emporium. Boggs also claimed he willed himself invisible to escape from a parking lot knife fight — then proudly announced, “I’m the white Irving Fryar.’’ Barbara Walters came to Florida to interview Wade and Debbie Boggs in spring training in 1989.
Now? We debate the merits of Ryan Brasier vs. Matt Barnes as potential closers. We await John Henry’s victory lap (“nobody thought we could do it, they said we were unlikable”) at the owner’s annual interview session on the first day of full-squad workouts next week.
All these Sox do is win. Their big splash of the offseason was re-signing Nathan Eovaldi and Steve Pearce.
But it’s not the Can’s Film Festival.
The first grueling full-squad workout (at least one lap around the field) is scheduled for Monday, and I can’t wait for the media grilling that awaits the defending champs over the next couple of weeks.
“Alex, do you think you are the greatest manager of all time, or should we wait another year?”
“Mookie, is it too early to equate you to Willie Mays?’’
“How great was winning the World Series?’’
“Can you talk about the quest to repeat?’’
“Do you think these Red Sox are going to be awesome, or like, totally awesome.’’
Not quite waterboarding.
It’s amazing how things have changed. It was just a couple of years ago that WBZ’s intrepid Jonny Miller asked John Farrell on Opening Day if he thought he was going to be fired. Last summer, I found myself in the unusual position of asking a high-profile player (David Price), “Do you hate Boston?’’
No more. It’s all hearts and flowers this spring. At JetBlue Park in 2019, the living is easy, the weather is beautiful, and every day is Valentine’s Day.