By Karl Lindholm
Happy New Year!
The baseball season is upon us once again. Praise the Lord.
Addison County is Boston Red Sox country. Tolerant folks that we are, however, we allow a few Yankee interlopers to live among us.
The Yankees-Red Sox thing is so passé, so yesterday. The Tampa Bay Rays have intruded on the hegemony of this Eastern megolopolitan rivalry. Don’t worry about the Yanks, Sox fans, they’re cooked. They have no chance.
Okay, I’ll give you the preview of the Red Sox fortunes this season. I realize that this is usually Scoop Kirkaldy’s purview, but I will presume to scoop Scoop this year.
Take this to the bank: the BoSox will win 105 games this season, take the East Division of the American League, and win their third World Series title in this decade.
Here at the outset, however, the Red Sox have some big question marks. Optimism is tempered by anxiety (as always). Herewith I pose the relevant questions and answer them objectively:
• Can Jacoby Ellsbury really play centerfield in the major leagues, for a whole year?
Yes. He is actually the second coming of Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, and Cool Papa Bell. Look for an MVP season from our favorite Native-American player — .325 batting average, 80 steals, spectacular Jimmy Piersall-like defense.
• Can Mike Lowell come back from injury and be the Mike Lowell of old?
Absolutely. The Red Sox were smart to pass on Teixeira. Lowell is the “Chemist” — a blessing in the clubhouse, bi-lingual (his parents are Cuban exiles), a friend to all, mentor to young players. He is the picture of grace in the field. And, most important, he can still hit: Look for a .300 batting average, 25 homers, and that impeccable D from our George Clooney look-alike.
• Is Big Papi going the way of Mo Vaughan and Jim Rice, who were finished in their mid-30s?
No way. Don’t worry about Papi. He’s healthy again. He has five more good years ahead of him. He’s not George Scott. His bat speed is back, his charisma intact: 40 Homers and 130 RBIs.
• Can Pedroia and Youkalis possibly duplicate their 2008 seasons?
Sure, they can. They’re young. They’ve just begun. What, you think they’ll “go Hollywood? Not these guys. They’re dirt dogs, throwbacks, gamers. At least as good as last year.
• Can Lowrie hit the ball/can Lugo catch the ball, well enough to play shortstop in the majors?
Absolutely. Lowrie really swings the bat and he makes all the plays in the field, even if he doesn’t remind us of Luis Aparicio. Lugo could always run and hit and will be our super infield sub in the middle and third: He’ll bat .300 and steal 25 bases and turn the boo-birds into cheerleaders.
• Is Varitek all done? He didn’t hit a lick last year.
The Captain will be Comeback-Player-of-the-Year in 2009. His problem last year was not a “slow bat,” it was a bad life, the proverbial “personal problems.” With existential equilibrium, Varitek returns to form.
These are the answers — and they don’t even begin to address great strength of the club: pitching. The Sox have the best young pitchers in the game: Lester, Masterson, Buchholz, Bowden, Bard, all 25 years old or younger.
So if the rotation of Beckett-Lester-Matzusaka-Wakefield-Penny falters, it’s not as if the larder is bare. Then there’s future Hall of Famer, John Smoltz, ready to join the staff in May. Oh yes, the bullpen, with Papelbon at the end, is considered the best in the game. The Sox are loaded on the bump.
Don’t worry about the Yankees. They won’t be a factor, despite their fancy new digs. Torre is gone, as is the heart of the team — O’Neill, Mussina, Bernie. Nowadays, George Steinbrenner is only formidable on Seinfeld reruns: the Mouth that Roared has been quieted by time, and Hank, his boy, is but a pale shadow of his pop. They have new soldiers of fortune, but the whole will not equal the sum of its parts.
Bloated C.C. Sabathia and Joba Chamberlain will shut themselves in a food locker at a Bronx A&P, and eat themselves out of the game. The A.J. in A.J. Burnett stands for “Arm in Jeopardy” — he’ll be on the 60 day DL by July 1. ARod will come off his hip surgery and run off to Quintana Roo with Madonna, and be lost for the season.
Teixeira will bat .330 and hit 40 homers, but the New York fans and press will bury him anyway (“Tex-Error”) for making outs seven times out of ten. Sixty-one-year-old Mariano Rivera will finally show his age.
The Yanks’ karma is bad. This new $1.3 billion Yankee Stadium is a giant mistake. The spirits of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle and Berra are restless and unhappy. A front-row seat in this monument-to-excess goes for $2,600 and the average ticket price overall is $73. The Yankees are badly out-of-step with the times.
So ... be of good cheer, baseball season is here: the birds are back and chirping outside my window; in a week the trees will bud and the grass will green up; the boys and girls of Addison County are out on their damp diamonds throwing the ball around.
It’s spring. Play ball!