I enjoy watching the Celtics, who every year do a little more to dispel the myth that basketball is a young man’s game only. I like watching the Patriots, but it’s hard to enjoy a team that demands nothing short of perfection, and whose players (and coach) don’t often look as if they’re having any fun. I’ll even watch an occasional Bruins game, on the off-chance of seeing a Milan Lucic fight or a well-executed goal.
I enjoy all sports. But I love baseball. And it starts Friday. Today. Even as Boston is mired in winter’s death-throes, the Red Sox start their season against the Texas Rangers in far-away Arlington (Texas, not Mass.). Finally we see if new power threat Adrian Gonzalez and new contact-hitting threat Carl Crawford can be all we want them to be. Finally we see if they can gel with a lineup that is getting its fastest runner (Jacoby Ellsbury), grittiest hitter (Dustin Pedroia) and most-patient player (Kevin Youkilis) back from injury.
Red Sox pitchers will throw upwards of 24,000 pitches. We will finally see if Jon Lester can be the ace of the squad, if Clay Buchholz can take another step forward in his development. We will hope that John Lackey continues his strong Spring Training with a strong second year. We will pray that Daisuke Matsuzaka finally gives something to justify the $103 million the Red Sox paid for. We will fear that Josh Beckett’s numerous injuries have finally derailed his career for good.
We will wonder if a bullpen suddenly stocked with veteran relievers can protect the starting rotation better than it did last year. We will ask Jonathan Papelbon for more than he gave us in 2010, or at the very least graciously give up the closing role to Daniel Bard if he can’t. We will want Tim Wakefield to have an honorable finale to his career. But when he struggles, we will cry for his release to make room for a more productive pitcher. We will feel sad and guilty about this.
The Red Sox will play 162 games from now through September. They will have over 1,500 at-bats. We will see walks, singles, doubles, triples, home runs. There will be stolen bases, hit-and-runs, sacrifice flies and maybe even a bunt or two. There will be errors and there will be double-plays. Strikeouts, fly outs, grounds outs, foul outs, pop outs, and pitch-outs. Walk-offs and blown saves.
There will be at least one shining moment, a pristine bit of perfection that will remind all of us why we watch in the first place. It may be a first-pitch grand slam, a stolen base, or a no-hitter or two.
There will be joy and pain. There will be times when cool intelligence will be used to out-think the opponent; there will be times when raw adrenaline will win out. The season will require time, emotion and energy. We will stay up late for West-Coast games, block off entire evenings for Red Sox-Yankees match-ups, and find something else to do when the Orioles come to town. We will watch from the comfort of our couches and the discomfort of center field (the best place to see a game, in my humble opinion).
The squad will require constant tinkering. It is unlikely any Red Sox trade will be as consequential as it could be in basketball, nor will the team stay completely static as in football. There will be changes to the batting order, the rotation and the relief order. Every lost game, every inning that goes askew, every bad at-bat will be analyzed, then over-analyzed, with the hope that a slight tweak will make sure it never happens again.
A baseball season is unlike any other professional season. This is no one-night stand with the Bruins, a friends-with-benefits situation with the Celtics, or a quick rebound-relationship with the Patriots. This is a marriage. A marathon. An honors thesis. Something else that takes a lot of time.
The shame and masochism of being a Red Sox fan is gone. We no longer expect our team to blow every big game. We expect wins. We expect rings. Hopefully, this year we’ll get both. I can’t wait to find out.