Friday, February 11, 2011

Spring starts with Spring Training

With Spring Training around the corner, I've been thinking about my beloved Red Sox a lot. My first published column ran in the Lowell Sun on October 31st, 2007 -- a day or two after the Sox won the 2007 World Series. It isn't in their online archives so I share it here. GO SOX!

Okay, I admit it. I once thought that Red Sox fans were as clueless as the game they love.

I grew up with a football coach for a grandfather, so that sport was in my DNA. My ideal athlete was the quarterback, connecting with a receiver under real threat of death. To me, other sports seemed like games, and I thought baseball players were wimps. In football, they don't let a broken neck slow them down, yet baseball players are out for eight games with a “muscle pull”. I thought the game moved at the pace of underwater square dancing, its only excitement easily encapsulated in 30 seconds’ worth of highlights on the news.

My poor family and friends had to endure my rolling eyes every time they talked about the Sox. Then there were my usual snide comments about baseball being a game about who could wear the most gold chains and still hit a ball. They persisted and preached but to no avail.

Then it happened. My husband was watching the game where Clay Buchholz was going for a no-hitter while I was reading the paper. I looked up occasionally to hear what all the cheering was about and asked a couple of questions about baseball stats before returning to my paper. The next night this kid Jacoby Ellsbury hit a ball out of the park and I thought, hmmm, there’s that game again. I guess I could watch just a few plays. That won’t mean I’m a baseball fan. It’s just curiosity.

Something clicked and I started watching every game. In no time I went from being a naysayer to trying to convert other non-baseball fans with the same sort of fanaticism normally reserved for ex-smokers. I realized that jumping off the couch to scream “No, not Gagne!” is no different from fourth and goal when you’re yelling at the quarterback to pass.

I still think that football is the greatest sport of all time. But after watching Josh Beckett for the last two months, I now realize what amazing athletes baseball players are. Could Tom Brady throw a football 97 mph? If he did, could anyone catch it? And could those two skills converge almost every play of the game?

Then there’s the psychology of baseball. The daunting stare of Dice-K to a nervous batter just before he swings at the night air. Or a fastball that’s hit out of the park that the pitcher never thought anyone could touch. If that’s not like playing head games with your opponent on fourth and goal, I don’t know what is.

So there I was, staying up way too late at night to watch the World Series. I was wrong about baseball and can’t wait to tell old friends that I have seen the light. I think how wonderful it is that I don’t have to go without sports for seven months after the Super Bowl. And there’s another plus. Family members who complain that they never know what to give me now have a plethora of ideas. Let’s see. Do I want Pedroia’s or Beckett’s Red Sox jersey for Christmas? How about a bobblehead Manny for my car? Irish jig lessons?

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