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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Warming sign down the road

Wait Till Last Year.

Has a nice ring to it, no? For 85 years Red Sox fans moaned about why the Sox didn't win, and looked ahead with the highest of hopes. They wandered, zombie-like, insisting, "This is the year." Now they just want to go back in time and keep things going the way they were at the end of the 2004 season. The Red Sox won their last eight games and could have played into December without losing. It was a roll unlike anything we have seen in baseball.

And thus . . .

Wait Till Last Year.

The Sox equipment truck leaves Yawkey Way for Fort Myers, Fla., today. Forget about Doppler Radar, Chikage Windler, Punxsutawney Phil, Ed Carroll, and other forecasters; the Sox truck is the best weather prognosticator of all. The truck tells us we're in for six more weeks of winter. The truck is filled with bats, balls, resin bags, and baby carriages belonging to Red Sox families. Atlas Van Lines is scheduled to roll into Fort Myers Sunday night.

With the uniforms and Ace bandages, the truck carries the hopes and dreams of a Nation. Sox pitchers and catchers report Thursday. A few of the world champs are already there. Even Derek Lowe, who no longer works for the Red Sox, reported early to the Sox minor league complex.

Speaking of reporting early, is anybody else mildly insulted that Pedro Martinez is going out of his way to be such a good soldier in Port St. Lucie, Fla., these days? He reported late to Fort Myers in six of his seven Red Sox seasons, citing Dad's birthday, his workout routines, and other convenient excuses. And now he shows up at the Mets' camp 10 days early, ahead of everyone else on his new team? What's up with that? Is he intent on showing the Mets that he's not the diva he was when he played here? . . .
Jason Giambi fessed up to a grand jury, and yesterday encountered a tougher interrogation when he faced the New York media at Yankee Stadium. He was apologetic and contrite, said he told the truth to the grand jury, but refused to talk about steroids because of pending legal (and contractual) issues.

Now that the grand jury testimony has been leaked and loose cannon Jose Canseco has ratted out former teammates in an effort to sell books, Giambi and friends are going to be under tremendous scrutiny in spring training and throughout the 2005 season.

One big question: Do fans truly care? There's been no drop in attendance or television ratings while the steroid scandal has unfolded. Certainly in Boston, baseball is more popular than ever. Sometimes the steroid story feels as if it's media-driven. It is as if the majority of fans would rather not know. The folks in the bleachers want to enjoy the hot dogs without learning about how the hot dogs are made.

Still, Barry Bonds's pursuit of the home run totals of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron promises to be one of the more joyless quests in the history of sports. There's no way we can ignore Bonds's numbers. He starts the season with 703 homers, just 11 shy of the Bambino. He's also an admitted cheater and makes Jim Rice look like Mr. Congeniality. How does baseball celebrate Bonds's record-smashing achievements? Know this: When Barry gets near 755, Aaron will not be on hand to congratulate the new home run king. . . .

Don't forget the little guy
What is it like to play for a big-time college program in a small-time college sports town? Most of the coaches and athletes know the deal when they decide to work and play in greater Boston. We are a pro sports town and NCAA recognition won't take local fans' eyes off the Red Sox and Patriots.

Still, it's got to be strange for Boston College's basketball team to get off to a 20-0 start, earn a No. 4 ranking in the nation, and go weeks without seeing a television crew or a headline across the cover of the sports section. The guys who play for Al Skinner would be on magazine covers if they played in North Carolina. Here, they work under the radar until the NCAA Tournament.

"We'll get ours," Skinner said yesterday. "September and October were for the Red Sox and January and February were for the Patriots. Hopefully, March will be for the BC Eagles. I got no problem with that. It's got to be earned and we've got to go out and do that.

"It's the lay of the land. I remember that there were times we weren't doing well and guys were respectful of us. We weren't winning as many games and people were OK with that. Right now, there's just not a lot being said about us, which is fine. Our thing is what is going to happen in March. That's what we're striving for."

The Eagles are 20-1 in the wake of Tuesday's loss to Notre Dame. They don't play again until Wednesday at home against Rutgers. Like a lot of coaches, Skinner sees benefits in playing in the same neighborhood with the Patriots.

"I think it's something our players respect," he said. "The Patriots are an example for how you should handle yourself to be successful. I think our players can appreciate that. It's important to me. Everyone who plays college ball would like to play at the next level and the way the Patriots have handled themselves sets a great example. It's not about the hype. It's about going out and doing what you're supposed to do. In time, you will get your due."

Gracious as he is, even Skinner was scratching his head when the Red Sox dominated the local sports news in December. "The Pats were kicking butt and they still couldn't get on the back page," said the BC coach.

And today the cameras will be on Van Ness Street taking photos of . . . the truck.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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