Truck Day 2014 is upon us.
Let the cliches roll.
Next stop, Fort Myers.
It's been a landmark week in sports. We've enjoyed the Kitten Bowl, the Puppy Bowl, the Super Bowl, Round One of the Beanpot, the start of the Olympics, bad toilets in Russia, a 2011 Stanley Cup Finals rematch and the continuing saga of Tankapalooza.
All of these monumental events merely served as opening acts for the week's ultimate athletic signature moment on Saturday: Truck Day 2014 at Fenway Park.
Truck Day means we've survive the brutal offseason, or at least that untenable gap between the end of the Patriots' season and the first hint of baseball.
The Red Sox are defending World Series Cup champions. Red Sox fans have until Opening Day to take advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime, and walk away from the team following its most spectacular season since Ban Johnson began the American League. Leaving on top is very, very enticing. But sadly, at least for sad sacks like myself, it's not a real option. Crack, carbs and cigarettes are all infinitely harder to quit than the Red Sox, even they aren't nearly as harmful at times.
Several players, including Xander Bogaerts, Jon Lester and Will Middlebrooks, are already working out in Fort Myers. Truck Day gives New Englanders a nice, clean way to mark the unofficial start of the new baseball calendar year. It's more welcomed during a winter that's been markedly more brutal than most. It also provides the Red Sox with another chance to demonstrate their ability to turn just about anything into a publicity stunt, including the transportation of athletic gear and clothing from Boston to Florida.
Last year's Truck Day carried the slogan: "Big Things Ahead." Big indeed. On this Truck Day Eve, the Red Sox have many unanswered questions heading into the 2014 season. Here are 10 for starters:
10. How much will the Red Sox miss Jacoby Ellsbury?
Probably more than anyone wants to admit. On paper, the comparison between Jacoby Ellsbury and Jackie Bradley Jr doesn't look good for the local nine. In 2013, he hit .298 with a .781 OPS and led the American League with 52 steals. Watching the Red Sox 2013 World Series Cup DVD, one is reminded of the multiple key hits and clutch comebacks which prominently featured Ellsbury. The Red Sox earned a couple of indulgences from their fan base thanks to their Improbable Dream season in 2013. Letting Ellsbury walk to the Yankees without making a legitimate run at him was a big one. In 2020, it will be fun to think of the Yankees paying him $20 million at age 37. In 2014, it might be a little painful for Red Sox fans to watch.
9. Can we drop the "Junior" from Jackie Bradley Jr.?
Doubtful, since Bradley continues to refer to himself as Jackie Bradley Jr. . The good news, for the Red Sox fans and players, is that their would-be center fielder has been in Fort Myers working out for a couple of weeks. Bradley hit .189 with three HR and 10 RBIs in over 37 games in 2013. Bradley recently got married and honeymooned in Antigua.
8. Will David Ortiz ever be satisfied?
In the smoldering and radioactive wreckage of the Nuclear Winter, the Red Sox gave Ortiz what appeared to be a "Lifetime Achievement Award" by signing the DH to a two-year deal, that ended up being worth $30 million. Not bad money for a DH who turned 38 in November. Normally, that would be enough. But Ortiz is always full of surprises. His "f-bomb" for the ages served as the city's post-Marathon Bombing rallying cry, he cemented his stature as the face of the franchise if not the entire Boston sports scene and did pretty good in the World Series, too, hitting .688. There's no real reason compelling the Red Sox to give Ortiz another extension. The team has all the leverage and can make him a qualifying offer before he heads into free-agency. But if there's one player who has earned a second life-time achievement award in the history of post-Ted Williams Red Sox, it's Ortiz.
7. Why hasn't Jon Lester been given a long-term extension?
Good question. This must happen in spring training. 2013 proved that nothing happens without a big-money, big-game starter. He was solid and reliable during the season and dominant in the post season [3-1, 1.55 ERA]. Lester has a 0.43 ERA in 21 World Series innings. When you hear talk about Lester happily taking a "hometown" discount to stay in Boston, remember that's a discount from Clayton Kershaw's obscene seven-year, $215 million contract and not the seven-year, $155 million the Yankees gave unproven-in-North America Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka .
6. Will we see Stephen Drew ever again?
Funny how we never saw Stephen Drew and J.D. Drew in the same place at the same time. Maybe they were really the same person all along and J.D. has reclaimed his original identity. News broke Friday the Drew's agent, Scott Boras, wants a long-term contract that allows his client to opt out after one-year. And I want to win to the women's figure skating gold medal. A one-year deal would probably suit the Red Sox just fine. Drew's home run emotionally sealed Game 6 against the Cardinals. Some of us were lucky enough to see him him a grand slam in person at the original Fenway South in St. Pete. The guy earned his $9 million in 2013.
5. Middlebrooks or Drew?
This debate has been raging on the interwebs and Twitter for months. "Team Will!" "Team Stephen!" The last time it was "Twilight" in Red Sox Nation, Dan Duquette was bidding farewell to Roger Clemens and his PEDs. Personally, I stand with "Team Jenny." It would be a bitter, bitter pill in the
Drew, yikes, er... Middlebrooks-Dell household if Will ended up in Pawtucket for the bulk of the season given the fact she lost her Red Sox gig after their relationship became public.
4. What about John Lackey?
Lackey was tabbed as the player to watch in this space heading into 2013. Following horrid experiences in 2011 and '12. Lackey worked off the balance of his $82.5 million deal in the mind of many fans with his performance in the postseason. Lackey beat the 2011 and 2012 AL Cy Young Award winners in the playoffs and got the win in Game 6 against the Cardinals after a crucial relief appearance in Game 4. Even better was his post-World Series reaction. When translated, it was basically "screw you, haters." With all this talk about extensions, Lackey's name might creep into the conversation. Something that seemed inconceivable a year ago has become a real possibility - that Lackey, now 35, might be with this team come 2015.
3. Can Koji keep this up?
At his 2013 pace, no. The Red Sox won 97 games in 2013. Uehara had 21 saves after becoming the team's fourth closer of choice in June, with a 4-1 record and 1.09 ERA. He only blew three saves in the regular season and got one loss in the ALDS. There was a lot of over-achievement on the Red Sox last season it will be unrealistic to expect all of it to continue this season. A few occasional dings can be expected. Andrew Miller is back in Fort Myers and is reportedly fully healthy and sporting a full beard. Guess he missed the memo about the team going clean-shaven this year. If Koji falters, Miller could become a surprising option. Ahh, the circle of life indeed.
2. Can this outfield be good enough in the A.L. East.
Save for the loss of Ellsbury, the Red Sox lineup is little changed from last year. The outfield appears to be the weakest part of the offensive lineup. Usually not the way you want to go. Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes will split time in left field, Bradley is the center fielder of the present and future. Shane Victornio has followed the path of Dwight Evans and Trot Nixon, and has become beloved in right field. This outfield grouping is far from the Lynn, Rice and Evans trio your parents loved in their youth, or the mighty threesome of Nixon, Damon and Manny that idiotically ended that cursed curse.
1. Who will replace Jenny Dell?
The reason why stories like the return of Jerry Remy to the analyst's role, or the fate of the former Red Sox sideline reporter are such a big deal to many is simple: nearly all Red Sox fans experience the games by watching television. Remy, Dell, Don and the rest of the NESN team are in our living rooms or on our computer screens three hours a night, 150 or so times a year. That is a lot of face time. They become as much a part of the experience as the players. Last season, NESN televised 147 of 162 Red Sox games, averaging a 7.3 household rating. The NESN Red Sox sideline reporters all seem to achieve a cult-like following, mainly thanks to Twitter, myths and rumors about their personal lives, and in the case of Dell, her very public relationship with Middlebrooks. None of this has anything to do with baseball, but it's part of the show that Tom Werner and the boys no doubt love to produce every night. A little TV drama doesn't hurt when the rest of the offseason was so uneventful, either.
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