I've never been to spring training. In essence, that's mainly thanks to March whipping in like a lion, a month that all Alpinists know is the best one to venture into the hills. It's a welcome annual gift seemingly always rescuing us from whatever the previous arid months have wrought.
It's not a popular opinion to be certain, but the sun can wait.
It is every year around this time that I realize there is yet another reason I've never ventured to a Floridian February in Fort Myers. I have enough paint at home that I need to watch dry.
Oh, sure. Things are indeed fun and games at first, the gang's all here, how ya doing, nice contract you signed there dude, all the sort of revelry and reunion that goes along with the first day of school. But sooner or later, that AP English class rears its head into your consciousness, and takes away much of the glimmer as you try to plow through Joseph Conrad. "Heart of Darkness," foul pop drills, same difference.
Yet, what seems like thousands of Red Sox fans swarm City of Palms Park to catch a glimpse of Bronson Arroyo (guaranteed), Keith Foulke (maybe), David Wells (with binoculars), or Manny Ramirez (good luck). It is for sure their best chance to get up close and personal with their summertime entertainment, a time to celebrate what might be in but a month, if not dream about what could be come October.
It is by all accounts a much quieter Red Sox camp than in the past, partly thanks to the absence of the "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" foursome, the Farrelly Brothers and crew, additional worldwide media, the Budweiser Clydesdales, and whatever other entity popped up with the defending champs. It's also thanks to the absence of dominating presences like Johnny Damon and Kevin Millar, who have taken their acts elsewhere for 2006.
Damon, you might have heard, signed with the Yankees, while Millar was apparently wanted by the Orioles. And yet, while both are gone from the Red Sox thought process, it's quite evidently a one-way street. In Jayson Stark's terrific piece from yesterday analyzing a shift in attitude with the Boston Red Sox, Millar and Damon both showed their continued inability to let go of the past:
"Miles away from the spring headquarters of Red Sox Nation, the former King of the Idiots was conducting his 73rd interview of the day on Sunday when his cell phone began to shake.
"'Look at this,' said Johnny Damon, breaking into a long, how-perfect-is-this kind of laugh. 'It's Kevin Millar.'
"Well, it was a text message from Millar, anyway. And, according to Damon, here's the best translation of that message we can pass along:
"'There's nothing quite like our clubhouse in Boston.'"
Damon goes on to tell Stark it's a shame that the carefree, Idiot mentality is gone from the Red Sox clubhouse now, replaced by a team of players possibly more balanced for the long-term than any Boston team in the past 20 years. Stark rightfully would prefer to call that reality. Can we assume that Damon still wears his letter jacket around, too?
I mean these guys are both officially Wooderson, unable to let go of a past glory that rightfully will define their careers. They get older, 2004 stays the same age. Do you think Millar said his job with Baltimore was to come in and get on base on a consistent basis? Nah. His job is "to come in here and make everybody, you know, be a rock star."
Sweet. Have fun with that.
In a way, it was Millar's rock star mentality in 2005 that defined a season in which the Sox failed to repeat. It was indeed a team that lived and thrived on what it had done in the past rather than what it was capable of doing in the present. Down 2-0 to the White Sox in the ALDS, Red Sox Nation simply expected Boston to come back after having watched them do against the A's in 2003 and then against the Yankees a year later.
Time moves on. So do ballplayers.
It is a new identity in the Boston clubhouse, not necessarily a bad thing considering the increased tiredness a Cowboy Up/Idiot mentality might have if it is tied down to more frequent losing and lack of competitiveness. Instead of an overwhelming personality in center, the Sox now have a young pup on the rise who refers to Jason Varitek as, "The Captain." And instead of a Jack Daniels-loving loudmouth, the Sox look to Kevin Youkilis to provide stability at first base.
OK, so it might make things a tad bit more boring the final week of February, but come July, would you rather have big bats or big egos? Would you rather have low ERAs or witty catchphrases? Would you rather have competitive games or perpetual banter?
In 2004, they put their money where their mouth was, a task not to be repeated in 2005. Status quo isn't an option. In order to stay competitive, philosophies need to be tweaked and personnel put through major changes. Millar, Damon, Mike Myers, Doug Mirabelli, and Bill Mueller are all gone, replaced by players who are vanilla to members of Red Sox Nation right now. Until the personalities and traits of guys like Mike Lowell, Mark Loretta, Alex Gonzalez, and Coco Crisp are learned, it remains an orientation process, a time that can be tedious for both player and fan.
The games will start in a matter of days, injecting a sense of life to the game as we know it, albeit with depleted squads, thanks to Bud Selig's World Baseball Classic. Thousands more Red Sox fans will flee the suddenly bitter New England winter to find themselves in central Florida enjoying the proceedings of it all. Not me. I'll be out west over the next few days, attempting to find some elusive powder, awaiting and counting down until the games are played for real in our own backyard.