We are now just two weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting--three from the mandatory reporting date for all players. On February 21, the Red Sox will take part in the traditional trouncing of the Huskies and Eagles, and two days after that we'll have Red Sox vs. Rays as the team starts the long run to the real starting line.
Right now these dates (along with next week's Truck Day, depending on how invested you are in that sort of thing) are circled in bright red on our mental calendars. Come March 9th we'll all be banging our heads against the wall wondering when oh when it's finally going to end. Spring training is one of those things that is better anticipated than experienced, especially when you're stuck up here in the cold, bitter north relying on snippets from reporters and the occasional broadcast to give a taste of that warm weather and the crack of the bat.
Still, while spring training can quickly frustrate, there's a delightful insignificance to it. None of the games matter, and while bad performances can prove to be signs of doom--just ask Carl Crawford--there's a level of comfort knowing how often a player is terrible in Fort Myers and terrific in Fenway. All that goes away come April, and for the last couple of years, that has not been a good thing.
Expectations for the Red Sox are low. There are many of us who are cautiously optimistic that the team can contend, but plenty who are writing the year off, and few who are so removed from reality that they can claim the Sox are in any way favorites, be it for the East or the wild card. The level of competition is high--perhaps higher than ever before--and this team is not a world-beater like the 2011 team seemed to be heading into the season. All this should serve to cushion the blow should the Sox not measure up in the long run. We know what this year is: a toss of the dice with little risk, and relatively little chance of reward.
Still, it's been so long since we've been able to feel legitimately good about the Red Sox. Even those who kept their hopes up for 2012 and have enjoyed the work of the team this offseason (I count myself in both camps) have been some 16 months now without finding any reason to hope while watching a game. Even as the 2012 team climbed their way out of the depths to dance around .500 for a while before injuries set in, any hope for success was generally outweighed by a fear that the Sox would do something crazy at the deadline, desperate for contention. That the best moment of these long months was a trade that left the Red Sox without the two huge acquisitions of the 2010-2011 offseason is telling.
So when I look at the 2013 schedule and I see three games in New York and three games in Toronto right off the bat, any anticipation I have is balanced out by a wave of apprehension. Over the past two years, the Sox have started their season a combined 0-11. Last year that served to extinguish hope early, and even if some of it revived during May and June, the early failures set a tone that was incredibly difficult to escape from.
I do not ask for a World Series win in 2013. I know that's too much. I don't expect a trip to the playoffs even. I would be delighted to have the Sox play October baseball, and it wouldn't be an incredible surprise like the Orioles and Athletics of 2012 were, but I certainly don't expect it. All I ask for this year from this team is a little hope. Hope that our games in August and September will be important. That we'll have reason to be upset when we don't quite make the cut. I ask for at least one win against the Yankees, and one against the Jays (anything better being appreciated, of course) so that we can look at the 2008 and 2009 teams and talk about how good teams don't always start 6-0 rather than how 0-5 starts do not, in the end, lie.