We are days away from the start of spring training games, which means we are days away from a warm, comfortable feeling unlike perhaps any we have ever known.
When I was younger I pined for the start of spring training and the symbolic return of warm weather. It was still winter, but it was good enough. Then I got older and it stopped being good enough, but it was about more than sun and melting snow.
We learned about what matters and doesn’t matter, and we knew what was going to happen going into spring training before it ever happened. A minor player, usually Sam Travis, would have a huge spring and fans and the media would get too pumped about it, or a prospect would seemingly be in danger of making the team despite the league-wide practice of service time manipulation. In both cases we’d know how things were going to end up—Travis and the prospect in Pawtucket—but we’d fool ourselves for long enough to get that dopamine rush, one of just several that would propel us to Opening Day.
This year, things are different. Travis is gone. There are two years’s worth of prospects to imbibe even if they don’t stand to make the team, because we have no idea what they’ll offer, so it’ll be twice as exciting to see them. They don’t even play baseball in Pawtucket anymore.
It’s been a while. Last year at this time the coronavirus was just starting its spread. The spread has not stopped or even slowed too much, but that’s coming. Last year the Red Sox were operating in the shadow of the Mookie Betts trade, but the sun has finally moved enough to shine on the team that is rather than the team that isn’t. Last year we only had 2021 to look forward to, and now it’s here and, friends...
This year is all positives. The Red Sox probably aren’t gonna win anything this season but that doesn’t matter until the real games start. We need this slow-moving live-action board game on our televisions and we need it now. We deserve it. And for once, it will be a truly rich text.
First off, there are a host of new players to whom to adjust. Kiké Hernandez, Marwin Gonzalez, Garrett Richards— these guys are going to be popular players around here if they can produce, and it’s our first look at them in the red and white. In Richards’s case, it’s a testament to his boom-or-bust potential that’s he’s interesting, and a testament to Chaim Bloom’s angle-surfing that he’s on the team at all.
Second, there are the prospects. Two years of them. This is the most fun part. No more context-free highlights from the Alternate Site. No more projecting future value based on the same MLB Pipeline and FanGraphs text from 2019. Triston Casas, Jeter Downs, Jarren Duran and Bryan Mata are just a few of the names you’ll see this March, and in some cases they might absolutely tear things up. And it might not even be an illusion. Two years of downtime between meaningful at-bats can be a long time for the youngsters. They might surprise us.
There’s no Chris Sale yet, but that might be for the best. To be quite frank we don’t need that dark cloud hanging over our Florida sky. This is a time for pure positivity, and Sale’s uncertain outlook is best dealt with at a more complicated time a little ways down the road. This is celebration a year in the making. We’d best enjoy it.
And we will. Barring a Kevin Mather-like outburst from a team owner or president, the Red Sox can look forward to this March with their wounds behind them, be those wounds self-inflicted or inflicted upon them by a cruel, indifferent world. No matter what happens in August, this spring will be special. Even I, with my darkness of heart, will enjoy it.