Wednesday, February 29, 2012

On Truck Day, All is Finally Well Again

There is always a sign of spring in early February that symbolizes the beginning of a new season for Red Sox fans. That sign of hope is an 18 wheeler parked on Van Ness Street adjacent to Gate D at Fenway Park. Truck day, as this day is called, marks the return of our national pastime, and our favorite team. As uniforms, bats, balls, and other equipment are being loaded into the moving van, fans watch in excitement and eagerness as they finally stop suffering from baseball withdrawal.

The yearly send off of the truck full of equipment sort of defines Red Sox Nation. You can see that as you look around on the early February day and see diehard fans bundled up in Sox clothing. I’m not sure of anyone who actually likes the idea of moving day, except that this is different. This moving day means a clean slate and a rite of passage for those who are ready to hear RemDawg say  “Buenas noches amigos”, sing Sweet Caroline in the middle of the 8th, and eat a Fenway frank.

Call it a ridiculous tradition if you will, but we Sox fans are traditionalists in our mindsets and in our hearts. We have a devotion to the game that is almost indescribable. We consider this team to be a part of our family, even if they hurt us in a painful way like the end of last season.  But I won’t talk about that because that doesn’t matter anymore. All that matters is that baseball is finally here. More importantly, the Red Sox are finally here and we can all see that by watching a moving truck prepare for the 1,480 mile trip to Florida. 

When the truck arrives there it will be greeted by one of the largest and dedicated  fan bases in the country. The unconditional support is what reignites in my mind as I think about truck day and what it means to so many fans. This is what baseball is truly about.

You cannot think about baseball without thinking of Fenway Park. Every time I step in or around Fenway, I feel like I am doing something right. I feel like I am in the right place, and I feel like I am with many people who care about something as much as I do. I’ve traveled to truck day alone for a few years now, mostly because I was the only one out of my friends who wanted to see the big departure. 

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it this year, and I realized that I missed out on a greeting from Lucchino, but I was there in spirit. From my experience of being there, truck day simply proves how important the Sox are to so many people. I often found myself in conversation with those around me who just wanted to talk Sox baseball and share their own fan stories. Since truck day has mostly been on a week day in years past, I often heard fans say things like, “I skipped a meeting for this” or “I skipped my biology test to come to Fenway today.” I’m not going to lie, I’ve even walked out of class half way through a lecture just so I could get a glimpse of bats and baseballs that my Red Sox will touch, and win with.  

Seeing passionate fans around me is so inspiring. In a way it makes me think that the Sox will have good karma for the season because we fans care so much. We are sending them off on a positive note. We are preparing for the season as much as we can simply by being there to show our support and love. We are people who have invested our souls into something we can’t control, and will never be able too. However, that will never stop up from showing up. We will always be there for our team, the Red Sox.

Truck day is such a happy and refreshing day, a day of rebirth. Even though there are times of questioning new players, contracts, and performance, on truck day, it is simply our turn to win again. We have all of the right steps to make it to the end and win the World Series.  When it finally comes time for the moving truck to make its way to Ft. Myers fans hear the loud blasting of “Tessie”, and “Centerfield” on the loudspeakers, but we Sox fans know that all we really want to hear is that song about the Charles river blast on the Fenway Park speakers  after a win.

1912, 2012...its all the same.

Photo courtesy of the Boston Herald

2011 saw some of the highest expectations a Red Sox team has ever had going into a season. The Sox added arguably the two biggest free agents on the market, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, to an already potent offense. They came into the season with high hopes for a starting rotation anchored by young studs Clay Buchholz and John Lester along with All-Stars Josh Beckett and John Lackey.

High hopes floundered as things got off to a rough start. The Sox finished off April of 2011 with record of 11-14, among the worst in the American League.

But then things started to pick up.

Gonzalez (.338 BA, 27 HR, 117 RBI), David Ortiz (.309 BA, 29 HR, 96 RBI), Jacoby Ellsbury (.321 BA, 32 HR, 105 RBI, 39 SB), and Dustin Pedroia (.305 BA, 21 HR, 91 RBI, 26 SB) helped produce a dominant offensive output; one that would keep them among the best team’s in the majors for the majority of 2011.

The Sox were 83-52 on September 1, tops in the American League. They were 1½ games ahead of the New York Yankees in the AL East standings and 9 games ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays for the AL Wild Card.

They then proceeded to go 7-20 in the month of September, finishing the season third in the AL East standings, second for the AL Wild Card, and on the outside looking in come October.

This historic collapse was due in large part to the inconsistencies in the starting rotation down the stretch. Beckett and Lester combined for an abysmal 3-9 record in the month of September, while Lackey was just horrible all season; he finished with his career worst record and ERA (12-12, 6.41 ERA).

And we all know about the problems the Sox were dealing with in the clubhouse; there is no need to rehash those horrible memories.

It’s time for the Sox focus on 2012; or is it?

Maybe the Sox should focus on 1912 and hope that history repeats itself.

This season marks the 100th Anniversary of not only Fenway Park, but also the often-overlooked 1912 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox.

This current Red Sox team shares many similarities with the team that won it all 100 years ago.

Let’s rewind about 101 years, to the spring of 1911…

Left to right: Lewis, Speaker,
Hooper; Photo courtesy of
The Boston Globe
It has been eight, long seasons since the Sox captured their first World Series title in 1903. Sox fans are growing rabid for another World Series title. Expectations are sky-high for the Sox, who are a season away from playing in a brand-new, state of the art ballpark a few blocks over from their current address on Huntington Ave.

It’s now the Sox second season with ”The Golden Outfield:” Tris Speaker, Duffy Lewis, and Harry Hooper (considered by baseball historians as one of the greatest outfields of all-time). There is not a better fielding outfield in the majors right now.

The starters for the Sox, “Smoky Joe” Wood and Eddie Cicotte, (two-men rotations were the norm in Major League Baseball during this time period) come into the season as a great one-two punch. Wood is being brought into a starting role after serving as a reliever in 1910, where he posted a 1.69 ERA. Cicotte looks to continue with his success, as he posted a 15-11 record with a 2.74 ERA.

…now back to real time

The Red Sox underachieved mightily in the 1911 season. They finished fourth in the AL with a record of 78-75, 24 games out of first place.

Both Wood and Cicotte’s ERAs went up from their 1910 totals, with Cicotte’s win and lose totals flip-flopping (11-15).

Despite the pitching woes, the offense and fielding was still there. “The Golden Outfield” preformed at a high level, combining for a .317 BA, 19 HR, 201 RBI, and 74 SB.

The 1911 Red Sox were great offensive team with an inconsistent pitching staff that fell short of the post season despite gaudy expectations.

Doesn’t that sound familiar?

With the 1911 and 2011 Red Sox teams bearing so much in common, who’s to say the 1912 and 2012 teams won’t share similarities?

In 1912, the Red Sox lived up to their out-of-this-world expectations, going 105-47 and coasting their way to the franchise’s second World Series victory.

Speaker was the rock for the Sox that season, batting .383 with 10 HR, 90 RBI, and 52 SB on his way to his first and only AL MVP Award.

The pitching rotation came out firing in 1912. After Cicotte’s struggles in 1911, Hugh Bedient took his spot in the rotation. Bedient shined in his new role, going 20-9 with a 2.92 ERA. The real star of that rotation was Wood, who was an astounding 34-5 with a 1.91 ERA.

With this deadly duo on the mound, along with the amazing outfield coupled with Speaker’s individual success, this 1912 Red Sox team not only lived up to expectations, they exceeded them. This team should be considered one of the most dominant in Red Sox history.

Now, I’m not saying the 2012 Sox are going to have this same type of turn around. But, the similarities between these teams are uncanny.

Ellsbury can definitely put up the same type of production Speaker did in 1912. Both Ellsbury and Speaker are centerfielders that can steal bases, drive in runs, and hit for average. Just look at Ellsbury’s 2011 production as compared to Speaker’s 1912 numbers.

Tris Speaker (1912)                       
.383 Batting Average
10 Homeruns
90 Runs batted in
52 Stolen bases

Jacoby Ellsbury (2011)
.321 Batting Average
32 Homeruns
105 Runs batted in
39 Stolen bases

If Ellsbury has the same type of year he did last season, or even one closer in line to that of Speaker’s, he will be the clear choice for AL MVP and will help the Sox get that much closer to raising banner eight.

Cicotte’s sub-par year in 1911 and subsequent benching in 1912 falls right in line with Lackey’s situation for this upcoming season.

Lackey was atrocious last season. Not only did he have limited success on the field, but also was a huge distraction in the clubhouse. With Lackey missing the entire 2012 season due to Tommy John surgery, it will be time for one of the young bullpen pitchers that are borderline starting material to step up and do what Bedient did in 1912. Someone like Alfredo Aceves or Daniel Bard is going to have to step up and fill this void in the rotation.

Who’s to say that Ellsbury, Crawford, and Cody Ross (only 4 errors combined in 2011) can’t be the next Speaker, Lewis, and Hooper; or that the rotation can’t make a turnaround in finish out the 2012 season strong?

The Red Sox have the pieces in place to do exactly what they did 100 years ago at a brand new Fenway Park.