Wherefore Art Thou Baseball?

The grass glistens on the morning dew. The bright sun begins to rise from the east, gradually warming up the cool morning air. Yes, while winter seems like an endless hurdle that we may never be able to jump over, spring indeed has arrived in Florida’s Grapefruit League and Arizona’s Cactus League. Major League Baseball’s spring training kicked off all this week across the Sunshine and Sundevil states with pitchers and catchers reporting for workouts. With the slowest sports month upon us, the only thing that can grant me salvation from painful All-Star Games and the dog days of the NBA and NHL seasons is baseball. No matter what the weather is, the annual rites of Spring Training warm us all up inside as we look forward to hearing the crack of the bat and the thump of the mitt. For those of us non-college basketball fans, spring training is the only thing to keep our minds busy before the first pitch is thrown in 38 days. Whether you’re a fan of the defending World Series Champion Anaheim Angels or the hapless Detroit Tigers, spring training represents a new beginning for your team and garners excitement for the upcoming season. Hope springs eternal during spring training from the day pitchers and catchers report to the day when the final ball of this exhibition preseason is caught. Dreams of championships run through ever fan’s head, even Red Sox fans. Who knows, maybe this year my BoSox will beat the “Evil Empire” known as the New York Yankees. Despite the unlikelihood of that possibility, the Sox did undeniably improve on offense and in depth this off-season. The team however unfortunately regressed in the field. Todd Walker, Bill Mueller, Jeremy Giambi should prove to be a much better tandem of hitters than last season’s baseball-challenged trio of Tony Clark, Jose Offerman, and Rey Sanchez. The bullpen figures to be better than last season’s despite the lack of a true closer. Boston re-signed smoking southpaw Alan Embree and picked up Yankee-defector and versatile middleman Ramiro Mendoza. The one goal the Red Sox failed to achieve was getting a bona fide number three starter to help take the pressure off the frail right shoulder of superstar pitcher Pedro Martinez and fingers crossed not one hit wonder that is Derek Lowe. These moves made by the Sox, however, greatly pale in comparison with those of the Bronx Bombers’. The dreaded Yankees once again spared no expense en route to signing two of the most-hyped foreign baseball players ever to enter Major League Baseball since, well, the bust that was Hideki Irabu. The Yanks spent most of the late fall courting Japanese slugger Hideki “Godzilla” Matsui and their efforts were rewarded when the three-time MVP of Japan’s Central League agreed to a 3-year, $21 million contract on December 19. Known as Godzilla, Matsui hit 50 homers last season in Japan and should be a major boost for New York. On the mound will be new righty Jose Contreras, a defector from the Cuban National team who was center of a bidding war between both the Yanks and Sox. Contreras eventually signed with New York last December for four years and $32 million after leaving Red Sox officials at the altar with a higher offer. Though both teams dramatically improved themselves this year, the Yankees and their $164 million dollar payroll ($60 million more than Boston’s) will just be too much for the Crimson Stockings to keep up with in the division. Unless a midseason acquisition turns the Sox’ fortunes, I don’t see anything more than a wild card birth in the hometown team’s future. But for fans during spring training, anything is possible. Soon enough it’ll be April in Fenway, with the Red Sox on their way to winning the World Series. Hey, I can dream, can’t I?