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Soup of This Day #324: Valentine Is Done

July 21, 2013

Tchachina and Iglesias
This composite image features: a. A rhythmic gymnast, Irina Tchachina, playing infield for the Boston Red Sox; and b. An infielder for the Boston Red Sox, José Iglesias, warming up with an oversplit. The latter manouver is a leg split that has gone past 180 degrees and is correctly pronounced as ‘Owowisthatmylegoverthere’, with a sort of questioning scream towards the end – Photos: (L) Keith Allison, 2012 & (R) Mollerjoakim, 2006. Neither Keith Allison or Mollerjoakim are affiliated with Longworth72. Images cropped and combined by Longworth72.

I recently got a look at 1 of my boarding college report cards. 1 of the supervisors says, amongst the usual stock phrases, that he was:

‘…impressed with the way [Longworth72] participates and the ease he makes friend’s with all.’

Well, no.

That’s never been me. I am not for everyone. I have a scant few friends and I’m forever losing touch with even them. I can recall just 1 time in my life so far holding a birthday party at which my friends were invited – I was 13 – And that occasion is memorable mostly because 1 of the guests punctured our only soccer ball. The most notable gift that day was a coffee mug which has the slogan:

‘Friends like you are hard to find… …Bars are so dark!’

I wasn’t into bars at 13. By the time I was into bars I’d figured out that the mug should have read:

‘Friends like you are hard to find… …Because you’re belligerently self-medicating your depression with alcohol and that pushes people away.’

Still, for a number of years I favoured drinking in well-lit establishments in case friends had trouble finding me. Especially those I hadn’t met yet.

There was though, no hint of this on that report card. It did mention that I was playing basketball and that I was:

‘…extremely enjoying the game.’

Again, not true.

Oh, I liked basketball and when I did play it I hit the court with the same level of diligent application that I demonstrated to all sport. I worked hard out there, getting in faces, hustling loose plays and grinding out assists. I hardly ever took a shot, having a pretty accurate understanding that it was just my understanding that was accurate. Otherwise, for a handful of organised matches, I did everything I could to help the college D-Grade outfit win, including standing on opposition feet on inbound plays.

That last bit might not be in the spirit of the game and is yet another reason why I didn’t make friends with ease.

It’s also a sign that I wasn’t having fun. Fun was something I had in pick-up games, generally mucking around, having the freedom to drive to the basket or to flip a pass behind my back. I never intentionally trod on toes in pick-up games.

And I was a substantially better player in those pick-up games – Whereas I could regularly score double figures in the informal setup, I don’t recall scoring a single basket in the league match-ups.

Having fun counts.

You can see this in my report card for the 2013 Red Sox. This is an outfit, that on paper at least, is substantially weaker than the 2012 and 2011 editions. Yet, while those 2 predecessors looked like they could barely stand to play on the same field for their whopping payroll, this motley crew just seems to be excited to be hanging out and playing ball. Gone are the surly attitudes and the mutinous meetings. There’s no more hiding in the clubhouse with the chicken and beer and even John Lackey seems to have worked out that at least if you can’t make friends it’s best not to make enemies.

And it’s working a treat.

The kind of treat that saw the Red Sox go in to the All-Star break with a club record 58 wins – At that time, the most wins in the Majors and it had the Sox 2.5 clear of the 2nd place Rays in the American League East (ALE). Even more impressive is the fact that the Red Sox Opening Day payroll was around $15m less than for 2012. If you take Toronto by contrast, their payroll has gone up by around $42m and yet they sit in last in the ALE, an unhealthy 11.5 games back of Boston.

To be fair the Red Sox payroll is still around $40m greater than the Blue Jays. Also A-Rod is getting more than the entire Houston Astros team – It’s like his salary is on steroids or something…

Actually A-Rod’s Yankees are a probably more appropriate comparison – Their payroll is approximately $70m up on the Sox, yet the bang they have for those bucks has seen them fizzle into the 4th slot in the ALE and a 6 game deficit to the more frugal Beantown crew.

So why the difference? Fun. Baseball is fun again down Yawkey Way.The bats are working, much the way they have been the past couple of years but with some surprise contributors: You expect David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and to a lesser extent Mike Napoli to be bringing in runs. What probably is a surprise is that 1 of the guys they keep bring home is José Iglesias.

Yep, that 1. The guy who’s Nadia Comăneci-like performance with the glove was mated to a Nadia Comăneci-like performance with the bat, at least in Triple A.

Nadia did get that perfect ’10’ at the Montreal Olympics but I’m not figuring her for a Major League slugger.

José Iglesias in the big time though – Wow. Just wow. 66 hits at .367 (1 of 5 over .300 with over 50 games), 26 runs and 16 RBIs. And that glove – Iglesias plus Pedroia at 2B is like synchronised swimming would be if it wasn’t in a pool with music and lycra. Simply, you can not watch that kid play and not be smiling, even when the Red Sox are losing.

Daniel Nava is not quite as exciting with his glove on in outfield but he’s been crunching it with the bat – He’s hitting .288, has 52 runs and is 1 of 4 in the team to have notched up 50+ RBIs. That’s the kind of output you can build around.

For all of that batting productivity it’s in pitching that the difference has been noticeable. The Red Sox might be ranked 7th of 15 in the American League on ERA but their rotation has consistently put together quality starts. Clay Buchholz was an ace-like 9 and 0 before injury while Felix Doubront has shown the goods at 6 and 3. Ryan Dempster has been unlucky to be just 5 and 8. You can though look askance at John Lackey’s record as per usual – He has not deserved the 7 and 6 against his name.

He has deserved better.

Yep, said it.

John Lackey has been good. He’s got 4.04 strike outs per walk, mostly because he’s given up just 23 of the latter across 100.1 innings pitched. His WHIP is just 1.136 and his ERA is a frankly astonishing (for him) 2.78. Almost all of his numbers, bar his wins and losses are better than nominal staff ace Jon Lester.

At the back-end, the bullpen has turned up some surprises too – Closing became a problem for Andrew Bailey so 38 year-old journeyman Koji Uehara stepped into the breach with the enthusiasm of a young tyro. It’s hard to work out what is more impressive – His saves or the infectious energy of his hi-5s. Whichever, like Iglesias, 14 years his junior, you just have to smile.

Less hypomanic but just as effective have been Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow and Andrew Miller. The latter drove me nuts early in the season but then matured as a middle-reliever of some stature before injury struck him down.

Injuries aside though, it’s probably reasonable to extrapolate that these 2013 Red Sox are enjoying the game.

Maybe not extremely enjoying it though.

Which takes me back to my report card. Despite my apparent extreme enjoyment of my fledgling basketball career, I figure that if they’d been handing marks out of 10 for performance, I’d have scraped in at 5. Which is ok – Like I’ve written, my heart wasn’t in it, and anyway, scores out of 10 in the sporting world can be judged pretty harshly, not the least because of a happening 37 years ago from this Thursday just past.

For July 18, 1976 was the day that the afore-mentioned Nadia Comăneci completely stuffed up the storied timekeeping Omega SA. The latter company were charged with providing the scoreboards at the 1976 Montreal Olympics and had asked beforehand if 3 digits would be enough. Yes, they were told, because 4 digits could only be for a perfect 10 and that is impossible.

On the uneven bars that day Nadia Comăneci did the impossible and scored a perfect 10. The Romanian did this at the age of 14, 2 years younger than I was when I got that boarding college report card. I don’t know if she enjoyed her historic routine but that’s a surely extreme achievement.

Could the Sox get that kind of extreme? Maybe. They could maybe give this next lass a try if they want to follow the Nadia Comăneci template:

Was that a knuckleball?

That was Shin Soo-ji’s ceremonial first pitch on behalf of the Doosan Bears, just a couple of weeks ago. It was extreme, judging by the stunned looks on the faces of Doosan’s regular players. It also looked like Shin might have enjoyed it, judging by the grin on her face.

John Farrell should take a look – He might be impressed by the way that she participates and the ease with which she makes friends with all. She’ll fit right in with the 2013 Red Sox.

Valentine Is Done

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