Despite missed opportunities, Red Sox begin season on a high note

This has to be one of the more, umm, interesting Opening Days that I can recall.

I understand why the team wanted to begin the season in Japan.  I really do.  It’s not ideal for the players or the coaching staff, and it’s not really ideal for all of us Boston locals, but as a worldwide thing, it’s great P.R.  It’s an event for the Japanese fans.  And if someone had actually given me some credentials and free travel with the team, I bet I’d be the trip’s biggest fan.  But I didn’t get to go to Japan, and I didn’t get to take the day off from work, so as far as I’m concerned I get to complain for a little while about it.  I should be over it by the time they return to the States.

I was truly shocked to discover that the weekend’s exhibition games against the Japanese teams wouldn’t be broadcast over here.  To me, those matchups were even more interesting than the official games.  I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that I haven’t seen much of Japanese baseball.  I would have loved the opportunity to watch a couple of their best teams facing off against my team, to see how the different leagues stacked up and to see some players I’ve never seen before.  At the least, it sounds like it would have been more interesting than your normal spring training exhibition game.  A major missed opportunity.

I’ve been reminded about 5000 times that this is the earliest an MLB season has ever begun.  But no one has really explained to me why it was necessary to start this early.  Given the time change from Japan to here, there was no way that these games were going to start at any hour that would have seemed reasonable to me.  But if the games had to be played at 6am our time, I cannot for the life of me understand why it couldn’t have been 6am this Saturday instead of 6am on a Tuesday.  Would that have been so unreasonable?  As it was, it seemed more the kind of thing the NFL would do.  I’m not a huge football fan, and let me give you one example that personifies why that’s the case: let’s say you’re a huge fan of your local team.  You watch all of the games on TV, go to as many as you can, and your team plays well and makes it all the way into the playoffs.  Does it get any more exciting than that?  And let’s say your team storms through the playoffs and makes it to the Superbowl.  Fantastic, right?  Except that, as a reward for supporting your team and your team making it to the Superbowl, your big reward from NFL is that… the Superbowl won’t be played anywhere near your home town, and you have zero chance of being able to attend.  It’s just not fair to the fans.  See where I’m going with this?  You’re a big fan of the Red Sox… you follow the team all through 2007, watch them make it to the World Series and win, and then the big reward is… an abbreviated spring training, greatly reducing the number of preseason opportunities fans have to see a game in Florida and meet their favorite players, followed by a regular season opener that most people won’t be able to see.  "Thanks so much for being a fan, we appreciate you so much we’re going to schedule the first game at a time and place where you definitely can’t go and probably won’t even be able to watch."

I did my best to get that all out of my system in advance of the game this morning.  Last night I stopped at 7-11 on my way home and picked up some Vitamin Water "Energy" flavor (the yellow one that has caffeine in it) and some Tropicana orange juice.  I already had some bagels and cold cuts at home; I’m not much of a breakfast person, but today seemed like a good time to make an exception.  I knew I had a meeting first thing at work and that I’d have to leave my house no later than 8:10am, but planned on getting up between 5 and 6am to catch the first couple hours of the game.  I was excited, I was prepared, I was ready to go.

The alarm went off this morning around 5:30, about half an hour after the TV turned itself on.  I stayed in bed, floating in and out of consciousness, until finally waking up during the national anthem.  Baseball, here we come!  Dustin Pedroia started off things right with a single, although he wasn’t able to score in that first inning.  Dice-K comes on and promptly gives up a couple runs.  Uh-oh.  It’s not even 6:30 and things are falling apart.  He steadies himself, though, and it stays at 2-0 As pretty much until right as I have to leave.  It gets a little exciting them when Manny doubles in a couple runs, and Brandon Moss doubles in Manny.  3-2 and now I can leave for work.

I get to work and I discover I have about half an hour before my meeting begins to turn on the TV and keep watching.  It’s 4-3 As in the 8th inning by the time I get in front of the screen here, and I see Bryan Corey finish the end of the 8th.  (Bryan Corey, you might remember, is the guy who should have gotten Eric Gagne’s spot on the postseason roster last year.  I really hope he wins that last bullpen spot… between his September call-up last season and spring training this year, he’s been pretty good and I think has earned a chance to play on the big team.)  Huston Street, the As closer, comes on in the 9th and when Mike Lowell flies out, I figure the game is all but done.  I start telling myself that we lost the first game last season but won the World Series, and that it’s not worth getting too upset over.  Then, quite suddenly, Brandon Moss (filling in for J.D. Drew) hits a home run to tie the game.  Now it’s getting interesting.  Hideki Okajima comes on for the bottom of the 9th, pitches a scoreless inning, and it brings us to extra innings.

Meeting time.  Groan.  I popped a tape in the VCR here and went to my meeting, hoping to catch the rest of the game when I got out.  I sit through the 45-minute-long meeting twittering and twitching, checking my watch repeatedly, waiting to get out, wondering why the universe hates me so much as to do this to me… and then finally the meeting is over.  Just in time for someone to walk by and announce that the Sox won.  I like how no matter how many times you can tell people, "I’m taping the game, I’m going to watch it right after, please don’t say anything about it around me," there’s always that someone who thinks you were kidding or don’t mind being told the outcome if it’s a positive outcome.  After some silent muttering, I grab the tape from the VCR and pop it in; so what if they won, I still want to see it.

Back to the game.  Manny being Manny, drives in a couple runs, we’re on top 6-4 and everything’s right with the world again.  Jonathan Papelbon comes on to close it out, gives up a run but gets the save, and the Sox are officially in first place.  All is right with the world, even if it took a little bit of time and effort to get to that point.

But I can’t help but wonder if all of this was really worth it.  A lot of fans of all sorts had no choice but to miss the game.  Turns out that a lot of the people who would have been able to see it couldn’t because someone screwed up the cable and satellite feeds and Comcast and DirecTV subscribers weren’t able to access ESPN2 and/or NESN and found themselves on hold with customer service.  To add insult to injury, most fans who purchased the MLB.TV package to watch games online were told that the game was "blacked-out".  And those that did get to actually watch the game were treated to something that wasn’t quite major league ready.  This was spring training quality baseball being put out there as the real deal, and despite the pomp and circumstance, it never quite felt as real as it should have.  I hope tomorrow works out better.

…oh, and I’ve just gotten an email from the MLB online store.  Turns out my order for a new jersey that I placed last week when they were running their 20% off sale was canceled.  Said it was out of stock.  It wasn’t out of stock when I ordered, and it still shows up as being in stock on their site now.  I could re-order, but my 20% off isn’t valid anymore.  Major bummer.  I gotta say, this isn’t exactly a great start to the year.  But they won, and that’s probably all I’ll remember in a week or two.

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