BOSTON, MA - MAY 10: Bobby Valentine #25 of the Boston Red Sox removes Josh Beckett #19 in the third inning after Beckett had given up seven runs in three innings against the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park May 10, 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
At one time, the Boston Red Sox were chock-full of inspiration and enchantment. Alas, those days are long gone, and the Red Sox of 2012 are a shell of their former selves. Jen Royle shares her thoughts.
Inspiration: An inspiring or animating action or influence. A result of inspired activity. A thing or person that inspires.
Visualize this moment. I'm driving East on the Massachusetts Turnpike and passing an illuminated Fenway Park on my right as the Red Sox are hosting the Miami Marlins. Simultaneously, I'm listening to Joe Castiglione call the game on WEEI radio, a voice I loved as a child, a man I know and respect as an adult. In a cardboard box resting in my back seat, I have four autographed baseballs: Nomar Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez and Carl Yastrzemski. Each ball is in perfect condition, sits in a clear plastic square case, and is professionally labeled.
My father, Frank Royle, was always so organized. I remember the day I sat and helped him label all 50 or so baseballs just weeks before he passed away of cancer in 2006. He was very sick at the time, but determined to properly label each ball so my mother would know who the players were in case she would one day decide to remove them from his man cave.
With precious cargo in tow, the greatest and most historical ballpark lighting up the highway in full view, and one of the most unique and legendary voices of baseball gracing my ears... surprisingly enough, I felt nothing. I did, however, think of the men on the baseballs.
Maybe I still have a slight taste of disgust in my mouth from last September's embarrassing collapse, but looking at the big picture, I'm just not inspired by this 2012 Boston Red Sox team. Not at all.
The four balls: Even though Nomar didn't leave the way we had all hoped, the Red Sox haven't had a dependable shortstop since he left Boston. Despite Manny being an unprofessional disaster that took bathroom breaks in the Green Monster during games and nearly gave Terry Francona a stress stroke, he still provided fans with irreplaceable entertainment and a multitude of game-winning performances including home runs that still haven't landed. Not to mention, Ramirez joined an elite group of sluggers when he launched his 500th home run in a Red Sox uniform at Camden Yards on June 1, 2008.
And then there was Pedro.
In my opinion, Pedro could never be cloned or replaced in Red Sox history. There was something so special about Pedro Martinez. His personality, laugh and smile were contagious. His work ethic and love for Boston was admirable. He was dependable, reliable and respected by nearly everyone who crossed his path. He wasn't just a great pitcher, he was a good man who brought laughter, tears and most importantly, he brought life to Fenway Park.
The atmosphere was electric each and every time Pedro took the mound. He struck out five of the six batters he faced in the 1999 All Star Game at Fenway Park, battled Roger Clemens at Yankee Stadium in 2000 - both took a shutout into the 9th inning and thanks to Trot Nixon's two-run HR, Pedro came out victorious. He threw a one-hitter and struck out 17 Yankees on September 10, 1999 to improve to 21-4 record which later earned him his first Cy Young Award. Right or wrong, he threw down a 72-year-old Don Zimmer during Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS, the year Aaron Boone broke every heart in Boston with his walk-off homerun off Wakefield to send the Sox packing and the Yankees to the World Series. And perhaps his most memorable accomplishment was introducing Red Sox Nation to the loveable Nelson De LaRosa, Pedro's "little" friend that helped break the 86-year curse.
Memories. Milestones. Inspiration. Where has it all gone?
We don't have Johnny Damon doing naked pull-ups in the clubhouse five minutes before first pitch. We don't have Kevin Millar creating "Cowboy Up" slogans to inspire fans. We don't have anyone tying Pedro to the poles in the dugout. We don't have any major milestones to count down to, although David Ortiz just hit homerun No. 400. Heck, we don't even have a manager to scream at for carting Tim Wakefield out too many times so he can earn his 200th win.
This is what we have now, and it isn't as much about injuries as it is about attitudes and off-field antics. We have an organization more interested in making money off the 100th Anniversary of Fenway Park than winning. A manager, to his credit, who's done a fine job managing the game of baseball but has failed miserably at managing people, one of the most important qualities you must possess as manager of the Boston Red Sox. We have a $142 million bust of a left fielder in Carl Crawford who simply forgot how to play baseball in 2011 then blamed it on the change of weather. After the biggest collapse in Red Sox history last September, three of the most dynamic pitchers of our era disgraced the city and the organization with "beer and chicken-gate." Then the leader of the three-ring circus, Josh Beckett -- one of the most disrespectful and worst professional athletes I've ever had the displeasure of speaking with -- who shoots 18 holes on his day off despite being scratched from his next start due to injury. Jon Lester, who will always hold a special place in our hearts for beating cancer and, to his credit as well, was the only culprit to admit he drank during games, recently showed his selfish side by pulling a hissy fit in the dugout when Scott Atchinson cost him a "W" on June 6.
Then, to top if all off, clubhouse leader and team spokesman David Ortiz, comes out and tells the world it's just not fun to play in Boston anymore. And most recently, the highest paid designated hitter of all time, calls his negotiations with the Red Sox "humiliating and embarrassing" because he didn't get a second year, as if teams were lined up to hand him $14 million if he chose not to accept arbitration.
Give me a break. Are these guys for real?
Unfortunately, the Red Sox can't employ twenty five Dustin Pedroias. I get it. But if Ted Williams wasn't frozen, he'd be rolling over in his grave if he saw how immature and entitled some of these guys have been acting. What happened to players like Mike Lowell who chose to take less money to stay in Boston, the most beloved baseball city in America? Where are the Kevin Garnett's of Boston baseball?
"I was lucky enough to have the talent to play baseball. That's how I treated my career. I didn't think I was anybody special, anybody different," Yaz once said in 1975. "And if I have my choice between a pennant and a triple crown, I'll take the pennant every time."
If Ortiz truly feels it's not fun to play here, the media is too nosey, or that the front office disrespected him before handing him $14.75 million, then my message to David is this: "Leave. Finish your contract and go play for the Orioles. Dan Duquette said he was willing to offer you two years in the winter. Maybe he'll follow through this year."
I cannot say Nomar, Manny, Pedro or Yaz were perfect men or athletes, but when I looked at my father's baseball collection there was a reason why I grabbed the four I did. They brought me back to a time when watching the Red Sox was fun and exciting and Red Sox Nation knew all 25 guys had the same goal: to win.
There's a reason why Frank Royle, one of the biggest baseball fans I know, didn't have a Josh Beckett baseball on that shelf.
I was 13 but I vividly remember my father screaming at the television after the Red Sox lost the 1986 World Series to the Mets then turning to me and saying, "Jen, you'll understand when you get older."
For a while, I did understand. I don't anymore.