Retooling the Red Sox

Retooling the Red Sox

The non-waiver trade deadline day was a bittersweet one for me, as a Red Sox fan.

It is time to admit that there will not be playoffs in Boston this season, but I can accept this “do poorly one year, make some smart moves, and compete every other year” concept that seems to be happening there over the past couple of seasons. There is no question that moves needed to be made this year, that the team assembled just wasn’t working out. There are significant gaps in that lineup, and some changes needed to be made.

The Red Sox ended up making the most moves on deadline day of any of the teams, getting back some good major league talent in exchange for some pretty central pieces of their championship team of a year ago.

And this is where the bittersweet feelings come in.

When the rumours surfaced that Jon Lester was on the trading block, I didn’t want it to be true. I know the way the Sox operate, that they don’t want to dole out massive contracts for aging players, but I wanted them to break their own rule for Lester. He is my favorite pitcher, and I have followed his career since he first started with the Sox and threw his improbably no-hitter right at the start of his career. I always figured that he would rack up a couple of Cy Youngs over his career, and while we still may be waiting for the awards, he has had some outstanding seasons and shown himself to be a great playoff pitcher in the Series wins in 2007 and 2013.

Oakland Athletics v Boston Red SoxFor me, Lester was the Red Sox, as much as Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz are. He was the core, and despite him coming up on 30 years old, I wanted him to remain with the organization for his whole career. Sure, there is talk that he could re-sign with the Sox in the off-season, but let’s be honest. That almost never happens, and there will be plenty of teams that will offer him the term that the Red Sox won’t, given his age. I just pray that he won’t end up on the Angels or Yankees.

If he had to be traded, I wanted him to be traded to the Pirates or the A’s, teams that I like, and that do still have playoff aspirations this year. In the case of the A’s, he now can join the best team in baseball, in hopes of leading them to a championship that has eluded them for 25 years.

It was surprising that the Red Sox managed to get back an All-Star player for Lester, given that teams are often looking for top prospects when the big names are traded. Instead, we are treated to a big player-for-player trade, that rarely happens in the MLB anymore. It made for exciting discussions, and while the loss of one of the best left-handed pitchers is crushing for the Sox and their fans, it was no secret that their outfield needed a lot of help.

I will miss Jon Lester, and while I will still cheer feverishly for the Red Sox, I know that they are done for the year. I will cheer along the A’s as they try to make their way through the postseason, hopefully making it back to the World Series.

Some thoughts on the other moves the Sox made:

  • Despite my sadness in losing Lester, I was happy for the return. Cespedes will fit nicely in the outfield, and he should be able to mash in the small confines of Fenway.
  • Surprised they traded John Lackey as well as Lester, but content that they got a couple of big leaguers back in Kelly and Craig. They are both having down seasons, but are “needed a change of scenery” candidates.
  • Glad they traded Jake Peavey. I never liked the deal that got him in the first place, and never felt like he fit with the Sox. Sure, he contributed to the World Series last year, but it was frustrating to watch him this year, because you knew he was going to give up at least one home run every time. He will do much better with the Giants, and being back in the NL.
  • Good return on Andrew Miller, getting a quality prospect.
  • I like the whole idea that they were not gutting the team and rebuilding. They are more doing a retooling, changing things on the fly.
  • They are going to have to go after some pitchers in free agency this winter. They need to try and sign Lester back, and should probably make a play for someone like Max Scherzer. They will need a top of the rotation starter at least, to give the kids coming up some breathing room and some lowered expectations.

I understand that the Red Sox needed to make some moves, and despite so many quality pieces being sent out the door, I understand what they needed, and so I would definitely qualify them as winners on this trade deadline day.

Eating Boston: Cask n’ Flagon

Eating Boston: Cask n’ Flagon

Part of the Boston experience is so uniquely intertwined with the Boston Red Sox experience. You need to try and take it all in, in one of the cities that truly is a baseball-first place. In a massive market like Boston, there are plenty of sporting options. The Patriots, Celtics, Bruins, Revolution, all take their draws from the citizens of the city.

But no draw compares to the popularity of the Red Sox.

Based on this, the Fenway area of Boston is one that must be visited when in town. A big part of this, are the sports bars that surround the legendary Fenway Park, the largest being the Cask n’ Flagon.

caskThe Cask n’ Flagon does what sports bars are supposed to do. It offers a wide selection of bar food, and a really strong list of beers to keep you entertained while the game is on the multitude of TVs placed around the bar.

First, a couple of negatives from my trip there.

  • The lines are really long on game days. Be aware of that if you plan to go when the Sox are playing at home. I was there when they were on the road, so it wasn’t an issue.
  • The TVs aren’t as big as they should have, or could have been. For a bar that thrives on sports, there should be some monster screens in there, in my opinion.
  • The staff couldn’t seem to figure out how to get the Red Sox game on. Seriously? The place was packed with people, there specifically to watch the game. And it took them nearly an inning to figure out which channel it was on, and how to get their TVs to the right place.
  • We ordered some wings. They forgot to place that order. After watching tables around us get the food they ordered, and an hour having passed, we finally asked about them. Our waiter was very apologetic, and we did get our wings. On the house. With some extra wings on there. This is excellent service, and they more than corrected their mistake.

Some of the good.

  • They fixed their mistake, and not having to pay for the wings was an added bonus.
  • The wings were actually incredibly delicious and filling.
  • Very good beer selection, especially for a sports bar. And quite reasonably priced.
  • Huge establishment, with tons of seating to help deal with their game day crowds.
  • A fairly attentive staff, definitely friendly.

The Cask n’ Flagon does not merit a special trip or anything, but if you are in the area, it is a good, sports-centric place to pop in for a beer and a snack, maybe before or after a game, or when the Sox are on the road and you want to watch the game surrounded by their fans.

At the Ballpark: Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox)

At the Ballpark: Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox)

For baseball diamonds, Fenway Park was always the ultimate destination. It was the one place I had to see games, no matter what. It was a bucket list item. Fenway is home to the Boston Red Sox, my favorite baseball team, the team I have cheered with for years, being fortunate enough to watch them through three glorious World Series runs.

And it did not disappoint.

On the streets of Boston, Fenway is nestled in there, almost unnoticeable until you are standing right in front of it. It is not a gargantuan behemoth of engineering placed far away from the city, surrounded by parking lots and a couple of bars. It is right in the heart of it all, lined by the famous Yawkey Way and Lansdowne Street, which is chock full of bars and restaurants, all geared towards the Red Sox crowd. From the outside, you see the green that has been made so famous by the ancient stadium (going on year 102 now).

And you simply can’t wait to get inside.

I took the ballpark tour, because, come on, this is Fenway. The tour was good, and the guide was an excellent source of knowledge, telling stories about the park and about the teams that had played there.

monsterFirst walking into the stands behind home plate, you have arrived. You stare out at the field, you look at the Green Monster in left field. You see Pesky’s Pole out in right, the famous scoreboard on the Monster, the current AL East standings, the signs for W.B. Mason. It is all so iconic, and it takes a moment to stand there, take it all in, take your pictures.

The tour was good, taking us to some of the most memorable and historic parts of the park. The ancient stands, the bleachers and the lonely red seat (which denotes the longest home run hit inside Fenway, by none other than Ted Williams), the press box, the outdoor patio high above left field, the Red Sox museum, and of course, the seats on top of the Green Monster, which have become the most coveted tickets in all of baseball.

The only disappointing thing about the tour was that we didn’t go to the locker rooms, or onto the field. This is understandable, as it was the day before Opening Day, but still…to stand on the shale of Fenway would have been something incredible. For $17, the tour was a good way to spend a little over an our, in the baseball cathedral that is this park.

My initial impression, walking up that ramp to see the field for the first time, was that this park is small! Fenway is intimate, and this only adds to the lustre of the place. It is not a mega-stadium that sits fifty-some-thousand. It is a small place, where fans gather to cheer for their beloved Sox. The beautiful thing about the smallness of the park, is that there is not a bad seat in the house. Wherever you are, even though it may seem like miles away from home plate, you still get a really strong view of the game. That is, of course, unless you are stuck with one of the obstructed view seats, but you would know that going into it.

 

The view from the back of the stadium.
The view from the back of the stadium. (not my photo)

The seats: I was lucky enough to be in Boston for Opening Day 2014, where the champs raised their banners and got their rings, celebrating an amazing season that culminated in an almost improbable World Series win last October. I will write a separate post on Opening Day itself, so for this one I will stick to the stadium. For Opening Day, we sat in the bleachers, section 62 (same section as the red seat), row 50 (actually the last row in the place). Tickets cost us $30 (we were lucky enough to buy them at face value before going to Boston, on StubHub before the game, those seats were going for close to $200- Opening Day!). Despite being as far from home plate as possible in right field, the seats were still great, and this speaks to how intimate the stadium is. There was a good view of the action on the field, and although you can’t call balls and strikes from that far away, it is still pretty awesome. You can soak in all the views from the bleachers, watch as balls ring off the Monster, and see the plays made in the infield with amazing clarity.

The seats, for being the bleachers, were pretty comfortable, and you are never too far from a beer stand, concession, or washroom. There is definitely a passionate fan base that sits in the bleachers, which gives the game more personality than it already has. I have never been to a sporting event where the fans are as knowledgeable as they were in Boston. They love baseball, and they LOVE baseball. It was amazing. No fair weather, just checking out a game because it sounds fun crowd here. The people of Boston live and breathe the Red Sox. I loved this.

Fenway_Park05The Monster: For the second home game of the season, of course we needed to sit on the Monster. This was a life goal, and both of us were pretty giddy to actually be able to get seats. Since we hadn’t initially planned on a second game, this one was more last minute. We paid $90 for standing room tickets on the Monster, for a night game on Saturday night. Even before getting there, we knew it would be worth it. And we were not disappointed.

There is no better place to watch a game than from the Monster seats. Standing room, while it sounds like a massive inconvenience, was actually kind of perfect. It gives you the chance to move around (which was great, considering it was bone chillingly cold that night). There are under 300 seats and standing spots on the Monster, so it is like a little community up there. There are two concessions just for the Monster people, with beers and Monster dogs (definitely better than the Fenway Franks!), and very close access to a bathroom. For those going for standing room, get there earlier than you normally might, claim your spot, and enjoy. Plus, if you are on the Monster, you really need to get there for batting practice, as the odds of snagging a home run ball are pretty good. All standing room seats are lined up against a bar, where you can lean, and rest your food and drinks. It makes the whole standing thing much more comfortable, as you don’t have to stand awkwardly in one position for hours at a time.

On the Monster, there were some of the nicest, and well-educated, fans I had been around. We made friends with all of the people in our standing section, and looked out for one another by saving spots when they would have to go to the washroom, top up a beer, or need to walk to warm up. Out little piece of the Monster was a nice one, and the great people made this one of the most fun ball games I have ever been to.

The views from on top of the most famous wall in baseball are incredible. In the crisp, cool night of April baseball, under the lights of Fenway, you see it all. You are on top of the action, and even closer to it than I would have thought. You look down at the left fielder, you see the pitches clearly (which makes yelling at the umps easier), and you are literally on top of the action.

If you are planning on going to Fenway as a vacation, see a game from the Monster. Despite the steeper prices, you will not regret it. Apparently standing room tickets are normally about $60, which is well worth it. Plus, as it was freezing cold, and the game ended up going in to extra innings, we ended up with Monster seats for about half the game, as some who were not as prepared for the temperatures ended up leaving early. Since it was so frosty, we still ended up standing, but we had moved closer to the famed edge of the Monster, and it was glorious. Plus, it gave us the chance to sit if our legs were feeling tired.

Prices:¬†It is not cheap to go to Fenway. But I’m sure there isn’t anybody out there who are hoping for a cheap night out by going there. Beers cost nearly $9 for a can, a Fenway Frank is $5 (they are not large), and a Monster Dog is $9 (but good!). The service is fast and friendly.

champsAtmosphere: Simply put, there is no better place to watch baseball than at Fenway Park. Period.

The combination of the team, the city, the fans, the knowledge, the history, and the ballpark all make Fenway THE place to see a game.

The surrounding area: Is there more famous streets that surround a ballpark? Yawkey Way is the place to be on game day. The bars are lined up around the block, and the street is jammed full of people, elbow-to-elbow. There is a buzz there that is unprecedented in my experience. I can’t even imagine it during the playoffs. There are plenty of options for food and drink before and after the game. Either get there early (most places were open at 8:30 AM for Opening Day), or be prepared to wait in line for a decent amount of time. It is cool, because everybody is there for the same reason: because they love baseball, and they love the Red Sox.

Final Comments: Having the opportunity to fly across the country to watch baseball is one that I am grateful for. Seeing a game at Fenway really was a dream come true, and getting to see two was just adding to the perfection. Leaving the park after the end of the 11th inning on Saturday night, I simply thought to myself that I can’t wait to go back.

Dream Come True: Opening Day at Fenway

Dream Come True: Opening Day at Fenway

I love the Boston Red Sox.

Ever since I became a fan of baseball, they arbitrarily became my favorite team. I love the idea of the long-suffering fan base, I loved that they were rivals of the New York Yankees, and I loved the idea of the Curse of the Bambino, which had been going on for about 80 years when I started following them.

The reason they became my team was simple, as my sister was on a trip to Boston, and I asked her to buy me a Sox hat. It started there, and has lasted ever since.

This will be my view from the bleacher seats.
This will be my view from the bleacher seats.

After being lucky enough to watch them win three World Series titles during the tenure of my fandom, I feel grateful that I chose them as my team, even if it was a random selection.

After completely falling in love with the game, I will finally be able to fulfill one of my bucket list wishes: I will get to go to a game at Fenway Park. And not just any game, but I will be able to go to Opening Day, to start a season after they won the championship. I have long dreamed of going to Fenway, and have been to Boston before during the season, but that was during the 2005 playoffs, when they were facing the White Sox, the year after they won their first, curse-breaking Series in 2004. There was no way I would have been able to afford tickets to that game. So I watched, along with the rest of the city, in bars. The Red Sox lost that series, but the city was still abuzz with the team, still basking in the afterglow of their series win the year before. I had decided that when I returned to Boston, I would see a game, if not several games.

I may not have the chance to see more than one, but I will be there for the most important, and celebrated, games of the year, outside of the playoffs.

A friend won tickets to opening day, and when she was not able to go due to her small children, I bought them from her. Quickly, I booked a flight to Boston, as they were more reasonably prices than I would have expected, and so it goes. I will get to sit in Fenway, watch the team I love, and party with the other faithful of one of the most popular teams in baseball.

To say the least, I am truly excited. April 4th can’t come quickly enough!

At the Ballpark: Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs)

At the Ballpark: Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs)

The friendly confines.

Wrigley Field is, without a doubt, one of the most legendary stadiums in baseball, and in all of sports. It was with this ballpark in mind that I drove thousands of kilometers to see a game.

Wrigley_field_720And it did not disappoint.

Wrigley Field is nestled in the beautiful and charming Wrigleyville area of Chicago, where shops and restaurants line the street, and hey, look, there is a baseball stadium on the street corner there. Walking into the park, and through the tunnel, you can’t help but feel awe when you first see the green grass of the diamond.

During my trip there, (it was in May), the famous outfield ivy was not fully grown, and clung to the outfield walls like brown death, but it was still cool to see in person. The stadium has earned its nickname, as the place really does feel cozy and friendly. The views from the seats are incredible, and even though I was in Row 30 or so, it felt like we were still on field level, getting a fantastic view of the game. It was incredible. The ¬†slope of the seats is quite gradual, so even if you are sitting further back on the first level, you don’t feel like you are a mile over the players. It all feels pretty equal, and this helps with that “friendly confine” feeling.

wrigley2And the day I was there, it was a perfect day for baseball. The Cubs eventually lost the game to the Florida Marlins, thanks to a blown save by Carlos Marmol and an implosion in extra innings, but it was truly a magnificent experience.

The people there, while not the most outgoing of fans that I have ever come across, love their Cubs, and die a little with each of the many, many losses they have garnered over the past one-hundred-and-some-odd years. Who knows what would happen should the Cubs actually win a World Series one of these days. Chicago wouldn’t stop partying until the next season began, I’m sure.

The park is easy to find, and the public transportation to get there is great. You can essentially get dropped off right across the street from the stadium. It is far more convenient than the more distant US Cellular Field, where the cross-town White Sox play. There are tons of great places for a snack, meal, or beer before or after the game, and the whole area around the park is bustling before game times.

Since Wrigley is so old, having opened around the beginning of the First World War in 1914, there are many ancient things in there that come across as charming, since this field has been through so much history, to the point where it has become history. The washrooms are small and cramped, with long lines, and nothing more than a long trough to pee in (nothing like really getting to know your neighbors and the person across from you, I guess!). There is no electronic scoreboard, which is fantastic, since I have found these multi-million dollar HD scoreboards to often be a distraction from the game. Wrigley doesn’t need the flashiness. You are there to see baseball, and you can really maintain your focus during the game. The whole idea of the rooftop seats is one of the coolest things you might see in any major league stadium. Across the street, you can buy a ticket, sit on a roof and watch the game take place. Sure, they wouldn’t be the greatest view in the world, but it has that hip factor to it in the same way that the Monster Seats in Fenway do. For those in the stadium, seeing the buildings across the street peering over the outfield grandstands is one of the great, and classic, views in all of baseball. So many stadiums have now developed these outstanding scenic cityscapes in the outfield, but one cannot argue with the fact that Wrigley was one of the first to have it done. It is great to look at, and to see the sun set over the legendary park.

wrigleyFor me, Wrigley was all about the personality. This stadium has it. It is not a common, modern stadium where everything is amazing and shiny and new. There are not high end restaurants and massive team shops all over the place. Wrigley is a baseball stadium, in the truest sense of the word. There are hot dogs and beers, and small places to buy Cubs gear, but in the end, you come to Wrigley to cheer for the Cubs, and little more. It is a park that has that magical quality to it that you see in movies about baseball. It is a place where legends have played for 100 years.

And it was well worth the drive to get there.