Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tim Wakefield Day at Fenway

Yesterday was Tim Wakefield Day at Fenway Park. And like all ceremonies at Fenway these days, I get mixed feelings. Sentimentality swells in me. Then I remember that I'm witnessing a show, made to pull on my heartstrings and convince me to spend money on a product that I don't really enjoy watching anymore.

One nice moment was when Doug Mirabelli was introduced. He was chauffeured into Fenway Park in a Boston Police cruiser, an allusion back to 2006, when Mirabelli was escorted by Massachusetts State Police from Logan Airport to Fenway Park in order to reach Fenway in time to catch for Wakefield in a game against the Yankees.

I wonder if the State Police are a little upset that the BPD got recognized in this ceremony. Then again, a Statie parking in centerfield at Fenway Park would probably lead to all sorts of jurisdictional tugs-of-war. "I'm in charge of this ceremony!" "Not anymore you're not." Et cetera.

Anyway, throughout the game, pre-recorded messages of former Sox players were displayed on the jumbotron between innings. Pedro, Nomar, and others talked about how important Tim Wakefield was as a player and a teammate.

It was a nice touch. It wasn't just a token pre-game ceremony, it continued on throughout the game.

I liked Wakefield. I miss Wakefield. Not so much for his pitching, more for his character. He did whatever the Sox needed him to do. He started, he closed, he was a setup-guy. Right now the Sox lack character guys like Wakefield. There are a number of Anti-Wakefields currently pitching for the Sox. One is from Texas and is named Josh.

It was nice to see Wakefield honored yesterday, even if it was an orchestration of the Red Sox propaganda machine.

The Sellout Streak Ended Yesterday

According to the Red Sox, 37,292 fans attended yesterday's 5-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners. It just isn't true. There were noticeable empty patches of seats in the bleachers, grandstands, and boxes. And these patches remained empty all game long, so they weren't seats owned by people going to get a beer or take a leak. These seats went unoccupied for the duration of the game.

Even the parking lots around Fenway failed to fill up. Which is surreal actually.

And there's no shame in it. It was a work day, a school day, a rainy day, and an uninteresting opponent was in town. There's no disgrace in announcing an accurate 32,500 fans in attendance. There is, however, shame in lying.

The Sox want to continue their sellout streak. Their definition of a sellout is that all tickets have been distributed. In other words, the ticket for every seat has been sent/sold/allocated/given-to-charity/given-to-friends-and-family. If the Sox sell a few hundred tickets to StubHub or AceTicket and those companies can't sell them, the Sox technically did sell them. So they call it a sellout.


And of course, actual ticketholders are occasionally prevented from attending. Family emergencies, unexpected projects at work, MBTA mishaps, the recently divorced neighbor finally inviting you, with a wink, to The 99 for drinks and popcorn.

But the spirit of the streak is that the ballpark is filled to capacity (or near it). And it wasn't yesterday. Not even close.

And the Sox don't even distribute all their tickets, at least not according to this Globe exposé. They have plenty of tickets, in their possession, undistributed, and going to waste. How is that selling out?

Tuesday marked the 9th anniversary of the sellout streak's beginning: May 15th, 2003.

I remember almost a month before that, I went to a game that the Sox failed to sell out. I was in Row 50 of the bleachers on a blustery mid-April night. The temperature was 41 degrees at the first pitch, and it steadily decreased from there thanks to a harsh wind blowing off the ocean. Jeff Tam couldn't throw strikes in the 7th (the fans around us started a variety of Tam-pon based chants), and the Sox beat the Blue Jays 7-3.

31,440 fans were there. Not a sellout. But everyone there was a fan. Or a psycho. Or a problem drinker. An entertaining collection of people.

It's funny. As the attendance in Fenway has increased, the number of true fans in attendance has decreased. The other night, I actually heard a girl ask her friend, with bewilderment, "you mean you actually stay the whole game?" It was as if her friend had said she stays in movie theaters until all the credits are done.

Fenway Park has become a trendy bar, with a high cover charge, and mediocre entertainment. It's the place to be, the place to meet, the place to be seen.

Yesterday, about 33,000 real fans showed up to honor Tim Wakefield, and see the Sox play. I know the Red Sox Front Office wants to beat the Portland Trail Blazers' sellout streak of 814 games. But how empty is the achievement if it's based on technicalities and semantics?

And I'll take the 31,440 real fans who saw the Sox beat the Jays in 2003. They're better than the 37,292 fake fans that go to Fenway now. And by fake fans, I mean people who aren't actually in attendance (fake numbers generated by the Front Office), and the fake fans who are actually in attendance, but aren't paying attention to the game.

There's very little reality in Fenway Park these days.

Welker Signs Franchise Tender

Patriots receiver Wes Welker unofficially officially announced via Twitter yesterday that he would be agreeing to the $9.5 million franchise tender offered by the Pats. Welker's tweet read:

"I signed my tender today. I love the game and I love my teammates! Hopefully doing the right thing gets the right results. #leapoffaith."

Welker is a loyal foot soldier (forgive the joke), almost to a fault. I think he knows that the Patriots don't bend much on contract issues, and they never break. I also think he realizes that sitting out a season, or even part of a season, would be unbearable for him to endure.

The Patriots always had the leverage in this situation. The Pats need Welker, but they also realized that Welker needs to play. If the Pats were a no-limit Texas hold-'em player, they'd have 10 WSOP bracelets and 3 Main Event titles. Because they apply the pressure. They're willing to take the risk of losing big-name players. They'll go all-in and put you to a decision for all your chips.

So maybe Wes Welker folded. Maybe he called. Maybe he realized he wants to play football (and get $9.5 million to do it) instead of poker.

In any case, the Patriots are wide-receiver wealthy. Welker will have other WRs who will spread the field and allow him to get open underneath and get YAC. I am very eager for football season to start.

117 days until Week 1.

Beckett Gives Himself a Birthday Present

Since Josh Beckett was booed off the field last Thursday, the Sox rotation had made 4 very good starts in a row. If Beckett didn't make it 5 against a weak Seattle lineup, on his birthday, and in front of Tim Wakefield, then I think people would have spat on him as he left the field. In other words, there was no excuse to not pitch well today. He certainly hadn't been strained in his previous start. Hell, he'd only thrown 2.1 innings in May.

He did his job yesterday. He struck out 9 Mariners in 7 innings, making quick work of a lineup that has 0 players hitting over .300, and 2 hitting below .200. Only Ichiro gave Beckett a problem with a pair of singles and a pair of stolen bases. Beckett only threw 93 pitches in his 7 innings, and easily could have gone deeper into the game.

That was unnecessary. The bullpen was fresh thanks to Lester's CG on Monday. And the Sox had a 4-0 lead. With the way Beckett was pitching, and the way Seattle was missing, a 4-0 score looked like a 14-0 score. Ortiz hit his 8th homer of the season. Aviles had an RBI double. Middlebrooks had an RBI single. Aviles added another RBI double in the 8th to erase any doubt.

The Sox ended their homestand on a positive note, with 5 straight wins. They're still very streaky. They were streaky last year, too. Streaky is the mark of inconsistent starting pitching. Good SPs prevent losing streaks. Streaky teams might win 5 straight (the Sox have done that twice), but they'll also lose 5 straight (the Sox have done that twice, as well).

Even after winning 5 straight, the Sox are still 2 games under .500.

So they've made steps. They have more steps to go. Beckett and the Sox are very similar. Inconsistent and unpredictable. We've seen brilliance from Beckett before. That's never been his problem. His problem has always been consistency.

The Sox go down to Florida for a two game series against the Rays. This will be a good test for them. Tonight Buchholz faces 3-0 Jeremy Hellickson. Unlike Buchholz, Hellickson has actually earned his wins.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo