Spring Training presents an interesting dichotomy between players and everyone else. Players are focused solely on the upcoming season. Fans and media types are looking ahead, too, but only to a degree. They have programs and media guides and the internet, and each one of them can easily look back on the past when gauging the chances of their team, or the team they cover.
In the case of the Red Sox, it is almost impossible to watch a simple conditioning drill in Fort Myers without thinking back to 2011 and all that made it unique. And with each action (or inaction) on the part of some players, the inevitable “chicken and beer” comments resurface, as well as some pleas for an all-out apology from some of those involved with last year’s collapse.
And if and when those Red Sox stumble out of the gate this year, those same comments will continue to spew from fans and media members alike. The sight of a food wrapper blowing across the infield on a breezy night at Fenway Park will prompt some to wonder about its source. Did that just come from the clubhouse? Are they at it again?!? Hey, where’s Beckett?!?!
Realistically, any struggles will have everything to do with a team that just isn’t quite right, as was the case in 2011, and nothing to do with the year before. Chicken and Beer was a lightning rod, a phrase that put a nice umbrella over a horrendous situation and allowed us all to crack jokes and create clever puns, but it failed to identify all that was wrong with the team.
No, this was a club that had issues long before John Lackey dialed Popeye’s and ordered the usual (see, now I’m doing it).
Daniel Bard, arguably the most valuable chip in Terry Francona’s pocket, hit a wall. So, too, did both halves of what was once ranked as one of the more productive catching tandems in the league. Kevin Youkilis was all but done by mid-August. Clay Buchholz and two other Opening Day rotation members long before that. Left field was a mess. Right field was a mess. Very little help came at the trade deadline. Even an upstart like Matt Albers, one of the reasons the team could survive average starting pitching in the first half of the season, became almost unusable down the stretch. Collectively, the Sox were poor defensively (at least in the end) and ran the bases like farm leaguers with ants in their pants.
In addition, there was never a dominant vibe in the clubhouse, even when the team had dominant stretches. More accurately, there was never a strong sense of togetherness, at least on the surface. Teams come together through turmoil, but Boston’s came too late in the season for someone to conjure up a rallying cry.
Perhaps that can come this spring, if and when we let them look ahead.
Volatility comes to those who are unstable. In addition to the worst September anyone could imagine, the Sox had one of the best Julys in team history. All this after the team’s worst 12-game start in 15 years. And all that after a spring training dominated by talk of 100 wins (even more so than winning the World Series, it seemed) and declarations by local media outlets that this was the best Boston team in history, one going so far as to say it would trump the 1927 Yankees. Yeesh.
It was a schizophrenic scenario. What exactly went wrong is hard to say. Maybe there was some overconfidence. Maybe some indifference. Maybe some lack of concern. Injuries. Maybe a little of everything. All that the chicken and beer fiasco did was provide everyone with an easy target, an excuse to crack a few one-liners and wrap 2011 up in a nice little bow. But it was only part of the equation and simply not worth dwelling upon.
Yet here we are nearly five months later going over the players’ media sessions at JetBlue Park with a fine-toothed comb, hoping to find repentance.
The question is not whether Josh Beckett has gone to confession for eating a few drumsticks while he should’ve been doing crunches or if Jon Lester is sorry for sipping on a cold one three days before his next start. It is how they, and their cohorts, will perform in 2012. That is what they are focusing on, and it’s about time we do as well.