Thursday, April 01, 2004

Every Journey Starts with the First Step

It's a cold, rainy April afternoon in the Nation's Capital - bleak, dismal, and dreary. And I'm as excited as a little girl at a Britney Spears concert because baseball season begins in 3 days. (Well, technically the season's already begun, but I'm ignoring Bud Lite's little Japanese vacation because baseball's Opening Day simply doesn't happen in the Pacific Rim.) The Sox play the Orioles in Baltimore on Sunday night in front of a national television audience. Pedro Martinez takes the hill against the once and future Oriole Sidney Ponson, and all of the hue and cry of one of the most remarkable Hot Stove League seasons in memory fades away, replaced by ballgames and night and box scores in the morning.

Last spring I was guardedly optimistic about the Sox, but didn't really know how high to set my expectations - and was rewarded by a rollicking season that kept me entertained, apprehensive, and exhilarated until the bitter (and I do mean bitter) end. The 2004 Red Sox enter the season with extremely lofty aspirations, boasting a re-tooled pitching staff with, arguably, the best front 3 starters in the American League, a rock-solid middle relief corps, and a stud closer. The offense is one year removed from one of the all-time great seasons, and while almost certain not to reach 2003's ridiculous peak, is still among the league's most potent and most balanced. On paper, the Sox and the Yankees are clearly - clearly - the two best teams in the AL. Which, to be honest, leaves me with a vaguely knotty feeling in my stomach.

I played a ton of golf before my daughter was born, at my best routinely scoring in the mid-80s. Not a great player, but good enough to expect reasonably good things every time I teed off. As a result (in combination with my limited ability to control my temper), when things went wrong, as they always do in a round of golf, I'd get frustrated, then pissed, then volcanic, nearly every time I played. I was cursed by my own expectations. Now, I might play 5 rounds a year, and never, ever go to the driving range to practice. When I do play, though, golf's a lot more fun, because every great shot is a revelation, and I can shrug off every miserable shank as a function of my lack of practice. I don't care about my score, and I enjoy myself a lot more. And the dirty little secret is that my average score hasn't got much worse because I'm a lot more relaxed on every swing.

In a nutshell, then, I worry that the Sox 2004 season winds up more like my pre-child golf game than my current game. Lots of promise, but lots of tension followed by gnashing of teeth and underperforming. Maybe they should go knock up some groupies.

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