The arrival of the Major League Baseball season could not be more welcome in Berkshire County. The month of March has been one of the coldest on record. The news out of North Adams matched last week’s gloomy weather. We’re in desperate need of sunny days, and the arrival of baseball heralds better times to come.
Berkshire County is a province of Red Sox Nation, but it has a substantial population of hard core Yankees fans as well. In that way it is like the Crimea, but more peaceful. The Red Sox are coming off another World Series title, their third in a decade, which won’t stop Red Sox fans from worrying about curses and jinxes and fretting over every loss. Old habits die hard in the Nation.
Last year’s world title was a true gift from the baseball gods as a team coming off a last place season brought with it no expectations of success. Every trade, every free agent signing, every minor leaguer brought up to the show succeeded beyond all reason. The bullpen closer went down, the backup bullpen closer went down, and the backup to the backup, unheralded veteran Koji Uehara, emerged as the best game-saver in baseball.
That kind of good fortune doesn’t happen every year, but good fortune is the product of good preparation. Red Sox management, by plucking former outfield star Grady Sizemore off the scrap heap to replace the departed Jacoby Ellsbury, may have pulled off yet another coup based on his play in spring training.
Fans of the New York Yankees, used to celebrating titles while their Red Sox counterparts bemoan bad luck and bad teams, are not pleased by the events of the past decade and seek a turn-around. Acquiring the fleet-footed, hard-hitting Ellsbury as a free agent this off-season not only filled a hole in the lineup but told the Red Sox that the Yankees are coming directly after their ancient rivals. The Yankees have major pitching problems, however, which they hope will be eased in part by the signing of Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka. (Red Sox fans hope he is the next Daisuke Matsuzaka). And with shortstop Derek Jeter embarking on a season-long farewell tour a year after bullpen ace Mariano Rivera did the same, Yankees fans are reminded that their legendary stars are aging and moving on, and their replacements are pale shadows.
Baseball is still trying to put its performance-enhancing drug scandals behind it, and the absence of suspended Yankees star Alex Rodriguez should cheer everyone, including Yankees fans who want the game to be played right. The opening of the season and the prospect of summer days ahead make it hard not to be optimistic and hopeful, and we all need a good helping of both. Play ball!