Dancing in the Dark

865481.jpg

Dancing in the Dark

On Thursday afternoon, I left Boston for a bachelor party down in Hilton Head. Although, the destination isnt nearly as important as the fact that, upon arrival, I quickly realized that cell phone service on the island was shakier than Daniel Bard. Actually, scratch that. The service was more like John Lackey completely useless but still infuriatingly present. The kind of thing where every once in a while youll see a random bar or two pop up on the phone, but by the time you open your email, the connections long gone.

Anyway, for obvious reasons, I freaked out. No cell service meant no calls, no texts, no Twitter, no e-mail, no Words or Scramble With Friends. No letting co-workers borrow my phone to coordinate secret meetings with my boss. It meant an instant, unexpected and involuntary removal from society, and in turn, an anxiety attack . . .

. . . which of course subsided after a few hours.

It always does. At least for me. Ill find myself in a place where my phone doesnt work and after a brief panic, Ill embrace it. Ill feel liberated and start saying annoying things like: Aaahhh, no phone. This is FREEDOM! So, by Thursday night, Id made peace with my weekend off the grid. Granted, it helped that Boston was about to embark on one of its most quiet sports weekends of the year. No Bs. No Cs. A Pats preseason game and a series between two of the worst teams in the American League. It was actually the perfect time to escape; to re-charge my brain for the start of football season.

Ha!

The next day, everything changed.

The Red Sox pulled off one of the largest, most historic and franchise-altering trades in their 112 years of existence. The Internet caught fire. Twitter exploded. I assume sports talk and Sports Tonight ratings went through the roof. All things considered, it probably turned into one of the most inspired and memorable weekends in recent Boston sports history.

Meanwhile, I was in South Carolina pacing around like Chris Farley in Black Sheep, killing myself to find a signal that didn't exist. Eventually, I had to give up, and accept the fact that I wasn't going to get a handle on everything that happened until returning on Sunday night. It hurt, but there was nothing I could do, and by Saturday, I had once again settled into my non-existence and committed myself to enjoying what was left of my time off the grid.

So here I am on Monday morning. Back in reality, with my cell phone glued to my hand and the new look Red Sox staring me in the face. To be honest, I'm still catching up. Still wading through stories, tweets, quotes and analysis from all the parties involved and coming to grips with the reality of this most unrealistic development. But the show must go on.

For our first order of business, lets give a quick paragraph to the four most recent ex-Red Sox:

Josh Beckett: I was looking at Becketts Baseball Reference page this morning and noticed that hes only finished in the Top 10 in Cy Young voting twice in his career. The two years: 2007 and 2011. Pretty fitting, right? The season that left us forever indebted to his greatness and the season that will leave us forever loathing his arrogance. Thank God the Sox traded for him in 2005, and thank God they shipped his ass out of town on Saturday.

Adrian Gonzalez: In May of 2011, Gonzalez delivered one of the most dominant and enjoyable hitting displays that Ive ever seen in a Red Sox uniform. Not since the best days of Manny or a young Nomar Garciaparra had a guy been so locked in in so many ways. At the time, I (and the rest of New England) couldn't have been more excited about what the next seven years would bring. But at this point, here's a statistic that's more telling than anything the All-Star first baseman did last spring: Adrian Gonzalez, a former No. 1 overall pick with more talent than all but a few players in the world, has now been traded four times in his career. There's something off about that, in the same way that there's just something off about Gonzalez.

Carl Crawford: On August 19, Crawford came to the plate in the ninth inning of an eventual 4-1 loss to the Yankees, and at that moment we all knew that it would be a while before we saw him again. However, we never imagined that instead, his lead-off single would mark the last at-bat of the most disappointing stint in Red Sox history. But despite the enormous let down of watching one of the game's most exciting and impactful players repeatedly fall on his face, it's almost impossible to hold the same contempt for Crawford that we have for Beckett and, to a lesser extent, Gonzalez. To steal a quote from the Belichick Files: "It just didn't work out." And now that the Sox are essentially free from the burden of Crawford's ridiculous contract, there's not much else to do but shrug our shoulders and move on.

Nick Punto: You know that scene in Waynes World when Wayne and Garth are standing in front of the blue screen? If not, here you go. Also, in the scope of this trade, Nick Punto is Delaware.

So, that's what's gone, But what's left here in Boston? Well, first of all, a new-found respect for Ben Cherington. We wanted bold. We wanted decisive. We wanted to unleash a bombshell that would shake that clubhouse to its core. Well, BC did that and then some. In the process, he took an enormous step towards resuscitating a nearly-unconscious fan base and giving us all reason to believe that the darkest days of this stretch of Red Sox baseball are firmly in the rear view.

But it's only one step. Despite all the skill, determination and creativity that it took to even get this far, there's no question that Cherington's most difficult task still lies ahead. After all, it's one thing to dismantle a franchise, it's another thing to build it back up. Especially, when we're still not exactly sure what's going on behind the scenes.

Will Lucchino still have a heavy hand in player personnel or is he finally ready to let Ben loose? How much will ownership want to spend? Will the departure of Beckett and Gonzalez actually right the ship in that topsy-turvy clubhouse? Who's the manager? Does this move set the wheels in motion on Fenway Sports Group finally answering our prayers and selling the team?

Those are five questions, but we could go on. And there's no doubt that we will over the course of this last month of the season. It's going to be a crazy, confusing and cathartic experience for everyone involved.

In many ways, it will be a lot like my cell phone and Internetless experience down in South Carolina.

From now until the start of this offseason (and even beyond that), the wheels will be turning behind the scenes at Yawkey Way. Conversations will be had, plans will be made, the future of this franchise will be taking shape in real time. But we won't have a clue what's really going on. We'll be stuck in the dark. In the meantime, we'll scramble around like Farley in Black Sheep trying to pick up a signal, any ounce of information that can help clarify the situation and provide some insight into where this thing is headed.

It will be stressful. It will be frustrating.

And most likely futile.

But at the same time, it will be liberating. Thanks to this trade, in many ways, we're now free. Free from the non-stop insanity and drama that surrounded Beckett. Free from the limitations that came with the more than 200M that was tied into Gonzalez and Crawford. Free from the fear that the Sox were not only stuck in this debilitating rat race, but that there was no end in sight.

Sure, it's only a matter of time before the insanity starts again. Once the World Series ends and the offseason begins, we'll all be thrown right back into the madness. But for the next month, despite being in the dark, we can at least find some peace and perspective in our time off the grid, in the aftermath of what might be the first step in finally restoring order at Fenway.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Ortiz: 'A super honor' to have number retired by Red Sox

Ortiz: 'A super honor' to have number retired by Red Sox

BOSTON —  The Red Sox have become well known for their ceremonies, for their pull-out-all-the-stops approach to pomp. The retirement of David Ortiz’s No. 34 on Friday evening was in one way, then, typical.

A red banner covered up Ortiz’s No. 34 in right field, on the facade of the grandstand, until it was dropped down as Ortiz, his family, Red Sox ownership and others who have been immortalized in Fenway lore looked on. Carl Yazstremski and Jim Rice, Wade Boggs and Pedro Martinez. 

The half-hour long tribute further guaranteed permanence to a baseball icon whose permanence in the city and the sport was never in doubt. But the moments that made Friday actually feel special, rather than expected, were stripped down and quick. 

Dustin Pedroia’s not one to belabor many points, never been the most effusive guy around. (He’d probably do well on a newspaper deadline.) The second baseman spoke right before Ortiz took to the podium behind the mound.

“We want to thank you for not the clutch hits, the 500 home runs, we want to thank you for how you made us feel and it’s love,” Pedroia said, with No. 34 painted into both on-deck circles and cut into the grass in center field. “And you’re not our teammate, you’re not our friend, you’re our family. … Thank you, we love you.”

Those words were enough for Ortiz to have tears in his eyes.

“Little guy made me cry,” Ortiz said, wiping his hands across his face. “I feel so grateful. I thank God every day for giving me the opportunity to have the career that I have. But I thank God even more for giving me the family and what I came from, who teach me how to try to do everything the right way. Nothing — not money — nothing is better than socializing with the people that are around you, get familiar with, show them love, every single day. It’s honor to get to see my number …. I remember hitting batting practice on this field, I always was trying to hit those numbers.”

Now that’s a poignant image for a left-handed slugger at Fenway Park.

He did it once, he said — hit the numbers. He wasn’t sure when. Somewhere in 2011-13, he estimated — but he said he hit Bobby Doerr’s No. 1.

“It was a good day to hit during batting practice,” Ortiz remembered afterward in a press conference. “But to be honest with you, I never thought I’d have a chance to hit the ball out there. It’s pretty far. My comment based on those numbers was, like, I started just getting behind the history of this organization. Those guys, those numbers have a lot of good baseball in them. It takes special people to do special things and at the end of the day have their number retired up there, so that happening to me today, it’s a super honor to be up there, hanging with those guys.”

The day was all about his number, ultimately, and his number took inspiration from the late Kirby Puckett. Ortiz’s major league career began with the Twins in 1997. Puckett passed away in 2006, but the Red Sox brought his children to Fenway Park. They did not speak at the podium or throw a ceremonial first pitch, but their presence likely meant more than, say, Jason Varitek’s or Tim Wakefield’s.

“Oh man, that was very emotional,” Ortiz said. “I’m not going to lie to you, like, when I saw them coming toward me, I thought about Kirby. A lot. That was my man, you know. It was super nice to see his kids. Because I remember, when they were little guys, little kids. Once I got to join the Minnesota Twins, Kirby was already working in the front office. So they were, they used to come in and out. I used to get to see them. But their dad was a very special person for me and that’s why you saw me carry the No. 34 when I got here. It was very special to get to see them, to get kind of connected with Kirby somehow someway.”

Ortiz’s place in the row of 11 retired numbers comes in between Boggs’ No. 26 and Jackie Robinson’s No. 42.

Red Sox claim RHP Doug Fister off waivers, sign INF Jhonny Peralta

Red Sox claim RHP Doug Fister off waivers, sign INF Jhonny Peralta

BOSTON — They have the right idea, if not yet the right personnel.

Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has brought on a pair of former Tigers in an effort to help the Red Sox’ depth.

It’s hard to expect much from righty Doug Fister — who mostly throws in the 80s these days and is to start Sunday — or from Jhonny Peralta, who’s going to play some third base at Triple-A Pawtucket. Fister was claimed off waivers from the Angels, who coincidentally started a three-game series with the Red Sox on Friday at Fenway Park. Peralta, meanwhile, was signed as a free agent to a minor league deal.

Neither may prove much help. Fister could move to the bullpen when Eduardo Rodriguez is ready to return, Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. The Sox hope E-Rod is back in time for the All-Star break.

That’s assuming Fister is pitching well enough that the Sox want to keep him.

But at least the Sox are being proactive looking for help, and it’s not like either Peralta or Fister is high-risk.

"Doug has been an established major league pitcher," Dombrowski said. "We’ve been looking for starting pitching depth. Really traced an unusual situation, because coming into spring training at that time, [Fister was] looking for a bigger contract guarantee at the major league level, and we didn’t feel we could supply at the time because we didn’t have a guaranteed position. We continued to follow him. ... we sent people to watch him workout and throw batting practice in Fresno where he lived. We continued to stay in contact with him. 

"We finally felt we were going to be able to add him to our major league roster, we made a phone call and he had agreed the day before with the Angels on the contract. They said he was in a position where he had made the agreement and signed a major-league contract, agreed to go to the minor leagues, but he had an out on June 21 if they didn’t put him on the big league roster. We scouted him two outings ago. One of our scouts, Eddie Bane, had seen him pitch before, recommended him, felt he could pitch in the starting rotation at the major-league level, that we should be interested in him."

Fister, 33, threw 180 1/3 innings last year with the Astros, posting a 4.64 ERA. He hasn’t been in the big leagues yet this season.

Said one American League talent evaluator earlier this year about Fister’s 2016: “Had a nice first half. Then struggled vs. left-handed hitters and with finishing hitters. No real putaway pitch. Has ability to pitch around the zone, reliable dude.”