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2008: Diary of a Season

The winter following the Red Sox' 2007 World Series win was one of the quietest off-seasons in recent memory. With relatively few players leaving, it seemed like the team would be well-poised to repeat in 2008. But once the season started, they found there were a lot of obstacles they had to overcome, from a season-opening three-country road trip, to a major trading deadline deal, to key injuries during their dramatic postseason run. Along the way, I had the chance to go to 24 home games, plus three minor league games, a trip to Spring Training, and a thrilling playoff win. The stories and pictures from my 2008 experience are on the pages that follow.

February 24-27 - Fort Myers, Florida

Spring Training workouts

A high-five from Manny I flew down to Fort Myers for my annual Spring Training trip during the last week of February. The workouts are my favorite part of the spring, and this year I got to go to four days of them. On Sunday, it was Photo Day, when the players wear their home whites instead of the normal red practice jerseys, and get their pictures taken in the clubhouse before practice for baseball cards and other promotions. We were on the first shuttle bus over from the stadium, and staked out a good spot. We called out to all the players as they ran out to take the field, even though very few sign in the morning, with most autographs coming at the end of practice at noontime. I did manage to get Julio Lugo's as he ran past. When Manny Ramirez came out, everyone called out to him. We held out baseballs, pictures, and Sharpies, and he ran over as if he was going to sign. But instead, he tapped everyone's hands on the way, a sort of high-five. Then next day, we were ready, reaching our arms out as Manny took the field, and he high-fived me on his way by.

Over the next few days, we enjoyed watching the players go through a bunch of different drills. There was live B.P. where the hitters take batting practice off the pitchers rather than the coaches, pitcher's fielding practice, and practices for bunting, baserunning, fielding popups, executing rundowns, and even sliding. I brought a couple of photos along for autographs. One was a picture of me with both the 2004 and 2007 World Series trophies, which I asked anyone who was on the '07 team to sign. I also brought a photo I had taken at a spring training game last year, for all the new players and prospects who weren't part of the Championship run. I had a lot of good luck with autographs, getting Dustin Pedroia, Coco Crisp, Theo Epstein, Bobby Kielty, Larry Lucchino, and Hideki Okajima (in Japanese!) to sign the trophy picture. In the afternoon, when major league camp is finished, a bus shows up with the minor league players, who practice in the afternoon. The farmhand we all had our eyes on this year was Joshua Papelbon, younger brother of the Sox' closer. I thought it was cool that I was able to get his autograph one afternoon.

Wednesday was the final day of workouts. It was also the day the 2007 World Champions were invited to the White House to meet President Bush. Because of the afternoon trip to Washington, practice was an hour earlier than usual, at 8:00 am. It was also unseasonably cool - with highs expected to be in the low 60's, it was in the low 50's and windy in the morning. The weather and the early start must have kept people away, because there were very few of us there when practice started. That enabled me to get a good spot behind the barriers, and I was able to get autographs from Terry Francona, Brad Mills, John Farrell, and Jacoby Ellsbury. As we waited for the rest of the players to take the field, the Sox' newest acquisition, Bartolo Colon, showed up for his first day in camp. He threw a brief long-toss session on the field with John Farrell before going back in. When we returned to City of Palms Park after practice that morning, we went on a free tour of the ballpark. We got to walk on the warning track and sit on the bench in the dugout where Tito and Millsy sit for the game. Then we went inside and saw the pressbox.

See the rest of my photos from the workouts on my Spring Training Photos page.

Thursday, February 28 (Game 1) - City of Palms Park, Fort Myers

Red Sox 24, BC Eagles 0

Red Sox vs. Boston College

On Thursday, the Red Sox kicked off their exhibition schedule with a doubleheader against Boston College and Northeastern University. Before the game, the 2004 and 2007 World Series trophies were on display, so we made sure to find them and have our pictures taken. It was my parents' first chance to see the '04 trophy in person, and with the laid-back atmosphere of Spring Training, we were even allowed to touch them. The Red Sox had the trophies in Fort Myers all weekend, and were planning a couple of other events, including showing the World Series video on the JumboTron on Friday night, and a trophy-viewing session open to the public on Saturday.

2004 and 2007 World Series trophies After we had our moment with the symbol of the Red Sox victory, we got to see the Champions themselves take the field for the game - for a couple of innings, anyway. BC pitcher Ted Ratliff can say he faced the defending World Champions and retired Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and David Ortiz in order in the first. The rest of his teammates, however, might want to leave out some of the details when they recount the tales of their experience. The Red Sox sent fourteen men to the plate in the second inning and scored eight runs. There were a total of six walks in the inning, with the big blows coming on a double by Dustin Pedroia and a wind-blown fly ball by Big Papi that landed between the outfielders for another double. After that, the regulars were out of the game, but the backups and minor leaguers picked right up where they left off. They scored five more runs in the fourth and nine in the fifth. Second baseman Tony Granadillo hit a grand slam. Outfielder Jeff Bailey had two walks and a two-run single. Catching prospect George Kottaras drove in three runs on two doubles. The BC fielders made three errors, and had two dropped fly balls ruled hits that could have been charged as errors if it weren't a friendly Spring Training game.

On the mound, Red Sox ace Josh Beckett looked strong. He threw 25 pitches over two innings and struck out four. He was followed by Kyle Snyder, Javier Lopez, and Bryan Corey. Mercifully, the college games are only seven innings long, leaving a final score that would embarrass even a football team: 24-0.

A lopsided score

Thursday, February 28 (Game 2) - City of Palms Park, Fort Myers

Red Sox 15, NU Huskies 0

When the first game ended, it was about an hour until the gates opened for the second game. We brought sandwiches and ate them in the car between games so we wouldn't have to rush out somewhere to eat and then pay for parking again. J.D. Drew and Manny Ramirez were the only two Red Sox starters who hadn't played in the first game, so they started the nightcap. They were joined by major league backups Coco Crisp, Alex Cora, Sean Casey, and Doug Mirabelli, plus minor leaguers Chris Carter in left field, Jed Lowrie at shortstop, and Keith Ginter at third. On the mound was Justin Masterson, the tall, young sinkerballer who was projected to start the year in Double A, but was touted as the next prospect in the pitching pipeline that had sent the likes of Jonathan Papelbon, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz to Boston in recent years. Masterson looked good, retiring the side in order on seven pitches in the first. In the second he gave up a single, but quickly induced a double play and got through the inning on just ten pitches.

Night game at City of Palms Park Masterson was followed to the mound by Craig Hansen, Michael Bowden (another prospect we were following with interest), Craig Breslow, Hunter Jones, and Kyle Jackson. The night game went much the same as the afternoon one had. Crisp and Drew doubled in the first to score one run. Cora's double drove another home in the second. In the third, they added four runs on two walks, two hits, and an error. Five singles and another error allowed them to pile on four more in the fourth. There were two more runs in the fifth on just one hit (plus three walks, a hit batsman, two passed balls, and a wild pitch) and three more in the sixth. The offense was pretty well spread out across the lineup, but Mickey Hall, called up from minor league camp and sporting number 95, had two hits and three RBI, and Chris Carter and Gil Velazquez drove in two apiece.

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