CARVER, Mass. — In a small, working class town known mainly as the pimple on the hindquarters of Plymouth county, the early morning sun beats down onto the pale green vines that lay flat over one of Francis Flynn’s many cranberry bogs.
Sheared wooden stems protrude from the green expanse, top-layered with vines cut dead under one of Flynn’s tractors last fall—days after the final out was recorded in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series in Tampa Bay.
After a brutal winter of ice, snow and sleet pelted, submerged and suffocated Flynn’s precious beds—on which cranberries will soon sleep—weeks of work are in store in order to prepare the fickle peat at the bottom of these marshy bogs before they are ready to reap a harvest of oblong diuretic red pellets. Tractors need to be serviced; weeds must be removed; beds must be fertilized. With his main assistant in court this morning after picking up a DUI early Saturday morning, Flynn, 38, is left to fend for himself on this chilly Monday morning.
Yet, gazing out over his bog while taking a long, deliberate swig of his 32-ounce Honey Dew coffee, Flynn only wants to talk about one thing.
“I would do Heidi Watney,” he says of NESN’s on-field reporter, when asked about the Boston nine’s prospects for the upcoming season. “I just want to get that outta the way right now. Anybody who the Captain would do, I would do. It’s as simple as that.”
After falling one game short of the World Series last fall, it appears Watney’s second year as team reporter will be a major storyline this spring and perhaps beyond as fans increasingly embrace her presence and impact on the team. Yet with the season opener closing in fast, it is a storyline that has fallen by the wayside.
“I was down at Sullivan’s Tap before the B’s game the other night. All anyone could talk about was ‘Tek’s ballpark adjusted OPP (sic), negative age 35-plus career arcs and batting average on balls put in play. I’m sick of talking about last year,” says Flynn. “The handwringing over offensive production? I don’t know, that ship sailed for me a long time ago.”
When Baseball Prospectus came out with its annual season projections in early February, Flynn admits being surprised there was no projection of “games worked” for Watney similar to the plate appearance forecasts BP provides for individual players. Once he took a closer look at the BP projections, however, Flynn put the omission into context.
“They (BP) got Youk batting .270 and Ortiz driving in only 89 ribs?,” he says. “Obviously anybody who thinks Lowell’s only gonna hit 15 dongs isn’t too much of an expert.”
He defers when asked to give his take on the durability questions about David Ortiz and Mike Lowell heading into the season. Indeed, other than his cranberry bogs, only one thing seemed to be on Flynn’s mind as spring training nears its conclusion.
“That kind of dirty blond hair and blue eyes? The sleeveless tops she wears on those hot, humid days at the park…Yeah, I’d say I’m a fan.”
The start of a Red Sox season is always exciting, especially for fans curious about the assimilation of key figures in the clubhouse. For younger prospects and rising stars, the sophomore season’s success or failure has become a cliché in itself.
“You look at a guy like Youk in 2005 or Dustin last year…the second full year in the league is always a big leap,” Flynn asserts. “I’m worried she may get a little too comfortable after last year. I hope she got some new outfits…”
Because of Watney’s late start last season (she did not begin reporting on games until May), the case can be made that this year will be more challenging as she attempts to prove she can survive a full season’s workload.
“She’s kind of like the guy who’s only had a few hundred at bats,” Flynn says. “The sample size may not be big enough yet to prove she’s the real deal. Like I said, though, I would do her. I’m a big fan.”
For lifelong Red Sox fans like Flynn, staying power is an important attribute for the on-field reporter position. The organization has become increasingly frustrated at what has become, in recent years, a turn-style spot in the order akin to shortstop. While the able-bodied Tina Cervasio was a solid temporary solution, her advanced age and fleeting dedication to the job motivated the Red Sox to find a younger, rising star who they could groom in their own image.
And for salt-of-the-earth fans like Flynn, Cervasio’s married status was somewhat unbecoming of an on-field reporter.
“Watching baseball has to be about more than just pitching, hitting and defense. I like seeing women on TV who I have a chance with,” says Flynn. “If I want to look at a girl I can’t sleep with, I’ll flip over to one of those MTV reality shows and pretend the flicker is acting up if my wife comes into the den.”
Count Flynn among the many Red Sox fans who believe NESN should televise more spring training contests in Florida. The station will air a total of nine games over the course of six weeks as the team prepares for the regular season.
“It’s really not enough for fans like me. I’m a diehard and after a 12-hour day out on the cranberry bog, all I want to do is crack a cold one and watch Heidi.”
Flynn also raised his concern that less televised games in March means Watney will be shaking off any residual rust at the beginning of April.
“If she’s bumbling around out there like Dustin in April 2007, they’re going to regret it.”
With this warning, Flynn reinserts his new camouflage Red Sox ‘hanging sox’ logo cap onto his head and excuses himself, heading back to his toolshed. He has fields to sow and his musings have left him behind on the day already as the 7 a.m. sunbeams have risen their way over the oak trees that surround Flynn’s bogs. If the weather cooperates and Flynn does his job right, his plants will yield red, pick-able berries in early October. The Red Sox may very well be in the playoffs by then. But all that is a long away for Flynn. The early spring preparation process must go on and the tail end of winter just got a little warmer for Flynn as he returns to work, thinking of easy-going summer nights.
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