Monthly Archives: December 2009

The Youker Files: An Evening at The Nutcracker

Written exclusively for Fenway Pastoral by Red Sox first baseman/third baseman Kevin Youkilis

Going to a ballet probably wouldn’t have been my first choice for celebrating being recently named the 2009 winner of the Thomas A. Yawkey Memorial Award as Red Sox Most Valuable Player.

For one, as much as I appreciate the recognition, the tired postseason routine of doling out awards like Gold Gloves and MVPs seems so arbitrary and trite. Secondly, I’ve found that ballets and other dramatic performances of the arts often take place in old, musty theaters with cramped seating plans designed to accommodate smaller-framed folks of centuries long past. (This is especially true in an older city like Boston, but I’ll get to that in a few minutes.)

Anyway, when my wife Enza surprised me with tickets to a matinee performance of Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker at the Opera House this past Sunday, I stoically took my ticket and hid my pained facial expressions like any slugger would after taking a hard fastball off the shoulder blade.

The day started off innocently enough. The foul weather made it especially easy to find a parking spot just off the Common right near the Opera House on Washington Street. It took us only a few minutes to walk from the car to the building.

The first sign of trouble came as we approached the large group of people bottle-necked into a chaotic hoard, awaiting entrance into the theater. Back at home, Enza had told me I should dress up since we were going to the ballet, but I took a look around and realized I was comically overdressed. I tugged at my tight, constraining bowtie and tried not to look too enviously at the other men around me who were outfitted in loose-fitting V-neck sweaters.

The line was impossibly slow-moving and the early afternoon drizzle peppered my naked scalp with cold winter rain. Having forgotten my hat, I attempted to cover my head with a Sunday edition of the Boston Herald, which did a surprisingly good job of keeping me dry while we waited. Unfortunately, holding the paper over my head exposed the right side of my body to the pointy elbow of a fur-coated socialite who clearly had no regard for anyone around her. She pegged the side of my gut so hard that she knocked the wind out of me and left me gasping for air.

This was a minor inconvenience compared to when my wife and I got to our row and I realized that I would have to sit with my knees together and angled to one side just to fit into the seat. I overheard someone beside us mention that the Opera House had recently been refurbished, but whoever was in charge of modernizing the seating plan ought to be fired. My back has been freaking killing me since Sunday and I know it was because of those seats.

Perhaps worst of all, though, was that my finely knit, specially-fitted white collared shirt was ruined after being drenched in the blood that gushed from my nose after it was hit with a slipper that one of the Sugar Plum Fairies somehow kicked off her feet amidst one of the show’s more elaborate dance numbers at the beginning of Act 2. It was at that point that I rued Enza’s propensity to seemingly always get her hands on the choicest seats for such events. This is one time when I would have gladly traded our front center orchestra seats for a spot in the second-level mezzanine.

My nosebleed did not fully subside until the end of the Russian dance–by which time I was thoroughly flustered by the commotion of having to rush up the aisle and into the men’s room in search of paper towels. The choke-hold of my double-knotted bowtie only made matters worse. Dizzied from a shortage of blood circulation to my head, I returned to my seat and did my best to ignore the subtle instrumental flaws that were evident in the orchestration of the Waltz of the Flowers. On the plus side, the footwork of the kids who played Fritz and Clara would have made Mike Lowell and Adrian Beltre blush.

Getting out of the Opera House at the end of the performance was a predictable nightmare. The heelprint marks left by the scurrying patrons will need to be buffed out of my wing tips before I can ever wear them again and I eventually wound up cutting the bowtie off my neck with a pair of scissors after trying to undo the knot for 15 minutes.

All in all, I must say I enjoyed taking a break from my offseason workout routine to do something with both seasonal and cultural relevance with my wife. This time of year, you’ll do just about anything you can think of to break the monotony of winter–even if it means getting a few bumps and bruises along the way. The Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker did a great job of taking my mind off baseball for a few hours. Then again, I do remember wondering whether Adrian Beltre would have caught that ballet slipper in his soft, soft hands before it had a chance to hit him in the nose.

Advertisements

With bulldog-like effort, Boston sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy runs 10-minute mile

NEWTON, Mass.–The Boston Globe Magazine’s Bostonian of the Year award may just have another, last-minute candidate. In an amazing feat of athletic prowess and determination, the newspaper’s sports pundit, Dan Shaughnessy, ran an entire mile in 9 minutes and 58.24 seconds yesterday on a treadmill in a local gym near his home.

The milestone shatters his previous personal best, which had generally leveled off at around 12 minutes, as he famously wrote in a 2003 column entitled “A Milestone, In Slow Motion.”

While Shaughnessy’s work can be polarizing, the feat is already being universally heralded as one of the most impressive athletic achievements by a Boston sportswriter in the city’s rich history.

According to his personal trainer, Brutus Sullivan, Shaughnessy’s newfound speed can be attributed to an unparalleled desire to become the best in his profession at something. “Dan just wanted this so bad. Blood, sweat and tears, he gave it his all and pushed himself to the limit. I’m so proud of him.”

“A lot of guys his age lose their competitive edge toward the ends of their careers. They’re just going through the motions, doing radio or TV spots, collecting a paycheck and saving for a summer house on the Cape. Dan burns with an undying fire.”

Gym members on hand to witness the feat heaped praise upon Shaughnessy, who trained for months leading up to yesterday using a vigorous workout regimen that nearly forced him to reduce his frequent appearances on national shows such as ESPN’s Jim Rome Is Burning.

Kathy McQuide watched from a Stairmaster and came away impressed. “He isn’t the biggest or the fastest guy in the cardio corner. His strides are a little clumsy and he clearly gets winded pretty easily, but he wasn’t going to let it affect his performance. You could tell he had a job to do and I’ll be damned if he didn’t just stepped up on that machine and do it.”

“He might as well have shown up with a hard hat and a lunch pail…just a gutsy all-around effort,” said Pilates class instructor Eric Nielson.

McQuide and other bystanders’ accounts of Shaughnessy’s effort painted the picture of a scrappy, hard-fought struggle to prove naysayers wrong. However, Tony Reading wasn’t quite sure what all the fuss was about from his vantage point in the free-weight area.

“I didn’t have a very good sightline and I missed the last five minutes, but from what I saw Dan seemed to be dogging it a bit at the outset,” Reading recalled. “His shoes were pounding that conveyor belt pretty good but I was surprised he didn’t look more tired.”

Not wanting to draw attention to his achievement, Shaughnessy declined comment for this story and refused to take the bait when told of the non-believers questioning his will.

His personal trainer backed him up with the utmost praise, however. “That 9:58 mile time kind of speaks for itself, doesn’t it?” Sullivan asked rhetorically. “He’ll always have that and no one can ever take it away from him.”

Analyzing the 2010 Sox Pax

John Henry and every other red-blooded market capitalist will tell you that purchasing commodities in bulk well in advance of their expected maturity in value is the perfect way to maximize riches in a down economy. Along that vein, Fenway Pastoral is here to analyze the latest ten-fecta of Sox Pax ticket packages, which go on sale this Saturday, December 12 online, over the phone and at the team’s Christmas at Fenway Event.

(The organization cautions that refunds will not be issued if Marco Scutaro winds up as the Red Sox’ marquee offseason acquisition.)

Sox Pack 1 is an “Opening Day” collection that guarantees a ticket to Boston’s very first game of the season, which is against the New York Yankees. Fans cannot go wrong with this selection for their Sox Pack purchase, despite the inclusion of clunker games against the Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles. Meanwhile, the May 12 game against the Blue Jays scheduled for 1:35 p.m. will have a certain slap-in-the-face feeling for those who already played hooky or skipped work six weeks earlier to see Opening Day. The Bottom Line: You’re going to Opening Day against the hated Yankees, which means you can toss verbal barbs at CC Sabathia or Roy Halladay from the grandstand.

Sox Pack 2, “Patriots Day,” also guarantees an early April ticket for a Yankees game as well as a ducat for the coveted Marathon Monday matchup against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Fenway Pastoral took a glance at the schedule and projects David Price to be on the mound for the D-Rays that day. Payback for the 2008 postseason will never feel so sweet as it will 10 beers deep at 11:30 in the morning. Meanwhile, fans wearing old Alex Gonzalez No. 10 Boston jerseys to the Toronto game must remember to X-out the former Red Sox shortstop’s last name after his defection to the Canadian enemies up north. (Bob Ryan has already filed his column telling fans whether they should or shouldn’t boo A-Gonz in his return to Fenway.)

Pack 3 is the TGIF “Thank Goodness It’s Friday” set. Twenty years ago, this package would not have sold very well due to stiff competition from ABC’s enormously popular TGIF television sitcom lineup that included classics such as Full House, Family Matters and Perfect Strangers. Tivo, DVR and Hulu have rendered appointment viewing an artifact of the 20th Century that no one will be able to seriously acknowledge in 50 years without snickering. In short, ABC’s TGIF phenomenon will make about as much sense as Derek Jeter’s Gold Gloves.

Who do the Red Sox think they’re kidding with their “Saturday Special” and “Sunday Special” Sox Packs (#s 4 and 5)? All game times are listed as TBA and both include two September games. Fans purchasing either of these packs will need to clear their schedules for two full weekend days that are more than nine months away. All Home Depot and Bed, Bath & Beyond jokes aside, solidified weekend schedules are a must when constructing large signs with clever four-word combinations for the NESN or ESPN acronyms. Making last-minute signs using a Sharpie and the flimsy cardboard from a Busch Light 30-pack just doesn’t have the same effect.

The selling points for the “Yankee Pack” and “Pinstripe Pack” (#s 6 and 7) center on the possibility that the final regular season games of the year, three home games against the Yankees, will serve as de facto playoff games. It could happen, but it’s just as likely that several of the games wind up with someone like Jeremy Hermida hitting cleanup.

On the flip side, the September 8 matchup against the Devil Rays is likely to have strong playoff implications. Meanwhile, Pack No. 7’s September 20 game against Baltimore could be one of those playoff spot clinchers, which can be especially fun for those fans interested in witnessing (or joining) drunken revelry in person.

The No. 8 “Yaz Pack” also features a Yankees game during the final weekend of the season. The bonus here is a complimentary 12-month prescription to the birth control pill that shares a nickname with the immortal No. 8. This ticket package is solid, especially so for sexually active female fans between the ages of 15 and 50. These types of cross-promotions would never have been offered on John Harrington or Tom Yawkey’s watch.

Sox Pack #9 is a “Splendid Splinter” collection featuring three important AL East divisional dust-ups as well as a ticket to see the perennially underrated Minnesota Twins. Sure, AL MVP Joe Mauer is likely to remain one of the best players in the league next season, but this Sox Pack does seem to lack a certain punch. Fenway Pastoral gets the feeling these are the types of games in which ownership will heroically give up John Henry’s dugout seats to some charitable foundation rather than waste Ben Affleck’s time. But seriously, these Packs make great stocking stuffers.

In trying economic times, deals such as the No. 10 “Extra Inning” Pack really cannot be trumped. The organization has pinpointed four games throughout the 2010 season that will go into extra innings, giving fans added value at no additional price. In 2009, the club was 4-6 overall (1-2 at home) in extra innings affairs. If sample sizes are your cup of tea, Boston was 1-0 in extra innings games played against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park in 2009.

Five Half-Witted Things Tony Massarotti Managed to Cram Into One Column

It won’t be long now before online readers will be asked to pay to view these posts of “Information, Insight, Analysis.” This morning’s column delved into the potential move of Dustin Pedroia from second base to shortstop. Welcome to the party, Tony.

(1) “For those of you who still think the Red Sox offense is going to be fine, ask yourselves this: if the Sox were concerned enough a year ago to offer Mark Teixeira the richest contract in club history – eight years, $170 million – how concerned are they now?”

They are panicked. They should increase their offer to Teixeira past $200 million and throw in the Ted Williams bleacher seat as a bonus. Honestly, the failure to sign Teixeira broke poor Tony. He’s had 12 months to heal the wound, but somehow those 300-plus days were not enough.

(2) “…the Sox are now looking for significant offense from their middle infielders because they know they are not likely to get it from other parts of their lineup, most notably from the designated hitter.”

This is some pretty confusing, roundabout logic. Apparently, Tony is a big believer in the theory that doubles and home runs are worth more when they’re hit by boppers like David Ortiz and Mark Teixeira. In his mind, grand slams by middle infielders are more like solo homers, at best.

(3) “For all of the criticisms that were made of someone like David Eckstein during his career as a shortstop – range and arm strength were chief among them – Eckstein was the starting shortstop on two World Series winners, one in the American League (the Angels, 2002) and one in the National League (the Cardinals, 2006).”

Back before writing tired storylines for Jim and Pam on The Office became so time-consuming, these types of ridiculous sentences would have been ripped apart in the most profane fashion imaginable at FireJoeMorgan.com. Now all we have left are lesser blogs imitating the style and a bunch of depressing relationship humor. Next year, look for Tony’s book examining how many career touchdowns Randy Moss would have if he only tried as hard as Wes Welker.

(4) “…the Red Sox would be making the move largely to account for other deficiencies, specifically in the middle of their lineup.”

Leave it to a Boston Globe sportswriter to attempt to stir up outrage by suggesting to fans that their favorite baseball team might be trying to toggle their lineup in such a way as to score more runs over the course of a season. Get pissed, Red Sox Nation!

(5) “Moving him to another position would be have been (sic) akin to making Jonathan Papelbon a starter in the earlier years of his career. Why dilute that? Why steal from one area to shore up another?”

Newspaper writers have not been using passive voice enough. It seems to have been a lost art in a lot of ways. Oftentimes, poor grammar and extraneous wording is utilized to mask laughably terrible arguments and rationales. For example, saying one thing is a bad idea by equating it to a very good idea – attempting to maximize a young pitcher’s value to a ball club – isn’t going to win many accolades. Unless that guy from Detroit who voted Miguel Cabrera for MVP is the one handing out the awards.