SPRING IS COMING

Happy New Year from Baseball World to your world wherever it may be.

As we prepare to celebrate the holiday, I thought it would make you feel better to know that the Red Sox pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training on February 13th, which is just 47 days away. On February 22nd, just 56 days from today, the annual split squad games between the Sox and Northeastern University and Boston College will kick off the spring games and the Sox will play their first Major League opponent of the spring, the Minnesota Twins, on the next day.

The Sox will open their defense of their regular season American League Eastern Division Title at Tampa Bay against the Rays on March 29th. If you are planning to attend, I would suggest you get your tickets early because that is the one day of the year the Rays draw a big crowd. The last time the Red Sox opened a season with four games, in four consecutive days, against the same team was 2003, when they opened in Tampa Bay against the then Devil Rays. The Opening Day crowd of 34,391 at Tropicana Field that year was bigger than the total of the other three games, which drew a grand total of 33,692.

Since I have been at Opening Day at the Trop three times in recent history, I would also suggest some type of ear protection because it seems that every cow bell owner in Florida brings their bells to that game and it gets loud. This year, with the Sox coming in, is a great opportunity for Sox fans to see their heroes up close and personal.

If you plan to go to Florida for the Opener, I would suggest that you consider going a couple of days early. The Rays, traditionally, play their last Spring Training game against the Detroit Tigers. That game, which will be held on March 27th this year, is played in Tropicana Field and the Rays organization uses the game as a kind of dress rehearsal for the stadium for the coming season. They only sell general admission seats, with no assigned seats, usually only using the lower level and seats are usually only $15.00 each. I have attended this game several times and it is a unique experience. The players are getting ready to begin the real season, after a long spring, but the atmosphere is relaxed and the crowd has a great time.

The Trop is a much maligned ball park but with the roof guaranteeing good weather and the Red Sox in town, I can’t imagine a better way to kick off the season. In fact, there’s a good chance that, if you go,

I’ll be there with you.

After the four games with the Rays, the Sox travel south to play the Miami Marlins twice on April 2nd and 3rd in Marlins Park. The Park, which was completed in March of 2012, seats 37,442 fans and has a retractable roof. The Marlins open at home with a four game series with the Cubs prior to the Red Sox coming in.

In a quirk of the schedule, the Sox come home to Fenway after the Miami series and host the Rays for three games, April 5th, 7th and 8th, thus playing seven of their first nine games against the Rays, leaving only 11 to be played between the division rivals the rest of the season.

It always seems that the off season is so long but, at this time of the year, with only 47 days to go before the Sox go south, it seems like the time has flown by.

Fifty years ago this past weekend, on December 23rd, 1967, after winning 22 and losing 9, leading the Red Sox to the Impossible Dream Season, and walking away with the Cy Young Award, Gentleman Jim Lonborg injured his left knee skiing and would need surgery as a result. He would miss the beginning of the 1968 season and would end up with a 6-10 record and damage to his rotator cuff from trying to return too soon.

In the World Series that year, he had pitched complete game wins in games two and five and had started game seven on two days rest. After Bob Gibson had won the first of his three games of the series for the Cardinals in Game 1, Lonborg had pitched one of the greatest games in World Series history, in Game 2. He didn’t allow a base runner until he walked Curt Flood in the seventh inning and gave up just one hit, a double to Julian Javier in the eighth and pitched a complete game, one hit, shutout win to even the series at one game apiece. This against a Cardinal lineup that included Lou Brock, Flood, Roger Maris, Orlando Cepeda and Tim McCarver.

In Game 5, after Gibson had shut out the Sox in Game 4 to put the Cards up three games to one, Lonborg pitched another complete game win. This time, he gave up three hits but held the Cards scoreless until the ninth, when Roger Maris hit a solo homer to make the final 3-1, Boston, and send the Series to a Game 6. In 18 innings, he had allowed one run and just six base runners, one of whom reached on an error.

Lonborg started Game 7 on two days rest and, after holding the Cards scoreless for two innings, lasted just six innings, giving up seven runs, six of them earned, on 10 hits while Gibson was pitching his third complete game and winning 7-2 to take the series.

After the injury, 50 years ago, Lonborg won just 27 and lost 29 in the next four years and was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers and from there spent seven years with the Philadelphia Phillies, winning 75 and losing 60. He ended his career with an overall 157-137 record.

If not for that skiing accident fifty years ago, who knows what the future might have held in the next few years for Gentleman Jim Lonborg and for the Red Sox organization.

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