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News » Sox opener a welcome rest stop from '08 global tour

Sox opener a welcome rest stop from '08 global tour

Sox opener a welcome rest stop from '08 global tour
The trip home was a lot shorter this time. A 45-minute flight from New York, and the Red Sox were in Boston, reasonably rested and reasonably healthy to host the defending AL champion Tampa Bay Rays this afternoon in the 2009 season opener at Fenway Park.

Last year, the Red Sox were both beat up and exhausted by the time they played their home opener. They left Florida after the third week of March and flew nearly halfway around the world to play a couple of exhibition games in Japan and then open the regular season with a pair of games against the Oakland Athletics in Tokyo.

Then it was back on a jumbo jet for another monotonous flight across the Pacific to Los Angeles, where the Red Sox played the Dodgers in an exhibition game at the old Coliseum. A couple days later they flew up the coast to Oakland to finish that season-opening series against the Athletics.

After that the Red Sox left the country again, flying to Canada for a series against the Blue Jays in Toronto, adding to their monstrous case of jet lag.

By the time the Red Sox finally got home to Boston for a good night's sleep in their own beds, they had already flown about 16,000 miles and were 3-4. If a game in April is indeed as important as a game in September, then it might be argued that such a grueling opening to the 2008 season was the difference between finishing two games behind the Rays instead of repeating as AL East champions.

The Red Sox were already pretty well beat up by then. Ace Josh Beckett and outfielder J.D. Drew missed the first few games. Slugger David Ortiz was coming off knee surgery, and he wasn't close to being 100 percent healthy yet.

No one thought to look, but the aircraft that brought the Red Sox home from that arduous halfway-round-the-world opening trip might have had a Red Cross painted on the fuselage.

It took them a long time to recover from that ordeal, and in some ways it seemed they never quite did. Ortiz and Mike Lowell quickly broke down and battled injuries throughout the season.

This spring has been a lot longer than most springs, too, thanks to the requirements of the World Baseball Classic. But nothing resembling last year's marathon.

MVP Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, who finished third in the MVP voting, both wound up getting injured while playing for the USA in the WBC, perhaps because they weren't truly in good enough Baseball shape to play nine hard innings that early despite their rigorous off-season workout routines.

Along with Chipper Jones and a few other hitters who got banged up during the WBC, they helped debunk the old myth that six weeks of spring training is primarily for the benefit of pitchers (and putting extra money into team coffers) and that position players are ready and rarin' to go after the first week of exhibitions.

Fortunately for Pedroia, Youkilis, and the Red Sox, those injuries happened early and weren't too serious.

So the Red Sox today are far healthier and better prepared to open the home portion of the season than they were a year ago. Among the regulars only shortstop Julio Lugo, who might have been beaten out by Jed Lowrie for the shortstop's job anyway, is unable to play. The 12 pitchers are all healthy.

So when, weather permitting, the umpire cried "Play ball!" this afternoon, those were really the Red Sox on the diamond at Fenway Park and not a couple dozen zombies dressed in Red Sox uniforms.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: April 8, 2009

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