I've spent the last two days at SoxFest. You might not have been able to tell, because apparently walls coated with red lacquer kill my mobile signal. Instead of tweeting, I had to resort to taking notes ... by hand. Perish the thought.
This was my first time setting foot in the convention, and I picked the right year to understand the appeal. The winter's been so brutal that SoxFest is less of a fan jamboree and more of a baseball vacation. It's probably even better with a little bit of distance from the subject material, in order to make the Q&A sessions sound as fresh as possible.
While I could have scripted many of the responses, the format allows for enough time for something new to emerge.
For example: With a little more than two months before Opening Day, there are still a lot of things that can happen to the roster before Opening Day. With pile-ups in left field, third base and catcher, fans naturally had questions about how they might be resolved. The answers are ones we've heard: 1) platoons are possible, 2) injuries could happen to the Sox, and/or 3) injuries could happen to other teams to stoke trade possibilities.
But I hadn't heard just how underwhelmed Rick Hahn was by the free-agent market for catchers, which is why Tyler Flowers and Josh Phegley currently remain undisturbed after each had awful seasons. Hahn said the Sox had no interest in the pool of more respectable veteran catchers (A.J. Pierzynski, Dioner Navarro, Jose Molina, Kurt Suzuki), because they "weren't part of an extended solution." Flowers and Phegley stand a better chance at being vital four years from now -- really only because of their age, but that's reason enough.
(Or that's the only leverage remaining as the Sox angle for a catcher from outside the organization. One who isn't Adrian Nieto, anyway.)
The first question included references to both Pierzynski and Aaron Rowand. Why do they bother having an Opening Ceremony? That's the real start of SoxFest.
Avisail Garcia resembles the quintessential jock in any slobs-versus-snobs sports movie. He's not quite the tallest or biggest guy on the team, but he's the only one who looked like a speed-rushing defensive end.
I don't really care to single out questions from random fans for mockery, because baseball is entertainment, a hobby and/or a diversion. They're there to connect with their team in whichever manner they find most interesting, and who am I to judge?
Well, that's not quite right. Of course I judged -- immediately, gutturally, and with extreme prejudice, but the more I think about it, the more I'm criticizing how people find enjoyment in their spare time.
However, some of the more questionable queries did set up responses worth sharing. For instance, Hahn, Robin Ventura and Steve Stone salvaged a hard-to-chart ramble with this exchange:
Ventura: "You need to stop liking certain players in the outfield, apparently."
Hahn: "If we get less handsome guys, maybe they'll stay here longer."
Stone: "If we could take the ugly guys who hit 45 (homers) and drive in 120, Rick would go get 'em."
Hahn: "It'd be the ugliest parade you ever saw."
If Bobby Jenks was nervous about how he'd be received at SoxFest, those fears should have abated pretty quickly. He received a healthy round of applause at the opening ceremony, and many fans who asked him questions prefaced them with ample praise.
The only cringe-worthy moment came from Jenks himself, considering he's coming off an addiction to painkillers.
Sox pitching seminar -Bobby Jenks on the first time he closed " It was like smoking crack ,the more you do it the more you want to do it "— Bruce Levine (@MLBBruceLevine) January 25, 2014
Jenks delivered that line kinda sheepishly, or at least he paused before he said it. I'm guessing he searched for a more family-friendly and reputation-sparing simile, but he just couldn't find the ears on one.
Frank Thomas is still basking in his Hall of Fame afterglow, but he's starting to come down to Earth a little bit, at least as far as the PED discussion is concerned. When the topic came up on Friday, he used a finer brush to paint his competition.
"One thing about the era I played in -- a lot of it was tainted, but there were a lot of good players in there. I don't know if PEDs helped that much, because we had a talented era of hitters."
Hawk Harrelson superlatives:
- Thomas "hit 2-0/3-1 more than anybody in his first eight years than I'd ever seen in baseball."
- Thomas and Rico Petrocelli are the greatest breaking-ball hitters he's ever seen.