A few random Monday morning thoughts while we gaze out our respective windows, 1,100 miles apart, and wonder what nearly the entire continental United States did to infuriate Mother Nature this time around:
• No matter how the other elements of the game change — players getting artificially blown up like the Michelin Man, baseballs being juiced, “Moneyball” supplanting the decades-tested human tendency to swing at the first good pitch — great pitching always handcuffs great hitting over the course of 162 games.
So while the rest of the world is ready to crown the New York Yankees, despite their having won one title in the past 17 years, I liked the Boston Red Sox’ chances to make noise this season from Truck Day. And nothing about the opening week-and-a-half has changed my mind.
On paper, a rotation topped by Chris Sale, David Price and Rick Porcello gives the Sox a chance to win 95 games with its eyes closed. That’s if everyone performs to their maximum potential, of course, which we know didn’t happen in 2017.
Sale looked like the best pitcher in baseball for a while, then faded badly under former manager John Farrell’s oft-desperate misuse. Price became an easy target as a brittle malcontent but showed flashes of his historical production down the stretch. Porcello more than regressed to the mean after a sensational, surprising ’16 but is an innings-eater in an era where most major-league starters lack that quality.
Golden goose eggs have been the rule the first two turns through the rotation, so I remain confident that this group can keep the American League East title where it belongs, even if that lineup of former Sea Dogs all-stars continues to lack MLB power and consistency.
Let’s just gloss over the fact that Boston hasn’t played anyone but Tampa Bay or Miami thus far, if you don’t mind.
• What part of the way the New England Patriots have done business for nearly two decades doesn’t the pink hat brigade understand?
Or better yet, why does a certain segment of the fan base get obsessed with players who are eminently replaceable? Which, by the way, when we’re talking about the Pats, means anybody not named Tom Brady.
Yes, I write some version of this plea for calmness and common sense every offseason, but clearly after eight Super Bowl appearances and five Lombardi Trophies it bears repeating.
Brandin Cooks spent one season with the Patriots and performed, meh, all right. It was a level of production no fewer than two dozen guys enjoyed while catching passes from Brady over the years.
This past week, New England squeezed a first-round pick out of the Los Angeles Rams for Cooks, at which time a small but vocal minority predictably went ballistic.
The Patriots achieved value — great value, actually — in return for a guy who wasn’t going to be in their uniform beyond this season. Because that’s how it works: Guys come to New England, thrive in the system, and convince franchises with laughably lesser infrastructure to overpay them.
It’s the same reason (accompanied by the same reaction) that Dion Lewis, Malcolm Butler and Danny Amendola all slipped away this winter. In the cases of Lewis and Butler, once upon a time all 31 rivals had an equal opportunity to acquire them, and passed, before they got the call from the Pats.
New England gave those guys the platform to inflate their market value. Unless you’re a lock for the hall of fame, the franchise never pays that hypothetical price. Ever. It errs on the side of slotting a reasonable facsimile and using the savings to build depth, which is generally what wins championships in this injury-plagued day and age.
• Just to piggyback on what colleague Lee Horton wrote in this space one week ago, I hope Maine is open-minded enough to give eight-man high school football a try.
It can be done without harming the 11-man brand one iota. That’s the part it seems the loyalists and traditionalists miss. If you’re Thornton, Bonny Eagle, Marshwood, Wells, Leavitt or Winthrop/Monmouth and have the bodies to play this game the way it’s been played since Teddy Roosevelt was president, have at it. God bless you. Keep matriculating the ball down the field.
But I can name two dozen programs right off the top of my head that, if alternatives aren’t explored and ultimately embraced, won’t have an avenue to play varsity football in a decade or less. That’s not hyperbole. It’s fact. The socioeconomic and societal trends up they-ah are indisputable. Parents are having fewer babies, and the ones who do are more squeamish about the physical and financial demands of letting those babies loose on the gridiron.
The world changes. We don’t have to like it, but we must adapt to it, lest the things we prize be trampled to dust. I would rather see student-athletes in Dirigo, Telstar, Boothbay and Old Orchard Beach have a generic or refurbished brand of this great game than none at all. Letting kids swap the amazing life lessons of football for a dozen more weeks of electronics, inactivity and seasonal depression is an exchange my state of origin shouldn’t make.
• I’d be remiss if I didn’t close with a shout-out to longtime friend and colleague Randy Whitehouse on his recent media award from the Maine Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, even if it’s the last thing a guy of his humility and work ethic would want to see in print.
Nobody’s better at what he does. As newspapers wrestle with the question of whether social media and multi-media are opportunities or threats, so many of us in this business have acquiesced to branding ourselves. Randy never loses track of whom this job is about: The kids, and the readers a reasonably close second.
The award is richly deserved, but mostly it’s just a good spot to remind y’all how blessed you are to have such a talented, unselfish, unassuming dude covering your teams in that corner of the world.
— Kalle Oakes spent 27 years with the Sun Journal sports staff. He is now sports editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic. Stay in touch with him by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @oaksie72.