02/16/2004 6:10 PM ET
Sox can now focus on Ft. Myers
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
Red Sox head south
|Kevin Millar thinks the Sox have what it takes to win the World Series. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
BOSTON -- Red Sox fans are known to be passionate even about stories that
don't carry gargantuan weight. So one can imagine the outrage in Red Sox
Nation during the past few days when news broke that Alex Rodriguez --
seemingly on his way to Boston earlier this winter -- was headed to the
Yankees (gulp!) in one of the biggest baseball trades of all time.
Sox fans kept talk-show hosts busy all weekend while discussing the fact
that A-Rod will now be playing for the team's biggest rival.
It was symbolic in a way as the Red Sox equipment truck left Fenway Park on Monday afternoon, bound for Spring Training. Yes, A-Rod is going to the Yankees. But life goes on. Particularly for a Red Sox team that made several significant additions during the winter.
Despite the fact that A-Rod is Bronx-bound, the Red Sox remain thoroughly confident about the team they have assembled for 2004.
As Sox manager Terry Francona spent Monday completing the drive from his Philly home to Spring Training in Fort Myers, Fla., the A-Rod development didn't dampen his spirits.
"I'm so excited about our ballclub, and that has not diminished in the least," said Francona as he drove through Gainesville, Fla. "It's not like I'm going to turn around and head back north. There are a lot of teams out there. My concern is how we play baseball. I'm so comfortable with our ballclub.
"I'll spend my energy getting our ballclub to play the way they're supposed to. I'm so excited about this team. We'll concern ourselves with our ballclub. If we get out there and play the way we're supposed to, we'll be just fine."
Sox first baseman Kevin Millar is so antsy for this season to begin that he is arriving Thursday in Fort Myers, the day before pitchers and catchers report, and nearly a week before the full squad arrives. The latest news involving the Yankees has only enhanced Millar's excitement for 2004.
"This is going to be an amazing season," said Millar as he packed his things up in Beaumont, Texas. "The Red Sox-Yankees rivalry is the greatest in baseball, and this will make it even more testy after the situation of the last couple of days."
More than anything, Millar is excited about the players he will play with this season.
"This is a situation where you've got to be excited as a Red Sox player," he said. "This is the most excited I've ever been going into Spring Training. You can't worry about what other teams are doing or who's getting who. All of the pieces to our puzzle are filled. We have 95 percent of our team back from last year, and we've added the five percent we need to hopefully win the World Series. We have Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke and Pokey Reese. Offensively we have everybody but Todd Walker. Off the bench, we have Ellis Burks, Brian Daubach, Gabe Kapler and Doug Mirabelli."
Still, there are those who can't help but wonder why the Yankees were able to complete the transaction for a player the Red Sox spent much of December pursuing.
As always, money was a huge factor. The Red Sox -- particularly after the
Players Association vetoed their restructuring of A-Rod's deal in December
-- couldn't reach a financial agreement with which they were comfortable.
The Yankees, with deeper pockets, made it happen.
Even after the fact, the Red Sox stand by their decision to walk away from a proposed deal that would have sent Manny Ramirez to the Rangers for A-Rod and then a subsequent transaction that would have moved Nomar Garciaparra to the White Sox for Magglio Ordonez.
"I think that the sense in the organization is that we went as far as we could go," said Charles Steinberg, executive vice president/public affairs for the Sox. "It's more the shock and awe. Wow, the Yankees had the ability to do this seemingly without a flinch, where we went as far as we could go. It's an indication of the difference between a club that is doing well but has its limits and a club that doesn't seem to have limits. But it doesn't tell you what's going to happen in August. It doesn't predict what's going to happen when Curt Schilling faces A-Rod or when Pedro is on the mound."
Over on Yawkey Way, fans -- many of whom gathered to watch the equipment truck depart the cold Northeast -- took the news in stride.
"I'm more concerned that the Yankees are going to have a payroll $70 million higher than the Red Sox. I think that's obscene," said Cheri Giffin, the president of the BoSox club. "But it would be disingenuous to criticize the Yankees' payroll because the Red Sox are No. 2. But the Red Sox just have to be smarter about it. If we did what the Yankees did, we wouldn't be able to tie up our five superstars who are up for free agency at the end of 2004."
So what does thinking about Boston toppling New York -- with A-Rod -- do for Sox fans?
"My grin will be so much wider," Giffin said. "Bring it on."
Though Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino reacted strongly last offseason when the Yankees beat Boston to Cuban defector Jose Contreras, he took a less emotional stance to this latest chapter in the rivalry.
"A-Rod's an exceptional player. Any team would be stronger for getting him," Lucchino told The Boston Globe. "There comes a time when you have to tip your cap to your adversary.
"What can you say? Money talks. It is a bit of a shock to the system. But we've been trying to say we play the game in the field, not during the winter. One thing, I'll pay to see these teams go toe to toe."
And it's only fair to note that the Red Sox did beat the Yankees to the punch on Schilling, landing the five-time All-Star the day after Thanksgiving.
Schilling used a familiar outlet over the weekend to discuss his feelings on the A-Rod trade.
"You can't [complain] and moan about the lack of effort on the Red Sox end, they reached for the stars on this, and it didn't fit," Schilling said in a post on SonsofSamhorn, a Red Sox fan site he frequents. "I'm more than OK
with that. They've worked their [butts] off to make this team a World Series contender, and we are, period. A-Rod to the Yankees, if it happens, just
makes winning this whole thing that much sweeter, when it happens."
The irony of Aaron Boone once again being the guy striking a blow to the Red
Sox wasn't lost on Derek Lowe.
In Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, Boone hit a walkoff
homer in the 11th that sent the Red Sox home for the winter. And Boone's
recent knee injury was the Yankees' catalyst to acquire Rodriguez.
"I'm thinking, Aaron Boone's done it to us twice in four months. The first
time with that homer in the playoffs. Now him getting hurt opened the door
for Rodriguez," Lowe said in an interview with ESPN. "I thought, with the
moves we made this offseason, we had moved ahead of [the Yankees] a little
bit. This evens the playing field, but there's nothing wrong with that."
The trade transcended baseball. Even President George W. Bush noted the
latest twist in the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry.
"I was just as surprised as the Yankee fans and the Boston Red Sox fans when
I opened up my paper today," said President Bush in an interview with NBC
from Sunday's Daytona 500. "It, obviously, is a big deal. ... A-Rod's a
great player and the Yanks are going to be a heck of a team with him in the
Boston-bred actor Ben Affleck had his usual unique take on the matter.
"It's how Steinbrenner operates," Affleck told ESPN. "Runaway capital
pac-man, gobbling up all these players."
But the Sox are confident they'll still have to be reckoned with.
"We've long maintained that we are the hungry underdog," Lucchino said. "So
now we are a little bit more hungry and a little bit more of an underdog.
They still have to beat us on the field."
Because that is the only place it counts.
"We're so excited about our nucleus, and we feel we have what it takes to win the World Series. Our team is as strong on paper as anyone in the big leagues," said Millar. "But this game is not won on paper. It's won between the lines. Look at how the game is competed between the lines and who executes that day. The Yankees know that, the Red Sox know that."
And as the Hot Stove gets ready to give way to the warm spring in Florida, it's hard not to get caught up in the excitement of what lies ahead between two age-old rivals.
"It certainly adds another log on this inferno that is the rivalry," said Steinberg.
Ian Browne is a reporter
for MLB.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report, which was not
subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.