The Christmas tree comes down today.
But why the long faces, kids? The decorations being put away can mean only one thing:
Baseball is almost here.
Need proof? One of the first signs will be Friday, when the Portland Sea Dogs host their annual Hot Stove Banquet (which sold out quickly).
Later this month, the Red Sox will hold their annual rookie development camp for its almost-ready-for-primetime players.
Then the real fun begins next month when Boston’s pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers, Fla., for the beginning of spring training.
THE HOT STOVE banquet was a huge success last year, thanks to the curiosity factor over the appearance of new manager Bobby Valentine. He won’t be back (to Portland or Fenway Park), but the Sea Dogs struck a memory-lane chord with Trot Nixon being the guest of honor, along with former Sea Dogs outfielder Josh Reddick.
Nixon, one of the most popular Red Sox players because of his all-out hustle, was the Red Sox right fielder when they won the 2004 World Series. He retired in 2008.
Reddick is also a right fielder, but not in Boston. The Red Sox traded the former Sea Dogs player to Oakland in the deal to land closer Andrew Bailey (who is no longer the closer).
Reddick had a breakout year in 2012 with 32 home runs and a Gold Glove Award.
THE ROOKIE CAMP that the Red Sox put on is designed for players whom they consider close (or really close) to reaching the major leagues with Boston. It is held every January — except last year when the Red Sox were busy with other things, like breaking in a new general manager and manager.
The prospects are given an orientation to life in the majors, especially in the fishbowl environment of Boston.
Of the 10 players invited, only one did not play in Portland. Pitcher Rubby De La Rosa has not pitched for any Red Sox minor league teams. He joined the organization after the season as one of the players to be named in the mega-trade with the Dodgers.
The nine who have appeared at Hadlock are pitchers Drake Britton, Chris Hernandez, Allen Webster and Steven Wright, catcher Christian Vazquez, shortstop Xander Bogaerts, and outfielders Jackie Bradley Jr., Bryce Brentz and Alex Hassan.
Webster (Dodgers) and Wright (Indians) were obtained in trades and briefly spent time in Portland. Both are expected to begin next season in Pawtucket.
Hernandez was promoted to Pawtucket during last season. Britton, who pitched for both Salem and Portland last year, might get a shot at Pawtucket.
Both Hassan and Brentz are Pawtucket-bound.
Vazquez, Bogaerts and Bradley all finished last year in Portland after promotions. All are expected to begin 2013 at Hadlock Field.
It will be interesting to see who breaks out this season and earns a call to Boston (i.e., who is the next Will Middlebrooks?).
JACKIE BRADLEY JR. was named the recipient of the 2012 Greg Montalbano Minor League Award, which will be presented by the Boston baseball writers.
Bradley batted .359 for Class A Salem last year before his promotion to Portland, where he batted .271, with an .809 OPS (combined on-base and slugging percentage).
REYNALDO RODRIGUEZ played parts of the past two seasons with the Sea Dogs. The first baseman will be headed to Fort Myers for spring training next month, but not to the Red Sox camp.
Rodriguez, who turns 27 in February, has signed a minor league contract with the Minnesota Twins.
THE SEA DOGS’ POPULAR food drive promotion is going on until Feb. 1. With every non-perishable food item donated, you get a two-for-one deal on Sea Dogs tickets.
Bring in a can of soup, and you get two tickets for the price of one. Bring in two cans, you get four tickets for the price of two, etc. All collected food will go to the Good Shepherd Food bank.
Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or: