BOSTON — In a winter filled with talk of the next polar vortex, thoughts of spring training warm our heart in these final days of January. It might be tough to imagine needing a blast of fresh air, but over the past week Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes has given us exactly that.
At an event in Boston last week, Gomes was asked about a Yankees spending spree that will put Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Masahiro Tanaka and others in pinstripes next season.
“We still have the belt,” Gomes told reporters as the Boston Baseball Writers Dinner, reminding the baseball world that the defending champs will bring a little swagger with them when they hit Fort Myers next month.
“Kind of flattering a little bit that a rival has to reload as much as they did. We lost some core players. At the same time, this organization is extremely deep. The majority of our core group of guys is back. We’re champs. We have to uphold that title. I don’t think the mindset is going to change.”
It’s been a long while since the Sox and Yankees have had the opportunity, or the talent, to trash talk. A year ago we were talking about the possibility of both missing the playoffs for just the second time in 23 years.
We were half right. The Yankees missed the postseason, winning just 85 games. The Sox won 97 and rolled through an unforgettable October. New York responded by committing a half-billion dollars to free agents expected to make the Yankees a contender again.
Signing Ellsbury was a direct shot at the Sox, even if it cost the Yankees Robinson Cano (who signed for bigger money in Seattle.) Ellsbury isn’t as productive or as durable as Cano, but he’ll be a player we watch closely here in Red Sox Nation – especially if Jackie Bradley Jr. and Grady Sizemore struggle.
There was a time when the loss of a player like Ellsbury would send Sox fans into panic mode. Not anymore. The Sox lead the Yankees 3-1 in championships over the past 10 years. We’ve come to believe in the Red Sox Way – even though the franchise lost its way in 2012.
We also believe in Gomes, the outspoken player who stood up for all of us with his “Boston Strong” pose at second base in the first home game after the Boston Marathon tragedy last April. He was the poster boy for Boston’s band of bearded brothers as he punted his helmet in the air after a walk-off June homer and kicked beers into the crowd during October celebrations.
He can talk trash with the best of them. At a chance meeting with the Northeastern University baseball team (who will face the Sox in the annual college doubleheader next month) Gomes told the Huskies “you’d better bring your lunch. We’re still the champs.”
Of Dustin Pedroia, Gomes said: “They say he can hit the high fastball. He’d better. When you’re that short everything is a high fastball.”
It’s the kind of personality we love here in Boston. The kind of personality we were missing in the Collapse of September 2011 and the Disaster of 2012.
Gomes told me he’ll be shaving his now-iconic beard before the start of camp. He assured me something would replace the beards as a rallying cry for the Sox in 2014.
“Time to turn the page,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll come up with something new.”
One thing that won’t change is the approach Gomes takes to the game. That approach makes the Sox a favorite to win the East again in 2014.
Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.