Wednesday, April 16, 2014
PORTLAND - Derek Witham was in a hurry as he glanced at the lineup of faces mounted on a cinderblock wall. He broke stride and stared at the unblinking eyes of a 21-year-old Josh Beckett.
Out came Witham's cellphone and its camera. Saturday's ballgame between the Binghamton Mets and Portland Sea Dogs was an hour away, but Witham had his first meaningful souvenir.
Beckett had been inducted into the Portland Sea Dogs Hall of Fame last year. He had been a hero. Past tense. "There's a fine line between confidence and arrogance, and he crossed it," said Witham, visiting from Malden, Mass. "I don't really know when or how but I'm not sorry he's gone."
Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Nick Punto took off their Red Sox uniforms and flew to Los Angeles to join the Dodgers on Saturday. Carl Crawford and his surgically repaired arm will join them soon. In one move, Red Sox management changed the face of a team no one loved.
"I do like Punto," said Aaron Lamoreau of Dexter, speaking of the utility infielder who was paid pennies, relatively speaking, to fill in where needed. "He seemed to be a good guy. He played hard. I'll miss him."
Lamoreau stood in front of the section of wall that displayed the Sea Dogs' Hall of Fame. Portrait photos of Charles Johnson, the catcher, and Mark Kotsay, the outfielder, are mounted on that wall. So is Kevin Millar, the fan favorite. The most recent inductee is Beckett. He wore a Sea Dogs uniform in 2001. He looked so poised in the photo for someone so young.
Witham couldn't help but think back to when Beckett pitched the Florida Marlins to their 2003 World Series win. Or four years later in the American League playoffs in Cleveland, when the Indians trotted out Beckett's former girlfriend to sing the national anthem.
"It didn't rattle him, did it?" said Witham. "He pitched even harder. You know, my license plate is RSox07."
Witham was at Hadlock with his family, which included teenagers. First-time visit for all of them.
"This is it for this ownership," said Witham. "You know that. They're moving their big salaries to sell the team. I own a business. I understand what (John Henry and his partners) are doing. They're not really into baseball."
Plausible theory, isn't it?
On the other side of the ballpark, behind the third-base grandstand, Julie Schafer greeted would-be customers from behind a souvenir stand. A table of bobblehead dolls, leftovers from past promotions, were on sale. Friday night she had 72 Adrian Gonzalez bobbleheads. About 24 hours later she had 11 left.
"No one's really buying (after the trade)," said Schafer. "They look and scoff. He's not a Red Sox anymore."
The team had turned sour and so many fans wanted to spit them out. Beckett had left the worst taste.
Brian Young of Wilton walked by wearing a Red Sox jersey with Carl Crawford's name on the back. Young was walking tall.
"He was a very intense player when he was with Tampa Bay," said Young. "I liked that. It just didn't work out for him in Boston. (Kevin) Youkilis was an intense player, too. It hurt to see him go, too."
Young, like Witham and Lamoreau, and Carl Badeau of Fayette and Glenn Ranfos and Robin Boylston of Hooksett, N.H., were in agreement. The Red Sox didn't get one player back from the Dodgers who can help the team this season, but the trade was great. Get rid of the bad that was killing the good.
"Beckett could have had a better attitude," said Lamoreau, looking at the 21-year-old version on the wall. "He was a bad influence. Look at the example he set for Jon Lester. I never would have thought Lester would be the one to go back into the clubhouse during games for beer and chicken."
He wasn't grousing. No one was. The Deal was done. The Sea Dogs are the hottest team in the Eastern League and fighting for a playoff spot.
It felt good to be a Red Sox fan again.
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: email@example.com