BRUNSWICK

As summer quickly passes by and fall begins to come into view in the mid stages of August, the signs of change are here.

At area high schools on Monday, the peaceful silence was replaced by the sound of football pads, feet striking soccer balls, field hockey sticks connecting and cross-country runners hitting the road.

The beginning of nine months of busy sports starts every August with those first practices, and for athletic directors and us sports reporters, it signals a change to our often boring summer routines.

For the athletes, questions arise: Were they in shape? Did they work hard during the summer to improve?

I can remember those high school days. Yes, it was many, many full moons ago, but I still recall those hot days this time of the year like it was yesterday, strapping on the football pads, sweating in the 90-degree heat during two-a-days, hearing our coaches yelling to get low, hit harder. We dreaded those early practices, knowing that later that day our muscles were going to cramp up, and the next morning the alarm was going to sound, to rise up and do it all over again.

And, we knew that it was coming, when we were told to “run that hill,” where, in full pads and helmets, we ran down a long, hilly road before turning around and agonizingly running back up it to the field for water and more practice.

As we get older, we recall those times in our lives. Man, do I miss it! We didn’t know it then, but those days were some of the best times of our lives, where the only care in the world was getting ready for that first game under the lights.

I had good coaches that were ahead of their time. They always stopped practice for us to drink water, never using “hydration” as a punishment. Thank goodness!

We have seen it, athletes suffering from heat exhaustion and heat stroke, and on those rare occasions, tragically passing away. At UMaine, a young athlete died during a workout, a tragic event that will always be remembered by those Black Bears. Tragic!

On the fields today, athletic trainers and those coaches are preaching to stay hydrated, drink plenty of water, before, during and after practice.

The goal is for the athletes to be safe, while running that fine line of getting better. The term used to be “at all costs,” something that we don’t say today. In today’s sports world, it’s about improving the right way.

What we see are smarter folks in leadership roles whose first goal is to keep these athletes healthy, which should always be the first priority, along with having fun.

Tiger Woods

On Sunday, golf fans sat in front of their televisions as Tiger Woods made a run at the PGA Championship.

With every made putt and solid shot at the flag, I loudly cheered along with the tens of thousands at the event in St. Louis. Ultimately, Brooks Koepka was just too good, winning his third career major by two strokes over Woods.

Now, there are those who will never forgive Tiger for his marital transgressions. No doubt!

But, for golf fans, how could we not be cheering for a guy who has gone through four back surgeries and has worked to get back to playing a game he seems to truly love and appreciate more than ever?

Don’t forget, at one time Tiger was the face of professional golf. Since his return to prominence this year, there is little doubt that ratings have gone through the roof. CBS scored one of its highest ratings ever on Sunday as Woods shot a 6-under 64 while making his run toward the top of the leaderboard.

Hats off to Koepka. He earned that win on Sunday. Koepka admitted that he heard those thunderous ovations as Tiger made his run, with the cheers often coming in waves. Koepka, despite being in the final pairing on Sunday, played in relative obscurity during that final round with playing partner Adam Scott, with a majority of the gallery fixated on Tiger.

Woods is what’s best for golf. He brings excitement, where fans can’t help but watch him, whether he is liked or disliked.

Now, the PGA playoffs are set to begin and Tiger is a contender. And, the Ryder Cup is fast approaching.

Captain Jim Furyk has a decision to make. Does he select Tiger for the team? I can’t see how he can forgo putting Woods out there in Paris when the Ryder Cup is contested in September.

Woods will be there one way or another, as he is the vice-captain of the team.

Tiger said it himself, that he wants to play, not watch. To me, this is a no-brainer.

If Tiger had struggled throughout the year, was missing cuts, then I have no problem keeping him on the sidelines. He did miss the cut at the U.S. Open and was really never in contention at the Masters, which used to be his playground.

But, he finished sixth in the British Open, even leading on the final day, and took second at the PGA Championship. He finished 11th in Ryder Cup points, just outside the automatic eight who earned their spots.

Tiger has earned the right to be on that team, as Furyk will select four more golfers to fill out the U.S. side.

Prediction #1 — Tiger will tee it up in Paris.

Red Sox

This has been a magical season if you’re a Boston Red Sox fan.

Heading into Tuesday’s game at Philadelphia, the Sox were an unbelievable 50 games over .500 (85-35). And, the way the Red Sox are winning is enough to keep us fans on the edge of our seats. Walk-off wins, come-from-behind victories and pitchers throwing gems have highlighted the first 120 games.

JD Martinez has turned into the steal of the century and has quickly become my favorite player on the Sox. Now, I still don’t believe he will win the American League Most Valuable Player award, being that he spends most of his time as the team’s designated hitter. That honor will likely go to his teammate Mookie Betts, who is also deserving.

Quite frankly, the way voters look at the designated hitter is flawed. First off, when you have an outfield of Jackie Bradley Jr., Andrew Benintendi and Betts, why would new manager Alex Cora want to mess with it? Martinez is a decent outfielder and has performed well when placed in that role. And, Bradley has been inconsistent at the plate, with his average hovering around the Mendoza line.

But for my money, the Red Sox are at their best when Martinez is hitting third or fourth from the DH spot and the three-headed outfield is doing their thing.

Martinez has given the Red Sox what they have lacked since David Ortiz retired — a legit home run threat. Last year, the Red Sox failed to hit a grandslam home run. This year, they had seven in the first month of the season. Martinez has provided that dangerous hitter in the lineup, where those around him are seeing better pitches, as the last thing a pitcher wants to do is pitch around Betts and Benintendi, then have Martinez step to the plate with two on. Mitch Moreland was an All-star for the first time in his career, and Xander Bogaerts has provided the pop that we all felt that he had when he was called up from the minors, things that can be attributed to Martinez’s presence in the lineup.

The biggest question mark is the playoffs. Until the Red Sox find success in the postseason, there will continue to be doubters. Two straight first-round exits will do that.

For fans, winning 116 games will quickly be forgotten if Boston fails again early.

Still, I believe this is the best team in baseball this year. The pitching is superb, with Chris Sale leading the way. The Red Sox will need solid showings from Rick Porcello and David Price to have a chance, and the acquisition of Nathan Eovaldi, despite his last start, looks like a steal. The bullpen is solid, with Craig Kimbrell still one of the top closers in baseball, with Matt Barnes one of the league’s top setup relievers.

Prediction #2 — Boston over the Arizona Diamondbacks in the World Series. Book it! BOB CONN is The Times Record sports editor. He can be reached at [email protected]timesrecord.com.