Monday, April 29, 2013

Bob Lobel: The Sox Turnaround and an Openly Gay Athlete

By Bob Lobel

Boston's four teams are heading in seemingly different directions, the first male player in a major American sport has come out as gay, and we are still moving on from the Boston Marathon bombings around two weeks ago.

It's been amazing to speak with people that weren't even in Boston when the bombings took place. Many were on vacation, and followed the news of their home town on national and international television as the world's media descended on Boston. Their experience was completely different from those of us that were here. Of course, that is understandable.

What is also understandable is the fading away of this Boston Celtics team. I can't believe I'm sitting here thinking that Rajon Rondo would make a big difference for the C's, especially considering I was one of the first people to say they were better off without him.

Rondo and Garnett both lost me as a fan after Game 7 in Miami last year, when neither stayed on the court to congratulate the Heat. Instead, the pouting duo went straight to the locker room.

Maybe it makes me petty to hold that against them, but it's not half as petty as they were in defeat.

By this time next week, they will be a distant memory, and both their futures will be as much in doubt as their past is full of sporting greatness.

An Act of Courage

In the biggest sporting news of the week so far, America's first sports "gay guy" Jason Collins came out. Collins used to play for the Celtics, and I say bring him back. His was an act of courage, and I believe the fans of Boston are savvy enough to embrace that.

Perhaps I'm putting some pressure on the fans of Boston, but they say they're "Boston Strong." This would be a chance to prove it, and show strength of a different kind.

If you haven't seen the movie "42" yet, I think it's great for a few reasons. Racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia all ride in the same parade, and this story of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier makes us aware of how destructive those forces can be.

Good luck to Jason Collins.

What to Make of the Bruins?

On to the Boston Bruins, and this team is a mystery to me. Goaltending has been very good, but special teams really need help. I guess the best storyline you can hope for is the ageless Jaromir Jagr taking out his former team the Pittsburgh Penguins for Boston.

But Tim Thomas is not walking through that door. Michael Ryder is not walking through that door.

Perhaps the old Milan Lucic will. At least Bruins fans hope so.

If the Bruins lose to Toronto, does the "Claude Julian should be fired" talk get going again?

I can't really talk about the Patriots draft, but I've seen some talking heads award Belichick's efforts a "D" grade, despite trading back on day one to amass picks.

Boston's Incredible Turnaround

So here we are, left with the Red Sox, who unexpectedly have the best record in baseball.

How is this possible?

Two years ago this was supposed to be "the greatest team ever" before an epic collapse. This year's group is far from that hype-wise, but all they do is win. Now, it's tempting to simply say they are off to a great start, but General Manager Ben Cherington has asked a very legitimate question: How far do you have to go into a season until it is no longer considered "a start?"

Cherington also says the first two months are spent finding out your team's flaws, the next two months are spent trying to correct them, and the last two months you can finally just play. Fair enough, but if you would have offered Sox fans this April record back in Spring training, they would have jumped at it.

The culture has changed in that clubhouse, but who did it and how? Go back to last July and recall the salary and player dump Boston pulled off with the Dodgers. That's where I believe the transformation began.

Just like the new movie, "Pain and Gain" has been the story of the last two seasons for the Sox. Now, with no real expectations hanging over their heads, they are becoming a very user-friendly team. As fans we expect nothing, so anything we get is something worth celebrating now.

Nobody is throwing out magic numbers quite yet, but the Sox will serve as a great distraction from other Boston teams like the Celtics, and yes, the Bruins.

Expect little, and then maybe you will get a lot. That mantra is certainly working for the Sox right now, and Bruins fans would be served to adopt this philosophy.