Last February in Fort Myers, it was cold, relatively speaking. From Feb. 13 until the end of the month, nine days saw high temperatures of 65 or below, several in the 50s, with lows often in the low-40s. It was the fourth-coldest February on record in Fort Myers.
The current 10-day forecast shows almost nothing but sun and 70-plus degrees. That's not the only reason for intense optimism as players trickle into the Player Development Complex. There is a definitive buzz surrounding the Red Sox, and with each new arrival (Adrian Gonzalez showed up Wednesday), we can begin to see what this talent-laden group will look like on the field together.
Yours truly will be heading down Saturday and providing updates day and night until the end of March. Included in that span will be several editions of the Red Sox Lineup, nine thoughts to get you through the week. Here is the last one typed from my frigid Boston home.
1. By now you've heard of the Red Sox equipment truck leaving town Tuesday. For those of you unable to make it there, we bring you this classic reenactment of the event, which pretty much lays out every last detail of the voyage. Enjoy, and just know that 1,480 miles later, every player will have his jock strap.
2. The past week saw the Sox sign two more proven pitchers, adding right-hander Alfredo Aceves and left-hander Dennys Reyes to an expansive group that should provide incredible organizational depth on the mound. This, as much as anything, is the biggest difference between the team in February 2010 and February 2011. While they won't get the attention that Gonzalez and Carl Crawford will, the stockpiling of capable arms, many of which will start the year at Pawtucket, has given the club several fallback plans if portions of the bullpen falter again or if a starter goes down.
In addition to Aceves and Reyes, roles in the bullpen or as starter/reliever depth at the minor league level will be taken up by Matt Albers, Scott Atchison, Rich Hill, Andrew Miller, Matt Fox, Tony Pena, Jason Bergmann, Felix Doubront, Robert Coello, Michael Bowden and maybe a few more. Several of them are left-handers, providing plenty of competition for those roles. Compare that to last year's lean group — which needed a rushed signing of 43-year-old Alan Embree to increase the competition in spring — and it's clear that the Sox are well-stocked heading into spring training.
3. Keeping with that theme, one aspect of this year's edition of the Red Sox is its depth, flexibility and versatility, not only on the pitching staff. A probable bench of Jason Varitek, Jed Lowrie, Mike Cameron and Darnell McDonald is about as good as it gets. Not only do Varitek and Lowrie offer switch-hitting options at the two positions that one might classify as "average," but the two outfielders provide right-handed options for a trio of starters who are all lefties. Plus, while Lowrie can play all four infield spots, Cameron and McDonald can be trusted in all three outfield positions.
It's the kind of versatility that makes some of us wonder if some pieces can be moved around, not just with Varitek, Lowrie, Cameron and McDonald. NESN's own Peter Gammons took a stab with a pair of interesting ideas, wondering whether Daniel Bard could start and J.D. Drew could bat leadoff. Have a listen, and let us know what you think.
4. New York Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson spent a portion of his offseason as an MLB ambassador in New Zealand. The Red Sox signed Kiwi softball catcher Te Wara Bishop, who already has the coolest name associated with the organization (although I always liked this one). Now, one of New Zealand's best softball players is urging for stronger ties between the two sports.
It appears as if that part of the world will soon become even more of a resource for talent, and it's no surprise to see the Red Sox spearheading another global effort. More than 20 players who were born in Australia have reached the majors, most in the last 20 years.
5. We like to provide updates on things in Florida, since that's where the action will be until April 1. Much of that involves the building of the Red Sox' new spring training stadium, which might be dragged out until the final minute before next year's Grapefruit League action begins.
6. The moment they lay that last brick and hammer that final nail, the promotions team should take stock of how this goes over in Lowell. Now, if chicks dig the long ball, how do you think this guy does on the singles scene?
7. If you're feeling lucky, the Red Sox have offered up a chance to hit pay dirt. They are allowing fans to register for their chance to purchase premium home games, including all nine against the Yankees and three games versus the Chicago Cubs. The drawing will also give fans a chance to get in on Monster Seats and tickets for the Budweiser Right Field Roof Deck. For information on the drawing, as well as the dates for the general sale of those games and seats, go here.
8. Our "Where Are They Now?" segment this week highlights the reappearance of former Red Sox left-hander Casey Fossum, who has signed with the New York Mets and will compete for a spot in the bullpen. Fossum will forever be remembered in Boston as one of the key chips in the trade that landed Curt Schilling prior to the 2004 season. Fossum's best year came with the Red Sox in 2002, when he was 5-4 with a 3.46 ERA in 43 games (12 starts). It was a bit rocky after that for the lefty, who pitched in Japan last season.
Safe to say the Red Sox don't regret letting him go.
9. Apropos of nothing, can you imagine how different the Red Sox organization would be, heck, how different everything on Earth would be, if this plan ever came to fruition? Just stumbled upon those photos again. Another reason to be thankful for the 1967 "Impossible Dream" Red Sox, whose winning ways caused owner Tom Yawkey to pull out of the multi-team initiative and help doom the proposal.
Something to think about that first time you step into Fenway Park this season.