SportsPulse: Opening week is upon us and hope springs eternal. For The Win’s Ted Berg provides his biggest and boldest predictions for the 2019 MLB season.
MESA, Ariz. — Boston Red Sox reliever Ryan Brasier, the greatest rags-to-riches story in the Red Sox’s glorious World Series run last year, opened the envelope. He read it. Put it down. Read it again. And still couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
A congratulatory note? An autograph request?
An invitation to be honored by his hometown of Wichita Falls, Texas?
A summons from the Wichita Falls school system.
He and his wife, Shaina, were being ordered to court to explain why Kolten Brasier, their 8-year-old son, missed 21 days of school last fall.
He was in danger of being expelled.
“We get home, see the court summons,’’ Brasier told USA TODAY Sports, “and it was like, “’What the hell?’ It was the dumbest thing I heard in my life. It was ridiculous. We even had to hire a lawyer. It was a debacle.
“It wasn’t like we just weren’t sending him to school. There was a reason he wasn’t in school.’’
Yes, there was a World Series to be won, and Brasier wasn’t about to deprive his son and family – including 4-year old daughter Avery – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see their dad accomplish the greatest feat in baseball.
“It’s one thing if he was in high school or even junior high,’’ Brasier said, “but he was in first grade. But they could have charged us up to $100 a day for the days missed if it went to an actual hearing.’’
All is resolved now. Kolten is doing great in school. Brasier, 31, who was unemployed 13 months ago, will open the season on a big-league roster for the first time in his 12-year professional career. He’ll be standing in line with the rest of his teammates opening day Thursday night at T-Mobile Park (nee Safeco Field) in Seattle, with Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. catching incoming Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez’s ceremonial first pitch.
And, when the Red Sox finally return home April 9, Brasier will be presented a 2018 World Series championship ring when the Red Sox have their ceremony at Fenway Park.
“Now, our goal is to do it again,’’ Brasier says, “and to be remembered forever.’’
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This time, Brasier, who’ll be heavily relied in the Red Sox’s bid to become the first team in 19 years to repeat, will be prepared.
“If we’re back in the World Series,’’ Brasier says, “we’ll be ready for it. We’ll just have to unenroll him, re-enroll him, which is kind of stupid, but, hey, I’d love to do this all over again.’’
The Red Sox, who have won four World Series championships since 2004, and three consecutive division tiles for the first time in franchise history, are trying to go where no team has gone since the turn of the century. The New York Yankees, from 1998-2000, are the last to win consecutive World Series championships.
“These guys have the same mentality, they haven’t changed,’’ Red Sox manager Alex Cora says. “We’re not going to turn the page, we’re just going to continue, to do the things that made us a good team last year.
“We are always going to be linked to the 2018 season, one of the best teams in the history of the organization, but now we have a chance to do something epic. Historic. They know it. And they’re up to the challenge.’’
The Red Sox no longer have All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel in their bullpen, or even setup man Joe Kelly, who combined for 128 innings and 44 saves last season. Their bullpen doesn’t have a single pitcher earning more than Tyler Thornburg’s $1.75 million salary.
Yet, their powerful lineup is intact. Their starting rotation is back. And their confidence has never been higher.
When they played their final spring-training game Tuesday in Arizona, and boarded a plane to Seattle, there was this feeling of exhilaration while setting the stage for an encore New England will cherish forever.
“We all believe we can do it again,’’ said ace Chris Sale, who signed a five-year, $145 million contract extension last week. “When you’ve never won a World Series, you feel like, “’Oh, man, that would be great,’ but how do you even do it? Now, it’s like, ‘Oh, man, it was such a grind, it was tough, but we did it.’
“When you achieve what we just did, you realize its attainable. So now let’s do it again.’’
Why not? The Red Sox won 108 games last year, outscored the opposition by 239 runs, lost only three games during the entire postseason, and believe they’re even better.
“I don’t know what we don’t do well,’’ said Red Sox starter David Price said.
Really, the Red Sox’s only pressing concern may be the bullpen. They are young, inexperienced, and have combined for only 15 career saves. If the bullpen struggles early, there will be panic in the streets of Boston, demanding reinforcements to replace the departures of Kimbrel and Kelly.
“Yeah, but people panicked even when those guys were here,’’ said veteran reliever Heath Hembree, “so it’s nothing new. There’s a calming feeling now, but the sense of urgency is still there.
“We know what it takes now.’’
And they’re well-prepared for the skepticism wondering how they can win another championship without a proven closer.
“It was the same thing as last year,’’ Brasier said. “Everybody kept saying, “We’re going to get beat by the Yankees [in the postseason] because we don’t have a bullpen. Same thing against the Astros. Same thing against the Dodgers. And look what happened.’’
This year, the Red Sox believe that nothing can hold them back
“We know what we’re going against,” Cora said. “We know that repeating is not easy. We have the perfect group to stay focused and not listen to the noise and stay locked in for more than 162 games.
“They’re very humble. Very hungry. We’re ready to go.’’
History is waiting.
“We know that if a team goes back-to-back,’’ Brasier says, “you’re considered one of the best teams in all of baseball. For anyone to win back to back titles, it’s almost unheard of, except in basketball with the Warriors. We want to be remembered.’
The mission is clear. The goals are set. And, yes, Kolten is back in school.
“I hope [Kolten] he’s back with us in October again,’’ Sale says. “He loves baseball. He gets fired up being around us, which is great for everyone.
“We know school is important, but come on, to be able to watch your dad in the World Series?
“That’s a dream we all want for our kids.’’
Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale