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Not a banner day for fans

After weeks of good news, Boston hit with some bad

Email|Print| Text size + By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / November 15, 2007

If you added up what happened yesterday that could affect the Red Sox directly or indirectly, you might grade the day a D. It would have been an F except that Alex Rodriguez said on his website he might be brokering a new deal with the Yankees without the aid of agent Scott Boras (yeah, right).

Let's deal with this goody before we get to the bad stuff.

If A-Rod does re-sign with the Yankees - and the Sox must be hoping the money gets real, real high - that could eliminate one potential landing spot for Mike Lowell and improves his chances of staying in Boston, which is really where he wants to be. However, Channel 7 reported on its website last night that four teams - the Braves, Angels, Cardinals, and Yankees - have each offered Lowell a four-year contract worth between $55 million and $60 million, exceeding the Sox' three-year proposal.

Lowell, who is among the most coveted free agents, will have plenty of competition for the third base dollar. Other candidates include Baltimore shortstop Miguel Tejada, who could be traded and moved to third; St. Louis's Scott Rolen, who has been at odds with Tony La Russa and could waive a no-trade clause; and the big prize, Florida's 24-year-old Miguel Cabrera, who is being shopped and drawing interest from the Los Angeles teams.

"We're still talking to the Levinsons [Lowell's agents] and we're still hopeful we can get something done with Mike," Sox general manager Theo Epstein said.

A-Rod could put up amazing numbers at Fenway Park, but whether he feels embarrassed by the World Series leak by Boras that he was opting out of his Yankees contract, or a market never materialized for the $350 million he reportedly was seeking, or Boras is manipulating all this from behind the scenes, who will ever know? The people not surprised are the Red Sox, who saw this scenario unfolding, which is apparently why they were lukewarm with Boras about A-Rod at their meeting in Orlando, Fla., last week.

Rodriguez wrote on his website: "After spending time with [wife] Cynthia and my family over these last few weeks, it became clear to me that I needed to make an attempt to engage the Yankees regarding my future with the organization. Prior to entering into serious negotiations with other clubs, I wanted the opportunity to share my thoughts directly with Yankees' ownership. We know there are other opportunities for us, but Cynthia and I have a foundation with the club that has brought us comfort, stability, and happiness. As a result, I reached out to the Yankees through mutual friends and conveyed that message. I also understand that I had to respond to certain Yankees concerns, and I was receptive and understanding of that situation.

"Cynthia and I have since spoken directly with the Steinbrenner family. During these healthy discussions, both sides were able to share honest feelings and hopes with one another, and we expect to continue this dialogue with the Yankees over the next few days."

The rest of the day wasn't so hot for the Sox.

The season-opening Japan trip doesn't do much for them from a competitive viewpoint. In fact, it really hurts.

The Sox will be playing exhibition games in Tokyo against the Oakland A's March 22-23. Then there's a workout day and the regular season will begin in Tokyo against Oakland March 25-26. This basically means the Sox will be leaving Fort Myers, Fla., March 19 for good. This is during the peak time of spring training, when pitchers are beginning to come into their own; when GMs like Epstein are trying to fit the final pieces of their teams together; and when player evaluations are key. In addition, players will have to gear up for meaningful games more than a week before they normally would.

The Yankees went through a horrific experience in 2004 when fatigue and the residual effects from their Japan trip contributed to their 10-11 start, though they rebounded to win 101 games and the American League East.

"The Japan trip is part of our 2008 schedule," Epstein said. "And we'll make the most of it. Tito [Terry Francona] and the coaching staff are already planning some adjustments to spring training to make sure we don't suffer any competitive disadvantage."

This trip is also tricky because the star of the show, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and his wife, Tomoyo, are expecting their second child on or about March 22. This creates a dilemma for Matsuzaka. His wife plans to have the child in Boston. But there's a clamoring for Matsuzaka in Japan and there's a big emphasis on work coming first in that culture, according to one Japanese journalist. How will the Sox resolve this conflict?

Did we mention how Red Sox fans get short-changed?

There are many couples and families in Red Sox Nation who plan their vacations based on spring training. There will be almost two weeks worth of games taken away.

Any spring training, but especially one after a World Series championship, is hugely important to Sox fans. Some of the wealthier ones might book trips to Tokyo during that time, but spring training is meant to be in Florida for the full six weeks. This trip will disrupt everyone. And it will hurt tourism in Fort Myers.

So now you can't watch the Sox in Fort Myers after March 19, and when you get back to Boston, you can pay 9 percent more for your tickets. Terrific day, huh?

Most Red Sox fans have always understood that the club relies on ticket prices for a lot of its revenue. The Sox justify it because they have the smallest capacity in baseball, so there's an understanding the prices will be high. The Sox probably figured they might as well slip this increase in while the euphoria is still high over the second World Series championship in four years, knowing there'll be some initial backlash, but really, how many fans will relinquish their season tickets because of a 9 percent increase?

Still, nobody likes to hear of ticket increases for a franchise that appears to be printing money. The Sox justify it by pointing out the many construction projects around Fenway and the capital it takes to keep making those improvements in their perpetual patchwork park.

Look at it this way - maybe the price increase would have been higher if the Sox had ponied up $30 million-$35 million a year for A-Rod. That's the good news.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at

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