EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 27, 2013

Let Jackie play now!

Sox need to start right and Bradley Jr. is the spark

Bill Burt
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Not to trump the Monday column by The Eagle-Tribune’s esteemed card-carrying member of the Baseball Writers Association of America, Chris Smith, but he is wrong about whether the Red Sox should have Jackie Bradley Jr. in the opening day lineup.

Smith wrote the Red Sox should send Bradley Jr. to Triple-A Pawtucket. That would keep him under Boston’s control for seven years rather than six and also save them potentially millions in that final year.

If they keep him in the minors for just 10 davs to begin the season, they gain that extra year.

But the Red Sox need Bradley Jr. much, much more than he needs them.

This is the first season in a long time that I remember so few people caring about the Red Sox.

I guess I could go back to Butch Hobson in the early 1990s, but at least he had the lightning rod himself, Roger Clemens.

The fried chicken and beer debacle of 2011, the collapse in September that same season, the vilification of the fired Terry Francona, and the Bobby Valentine Nightmare still resonate.

I hate to say it. But I’m already in wait-’til-next-year mode.

But there is one caveat to this apathy, one reason to stay tuned after opening day:

Jackie Bradley Jr.

Heck, before I even saw the guy, I liked his name.

Anybody that carries the Jr. — I’m a junior, too, but the only way you’d know it is by looking at my bank card — has some moxie.

I know some of his stats have been at Hall of Fame levels all spring — his average is .444, 24 for 54, with two HRs and 11 RBI — but he has been more than fodder for Bill James’ Geek Club.

Bradley Jr. has been a spark.

I realize the Red Sox didn’t plan for him to be playing on opening day in 2013. They wouldn’t have added both semi-expensive journeymen — Shane Victorino (3 years, $39 million) and Jonny Gomes (1 year, $5 million).

Maybe they would have traded away the starting centerfielder, Jacoby Ellsbury, who has gone from chick magnet to money mongerer.

But it doesn’t matter anymore. The Red Sox need Bradley Jr.

The Red Sox already have let us know that their incredible consecutive sellout streak of 793, will probably end after 794 (immediately after opening day).

But I wonder if the Red Sox do it properly and market the newest “favorite” Red Sox player rather than save a year of eligibility by sending him down to Pawtucket for a few weeks.

I realize the New England Patriots — really Bill Belichick — don’t listen to fans demands, but the Red Sox might want to in this case.

The Red Sox might be a pretty good team, or at least much better than the 69-win team from 2012. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have turned some heads this spring and looked like top-of-the-rotation pitchers, which usually means a contending team. Couple that with a potentially good bullpen and a decent lineup (at best) and the Red Sox might be in the American League East discussion come September.

But worrying about September is for other teams. The Red Sox need to worry about April.

They need to get off to a good start, play hard, and win some of their fandom back.

On Sunday against the Phillies, Bradley Jr. turned my head completely around. In the second inning, he hit the first pitch he saw from Cliff Lee over the left field wall, an opposite field shot, lefty vs. lefty.

I know the Red Sox have gotten hits off Lee before, I just don’t remember any of them.

I remember this one.

Bradley Jr. has been hitting the smithereens out of the ball from Day 1 of Spring Training. The thing is, we kept waiting for the rookie slump, when he saw real pitchers rather than pitchers wearing No. 91.

Well, the waiting is over. It never happened, which is an accomplishment in and of itself.

Manager John Farrell knows all of the above better than any of us. He has seen it with his own eyes every single day this spring.

Do the right thing and bring Jackie Bradley Jr. to the Bronx for opening day. And then make sure he’s in Boston for opening day a week later.

The Red Sox desperately need a spark in more ways than one. Bradley Jr. could fill that bill.

You can email Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.