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Bruce Watson: My own spring training

Once again this spring, I’m putting myself through the rigorous exercises demanded of every Red Sox fan. Calisthenics, wind sprints, pumping iron — these are for the players. And like fans everywhere, I enjoy watching them wear down their bodies while I sip a hot toddy.

But as I watch, I put myself through my own spring regimen, one that starts with shouting WHO???

Reporting to camp in mid-February, I start with a sprint through the Sox roster. As I run my eyes down the page, I pump my hands and count the number of names I recognize. This gets tougher by the year. When younger and in better shape, I often recognized 30 of the 40 names. Yaz. Lynn. Nomar. Pedro. We loved them and they stuck around for years. But time and rampant free agency play tricks on aging fans.

Allen Webster? WHO? Dan Butler? WHO? Koji Uehara? Brock Holt? WHO? WHO?

Who are these guys? Are they on actual baseball cards? Is there a kid in Needham who’s dying to get his hands on this year’s Alex Hassan? Come July, will we all be shouting “Carp! Carp” (Mike Carp, four seasons with Seattle, lifetime average .255. Salary — probably seven figures.)

Once I’ve warmed up my mouth and exhausted my bewilderment I move on. On to exercising muscles, starting with the hopiscus minimus. Found just below the gluteus maximus, this so-called “hope muscle” is the one that lifts you in your chair when possibility arises. A fly ball hit deep, deep … you rise. The Yankees have the bases loaded, Sox ahead by one, and there’s a grounder to second. Could be two ... the hope muscle must be strong.

For Sox fans, last year was hard on the hope muscle. Mine got flabby in April and by the All-Star break it was pure Jell-O. Unused since late summer, the muscle withered and gave out. I’m hoping three sets a day of hope curls, lifting my hopes by watching a DVD of the 2004 post-season, will give me a hope muscle of steel.

Once hope has sprung, I do my stretches. These start with a warm-up look at the season schedule. As I jog from April through September, I stretch my imagination by selecting games I’d like to go to. Then the real stretching starts.

I stretch my mind to comprehend bleacher seats at $28 and loge seats at $99. I stretch the truth to imagine buying a DMD Field Box at $130 or a Pavilion Club seat at $170, plus $10 beers and $30 parking. And I stretch credibility to tell myself I could even get a pair of tickets for a Yankees game. Stretching is vital but risky. The last two seasons I pulled my hope muscle and ended up on the DL, not seeing a single game at Fenway.

The newest spring training ritual is the saddest. Time was when my son went through all this with me, when we went to Fenway together, watched on TV together, lived and died over a 3-2 pitch in the bottom of the ninth. Together. But time plays tricks on dads. Beloved players are traded, rosters turn up more and more WHOs, and there is no exercise that prepares a father to explain this to a boy.

As a boy accelerates, baseball seems to slow down. Innings on TV are endless. World Series games last past midnight. So each spring, I gird my hope muscle and ask Nate if he’d like to watch a game. And each spring he stretches his legs and goes out to play soccer.

Still, the snow may be on the roof. The cobwebs shaking. But by mid-March I’ll be in shape for another season. Here’s hoping all this hard work pays off for you, me and Mike Carp.

Bruce Watson’s column appears twice a month. He can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.

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