Today, the holy season winds down as our Christmas tree is bared and the manger scene packed up.
Now we await the next special time on the calendar, when pitchers and catchers report.
Please excuse the blasphemy, but there is excitement in the air (not to mention a feeling of needed warmth) when the new year begins and we talk baseball; thus the column is back from the holiday hiatus.
By the end of the month, players will be trickling into the Red Sox training facility in Fort Myers, Fla., getting an early start on spring training.
Pitchers and catchers officially report to the major league camp by Feb. 15. The first full workout for all the players is Feb. 20. Exhibition games begin Feb. 27 with the annual doubleheader against the college kids from Boston College and Northeastern.
By that time, the minor leaguers will officially begin their spring training.
Last season, the strength of the Portland Sea Dogs was its starting rotation, with Brandon Workman, Drake Britton, Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes. The former two reached the majors (Workman becoming a key arm in the postseason) and the latter two reaching Triple-A Pawtucket.
This year, the Sea Dogs’ forte should be its infield, especially if Garin Cecchini stays in Double-A.
We could be looking at an infield of Travis Shaw at first, Mookie Betts at second, Deven Marrero at short and Cecchini at third.
Shaw, 23, coming off a struggling 2013, rebounded in the Arizona Fall League (.361 and five home runs, albeit in a short sample of 17 games).
Betts, 21, had a breakout season in Class A last year (combined .314 average and .923 OPS in Greenville and Salem).
Marrero, 23, a first-round draft pick in 2012, showed off his superior fielding for 19 games in Portland last year, while batting .231.
Cecchini, 22, starred in Portland last year after a mid-season call-up, batting .296 (.420 on-base percentage) in 66 games.
Because of his age (Cecchini turns 23 in April) and experience, it might be expected that Cecchini returns to the Sea Dogs. But then you look at outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. He played 61 games for the Sea Dogs in 2012 (batting .271; .373 OBP). He also was 22.
But Bradley shined in spring training, started in the Red Sox season opener (with Jacoby Ellsbury hurt) and played most of the season in Triple-A.
If Cecchini is in Pawtucket, then the Sea Dogs could get minor league free agent Carlos Rivero, 25, who has been with the Indians, Phillies and Nationals organizations. Veteran Sea Dogs Heiker Meneses or Derrik Gibson are also available.
There is also the chance that the Orioles return Michael Almanzar to the Red Sox, if he does not stick with Baltimore’s major league roster.
THE ANNUAL BASEBALL America Top-10 prospect lists for each organization was recently announced. All but one on the Red Sox list have either played for the Sea Dogs, or are expected to be with the Sea Dogs this year.
As expected, Xander Bogaerts is Boston’s No. 1 prospect, followed by lefty Henry Owens (likely the Sea Dogs ace in 2014), Bradley, pitcher Allen Webster, catcher Blake Swihart (expected to be Portland’s starter this season), Cecchini, Betts, Workman, Barnes and Trey Ball (the first-round draft pick last year who will be in Class A in 2014).
CATCHER MATT SPRING will likely be back with the Sea Dogs for a third season. The veteran, known for how well he handles a pitching staff, along with his clubhouse leadership, recently re-signed with the Red Sox.
RELIEVER CHRIS MARTIN made for a good story, having risen from the independent leagues. But Martin’s tale will now be told with the Rockies. He was traded to Colorado, along with major league reliever Franklin Morales, for infielder Jonathan Herrera.
THINK THE CUBS like players from the Red Sox organization? Chicago, run by former Boston GM Theo Epstein, recently signed outfielder Ryan Kalish, as well as former Red Sox lefty Tommy Hottovy.
RUSS MORMAN, the former Sea Dogs hitting coach, was named manager of the Richmond Flying Squirrels (where Portland native Ken Joyce is the hitting coach). Their Hadlock reunion will take place Aug. 15-17.
Trivia: Morman and newly-named Sea Dogs manager Billy McMillon were teammates in 1996 and â€˜97 on the Marlins’ Triple-A team in Charlotte, N.C.
McMILLON WILL BE among the invited guests for the Sea Dogs annual Hot Stove Dinner Jan. 17 at the Sable Oaks Marriott. Workman, Bradley and Red Sox third base coach Brian Butterfield will also be in attendance. Tickets are $50. See the Sea Dogs website (www.seadogs.com) or call 879-9500 for more information.
THE SEA DOGS annual 2-for-1 ticket deal/food drive is taking place. Through Jan. 31, fans can get a free ticket for every ticket purchased, along with a non-perishable food item donated. All of the donations will go to the Good Shepherd Food Bank.
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at:[email protected]Twitter: ClearTheBases