By Kevin Henkin
To be clear and upfront about things, I love baseball. Therefore, I’m not interested in making a case that basketball is better than baseball or vice versa. Rather, I’m simply remarking on the notable sea change in terms of how the Celtics and Red Sox are viewed, followed and supported by the Boston fandom at this time of year. Suddenly, one has to wonder what it’s going to be like around here once the NBA playoffs begin because it’s been years, YEARS since the Red Sox have had to treat their cross-town basketball rivals as serious competition in the business sense.
Over the last two years in particular, the springtime version of the Celtics have provided absolutely zero competition for the Red Sox and the abundant fanfare that annually surrounds them as their season officially opens. Last spring, those few of us who were masochistic enough to be still watching the Celtics mostly viewed their games at the end of the season as odd scientific experiments. The focus was far more on the development of individual young players and how certain combinations of them worked together rather than on their slim collective chances at victory. Far gone by then was any serious rooting interest. In fact, it was the worst kept in sports that most Celtics fans were rooting against their team so that they could later win in the draft.
Fast forward a year, however, and the Celtics are actually in a position to dominate the sports scene away from a team that has become accustomed to ruling the roost when the flowers bud and the grass greens. And how could the Celtics not dominate under these circumstances? The Red Sox still have 154 games to play before their hopeful berth into the post-season is earned whereas the Celtics are living very much in the urgency of the now, especially when you consider the fact that they are among a handful of serious contenders for the crown. You also have to consider the disparate paces of the two games.
Every year, it’s an enormous adjustment for me to shift from watching basketball to baseball. Basketball is naturally fast-paced and at its best provides a continuous free flow of action. Baseball, on the other hand, is a game of evenly spaced moments. Sometimes, particularly in the early season, I find myself agitated by the long spaces that can occur in between those moments, especially when the pitchers and batters lengthen them by stepping off the mound or out of the batters box. This feeling of maddening impatience generally falls away as the season progresses and the weather warms to the point where the languid pace of a well-played baseball game becomes as fitting as a lime in a Corona.
Until that happens, though? There’s honestly no way that a 162nd slice of a baseball season with its own playoff rounds a distant six months away can even remotely match up against the urgency of an NBA playoff game, where every bounce, every floated pass, every hard fought step for potion in the paint catches in your throat and quickens your heart for minutes at a time. As I said, I love baseball as much as the next guy. That said, I think I’m going to have to temporarily put that romance on hold, at least until the resonance from these upcoming Celtics playoff games fades to a relative hush.