FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Welcome to the Fort, for the Red Sox spring finale in Florida and the end of an era.
This is the last home game the Red Sox will be playing in City of Palms Park, or Wilbur "Billy" Smith Field, as a smaller sign in left-center field proclaims. Smith was the mayor of Fort Myers who threw out the ceremonial pitch at the inaugural game here in 1993. Now he's casting curses on the Red Sox in newspaper columns because of his unhappiness at the nearly $80 million Lee County is spending on a new facility for the Sox, scheduled to open next spring, but that's another story.
"I like this ballpark a lot,'' said Red Sox manager Terry Francona, and what's not to like about a facility that is hardly showing its age after just 19 springs, with a beautifully manicured field and excellent sight lines for the 1.8 million fans who came to watch the Sox since the place opened.
The ballpark is not the issue for the Sox, who exercised their leverage to negotiate a new deal for the county for a bigger facility, one that will have all the team's practice fields and minor-league facilities located on the same property (it will open next spring). That was not the case here, with the player development facility a couple of miles down Edison Avenue. Francona said having everything in one place will be of considerable benefit to the club.
Francona mentioned that he is scheduled to give a little thank you speech in pregame ceremonies. He also said that because he is not a believer in "show and go," he plans to have his regulars take at least two or three at-bats before coming out. The four nonstarters today --Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jed Lowrie, Mike Cameron, and Darnell McDonald -- also will see action, he said.
Here is today’s lineup for the Sox, who are facing the Tampa Bay Rays, who left most of their regulars at home.
1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
3. Carl Crawford, LF
4. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
5. Kevin Youkilis, 3B
6. David Ortiz, DH
7. J.D. Drew, RF
8. Jason Varitek, C
9. Marco Scutaro, SS
SP -- Clay Buchholz, RHP
Francona is still hesitating to declare this as his Opening Day lineup Friday against Texas, primarily because the Rangers are pitching left-hander C.J. Wilson, who was 3-0 with an 0.86 ERA against the Sox last season, the lowest ERA of any starter with 15 innings or more against the Sox.
If this was July, Francona said Tuesday, he'd be inclined to sit some of his lefthanded hitters and go with righthanded bats instead. Lowrie, for example, could play third with Youkilis DHing, Mike Cameron could play right instead of Drew, and McDonald could play left instead of Crawford.
"But it's Opening Day,'' Francona said, adding that he plans to give the matter further thought when he boards the team's flight to Houston tonight.