Last weekend I had the chance to take in a Red Sox spring training game at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Florida. It was the last game of the preseason and despite impending rain, the crowd was enthusiastic to see the team’s last warm up before Opening Day. Before the game I stood in a narrow hallway as the players crossed between the clubhouse and the dugout, many of them smiling and nodding as they walked past. Further down the passageway towards the field, fans of all ages hung over the railing hoping to get a glimpse of a favorite player and perhaps even an autograph.
“Do the Sox ever cut through that way?” I asked my new friend Jerry, a member of the security team. “Nope, never — but the other team walks through there and then once one of our minor league guys stood there and signed for an hour. He was having a ball.” I realized that this was the moment when expectations were highest — for the fans who would might never get this close to a player, for the minor league journeyman who would never again get nearer to the majors and even for the team itself. The team is nearly identical to the championship squad, there are few worrisome injuries to track (knocking on wood) and few pending contracts to worry about. Even with these stars aligned, the team can hardly plan to repeat the magic of 2013 because it was just that — magic. Managing the expectations of the fans, the players and the media for the upcoming season must be a daunting task for John Farrell and his staff.
While my jaunt to Florida kept me outside of Rhode Island’s borders during the election of Speaker Nicholas Mattiello last week, the magic of Twitter (and a reasonably patient family) gave me a front row seat to the action. Like John Farrell, Speaker Mattiello has to manage high expectations as he assumes his new leadership position in the House of Representatives. So far he’s been decisive – promptly replacing committee chairs and saying he would focus on “ jobs and the economy” — four magic words that Rhode Islanders are desperate to hear. Moderate Democrats did a happy dance watching the progressive wing of the party pick the losing side in the leadership battle and even some Republicans were pleased to see one of their own — Representative Doreen Costa — be awarded a vice chairmanship on the House Judiciary Committee. In the East Bay, the rise of Representative Raymond Gallison to chair of the House Finance Committee and Representative Jay Edwards as the new Majority Whip gives our regional issues a little more voice on Smith Hill.
With week one behind him, the honeymoon may be short-lived as the General Assembly has a load of work ahead and Speaker Mattiello has some thorny issues to wrap his arms around with just two months left to go in the session. He needs to decide whether the House will take up the pension reform settlement (if it is approved by the unions) and he will need to pass a budget through a chamber whose members were (at least initially) not unified in their support of him. And unlike John Farrell, his season is a short one and his success or failure will likely ride on the how the next few months play out. One thing is for certain, whether or not Speaker Mattiello can manage the high expectations that have been set — and the daunting challenges ahead — he won’t be slipping a shiny new World Series ring on his finger anytime soon, so relishing day-to-day wins and riding out the losses will have to suffice for now.