FENWAY PARK SOUTH: John Lackey of the Red Sox didn't pitch last year, and the last lingering memory of the injured hurler was that of dipping his hand into a bucket of fried chicken with the rest of the staff in 2011.
He returned this spring training as a new man. He had a new surgically repaired elbow, and he offered a new look: slim and trim. His attitude had changed from surly and sour to sweet and soothing.
The new Red Sox have done a 180-degree turn from last season's unsavory bunch of prima donnas. Now we have a group ready to kiss babies and hand out lollipops during the 7th inning stretch.
Then Lackey took to the mound like a man bound to prove that he was a new man. And, in an instant, starting the first real spring training game against the Tampa Bay Ray rivals, he proved he was indeed a new man.
Lackey walked a batter to start, gave up a solid hit, and for good measure hit a bitter batter as though he were Daniel Bard last year. New, indeed. He turned into this year's Dice-K-a pitcher now gone to eat Cleveland with his gyro ball.
One example is never enough for a generalization, but it is surely enough for an emblematic and symbolic statement.
Granted, Lackey survived the inning, allowing only one run. He had not pitched in game conditions for a year. He was bound to have a little rust around the edges.
In an age when athletes kill the ones they love and imagine ones who don't exist, Lackey began to sound like a breath of fresh air.
Whether his change of heart and body is a change of soul only 162 games will tell.