When you’re the opposition -- the enemy as it were -- in Anaheim, Baltimore, Toronto, Tampa Bay, Oakland, and especially in New York, one would expect no acts of kindnesses. Unless you’re the Red Sox.
When you’re the opposition -- the enemy as it were -- in Anaheim, Baltimore, Toronto, Tampa Bay, Oakland, and especially in New York, one would expect no acts of kindnesses.
Unless you’re the Red Sox.
Then you can expect cheers, sometimes louder than afforded the home team. It IS a Red Sox Nation, and it got a globalization bump with a week’s stay and four games in Japan.
Two of the games opened the regular season against the Oakland A’s, who must have felt like second-class citizens as the baseball-crazed Japanese fussed and gushed all over the Red Sox, especially Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima.
When Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis or Mike Lowell were spotted in the street or hotel lobby, they were like rock stars. The Athletics? Chances are nobody kept Bobby Crosby, Jack Cust or Travis Buck from going about their business uninterrupted.
No Red Sox diehard younger than 40 would understand that in the 1960s you could buy box seats at Fenway Park on the day of the game.
A half-full, or less, Fenway was not such an anomaly. Then again, the Red Sox consecutively finished 7th, 6th, 8th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 9th from 1960 through 1966. Games out of first place: 32, 33, 19, 28, 27, 40, 26.
In 1967, The Impossible Dream season changed the landscape. The Red Sox lost the World Series in seven games to a great Bob-Gibson-dominated Cardinals team, but it didn’t hurt that much. It was Boston first World Series since 1946.
The Red Sox closed the sixties by finishing 17 and 22 games out of first place, and began the ‘70s finishing 21 and 18 games out. Still, the Red Sox had caught on. The Red Sox failed to draw a million fans to Fenway the previous six seasons prior to the ’67 explosion.
The Sox became loveable losers, getting bested in the World Series of 1975 and 1986, in seven games each time. Now they’re beloved winners, the envy of the baseball world.
After all the frustration when they were good, just not good enough to go the distance, and after all the truly lousy seasons, the notion that Boston is a popular choice to win its third World Series in five years has longtime Red Sox fans pinching themselves.
Younger fans accustomed to home team heroics are thinking, “So what’s the big deal?”
The powerful ownership troika of John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino, and the young and brainy general manager Theo Epstein, have elevated Boston’s passion for the game beyond what was thought possible. They vowed to stay in Fenway Park, a mecca to some, a dump to others, even though the owners have given the ballpark which opened in 1912 a spectacular facelift that even Joan Rivers would admire.
The owners have made Fenway YOUR Fenway. You can get married at Fenway, get bar mitzvahed, see how the scoreboard works from inside the Green Monster. You can even watch a game on top of the Monster. The food at Fenway has been upgraded; so have the restrooms.
All at a price though. Fenway is no longer a cheap date. But it is the place to be seen.
The 2008 Red Sox look fine on paper. Ramirez is acting like a changed man, which might have something (OK, a lot) to do with his being on the final year of his $20 million per contract. Manny wants to play until he’s 40. He wants to lead the league in RBIs this season. He wants to finish his career with 600 homers. Ortiz and Manny hitting back-to-back is a luxury few teams have.
Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia have to prove that, callowness aside, they can live up to the promise. Buchholz, who had an underwhelming spring in Florida, becomes an even more important figure because who knows when Curt Schilling can pitch again, or if the opposing hitters have caught up to Dice-K, or vice versa? Ellsbury has been willed the centerfield job. It comes with great expectation, and responsibility. Pedroia was the rookie of the year; he might be even better this time around.
If Mike Lowell tails off some after his unexpected .321/21/120 season, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for J.D. Drew to balance the books by upgrading his poor first-season in Boston, especially if Jason Varitek’s days as a dependable hitter dwindle. There is evidence of that. Kevin Youkilis was solid in ’07, and has to keep performing that way. Julio Lugo has to be better. The bullpen should be a strongpoint again.
Boston’s home opener is April 8, against the offense-crazed Tigers. The Red Sox will receive their World Series rings. It’ll be a festive day, starting in the saloons in late morning. Fans of all ages will roam Kenmore Square wearing Red Sox stuff running into hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Charles Steinberg, the impresario of pre-game, post-championship season festivities, has left to brainstorm for the Dodgers. Interested to see what the Red Sox have planned this time.
The basic Boston sports fan was crushed by the Patriots’ Super Bowl defeat. Some can’t even discuss it without sinking into depression. Others are in denial that it even happened.
Along come the Red Sox, looking to tie the Patriots in the ring department. Just imagine, the local football and baseball teams each with three titles in the 2000’s.
Whatever. Just keep in mind when any of this would’ve been way too much to ask
Lenny Megliola is a Daily News columnist. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org