If hope springs eternal in the run-up to baseball season, that hope seems a mite muted this year.
Sure, tourists flocked to Fenway Park this weekend for tours of the fabled ballyard, 11th-hour burnishing helped the 101-year-old stadium belie its age, and the Bleacher Bar in center field was crammed with patrons staring agog at the dazzling green of the playing field.
Still, something was different as the Boston Red Sox neared Opening Day against their ancient rivals, the New York Yankees.
Call it a novel experience of not-so-great expectations.
“It’s definitely a more reserved feeling for this season,” said Daniel Jacobson, a 25-year-old Web designer from Brighton. “There’s definitely some pessimism.”
Gone is the chest-thumping talk of a 100-win season, heard as recently as two Aprils ago, before those hopes were drowned in a nightmarish stew of numbing September defeats, clubhouse beer-drinking, and belt-busting fast-food chicken.
Now, fans seem ready to relish any improvement over the 69 bottom-dwelling wins that marked last season as the team’s worst in 46 years.
“Low expectations are a great place to start,” said Alex Talcott, 31, of Waltham, as he walked past Durgin-Park restaurant in Faneuil Hall Marketplace.
In Talcott’s view, that means less pressure, big upside, and a chance to brand a fresh identity as a lovable underdog.
Jacobson echoed that forgiving sentiment as he stood near Fenway Park’s towering left-field wall. “I think that the lowered expectations will make it more fun. I’m excited about the Red Sox this year,” he said.
In particular, he said, rookie outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and new manager John Farrell should bring energy and focus to a team that seemed to need extra adrenaline in 2012. Plus, Jacobson said, “there’s nothing that beats Fenway Park in the spring.”
Erik Roberson, 35, a big-time Red Sox fan from Clifton Park, N.Y., leaned against the rail in the Bleacher Bar, nursing a beer as he spoke of his favorite team.
“I don’t think there’s the same level of excitement, but I think they will surprise some people,” said Roberson, clad in a Sox cap and shirt. “I think people got spoiled by a lot of the big names.”
Now, some of those big names are gone — Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford were traded last year — and maybe some of the bad karma, too.
“I’m pretty excited. They should have a halfway decent team, although I know they may not be the best team in the league,” said Chad Bean, 30, of Orrington, Maine, who waited for a Fenway tour with his father and son.
In the team store on Yawkey Way, a stream of fans and tourists bought caps, jerseys, and other Red Sox paraphernalia in a generations-spanning display of team loyalty.
After all, the Red Sox begin the season Monday tied for first place.
“It’s a fresh start; that’s all we want,” said Julia Perroncello, 16, a Back Bay resident who works the counter at the store. “Put last year behind us, and just keep going forward.”
Mike Hughes, 58, is all for that. The Liberty Mutual executive, wearing a bright blue Red Sox jacket, interrupted a power walk in the shadow of the ballyard to profess his allegiance.
Good starting pitching and the emergence of role players will be keys to success this year, said Hughes, who lives in Back Bay.
Although neither of those ingredients is guaranteed, Hughes offered that “there’s one thing I’m sure of: They going to be better than the Yankees.”
Still, spring weather and the unblemished potential of a 0-0 record can buoy some fans only so much.
Julia Sayles, 28, of Brookline, senses a shift this Opening Day.
“I feel that people are a little down on the team this year,” said Sayles, a child therapist for the Home for Little Wanderers.
“They’ve been a little rowdy,” she said of the players. “Maybe they need a sports psychologist.”
But to many fans, past disappointment holds the seeds for unexpected joy.
Often, Talcott said, Boston fans “jump off the bandwagon a little early when things don’t go as expected.”
This year, it seems, there is no bandwagon and nowhere to jump—but up.