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Sox’ campaign starts with Town Hall event

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By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / February 1, 2011

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Although pitchers and catchers do not report for two weeks, the Red Sox yesterday fanned the flames of their snowbound legion of fans by conducting the first NESN-televised Town Hall meeting at WGBH’s Calderwood Studios. It marked the culmination of a listening tour Red Sox officials began last April in Hartford.

“I think we’ve always felt like it was good for us to have a dialogue with our fans,’’ said Red Sox chairman Tom Werner, who joined team president Larry Lucchino, executive vice president and general manager Theo Epstein, and manager Terry Francona on the panel.

“I think this was Larry’s idea and we like to hear from them, as well as answer their questions,’’ Werner said. “I think the feed back is really important and I hope it’s just another example of having a real connection to our fans who are passionate and smart.’’

Last night, a select group of 175 fans, comprised of longtime season ticket-holders, sponsors, and players from several local softball and baseball teams, was allowed to pose questions on a variety of topics ranging from the offseason acquisitions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to the health of the team to the improvements made to Fenway Park.

“One of the things I hear all the time, and this is an example, ‘It’s tough to get tickets to Red Sox games,’ ’’ Werner said before the meeting. “We’ve had this policy of capping our season tickets at 20,000, so that families can come to an occasional game. I think if we wanted to, we could’ve capped our season tickets at a much higher number, but there are hundreds of thousands of tickets available and it’s important for us to communicate that kind of message.’’

Asked about the health of the team, Epstein said, “What’s important for us is that the health is good throughout the course of the season. Right now, all the injured players are on schedule or ahead of schedule to be back and be performing without limitation during the course of the season. [Dustin] Pedroia, I know mentioned in an article, he said that his foot felt a little funny and everyone went crazy.

“It turns out it was pain in a different part of his foot that was caused by having his foot immobilized for so long. I appreciate the concern and we all feel better — if you look at our infield, every single one of those guys is either coming off surgery or rehabbing an injury, so we’ll all feel better once they’re healthy, playing together and we can start the year at 100 percent.’’

Epstein said Gonzalez looked to be right on schedule, “if not ahead of schedule.’’

“He’s going to check in with his surgeon on his way to spring training to see if he can move up his timetable,’’ Epstein said. “His original schedule called for him to start swinging the bat at the end of February and probably get into spring training games in March. He’s doing so well with his range of motion, that may be moved up a little bit, but that remains to be seen. But, obviously, we’re going to be really smart how we handle him.’’

Asked for his reaction to the comments of Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who intoned that the Sox’ offseason acquisitions made them better than the Yankees, Werner said, “It might be reverse psychology. They’re a tough team and I’m very excited about our season, but you should never take the Yankees lightly.’’

Said Lucchino: “Cashman’s a very honest and forthright guy, but he’s also not above playing games. They’re always going to be the favorite, c’mon. They’re the New York Yankees. They’re the biggest market in the world. We’re just happy to be those guys they’re worried about and looking over their shoulder.’’

Before the acquisitions of Gonzalez and Crawford, there seemed to be a concern among Sox fans whether ownership had properly allocated its resources after principal owner John Henry spearheaded the $476 million purchase of an English Premier League soccer team, Liverpool FC. Henry was not present at last night’s meeting.

“It was ironic, because when we acquired Liverpool, I think there was a lot of concern in New England that we were going to be diverting resources for players for the Red Sox,’’ Werner said. “Then after the two acquisitions that we made to stock our roster, those kind of comments were less in Boston, but more in Liverpool — ‘Now that you’ve spent tens of millions of dollars on players in Boston, what about us?’

“But we made some player moves today in Liverpool people on that side of the Atlantic are happy about.’’

Liverpool replaced Torres by signing Luis Suarez from Ajax and Andy Carroll from Newcastle for a combined $58 million pounds ($93 million).

Lucchino, though, indicated he and the rest of ownership was fully focused on the Red Sox. So much so, he joked, “I burned my passport a few weeks ago.’’

Lucchino said the ownership group, now in its 10th year, had made investments totaling $285 million in the improvement of Fenway Park and indicated that this offseason was no different, citing the addition of three new high-definition video boards above the center-field bleachers and massive upgrades and renovations to the concourses near Gate D.

“People are going to be pleased,’’ Lucchino said. “All the construction and improvements we have done through the years will ensure that Fenway is here for years and years to come.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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