Jackie Bradley starts in left field.
The Houston Astros have the best record in the American League.
Alex Rodriguez will be the most hated player not playing in New York today.
Happy Opening Day.
The Boston Red Sox begin 2013 in a most unfamiliar place, trying to win 70 games for the first time in two years. They're the throes of an austerity campaign. Boston's payroll has tumbled all the way to fourth-highest in the majors, at $150.6 million, according to USA Today. That's a 13 percent cut from last year's pre-Crawford-Gonzalez-Beckett-Punto salary-dump figure of $170.3 million, which was third on Opening Day. Tough times indeed on Yawkey Way. John, Tom and Larry are slumming it.
The biggest challenge facing the Red Sox as the season begins in the Bronx - in addition to avoiding embarrassment and seeking a path to contend for the mirage of the second wildcard - is simple: Earn back the public's trust.
We've detailed multiple times - most recently last week - how the Red Sox have gotten to this point. The short version: 7-20, chicken and beer, Terry Francona's exit, Bobby Valentine's entrance, everything in 2012 but the trade with the Dodgers, the no-shows at Johnny Pesky's (first) memorial service and that 69-93 finish,
It's not simply bad play, bad players or even horrendous player moves that have cost the Red Sox so dearly in the minds of their public. The team that sold Babe Ruth also traded Sparky Lyle for Danny Cater and let Carlton Fisk become a free agent because they mailed his contract offer too late. But the masses never gave up hope or stopped believing in miracles.
Over the years, the Celtics, Patriots, Bruins - along with the Red Sox - have made crappy player moves. But only the Red Sox has been this overtly disingenuous with their fan base - at least since the days when Victor Kiam and James Orthwein ran the ship around in Foxborough. Danny Ainge has made plenty of bad moves since Kevin McHale opened the door for the reign of the Big Three. The Jacobs family treated players and fans with near contempt for decades as Bruins fans squatted behind seats that obstructed the view of a third of the ice in the old Boston Garden. But they did it with aplomb. Even Bill Belichick's draft record has been laded with busts, as well as Bradys. The Patriots jettisoned a slew of champions, but didn't go Red Soxian on us until the Wes Welker fiasco.
Nothing the Celtics, Patriots or Bruins have done in the past decade rivals what the front office of the Red Sox in terms of attempting to BS their fans and pretending to be what they're not, all with a near sinister twist. You never see "Gino" dancing when the Celtics are losing by 20 to the Heat. Or the Minutemen fire their guns in salute if the Patriots hold an opponent to a field goal instead of a touchdown. Belichick's stitch is well known to grade-schoolers, and his "we need to play better, plan better, coach better" mantra has become a harmless parody of itself.
The Red Sox have lost sight of their core fanbase. It was taken it for granted while they focused on luring prized demographics (i.e. people who aren't baseball fans) to the NESN telecasts. Worse, they played us all for fools.
Remember Larry Lucchino's letter of last July where he lauded the return of the "varsity" lineup after the All-Star break. The Red Sox were 43-43 when he penned those immortal words. They went on to lose 50 of their final 76 games. And the "cheerful" Cody Ross, the "friendly" Mike Aviles that returning "varsity" star Carl Crawford are all long gone.
The first thing we'll notice about the Red Sox this season is that fans don't hate the players any more. That's mainly because there are a lot of new players. Hugs and kisses were, reportedly, everywhere in Fort Myers, not just on the campus of Florida Gulf Coast University. (Remember them?) We're seeing silver linings in Jon Lester, Ryan Dempster, Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey and, just because he's no longer a double-fisting (we think) load, John Lackey.
The numbers that matter the most for this team are: 425 innings, 30 wins, and an ERA below 4.50. That's what this team will need from Lester and Clay Buccholz combined in order for it to have a chance at second place.
Winning in baseball isn't rocket science. Perhaps it's just a matter of chemistry.
The Red Sox have made it a priority to get along with themselves this season. Last season, the players didn't trust the manager, the manager didn't trust the players, ownership didn't trust the GM and the fans experienced all of the stages of grief before they were choked by apathy.
The Red Sox are trying win over the "hearts and minds" of their fanbase. Bread and circuses. Or in this case, cheaper less beer, 2-for-1 Fenway Franks, half-price hot chocolate and free meals for those under 14 (before the third inning).
Who doesn't love cheap beer before the drive home or free junk food for the kids?
Tonight's lineup is sponsored by "Diabetes."
Perhaps the Red Sox strategy is get each Fenway "sellout" crowd laden with so many carbs they become fatter, more docile and, eventually, fully compliant when the team pumps out "Sweet Caroline" during an 8-2 loss. And how many folks would spend $50 or $100 on tickets just to save $5 on a hot dog? Then again the Red Sox told us Valentine was the answer.
As long as the front office continues to pitch anything that doesn't improve play - and tries to say that it going to make things better - this cynicism will continue. If I want cheap beer, I can grab an ice-cold case of Bud Light at the local 7-11 at 1 a.m. for $12.99. Cheap wieners can be found in abundance at the Hot Dog Ranch in Pittsfield. The best hot chocolate is at Dunkin' Donuts, no matter the price. None of that will make the product on the field any better.
All one should expect from the Red Sox is a competitive team, players who try all the time and a front office that treats its paying customers like adults.
That might be too greedy, but we'll be optimistic. (No April Fools joke,)
Bradley is the youngest starting left fielder for the Red Sox on Opening Day since Yaz, who debuted in 1961 at age 21. This is a good thing. BTW, this was a baseball move, not an offering to the Monster. (Yaz went 1 for 5 in a 5-2 loss to the A's that day 52 years ago.)
It will be fun to watch the Yankees this year experience what the Red Sox went through last year. A-Rod's status will be the pin in that grenade. Coincidentally, about half of the Yankees lineup (not to mention David Ortiz) is on the shelf this Opening Day as baseball conducts its toughest regimen of PED testing in history. So much shrinkage, and it will be visible for a change.
More good news? Valentine will be working the Mets game this afternoon at Citi Field as an analyst for SNY and will be no where near the Red Sox dugout. Like Crawford, he still holds a grudge against the Boston media. At least Valentine's grudge was well-earned.
The realistic goals are simple this season. Win back the public trust, and perhaps 85 or so games in the process.
The upside is limitless, especially after the bottom has already fallen out.
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