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Taking a step back, varsity rules

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  July 18, 2013 09:09 AM

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The Houston Texans really didn’t learn, did they?

The team that came into Foxborough last season clad in letterman varsity jackets for their showdown with the New England Patriots, eventually left Gillette Stadium with Tom Brady doing what he’s likely done to dozens of men over the years; he stole their dates.

On Tuesday, the Texans released the “themes” for their 2013 home game schedule, and while its mostly a slate that promotes community awareness, there, on Dec. 1, when the Patriots come to town, is a theme that differs from any of the eight before it.

“Homecoming.”

Still, I suppose that’s better than being welcomed to Houston on “Deep Steel Sunday presented by Hyundai.”

That game vs. the Texans is still five-plus months away, but the Patriots do indeed begin training camp in Foxborough next week, with the Aaron Hernandez situation looming over the franchise. Will Bill Belichick answer the questions about his former tight end, now residing in a Dartmouth correctional facility charged with murder?

Spoiler alert: He won't.

Meanwhile, the first-place Red Sox kick off the “second half” of the 2013 season Friday when they welcome the Yankees to Boston for a three-game series. Boston’s surprising season has fans dreaming of their own fall homecoming with a potential return to the playoffs, a place the team hasn’t visited since 2009.

And yes, the “varsity,” is, for the most part, intact.

As the Red Sox limped out of the All-Star break one year ago, Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino sent his infamous “Seven Dwarves” letter to season ticket holders, pleading with them to recognize the efforts of “the cheerful Cody Ross, the friendly Mike Aviles, and the inspiring story of Daniel Nava.”

Jarrod Saltalamacchia has shown power, in the clutch, worthy of an All-Star.  And as the talented Will Middlebrooks forced his way into the lineup, we bade farewell, with gratitude, to Kevin Youkilis, who helped us win two World Championships.      The one constant on the field has been our beloved Big Papi, David Ortiz.  How thrilled we were that our gregarious leader reached the 400-home run plateau in a career that we hope will forever be with the Red Sox.    The one constant off the field is that we have had a veritable All-Star Team on the disabled list.  As we begin the second half, we look forward to the return of the “varsity,” including Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Andrew Bailey, and the ever-dirty Dustin Pedroia.    While this infusion of such talent in late July may make other General Managers green with envy, you can be sure that Ben Cherington and his Baseball Operations Staff will approach the July 31 trading deadline with their tireless work ethic.  If someone can further help this club, and if the deal makes sense, we will be aggressive.  We want to play October Baseball this year.

That’s actually two constants on the field, but who’s quibbling when the team “probably leads the league in bronze plaques and commemorative displays along the concourses.”

The missive was an embarrassment and a clear sign to the market the Red Sox were targeting, content to pull at strings of nostalgia during Fenway Park’s 100th season. A few weeks later, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Crawford (and Nick Punto) were on their way to Los Angeles, Bobby Valentine was eventually out of a job, and the keys were officially handed over to general manager Ben Cherington, who had to be grinding his teeth through a disastrous campaign in which he had little say.

Cheerful and Friendly have been replaced by a more cohesive unit without the distractions that Valentine would bring to the ballpark on a daily basis. One year ago tomorrow, the Red Sox beat the Chicago White Sox, 3-1, to go 48-45 on the season. Alfredo Aceves (in Pawtucket) was the winner, while Matt Thornton (now with the Red Sox) took the loss. It’s a game not only notable because of the juxtaposition of pitchers, but because the Red Sox would never see three games over .500 for the rest of the season.

A year later, Lucchino would have every right to pen a “How do you like me now?” response. Let’s hope he doesn’t.

Much of the enjoyment from this season has been that it is about baseball. I know, not exactly a revelation, but sometimes with the Red Sox you wonder, particularly in the wake of Terry Francona’s book, in which the former Sox skipper claimed that the owners don’t particularly care about the game.

But Lucchino, John Henry, and Tom Werner have keenly taken a step back this time around, choosing to let the on-field product speak for the team’s success rather than feeling the need to tell you about how great they are despite the standings and turmoil. Baseball in Boston is fun again, not a means to sell you a narrative.

The varsity takes the field at Fenway Friday night. Bring your pom-poms.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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