It’s been a drama-free spring training for the Boston Red Sox. J.D. Martinez is here to sock dingers. Alex Cora is in for John Farrell. David Price is saying the right things and looking to throw 200 innings for one of the best rotations in baseball. The roster is stocked with a number of talents still on their rookie deals, and they’re coming off back-to-back first place finishes in the American League East.
No one seems to care.
Well, we care enough to say that Martinez isn’t Giancarlo Stanton. That Price is a fraud and the rotation hasn’t proven anything in October. That the young guys haven’t reached their potential. After all, to love the Red Sox is to complain about them.
This is the city where Yaz got booed, general managers got called out on bumper stickers and one particular skipper acquired the pseudonym of a controversial Chinese autocrat. Where an 86-year-old cloud so permeated the sporting landscape that a certain in-over-his-head basketball coach proclaimed, “The negativity in this town sucks.”
Back in 1998, an intrepid young journalist from the Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School attended a sports media forum at Northeastern University. The panel featured a handful of local luminaries, including Bob Ryan and Tom Heinsohn. At one point, the group was asked to describe the state of Boston sports in one word.
One respondent said, “bleak.”
I believe it was Ryan who answered, to humorous effect, “Nomar.”
With the fate of the entire Boston sports galaxy tied to the fortunes of the local nine, a wiry, 25-year old shortstop was the city’s Luke Skywalker.
We’ve come a long way since then. Boston hadn’t seen back-to-back 90-win seasons out of those Red Sox in two decades. Now, we’ve gulped champagne to celebrate three World Series titles and the city has run up a tab on 10 championships in 18 years.
Meanwhile, Boston’s sports stargazers have shifted their telescopes.
To the south, the Kraft-Belichick-Brady constellation shines dramatically, both on and off the field. The formations above Causeway Street have collected particulate matter in recent years, as the Bruins and Celtics galvanize legions of new fans. I’m not exactly sure what Overwatch is, but there’s a league – and Boston has a team. Another potential black hole.
There are days when the Red Sox are fourth in the water cooler conversation. That’s pretty much unprecedented, and perhaps a reflection of changing tastes. Major League Baseball itself is grappling with the game’s relevance. Fatigue was inevitable. There’s death, taxes, Neil Diamond in the eighth inning whether the team is winning or not, and 18-19 Sox-Yankees matchups a year. Once a matter of life and death, it barely feels like a rivalry anymore.
And in an age of organic food, organic household products, and a pretty sweet organic garden on the roof of Fenway Park, the front office has failed to maintain an organic relationship with fans. They’ve pushed a sanitized version of the Red Sox brand off an assembly line for well over a decade.
It’s too bad. This 2018 team is unique. It projects to be competitive. It’s a combination of guys we watched down in Pawtucket a few years back with some big names, introduced through aggressive front office maneuvering. Sure, they haven’t managed to break through in the past two Octobers. But this could be the year, right?
Imagine a scenario where you get crickets in response to “This could be the year.”
Just five years ago, the Red Sox captivated the region. Sure, there were some holdovers from the previous title team, but most of the offseason additions looked like has-beens. Cherington’s crickets got louder in October. The city rallied around the team in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing. And they won.
That’s really all it takes to move the needle now. Not the big signing or the big trade. Not some contrived campaign concocted by management. It’s show and prove. Win or bust.
Come to think of it, “bust” would move the needle, too.
Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. You can follow him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.