Editorial: Just sit back and enjoy the show, Sox fans
A baseball fan is nothing without passion, but that passion too often comes at the price of perspective.
With the All-Star break just a week away, the Boston Red Sox sit in last place in the American League East with a record of 39 wins and 49 losses. At this point last season, the Sox were 54 and 34, and the team didn’t suffer its 49th loss until Aug. 11. Indeed, the 2014 Red Sox do not look like a championship team. In fact, they don’t even have a passing resemblance to a Wild Card team.
To make matters worse, as sportswriter Tim O’Sullivan lamented in the Sunday Monitor, “Heck, these Sox aren’t even fun to watch.”
He’s right. This collection of characters is largely unpalatable without the intoxicating effects of winning.
But it is a mistake to remove the lens of 2013 when looking at the not-so-lovable losers of 2014. The Red Sox surprised everyone – probably even themselves, though they would never admit it – when they won it all last year.
Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, David Ross, Jonny Gomes – those were not contracts meant to build a perennial contender.
They were players meant to keep the team competitive and likable – days of sunshine following Bobby Valentine’s reign of terror – while the population of one of the best farm systems in baseball matured.
Then a funny thing happened. Those bridge-year-caliber guys clicked on and off the field, delivering a major blow to the theory that clubhouse chemistry has nothing to do with wins and losses. And Red Sox Nation fell in love with them, though as we’ve learned this year, it was not an unconditional love. It never is in sports.
But come 2023, Fenway will invite Koji Uehara, Daniel Nava, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and the rest of the 2013 bearded wonders to the home opener to celebrate the 10th anniversary of that improbable season. Fans will cheer and wipe away tears as they remember the antics of Gomes, that beautifully unhinged cheerleader, and Koji, whose post-victory affection for Big Papi knew no bounds. But they’ll struggle to remember the dark days of 2014. “Who was the free agent catcher they signed? You know, the cranky guy from Chicago. What the heck was his name?”
There is just enough room in the hearts of the American sports fan for boundless joy and intense disappointment. Pain and pleasure, little else.
So how does one tolerate a season in hell following an autumn in paradise? That’s up to the individual, of course, but perspective can only help.
Ben Cherington and the Boston Red Sox are giving fans a sneak peak at the future. Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley and Mookie Betts – soon to be joined by southpaw Henry Owens and offensive-minded catcher Blake Swihart, among others – are almost ready to lift some of the burden off Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz, but they’re not yet where they need to be. They are still developing, only they’re doing so before our eyes rather than in Portland or Pawtucket.
Sometimes a struggling team can be fun to watch if you shift your expectations away from wins and losses toward appreciation of all that it takes to be a productive major league ballplayer.
Will Bogaerts learn to lay off a slider outside the zone? Can Bradley develop the patience needed to become a lead-off hitter?
In the meantime, ownership should do everything in its power to make Fenway Park financially accessible to the families of Red Sox Nation during this transition. Let fledgling fans inside the gates to connect with the next cast of Boston legends as it is being assembled. It’s just smart business.
Fans are much more likely to accept a bridge season or two if the bridge is a two-way crossing.