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The Red Sox could be good, bad, mediocre, or anything in between, and Opening Day would still be a time of annual rebirth.
It represents the transition from cool to warm … from austere to pastoral … black and white to color.
That is the true beauty of baseball. At its purest, it evokes those charms. It’s linear in that it connects generations.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I don’t recall sitting with my father and grandfather watching the New York Giants play the Green Bay Packers on TV. I do remember sitting with them watching the Red Sox. In fact, I was in my grandfather’s living room on Banks Road in Swampscott watching on his little black-and-white TV when Tony Conigliaro knocked one into the screen in his first Fenway Park at-bat in 1964.
Perhaps it’s because of when I grew up — the Red Sox were awful and we needed to find other ways to keep ourselves interested — fans of a certain generation were attracted to the characters more than the results. Dick Stuart, who couldn’t catch a cold, became “Dr. Strangeglove.” Dick Radatz looked like “King Kong” and once struck out Mickey Mantle on three pitches. He became “The Monster.” My sister, a much bigger, and more loyal, fan than I, hung the sarcastic nickname “God” on Curt Schilling. It fit.
The beautiful thing about 1965 — the year the Red Sox lost 100 games — is that we weren’t burdened with expectations. We hoped. We prayed. But we knew the score, so to speak.
Opening Day, which is tonight, in Seattle, for the Red Sox, still represents a clean palette as we gleefully look forward to our meteorological reward for enduring another winter. But we are no longer pining. We are indeed burdened with high expectations.
Will this 108-win, world championship team from a year ago be able to repeat its accomplishments? Is it our divine right to expect that it does?
Is there room, in today’s game, for the zany incompetence of the Dick Stuarts and Don (E6) Buddins? Or have the money and stakes driven that carefree charm right out of the game?
Will good fortune smile on the Red Sox the way it did in 2018, when manager Alex Cora seemed to always come up aces with his moves?
Part and parcel to that, have we fallen into the trap of arrogant expectations? Have we become so used to winning, between four World Series titles and six Super Bowls, that we’ve become insufferable? Are we too entitled, as if the idea of a team falling short of high expectations, the way the Celtics have this season, is now seen as a personal affront instead of just a subpar season? You can curse failure, I suppose, if it’s the norm. It’s kind of tough to do it when it’s the exception.
The Red Sox had a team for the ages last year. But obviously that isn’t an annual guarantee. Often, these teams fall back a little the following season — even ones with basically the same personnel. Look at the 2017 Chicago Cubs.
The Red Sox have the ingredients to make a good run. Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts are already superstars. Andrew Benintendi is on the fast track. And I may complain about Jackie Bradley Jr.’s anemic offense, but he makes his hits count. Besides, who can argue with his defense?
What could go wrong? Well, somebody could have a bad season. The incessant speculation about Betts’ contract status could throw him off.
Cora could roll snake eyes a few more times because if there’s one consistent winner in life, it’s the law of averages. Without Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly in the bullpen (I can’t believe I just said that), closing out games could be tougher.
The other consistent fact is that whenever the New York Yankees see the Red Sox succeed — especially at their expense — look out. They come back with a fury.
The Yankees have improved their pitching, which really let them down last year. Just the addition of James Paxton will fortify a staff that sprung a leak in the playoff series with the Red Sox.
Can it compete with Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez and Nathan Eovaldi? Probably not, especially if the aforementioned all stay healthy. But it’ll be good enough to hang in there.
The two teams should be neck-and-neck all season, especially assuming Aaron Judge (and how can you not just love him) won’t miss another six weeks with a broken wrist. We could, once again, have two 100-win teams in the American League East.
But the odds are we won’t.
So be prepared for less, and be happy if more comes your way.
The ride might be a little bumpier this time around.