There is a rumor, initiated by a Boston Globe columnist, that Red Sox fans have lost their edge, their fanaticism. There is a ho-hum attitude about the business of spring training at Fort Myers, Fla., it is alleged.
It was the baseball equivalent of Jimmy Carter’s famous “malaise” speech (in which he never mentioned the word).
The column generated a spate of calls from Maine, where residents, strangely, are watching crocuses peek through the ground.
It is true that two (two!) World Series victories have erased much of the unhealthy neurosis and despair that was the trademark of whining Red Sox fans for 80 years.
It is true that the March Madness, which traditionally surrounded Fort Myers with the arrival (or nonarrival) of Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez and especially Manny Ramirez, has disappeared (thank God).
I suspect these healthy developments inspired the Boston Globe malaise column.
Even the Hero Among Heroes, David Ortiz, has been cut down to size this year. No one really expects much of Big Papi anymore, and the whispering in Section 213 is that he may done, over.
But none of this diminishes the luster of a perfect, 75-degree day in South Florida where a slight breeze off the Gulf of Mexico ripples the perfect home white uniform of the Red Sox. Hope springs eternal, every spring.
Take Monday, for instance.
It was a spectacular, come-from-behind victory over the St. Louis Cardinals propelled by a three-run homer by Cuban Jose Inglesias, then a two-out, ninth-inning single by Taiwanese center fielder Che-Hsuan Lin.
Who are these guys?
It was, incidentally, the 91st straight sellout at the lyrical bandbox called the City of Palms Stadium. Does that sound like malaise to you?
The first game of 2010 was against Northeastern University, when the 50-degree temperatures tested the dedication of fans. In weather more conducive to cross-country skiing a new legend was born. (There is one every spring). This one is Casey Kelly, a 20-year-old pitcher who already has been pegged for the Hall of Fame by some of the fringe zealots.
Kelly has so much talent that he had to decide between a full football scholarship to Tennessee or baseball. The $3 million offered by the Red Sox helped him make that decision. Kelly has so much talent that he then had to decide to play at shortstop or become a pitcher. Kelly pitched very well, naturally.
That game was memorable since Ortiz did manage a home run, even if it was against a college pitcher.
Still another game against cross-town rival Minnesota Twins was won with a highlight, running catch in right field by Joss Reddick and a slide home by Darnell McDonald. Another win came over the Twins after Big Papi failed in two bases-loaded situations, but the immortal Tug Hulett hit a two-run homer to save the day.
Who are these guys?
It is the essence of spring training to watch these young players, who could soar to stardom or be back at the home town American Legion in two years, dreaming of what might have been. And we don’t have to worry about those damn Yankees until next month.
This is the year that the fortunes of the team will rely on pitching, not three-run homers. We even have John Lackey and “Boof” Bonser on the hill this year. How can we lose?
Perhaps the absence of huge sluggers is the reason that some sense a lack of passion among the fans this year.
But every game starts with a comparison between Boston and Florida weather. Then the ballpark announcer always asks, “Aren’t you glad you’re here?”
Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at firstname.lastname@example.org.