Happy Opening Day. It's re-opening day for "My Father's Red Sox," who have returned as his grandson's Red Sox. They proved true to form with Thursday's 3-2 loss to the Tigers - painful across the board.
"My Father's Red Sox" were your father's Red Sox, too. They consistently let us down, coming excruciatingly close before inventing new and improved ways to lose. They were flawed at their monochromatic core - usually lacking a reliable closer, five-tool players, speed on the base paths, pitching depth, consistent clutch hitting - always laboring in New York's shadow. The only real "curses" that stuck were four-letters long and usually started with "f" or "s" - unless they were uttered in Greek. For those Red Sox, cigarettes, steak, some weed and the occasional managerial shot before the game went along with any beer or chicken.
My father always warned me not to love the Red Sox too much, but his actions spoke otherwise. He always seemed to come up with tickets. He stood with thousands for hours outside Gate C in 1975 so we could go to the World Series. He sadly was one of the millions in the Lost Generation of Red Sox Nation who lived and died between 1918 and 2004. My godfather also taught me the perils of being a Red Sox fan. A World War II veteran and career Navy man, he lived long enough to enjoy 2004 and 2007. He was buried in an official Red Sox casket and his full-dress Navy whites. He wanted to let those Marines know that this sailor was coming through those gates and God help them if they were Yankees fans.
"These Aren't My Father's Red Sox" were born with Dave Roberts' steal in 2004. For six years and 11 months, the perennial preseason favorite Red Sox consistently claimed the second-most-impressive lineup money could buy. The Sawx had "swaggah." The biggest fan challenge on Opening Day wasn't "Who's should be the closer?" or "Do they have shortstop?" but rather "How will they match up against the Yankees in the ALCS or Phillies in the World Series?" September, chicken and beer changed all that.
Boston's best hope for 2012 may be the second wildcard and a three-hitter from Clay Buchholz against Texas on Oct 5. Gone is the bluster among fans and media about the "best team in baseball history." The Red Sox might not even be be the second-best American League team East of Tampa Bay. The evergreen optimism spawned by those 10 days in October of 2004 had an expiration date of "09/29/2011." Each time we sing "Sweet Caroline" we might as well be whistling past the graveyard. High hope is up in smoke. (Which my dad used to do at Fenway Park before it became a first-degree felony.)
During the Golden Age of Theo, we'd marvel at the offseason acquisitions on Opening Day: Curt Schilling, Julio Lugo, J.D. Drew, Dice-K, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett (OK that one was Ben's), John Lackey, Matt Clement. Each of the previous eight springs - Pink Hats and Die Hards alike would ask: How could this team lose? The Sox annually amassed a load of talent that was unbeatable - at least on Carmine's spread sheet. The Yankees and Rays were cast to fight over the scraps in the AL East. Tito had it under control.
Aprils were afterthoughts. If the Red Sox stumbled early, it really didn't matter. Only a few crazies panicked after last season's 2-10 start. Our fears were eased by August, when the Sox had an insurmountable lead in the postseason playoff standings.
Late inning leads were (almost) always safe. The bullpen was solid. Whenever you thought - "...they're going to blow this one..." Jonathan Papelbon would be Riverdancing his way off the mound, Derek Lowe would make his best argument to be back in the rotation, Mike Timlin would solemnly head toward the dugout after getting a weak fly ball or Keith Foulke would be having it his way against the Angels, Yankees or Cardinals in October.
And all the clutch moments didn't happen in the postseason. Long after 2004, potential TV commercial material was being produced on a regular basis. Among my most memorable: Jacoby Ellsbury's walk-off home run last August punctuated by Heidi Watney's epic sprint to the plate (at the 0:18 mark) (always looking for an excuse to run this clip):
The 2007 Mother's Day Miracle and the A-Gonz Wall-ball, walkoff double after the Sox had trailed Baltimore 6-0. Incidentally, that win on May 16 put the Sox over .500 for the first time last season, setting off their inevitable playoff run.
The Red Sox had been redefined as winners at their core. Rooting for them had gotten too easy, almost painless. Something wasn't right. Well, there are no more fair-weather Red Sox fans after last season. The Red Sox have scarred a new generation of fans. Anyone who buys a ticket for Fenway or decides to tune into Don and Jerry after last season's debacle has been fully baptized and earned their stripes. In 2012, you're a fan just for showing up. And you won't be a Pink Hat just for wearing a pink hat,
For some reason, the manager was always the root cause and solution to every problem with "My Father's Red Sox" - right up to the end with Grady Little. Tito was considered a non-factor until the team tanked last year. Imagine that? This year, the story is the manager. Never a good sign. Bobby V. is our ultimate panacea. Valentine might be able to solve the debt crisis, end hunger, lower the unemployment rate, defeat terrorism, perfect the quesadilla and win "Dancing With the Stars." But it's unlikely he'll be playing short, right field, pitching every fifth day or - most importantly - closing out the ninth against Albert Pujols.
That would be Alfredo Aceves.
Dad would feel right at home.
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