There is nothing quite like Opening Day for the players, the fans, and yes, even the media. On Monday, I had the pleasure of covering the Red Sox opener this past week. It was my 25th time and was one of the best Opening Days yet.
This truly is a fresh start for the Red Sox after two seasons of disappointment. As our esteemed mayor Tom Menino so aptly put it according to a Dan Shaughnessy column, “The Red Sox are part of the DNA of Boston. We always come back. We love the team.”
This year’s team has many new faces, none sweeter or younger than Jackie Bradley Jr. The kid is a few days shy of his 23rd birthday and seems thrilled to be calling Fenway Park his new home.
Bradley, who is from Virginia told me that nobody has influenced his career more than his dad, who was there for the game. JBJ was not in the lineup for the home opener, but he said the highlight of his day was huge ovation he received when introduced. His dad must have felt very proud. If respect and good manners count, Bradley is already batting a thousand.
Another new face, although not quite as young, is pitcher Ryan Dempster, who is in his 16th season in baseball and begins the year as the Red Sox No. 3 starter. Dempster is ranked 18th in wins among active pitchers with 124.
He is also a winner off the field. In 2009, when he was with the Cubs, Dempster’s second child Riley was born with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome. It is a genetic condition that can cause an array of health and developmental disorders.
In response, Dempster created the Dempster Family Foundation with a mission to help parents with children suffering from the condition. Experts estimate that as many as 1 in 2,000 babies are affected by 22q. The plan is for Riley to one day take over the foundation when she is an adult.
Dempster is also known for his sense of humor. He jokingly predicted before the season began that he would reach 30 wins this year.
On Monday, I asked him if was sticking to his bold prediction and Dempster said,“Yes, I just need to get that first one.”
He pitched well enough on Wednesday against the Orioles, before a major bullpen implosion. Dempster is still waiting on that first win.
In 2001, when Dempster was with the Marlins and visiting Boston, he dropped into the Comedy Connection at Fanueil Hall. He delivered eight minutes of jokes and surprisingly got a few laughs. Boston can be a tough crowd for a comedian or ballplayer. Dempster’s self-effacing attitude should serve him well here.
My favorite interview of the day was with my great pal and former colleague, Bob Lobel, a true sports legend in this town. For over 30 years at WBZ, Lobel threw his unique personality into his reporting and became a huge part of the Boston sports landscape. Lobel brought together the three biggest legends in the history of Boston sports when he united Ted Williams, Bobby Orr and Larry Bird one Sunday night on live television. He was unafraid to criticize ownership, unabashed in his opinions and remarkably funny every week with "Sports Spotlight".
As we sat in the stands along the first baseline hours before Monday’s opener, Lobel talked about his newest gig. He will be one of three public address announcers at Fenway Park this season. Every Saturday home game, Lobel will be behind the microphone announcing the lineups and pitching changes.
“Everything I have done throughout my entire career has led me to this job," Lobel said. "There is no other place I would be rather be, or anything else I would rather be doing than announcing at Fenway Park.”
Lobel joked a lot on TV through the years, but in that moment on Monday, I could tell he really meant it.
Hours later, I was on the third level outside the EMC Club when the mayor walked by with his impressive entourage, looking like a rock start in his own special way.
Tom Menino will be leaving office at the end of this year. He has been mayor for ten duck boat parades, and he is ready for the city to celebrate another.
"This is a Red Sox town. Boston fans love the team. We’re going to follow this team to a rolling rally in October.”
And Ryan Dempster is going to get 30 wins.
Hope springs eternal.
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