EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 9, 2013

Winning back the fans

Opening Day patrons say Red Sox team appears more likeable

Bill Burt

---- — BOSTON — The Boston Red Sox brought out all of the bells and whistles for yesterday, Opening Day 2013.

More new spiffy shops inside. Cheaper beers. Kids-eat-free meals. Two-for-one hot dogs. And then, of course, the incredible Dr. Charles Steinberg pre-game festivities, which included two tear-jerking moments when the Jimmy Fund Chorus performed and then Jimmy Fund patients throwing out the first pitch.

All, we cynics surmise, of these things were planned during the Red Sox Apology Tour this winter.

But something happened well before yesterday’s unofficial Massachusetts holiday. The Red Sox, on the field, have become somewhat likeable.

“I’m an optimist, but last year’s team was not an easy team to like,” said Jean Harding, of Haverhill, who joined her co-worker, Diane Morrissette at Siemens Industries of Lowell.

“But this team seems different,” said Harding. “It seems like they like each other, like it has good chemistry. I saw the pitching coach talking to the manager (on TV). I don’t think that happened last year.”

You can cut the sarcasm down here with a knife.

But the point is the fans have not only come back — they always do for Opening Day — but they are enjoying this new trend of likeable players that appear to be trying hard.

They are enjoying younger, more athletic talent, like Jackie Bradley Jr., Jose Iglesias and the new Manny Ramirez (with bat not head), Will Middlebrooks.

They are enjoying the new dirtdogs, like Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes.

They are enjoying the fact that Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz look like the dominating pitchers they were supposed to be.

Most of all, though, the are enjoying the baseball.

“I believe the change in manager was one of the best things to happen,” said Courtney Hickson, of Rye, N.H., who came to the game with her father, Ralph Hickson. “I bought a ticket package for my dad for Christmas. I knew the team would be better. But I didn’t think I would like them as much as I do this early (in the season).”

Harding says there is something about seeing younger players that always seems to increase the heart rate of fans.

“Jackie Bradley has such a nice way about him,” said Harding. “He seems mature. I like him ... a lot.”

There is a lesson in all of this?

The pomp and circumstance around Fenway Park, especially on Opening Day, is impressive. And Dr. Steinberg can reach into his marketing bag of tricks all he wants from now though Memorial Day.

But it’s not enough.

Red Sox fans want a team that most resembles them. A team that wants to win.

“They are fun to watch. I really like watching Bradley,” said Ms. Hickson. “But I still have questions. I want to see the how the bullpen comes together. It’s always about pitching.”

Aren’t we great?

You can email Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.