BOSTON – The Red Sox equipment truck departs for Fort Myers, Fla., on Tuesday. It’s a trip of about 1,500 miles, and marks the beginning of a much longer journey for a team that has fallen on hard times in recent years — and is trying to earn back the trust of its fans.
It’s hard to remember that just four and a half years ago the Sox were one game away from going to the World Series for the second straight year.
The Sox lost that game, 3-1 to Tampa Bay, as prospect David Price retired four of the last five Boston batters — three by strikeout — to slam the door on the defending champs.
Incredibly, the Red Sox have not won a playoff game since. Not one. They haven’t made it to the postseason since they were swept in the American League Division Series by the Los Angeles Angels in 2009.
The Sox are hoping this slide to mediocrity hit rock bottom with the worst season in 47 years of baseball in Boston, a 93-loss debacle that culminated with the second managerial change in 12 months.
Bobby Valentine is now a talk-show host and is reportedly a candidate for the athletic director job at Sacred Heart University.
His predecessor, Terry Francona, is now the manager of the Cleveland Indians and is wrapping up a publicity tour for his tell-(almost) all book about his time at the helm of the Red Sox.
John Farrell is the new sheriff in town, and will try to bring a little discipline to a group of players that isn’t expected to win the division.
Lowered expectations might be the one positive to come out of the last two seasons. Clearly, the Red Sox hit camp as an underdog in the AL East.
It is almost impossible to predict what this team will do in 2013. There will be at least five players in the Opening Day lineup that weren’t with the big-league club at the start of 2012. That’s the biggest changeover in 12 years.
It’s a much-needed turnover that began with the house-cleaning trade that sent more than $250 million worth of salary to the Los Angeles Dodgers last August.
The move was meant to create salary flexibility for GM Ben Cherington. He used that financial freedom to bring in players like Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, Steven Drew, Ryan Dempster, Koji Uehara and David Ross.
That’s a lot of new faces. By and large, it’s a list of veterans who are reputed to be strong characters with good clubhouse presence.
So there shouldn’t be any allegations of locker-room toxicity this summer.
But is the team good enough to win? It should be a much better lineup, especially if David Ortiz is recovered from his Achilles issue and Will Middlebrooks can bounce back from last year’s surgery.
Yet this season, as the seasons before, will come down to how the starting rotation performs. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz need to prove they are dependable top-of-the-rotation pitchers.
Right or wrong, fans think John Lackey is an underachieving veteran who is more interested in partying than pitching. His teammates paint an entirely different portrait of the right-hander. Coming back from Tommy John surgery, Lackey has a chance to wipe the slate clean and re-establish himself as the big-game pitcher he was in Anaheim.
The Red Sox face a long road back to playoff contention in 2013. It’s a journey that begins with a truck pulling out of Fenway Park on Tuesday.
Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.