BOSTON — Loyal Red Sox fans returned to Fenway Park on Monday to welcome a changed roster, a new manager and a rekindled sense of optimism following a stretch of disappointing seasons.
The 3-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles made the home opener even sweeter to fans who still grimace at talk of 2011’s epic collapse or 2012’s last-place finish. Home openers here are about hot dogs, family traditions and trash-talking the Yankees, and longtime fan Pat Tobin didn’t want to waste the day nursing past agonies
“I’m not blaming it all on Bobby Valentine, but I hate him,” the 63-year-old woman from Arlington, Mass., said, speaking of the former manager who last year led the team to its worst record in nearly a half-century. “But today is opening day again — the real start of the season — and today there is always hope.”
The 37,008 fans filling America’s oldest ballpark on Monday were treated to sunny skies and temperatures that scraped 60 — a pleasing change after a another pensive offseason in Red Sox nation.
Boston had the AL’s best record entering September in 2011, then skidded to a 7-20 finish and missed the playoffs.
As the Red Sox plummeted to a 69-93 record last season — their worst record since 1965 — they traded underperforming and expensive players like Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to the Los Angeles Dodgers. And after the season, the Red Sox fired Valentine and plucked manager John Farrell back from Toronto. Team executives gave the 2013 team the motto: “What’s broken can be fixed.”
Boston still has some mending to do. Designated hitter David Ortiz is out with a right heel injury, and shortstop Stephen Drew is recovering from a concussion. Pitcher John Lackey, in his first start since 2011, walked off the mound Saturday with biceps pain.
Still, this season’s makeover appears to be working, so far. The Red Sox won the first two games of the season against the rival Yankees and are 5-2 headed into Wednesday’s game.
“I like the way we’re playing,” Farrell said. “I think our guys came home with some confidence.”
While comparisons to the 2004 and 2007 World Series champions seem like a stretch, fans like Michael Posluszny said they’re beginning to trust their team again.
“After the debacle last year it’s nice to see fresh new faces,” said Posluszny, 24, of New Britain, Conn., who skipped work to see his first opening-day game. “I would love for them to win the division, but as long as they can finish ahead of the Yankees, that’s something.”
Two years of disappointments will soon spell the end of Fenway’s nearly 10-year-old home sellout streak. While Monday’s game was sold out, Red Sox executives concede the 794-game sellout streak is likely to end during April, when Boston has 17 home games.
To keep the fans in the seats, the Red Sox froze ticket prices for the third time in five years, installed new televisions around the grandstands and announced new menu items and a concession special just for April: two hot dogs for the price of one.
The prices were no doubt even better when Jack Bernard last saw a game here nearly 60 years ago. Bernard said he used to skip school to watch the Red Sox until his family moved to Florida when he was a teenager. This year, Bernard’s sons Brian and Jason brought him back to Fenway to celebrate his 73rd birthday.
“I watch all the games I can but it’s just not the same as being here,” said Bernard, of Jacksonville, Fla. “I told them to pinch me — but I asked them to wait until after.”
Another father and son were looking to turn Monday’s home opener into a tradition. Tom Gleifert and his 7-year-old son Tommy Jr. posed for photographs and marveled at Fenway’s emerald grass before the first pitch.
The elder Gleifert has been coming to the 101-year-old ballpark since he was a kid.
“We’re playing hooky,” Tom Gleifert said. “This sure beats school and work.”
Tommy Jr., making his second trip to Fenway, was more single-minded.
“I want them to win,” he said.
On this day, they did.