September 25, 2012

Tom Caron: Sox past is prologue to future

BOSTON — Tuesday night, the 2012 Red Sox continue to honor the past. The 2004 World Series championship team will gather for a pre-game ceremony in the final days of the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park.

TUESDAY'S GAME

WHO: Red Sox (Buchholz 11-6) vs. Tampa Bay Rays (Price 18-5)

WHEN: 7:10 p.m.

WHERE: Fenway Park

TELEVISION: NESN

OF NOTE: The 2004 World Series championship team will be honored before the game.

Wednesday, the all-time Red Sox team will be presented before the game, wrapping up a full season of the 100th anniversary celebration.

Too bad. It's a lot easier to think about the past these days than it is to contemplate the future.

The end of this season can't come soon enough.

The Sox have lost 33 of 49 games since Aug. 1 and haven't been able to muster enough fight to play the role of spoiler against the Orioles, Yankees, or Rays.

Fenway Park became Camden Yards north over the weekend as long-suffering Orioles fans scooped up tickets and lit up the park in a blaze of orange.

Baltimore took two out of three from the Sox and are now just over a week from their first playoff appearance in 15 years.

If there was any silver lining for Sox fans, it was that Boston's losses increased the likelihood that Baltimore would catch the Yankees before the season is over.

Having the heroes of '04 in the house highlights how much things have changed for the Red Sox.

Eight autumns ago Red Sox ownership was the toast of the town and the marvel of the baseball world.

Over the next few years teams talked about the "Red Sox Way" and how the team developed young talent and integrated it into a contending team.

Three years later the Sox celebrated another championship with homegrown talent like Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester and Jonathan Papelbon leading the way.

No one is calling the Red Sox a model franchise these days. The team has lost its way with big-money free agent signings and a clubhouse where communication is an ongoing concern.

Can this team find its way again?

Of course it can. To do that it's go to reestablish a line of command that operates from the same playbook.

Ownership, management, coaches and players must adhere to a single philosophy and communicate it to one another.

There is only one player bridging the gap between those championship seasons and the current mess the team finds itself in.

David Ortiz is an important part of the team's present despite being on the DL.

Before his strained Achilles knocked him out he showed the leadership you'd hope to see from the sole remaining member of the 2004 team.

Big Papi will mingle with Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling as easily as he'll chat with Jose Iglesias and Pedro Ciriaco.

He is a living reminder of what this organization has accomplished in recent years.

It's also why Ortiz is important to the team's future.

Ortiz was having a great year before he succumbed to injury, hitting .318 with a 1.026 OPS (on base plus slugging percentage.) Incredibly, his 23 homers is still second-most on the team, just one behind team leader Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

And Ortiz has played just one game since July 16.

We've seen what Ortiz can still do at the plate.

More importantly, we have seen what this team looks like without him in the lineup.

More than anything, the injury to Boston's designated hitter was the single biggest blow to the team this summer.

And then there are the intangibles.

Ortiz knows what it takes to succeed in Boston.

Tonight, he'll be surrounded by the gang of carefree players dubbed the "Idiots" by Johnny Damon. A group that used the pressure of Boston to forge a team that pulled off the greatest comeback in post-season baseball history.

For the past two summers, we've seen players that wilted under the intense scrutiny of Fenway Park. Ortiz isn't one of those players. Never has been.

Thanks to the $250 million bailout given to them by the Dodgers, the Red Sox have the money to reshape the future of the franchise.

GM Ben Cherington would be wise to look into the past when he begins the process. David Ortiz is a living testament to what this organization once was.

He deserves the chance to help it become that organization again.

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.

 

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