April 9, 2013

Tom Caron: This year, a good start was essential

BOSTON - The Red Sox took the field on Opening Day for the 102nd time at Fenway Park Monday.  It was a perfect day for early season baseball, a sun-splashed afternoon with a slight breeze and temperatures in the 60's.

After a cold, snowy winter it was rewarding to have the sun shining on Fenway Park as the new-look Sox held on for a 3-1 win over Baltimore.

With a 5-2 start the Sox have made people forget about the 93-loss disaster that was 2012.  There is optimism in New England for the first time since August of 2011.

It's not that fans think this team is ready to win the World Series. It's way too early for that. They've just been waiting for a sign that the future will be different than the recent past, and taking two of three in both New York and Toronto is an early indication that it will be.

Sunday's 13-0 pounding of the Blue Jays -- a team many picked to win the division this year -- is the type of early season win that wakes up a fan base. And Sox fans have been tired of recent editions of the team slumbering through games.

We all know sitting in first place after a week doesn't usually mean a whole lot.

Except that it did mean a lot this year.  

We heard a lot of talk about character and likeable players during the off-season, an expected story line in the wake of last August's roster fumigation.

The likes of Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford were shipped out as part of a blockbuster deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. They were replaced with players like Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes and Ryan Dempster.

Thoughout spring training we filed reports on how well the Sox clubhouse got along. The reaction from most fans was, "Great -- but can they win?"

It's still very early, but the answer is yes. They can. The team has shown a spark and energy that we haven't seen in four years. They are disciplined at the plate, aggressive on the base paths, and solid on the mound. They have a manager who is firmly in control, and a coaching staff that's helping players perform at their best.

The Sox began the second week of the baseball season with the best OPS in baseball, the most stolen bases in the American League, and with zero errors. Only three other teams had been that good defensively.

It won't last all season. It can't. But with eight players on the opening day roster who had never played a big-league game with Boston, a good start was essential. The boo birds never appeared at Fenway, the media talked about how nice the guys were, and baseball was once again the most important thing at the Fens.

There are still 155 games to be played this season. The Red Sox are barely out of the starter's gate.

But, as first impressions go, this one was pretty good.

Good enough to make us forget about the past year. And that's no easy thing to do.

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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