COMMENTARY | Boston Red Sox baseball is back. Though, according to their 820-game sellout streak, it never really went anywhere.
Although it's only been a short season and change since their historic collapse that led to the first mass exodus--including that of famed manager Terry Francona and "boy wonder" general manager Theo Epstein--it's also been a long season and change. The hiring of Bobby Valentine led to the first fifth-place finish for the team in 20 years, and there was no shortage of people that let everyone know it.
But, now, for the first time in a while, fans can finally admit they actually enjoy watching the Red Sox again.
Players Worth Rooting ForThe team is winning, and Red Sox are doing it in style. More important, they're doing it with players that fans of all teams can't help but cheer for, such as Daniel Nava. Nava is a great story, hitting a grand slam in his first major-league at-bat, and then going unclaimed on waivers almost a year later. He didn't even get invited to spring training last year and made only spot appearances after injuries took a toll. At age 30, his career looked to be going nowhere.
Now, he's part of the heart of the Red Sox's order. After coming into the season with only 7 home runs in his major-league career, he went yard in three consecutive games against the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles. Nava's late-career success story is inspiring, and a much-needed relief from the "Manny being Manny" antics of yore.
Though he played 75 games last year and eventually made Kevin Youkilis expendable, Will Middlebrooks' three-home run game against reigning NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey in early April fully announced his arrival to the majors. In hitting those three home runs in one game, he joined former Red Sox greats like Jim Rice, Carl Yastrzemski and Ted Williams, as well as teammate Dustin Pedroia.
Power is something that has defined Red Sox baseball for ages, and with David Ortiz on the shelf and Manny Ramirez long gone, it was tough to see where that power was going to come from. Manny's long line of succession--Jason Bay, Victor Martinez and Adrian Gonzalez--have all failed to adequately replace him. Middlebrooks has answered the call thus far, and he figures to improve as he grows into his role.
Aces Mean AcesWhen Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester threw the majors' two consecutive no-hitters in late 2007 and early 2008, the Red Sox thought they had found their 1-2 punch for the next 10 years. Fans were ecstatic for the storylines: Lester beating lymphoma, and Buchholz in his second career start. But after both players suffered disastrous stretches, things were looking bleak.
Thankfully, they seem to have rebounded in 2013. With the Daisuke Matsuzaka experiment resulting in failure, the team needed the pitchers to return to that form. And they have. Both are off to strong starts, and Buchholz even has had a no-hit bid against the Tampa Bay Rays this season.
Everybody loves a no-hit bid--I routinely tune in to any game that offers one. To have two players who have already accomplished this feat and are capable of doing it again in any start is just as intriguing as any slugfest. While it's fun to see teams put up 10 to 12 runs a game, a pitching duel can be equally as exciting.
PerspectiveI know recent seasons haven't been that bad in comparison by any means. Most clubs would be thrilled with two World Series wins in the last nine years. Several would even be satisfied with that many playoff appearances.
But with all the talent on the team in any given year, Sox fans expect more than that. They expect to win, and they expect to have fun watching their team. Though it's been a rough couple of years, things are starting to head in the right direction.
Andrew Luistro is a life long Red Sox follower who has been watching the team for over 20 years.
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