Fervent fans await newcomers
After six-game road stint, 10-game homestand beckons
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- After a one-week initiation through Texas and Baltimore, the newest members of the Red Sox will get a real taste of what it is to play for the fabled franchise when the team returns to Fenway for a 10-game homestand on April 11.
Beginning with the home opener against the Blue Jays, Coco Crisp, Mark Loretta, Josh Beckett, J.T. Snow, Mike Lowell, Alex Gonzalez, Julian Tavarez and the rest of the newcomers will see firsthand the passion that engulfs Boston during baseball season.
Adjusting to the baseball-crazed city and the daily intensity that comes with it can be a culture shock. But once that goes away, the electricity of being inside the pressure cooker can take a player to a level he didn't know he had.
"I think the guys we have -- Coco, Beckett, people like that -- being in that market, I think, will push them and kind of spur them on to maybe be better than they've been already," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona.
One common thread between many of the new guys is that they've been more accustomed to small markets. Sometimes that requires self-motivation. Red Sox players are on their toes every day because of the sheer environment they play in.
"Yeah, man, I'm excited about it," said Beckett, who is on tap to pitch the home opener. "It's going to be fun. It's kind of the other end of the spectrum for me. It's a 162-game Packers season, that's what I've heard."
But instead of the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, the Red Sox play 81 games amid the backdrop of the always vocal Fenway faithful.
There are also the other elements, from the massive media throng to the obsessed talk radio callers to the paying customers which fill the park to capacity on a nightly basis, and then dissect the game they just witnessed until the next one starts.
Crisp enjoyed his years at Jacobs Field, where there was a supportive fan base. Now, he'll see what it's like to play in a place where every move -- be it offense, defense or on the bases -- will be fully scrutinized. His predecessor at the top of the order and in center field (Johnny Damon) loved all that came with playing in a fishbowl. Crisp doesn't seem to have any reservations about it.
"Hopefully, I'll be able to thrive in any environment, with [Boston] being no exception," said Crisp. "That's the hopes that everyone has, I would think. It's no different with me. I do love the game. I'm just going to go out there and have fun, no matter what. Throw the ball around, hit the ball and obviously the fans bring that extra excitement to the game that you look for as a ballplayer, to go out there and have people get you going. With that, it should make the game that much better and more fun."
Right-hander Matt Clement went through the adjustment last year, and if any of the new guys wanted his advice of how to adapt to Boston, he would keep it simple.
"It's different, but it's still baseball," Clement said. "If you make it anything more than baseball, you're going to get in trouble. But if you leave it to be baseball and play your game and not get caught up in that other stuff, you're going to be fine."
Loretta got a taste of Boston in road grays during his time with the Brewers and the Padres. But he knows how different it will be now.
"I'm looking forward to that," Loretta said. "I played many years in County Stadium where we had six or eight thousand in a 60,000-seat stadium. It helps. It helps your energy level. It's a long season. It's a grind, and that energy and that excitement can only help you stay focused and stay alert."
With an entirely new infield and Crisp flanked between Manny Ramirez and Trot Nixon, this is a different team than the band of self-proclaimed "Idiots" that won the World Series two years ago.
The frat house has been replaced by a more typical Major League clubhouse.
"We're not looking to duplicate or replicate the personality of last year's team, that's not the idea," said Francona. "We're just trying to win a bunch of games. And I'm actually really comfortable with our ballclub. The decibel level in our clubhouse might be lower. That has nothing to do with us winning games. What we had with some people was pretty special. And that doesn't mean we're not going to be special again. I don't think that we just need to try to duplicate what we had. We just need to play good baseball and those other things will take care of themselves."
As much as the Red Sox might miss the production of former stalwarts like Damon and Bill Mueller, they have new elements that could make this year's team every bit as dangerous.
"Let me tell you something, Loretta is a good hitter. You sandwich him in between Coco and our Nos. 3 and 4, and he's set up to have a good year," Francona said. "I think Coco is fast enough and a good enough baserunner where he'll put some pressure on other teams. We have a chance to have a pretty good bullpen."
So here come the new guys, ready to put their skills to work and do it front of the most captive audience they've ever had.
"You know, you hear everyone talk about getting off to a slow start or getting worried about how the fans are going to react," said Francona. "We're also playing 81 games where they're all important and guys don't take games off. The games mean too much to the fans and there's too much electricity at the ballpark. That can work to our advantage a lot."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.