Taking the pulse of Boston Red Sox fans at the dawn of a new season — especially in person — can be a risky business. This is particularly true when the team is coming off a dismal last-place finish in the American League East, and has drastically changed its look. So it was with some trepidation that The Times embarked on an opening-day tour of local establishments to see what fans were thinking.
A visit to the Ocean View on Chapman Avenue in Oak Bluffs found a sprinkling of patrons on hand as the 3 pm game time approached. One of them, it turned out, was imbued with enough Red Sox spirit and family angst for an entire grandstand section at Fenway Park.
The Rev. Arlene Bodge, a native of Salem, has been a loyal Red Sox fan “since the cradle.” She remembers a time when the Red Sox were on the radio only. “When you walked down the street you followed the game by listening to each house’s radio,” she said.
The Rev. Bodge’s passion for the Red Sox came from her mother, a diehard fan. “She was born in 1919, the year after the Sox won the Series. She never saw them win it all.”
The Rev. Bodge moved to Martha’s Vineyard in the early ’60s, when she worked at Webb’s Campground. In 1972 she and a partner bought the campground, and managed it for almost 30 years. “During all my years at Webb’s, the only times we put a TV in the main hall was for Red Sox World Series and the moon landing,” she said.
As for the 2015 Red Sox, the Rev. Bodge said she has a favorite player, Dustin Pedroia. As she said his name, Pedroia homered for the first Sox run of the season.
The Times left the Ocean View with the Sox up 1-0.
The next stop was The Ritz on Circuit Avenue, where all eyes were on the TVs and all talk about the game. Oak Bluffs residents Mike Plesz, Daniel Catino, and Tom Landers are longtime Sox fans who know their baseball. All three recall the Red Sox of the ’50s. While they have stories to tell, they’re also up-to-date with the team.
Daniel Catino is a former Ritz doorman, among other things, who has been an avid Sox fan since childhood. He likes the 2015 team, and considers the big contracts to be part of modern baseball. “I only hope they do well,” he said.
When asked about a favorite Red Sox memory, Mr. Catino smiled. “That’s easy. It was 2004, when they won the World Series.” He explained that he was at sea as a merchant mariner at the time. “I had waited all my life for them to win it all. They clinched the Series on my birthday, Oct. 27. I was up on the bridge, listening to the radio broadcast on our loudspeakers. I’ll never forget it.”
Tom Landers is a retired painter who has clear images of his first visit to Fenway Park with his father. “All that green grass!” he recalled. While a Sox fan, Mr. Landers takes an especially historic perspective on baseball in general. He made sure he saw a game at the old Yankee Stadium and at the Mets’ Shea Stadium the year each was torn down. In each case, he returned to see a game in the new ballpark.
Mr. Landers worries that new Major League rules designed to speed up the game will hurt Red Sox hitters. “The team’s philosophy is to be patient, to see a lot of pitches. I don’t want them changing their style.”
Mike Plesz, a retired carpenter, was sporting a green Red Sox cap, a St. Patrick’s Day gift from his wife. Mr. Plesz became a “true Sox fan” with the arrival of future Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski in 1961. “The first time I saw him play, he made a great catch in left field. I was hooked. But I had to leave that game early. My friends were Yankee fans.”
Mr. Plesz has his doubts about the free-agent signings. “They went a little over in the spending. The length of the contracts is the problem.”
Then he re-created a bit of the Rev. Bodge’s visionary magic. He described rookie Mookie Betts as a “can’t-miss kid,” and Betts proceeded to belt one out of the park.
Sox up 2-0 as The Times said goodbye.
At the VFW on Towanticut Avenue, a festive crowd was enjoying the Sox opener. Bob “Squeaky” Anderson, a mechanic, and retired telephone lineman Paul Humber love baseball and the Red Sox. Both grew up in Boston, and fondly recalled their youthful ties with the team and trips to Fenway.
Mr. Humber remembered skipping school to attend opening day. “No one said a thing,” he recalled. He attends two games each year, but cannot connect with the modern game. “My jaw goes to my belt buckle” when he thinks of the money the players make. As for the 2015 Sox, time will tell, he said.
Mr. Anderson’s enthusiasm for the Sox is palpable. He organized a club trip to Fenway last year. “We had 29 people. We sat in the sky-view seats, and the Sox won. I’d like to do it again this year.” He likes this year’s team. “The pitching is fine, and Ortiz has another year or two in him. As for Pablo Sandoval, he’s quicker than you think.”
The conversation was interrupted twice by loud cheering. Ramirez and Pedroia (again) had hit solo homers. Sox on top 4-0, Buchholz looking sharp. Off to Edgartown.
At Sharkey’s in Edgartown, Derek Bergeron, 34, one of the few fans on hand, is an Oak Bluffs resident and fervent Sox fan who also happens to be a current merchant mariner.
Derek also celebrated the 2004 Red Sox World Series victory on the high seas. “We followed the final game on shortwave radio,” he said. “When they won, we sounded the ship’s whistle. No one but us was there to hear, so we made it loud.”
Mr. Bergeron likes much about the 2015 Sox. “Pablo will enjoy Boston, and will help with his hitting and in the locker room. And Mookie Betts is the man.”
His concerns are about manager John Farrell, under whose leadership the Sox have finished first and then last in their division. In Mr. Bergeron’s view, this year’s team “has a lot to make up for and a lot to prove.”
During the conversation, Boston’s Hanley Ramirez hit a grand slam. The Sox wrapped up an 8-0 opening-day win.
Sox fans can rest easy. All is well for now.