Red Sox

No one cares about the Red Sox right now, and ownership should be terrified

No one cares about the Red Sox right now, and ownership should be terrified

No phrase should fill Sam Kennedy and Co. with more dread than this one: out of sight, out of mind.

The Red Sox haven't played a game that counts in more than seven months, and as baseball seeks a path to return in the midst of a pandemic, the Red Sox feel more irrelevant than ever.

The Celtics have at least given us topics like Gordon Hayward's future, Jayson Tatum's lack of a practice hoop, and just how healthy Kemba Walker's knee will be when this is all over, in the hopes of a deep playoff run.

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The Bruins have stayed relevant through periodic town halls, with Brad Marchand admitting he's unsure a veteran team will benefit from the long layoff, captain Zdeno Chara telling an interviewer he plans to play next season, and the world learning just how malodorous goalie Tuukka Rask can be in close quarters.

As for the Patriots, they dominate our attention, just as they did pre-Covid. From Tom Brady and free agency to Jarrett Stidham and the draft, they still feel like the only show in town. They're the perfect combination of performance and soap opera, and we can't get enough.

Then there are the Red Sox.

Outside of the day when MLB finally released its report detailing their attempts at illegal sign-stealing during the 2018 season — just a conveniently low-level rogue operator, nothing to see here — they've been almost completely absent from the news cycle. Part of it is their own doing, since the only player they've made available post-virus is ace Chris Sale, who honored a promise to discuss Tommy John surgery. (As this column was posted, they announced that Alex Verdugo would appear on a conference call on Monday.)

But part of it feels like a lingering hostility that some of us underestimated following the trade that sent MVP Mookie Betts to the Dodgers. Red Sox fans were palpably angry this winter, and the team wasn't about to win them back with a wacky Alex Verdugo video on social media. They needed to do it on the field.

That's a difficult task with no season, and as a result, hostility has yielded to apathy.

Red Sox web traffic has lagged the other sports at sites across New England. You can listen to Felger and Mazz for four hours without hearing a word about the team, other than in the context of how and when baseball might return.

It's almost as if fans who weren't looking forward to the season anyway are in no rush to see it come back, and that's the last place for a franchise to be in a market as competitive as Boston.

If either of the winter sports ever returns, it would be for the playoffs. The NFL still hopes to open on time in the fall. That leaves baseball and the Red Sox potentially feeling an unprecedented squeeze, without the summer stage to itself.

Even accepting that the lockdown has created a hunger for sports that should make room for everyone at the buffet, the Red Sox could still very easily find themselves in the unfamiliar position of being the fourth sport in town.

The longer-term danger is that with a rebuild looming and the Betts fallout lingering, it could end up becoming their semi-permanent home, which would've been unfathomable even a year ago.

But the likability issues that have plagued them throughout the rollercoaster ride of John Henry's ownership feel particularly acute at the moment, which should have Kennedy and Co. also fearing this update on an old aphorism:

Absence makes the heart grow harder.

Red Sox boast most loyal fans in MLB, according to this Forbes ranking

Red Sox boast most loyal fans in MLB, according to this Forbes ranking

The last few months have seriously tested baseball fans' patience. But don't expect Boston Red Sox supporters to bail on their team, even in the face of a global pandemic.

As Major League Baseball (finally) prepares for a coronavirus-shortened 2020 season, Forbes published a ranking of the league's most loyal fanbases.

And wouldn't you know it, the Red Sox top the list, three spots ahead of the rival New York Yankees.

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Here's the top 10, per Forbes:

1. Boston Red Sox
2. Chicago Cubs
3. St. Louis Cardinals
4. New York Yankees
5. Los Angeles Dodgers
6. Milwaukee Brewers
7. San Francisco Giants
8. Cleveland Indians
9. Philadelphia Phillies
10. Atlanta Braves

Forbes determined its rankings by analyzing the following metrics: local television ratings, stadium attendance (based on percent capacity), secondary ticket demand, merchandise sales, social media reach and "hometown crowd reach," defined as the percentage of a city's population that watched, listened to and/or attended a game in the past year.

Based on those metrics, it makes sense why Sox fans top this list. Regardless of what you think about Fenway Park's "sellout streak," the Red Sox consistently fill their home seats (even in leaner years), while Sox fans travel notoriously well to opposing ballparks.

Simply put, the Red Sox matter in Boston a lot more than many MLB teams do to fans in their respective cities. Oh, and to state the obvious: You're more likely to continue supporting your team after enduring an 86-year championship drought.

As Forbes noted, Boston's passionate fanbase isn't without its issues, as Torii Hunter recently revealed he was the subject of repeated racist taunts at Fenway Park. The Red Sox acknowledged Hunter's experience in a statement and vowed to address the "larger systemic issues" of racism that Hunter highlighted.

Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke ready for MLB season despite being at higher risk of COVID-19

Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke ready for MLB season despite being at higher risk of COVID-19

Ron Roenicke isn't the average 63-year-old. He spent eight years in the big leagues and if anything has dropped below his playing weight of 180 in retirement. He remains lean and fit.

He also belongs to a high-risk group when it comes to Covid-19, the illness that disproportionately affects older populations. According to the CDC, over 90 percent of Covid deaths in the United States have occurred in people over 55.

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With spring training opening this week at Fenway Park and Roenicke back to work in Boston, the manager was asked in a Zoom call on Monday if he fears for his safety.

"I don't have a lot of concerns for myself," Roenicke said. "Of course I don't want to get this thing, but I think the protocols we've put into place have covered as much as we think we can cover. I think it's always uncomfortable. It was uncomfortable when I was home in California going to the grocery store. Anytime I left the house was uncomfortable. So that's going to be there. But our people I know have put so much into place in trying to protect myself, all the coaches and players, that we feel pretty good coming in."

As baseball prepares to enter the great unknown while gathering hundreds of players from all over the world to prepare for Opening Day in late July, safety protocols like daily heat checks, social distancing, and mask-wearing will become the game's new reality. Players are expected to arrive at Fenway on Wednesday and Thursday for Covid tests in the hopes that everyone will be cleared to begin workouts on Friday.

Roenicke underwent a test of his own on Monday and expects results by Wednesday. He looks forward to addressing his team in person as soon as it is safe to do so.

"I think whenever I'm allowed to talk to the guys as a group, I hope it's not on Zoom, because I really do want to look these guys in the face instead of having to do it through a monitor," he said. "But whenever we can and feel comfortable, probably in an outdoor setting, I'll address the different things that we all know can really hamper what we're trying to accomplish. It's not just worrying about keeping everybody safe and healthy, but we also realize we have a job to do and trying to get in shape and the challenge of trying to do both of those, and it is a challenge."

In the bigger picture, Roenicke trusts that baseball is doing everything it can to keep him safe.

"I'm really not that concerned," he said. "I still don't feel I'm old, I guess. I feel good health-wise. My doctors all say I'm healthy. I feel good that way. Obviously it's a concern, because you don't know how it affects different people. Whether you're 20 years old or whether you're 63 as I am, you still have to be concerned about trying to stay away from it and certainly the people that are older than I am, we're worried about them. . . . Hopefully we can stay as clean as possible. We know it's there. We know players are going to get it. So we'll just go along our business and try to figure out this very difficult schedule."