Red Sox

Sparse crowds, slow ticket sales, no buzz -- Red Sox facing an enthusiasm deficit

Sparse crowds, slow ticket sales, no buzz -- Red Sox facing an enthusiasm deficit

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- What happens if they hold spring training and no one comes? Does it still exist?

When they weren't pondering the existence of God or the nature of love, philosophers have wrestled with that thorny question since the dawn of Dodgertown. But they've never been able to test the hypothesis, because fans have always descended on even the remotest Grapefruit League outposts in droves.

Based on the first couple of days of workouts at JetBlue Park, however, the Red Sox may finally provide the answer.

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The scene on Thursday was jaw-dropping. Even accepting that school vacation doesn't start until next week, and even acknowledging that full-squad workouts don't start until Monday, the lack of fans on the back fields while pitchers and catchers began plying their craft in advance of a 2020 season that's still going to be played despite Mookie Betts wearing Dodger Blue was noticeable.

"There's no (expletive) people here," observed one of the many retirees who provide a genial form of security.

Attendance was sparse enough that more than one observer wondered if the workout was closed to the public. The Red Sox estimated that about 500 total fans have attended the first two days of workouts, which is not dramatically lower than years past, per a team official. But it certainly felt different. On one field, new Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke oversaw a hitting drill under the watchful eyes of three fans. On another, new baseball boss Chaim Bloom moved about in near total anonymity, a far cry from the 2003 rock star days of Theo Epstein.

It was the first tangible evidence that the team's demoralizing offseason, which consisted mainly of trading Mookie Betts in order to facilitate a salary dump of David Price, has left a mark. These are the Red Sox, so it's not like fans will abandon them for good, but the organization shouldn't take their devotion for granted.

The fans that did attend ultimately crowded a field where some of the club's more recognizable hitters were taking BP. But the concession stands were dead, the walkways clear, the secondary fields empty. Presumably the crowds return next week when families make the journey south, but whereas once you could guarantee a packed complex before the games even started, now we'll be genuinely curious to see who arrives and in what kind of numbers.

Coupled with CEO Sam Kennedy's recent admission that tickets sales are down (after ticket prices went up) -- not to mention the Betts trade, a cheating scandal, and questions about ownership's willingness to spend -- and the Red Sox could be entering a phase of brand crisis.

They're the organization that seems to suffer the most from Not Being the Patriots, which is strange, given their four titles and all-around Curse smashing since 2004. But they have a habit of alternating incredible highs with embarrassing lows -- gorilla suits, chicken and beer, Bobby V., sign stealing scandals -- and it finally feels like fans are keeping them at arm's length.

Winning them back won't be as easy as rolling the ball out for opening day and relying on a bunch of Fenway sellouts to obscure any enthusiasm gaps. It's possible the Red Sox underestimated the popularity of Betts, a homegrown superstar who simply wanted to be paid his value, but was instead shipped out on the verge of spring training.

(I've argued it was the right long-term move, even if it hurts, and I still feel that way. But I also understand why fans see it differently, since the Red Sox have the resources to afford anyone they want, and they chose not to pay the former MVP.)

Maybe this ends up being a giant bag of nothing, and the fans swarm JetBlue next week and pack Fenway and give NESN record ratings while the Red Sox overachieve and win us over. But just two years removed from a 108-win season and World Series title, the organization has some real work to do to rehabilitate its image with a fanbase that seems more willing than ever to stay home.

Pedro Martinez hopes MLB owners, players can think about fans and compromise

Pedro Martinez hopes MLB owners, players can think about fans and compromise

The NHL has announced a return-to-play strategy. The NBA could announce its plan as soon as Thursday after a Board of Governors vote.

And then there's Major League Baseball.

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MLB's first proposal was quickly shot down by the Players' Association, which submitted its own plan over the weekend. That's also expected to be immediately dismissed. And as the days tick by, the hopes for a 2020 season get dimmer. While there's still time to salvage a season, the lack of productive dialogue between the league and the MLBPA is getting discouraging.

Speaking on NBC Sports Network's "Lunch Talk Live" on Monday afternoon, Pedro Martinez voiced his frustration with the stalemate.

"I'm hoping that both sides actually stop thinking about their own good and start thinking about the fans," Martinez said. "I think this is a perfect time to have their baseball teams out there and try to have the people forget a little bit about what's going on. It's not only the pandemic, it's everything that's going on. People need something to actually do and find a way to relax. I hope that the Players' Association and MLB realize how important it is to bring some sort of relief to people."

Martinez is spot-on with the sentiment that sports returning would be a welcome respite from the news right now. But getting players back on the field is proving to be complicated, especially as the sides navigate the financials of a shorter season without revenue from tickets.

"The economics is the dark part of baseball. The business part of baseball is dirty. It's dark," Martinez told Tirico. "And I hope that they take into consideration who pays our salaries, what the people do for us, how important the people are, and forget about or at least bend your arm a little bit to find a middle ground for the negotiations.

Let's not be selfish about it. Let's think about the fans, let's think about the families that are home that want to at least watch a baseball game and distract themselves from all the things that are going on.

Ongoing disputes over money are reflecting horribly on the sport, and cancelling the entire 2020 season could do irreperable harm to a sport that has seen its popularity ebb in recent years.

Fans can only hope that the sides take Pedro's advice, and find some common ground — and do it quickly. 

Relive Manny Ramirez's greatest moments on Red Sox legend's 48th birthday

Relive Manny Ramirez's greatest moments on Red Sox legend's 48th birthday

One of the most entertaining players ever to don a Boston Red Sox uniform was born 48 years ago today.

That would be Manny Ramirez, who celebrates his birthday on May 30. In honor of the special occasion, Major League Baseball tweeted an awesome video that includes some of Ramirez's greatest moments:

Watch below:

That cutoff of Johnny Damon's throw never gets old.

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Ramirez joined the Red Sox in 2001 after spending the first seven seasons of his career with the Cleveland Indians. From there, he became a key contributor to two World Series titles (2004 and 2007) and furthered his legacy as one of the best right-handed hitters of all time.

He isn't done yet, either. Ramirez announced just a couple of months ago he is hoping to find a roster spot in Taiwan's Chinese Professional Baseball League. More "Manny Being Manny"? That sounds great to us.

We wish a very happy birthday to one of the greatest (and most interesting) players in Red Sox history.