FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox know you’ve lost that lovin’ feeling. They aim to win back the hearts of disgruntled fans.
Welcome to JetBlue Park in sunny southwest Florida, the first stop on the Red Sox Redemption Tour of 2013.
The Sox assembled at JetBlue Tuesday for the first workout of pitchers and catchers. Manager John “True Grit” Farrell put the fellows through a grueling two-hour workout, and nobody texted Adrian Gonzalez to suggest a clubhouse coup d’etat.
It’s all good this year. Come on down and take a long look at John Lackey. He’s a fatty no more. Say hello to new shortstop Stephen “I’m no J.D.” Drew. And while you’re at it, check out Dustin Pedroia, who says, “They didn’t have to spend $100,000 on that focus group to find out I’m a sexy guy. I could have told them that for free!’’
The Sox were New England’s top dogs for a long time, dominating the local sports landscape and spreading their brand globally. Major League Baseball sent the Centerfold Sox to Japan in 2008. ESPN and Fox insisted on placing the Sox in prime time, knowing the Carmine Hose would boost national ratings. Every Fenway game was a legitimate sellout.
Now the Sox are scuffling for attention and approval. Institutional arrogance and hubris have been stored in the trunk.
The Sox are a national punch line and find themselves far less popular than their football neighbors in Foxborough. No. 5 in the American League East, the Red Sox suddenly rank fourth in local popularity, trailing the Patriots, Celtics, and Bruins.
Check out the Red Sox official 2013 marketing slogans:
“What’s Broken Can Be Fixed.’’
And . . .
“162 Chances To Restore The Faith.’’
Wow. That’s a long way from, “Good times never seemed so good, so good, so good.’’
And so as the pitchers and catchers loosen their arms and spit sunflower seeds, “Sweet Caroline’’ yields to the late Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.’’ The Soxshank Redemption.
Here’s a slogan they could try: “Red Sox: Please Don’t Hate Us.”
“We can’t wipe away what’s taken place,’’ said Farrell. “What we do going forward is where the focus has to be. Just by virtue of nine new players on a 25-man roster is going to have some natural tendency to change that, but the most important thing is that we have the trust of one another inside the clubhouse. Going from there is a style of play that people can identify with.
“We can’t just talk about it. We’ve got to go out and do it. Part of regaining the trust and faith of the fans — I’m confident that the talent that’s here, plus the people that they are, this will be a team that I really believe people will identify with; the effort and the energy that they bring every night and the respect for the game that they have.’’
Among the new guys are Mike Napoli, Ryan Dempster, Jonny Gomes, David Ross, Shane Victorino, and the aforementioned Brother Drew. For the most part, these are veterans who have played in big games, some in major markets. They are second-tier talents who have been brought to Boston for their baseball skills, but also for the content of their characters. After years of the lethargic J.D. Drew, the stubborn Josh Beckett, and the aloof Gonzo, the Sox are trying to assemble a likeable team.
“It’s going to be fun,’’ said Pedroia. “The guys who were brought in are tough guys who like this atmosphere. It’s going to be fun playing with those guys.”
Ever-popular David Ortiz, the last warrior of 2004 and one of five Sox players who was here when the last championship was won in 2007, owns “the disaster that happened last year,” and said, “A team like this, finished last in our division, there’s a lot of things we’ve got to fix.
“The first thing we definitely need to do is start playing better,’’ said Papi. “That’s what got us to where we were before. [In 2003], we were close. But when you have a year like we had last year, there’s no hope.’’
What about beer in the clubhouse? Any chance of that?
“That’s something that we’re still having discussion on internally,’’ said Farrell. “At the appropriate time, we’ll make that announcement if it needs to be. We’ve got a lot of other things to take care of first before we worry about if a beer is going to be opened after the game.’’
When Ben Cherington made the mega-deal, moving Gonzalez, Beckett, Carl Crawford, and $161 million in future payroll to the Dodgers late last summer, the GM said, “We are not who we want to be.’’
The Red Sox are closer now. But they are starting at the bottom. Working for your love.
“I don’t want it to happen again,’’ said Pedroia. “It’s not fun.’’