FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox beat the Boston College Eagles, 6-0, in the first game of the 2016 spring season Monday afternoon at JetBlue Park. It was the first day of the second year for Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, and we held our breath as we watched it unfold.
Hanley and Pablo are Boston baseball's Gold Bust Twins (thank you, Scott Lauber of ESPN Boston). They are perhaps the most reviled local tandem since Curtis Rowe and Sidney Wicks polluted the parquet in a short stint with the Celtics in the late 1970s.
Hanley and Pablo signed for big money after the Red Sox' last-place season of 2014 and did little to help the last-place Red Sox of 2015. Both got hurt. Both underachieved. Both were told to get in better condition in the offseason.
Things didn't get much better when Hanley showed up at JetBlue Park without his own glove after being told he'd be playing first base in 2016. A few days after Hanley's playful introduction, the Kung Fu Panda arrived, anything but gutless, and announced he has nothing to prove.
Red Sox principal owner John Henry, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, and manager John Farrell all went out of their way to say nice things about Hanley and Pablo after their celebrated arrivals. Henry even told us that the Panda's body fat measures a mere 17 percent (did he say "70," we wondered). Everything was just swell.
And so we came to the park with some trepidation about the annual college doubleheader.
When the starting lineups were announced, I heard not a single boo for Hanley or Pablo. There were no wiseguy remarks about waistlines or wastes of talent. Spring training fans tend to be upbeat and forgiving. They are not social media tough guys or hard-core disciples of sports hate radio. The fans who live here are old. The ones who travel for the games are here because they love the Red Sox. You don't fly to Florida to boo Hanley Ramirez.
The annual college day is especially convivial. Kids from St. Sebastian's, Malden Catholic, and Walpole get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play against the Red Sox. It is not a day for negativity.
Hanley said he was nervous when he came out for the first inning and tossed practice grounders to Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, and Pablo. When Bogaerts bounced a long throw from the hole, Hanley deftly backhanded it like a young George Scott.
Pablo's jersey top was neatly tucked into his trousers. There would be no viral gut shots coming out of Fort Myers on this fine spring day.
After Steven Wright struck out the first batter of the season, Sox catcher Blake Swihart fired the ball down to Pablo to start the old round-the-horn routine. Pablo took Swihart's throw, pivoted, and fired toward Bogaerts, but the throw was wide left and clanged off Bogey's glove before dribbling into center field. It reminded me of the wedding scene in "The Deer Hunter" when the bride spills wine on her wedding dress during the toast. Bad things will follow.
There were no grounders in the first inning. After the third strikeout, Hanley made it a point to step on the first base bag before retreating to the dugout on the third base side. While Pablo took time to chat with third base umpire Steve Bavilacqua, Ramirez took a dugout throw from coach Ruben Amaro — that's the ball for practice grounders before the second inning.
David Ortiz had the day off (much to the disappointment of fans), so Hanley batted cleanup. With one on and two out in the first, Ramirez hit a grounder up the middle that was gloved by the BC second baseman. The kid's throw to first bounced to the dugout, and hustling Hanley was awarded a single, taking second on the throwing error.
Pablo (no boos, no jokes) was next, and he batted lefthanded while facing BC junior righty Justin Dunn. Sandoval abandoned switch-hitting last season, but he's trying it again this year. He lined to left on a 3-and-2 pitch to end the first.
"Felt good to be hitting left again,'' Sandoval said after the game.
Inning two was more eventful for Pablo and Hanley. BC first baseman Joe Cronin (no relation to the Sox Hall of Fame shortstop/manager) led with a chopper toward third. Nimble Pablo pounced in catlike fashion, but was unable to glove the ball as he charged and attempted to bend down. Base hit.
This time there was some noise. A leather-lunged fan booed from the back row behind home plate. It was audible through the park, like one of those lobbyists making himself known at a quiet moment in the Republican debate.
Cronin was erased when the next batter grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. Pedroia's relay to Hanley was chest-high perfect. Ramirez came off the bag pretty quickly. This might be something to watch.
"When it hits my glove, I come off the bag,'' said Ramirez.
In the third, BC's Chris Balogh hit a little roller to first and Hanley one-handed it with aplomb. Nothing to see there. In the bottom of the inning, Hanley dented the Green Monster for a double on a low-and-away pitch.
"Last year I couldn't get to that pitch,'' said Ramirez, referencing his shoulder injury.
Ramirez was lifted for a pinch runner after his double and came off to cheers. Two for two. No errors.
After Hanley's double, Panda batted left again and struck out, swinging, on a 1-and-2 breaking ball. There were a few boos as he went to the dugout, but nothing particularly hostile. He was neither nervous nor bothered.
Ramirez admitted to some butterflies.
"I was nervous in the first inning, but I calmed down after the first pitch,'' he said. "I try to anticipate everything. That's the key. There was more pressure going from shortstop to left field than from left field to first base. But we got a good plan.''
Farrell made it clear that the onus is on Hanley.
"He has shown very good feet, quick footwork around the bag,'' said the manager. "The whole thing is his throwing angles will be completely different than when he's on the left side of the infield. So the mechanics of a ground ball, that's all going to come natural to him.
"There has to be patience shown. There has to be support given. And as long as the player is consistently engaged in the work that he's giving himself a chance to — if not make the plays — but transition in this case.
"That is no different with Hanley. As long as he's giving himself every opportunity, this will be a successful transition.''
There you go, folks. Pablo and Hanley just need a little patience and support.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.