In Boston, baseball still owns our hearts

Jim Davis/globe staff

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The glow from Super Bowl LI will never dim. Snowflakes aside, our region has been in a good mood almost every hour for the past two weeks. Folks are still agog about the Patriots’ dramatic comeback, and they watch their DVR-preserved copy over and over, like teenagers playing a loop of a favorite song.

All of which has me wondering about the official passing of the Boston sports torch.

Have we really become a football town more than we are a baseball town?

A lot of the signs are there. The Patriots crush the Red Sox when it comes to TV ratings and time-share on sports radio. Folks at The Sports Hub and WEEI know they can light up the lines at the slightest mention of Tom Brady’s greatness or Dont’a Hightower’s contract. Sox talk can flatline.


But sitting here in sunny Florida, sculpting stories of eternal hope about Ye Olde Towne Team, I’m thinking that you still have room in your heart for the national pastime and New England’s century-long passion for the Red Sox.

Yes, we are a football town, but it turns out baseball is not dead. This point was hammered home last week when the Globe conducted an online poll asking readers, “What is the greatest story in Boston sports history: the 2004 Red Sox or the 2016 Patriots?’’

More than 5,000 readers responded in a 24-hour period, and the ’04 Sox bagged 73 percent of the vote.

It was amazing. This poll was conducted in the afterglow of the greatest Super Bowl comeback ever — during the Patriots parade! — and yet almost three-quarters of the respondents voted for the Red Sox, for baseball. More than 12 years after the seismic event.

I was surprised. I figured the immediacy of the Patriot victory, and all the layers of history and emotion that rode sidecar with Super Bowl LI, would carry the vote. I also figured that an Internet poll would attract more young voters, and we all know that football is for the young and baseball is for “seniors.’’


And yet it turns out that time has not diminished the memory of the biblical story of the ’04 Sox, when books were written and folks visited cemeteries to place mementos on the graves of forefathers who did not live to see it happen.

I put this to Red Sox boss Dave Dombrowski in a short conversation at Fenway South this past week. Dombro has worked in Chicago and Detroit, where folks love baseball, and in Florida, where they don’t really care much. I reminded him that Boston sports fans are in a really good mood in the wake of the Super Bowl and it’ll be up to the 2017 Red Sox to keep things positive in our town.

“That’s all right,’’ said Dombrowski. “Jim Leyland always said that there’s good expectations and there’s bad expectations. When you have a good club, it’s good expectations. You have to live up to them. But if you have a lousy team and they say you’re supposed to win a championship, then that’s bad. Because you know you’re not good enough to do it.

“I don’t know what will happen, but we have a good club, so now we have to go out and do it.


“It’s passionate here on a daily basis. That would be an understatement. I love it when people are so interested in the game. I’ve been places in my career where every move is scrutinized, maybe not as strongly on a daily basis, but I’ve had that.

“That’s what makes the game enjoyable for fans. They think they can do the job better than me and better than John Farrell. I think that’s what makes the game fun for people. Here it’s more passionate than anywhere you can be. It gives me goosebumps to come into Fenway still.”

Farrell was similarly heartened (and reminded of his responsibility to the region) by our poll.

“Having a team come back from three games to none is probably the reason for that number,’’ said Farrell. “Not to take anything away from a 25-point deficit, but in baseball you’ve got to do that over the course of four full games, facing elimination.

“I’d also say that the fact that you’d have 5,000 respondents to a question like that speaks volumes as to what Boston is about.’’

Dustin Pedroia, the senior statesman of the 2017 Sox, added, “It’s unreal. I haven’t played anywhere else, but there’s nothing like this. They demand you are at the top of your game at all times. That’s what you should want. You should want to be at your best.

“The circumstances don’t matter. That’s what makes it fun. Every game is important. That’s pretty cool. I’ve never been anywhere else. I just know this environment is what I want. It’s what everyone wants.’’


Chris Sale talked about it in his introductory news conference Tuesday. He said he noticed it when he went to the Sox Winter Weekend at Foxwoods in January. The tall lefty has never been in the playoffs in his seven-year career and said he embraces pitching in a market where everything he does is important.

“You can tell the intensity, not just with the players, but with the staff,’’ said Sale. “They’re held to a very high standard.’’

One year ago, David Price was where Sale is now, and he’s still adjusting. Price pitched in the anonymity of Tampa for the bulk of his career and buckled somewhat when he signed a $217 million contract and was introduced to the Boston baseball experience.

The social media-savvy southpaw is aware of everything going on around him and was not totally surprised to hear that Globe readers still embrace baseball.

“It’s passionate,’’ Price acknowledged. “The Patriots definitely endured a lot this year with Tom missing the first four games and [Jimmy] Garoppolo stepping up and all that stuff. Then being down 25 points in the championship.

“But the ’04 Sox . . . baseball is such a long season and being down, 3-0. And that Red Sox story might have been a little different if it had been against a team other than the Yankees.’’

Smart man, David Price. He’s only been with us for a while, but he knows that nothing that happens against the Atlanta Falcons can ever be a great as something that happens against the New York Yankees.


Football rules in New England these days, but baseball still connects and endures.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.