The standings may not show it, but the Red Sox have been a pretty good baseball team in recent months. Boston is 35-33 since the All-Star break; 24-14 since Dave Dombrowski was hired; and 20-11 since Hanley Ramirez last played defensively. Once a basement-languishing mess, the Red Sox have risen accordingly to third place in the East and ninth overall in the American League, with tangible hope resurfacing that this team can finally be competitive again next year.
Perhaps more importantly, the Red Sox have just been fun to watch recently. After months and years of acrimony and borderline crisis, it’s great to be able to smile when watching games again, as the team looks more alive and enthusiastic. Maybe that’s a testament to interim manager Torey Lovullo, who seems more relaxed and well-liked than John Farrell, or perhaps it’s a reflection of homegrown talent replacing overpaid failures like Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. But whatever its genesis, the energy is back at Fenway Park, which was sold out 94.8% of the time this year despite obvious disappointments, a quite incredible statistic.
When Mookie Betts made his stupendous catch at the right field wall last week, taking a home run away from the Orioles’ Chris Davis, the old ballpark was rocking like times of yore. That ferocious buzz, that hearty Bostonian roar, was back at the corner of Yawkey Way and Van Ness Street. The fans were pumped up, no matter the record or the standings. Fenway Park was an exciting place again, which is not only good for Boston and the Red Sox, but also for Major League Baseball and sports in general. Everything is better when the marquee franchises are playing great at packed and passionate stadiums.
Such moments of drama have rekindled optimism around the Red Sox and thawed some of the skepticism that greeted Dombrowski’s hiring. Now, there is genuine excitement about his vision for the future; real belief that The Olde Towne Team is on the cusp of another great era. Everything Dombrowski has done so far has worked, from aligning the electric outfield of Bradley Jr., Betts and Castillo to giving extended playing time to farm graduates like Travis Shaw. His early moves have inspired Red Sox Nation, which is ready for the next phase of his plan to be enacted.
The next stage of that vision will be built by a newly aligned hierarchy that has been stitched together in recent weeks. Dombrowski will be the chief arbiter on all baseball matters, with Mike Hazen serving as General Manager and Frank Wren coming aboard as Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations. In layman’s terms, Hazen, a noted sabermetrician, and Wren, a renowned scout, will work as two halves of one organ, from which Dombrowski will seek detailed wisdom to moderate his views and validate his decisions. Elsewhere, Sam Kennedy will oversee the Red Sox’ business operation, while Larry Lucchino will slide into an emeritus role almost as an honorary advisor.
Freshly assembled front offices usually inherit a dire situation. After all, executives are typically fired for under-performance. However, while this is true of the Red Sox in that Boston has reached the postseason only once in the last six years, Dombrowski, Hazen and Wren could barely ask for a greater foundation from which to build. The Red Sox have an excellent farm system and an even better young core at the big league level. Accordingly, the team’s biggest objective this offseason will be supplementing that base with quality imports, rather than totally starting over.
Therefore, Red Sox fans have a lot to be happy about, at the end of another trying season. The sun is once again shining over Fenway Park, and the cheer has returned to Red Sox Nation. We’re experiencing the start of a bright new dawn. Hopefully twilight doesn’t arrive for another generation.