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Jim Kenyon: Red Sox faithfuls show loyalty for home opener

  • Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Columnist
Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Outside American Legion Post 22 on Tuesday afternoon in Lebanon, a cold drizzle had changed over to a side-winding sleet — further delaying the start of spring.

Inside, Mark Boutin and Jim Goode sat at the end of the bar, nursing Coors Lights drafts and watching Red Sox ace Chris Sales turn a 2-0 lead into a 5-2 deficit after four innings.

If the weather and the state of Red Sox starting pitching wasn’t bad enough, their friend Greg Marsh had just arrived at the bar.

“Yankee fan,” Boutin groused. “He roots for the Taliban and Al Qaeda, too.”

Marsh didn’t say a word. He just grinned. No doubt taking great satisfaction in the Sox having stumbled out of the gate with eight losses in their first 11 games.

But Boutin and Goode are faithful citizens of Red Sox Nation. They clocked out early from their factory jobs on Tuesday to catch Opening Day at Fenway on the tube.

“We’ve done this the last few years,” Boutin said.

“I told my boss it only happens once a year,” added Goode.

But Goode, who was wearing a faded T-shirt from the Red Sox 2013 championship season, sheepishly acknowledged that he hadn’t let everyone in on his plans.

“My wife thinks I’m at work,” he said.

In the 56-year-old Goode’s defense, this wasn’t any ordinary Opening Day at Fenway. The Sox are the defending World Series champions. They dominated in 2018, spending only 12 days the entire season out of first place in the American League East. Tuesday was championship ring day.

It also marked the return of Dustin Pedroia, who has been battling a career-threatening knee injury. The gritty second baseman’s first game in nearly a year was not to be missed.

To non-fans, or even casual ones, the Major League Baseball season may seem too long. The 162-game regular season schedule starts in March (OK, that might be a tad early) and the playoffs don’t end until late October.

But that hasn’t stopped Goode from looking forward to the 2019 season since “right after the Patriots’ win in the Super Bowl” in February, he said. In his toolbox at work, he marks each Red Sox win and loss on a calendar.

Blame it on his upbringing.

He grew up outside of Boston, and most of his family hails from Southie.

“You know they’re Sox fans,” he said.

It’s been a while since Goode was last inside Fenway. Unfortunately, that’s true for a lot of Sox fans. On Monday, I checked ticket prices for Opening Day. Prices started at $111 — for standing room only. The cheapest actual seat — in the center field bleachers — was going for $116.

But that doesn’t mean Goode won’t be watching baseball live in person in the upcoming months. The Upper Valley Nighthawks, a collegiate summer baseball league team, play their home games in Hartford.

“That’s probably all I’ll be able to afford,” he said.

With players in the Red Sox and visiting Toronto Blue Jays dugout bundled up in heavy jackets and neck warmers, Boutin said “on a day like this, it’s good to be watching on TV.”

I pointed out the Red Sox sideline announcer wrapped in her $900 Canada Goose jacket. “That’s more than a mortgage payment,” Goode said.

Some people think baseball is a dying sport. The money — not just in baseball but professional football and basketball, as well — has soured older fans. The pace of a major league game, which is seldom played in less than 3 hours these days, turns off younger folks.

Boutin recalls that driving through Upper Valley neighborhoods years ago, it was common to spot kids playing whiffle ball.

“You don’t see that as much any more,” Boutin said.

Post 22 is doing its part, however, to keep the game alive. The nonprofit organization spends thousands of dollars every summer to field two teams in New Hampshire’s American Legion leagues. Without Legion ball, many Upper Valley teens wouldn’t have the opportunity to play outside of high school.

Baseball, whether it be through sponsored American Legion teams or showing the Red Sox on TV, is big at Post 22. And in case there was any doubt, this is “Red Sox country,” Post 22 manager Pete St. Pierre told me.

From time to time, St. Pierre stepped out of his office to get an Opening Day update.

“Dustin’s up,” Goode announced in the bottom of the second.

With runners on the corners, Pedroia hit into a 6-4-3 double play. “Oh well,” Boutin said with a shrug.

The Sox ended up losing, 7-5. At 3-9, the team is off to its worst start since 2011. Of more concern is the condition of Sale’s left shoulder and the lack of a closer. If Brock Holt going on the disabled list after being poked in eye by his 2-year-old son is any indication, Lady Luck may not be in the Sox corner this year either.

They’re already six games out of first place.

“They could still be in first place by June,” Goode said.

And by then, spring might have finally arrived in the Upper Valley, too.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.