Although the weather in Boston has been in the 30's and 40's, the Red Sox were enjoying 81 degrees and sunshine at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Florida on February 22. The team’s first spring training game was an exhibition match against Northeastern University, but they opened Grapefruit League play against their rival, the New York Yankees, the following day. JetBlue Park is a near-perfect replica of Boston’s Fenway Park, complete with a Green Monster towering above left field. A life-sized Lego statue of long-time Red Sox superstar David Ortiz greeted fans near the team store. Despite the humid weather, fans young and old packed the stands to watch the Sox prepare for the coming season. As the game began, fans gobbled down hot dogs, fries, and ice cold drinks to counteract the intense heat.
When I arrived, Northeastern’s players were completing batting practice. All of them were wearing identical black half-sleeve jackets over their uniforms. Christian Vasquez, the starting catcher for the Red Sox, sat in the dugout waiting patiently for the game to start. With him was utility infielder Tzu-Wei Lin. Meanwhile, the well-known Red Sox mascot and fan favorite Wally the Green Monster strutted around the field, revving fans up.
Spring training games are a time to give up-and-coming young players a chance to show their abilities. Against Northeastern, top Red Sox prospects Bobby Dalbec and Michael Chavis both took the field. Dalbec hit a home run in his first at bat. Left fielder Jagger Rusconi and right fielder Tyler Dearden both hit RBI triples for a Boston 6–0 win. Music was blasting throughout batting practice, and fans on both sides seemed in high spirits.
One fan who has ties to both teams is 11-year-old Liam McGourty, who was on the field pregame with his father. I met McGourty outside the Red Sox dugout, where he was chatting with the players. We introduced ourselves, and I asked him about his story. McGourty has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a genetic disease that causes widespread and progressive muscle weakness. He lost the ability to walk at age 10. This hasn’t stopped him from being the most committed baseball fan I’ve ever met. He has attended 54 Red Sox games at Fenway, and he is an honorary team member of the Northeastern Huskies. McGourty’s parents founded Liam’s L.E.E.P. to support families and increase awareness for kids with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. It’s also about making sure that kids with this illness have the chance to live a full and happy life. It was inspiring to see Liam on the field and to learn about his love of baseball.
The tone of the first Grapefruit League game against the Yankees was quite different and more intense. At Red Sox batting practice, fans flooded in to get autographs from the regular season players, including World Series MVP Steve Pearce, shortstop Xander Bogaerts, and outfielder J.D. Martinez. The defending champs were without second baseman Dustin Pedroia for almost all of last season, and fans wanted to know if he would be ready for 2019. One fan shouted, “Hey Pedey, are we gonna see the laser show this year?” Pedroia smiled and replied confidently, “You’ll see it.” Fans were also excited to see regular starting third baseman Rafael Devers start in the designated hitter spot against the Yankees. Devers went 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored. But it was prospect Michael Chavis who really stole the show. Chavis, who plays both second and third base, went hitless in Friday’s game against Northeastern, but against the Yankees, he showed off the power that has made him the Red Sox’s top prospect. In the third inning, Chavis blasted a three-run home run, giving the Red Sox a lead that would carry them to an 8 –5 victory. He would go on to do so a second time the following day against Minnesota, where the Red Sox again won 8–5.
It may be early, but at batting practice and on the field, the Red Sox already looked prepared for the start of the regular season. Coming off a World Series win, they will have a target on their back. But with their talent, work ethic, and level of preparation, they may well repeat last year’s success and take home another title. And they'll continue to enjoy the support of devoted fans like Liam.