The Red Sox don’t have much time before the Patriots are back to steal the spotlight
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady passes during an NFL football training camp practice, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016, in Foxborough.
Be warned, Red Sox. You’re on the clock, and this is not another pro/con soliloquy about adding a pitch clock to accelerate your 4-hour marathon nine-inning games. This is more urgent.
The way I see it, you’ve got about a two-week window here to prove worthy of fans’ deep investment of time (and money) from now through September, and presumably into October. Then, two weeks from Thursday, all bets are off. That’s July 27, the first day of Patriots training camp, and you’d better be rolling when they show up on the scene.
They return as the defending Super Bowl champions for the fifth time this century. They’ve long since seized the title as the most popular team in New England. And if you’re not careful, Red Sox folk, they’ll seize this summer right out from under you.
New England sports fans are busy. Their favorite teams have become compelling year-round, wheeling and dealing — well, except for the Bruins – and building for the next season when they’re not in the middle of one. They are constantly in the news – heck, we’re still talking about the Celtics daily as we head for the middle of July.
That’s cool. It’s also sometimes overwhelming to try to keep up with everything.
The NFL and NBA in particular have mastered the marketing art of remaining in the consciousness of sports fans even out of season, with the draft and free agency becoming prime-time television and social-media events. They’re trying to steal the summer from baseball. To a significant degree, they’re succeeding.
Contrary to an especially popular sports radio narrative, the Red Sox are not a boring team. There aren’t three current pitchers who are more fun to watch than Chris Sale, who has been a dominant delight in his first season in Boston.
Sure, the absence of David Ortiz has left a void. Of course it has. He had the greatest combination of charisma and clutch performance in franchise history. Red Sox fans waiting generations for someone like him to arrive on the scene and come through time and again under the brightest spotlight. He was everything Mo Vaughn almost was but could not be.
But to pine for Ortiz, even subconsciously, by suggesting the current roster is boring is inaccurate. There aren’t five current position players who are more fun to watch than Mookie Betts, even if his public persona is something shy of larger-than-life. A rookie with the talent of Andrew Benintendi should captivate fans, if we weren’t so used to being captivated already.
Oh, and do me a favor, would you? Go over to Baseball-Reference and compare Xander Bogaerts’s career numbers through age-23 to his idol Derek Jeter’s and then come back to me. I am absolutely not saying he’s the next Jeter; he was quintessentially the right player on the right team at the right time. Jeter, not Lou Gehrig, was really the luckiest man on the face of the earth. But if Bogaerts, who has hit .360 with two outs and runners in scoring position this season, played in New York, I bet you there would be a tabloid or two that might suggest as much.
The difference is, however, that while the Red Sox have a lot going for them – not to mention a 3.5-game advantage over the Rays and Yankees in the American League East – the Patriots have everything going for them.
For more than a decade-and-a-half now, the Patriots have been incredibly successful in-season while never failing to be fascinating all year long. And the 2017 Patriots have a chance to be one of their most interesting and dominating teams yet. Save for the Golden State Warriors, there isn’t a more compelling team in professional sports right now.
The Patriots have won two Super Bowls in the past three years, with last year’s victory (after spotting the Falcons a 25-point third-quarter lead) somehow more thrilling than the previous one (“Intercepted … by Malcolm Butler!”) As they commence their attempt at matching their feat from 2001-2004 of winning three Lombardi Trophies in four years, they may have their deepest and most talented roster yet.
It is not a joke to suggest that the Patriots’ second string has more talent than the New York Jets’ starters. Receiver Andrew Hawkins totaled 123 receptions over the last three years with the Cleveland Browns, and he might be, what, the Patriots’ sixth-best receiver?
It’s going to be fascinating to discover how quickly receiver Brandin Cooks and Brady connect, how Mike Gillislee fits in the running game, and how sharp or rusty the inimitable Rob Gronkowski looks returning from back surgery.
But this much is certain now: The only way the Patriots aren’t a legitimate championship contender in the coming season is if Tom Brady gets hurt and Jimmy Garoppolo’s success last season proves a mirage. That’s the only way. That’s it.
The 2017 chapter in this volume of their dynasty won’t truly begin to be written until September 7, when they open the season and raise another banner at Gillette Stadium on ThursdayNight Football (ugh).
But the prologue to that sure-to-be-spellbinding story begins at the end of this month with the start of training camp. That’s the unofficial start of football season around here during these heady times.
So consider this your warning, Red Sox, your two weeks’ notice. You’ve been good, but you’d better be at your best, and soon.
The Patriots want to steal the rest of the summer from you. To keep fans’ attention, it’s time to convince them you’re going to play deep into the fall.