Let’s play! Buxton digs, MLB spring games finally begin

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Boston Red Sox wore St. Patrick’s Day green for their spring debut. Baseball fans might feel the luckiest of them all.

“I’m glad we’re finally getting started,” said Red Sox fan Jeremy Porter, who came from Maine for the expo opening.

When Minnesota spark plug Byron Buxton dug against Boston right-hander Michael Feliz at sunny Fenway South, it pushed baseball’s bitter 99-day lockdown in the rearview mirror one step further. The Twins and Red Sox played the first spring training game of the year, with three more games in Arizona on the schedule Thursday before everyone opens Friday.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora said he got a jolt on Wednesday when the Twins sent out their roster card.

“It’s different,” Cora said. “When we got the Twins lineup last night, I was like, ‘Oh, this is real now.'”

Spring games were scheduled to start 20 days earlier, but a bitter tussle over the sports economy has plunged baseball into a longer and darker winter than usual. The lockout ended last Thursday, camps started on Sunday and the race to a delayed opening day on April 7 was on.

All may not be forgotten or forgiven, but there was joy nonetheless at Fenway South.

Fans arrived early and asked for autographs during batting practice. On the back courts, a father and young son were playing ball just yards from the practicing minor leaguers. The PA announcer noted that it was 50 degrees in Boston — “not bad,” he joked — before reporting a temperature of 82 degrees on the first pitch.

Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli brought several of his regular hitters on the 20-minute drive through Fort Myers to JetBlue Park – Buxton, Jorge Polanco, Miguel Sanó and new starting catcher Gary Sánchez were all in the lineup departure.

Boston sent JD Martinez, Rafael Devers and their other stars into the backfields for a few more reps. With 18 spring games remaining until opening day, they will soon be on the big diamond.

Bobby Dalbec got the fans on their feet in the bottom of the first, hitting a two-run homer on Green Monster’s replica.

“It was awesome,” Dalbec said. “Last week I was working in my garden, putting up a fence there. Now I’m back to play, so I’m happy to be here and not doing any yard work.”

Players familiar to most fans were long gone by the middle of the eighth, but many of the crowd of around 8,000 remained for the first single of the year on Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.”

Porter and his wife, Catherine, were roaming the minor league grounds before the gates opened. The couple traveled from Gorham, Maine for their fourth straight spring camp together. They were nonetheless committed to the trip to Florida, but their getaway to the Sunshine State was brightened when Boston announced Thursday’s spring opening.

“It was frustrating to hear that he had been delayed,” Porter said. “And I just wanted them to find a solution for the fans. Yeah, it was frustrating, but I’m glad they finally found a solution.”

Philadelphia Phillies fans Pep Bassett and Rich McBrinn flew in from Naples, Florida and checked out the backfields as well. Their favorite club plays further away in Clearwater, but they were eager to see any type of professional baseball in person.

“I like to get up close to see what these guys are up to,” Bassett said.

Beloved former player and longtime NESN broadcaster Jerry Remy died in October after treatment for lung cancer. A bouquet of flowers was placed at her seat in the broadcast booth. The park held a moment of silence for him and other former Red Sox who died this offseason: Ike Delock, Jim Corsi, Jeremy Giambi and Julio Lugo.


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