It had been 263 days since pitchers and catchers reported to Fort Myers, Fla. The Red Sox had played 213 games combined between spring training, the regular season and the playoffs. Numerous moves, decisions and changes had been questioned, and countless memories, images and bonds had been created. The beards were much thicker.
On Saturday, it was all over.
“Yeah, that was felt when we got off the duck boats, knowing that this was that one last acknowledgment of a great run, to celebrate with millions of people here in the city,” said a reflective John Farrell before a group of reporters at Fenway Park on Monday. “But the reality hits as soon as our feet hit the ground coming off those duck boats, and knowing that some things are going to be out of our control this offseason that could change the face of our roster.”
All of 2013’s blood, sweat, tears and lack of shaving ended with Boston capturing baseball’s ultimate prize. The Red Sox — a team who had been a laughingstock of the league and of the city in 2012 — completed one of the most remarkable turnarounds in sports history, and it came at a time when Boston needed it most. Saturday’s rolling rally offered a chance to express euphoria for what the Red Sox had just accomplished, but it also evoked a realization inside of the club’s skipper that a truly special tale had just concluded.
“That’s why you relish the moments how special they are when a group of guys come together and achieve as they did,” Farrell said Monday while discussing the futures of free agents Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. “Hopefully we’re able to retain all of them. The reality is that might not work out. … All have earned the right to this point in their career, and that’s to get to free agency and how they can best benefit their families. It would be great to have them back, but we’ll see.”
The Red Sox will enter their 2014 title defense in a favorable position. Most of the championship team will remain intact, and the organization is littered with up-and-coming players who are capable of filling the voids left by those players who depart this winter. But there’s still a bittersweet aspect to it all, as things will never be exactly the same as they were in 2013, despite however many requests there are to keep the good times rolling.
“I think if we can duplicate this group and keep it together and take another run at it, that would be great,” Farrell said. “But a lot of questions are yet to be answered, and the one thing I think we all subscribe to is that stability and continuity has a chance for success. We’ve already been success with this group, and if we had an outside chance of just reassembling in Fort Myers next February, I think another year of familiarity would be a really good thing.”
Jonny Gomes, who became one of Boston’s most vocal leaders amid its return to glory, famously said back in spring training that the Red Sox were “one day closer to the parade.” Now, Parade Day in Boston has come and gone, and the organization’s focus has already shifted toward ensuring that the duck boats one again make their way down Boylston Street next October.
“The game doesn’t stop. The baseball calendar doesn’t stop just because we played until nearly Halloween,” said Farrell, whose moment of reflection was short-lived. “I think we take on this next challenge and look to address it the best we can, and that is assemble the best team possible, continue to know that we’ve got good young players coming, and in time, we’re definitely going to be eager to get on the field in Fort Myers again.
“The day after we finished the World Series here [at Fenway Park], we walked into the coaches’ room and Butter [third base coach Brian Butterfield] and [bench coach] Torey [Lovullo] and other guys were in there, and it was like, ‘Well, what do we do now?’ And you know what we do? We go back to the drawing board, and that means we don’t skip any steps along the way, and that’s what we’re doing right now with Ben’s work in constructing the roster. But that’ll be no different when we take the field in Fort Myers — it’s not to rest on our laurels, it’s not to say that we’ve already accomplished something. We have to get back to the mindset that we took Day 1 with this year and look to build that through the entire season next year.”
The Red Sox will enter 2014 with the same goal. Their hope is that more than 250 days, 200 games and a few second-guesses later, the Red Sox — whether bearded or clean-shaven — will remain atop the mountain. But even if the ending is identical, and the duck boats once again plunge into the Charles River amid a sea of screaming fans, the exact plot and cast of characters will differ to some extent.
The book has officially closed on the 2013 Red Sox. And it was a riveting tale from cover to cover.