By DAVID KLEPPER,   Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) _ Loyal Red Sox fans returned to Fenway Park Monday to welcome a new team, a new manager and a rekindled sense of optimism following a stretch of disappointing seasons for one of baseball’s most storied franchises.

The 3-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles made the home opener even sweeter to fans who still grimace at talk of 2011’s epic collapse or last year’s last-place finish. Home openers here are about hot dogs, family traditions and trash-talking the Yankees, and longtime fan Pat Tobin didn’t want to waste the day nursing past agonies

“I’m not blaming it all on Bobby Valentine, but I hate him,” the 63-year-old Arlington, Mass. woman said, speaking of the former manager who last year led the team to its worst record in nearly half century. “But today is opening day again– the real start of the season– and today there is always hope.”

The 37,008 fans filling America’s oldest ballpark on Monday were treated to sunny skies and temperatures that scraped sixty _ a pleasing change after a long winter and another pensive offseason in Red Sox nation.

The Red Sox had the best record in baseball in 2011 when the team collapsed in historic fashion, losing 20 games in the season’s final month to miss the playoffs altogether.

In 2012, during Boston’s worst year since 1965, the Red Sox traded underperforming and expensive players like Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. And after the season, the Red Sox fired Valentine and plucked manager John Farrell away from Toronto. Team executives gave the 2013 team the motto “What’s broken can be fixed.”

The team still has some mending to do. Designated hitter David Ortiz is out with a right heel injury, and shortstop Stephen Drew has a concussion. Pitcher John Lackey walked off the mound Saturday with arm pain.

Still, this season’s makeover appears to be working so far. The Red Sox won the first two games of the season against the rival Yankees and are 5-2 headed into a Tuesday off day.

“I like the way we’re playing,” Farrell said. “I think our guys came home with some confidence.”

While comparisons to the 2004 and 2007 World Series teams seem like a stretch, fans like Michael Posluszny said they’re beginning to trust their team again.

“After the debacle last year it’s nice to see fresh new faces,” said Posluszny, 24, of New Britain, Conn., who skipped work to see his first opening day game. “I would love for them to win the division, but as long as they can finish ahead of the Yankees, that’s something.”

Two years of disappointments will soon spell the end of Fenway’s nearly 10-year-old home sellout streak. While Monday’s game was sold out, Red Sox executives concede the 794-game sellout streak is likely to end during April, when the Sox will play 17 games in their home ballpark.

To keep the fans in the seats, the Red Sox froze ticket prices for the third time in five years, installed new televisions around the grandstands and announced new menu items and a concession special just for April: two hot dogs for the price of one.

The prices were no doubt even better when Jack Bernard last saw a game here nearly 60 years ago. Bernard said he used to skip school to watch the Red Sox until his family moved to Florida when he was a teenager. This year, Bernard’s sons Brian and Jason brought him back to Fenway to celebrate his 73rd birthday.

“I watch all the games I can but it’s just not the same as being here,” said Bernard, of Jacksonville, Fla. “I told them to pinch me– but I asked them to wait until after.”

Another father and son were looking to turn Monday’s home opener into a tradition. Tom Gleifert and his seven-year-old son Tommy, Jr., posed for photographs and marveled at Fenway’s emerald grass before the first pitch.

The elder Gleifert has been coming to the 101-year-old ballpark since he was a kid.

“We’re playing hooky,” Tom Gleifert said. “This sure beats school and work.”

Tommy, Jr., making his second trip to Fenway, was more single-minded.

“I want them to win,” he said.

On this day, they did.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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