Play Ball: Dropkick Murphys' Ken Casey Previews Boston Red Sox 2014 Season
Casey and the Red Sox lead off a month-long, daily Major League Baseball preview told through the lives of musicians
Today (March 31) marks the opening day in the 2014 season for most of Major League Baseball's 30 teams. To preview the new season, Billboard.com spoke to a panel of baseball fans from around the music world for a team-by-team preview of their favorite squads. We're leading off with the 2013 world champion Boston Red Sox, previewed by the hometown heroes who celebrated their triumph right along with them -- the Dropkick Murphys.
The musician: Singer/songwriter/bassist Ken Casey is the longest-serving member of the Dropkick Murphys. Boston baseball is in his blood. As a member of the Red Sox' unofficial favorite band, Casey was on the field when they won the World Series in 2004 (for the first time since 1918) and took part in their 2013 championship celebration (pictured above). An all-round good guy/tough guy, he's also been known to fight Nazis.
The team: The Red Sox are fresh off winning the World Series for the third time in ten seasons. It was a remarkable turnaround; the 2012 Red Sox finished in last place, fired their manager Bobby Valentine and traded away several of their most recognizable players (Carl Crawford, Arian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett). It also was an emotional year, played in tribute to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, which occurred April 15, barely two weeks into the season. The first place Sox won 97 games and defeated the Tampa Bay Rays and Detroit Tigers to advance to the World Series. There, they overcame a two games to one deficit against the St. Louis Cardinals and swept the next three games to capture the best-of-seven title. This year, the Red Sox will attempt to repeat with a similarly stacked lineup, though it does not include center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who signed a seven-year, $153 million contract with the rival Yankees in the offseason.
How long have you been a fan? When did you go to your first game?
I probably went to my first game when I was four or five years old. My grandfather was friends with (beloved Red Sox infielder, and later manager) Johnny Pesky. He knew everyone over there in security. He was a well-known guy around town. After the games, I would get to run out in center field and pretend I was Fred Lynn.
In 1986, when they blew the World Series to the Mets, I was a teenager and my friend's father did all the police detail there. He used to sneak us in the backdoor at games. I have a ton of history at Fenway.
It's cool for a band like us to be associated with the team. It's never been like, "Oh, this would be good for our career."
How do you think the team looks this year?
I'm excited about the Red Sox season. I've read that a couple of guys have looked good in spring training. As a season ticket holder, it was amazing after the disastrous collapse in 2012; it was like the joke you thought you'd never see come true. Even halfway through last year, you couldn't give tickets away.
People just had a bad taste in their mouths after Beckett and all those guys who were overpaid. It was a team full of -- I don't want to say no names -- but Gomes and Napoli, getting them to come in and do what they did, it was so awesome to get back so quickly.
The last two years they won the World Series -- 2004 and 2007 -- they followed up with very good seasons, but weren't able to get back. What do you think they need to do this time to repeat?
It's a big deal if the pitching stays healthy, if Clay Buchholz is healthy. They have everything in place. The only big loss was Jacoby Ellsbury. But if Grady Sizemore stays healthy, and they've got the young kid Jackie Bradley coming up in center field, I think they have everything. It was a team built on that team concept.
It's so hard to repeat. When they won in '04, that celebration lasted until February. Those players had to take the trophy around every small town in Massachusetts and New England. They didn't have a chance the next year because they literally had no offseason. It was an emotional year with the Boston Marathon bombings and it was great that the team could lift the city's spirits like that. Knowing some of these guys, they're focused on getting back to work and doing it again.
What do you think it's going to be like when Jacoby Ellsbury comes back to Fenway Park with the Yankees?
We're used to it. Johnny Damon did it. If you're one of those guys that's more about money, then you gotta go. David Ortiz, Jon Lester and David Ortiz took the hometown discount. If you're going to make $100 million or $120 million, is there a difference? I know it's business for them and they all have to get paid but I think the fans love it when a player shows a little allegiance and there are definitely players on the Red Sox who have done that.
Listen to the Dropckick Murphys' Red Sox tribute song, "Tessie":
So from what you're saying, it sounds like it's not going to be a very warm reception.
I think there was always that knock on Ellsbury; as much as he was great, he wasn't a dirt dog. He got hurt a lot. I don't think people were shocked and I think people are all right with it.
I think if some youngsters like Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks break out, that could take things to the next level.
I think Bogaerts is going to be a bona fide all-star. And we've got Jackie Bradley in center field. People love to see the kids from the system come up and do well. The Red Sox have really done a lot of that recently. I think it just makes people feel a little more like a small market team. For years it was, "Oh the Yankees are spending all this money!" And I was at a game in Oakland and a fan turned to me and said, "Whatever, you can buy a championship any time you want now!" And I was like, "That's what we say to New York!" So I think people root for that home grown, in-the-system talent.
Who do you think are the Red Sox' biggest challengers in the American League this year?
You really never know. I remember at the beginning of last year it was like, "Toronto is going to be the team to beat." And they were crap. Detroit is always tough. I like the direction Cleveland has been going in. As long as the Red Sox keep that team spirit from last year, I think we're good.
Check back on Billboard.com tomorrow, when the Hold Steady's Craig Finn and the Baseball Project's Linda Pitmon preview the Minnesota Twins' season!