Minus Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe, but plus the sometimes-hated former Yankee David Wells, Red Sox pitchers and catchers were due to report to spring training camp in Fort Myers, Fla., on Thursday.

Can opening day be far off? Not for the Maine chapter of Red Sox Nation.

And they – most anyway – remain ever optimistic.

According to the second annual Maine Red Sox Fans Pre-Season Telephone Survey, only 12 percent think this year’s team will be worse than last year’s world champions; 43 percent say the ’05 Sox will be either “much better” or “somewhat better.”

At least those are some of the findings of the admittedly biased research team at Market Decisions.

The South Portland company conducted its survey during random telephone questioning of 400 Mainers as part of a monthly pulse check of the state. Calls were made between Jan. 17 and Feb. 8.

Curt Mildner, Market Decisions’ president, notes the company’s Red Sox bias is so prominent that there’s an exception to the company’s equal opportunity employment standard: “We do not hire Yankee fans.”

“I’m a Red Sox fan,” said Mildner. “When my brother once went to a Yankees’ game, he was shunned for the season.”

Most of the 169 Mainers surveyed on the Sox – 54 percent – said the team did well with its trades. Those saying otherwise – that their trades were fair or poor – fell to 9 percent from 19 percent last year, the research team found.

That catcher Jason Varitek and left fielder Manny Ramirez remain with the team pleased respondents the most. Acquiring Golden Glove shortstop Edgar Renteria and ex-Yankee Wells impressed few fans. Only 4 percent mentioned Renteria by name and 3 percent mentioned Wells when asked about the player they were most pleased to see the Sox retain or acquire.

And fans weren’t particularly upset to see pitchers Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe go elsewhere. Martinez was mentioned by only 24 percent of respondents, and Lowe by only 12 percent by fans saying they were upset by the trades.

In a clear-cut example of fans’ long-lasting memories of past failures, one remarked that he remains most unhappy about the trade of Babe Ruth to the hated Yankees.

As for repeating as World Series winners? Some 57 percent of Maine fans say the chances of the Sox this year are no different than last year. Another 14 percent rate the chances of repeating as much better or better, while 25 percent said chances are a lot worse or somewhat worse.

One fan offered that perhaps the Sox “overplayed themselves last year and won’t be able to keep it up this year.”

Another agreed, saying “We can’t get any better; therefore, we have to be worse. We’ve lost our No. 1 pitcher, and when a team breaks up, it kind of hurts their morale.”

Others disagreed.

“Although they lost an excellent pitcher, they picked up a couple of good pitchers and an excellent shortstop. They should have as good a chance as last year,” one respondent predicted.

Another said, “I think that finally since they won this year it gave them the boost to know that they can do it and I think they’ll achieve it again.”

Mildner’s comment about the team’s prospects was simple: “Go Sox.”

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