''Yeah," Josh Beckett said. ''I think that shoe fits, for sure."
The new Red Sox ace grew up north of Houston, but now owns 7,000 acres in South Texas, about 40 miles from the Mexico border, where he pursues his biggest passion outside of baseball: deer hunting.
''Basically, it's like a white-tail deer farm," Beckett said on his visit to Boston last week about his hunting lodge, which other hunters pay to use. ''We raise white-tails, hunt, and do all that deal. I have two separate pastures, one a little over 4,000 acres, the other 3,000. It's not like we've got bottle-raised deer, and you come down and shoot a deer in a four-acre pen tied to a tree. It's not like that at all.
''Obviously, we want deer healthy, because heathy deer grow big antlers. The protein that is left over goes into the horns. It's become kind of a science. The numbers and the genetics and the high fences people put up, it's almost a science. It's fun; expensive, but fun. To make some of your money back, that's why you've got to sell some of your top-end deer."
Beckett said he probably spends 30 days in the offseason doing what he calls ''really hard hunting."
''That's when you get up at 5 in the morning, get into a blind 30 minutes before daylight, coming back and taking a little nap, then heading back out at 2 or 3 o'clock in the afternoon. Those are your hard days.
''I hunt big deer. I'm not what you call per se a meat hunter. I probably shoot just one or two deer a year."
A couple of winters ago, Beckett bagged the biggest deer in Texas, winning something known as the Muy Grande Deer Contest. His 401 total score was one of the few to top 400 in the history of the event.
''There's a formula where you take body weight and antler mass and antler points and antler width," Beckett said. ''Actually, I took Brad Penny on a hunt last year and his scored 20 more points than mine. It was a beautiful deer, one of the most beautiful deer I've ever seen alive."
There is one deer that won't be seen in Boston: the singing deer head he toted into the Marlins' clubhouse last season.
''I'm not bringing it to the [Sox] clubhouse because I put that thing up and we lost three straight," Beckett said. ''I took it back down, we won. It's at the ranch. I'll probably give it to my niece. She loves that little thing. She walks by it and makes it sing. I hate it, because it's really annoying when it sings."
Wells situation fluid
At least one major league executive wonders whether David Wells will become a major distraction for the Sox and refuse to report at the start of spring training. The Dodgers no longer are involved in a possible three-way for Wells, in which the Sox would have sent him to Oakland for outfielder Jay Payton and Billy Beane would have flipped Wells to LA for prospects. Sox manager Terry Francona has told club officials that he would not stand in the way of Payton's return, despite the ugly encounter they had in Texas last season that preceded Payton's trade to the A's. Payton was a part-time player then; he'd be returning as a starter. Arizona has mild interest in Wells, and Wells continues to personally lobby the Padres, but nothing appears imminent. The Sox still have Cleveland's Coco Crisp on the top of their center field wish list, with Julio Lugo still their top shortstop target, but the Devil Rays have the luxury of waiting on deals for Lugo, Aubrey Huff, and Danys Baez, who is coveted by the Mets but could wind up in the National League West. If the Sox get Lugo, it's not impossible that he would start the season in center field, with Alex Cora the starting shortstop . . . Miguel Tejada? The Sox figure talks are dead for now, but check back in a couple of weeks . . . Nice gesture by Johnny Damon to offer a video thank you to Sox fans at the Boston Baseball Writers Dinner, though it received a very tepid response.
Great suggestion from someone who attended the baseball dinner: The writers should think about adding a new piece of hardware and give it to the player who makes the greatest contribution to the community. Call it the Tim Wakefield Award and make Wakefield the first recipient. This guy's devotion to Boston and the ball club, and the genuine humility he projects in everything he does, makes him a very special person in this town. And since now Tim and Stacey Wakefield's son and new daughter Brianna have been born here, Wakefield is the first to admit his Boston ties are a lifetime commitment . . . Wakefield, who knows what it's like to go through an offseason wondering whether he'll be traded, on how Matt Clement must feel about being shopped this winter: ''It's not fun, because he came here for a specific reason. He had his choice between three or four different teams and he came here for a reason -- mainly, I think, because of Jason [Varitek]. He wanted a catcher that would lead him in the right direction and take a lot of the thinking process out of his mind. That's what a lot of starting pitchers want. They want a guy back there who takes the thinking part out of it for you. To have your name mentioned in a trade, it's disappointing and it's difficult, especially if it doesn't happen and you come back. Your feelings are kind of hurt; they want to get rid of you. You could look at it two ways. You can look at it that way or you can look at it that you're well wanted by other organizations. Like the Doug [Mirabelli] situation. It's not that we didn't want Doug. San Diego wanted Doug badly and we could get something for him." . . . One of the sweeter moments of the dinner was the heartfelt remarks from former Sox catcher Rich Gedman, who won the Former Red Sox award and is now managing the independent Worcester Tornadoes. Gedman stood before a full house and said that, even as an ex-player, he is now at a stage in his life where he appreciates the game as a fan, through the eyes of his children.
Would you believe that the White Sox were hovering on the fringes of the Tejada trade talks, not because of any interest in Tejada but in the hopes that if the Orioles peddled him to the Chicago Cubs for ace Mark Prior, they would have been willing to flip Prior to the crosstown White Sox in a package? . . . Prior insisted at the Cubs' fan convention that he wasn't upset to see his name in trade rumors. ''It would make sense from the standpoint that [GM] Jim [Hendry] wants a shortstop and [Baltimore] needs pitching," Prior said. ''Obviously they're not going to want guys in [Single] A ball and Double A. They want guys ready to pitch right now at the big-league level. If they're going to request me, if it's an honest negotiation, that's part of the business. Now if there is something out there where they are trying to trade me, I would hope somebody would just be honest with me and tell me that. But I don't think that's the case." . . . Phillies officials insist they wouldn't have flipped Tejada for Manny Ramírez. That's not what they believe in Baltimore . . . Remember, while listening to the Sox insist that they're prepared to start the season with Cora as shortstop, Brian Cashman was saying similar things in New York about Bubba Crosby as his center fielder, right up until the time the Yankees signed Damon. And I was at the New York baseball writers dinner two years ago, when Texas's John Hart and Buck Showalter announced with great fanfare that the Rangers were making Alex Rodriguez their captain. They traded him two weeks later, on Valentine's Day, to the Bombers . . . New Oriole Kevin Millar, on whether he was sad or disappointed about leaving the Sox: ''No doubt about it. It happened so fast. It's the business side of it that you can't control as a player, but those three years with that nucleus was a great three years. I'd be lying to you if I tell you it wasn't. We had a wonderful time with a wonderful group and we move on. It happened so quickly, that's what is so surprising. You look around, the entire infield is gone, Johnny Damon is gone, you've heard talk of Manny Ramírez being gone. So you look up and it's only [David] Ortiz, Varitek, and [Trot] Nixon surviving, position-player-wise. You know, Theo [Epstein], third base coach Dale Sveum, all of our training staff is gone. No one knows what happened. It just went quick. That's surprising. But we don't control that stuff and you go forward." . . . Millar's agents, the Levinson brothers, get some props for the contract they were able to land their client: a guaranteed base of $2.1 million, with incentives that give him a chance to make $3.8 million. Some people thought Millar would be going to camp on a minor league deal with a major league invite.
The Dusty trail?
The Cubs are expected to give Hendry, who is in the last year of his contract, an extension, but the bigger question surrounds manager Dusty Baker, who also is in the last year of his deal and has been the focus of speculation for months that he wants out after this season. Last season's losing record took its toll on Baker, he acknowledged at the team's fan convention. ''I went home, and I felt terrible," he said. ''I haven't felt that way ever in my whole life. I said to [my wife], 'Baby, is this what people feel like who are kind of depressed?' I thought about things, thought about my life, about things I want to accomplish, and I said, 'Hey, I don't want to feel that way again.' " He sounded a note of optimism for '06, though: ''I'm very psyched about this year coming up. Sometimes in life, you don't like it. Some years in life, you feel completely humbled to the point you say, 'Hey, we have to rebuild this thing.' " . . . One day after he won the Tony Conigliaro Award for courage and perseverance, Rockies pitcher Aaron Cook was rewarded with a two-year contract, worth a guaranteed $4.55 million. Cook was 7-2 with a 3.67 ERA in 11 starts, all over the last two months of the season, after being sidelined when doctors discovered life-threatening blood clots that had traveled from his shoulder to his lungs. He underwent surgery that lasted eight hours and involved the removal of a rib. While the Conigliaro award is given out at the Boston writers dinner, Sox vice president Dick Bresciani reminds us that it is actually sponsored by the club, the winners chosen by an 11-man selection committee . . . Bresciani spearheaded the effort to have Jim Rice voted into the Hall of Fame, generating a compelling argument, with research done by Glenn Geffner and his crack staff, that demonstrated Rice's unquestioned dominance of the American League for a 10-year period from 1975-85. ''We're not giving up on Rice," Bresciani said of the Sox slugger, who has just three years left on the writers' ballot but still could win entry via the Veterans Committee . . . Bresciani for the second straight winter is having issues with a detached retina, but assures friends he's hanging in there and hopes to return to the office sometime this week.
Just say no
Royals slugger Mike Sweeney told a Kansas City radio station he was offered steroids by teammates while he was struggling in 1999 but turned the offer down. He said several players on that team were users but later told the Kansas City Star that he had no intention of naming names. ''We are a family in the clubhouse," he said. ''What happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse. I also don't want to give the impression that there was rampant usage back then. There wasn't. In my 11-year career, I may have known four or five guys who might have been doing it. That's it." The Star notes that Jeremy Giambi, who later admitted to steroid use, was on the '99 team . . . San Francisco Chronicle columnist Bruce Jenkins -- don't miss his terrific book about his musician father, ''Goodbye: In Search of Gordon Jenkins" -- on the Sox' signing of Julian Tavarez: ''Plumbing the depths of idiocy, the Red Sox signed crazy man Julian Tavarez for setup relief. No problem, though; the Sox' fans are onto his fraudulence. They'll have him run out of town by the trading deadline." Ouch. The Sox insisted they did their homework on Tavarez, but when you review the string of incidents in which he has been involved -- punching a dugout wall, derogatory remarks about fans, doctoring the baseball, fights with managers -- it's no accident that the Sox are his eighth team . . . Rockies first baseman Todd Helton recently acknowledged that he'd injured his back late in spring training and the pain lingered all of last season, which may account for why he posted career lows in home runs (20) and RBIs (79). ''I would never use it as an excuse. But I didn't have as violent of a swing," Helton said. He originally injured his back more than three years ago, doing leg squats . . . The statmen over at Baseball Prospectus note that Dustin Pedroia's stint with Pawtucket last season marked the first time since high school he had an on-base percentage under .400 . . . Former Sox bullpen catcher Dana Levangie, who has been catching Wakefield this winter, is about to be named a Sox major league advance scout. Levangie replaces Dave Jauss, who puts on a big-league uniform again as Grady Little's bench coach in LA.
Gordon Edes can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.