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A bit of Australia in Red Sox Nation

Manny Ramírez may not be going to the World Baseball Classic, but the WBC is coming to the Red Sox.

The Australian team playing in the same bracket as Ramírez's Dominican Republic will begin training at the Sox facilities in Fort Myers, Fla., this week, although for Trent Durrington, that won't require a change of venue.

Durrington, a 30-year-old born in Sydney who lives in the exotic-sounding Broadbeach Waters on Australia's Gold Coast, is in camp trying to win a spot as a utilityman, a role he has played sporadically with the Angels and Brewers.

His chances of making the club out of camp are probably as long as those of his nation advancing past the Dominicans and Venezuela in the first round of the WBC, that pool beginning play March 7 in Orlando, but Durrington notes that few people gave the Aussies a chance when they won a silver medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

''We'll come out and swing it, hopefully our pitchers keep the ball down, and we'll make the plays," Durrington said. ''Plain and simple, really. It's only one game [in the elimination round]. Anything can happen."

It's no accident that the Aussies are training in Fort Myers, or that Durrington accepted a minor league contract and big-league invitation. Craig Shipley, who last week was promoted to director of professional scouting for the Sox in addition to his role as head of international scouting, became the first Australian in modern times to make the big leagues when he debuted with the Dodgers as a shortstop in 1986.

Shipley, who came as a teenager to the United States and was spotted at a baseball camp by University of Alabama people, played with the Mets and Padres before injuries cut short his career, but he has played a key role in the advances the game has made in a country where cricket, rugby, tennis, and Australian Rules football still dominate.

Durrington, who played rugby until discovering baseball when he was 14 and making the national team as a 17-year-old, estimates there are now more than 100 Australians playing pro baseball, a sport that was said to have been introduced down under by American gold prospectors in the 1850s. Baseball-reference.com lists 19 Australians who played in the big leagues, the most notable being former Brewers catcher Dave Nilsson, who is coming out of retirement to play in the WBC. The team will be coached by Jon Deeble, the former manager of the Lowell Spinners who spent time with the Red Sox last season as an extra coach.

Durrington made his big-league debut as a second baseman with the Angels in 1999 against the Red Sox, hitting the first pitch from Bret Saberhagen into right field for a single. Since then, he has appeared in a total of 140 big-league games, compiling a batting average of .195 in limited play. Durrington's greatest asset is his versatility; he can play every infield position and has been working out in catching drills.

''I even pitched a game in the big leagues," Durrington said, ''in 2003 for the Brewers. It was a blowout. I threw one pitch, to Jose Vizcaino, and he popped it up."

Durrington recently was the star of the Claxon Shield, Australia's most well-known baseball tournament, singling home the winning run for Queensland to complete a comeback from a 7-0 deficit. He expects to play second base or center field for the Aussies in the WBC.

The Sox will play the Aussies in an exhibition next Sunday at City of Palms Park.

Intentional walk
One of Coco Crisp's favorite movies? Would you believe ''Saturday Night Fever," the 1977 John Travolta disco classic? ''I loved his walk," Crisp said. ''I used to try to do the walk." . . . Edgar Renteria, who worked out with a personal trainer this winter, looked in considerably better shape when he showed up in Braves camp. ''I talked to him this week," said Sox infielder Alex Cora. ''He likes it there. He says it's a little laid-back." Count Cora among those who expect Renteria to bounce back from his disappointing 2005 season with the Sox. ''That wasn't the Edgar Renteria I had seen for years in the National League," Cora said. ''In August, when he had that great month -- that's what he's all about. He wasn't himself early. He got off to a rough start, and then I think he tried to do too much, especially defensively, and paid the price. But he was solid at the end. He's a championship-caliber player." However, an ominous note was struck Friday when Renteria had to be scratched from workouts because of a bad back. Cora said, too, that there is definitely an adjustment period to playing in Boston. ''The first week I was there, I was in awe," he said, ''just at the whole atmosphere. I wasn't doing too much at first. I was playing with the fear of not messing up. But then there was that game against Texas, when I dropped a fly ball, I got to the dugout and started laughing. I reminded myself it was just a game. After that, I was OK." . . . Matt Clement's scouting report on former teammates Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, and Alex Gonzalez, all of whom he played with in Florida in 2001: ''Beckett has one of the greatest arms in the game, if not the greatest arm, right there, and I've been fortunate to pitch with some pretty good young phenoms with the teams I've been on. Obviously with him, it's health. If the guy stays healthy and makes 30 starts, he's either going to win 20 games or a Cy Young every year, he's that good. I would take him on my team, any time, from the day he walked into the league. Mike, the year I played with him, he was phenomenal. He's underrated defensively. This guy can pick it as good as anybody. And I think he's going to do a lot of damage on the Wall, because he goes to left field a lot. Alex Gonzalez may be the best all-around fielder in the league. He was in Florida, so people don't see what he can do, but this guy, you should see some of the double plays he turned with Luis Castillo. He's just so smooth and quick, he makes spectacular plays look easy."

Play on
One of the biggest changes in the Red Sox clubhouse after Terry Francona replaced Grady Little as manager was the sound of music booming through the place, from David Wells's headbangers to David Ortiz's reggaeton. Little, now managing the Dodgers, is adhering to the headphones-only approach he had with the Sox . . . Channel 4 sportscaster Dan Roche got his first job in the broadcasting business working for WCCM and WCGY, the two Lawrence radio stations owned by Hall of Fame broadcaster Curt Gowdy, whose funeral was held yesterday. Roche was in his first year at Syracuse when he started, and spent the next 10 years with Gowdy. ''Gowdy would sit down and say hi, tell me things like, 'You never know who's listening,' and how proud he was of me. Years later, while cleaning out one of the stations, Roche uncovered a treasure: an old reel-to-reel tape from Ted Williams's final day with the Red Sox, when he homered in his final at-bat. ''The tape was of Gowdy's old pregame 'Dugout Show,' and Ted was the guest," Roche said. ''It was fascinating, and crystal clear, two of the greatest voices ever in Boston sports. And one of the highlights of my radio career was interviewing Curt Gowdy, Ned Martin, and Ken Coleman together." One of the fringe benefits of working at Gowdy's family-run stations: Roche met his wife, Pam, who also was employed by the station. ''I think we were the 12th couple who met there who ended up getting married," Roche said.

Back talk
Garrett Murphy, a 14-year-old freshman from Norwell, was sporting one of the better Red Sox jerseys spotted last week in Fort Myers. Murphy was wearing Curt Schilling's No. 38, but the name above it read ''Dr. Morgan," a tribute to Bill Morgan, whose innovative procedure enabled Schilling to pitch the ''bloody sock" game in the ALCS. Another jersey worth noting was the one worn by a Johnny Damon fan who had changed the ''a" in Damon to an ''e": Johnny Demon . . . Bill Lajoie wasn't out of a job for long, electing to sign on with Ned Colletti as a special adviser to the Dodgers' GM . . . Roberto Petagine, released by the Red Sox, signed a minor league deal with the Mariners . . . One of the more bizarre stories of the spring came out of Phillies camp, where Paul Hagen of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote about former Phillies star Darren Daulton, who is predicting the end of the world as we know it right down to the date it's going to happen. On Dec. 21, 2012, at 11:11 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time, he told Hagen, the chosen will simply vanish from this plane of existence. ''That will be the end of this dispensation," said Daulton, the leader of the '93 Phillies team that won the National League pennant who last summer spent three months in jail on a probation violation. ''I really don't know how to explain it. I don't know what words to use so people won't think I'm goofy. But by Dec. 21, 2012 [the last day recorded on the Mayan calendar], people will have a pretty good idea. It's all about consciousness and love. We have the ability to create whatever we want. We're all made of energy." OK . . . While the Red Sox, as part of their mum's-the-word approach to business, still won't acknowledge that they met with Roger Clemens, one of the Rocket's other suitors, Rangers owner Tom Hicks, admits he came away from his meeting with Clemens believing the Rangers have only a remote chance of signing him away from the Astros. ''He lives 15 minutes from Minute Maid Park, so that's a big advantage," Hicks said.

Cut to the quick
One-time Red Sox prospect Josh Hancock (he was traded in 2002 for Jeremy Giambi) landed a minor league job with the Cardinals, just days after he was cut by the Reds for showing up overweight. ''There's a lot of bitterness. It still kind of stings," Hancock said upon his arrival in Cardinals camp. ''But I definitely think I was made an example of, like a shot across the bow to the other players to let them know they have to come in and be in shape and be ready. It was unexpected, to say the least." . . . Indians manager Eric Wedge, the former Red Sox and PawSox catcher who still has plenty of friends in Boston and runs a baseball school on the North Shore, is on the cusp of fatherhood. Wedge's wife, Kate, is expecting a girl in April . . . Jeff Bagwell's friends in the Astros clubhouse predict Bagwell will play this season, even as the team tries to collect on a $15.6 million insurance policy, arguing that his shoulder no longer will allow him to play. ''He'll hit this year and then he'll be back next year going for 500 [home runs]," catcher Brad Ausmus said. ''This isn't the last of Jeff Bagwell." . . . More rules from Little, which will apply in the hour before game time. ''All the TVs in the clubhouse will show that day's opposing pitcher in his last start," Little said. ''It will help the players playing in that day's game to draw a little bit better focus on what they have coming up." Little also said there will be no card or domino games during that time and no use of cellphones. ''A lot of these are the same things I did when I managed in the minor leagues," Little said. ''What you have left is just a bunch of people talking about the game." . . . Former Sox infielder Shea Hillenbrand, who is entering his free agent year and will be fighting for playing time after the Blue Jays acquired Troy Glaus and Lyle Overbay to play the infield corners, said he already has detected a difference in camp. ''When I came over here last year, there was a country club," Hillenbrand said. ''Everyone was content because [the feeling was] we can't compete with Boston, we can't compete with New York. Some players were just happy to be here, content being in the big leagues. That's not the way the attitude is on this team any more."

The book on Pedro
Interesting reading in ''Pedro, Carlos and Omar," the forthcoming book by Adam Rubin of the New York Daily News. Rubin quotes Mets GM Omar Minaya on the wooing of Pedro Martínez: ''I thought it was a long shot," Minaya said. ''Why would a guy who won a World Series, who's The Guy in town -- everything is there -- why would he want to come to a last-place team, a tough town, not a great hitting team? Why?" Minaya decided that Schilling had trumped Martínez in status in Boston, which might leave him an opening to lure Martínez. ''I said to myself, my thinking was, 'Schilling is The Guy. And I don't care what Schilling does; Pedro is still Pedro.' I think Pedro needed a new challenge," Minaya said. ''Fernando Cuza, we have a good relationship. And the fact that we have Tony Bernazard, that helps a lot. Tony had dealt with Pedro many times. I just felt this was not going to be about money for Pedro. This was going to be about a new challenge and about trust. I felt we could provide him the new challenge if he trusted that we were going to go after the players." While Minaya and Cuza were shaking hands on a deal at the winter meetings, Rubin said, the Sox were slipping a counter-proposal under Cuza's door . . . No better way to warm up for the season than to grab a copy of ''Sports Illustrated Inside Baseball: The Best of Tom Verducci," the exquisite prose of the man at the top of our profession.

Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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