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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Spring flings mark Sox' first workout

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There are a fleet of television trucks beached at the dead end of Edison Road. First time ever. There's also an electronic sign explaining that there's no place to park near the Red Sox minor league complex. Fans are instructed to drive 2.5 miles back to City of Palms Park and return on shuttle buses.

Reporters from Japan arrive early and stay late. Several of them work while wearing Daisuke Matsuzaka No. 18 jerseys (We're adopting this policy here at the Globe and I'll be wearing Brendan Donnelly's No. 53 today). One Japanese television station has 19 people on the ground in Fort Myers.

Even on a day that is unseasonably cold and windy, Red Sox fans stand behind ropes and chain link fences and watch pitchers practice covering first base. The pale snowbirds are Parishioners at the Church of Baseball on a Sunday morning.

Eighty-six-year-old Johnny Pesky puts on the uniform and hits fungoes. Jim Rice hangs out and hears people telling him that next year he'll be going to the Hall of Fame. Curt Schilling's son, Gehrig, gets his own locker and spends considerable time playing with "Bruiser" the ubiquitous Old English bulldog who belongs to clubhouse equipment manager Mike Stelmach.

"This," says Gehrig's dad, "is different than any other spring training in baseball."

Amen.

Red Sox pitchers and catchers went through their first grueling (9:30 a.m. to 11:12 a.m.) workout of the 2007 season yesterday.

"The day came off without a hitch," manager Terry Francona declared at the end of the session. "We got our work in. No one cursed at me. So that's a good day."

The Red Sox are the biggest baseball story in Florida. They've got star power and story lines. They've always been an attraction, but now they are rocking the world of sleepy Fort Myers. The Minnesota Twins, defending champs of the American League Central, winners of 10 more games than the Sox last year, are going to be pretty lonely in the digs on the other side of town. Red Sox rule.

One question that'll never be asked in this camp: "Do you know which field Dice K is working on?"

You know where he is at all times because of the horde of professional camera people who follow every step he takes.

There was a bustle of activity when Dice K first emerged from the clubhouse, carrying the equipment bag of his new catcher, Jason Varitek. It's a rookie hazing ritual of sorts. Matsuzaka was told that the great Jonathan Papelbon carried Varitek's bag last year. Now he is the big-shot rookie pitcher.

Dice K was in a group with the other Sox starters and threw to Varitek on one of the side mounds. Then he took some one-hop fungoes from close range off the bat of Francona. It's a pitchers' fielding drill (done with spongy baseballs to soften the inevitable chest-battering bad hops) which gets pretty spirited and competitive. Pitchers' fielding practice, a favorite activity of the departed Joe Kerrigan, took on a whole new meaning during last year's World Series when Tigers hurlers committed five errors in five games against the Cardinals.

Forty-year-old Tim Wakefield, participating in his 15th big league spring training, demonstrated he is one of the better glove men on the Sox staff and said, "We try to make it fun out there and it's really not tedious until you're covering first base for the thousandth time. But those things are important. They might save you in a game sometime during the year."

Wakefield and Schilling were in the group with Matsuzaka and everyone's been nodding and bowing with the celebrated new teammate. Schilling said he tried out some conversational Japanese and when Dice K was asked about Curt's language skills, the new guy smiled and said [in English], "Very good."

"There are 200 [media] people here just because of him," said Schilling. "But he gives off the impression that he doesn't want to be an inconvenience to people. He's a good kid. And he's an ace in the making. He's like Pedro in a sense because he has multiple strikeout pitches."

The "news" of the day came when Francona said the ballclub has scheduled Matsuzaka to make his first start against Boston College at City of Palms Park March 2. That puts Dice K on a path to pitch the third game of the regular season in Kansas City and the second game of the home season against the Mariners April 11. It means Matsuzaka's first Red Sox pitch likely will be aimed at Boston College's Johnny Ayers (the punter on the football team).

The first batter he'll face at Fenway figures to be Ichiro.

Matsuzaka vs. Ichiro. I hope someone takes a photograph to capture the moment.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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