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Camp sights

Carefree team is on the scene

LUIS TIANT Dominant in '68 LUIS TIANT Dominant in '68
Email|Print| Text size + By Gordon Edes
Globe Staff / February 23, 2008

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Great day for openers, Terry Francona said. "Sunshine, hot, a good day to work," the Red Sox manager said yesterday after the first full-squad workout of the spring.

And not a shovel, snowplow, or sand truck in sight, as no one left behind in storm-battered New England needed reminding. Maybe that's why Jonathan Papelbon emerged from the clubhouse after Francona had delivered his state of the team address ("I certainly didn't show up to be Knute Rockne") with his glove covering his face, the bill of his cap turned up Jim Carrey-goofy. Perhaps Papelbon was embarrassed at his incredible good fortune to be so young and strong and tanned in a world where the sky is always blue, the grass is always green, and the breeze is always at your back.

"What in the world is going on here?" outfielder J.D. Drew muttered as he spotted the hundreds of fans lined up along low fences for a glimpse of the defending World Series champions.

Thanks for asking, J.D. Let us share a few scenes of a morning become electric because the Olde Towne Team, freshly turned out for another season, was back in business.

"For me," said newcomer Sean Casey, whose day included fielding ground balls hit by bench coach Brad Mills while on his knees at first base, "this is like being the new kid in a new school. Not just a kid in a new grade, but a kid in a new school."

Casey is 33. The Red Sox are his fourth team in the last four seasons. Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and now Boston. It helps, he said, to have played with, and against, so many guys here. Such as Manny Ramírez.

Ramírez was already an established star in Cleveland when Casey, who was drafted in the second round by the Indians in 1995, was called up to the big leagues in the summer of '97. The Indians were playing in Chicago.

"Got to Comiskey," Casey said, "and my stuff didn't get there. I was wearing Tony Fernandez's helmet, Jeff Manto's batting gloves, and I had to borrow a bat. Manny used the same T141s I did. Louisville Slugger, 34 inches, 32 ounces.

"So I asked him, 'Can I use one?' He said, 'Yeah, go ahead.' First hit I ever got was with Manny's bat. Do I remember the pitcher? Yeah, yeah. Jeff Darwin, 1-and-2 pitch, first hit I ever got, a single to right field, with Manny's bat.

"Three days later, I went to get it, and Manny already had taped it up and was using it. I was scared to ask him for it. Me a kid, him the best hitter in baseball. I got the ball from my first hit, but I always wanted that bat. I don't know if he even knows."

"Look at my hands - they're soft," complained Luis Tiant, who had been taking return throws from shortstops Julio Lugo and Jed Lowrie while Pawtucket manager Ron Johnson hit them ground balls.

It was 40 years ago this summer that El Tiante, then pitching for Cleveland, had one of the greatest seasons ever by an American League pitcher. Tiant had a 1.60 ERA, the lowest in the AL since Hall of Famer Walter Johnson's 1.49 in 1919. No AL pitcher since Tiant has had a lower ERA, although Ron Guidry (1978) and Pedro Martínez (2000) came close, posting ERAs of 1.74.

Tiant won 21 games that season, struck out 264, pitched 19 complete games, and posted nine shutouts, but lost the Cy Young Award to Denny McLain, who won 31 games for the world champion Tigers. Lots of people thought Tiant was the better pitcher, including, Tiant said yesterday, Bill Freehan, the Tigers' catcher that season. "Freehan saw me at the cage one day," Tiant said, "and he told me, 'If you were on our team, you would have won 40.' "

Tiant looked out at David Ortiz, taking ground balls at first.

"Papi said, 'If you did that stuff to me,' " Tiant said, pantomiming the way he used to hesitate and show his back to the hitters before letting go of the ball, " 'I would have knocked off your mustache.' I told him he would have swung three times before the ball got to the plate. They would have taken him to the hospital with a broken back."

Ortiz, his hair tied together like a giant mushroom cap, laughed when someone asked him why he brought a glove to camp. It is the part of spring training Ortiz detests most, taking ground balls, understandable for a guy who played just seven games in the field last season, his fewest with the Red Sox and down from the 45 of his first season in Boston, 2003.

"I got to help Youk, man," Ortiz said. "Got to help him out."

Kevin Youkilis did not make an error in the regular season last year and won a Gold Glove.

"But we're going to be here how long, a month?" Ortiz said. "You see all those balls they hit to us? Think about it if he was out there by himself. I got to keep him company, talk some stuff."

Doug Mirabelli smoked a line drive into the left-field corner. "That's a hook slide into second base right there," said Mirabelli, proof positive that in spring training, nothing is impossible, not even for a leaden-legged catcher to imagine that he could make like Ty Cobb.

A woman's voice came out of the crowd. "Jacoby, look up, we love you," she said. The rookie, Jacoby Ellsbury, obliged Pat Mullen of Seabrook, N.H., with a brilliant smile.

Also standing behind the backstop was Jenny Davis of Shrewsbury, Mass., who was with Matt Rosenthal of West Roxbury, Mass. "Today's my 30th birthday," she said. "I thought before we got here this was for him, but this is pretty good."

Theo Epstein stood behind Daisuke Matsuzaka as he threw a bullpen, shortly after John W. Henry and Larry Lucchino watched the phenom, Clay Buchholz, get in his work. Japanese reporters, mindful that Matsuzaka said he wanted to throw more this spring, thought he might throw more than 100 pitches during this session, which few pitchers do this early in spring. Matsuzaka threw 53. "I'm disappointed," one reporter said.

Lucchino escorted guests, including Dennis McGillicuddy, grandson of Connie Mack, the Hall of Fame manager. McGillicuddy, the brother of former US Senator Connie Mack, is with his son and granddaughter. "Three generations of Connie Mack's family," Lucchino said.

Epstein briefly paused as he went from field to field to answer a question about his former assistant and close friend Josh Byrnes receiving an eight-year contract extension as general manager of the Diamondbacks. "That's great," Epstein said. "That'll take him right through his midlife crisis."

Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall also received an eight-year deal. "We operate under a different dynamic here," Lucchino said.

It was still before noon, and the workout had ended. The players were scheduled to golf in the afternoon. Ortiz stood next to Lugo in right field, shagging an occasional fly ball, for the last half-hour of the workout, having already hit in the cages. Coco Crisp was one of a half-dozen players who worked the fences, signing autographs.

"Did you see that clinic we put on out there?" second baseman Dustin Pedroia said.

Pedroia was still stinging from the beating he absorbed at the ping-pong tables the day before from Mike Lowell. The two have played 30 times, Pedroia said, and he's won once. "He's great," Pedroia said, then loudly rebuked Lowell for claiming he coasted in his one defeat to the second baseman.

"I'm Federer," Lowell proclaimed.

Drew sat in front of his locker and pulled on a T-shirt. He was amazed that after a mention in the newspaper that he liked the series "Dirty Jobs," someone at the Discovery Channel had sent him a box of videos. "That's great," he said. "The only thing missing was 'Planet Earth.' I love that series."

In this little corner of planet Earth, it's a wonderful world.

Gordon Edes can be reached at edes@globe.com.

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