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Jackie MacMullan

It was a time for team unity

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Jackie MacMullan
Globe Columnist / March 20, 2008

FORT MYERS, Fla. - One of the most bizarre days in spring training history begins yesterday at 8:45 a.m., when a somber Terry Francona plops himself down in the dugout at City of Palms Park and reveals he has just informed his coaches and staff that, contrary to what he had told them previously, they will not be paid a $40,000 stipend for the team's trip to Japan.

"For some [of the staff], the money is equivalent to two-fifths of their salary for the year," Francona says. "I don't believe coaches are second-class citizens. It doesn't sit well with me, and continues to boggle my mind.

"What I wanted to do today is get excited to play a baseball game, and what I ended up doing was apologizing to my coaches and being humiliated."

What transpires over the next eight-plus hours does little to clear the manager's head. In an early-morning meeting, the Boston players vote to not only boycott the overseas trip, but also the spring training game against Toronto that afternoon until their coaches, staff, and trainers are compensated properly.

Red Sox player representative Kevin Youkilis explains his team's position to Toronto rep Vernon Wells, and the Blue Jays express their support.

Below is a timeline of the extraordinary events:

9:25 a.m. - Sox third baseman Mike Lowell motions me into the closed clubhouse. "When we voted to go to Japan, it was not a unanimous vote," he explains, "but we did what our team wanted us to do for Major League Baseball. They promised us the moon and the stars, and then when we committed, they started pulling back.

"I'm so super proud of this team. When we put [the boycott] to a vote, it was unanimous. We're all in agreement we're not going to put up with this."

9:47 a.m. - Curt Schilling emerges from the clubhouse to talk with a number of Blue Jays who are taking batting practice. Schilling says during an October conference call with MLB, he "reiterated multiple times on the phone" that one of the conditions the Boston players insisted on was having their staff compensated. Schilling claims the league office also promised special travel amenities it later reneged on. "Some of the things they promised us had already been taken away," says Schilling, "but when this came up, we were all in agreement. This can't happen."

11:08 a.m. - Lowell jogs onto the field to speak with Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. A hopeful capacity crowd claps loudly. Moments later, Lowell disappears back into the clubhouse.

11:20 a.m. - Sox captain Jason Varitek meets the media on the dugout steps and announces no resolution has been reached. He says his team will not take the field until the issue is resolved. "It isn't about us," Varitek says. "There are other people that are involved who are being forgotten."

11:31 a.m. - Red Sox players file into their dugout. David Ortiz leans over the railing and signs autographs. Fifteen minutes later, the team retreats to the clubhouse.

11:51 a.m. - Nine minutes from game time, the restless crowd begins chanting, "We want baseball."

Noon - The scheduled start time comes and goes.

12:06 p.m. - Daisuke Matsuzaka, the scheduled starter, is sent to the minor league complex, along with Varitek, to pitch in a game there, instead.

1:09 p.m. - Red Sox players jog to their respective positions.

1:14 p.m. - Righthander David Aardsma, replacing Matsuzaka, throws the first pitch. Moments later, an announcement that a resolution has been reached is broadcast over the public address system. No details are provided.

1:21 p.m. - Ballpark workers hastily pass out free Red Sox No. 1 foam fingers.

2:05 p.m. - The Globe's Nick Cafardo posts a blog entry saying that sources have told him the Players' Association, not MLB, was responsible for removing the coaches from the players' revenue pool, and failed to notify Sox players.

2:21 p.m. - While the game is still in progress, Youkilis meets with the media and is asked who should be held accountable for what is now being called "bad communication."

"I can't really blame one person," Youkilis says. "When you have those conference calls, you need to get it in writing. That's something we'll address in our next union meeting."

Youkilis calls the dispute a "he said, she said" matter. He concedes the players still do not have a guarantee in writing their staff members will be paid.

"The club is working on stuff and things to get the money where it needs to be," Youkilis says.

3:29 p.m. - Japanese pitcher Hideki Okajima, who pitched two-thirds of an inning against Toronto, declines to speak with reporters.

3:43 p.m. - Brandon Moss strikes out and the Red Sox lose, 4-3.

3:47 p.m. - Francona addresses the media and announces, "All the things we talked about [earlier] today, you can throw them out of the window."

4:02 p.m. - Matsuzaka, who has returned from the minor league complex, declines to speak with reporters.

4:10 p.m. - Schilling says Sox ownership has agreed to help underwrite a portion of the estimated $600,000 required to cover Boston's coaches, staff, and trainers.

4:20 p.m. - A veteran player says ownership expects to recoup some of that money from Major League Baseball and/or the Players' Association.

4:47 p.m. - A caravan of buses and vans transport the Red Sox to the airport for their flight to Tokyo.

5:22 p.m. - A lone black suitcase, seemingly forgotten in the rush, sits outside the Red Sox clubhouse.

Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at macmullan@globe.com.

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