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Carter spotted opportunity

He then earned place as Red Sox' 25th man

Chris Carter put in extra work on his fielding during spring training. Chris Carter put in extra work on his fielding during spring training. (CHARLES KRUPA/Associated Press)
By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / April 4, 2009
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NEW YORK - The stories verge on legendary, both for their oddity and their ubiquitousness. Everyone, it seems, has his own somewhat unbelievable tale about Chris Carter, about his intensity and dedication, his habits and idiosyncracies.

Here is one from a friend who attended Stanford with Carter and Jed Lowrie: "[Lowrie] figured they went to school together for a year, they were cool at least to [where] he was just going to pick up one of [Carter's] bats and see how it felt. So he picks it up; Carter had them all laid out. [Lowrie] picked one up and started swinging it, said, 'Carter, this feels pretty good.' [Carter] said, 'Put it down. It's resting.' "

Yes, resting.

"Chris is a little quirky," said Lowrie. "Everybody is aware of that. I think he's pretty much stayed the same. He's got his own theories on how he gets the job done, but the bottom line is he can hit. Doesn't matter how he does it."

As much criticism as there has been of Carter's defense, there has been praise of his offense. The backup first baseman and fifth outfielder, who was told this week that he will break camp with the Red Sox barring the unforeseen, has seemingly always had a big league bat. It's just that he never had a position.

To that end, Carter spent every day of camp with first base coach/infield instructor Tim Bogar and third base coach/outfield instructor DeMarlo Hale, relearning the positions he might be asked to play during his stint with the major league team, which almost certainly will end when Mark Kotsay returns from the disabled list.

Carter, obtained from the Nationals for Wily Mo Peña, lost more than 15 pounds this offseason, making him "more agile, flexible, mobile," in his words. It enabled the 26-year-old to get the footwork and quickness down that he will need to play the corner outfield or first base.

"I always had to improve my swing," said Carter, who hit .300 with 24 home runs and 81 RBIs in Pawtucket last season. "I had to improve my defense, not just repetition but technically. I had to learn all this stuff I didn't really know before. Then I had to get confidence. I had to start believing. I started hitting more home runs, I started hitting more for average, I started hitting lefties, I started hitting offspeed pitches. When it came to defense, I started getting balls I didn't used to get. More relaxed, able to do more, just quicker with my reactions."

That all culminated in his meeting with manager Terry Francona, general manager Theo Epstein, and Bogar this week, when he was told he probably had made the team.

It was a scenario, he said, he had visualized for a long time. Two weeks ago, he started thinking there might really be a chance. Brad Wilkerson was struggling offensively, striking out far more than he was hitting, and Jeff Bailey was righthanded when the team needed a lefty off the bench.

The thought Carter would make the team turned from a hope to a chance to reality.

"When I was working hard, I needed something to think about," he said. "I feel really fortunate. I've dreamed of this a long time. I've worked for this a long time. Now I want to help this team win. That's my goal right now is to help this team win, be the best I can be, and make this team better."

Carter's defense will probably never rival Kevin Youkilis's at first base, but his bat could be valuable off the bench. He drove in the first run for the Sox last night against the Mets with a bullet that hit near the 408-foot sign in center at Citi Field for a double. He entered the game hitting .343 with six home runs and 10 RBIs.

He takes every at-bat seriously, especially this spring when it seemed there might be an opening. Last spring, he had come to work early every day, often around 5 a.m., three hours before the rest of the team. He had sometimes regarded exhibition games with the intensity reserved for the real thing.

He knew his reputation was all-hit, no-field, and so he did his best to alter that.

"I've got to change people's perception," Carter said. "Because, look, if you think I can hit and I can't play defense, then I've got to play defense because this is what I want to be. I did everything I could. I lost the weight. I did everything I possibly could and I never stopped. I never said, 'You know what? You're right. I can't play defense.' I never let it define me."

Carter, who made his debut last June and has nine hits in 18 career at-bats, walked around the clubhouse in Fort Myers, Fla., this spring predicting home runs, predicting outlandish offensive achievements. But it was not arrogant. More hopeful, almost pleading with himself to perform absurd feats in the hope that he could prove himself and prove wrong those scouts who had said he would never make it.

He worked and worked, honing his swing, honing his defense, getting to the point where the organization was comfortable enough to give him the 25th spot on the 25-man roster.

"Infield-wise, he's gotten a lot better," Lowrie said. "He's always been able to hit; I've known that since the day I saw him. But he's gotten a lot better. He's put in a lot of work with [Bogar]. He still can get better, but he's much improved, moving his feet, at least putting himself in the right position to make the play.

"The way he's performed with the bat, it's probably a well-deserved opportunity. He's just a guy that's always working hard, sometimes almost like he's working too hard. But you can never fault him. He's out there to get the job done."

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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