THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Lowell talking retirement after this season

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / April 11, 2010

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With no at-bats or innings or defensive plays to his credit this season, Mike Lowell stood in front of his locker in the visiting clubhouse before last night’s game and said he is unlikely to play in 2011.

It’s not because of the situation in which he’s found himself with the Red Sox, although it has been frustrating. It goes back to when Lowell chose a three-year deal with the Sox instead of a four-year contract with the Phillies after the 2007 season.

“I have no qualms about it,’’ he said of retirement. “My agent wanted to kill me for not taking a four-year deal. I said I don’t know if I want to play four years, but I know if I sign a four-year contract I’m going to play four years.

“I try to look at the big picture. I see my family, I see where the age of my kids are at. They’re both starting to go to school next year, all that good stuff. There’s a lot of reasons for Dad to be there.

“Has this scenario maybe put baseball a little bit lower? I don’t think so, but it grinds at you a little. That’s where that mental challenge comes in.’’

The Sox re-signed Lowell after he was named World Series MVP in 2007. There was tremendous public support for the third baseman to return. But Lowell broke down in 2008 and had to undergo hip surgery. He was never fully recovered in 2009, playing in only 119 games, and needed surgery on his right thumb in December.

Lowell, 36, was relegated to the bench this season after the Sox signed Adrian Beltre to play third base. Beltre is younger, more mobile, and better defensively.

But Lowell can still contribute. In his first chance of the season, Lowell got a single in four at-bats in the Red Sox’ 8-3 win, and made a couple of nice defensive plays. One of those was an excellent diving stop of a ball from Yuniesky Betancourt.

“It was nice to see him get extended like that, leave his feet,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “He looked good. I don’t know that he moves like he’s 22 years old, but playing third he can drop that back step and slow a ground ball down as good as anybody.’’

Beltre, though, was back in the game by the end, inserted for defense.

The role of bench player has meant frustration for Lowell. He has always been a starter, and is unwilling to believe that he can’t be a starter now.

“If this was the fourth year of my career, I would have choked everyone by now in the organization,’’ said Lowell. “Straight honest. I’m a much more mellow family man now.’’

But could anything change his mind to play next season? “I’m not 100 percent sure,’’ Lowell said. “I would say I’m well up there. But, no, actually I would love for the last year of my career to be the best year of my career, if that would be the case. I don’t think there’s any better way of going out than on top. Why not?’’

That seems unlikely to happen, unless the Sox find a trading partner. There was little interest in Lowell through spring training, even though the Sox are willing to cover up to $9 million of his contact.

“I think I’m in a no-lose situation, kind of, because if this is what is mapped out for me, then what does it matter?’’ Lowell said.

“It was my first Opening Day that I didn’t play in in my whole career. If you honestly say that that doesn’t sting you a little, then I think you’re a robot.’’

While Lowell hasn’t hid his displeasure with his current situation, he said yesterday that he’s more uneasy than unhappy. He called it “mentally challenging,’’ even while his teammates have been so supportive.

That, ultimately, doesn’t change the situation. Because as much as he would like to go out with his best season, he knows that is unlikely barring an injury or significant slump by a starter.

“The opportunity of not being able to do it is what makes it hard, it really does,’’ Lowell said.

Does that motivate him?

“If I hit 30 home runs this year or I hit three, I don’t think that stance is going to change,’’ Lowell said. “I’m pretty confident in what I’ve done, physically what I’m capable of doing. Yeah, you can look at, oh, this is a walk year, the next contract. Doesn’t even enter my mind.

“I’ve never proclaimed that I’m 100 percent right now, but I’m much better than last year. I’ve said that since Day One.’’

So Lowell continues to be uneasy. He knows that he has no control over the situation, and believes that nothing he says matters to the organization.

“I don’t accept it at all,’’ Lowell said. “What that means, I don’t know. I’m not going to be [a jerk] about it. I just don’t think that’s my personality.

“I think I understand, like I said in spring training, my situation in my life is very good. I’m privileged I’m playing baseball, I’m making a lot of money, all that good stuff.

“But that doesn’t take away the fact that I felt like I gave 200 percent last year, and I thought the numbers were pretty good. It’s a much different scenario. I don’t think anyone would accept it.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmalieBenjamin.

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