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Nick Cafardo

Disdain still surfacing over infield

By Nick Cafardo
May 10, 2010

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The dreaded Fenway infield and the dead spots on the old Boston Garden parquet — very similar.

For years players have whispered and cursed the Fenway infield. Derek Jeter is said to despise it and we know how Edgar Renteria never got used to it and wanted out of Boston. Even the slick-fielding Alex Gonzalez said, “It’s one of the toughest because you just can’t get a good read on the hop or [how] the ball is going to act off the bat.’’

“The beginning of the game is fine,’’ said Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira yesterday, “but it’s one of those infields as the game goes on . . . it gets a little bumpy. It’s always been like that. There are certain parks that have better infields than others. Wrigley [Field] is another place where you see some bad hops.’’

You could see it last night. By the end of the first inning, clumps were forming.

Teixeira had an explanation.

“The grass is long. Sometimes you think the ball is coming harder and you can get eaten up a little bit and then once it hits the dirt then it gets fast again,’’ he said. “I would probably think third base would be the toughest position to play here. Third base is a tough position no matter what. You have that thick grass that slows it up at first; once it hits the dirt, because it’s choppy, it’s gonna get quicker.

“There are a lot of games where games have been decided on bad hops. This seems to be one of those places. We don’t think about it because you can’t change it. Why worry about it? Both teams have to play on the field. I’m not sure there’s an advantage one way or the other.’’

Nobody has been able to explain why the field is the way it is. You can see how smooth it is at the start. By the second inning? Chop, chop, chop.

Marco Scutaro was used to those true bounces on the turf in Toronto and even the infield in Oakland was true. It’s not that Scutaro didn’t know what he was getting into when he signed with the Red Sox in the offseason. He’d played enough games at Fenway to know this wasn’t going to be pretty. And early on he had difficulty with the hops.

“It seems like you always have an in-between hop,’’ Teixeira said.

Alex Rodriguez is always careful about his words this days, and he took a soft stance on the Fenway infield.

“It’s actually improved,’’ said Rodriguez. “I think that’s the kind of stuff everybody has to deal with in doing their job. Every field is a little bit different. A lot of things go into the grass and the infield. I’m sure it’s suited for the home team and that’s fine. Every team suits their infield to accommodate their team.’’

Sox players such as Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis certainly know what they’re in for.

There are endless examples of balls doing funny things. There was a ground ball hit by Adrian Beltre against the Angels last week that appeared to hit the third base bag. Upon further review, the ball didn’t hit anything. It just took a weird bounce over the bag. It was originally ruled an error but was changed to a hit. More than any other park, official scorers at Fenway have to take into consideration the infield and its quirkiness when assigning errors.

“I honestly can’t say how it is now,’’ said Yankees bench coach Tony Pena. “When I played there it was bad, but that was a long time ago. You’d have to ask the players. But you can’t use that as an excuse.’’

Beltre committed his seventh error at third base Saturday. He played on a near-perfect pitch in Los Angeles. Safeco Field in Seattle has a top-ranked infield surface.

“He’s a great third baseman, and fielding, just like hitting, you go through slumps,’’ said Teixeira. “I’m not a third baseman anymore because it’s tough. Ask Alex, he’ll tell you shortstop is easier to play than third. It’s not called the ‘hot corner’ for nothing.’’

Teixeira believes that Fenway might be the toughest place to play third base in baseball.

One Sox player said, “It’s a challenge playing this infield but it’s not something you’re gonna complain about. The people who play there know it. Is that an advantage for us? I don’t know. We make errors here, too, so I’m not sure how you can assume it’s an advantage. I suppose over time you get less conscious about the fact that it’s so choppy and that’s the way it’s going to be. I suppose you get used to it and you know every ball hit is going to look different.’’

By the third inning last night some Yankees were playing groundskeeper around their position. A-Rod seemed to be kicking out a pebble. Jeter was flattening the dirt. Teixeira was sweeping with his right foot.

Chop, chop, chop.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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