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Extra-special Fenway debut

New Englander Fuld really hit it off when he was introduced to the old park

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / April 14, 2011

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Sam Fuld didn’t mind the good-natured ribbing from his Tampa Bay teammates, who dubbed him “Super Sam’’ after he came within a single of hitting for the cycle in a 16-5 shellacking of the Red Sox Monday night at Fenway Park.

Fuld went 4 for 6 with a home run, two doubles, a triple, and three RBIs in the 20-hit barrage. After that performance, it was assumed by his teammates that Fuld possessed superpowers.

When he emerged from the visitors’ clubhouse yesterday to grab a quick workout before the team headed back to Tampa following the rainout, Fuld ran into a group of reporters. One jokingly asked why Fuld wasn’t able to stop the rain.

“It’s just me washing my planet,’’ he quipped.

Fuld’s performance served to bronze the 29-year-old native of Durham, N.H., and alumnus of Phillips Exeter Academy as not only the toast of Tampa but also a star in the making.

Fuld, who was acquired in the offseason with four players in a deal that sent righthanded pitcher Matt Garza to the Cubs, reflected on his performance, which established records for a Fenway debut (visitor or Red Sox) with four extra-base hits and 11 total bases.

Asked which part he would treasure most, Fuld paused and said, “Oh man, there’s a lot. I just think that first moment of stepping on the field in the first inning, I’ll never forget that.

“The home run was pretty amazing, too. That’s going to be hard to forget. That’s what’s going to stand out the most.’’

Fuld’s homer, his first of the season and second of his career, came on a 1-and-0 offering from Daisuke Matsuzaka and drove in the last two runs in a six-run outburst that blew the game open, 7-0.

“After that, I was giddy,’’ Fuld said. “Everything else after that was kind of icing on the cake.’’

The next day, Fuld became the stuff of legend on Twitter. An account named “TheLegendofSamFuld’’ was created and inundated with clever tweets.

“There were so many that were good,’’ said Rays manager Joe Maddon. “But the one that went, ‘Superman wears a Sam Fuld T-shirt to bed,’ I kind of liked. That kind of brings it all together.’’

For Fuld, though, it was a dream come true. He is, after all, a New England kid who grew up worshiping the Red Sox. His maternal grandmother taught him the game at age 3, serving up Wiffle balls for him to hit. A lover of mathematics, Fuld was the kid who religiously kept baseball statistics in a book that was constantly at his side.

According to his mother, Amanda Merrill, a two-term New Hampshire state senator, it was his security blanket.

“I took school very seriously,’’ said Fuld, whose father, Kenneth, is the dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of New Hampshire. “But my No. 1 passion all throughout was baseball.

“I didn’t know if it would lead to a playing career, or teaching and coaching in high school. That was always in the back of my mind, especially with my dad’s background in teaching.’’

Even when he was diagnosed with diabetes as a 10-year-old, Fuld’s dream was never derailed. It led him to Stanford, where he graduated with a degree in economics.

He was a two-time All-American and a three-time All-Pac-10 center fielder. His 1,071 at-bats and 268 runs remain Stanford records. As a junior, he scored a school-record 83 runs, tying Arizona State’s Dustin Pedroia for the Pac-10 lead.

“My whole goal was to kind of just get out of the cold weather where I could get in some warm weather and play a little more baseball,’’ Fuld said. “I was realistic with myself and never thought I could get into a school like Stanford.’’

But he did, and it led him to the majors, as he was drafted by the Cubs in the 10th round in 2004.

After spending most of last season with Triple A Iowa, Fuld was traded to the Rays. Another door opened when Manny Ramirez retired suddenly.

“You never know how these things are going to play out,’’ Fuld said. “Nobody saw Manny’s retirement coming. But that’s the way it goes, that sort of stuff happens.’’

In recognition of his heroics at Fenway, the Rays have scheduled a Super Sam Fuld Superhero Cape giveaway May 29, replacing the Manny Ramirez Bobblehead giveaway.

“These funny things tend to happen and you never know when they’re going to work in your favor or work against you,’’ he said. “Inevitably they kind of balance out and you just try to make the most of that opportunity you get.

“There were so many memories to take away from these two days, it feels like two weeks to me. I’ve seen tons of friends and family I hadn’t seen in a while and they hadn’t seen me play in a long time, so yeah, it’s been really hectic, but it was just a beautiful, beautiful trip.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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