Bailey is tuning up
Sound, he is set to be Sox closer
FORT MYERS, Fla. - New Red Sox closer Andrew Bailey is healthy, he likes his new teammates just fine, and he is looking forward to playing for Bobby Valentine.
Whatever. Let’s get to the real question: What song will be playing at Fenway Park when Bailey comes out of the bullpen?
This is important stuff. Former closer Jonathan Papelbon made “I’m Shipping Up to Boston’’ by Dropkick Murphys his personal anthem in 2007 and danced a jig to it on the infield when the Red Sox beat the Indians later that season to advance to the World Series.
In the years that followed, the song became part of Papelbon’s repertoire, and just a few notes would get the fans on their feet.
Now Bailey is looking for a song that can become his signature.
“I like to feed off the crowd, the adrenaline,’’ he said yesterday. “If I get to choose, it’ll be something rock. Maybe I’ll throw a little Boston twist in there with Aerosmith or something. Maybe Godsmack.’’
Clearly, Bailey is doing some research, as Aerosmith is from Boston and Godsmack from Lawrence. He also has reached out to his 13,990 Twitter followers for advice.
As for his pitching, Bailey reported to spring training early and already has thrown in the bullpen several times in front of Valentine and new pitching coach Bob McClure. For the first time in his career, Bailey did not have an injury that required tending to during the winter, and that enabled him to start throwing earlier.
“I wanted to make sure I was ready to go. I’d rather slow myself down than have to catch up,’’ he said.
Bailey knows he will need more than a catchy song to replace Papelbon, who converted 31 of his 34 save chances last season. He also averaged 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings, his best rate in four years.
A free agent for the first time in his career, Papelbon signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies on Nov. 11. The Red Sox never made an offer, knowing that Papelbon’s long-stated desire to set the market for closers didn’t match up with their plans.
General manager Ben Cherington instead traded for Bailey Dec. 28. In Bailey, the Red Sox get a closer who is four years younger than Papelbon and will cost $7 million less this season.
In three seasons in Oakland, Bailey converted 86 percent of his save chances and had a 2.07 earned run average. He has 174 strikeouts in 174 career innings.
Papelbon expects Bailey to shine.
“He’s going to go now to a city, on those days when it’s a day game in August and September and the stadium is packed and he may not have any life in his body, but as soon as he walks on the field, that life immediately comes up,’’ Papelbon said.
“He’s going to have that, which is a huge positive for him. Everyone is going to have something to say whether he’s doing this job. He’s going to have to play his own game. He’s got all the talent in the world. He should thrive in that environment.’’
Bailey, wisely, has no desire to be the next Papelbon.
“Pap’s obviously himself,’’ he said. “I’ve met him a couple of times and he’s a good dude. He’s moved on and we’re two totally different pitchers.
“My goal is to have [the media] ask the guy who follows me those questions. ‘How are you going to replace Bailey?’ That’s kind of my goal. If I stick with that, I’ll be all right.’’
Bailey said he is a “closer at heart’’ and loves late-inning pressure.
“I have that mentality of being aggressive,’’ he said. “I live and die with [the idea] that strike one is the best pitch in baseball.
“I kind of go out there and throw the ball as hard as I can. There’s nothing fancy about what I do. That’s my mentality. I think that fits the closer’s role pretty good.’’
A native of New Jersey who attended Wagner College in New York, Bailey now makes his home in Connecticut. For him, getting a chance to pitch in the AL East was perfect.
“This is the best division in baseball,’’ he said. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity to play. I know, from a fan’s perspective, how they live and die by it, so I’m looking forward to that opportunity and to do the best I can.’’
Bailey joked that living two hours away from Fenway Park is just far enough to make him angry about not being able to sleep in his own bed more often.
“But it’s going to be good,’’ he said. “Off days, day games, go home and have some dinner with the family, kind of hang out.
“Going to school on Staten Island, I have a lot more buddies who are now Red Sox fans. I’ve been getting a lot of jokes and phone calls about that. Hopefully the Nation will welcome them in. They’re ex-Yankee fans.’’
Bailey is willing to emulate Papelbon in one sense: If the Red Sox win the World Series, he’s more than willing to dance on the field in his underwear.
“You can keep me to that,’’ he said.