FORT MYERS, Fla. — Most closers strive for some degree of scary.
They grow facial hair to try and look menacing or stare at the batter with a glare in the eyes. Some get tattoos or piercings to further burnish their image.
Even Mariano Rivera, a gentleman in every sense of the word, jogs out from the bullpen to “Enter Sandman” by Metallica. It’s a pleasant little ditty about a child having nightmares.
Andrew Bailey doesn’t fit the mold. The new Red Sox closer is clean shaven, pleasant and today boasted about his hole-in-one playing mini-golf against his wife.
Bailey seems like the kind of guy you would want to watch your house while you were on vacation. He even dedicates some of his free time to raising money for childhood cancer research through the Strike 3 Foundation.
But don’t be fooled. Bailey has thrown 174 innings in his three years in the majors and has 174 strikeouts. He also has converted 75 of his 87 save chances. Get him on the mound and he’s a menace.
“I’m a closer at heart,” he said. “I have that mentality of being aggressive. 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.”
Bailey, wisely, has no desire to try and be the next Jonthan Papelbon. He wants to build his own legacy in Boston.
“Pap’s obviously himself. 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,” Bailey said. “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 should be a good fit with the Sox. He grew up in New Jersey, went to school in New York and now lives in Connecticut. He knows the passion fans for baseball in the northeast and he’s ready for the pressure. Bailey also has a relationship with Bobby Valentine, the two have become acquainted at charity events the last few years.
“A great kid,” Valentine said. “People are going to love him.”
Now to the real question. What song will be playing at Fenway Park when Bailey comes out of the bullpen?
Bailey is still trying to decide.
“For me, I like to feed off the crowd, the adrenalin,” he said. “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.
(Might we suggest “Going Out in Style” by Dropkick Murphys? You’d have to find a clean version, but it rocks.)
As for his pitching, Bailey reported to spring training early and has already 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.
Before the Sox picked up him up in a trade with Oakland, Bailey was preparing to start the season early in Japan with the Athletics. Once he joined the Red Sox, he decided to stick to the plan.
“I wanted to make sure I was ready to go. I’d rather slow myself down than have to catch up,” he said.
Bailey is willing to emulate Papelbon in one sense. If the Red Sox win the World Series, he will be more than happy to dance on the field in his underwear.
“You can keep me to that,” he said.