The first Red Sox game I ever covered was Game 3 of the 2003 American League Division Series against the A’s. From what I understand, some relevant plot twists in Red Sox history have occurred since then, but I’ll bet you remember that game well.
I do. Trot Nixon ended it with a walkoff home run to left-center field off A’s fireballer Rich Harden in the 11th inning, giving the Red Sox their first win in what was an extremely tense and contentious series.
Save for Shane Victorino’s don’t-worry-bout-a-thing grand slam in Game 6 of the 2013 ALCS versus the Tigers, the loudest I have ever heard Fenway Park in person was right around the moment Trot broke into his trot.
I’ve been a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America for four years, which means I’ll have a Hall of Fame vote right around the time Rafael Devers is eligible, I think. He’s already a yes, obviously.
I’ve been covering baseball a long time, and writing about it long before the remaining hairs on my head that decided not to abandon ship turned gray. But this is the first season that I have experienced it from something resembling a beat writer’s perspective.
When our cherished colleague Nick Cafardo died suddenly in spring training, I was proud to be among a number of Globe sports staffers who were called upon at various points in the first half of this season to join indefatigable Sox writers Peter Abraham and Alex Speier to aid in their coverage.
Nick could not be replaced. But we had to do our best to replace his production. I was called upon to cover roughly a half-dozen series in the first half, including road trips to Chicago and New York, and important-seeming home series against the Astros and Indians.
Julian McWilliams, who comes here from Oakland backed with rave reviews from his former colleagues at The Athletic, has arrived as a full-time baseball writer. My contributions to our Sox coverage will return to the previous format, which probably could be classified as snarky but hopefully informative quasi-columns usually produced a safe distance from the clubhouse.
It’s a pretty sweet gig. But I enjoyed — far more than I expected, honestly, but don’t tell my boss — being part of the beat brigade for a while, to watch the interactions behind the scenes, gather intel on the dynamics, and have some perceptions confirmed and others altered.
My general takeaway from my time as a relative outsider on the inside — and keep in mind, these are just my observations — is that the Red Sox have a genuinely good group, one that collectively is legitimately frustrated by their inconsistent season so far.
I think it helps, too, that Alex Cora’s mood never wavered. He was almost always upbeat and easy to laugh, but never hesitated to criticize or call out players, either. My respect for him has grown this season. He’s never going to lose the clubhouse the way tense-manager-turned-chilled-out-lobsterman John Farrell did.
It’s not the loudest or most charismatic group — the biggest collective roar I heard was after a win in Chicago, when Mookie Betts and a few other teammates were watching the end of a Rockets-Warriors playoff game — and there really isn’t anyone who could be called an outsized personality. It just feels . . . professional.
That goes for the relationship between players and media, too. The beat reporters enter the clubhouse every day around 3:30 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game, with an hour-ish to gather information for their early print stories.
The players, many of whom in their hoodie/hat/backpack ensemble could pass for Northeastern undergrads, filter in and out. Sometimes the reporters just end up milling about in clusters for a bit, but if there’s a player who is in the news for one reason or another, he is usually made available. (Affable Michael Chavis was a godsend during his hot start.)
One day, a beat writer from another outlet offhandedly complained to me that some of the players don’t talk as much as they should. Chris Sale and J.D. Martinez were mentioned by name. That must have come from a broader set of experiences, because I did not see that.
Sale doesn’t make much small talk, but if he’s around, he’s approachable and generally affable, especially when the topic is praise of someone other than himself. And he’s always available and accountable when things go wrong, as is Rick Porcello. Perhaps the Red Sox’ retro jerseys live in fear around him, but Sale seems like a genuinely great teammate.
As for Martinez, I saw him hold up the team bus for a minute, with traveling secretary Jack McCormick counting down the seconds, to offer at least a quick comment after a rough loss in New York. He’s also one of those guys who seem to make the rounds in the clubhouse just to say hello and check in with his teammates.
The channel of choice on the clubhouse TV was MLB Network, and it was Martinez and David Price who always seemed the most interested in watching and commenting on what they saw.
My biggest takeaway? Xander Bogaerts has emerged as a genuine leader, perhaps the leader. It was beyond impressive to see him on multiple occasions navigate through the different groups in the clubhouse, and do so in multiple languages.
He’d be hanging out with the Spanish-speaking players playing cards one moment, then over talking to Mitch Moreland and Steve Pearce the next. He has become an accountable, no-excuses go-to guy after games, even ones that had frustrating outcomes for him personally, such as a loss to the Astros in which he was called out on strikes in a key spot with the bases loaded (and at least two of the strikes were nowhere near the plate).
Let’s put it this way: Bogaerts has become everything he was supposed to be when he came up as one of the best prospects in the game in ’13, and given his amplified leadership skill (Devers is one player he’s taken under his wing), he may even be exceeding it.
Being around, on the outskirts of the scrums, enhanced my positive impression of Bogaerts even more. It also left me believing that these Red Sox, should they avoid serious injuries and repair those glaring holes in the bullpen, will get their act together in the second half.
They may not be demonstrative about it, but they care. I’ve seen it behind the scenes, in the quiet moments and the boisterous ones, too.