Betts' Opening Day impact one for the ages
Carrying momentum over from big spring, outfielder joins unique company with long ball
PHILADELPHIA -- There is an air of quiet confidence that permeates from Mookie Betts, and the center fielder certainly looks primed to be the next star for the Boston Red Sox.
Playing in his first Opening Day on Monday, Betts joined some lofty company with a home run in the Red Sox's 8-0 win over the Phillies.
At 22 years old, Betts became the youngest player to homer for Boston on Opening Day since Tony Conigliaro went deep as a 20-year-old in 1965. Betts joined Mike Trout and Bryce Harper as the only Major Leaguers under 23 to homer on Opening Day over the past three seasons.
"It's always going to be a memory," said Betts.
The man who started the 2014 season as the second baseman for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs continues to impress. After a monster Spring Training, Betts carried his momentum into the first game that mattered, going 2-for-4 with a walk and two runs scored.
"Well, unless he lost his swing on the flight up here, he's going to put some good swings on some pitches," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "He's on time seemingly all the time when he's at the plate. Even the first at-bat, he popped up, he just missed that fastball. He repeats his swing. He's very athletic. Even though he's got some hand movement, he knows how to control it and just has very good bat speed through the zone."
Betts packs a combination of power and speed that is hard to find in a leadoff hitter.
According to Shane Victorino, Betts was actually worried that his swing wasn't quite where he wanted it to be late in Spring Training -- despite a .429 average in Grapefruit League action.
"Everything starts from zero now. I'm not trying to roll anything over [from Spring Training]," said Betts. "I'm just trying to go out and continue to do whatever I do."
It's that type of attitude that has made Betts so endearing to Boston's veteran players since his initial arrival late last June.
"I think the one thing that's really unique to Mookie is his never-ending desire to learn," said Farrell. "The questions he asks the staff to veteran players, he's not afraid to show he's vulnerable if he doesn't know a certain situation. His desire to learn is what stands out in combination with his abilities."
Considering how swiftly Betts has become a central figure on the Red Sox, it's easy to forget he didn't even get an invite to big league camp in 2014.
"But it seems like it was so long ago that I completely forgot about it. Now I'm here, so that's kind of the focus right now," said Betts. "It feels kind of normal now. That I got to play last year, then had the offseason to think about it. And coming to big league Spring Training, it's kind of normal now. I got used to it."
Before long, Red Sox fans will probably get used to watching standout performances by Betts.