New spring, same mantra for defending champs
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It was a season of legendary, epic proportions. A team went from worst to first, improved its record by 28 games and then marched on to win the World Series.
In that process, equal parts astounding and pleasant, the Boston Red Sox won their third World Series championship over the last 10 years. They became the first Major League team to win three championships in this century -- or on a grander scale, three championships in this millennium.
Now in Spring Training 2014, the Red Sox are stressing that as much as '13 was a wonderful story and terrific experience, it is time to turn the page and focus completely on '14.
That is, admittedly, easier said than done, particularly when an entire global fan base is telling you just how magnificent you were in 2013. But that is the task at hand for Boston now. The Red Sox can remember how it was done, how much effort it took to climb to the baseball summit from the depths of last place. But they can't let themselves be overcome by a lot of warm and fuzzy feelings of previous glory.
That was manager John Farrell's message to his players when the full squad gathered at JetBlue Park on Thursday.
"To get back to a mindset that was from the first day of Spring Training last year, and not the most recent memory -- which was a great one -- but to recognize that there was a lot of work, a journey that went into getting that final out recorded in Fenway," said Farrell. "I think as you've been around the guys since they've reported, the conversation, the talk is about what we do today and not what's happened previous. In a nutshell, that was probably the overall message."
Just in passing, how did Farrell not win the Manager of the Year Award for the American League last season? What else did he have to do? These are questions that may never be suitably answered.
Nobody has won back-to-back World Series since the Yankees in 1998-2000. Can the Red Sox repeat in an era when baseball's calling card is competitive balance? They're not supposed to repeat, but they defied and overturned expectations by winning last year.
The Red Sox were 7-for-7 in free-agent signings during the 2012-13 offseason. They had a much quieter winter this time, because there was so much less work to be done. They have some questions, but these are questions that appear to have nearby answers.
Boston has a fine rotation in place, plus a core of talented young pitchers in their system knocking on the door. The bullpen is solid and deep. The team's biggest question going into last season was turned into a strength. Juan Nieves made his mark as a pitching coach of the first rank.
OK, the Sox no longer have Jacoby Ellsbury in center. The Yanks do. Jackie Bradley Jr., 23, will have a shot there, and Grady Sizemore, making a deep comeback, could also be in the mix.
If Bradley plays regularly and shortstop is manned by Xander Bogaerts, 21, the Red Sox will be very youthful in two up-the-middle spots. This can often be interpreted as a potential problem. But this will not be an issue with Boston, Farrell said.
"Regardless of the changes, [second baseman] Dustin [Pedroia's] role will remain the same," Farrell said. "He's been a leader of our team up the middle. Whether it's in terms of our positioning, whether it's cutoffs and relays, he's the pivotal guy in all of that.
"But these are players you're talking about, with Jackie and Xander, they understand their positions, they've been good defenders to this point in their careers. Seeing it on a regular basis right now, that's the only difference."
So one year after the Red Sox were trying to recover from a season of despair in 2012, the team is now generating record amounts of goodwill.
"It's certainly a good feeling here at camp," Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino said Friday in a media session. "It's 'Camp Good Vibrations' so far. There is a very good vibe emanating from the place.
"It is only the first few days, and naturally we're on kind of a high and our fans are feeling good. There's not enough of an experience of this Spring Training, so we look backward. But John Farrell worked beautifully at this in the first day's [full-squad] meeting to get people to focus on the here and now; that was then, this is now. "
This is still the AL East, though. Lucchino, when asked about how different the current Red Sox's roster-building direction was from that of the Yankees, jumped on the pitch.
"We're very different animals," Lucchino said. "I'm proud of that difference. I always cringe when people lump us together. Other baseball teams sometimes do that. They are still -- this year at least -- relying heavily on their inimitable, old-fashioned Yankee-style of high-priced, long-term free agents. And I can't say I wish them well, but I think we have taken a different approach."
That was a real Red Sox vibration. You could feel it. One year ago, this team was beginning the long climb back from competitive catastrophe. Today, this same team is standing at the summit, trying to maintain its championship status.