In a flash, Betts shows sky's the limit
Dynamic young talent stars on grand stage of Opening Day at Fenway
BOSTON -- Here's to Mookie Betts, a dazzling new star in the Boston Red Sox universe. Here's to his youth and energy. Here's to a string of plays that might just take your breath away.
"He's going to be a superstar," David Ortiz said.
He just might be.
On Monday afternoon, the day of the home opener at Fenway Park, the 22-year-old outfielder played three of the best innings any baseball player can play. To do it in that setting, amid the pageantry and expectations, underscores that the kid wasn't overwhelmed by the moment.
In a city where the baseball season runs approximately 365 days a year, Betts made himself part of the rich folklore of the Red Sox during a 9-4 victory over the Washington Nationals.
Three innings, three amazing moments:
1. In the top of the first inning, Betts sprinted to the wall in right-center field and leaped to grab a potential Bryce Harper home run, pulling it back into the park. That play could count as two spectacular achievements, because just to put himself in the position to make the grab required explosive speed.
2. Betts drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the first inning, then promptly stole second. When he noticed the Nationals weren't covering third, he leaped up in an instant and stole that bag, too. Betts scored on a single by Ortiz.
3. In the bottom of the second, Betts launched a towering three-run home run over the Green Monster to make it 4-0 Boston.
4. In the bottom of the third, Betts beat out an infield single to drive in his fourth run of the day. The Nationals didn't exactly play the ball cleanly, but that'll be forgotten if he does indeed become what it appears he has a chance to be.
To think that Betts went to Spring Training knowing he had to fight just to make the club, that rookie Rusney Castillo was penciled in as the starter in center field. Although an injury to Castillo simplified the Red Sox's decision, Betts, who moved from the infield to the outfield only last year, played so well this spring that the competition wasn't even close.
Betts has the potential to give Boston a special ingredient at the top of its batting order, and on a team dotted with veterans, he can provide a dose of youth that could rub off on the entire club.
"It's the Mookie Show," Red Sox left fielder Hanley Ramirez said. "He brings a lot of energy every day."
Funny thing is, Betts' athleticism and playmaking ability aren't what his teammates mention when they're asked about him. Instead, they talk about the things they've seen and heard since the very first day of Spring Training.
They say that Betts is wise beyond his years, that he listens and watches, that he peppers them with questions and that he has an absolute burning desire to be great.
"He's a kid, an unbelievable athlete," Ortiz said. "It's how hard he works and the way he tries to do something different every day. At that age, as smart as he is, his athleticism and the way he approaches the game, it's a no-doubter that he's going to be a superstar.
Down the hallway, there was a similar endorsement.
"Mookie is a great player," Harper said. "Being able to go from second base to center field is pretty impressive. He's got ups. It's pretty impressive to see him jump over the wall like that and rob a homer. Great players make great plays."
What now? Boston's roster has been dramatically overhauled since Opening Day last season, and Betts has played his way into the conversation. To have a great season, there must be some surprises.
The Red Sox, off to a 5-2 start, began this season knowing they were a club with few holes. Betts gives them a dimension of playmaking ability different from anyone else on the roster.
"That he's just 22 years old, that's the surprising part," said shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who is also 22. "He takes advantage of everything you give him, any mistake. I've talked to him a few days. I've seen him go through a few tough days. I told him, 'Don't change anything; just really be yourself.'"
As for Betts, he seems to be taking it all in stride. The Red Sox say he understands that he has so much yet to learn and that there are parts of his game that still need work. They say Betts is working to get it all right. He's off to a tremendous start.