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Time to Report to the Fort

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Spring Training Workouts

The day after the 2012 Red Sox held their first full-squad workout, it was time for me to make my annual pilgrimage to Spring Training.  This is my tenth straight year of making the trip, and a lot has changed in that time.  My first year, 2003, was David Ortiz’s first year with the Red Sox, and now he’s the longest-tenured player on the team.  There were maybe 500 people a day at the practice fields, and just yellow ropes to designate where we could stand.  I remember speaking in hushed tones as we watched them practice, feeling lucky to be standing so close but not wanting to interrupt.  After the 2004 Championship, the atmosphere changed.  We heard that 2,500 people came on the first day of 2005, and everyone was whooping and cheering whenever any one of the players looked their way.  Metal barriers soon replaced the fragile ropes, and while the crowds remained large over the following years the access was still very close for those willing to wait it out.  It was clear the Red Sox were outgrowing their old facility, which had the added inconvenience of being a couple of miles down the street from the stadium.  So this year they moved to a brand new state-of-the-art complex where the ballpark, practice fields, and minor league facilities were all combined into one site.

New manager Bobby Valentine instructs the players before the workout.

New manager Bobby Valentine instructs the players before the workout.

The new complex is a lot bigger, with more room for large crowds to spread out.  But one of the things I was worried about seems to have come true – the players are able to enter and leave the fields without having to walk directly past fans if they don’t want to.  Gone are the “gauntlet” where every player had to run down a path lined with fans just to get to the first field to stretch (and where one year I got a high-five from Manny Ramirez), and the white fence where I watched media interviews and got many an autograph after practice.  Now players can enter the new “agility field” directly from the stadium and stretch at the far end away from the fans, before spreading out to do their drills.  I do like that once they hit the practice fields, our access is just as close as it was before – and maybe even better because there’s more space to spread everyone out.  I was still able to get a lot of good pictures, and by hanging around till the end I got autographs from top prospect Jose Iglesias, plus Darnell McDonald and hitting coach Dave Magadan.

Dustin Pedroia leaps to catch a ball during one of the drills, while his second base counterpart Nate Spears ducks out of the way.

Dustin Pedroia leaps to catch a ball during one of the drills, while his second base counterpart Nate Spears ducks out of the way.

One thing is true about the workouts this year – everyone is busy and always on the move.  Rather than have coaches hit fungoes for fielding practice while players stand idly by to shag flies, players flip balls for their teammates to hit.  In the video below, Kevin Youkilis is flipping to Iglesias, while Nick Punto feeds them to Big Papi.  A few minutes later they switched roles.

None of the players stay on any one field for very long, before they break into different groups and go through different drills.  On one field, Jon Lester worked on his pickoff move.  At the same time, Carl Crawford, Jose Iglesias, and others perfected their base stealing technique.  (That particular drill was interesting, because they were having two guys stand together off first base, take the same lead, and take off at the same time.  It was particularly comical when Jacoby Ellsbury, the fastest guy on the team, was paired up with Adrian Gonzalez, the self-professed slowest runner on the team.)  While that was going on, other fields had live batting practice where new pitchers Mark Melancon and Vicente Padilla threw to an assortment of teammates.

Andrew Miller is really, really tall.

Andrew Miller is really, really tall.

The best part of the day was at the end of the workout, when we got to watch Papi, Youk, Ellsbury, Pedroia, Gonzalez, and newcomer Cody Ross take batting practice.  I had a great spot, and enjoyed watching Big Papi hold court, keeping them entertained while the others batted.  A happy, carefree Ortiz is a sight for sore eyes!

Big Papi kept his teammates entertained during batting practice. It's impossible to see his big grin and not feel good.

Big Papi kept his teammates entertained during batting practice. It's impossible to see his big grin and not feel good.

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