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Foulke enjoying fast lane

His livelihood, hobby meld well in Boston

No offense, but baseball bores Keith Foulke. The Red Sox closer, one of the hottest new stars in the baseball-crazy Hub, wouldn't pay to watch a game. Heck, he wouldn't even watch one for free on television. As much as Foulke loves pitching, baseball has appealed to him less and less since he signed his first contract with the San Francisco Giants a decade ago.

"Once I got into pro ball and found out what a grind it is and found out some of the other things about baseball, that's when I started to lose interest in it a little bit," he said.

Don't get him wrong. When Foulke faced the Yankees over the weekend in the Bronx, he competed as if it were Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. It's just that he didn't even bother watching last year's ALCS, one of the most riveting playoffs in sports history.

"I wouldn't consider myself a baseball fan," said Foulke, who stands to make about $26 million over the next four years finishing games for the Sox. "When I'm away from the game, I'm literally away from it. I don't think about it. I don't watch it. I don't like watching the sports shows. What I love is pitching and the friendship of a team itself."

He's the linchpin of the hottest bullpen in baseball (Sox relievers are riding a streak of 24 2/3 scoreless innings, five of which Foulke has pitched). And as the reigning Rolaids Relief Man champion, Foulke ranks just a point behind the early leader, Minnesota's Joe Nathan, in defending his title. But while many of his teammates may spend their free time watching or talking baseball, Foulke would just as soon pull on a crash helmet and slip behind the wheel of a tire-squealing, high-performance go-kart, an adrenaline-pumping passion he has pursued at tracks across the country.

Foulkie, start your engine.

"I love go-karting," said Foulke, who is already familiar with F1 Boston in Braintree, one of the nation's top go-kart facilities. "I'll spend a lot of time there through the summer."

Better the track than the highway. Foulke's collection of cars includes a Porsche 911 twin-turbo that easily could top 125 miles an hour. But he said he has no recollection of telling anyone he has driven a car "in the mid-150s," as he was quoted as saying last year in The Press Democrat of Santa Rosa, Calif., while he pitched for the A's.

No matter. The thing is, Foulke has moderated his driving habits on the open road for a couple of reasons. First, he has channeled much of his driving energy into go-karting and motorcycling on tracks. Plus, he and his wife, Mandy, had their first child last year.

"I like to drive fast when I'm on the freeway," he said. "At first, it was like, man, obviously if I got in an accident, it would be bad. But now that I've got a little kid, it's like, `Take it easy.' I'm definitely a little more forgiving on the road than I used to be."

While Foulke still is learning the subtleties of driving in Boston (he's eager for his new truck to arrive for extra protection), he's growing more comfortable with the craziness.

"I was a little nervous for a while because I wasn't quite sure where I was going," he said. "But now that I kind of have my route down [to Fenway Park], I'll keep up with the cabs."

Just as long as he doesn't run into any trouble. It might not sit well with his dad, who retired last year as a deputy sheriff in Harris County, Texas. Foulke grew up in Huffman, a hamlet north of Houston that had one traffic light in his youth and has only a few more now.

"It kept me out of a lot of trouble, I'm sure," he said of his father's job. "It was a good thing."

His dad nurtured his baseball career, which took Foulke from Hargrave High to Galveston Junior College to the Alaska Summer League to Lewis-Clark State College in Idaho before the Giants selected him in the ninth round of the 1994 draft.

"It wasn't too hard for him or anybody else to see he was going to be a good pitcher," said Doug Mirabelli, who caught Foulke for Double A Shreveport in '96. "I remember him being very sure of how he wanted to do things. He was a very confident guy, he threw strikes and had three good pitches."

Foulke went 33-22 with a 3.63 ERA in the majors and minors for the Giants before they moved him in a nine-player deal in '97 to the White Sox, who made him a reliever. He thrived in Chicago and became a solid closer, logging 34 saves in 2000 and 42 saves in '01 before he struggled early in '02 and lost the job.

Foulke also picked up five stitches in his upper left cheek with the White Sox when he was jumped by Karim Garcia and Bobby Higginson of the Tigers during a brawl in 2000 and was sucker-punched by Garcia.

"Those two guys don't rank very highly on my list," he said.

Foulke said he wasn't surprised to hear that Garcia, as a Yankee, jumped the wall of the visiting pen at Fenway in the ALCS to help pummel a groundskeeper who had been cheering for the Sox. But Foulke said he also recalled the groundskeeper raising eyebrows among the A's relievers in the Division Series.

"He was doing the same thing when we were there, cheering in our bullpen and all that stuff," Foulke said. "It's like, man, seriously, come on. But obviously you don't go over there and try to beat him up."

In any case, Foulke has found a home in the adjoining pen at Fenway. The White Sox traded him to Oakland after the '02 season and the Red Sox signed him last winter as a free agent. He has filled a major void by serving as an anchor at the back of Boston's pen. In 11 appearances, he is 1-0 with an 0.64 ERA with five saves in as many tries while holding opponents to a .170 batting average.

"He works very hard at his strengths and just as hard on his weaknesses," said Alan Embree, who first pitched with Foulke in Chicago in 2001. "He's found a routine and he's kept it, and the more he maintains it, the stronger he gets."

Foulke led all AL pitchers who served primarily as closers last year by throwing 86 2/3 innings, and he appears on track to match or exceed that workload. No problem. Foulke may have no taste for watching baseball from the bleachers, but working out of the bullpen suits him just fine.

"That's the thing I do," he said. "I love to pitch." 

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