boston.com Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe
DAN SHAUGHNESSY

A few thoughts regarding baseball spring to mind

Picked-up pieces while packing for another 10 days in Fort Myers . . .

  • Red Sox fans can prepare to fall in love with Jonathan Papelbon. Starter? Closer? Middle man? It doesn't matter. Papelbon can deliver the goods and is unfortunately destined to be compared to Roger Clemens because he's a hard-throwing righty who's 6 feet 4 inches, 230 pounds.

    Incredibly, he didn't pitch much at Bishop Kenny High School in Jacksonville.

    ''I was a sophomore in college [Mississippi State] when they made me a pitcher," said Papelbon, as he dressed in front of his locker at the Sox minor league complex in the early days of spring training. ''I think I pitched 13 innings in high school. It's a private school known for baseball and there was a lot of politics.

    ''I played first base and pitched some mop-up whenever they needed me. My coach catches some hell for that now. At Mississippi State, I'd throw the ball across the infield from first base and they'd notice. They needed help at pitching, and I said, 'I can pitch.' "

    Now 25 years old with 17 games of big league experience under his belt (which makes him a rookie still), Papelbon is at the center of big debates about the Red Sox pitching staff. Should the kid start or close?

    The Sox have seven starters (counting David Wells, who has done everything he can to separate himself from the team this spring), but no less an authority than Curt Schilling has indicated it would be a big mistake not to include Papelbon in the rotation.

    Papelbon had a 2.25 ERA in his three starts with the Sox after he was called up in July last year. He looked pretty good in the bullpen, too. The kid throws in the mid 90s and has 34 strikeouts in 34 innings in the big leagues.

    ''I had a talk with Tito and Theo when I was up in Boston and they said we were going to feel it out in spring training and see what happens, so we've got a long road ahead of us," Papelbon said. ''I told them, 'Look, regardless of what you have me do, I just want to go out there and help any way I can. It really doesn't matter to me. I just want to help out.'

    ''Yeah, I want to be in the rotation. No doubt about it. And I told them that. But we've got guys who can be in the rotation and get the job done. Proven veterans. But I told them, 'If you need help in the rotation, that's where I want to be.' "

    He said his breakthrough game in 2005 was a 5 2/3-inning start in Anaheim Aug. 21 when he held the Angels scoreless on five hits in his portion of a 5-1 Red Sox victory.

  • He's already posed for one magazine cover and said he had no trouble with the spotlight that comes with playing baseball in Boston.

    ''When I got drafted by this team, I was part of a Nation," he said. ''I want to be part of something special here and I want to be part of a team in a city where when you go out there, you're expected to win. That's the only way I know how to play. That's how I compete. I want to be part of something where they expect me to go out and do it and if I don't do good, go ahead and boo me. It doesn't really get to me."

    And the Clemens comparisons?

    ''I'm just trying to be myself and stay true to my roots. Just go out there and be Jon Papelbon. I don't want to go out there and be Roger Clemens. Yeah, I want to accomplish things that Roger's accomplished. But I don't want to be Roger Clemens. I just want to go out there and be the person that my mom and dad raised me to be and be the person that I grew up being."

    He hasn't met Clemens, but he teased pitching coach Al Nipper about not having the clout to bring the Rocket back to Boston. Nipper was Clemens's best friend in the clubhouse when the two teamed at Fenway, and Nipper sees similarities in Papelbon.

    ''I told him a couple of years ago that the way he acts and his body language reminds me of Roger," said the coach. ''Things he says and the way he says them are exactly the things Roger would say. He's got the same mentality. It's really uncanny. And it's encouraging because he has the same work ethic as Roger.

    ''He's got a power arm and is an aggressive guy. He's a student of the game and very coachable. He's got the fastball, slider, and the split is coming. His curveball is probably his fourth-best pitch."

    Papelbon's twin brothers, Josh and Jeremy, pitch for the University of North Florida. Josh is a righty closer and Jeremy is a lefty starter. Last summer they pitched in Steve Buckley's Old-Time Baseball Game at St. Peter's Field in Cambridge.

  • This from a new book, ''Pedro, Carlos and Omar," by Adam Rubin of the New York Daily News: ''Pedro mentioned how he was not eagerly awaiting the Mets' 2006 interleague schedule, which called for a June 27-29 series in Boston, with an off-day in Beantown before the opener, no less . . . Pedro even suggested he might ask pitching coach Rick Peterson to align the rotation so he could avoid the Red Sox and instead pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays, then at Yankee Stadium."

  • Wouldn't that be a shame -- Pedro ducking Boston? He should know that fans forever will love him in our city.

  • Johnny Damon T-shirt seen in Florida: ''Looks like Jesus, acts like Judas, throws like Mary."

  • When you're watching the Oscars tonight, remember that Theo Epstein will be rooting for his brother-in-law, Danny Futterman, to win the award for best adapted screenplay (''Capote"). It would create some nice family symmetry. Theo's grandfather and great-uncle won an Oscar for writing ''Casablanca."

  • Speaking of Theo, has anybody noticed that Tom Werner is probably the only man on the planet with more than one Theo in his life? Malcolm Jamal-Warner played Theo Huxtable on the wildly successful ''Cosby Show," which made Werner a player in Hollywood.

  • The Red Sox already have contacted Ted Kennedy about throwing out the first ball five years from now when Fenway celebrates its 100th birthday. Kennedy, who will be 80 in 2012, said, ''I'm practicing. I've been watching and checking the distance and getting ready. That would be great -- especially since Grandpa threw the ball out in 1912." Boston Mayor John ''Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, Kennedy's grandfather, threw out the first pitch at the inaugural Fenway opener.

  • Check out this preview of Riverdale High School's baseball team in the Fort-Myers News Press: ''Key players: 1B/P Bo Greenwell. Greenwell (.420, 18 RBI) . . . will lead the way for Riverdale." Yes, that's the son of Mike Greenwell, who was last seen lobbying for the 1988 MVP Award (Greenwell finished second) after Jose Canseco admitted he was cheating.

  • Then there's Beau Mills, third baseman for Fresno State and the son of Sox bench coach Brad Mills. The strapping third baseman hit 22 home runs as a freshman last year and played in the Cape League last summer. He was drafted by the Sox when he finished high school, and looks like he'll be ready for the pros after his junior season.

  • We get to see Nomar Garciaparra playing first base when the Sox go to Vero Beach Thursday. Nomar has a good teacher. He's been getting lessons from Eddie Murray, who played more games at first base (2,413) than anyone else in the history of baseball.

    Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

  • SEARCH THE ARCHIVES
     
    Today (free)
    Yesterday (free)
    Past 30 days
    Last 12 months
     Advanced search / Historic Archives