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A nice changeup

Wells tells Epstein that he now wants to stay with the Red Sox

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- This past November, while the Red Sox worked to honor David Wells's request to be shipped to his hometown Padres, Mick Jagger played at San Diego's home park and invoked Wells's wish, telling the 44,000 in attendance: ''I told management you'd be careful with the sacred dirt of Petco Park, or else David Wells may never return."

Now, approximately five months after Wells made his request, wishing to be closer to his family and leave behind the suffocating Boston fandom, the 42-year-old has reconsidered. In a rather simplistic, vintage Wells moment, the lefthander approached general manager Theo Epstein Saturday morning at City of Palms Park.

Wells: ''You busy?"

Epstein: ''As a matter of fact I'm not."

Wells: ''Listen, plan on me going north, dude. I want to stay. I think it will be fine."

Added Wells, ''And that was that."

So, he was asked, ''Who had the biggest role in you staying?"

The question was posed yesterday evening by Josh Beckett, who parted the media sea washing over Wells to pop the question. When he ultimately answered, Wells cited the captain, Jason Varitek.

''Just the way 'Tek looked at me," Wells said. ''He said, 'We need to talk.' We never really got a chance to talk. Knowing 'Tek, I kind of had an idea what was going through his mind. As he walked away the other day [to go to the World Baseball Classic] he asked me, 'Do you want to stay?'

''He just gave me that look. It was something, like, wow. There was something behind that look. That vibe I got was deep, without even talking to him. Something heavy."

His other teammates, too, were wearing him out.

''Having to fight City Hall, you get tired of it," he said. ''If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, right?"

Beckett, apparently, was the mayor of City Hall.

''That [expletive] over there," Wells said, ''bugging the [expletive] out of me every day."

Apparently, once Wells showed up to camp, looked around at a team stocked with starting pitchers, deeper in the bullpen, and better defensively, he began to come around.

''It frankly doesn't surprise me," manager Terry Francona said. ''I think there's an atmosphere around Boston. In the winter, you get here, you realize you have a chance to win, a good organization. We're going to play a lot of playoff games before the playoffs. I think David understands that."

Said Wells: ''There's so much depth it's ridiculous. Live arms. I want to go out on top. I felt this is the best opportunity I have to go out on top. This is a hell of a team."

Still, there remains the issue of his contract. He's due $2.5 million this season, with the chance to tack on $5 million more in bonuses ($200,000 per start for starts 11-20 and $300,000 per start for starts 21-30). Wells claimed he and Epstein discussed making the bonuses more attainable.

''At this point in time we've talked about a couple issues," Wells said. ''Guaranteeing the whole money? No."

Epstein, when apprised of this, said: ''We told him we wouldn't revise his contract. He accepted that. We don't restructure contracts."

Wells did add that if his contract status doesn't change, he's OK with that.

Now that he's here to stay, unless the Sox find a deal for him too good to turn down, Wells has to begin pitching, and when he will is a matter of dispute. Wells has thrown two bullpen sessions, one at 50 percent, the next at about 60-70 percent. He expects to throw at about 80 to 85 percent in the bullpen today.

''If that feels good," he said, ''I'll get into throwing BP, couple sessions of that, then a game, [next] Tuesday or Wednesday."

That's March 14 or 15, and a year ago, Wells, coming off a knee scope, didn't pitch in a game until March 12 and managed to start the opener at Yankee Stadium. However, the procedure this offseason was far more invasive, something not revealed by Wells or the club until yesterday.

''Lots of cartilage," he said. ''They cleaned it up. It was a mess in there. I think I had one too many cortisone shots last year. It's bone on bone. I was on crutches, in a wheelchair, for a month, month and a half."

Wells, at the end of last season, claimed he'd had three cortisone injections. Pressed yesterday for the actual total, he said, ''I had quite a few."

Double figures?

''I'm not going to answer that," he said. ''I had a lot."

When told that Wells hopes to be in a game in a little more than a week, Francona grimaced and said, ''We'll see."

Epstein, asked if Wells could begin the season on time, said, ''There's a chance."

Wells said he's 99.9 percent sure this will be his last season.

''I mean, [expletive], my knee's still hurting, I'm not getting any younger, my arm feels great," he said.

As Francona, a veteran of 20 knee surgeries, said, ''He's probably got a knee like me but he has a good arm and he still has a desire to compete."

Wells, in addressing his issue with the fans and city, insisted that ''Red Sox Nation, they're fantastic. That's a good thing. I'm not disrespecting them in any way, shape, or form. But as an athlete it's hard to live by their standards. I believe [the city] is so compact you get subjected to a lot of fans."

For a player attempting to go out to eat or socialize, he said, Boston is ''the worst I've ever seen. It's hard to go out there and enjoy yourself because there are crazy fans. Anywhere you go they want a piece of you, they want to talk shop. When I leave the park, you ain't getting nothing out of me. My day's over with. You might get a 'Take a hike. Go bother somebody else.' You're subject to a camera, a cellphone camera. That should stay at the ballpark. I went out three times last year."

Did he have a good time?

''No. Hell no. I almost got in a fight one of those times. The guy was a smartass because I wouldn't take a picture with him."

''But, hey," Wells concluded, ''we'll get through that. We'll work on it."

As Wells finished up with the media his son, Lars, soon to be 7 and named after Metallica's drummer, was being chased around the clubhouse by Beckett, who was in full uniform.

''Just hit him with it," Wells said, referring to the bat in the kid's hands.

''He already did," Beckett said.

This came a few minutes after Lars Wells had picked up some chewing tobacco.

''Take a dip," Wells said, challenging his son.

The kid began to smile and walked away, stunned and not sure what to do.

Wells, turning back to the group, said, ''He'll puke his brains out."

Boomer, silent throughout camp until yesterday, was definitely here. In full form. And apparently, here to stay.

''It's just best," he said.

And, by the way, Wells was at that Rolling Stones concert, sitting in ex-teammate Brian Giles's box, when Jagger called out his name.

''Everyone," Wells said, ''just turned to me and said, 'Did he just say what I thought he said? How do you know Mick?'

''We go way back."

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