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Small-town Drew is a large talent

PHILADELPHIA -- He was 9, he said, when he first was allowed to drive the tractor on his uncle's farm, pulling the harvester through the Georgia fields.

"My mom's side of the family were farmers," J.D. Drew said yesterday morning. "Tobacco, peanuts, corn, soybeans. It was a family farm, not like one of those huge industrial farms. Just 15 acres of tobacco, so many acres of corn and peanuts.

"Heck, yeah, I worked, man. That's why I appreciate what we got going in this game. Working tobacco is not the ultimate job you want to have.

"But I wouldn't change anything. I loved the way I grew up. But I've got a lot of respect for the farmers of America. That's a hard, hard lifestyle."

Drew is from Hahira, Ga., a small town of 1,800 near the Florida border. The nearest big town is Valdosta, about 11 miles away, and the Moody Air Force Base is nearby.

There are 14 churches in Hahira, according to the town's website. A big event each year is the honeybee festival, in which elected officials offer themselves as targets in the dunking booth and which ends Sunday afternoon with a gospel sing.

The median household income, according to the city's website, is just over $27,000. "Everyone in Hahira is a neighbor," the site proclaims.

Drew straddles two worlds. He and his wife, Sheigh (a pastor's daughter), and their 13-month-old son, Jack David, still have a home in Hahira. But when he goes to work now, it's in the big city -- St. Louis first, then Atlanta, Los Angeles, and now Boston, where the Red Sox have given him $70 million over the next five years to play the outfield. No tractor duty required.

"That's the unique thing about playing baseball," he said. "You've got a bunch of different nationalities, different geared teammates raised differently, it's a very unique situation. It's definitely different from growing up in South Georgia, where everyone is geared to grow up the same way."

If you were a Drew boy, you grew up playing baseball. J.D. and his younger brother, Tim, both were drafted in the first round in 1997, J.D. out of Florida State by the Phillies, Tim out of high school by the Indians. Little brother Stephen was the top draft pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2004, also out of Florida State. No family has ever turned out three brothers who were all drafted on the first round; all three made it to the big leagues.

"I didn't get to see him play a lot in college," J.D., 31, says of his little brother, who just turned 24. "I tried to mentor him as a little kid with his swing, stuff like that. Mine and his relationship was much better than mine and Tim's. We were 2 1/2 years apart. It was more competitive, fighting a lot.

"Me and Stephen, there was me throwing him BP, him throwing me BP, things like that. He's always been a really gifted athlete in every facet of every game he ever played. When he started T-ball, then coach pitch, he was just an unbelievably gifted athlete.

"Imagine: He had older brothers throwing 100 miles an hour in the yard. T-ball for him was a joke. I felt bad for the kids he was playing against. And a pitch league, that was just funny. We had an old wooden bat we'd play with in the front yard, and I'd literally try to throw the ball as hard as I could past him. He could foul tip it when he was 6 years old. It was crazy, unbelievable."

Ills and remedies
J.D. -- the name is David Jonathan, but as he tells it, his dad went by David, people in the family called him Jonathan, and by high school it became J.D. -- was always considered similarly gifted. The comparison he has heard more than any other -- the one broadcast by his agent, Scott Boras -- was to a young Mantle. Boras wanted him to be paid accordingly, demanding money ($10 million) the Phillies weren't willing to spend. Rather than sign, Drew went back into the draft, was signed by the Cardinals, and 10 years later still gets razzed in Philadelphia.

Curt Schilling was with the Phillies at the time, and publicly goaded the fans to let Drew have it the first time he came to Philly to play. "Paper towel rolls on the field, batteries bouncing all over the field, quarters coming out of the stands, there were a couple of timeouts, and the umpires threatened to call a forfeit," Drew said.

Years later, he said, he and Schilling talked.

"I was in St. Louis, we talked about it in the weight room one day," Drew said. "He said, 'Man, sorry about all that stuff.' I said, 'Yeah, it's been a while back, and you know, there ain't no hard feelings on that.'

"We got it handled."

Drew's talent has manifested itself in numerous ways in a career now entering its ninth full season. He has been a .300 hitter, with a .393 on-base percentage that ranks him 13th among players with at least 3,000 plate appearances. He's had a 22-game hitting streak, and in 2003 hit a home run off the top of the video scoreboard in right field in Busch Stadium that traveled an estimated 514 feet.

Injuries have kept him off the field -- seven trips to the disabled list in eight years have marked him as fragile -- and the Red Sox gave themselves a contractual out in case his surgically repaired shoulder worsens.

But Drew played 146 games for the Dodgers last season, and now that he's 19 months removed from surgery, he said he feels as strong as ever.

He went both high-tech and New Age to reach that stage. He changed his diet, implementing nutritional supplements furnished by a company called The Maker's Diet, whose founder says his products are based on biblical tenets.

He was then introduced to a woman named Tamara Jo Mariea, who runs a company out of Franklin, Tenn., and describes herself as a "biochemical detoxification specialist." She sold Drew on the merits of a number of devices that include a hyperbaric oxygen chamber and something called the QRS (Quantron Resonance System), which claims to use electromagnetic fields to restore cell function and energy levels.

Hey, he says it works for him.

"This lady works with autistic kids on body detoxification," he said. "I thought it was a good idea to get 'em all. My granny has arthritis, and I said, 'Hey, this'll be a good thing to help myself and she can benefit, too. Let's make it a family deal.' It seemed to work really well.

"I'm going to implement it in Boston and see how it goes."

The Sox aren't likely to object to anything that keeps Drew on the field.

"Hey, he can play, bro," David Ortiz said. "I don't care what people say, he can play. I used to get hurt a lot, and one thing I figured, 'OK, I got to do things the way I can take care of myself. Stay stronger through the season, and not get hurt.'

"After I figured that out, thank God, knock on wood, I haven't been on the DL since.

"[Drew] has got to know that this team needs him more than 100 games."