Youngsters take a major step
FORT MYERS, Fla. - When Lars Anderson looks out at the pitcher on the mound, one that could have more experience in the major leagues than he has in the organization, it's the white glint that he sees.
"It's pretty sweet," Anderson said, of the baseballs he gets to hit every day in his first trip to major league spring training. "They're pretty white [in minor league camp], but those are brand new every day. It's a trip."
It's likely that guys like David Ortiz and Josh Beckett no longer notice the whiteness of the baseballs they get to use. Perhaps they overlook the scuff marks and dings that might infect those baseballs down Edison Avenue in mini camp. But for those who are not yet inured to the joys of the major leagues, that blinding whiteness means something.
Anderson isn't alone in his newness around the Red Sox stars. The Sox have given 11 players their first invitation to major league camp, their first chance to practice and work out under the eyes of the major league coaches and staff. And make no mistake, they are being watched.
"There's obviously a reliance on the Triple A staff, their evaluations, our player development staff, evaluations throughout the course of the year," director of player development Mike Hazen said. "But this does factor in, showing the staff how they compete.
"Because this is probably a more tense situation for the younger guys than it is for the older guys. How they handle themselves when they're throwing live [batting practice] to major league hitters or in major league spring training games, all those things are part of the evaluation."
Or, as pitching coach John Farrell lists the qualities they look for in the new pitchers: "We all can see velocity readings, but how are they going to respond to adversity within a major league game? Can they keep the game under control? Do they keep the game from speeding up on them mentally? What are some of the things that might take place inside the game? What is their game awareness and how do they respond to those situations and still execute pitches?"
Though this might be their first invitation, it's not necessarily the first time these players have shown up in major league camp. Often they've had an at-bat in a spring game or been used for base-running drills by the major leaguers. They know, in general, that having a good spring training almost certainly won't push them from Double A to Triple A or the big leagues, but it can't hurt to show the staff just how good they can be.
"They haven't really set the expectations too high," said outfielder Josh Reddick, 22, who was informed just after Christmas that he would get an invite. "They said don't try to go out and do too much.
"I mean, no matter what you do here, they say I could go 0 for 100 or 100 for 100 and it's not going to change where they put me. So I'm going to come in here and learn what I can and do what I can and just work on things to get better.
"Try not to make the team on the first spring training, 'cause it's not going to happen."
But the players do want everyone to see them in a good light, from the coaches to their potential future teammates. It's like going to a new school, Anderson explained. You don't want to be known as the guy who did something stupid or messed up the first time those in authority get a sustained look.
"I think I put more pressure on myself than anybody else," said Anderson. "So it's more me competing with myself. Like if I'm hitting poorly, I'm not scared of what they're thinking. I'm upset with myself."
For Anderson, the organization's top positional prospect, this is a time to enjoy himself. At least that's what he was told in his individual meeting with manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein to start spring training. They said they didn't know exactly how long Anderson would be with the major leaguers before being sent back to the player development complex, but that he would get in some games. That he should work on his defense. Oh, and that he should "enjoy the experience," he said.
He's trying. Like Reddick. Like the rest of the first-years. Just taking it all in.
"I'd say overwhelming, exciting," Reddick said of the experience. "It kind of caught me off guard. I really thought it would be a lot more intense than it actually is. It's actually more laid-back, just get out there and as long as you do your work, you're all right. If you don't do your work, then that's your problem."
The point is to make them feel comfortable, to make them feel as though they can show their stuff before the inevitable shift back to their minor league compatriots. It is to introduce them to those with whom they will be trying to win games and championships in the not-too-distant future.
"They're told to compete," Hazen said. "Don't back down. When you're over there in between the lines, go out and compete. Show us what you can do."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.