Papelbon's swagger extends to spring
Closer sees Red Sox as 'team to beat' on opening day of camp
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As he made his way along the highways and byways of Florida, eventually winding up in Fort Myers on Thursday in time to report for the start of Spring Training, Jonathan Papelbon had plenty of time to reflect on what was an unforgettable World Series run.
"I really didn't think about it a lot until I was on my way back here and thought what it meant," Papelbon said. "To me, to be a world champ is something you always remember."
Now, said Papelbon, is the time to put those great memories aside and focus on helping his teammates become the first repeat champions in team history since the 1915-16 Red Sox.
"Now, I'm kind of switching to the role of [hoping] to be remembered as a person who goes out there and repeats it," he said. "My whole goal now is to go out there and keep this ball rolling and pick up where we left off."
No one has accused the right-handed flame-thrower of lacking confidence, a trait that has made him feared at the plate and fearless on the mound.
"If we're not the team to beat, I'd like to know who is," Papelbon said. "I think that our No. 1 thing is to stay healthy. If we do that, I don't know who can really compete with us from a top-to-bottom scale. It's a good situation to be in, that's for sure."
That's not to say Papelbon believes another title will come easily.
"It'll be tough," he added. "I know the challenges we've got ahead. I think if we stay healthy, like we did last year -- and that's going to be a big part of our training staff's [mission] and keep us on the programs that work -- hopefully we can keep chugging along and stay healthy."
And health is Papelbon's top priority heading into his third season in Boston. He spent time with pitching coach John Farrell this offseason trying to come up with ways of staying off the disabled list and avoiding a repeat of September 2006, when he ended his season early with right shoulder issues.
"I talked to John a lot this offseason about my usage and my program," said Papelbon. "I think last year was a key year for me to understand my body, understand my arm and understand my usage. I think now that I can understand that it's just a matter of tweaking little things here and tweaking little things there and just staying with the program and moving forward."
Last season, Papelbon matched his 2006 total of 59 appearances, but he was closely monitored, from the beginning of camp to his last pitch of the World Series. He converted 37 of 40 saves while posting a 1.85 ERA.
Saving his bullets during the season paid off in the postseason, when Papelbon was used often and with much success. But he still paid a price when the final pitch was thrown in Game 4 in Colorado.
"When it was all said and done, it was a celebration where I was just gassed," Papelbon said. "But at the same time, now I know what it's going to take to maintain that through the season and how to tweak it here and tweak it there, and you learn every year."
And the learning began on Thursday morning, when Papelbon headed out for the first time to work out in Fort Myers.
"Spring Training is always fun," he said. "Spring Training is the time to kind of relax and at the same time get ready for the season. I always get excited. Just on the way down here, driving, you think about what happened last year and going out there and doing it again. You turn the radio up loud and you're cruising. It's always a fun time of the year for me, that's for sure."
What may not be so much fun for Papelbon and the rest of his teammates is the Red Sox's 19-day trip, spanning three countries, to start the season.
"I'm not too excited about going to Japan, to be totally honest with you," said a frank Papelbon. "I love my Japanese teammates and I love Japan -- let me say that, too. I'm not much of a traveler. I'm kind of a homebody; I like to stick to America. Hopefully, they have a McDonald's. We should be good."
It's hard for Papelbon to shake the image some people have of him performing the "River Dance" with his teammates after he closed out an American League East crown, then the AL pennant and finally, the World Series title.
"Back home in Mississippi and Jacksonville, [Fla.], when I'm going back and forth, a lot more people notice me," he said. "They give me this 'jig' [stuff]. I've got to come up with something new. Last year, after we won it, back in the hotel room partying, it was trying to teach me the break dance.
"Some people said you're going out there and dancing and you're making a mockery," he added. "I didn't look at it like that. I looked at it like, 'I'm young, I'm doing what I want to do in life and I'm going to celebrate and do what I want to do, regardless of what anybody has to say.'"
Just 11 days earlier, he was watching a close friend of his celebrate on a different type of field, as Eli Manning led the New York Giants to a shocking 17-14 win over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
"I was in the Bahamas when it happened," Papelbon said. "It was kind of a double-edged sword for me. You've got a friend as a quarterback who is trying to win a championship, and then you've got the Patriots, who are going to do something special, which you hope for them to do because they're in the same city and you want the city to be vibrant and full of life. But they fell short, and what can I say? They've got to go back to work, I guess."
And that's exactly what he and his Red Sox teammates are spending their time doing, starting this weekend.
Mike Petraglia is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.