Handful of Red Sox ship off to Classic
Moving day brings excitement for Ortiz, Youkilis and company
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For five members of the Red Sox, Sunday afternoon was the start of a respite from the monotony of Spring Training. While the rest of the team geared up for another month of the same-old, same-old, David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jason Bay and Javier Lopez got to pack their bags and leave for the camps of their respective World Baseball Classic squads.
But it was also a signal for those who were departing -- and also Daisuke Matsuzaka, who has been based in Japan this spring -- that some important games are on the docket soon.
Youkilis was able to provide the best parting gift from camp, belting a solo homer to right-center against the Twins, his first of Spring Training. It was a welcome sight for the first baseman, who said that his swing had resembled "horse manure" in recent days.
"Spring Training -- it's one of those things where it all of a sudden clicks," Youkilis said. "Sometimes, it doesn't click, and then all of a sudden it does. For me, if I can get it clicking at the right time, that's all that matters. So hopefully, the next week or so, I start feeling good. I'll have four more games in before we get to the [Classic]. I should be all right."
Technically, the Classic is an exhibition tournament. But as Bay learned three years ago, it is an electric atmosphere that he will be more ready for this time around.
"I kind of went into it with no expectations last time, and one thing that kind of caught me off-guard was once you got out there, you couldn't simulate the atmosphere," said Bay, who is playing for Canada. "There's no toning it back. There's one switch, and it's 'on' and you go. Understanding that, I think now I'm prepared for it."
Though this is the first Classic for Pedroia, the high-voltage atmosphere will likely be far better suited to his mentality than the laid-back vibe of Spring Training.
"Yeah, Spring Training is tough," Pedroia said. "You try to get your work done. I'm the type of player that I only care about winning. That's what makes me play better. Sometimes, playing Spring Training games can get a little too relaxed."
And as Ortiz can attest to, there is nothing relaxing about playing for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. To the natives back home, the DR's success in the tournament is a source of immense national pride.
"It means a lot -- that's all they talk about," Ortiz said. "We've been talking about this for years. Everybody knows that there's a lot of Dominican players, that, if you look around the league and you look around the top 10 or top 20 players, you've got a whole bunch of guys from the Dominican representing. Just because of that, you see people back home going crazy about a tournament like this. You add all those good players together in one group, you never know what you can get."
But Ortiz, who plays 81 home games a year in Boston, knows all playing amid an intense environment.
"That's what you're living through every day at Fenway," Ortiz said. "Intensity. Getting it done. This is no different, you know?"
Youkilis doesn't really know, because he didn't play in the 2006 Classic. But he's looking forward to seeing what the buzz is about.
"Sometimes in life, it's better to just go into it and not try to ask someone a bunch of questions because you've got to experience yourself," Youkilis said. "Sometimes, if you have an image from other people, then you're expecting one thing. So I like to just go into it full throttle and absorb it all in."
While Youkilis, Pedroia, Ortiz and Matsuzaka are playing for nations with big expectations, Bay will try to help Canada pull off some upsets, much like they did three years ago in a victory over Team USA.
"When we went the first time, our bracket was in Arizona, and although we didn't move up, we beat the U.S. and that beat hockey highlights on TSN," Bay said. "It's really a no-lose situation. You go in and you don't win, 'Hey, you weren't supposed to.' If you do like we did a couple of years ago [against Team USA], it kind of makes it that much more enjoyable, that much sweeter."
One thing different for Bay in this tournament is that he will play center field. For most of his career, Bay has primarily played left. This will be his first time in center since 2005, when he played 30 games there for the Pirates.
"I told them, as long as you're not expecting Torii Hunter out there, I'll play," said Bay.
As for Red Sox manager Terry Francona, he will now be scrambling on certain days to fill out his lineup card.
"The next home game, we want to play all our regulars, and there's only four there," Francona said. "Bay is gone, Ortiz is gone, Youkilis is gone, Pedroia is gone. I guess some of our concern is especially when we make road trips to not feel like fans are getting cheated, and that's going to be hard."
Aside from that, Francona just hopes his players who play in the Classic come back healthy.
"I think it's great -- the players that want to go should go," Francona said. "I don't have any [problem with that]. But it's just hard from where we sit. This is the way we make our living. And if somebody comes back from that thing, especially a pitcher and they're not healthy, it directly gets in the way you make your living, and that's hard. If Dice-K comes back and his arm is sore, you can't go out and get another Dice-K. That's just being realistic."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.