02/23/10 6:11 PM EST
Late-blooming Scutaro secure in camp
After proving his worth, shortstop chasing ring with Red Sox
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
But the late bloomer, at the age of 34, enters a season knowing that he is the starter at a key position (shortstop) for one of the marquee teams in baseball (the Red Sox).
Life is pretty good these days for Scutaro, who pounced on the opportunity he was given to lead off for the Blue Jays last year and parlayed it into a golden opportunity for the Red Sox.
Is this the most secure he's felt at the outset of Spring Training?
"Definitely," said Scutaro. "Pretty much every year, I had to probably make the team, or something like that. This year, it's a little bit different. I know I'm going to be in there every day. It makes it easier for you."
Scutaro is, in a sense, a feel-good story. He isn't the shortest infielder on the Red Sox. Dustin Pedroia is the hands-down winner there. But like Pedroia, Scutaro has grinded for everything he has achieved, only it has taken Scutaro a lot longer to achieve prominence.
"When he played, he made the plays," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "For whatever reason, wherever he was, he was viewed more as a utility player. I don't know the reason. I wasn't around him enough. But I know how we feel. We're excited to have him as our shortstop. I was saying before, it's a funny game sometimes. Sometimes guys mature at different stages -- sometimes you just get a break and run with it."
Ask Scutaro why he is finally a starter instead of a role player, and he doesn't quite know what to say.
"Sometimes you don't have any control over that stuff," Scutaro said. "I spent four years in Oakland as a utility guy, but I ended up playing pretty much 100 games every year. What can I say? I always thought I can do the job every day. But like I said before, you have no control over that kind of stuff."
It says something that the A's, realizing it was a mistake to let him go in the first place, were Boston's top competitors for his service this winter.
Despite three guaranteed years from Oakland vs. two by Boston, it wasn't a hard decision for Scutaro.
"I just wanted to come here, because we had a chance to win. That's what it's all about," said Scutaro. "As a player, you want to win. That's why you prepare the whole year."
Amid a losing season in Toronto last year, Scutaro blossomed, scoring 100 runs, hitting .282 and pestering pitchers to the tune of a .382 on-base percentage.
Though Francona hasn't settled on a lineup yet, the presence of Jacoby Ellsbury makes it likely Scutaro will hit toward the bottom.
"I don't care," said Scutaro. "[I'll bat] wherever they need me. I think my game -- whether I'm leading off, second-hole, eighth [or] ninth -- is pretty much going to be my game. Just try to get on base and score runs for the team."
Defensively, Scutaro is a solid player who will provide steadiness at a position that was a revolving door for the Sox in 2009. One clear luxury Scutaro will have in Boston is having a Gold Glove defender on both sides of him, with Adrian Beltre playing third and Pedroia at second.
"It's good, man. I only have to worry about the routine ground balls," Scutaro said. "The ones to my right, [Beltre's] s probably going to get, and the ones to the middle, Pedroia's probably going to get."
If the season ends the way Scutaro plans, he will be back in the postseason for the first time since 2006, when his Athletics advanced to the American League Championship Series.
"It's priceless," Scutaro said about the chance to play in October. "I'm excited."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.