04/15/2013 12:14 PM ET
Napoli happy to be free from grind of catching
By Ian Browne and Jason Mastrodonato / MLB.com
BOSTON -- Mike Napoli points toward his locker, waving his finger around in the general direction of a bag that carries some of his old possessions.
He thinks it's hiding in there, stuffed beneath some unfolded shirts, perhaps. Napoli doesn't bother getting up to find it.
He has no use for a catcher's mitt anymore.
"I got it," he says. "Somewhere."
Barring any unforeseen incident, this will be the first season in Napoli's career in which he doesn't spend a good portion of his playing time crouched down behind the plate. In every season until now, Napoli has registered at least 200 at-bats of his playing time while serving as a catcher, or a third of his team's games.
The Red Sox have played 11 games and Napoli hasn't caught one of them. His body has never felt better.
"It was a grind at times," he said. "You really enjoy that, being back there and working with the pitcher and stuff. Being in Spring Training, and how my body feels now compared to how it used to feel coming out of Spring Training, I don't miss that. I don't miss the grind. It's tough back there. You're taking foul tips all the time, you're up and down, you're tired. You get to your third at-bat and your legs are spent. That's the part I don't miss."
Two weeks into the new season, Napoli is enjoying himself at first base, where he has yet to make an error.
"I actually feel good," he said. "When I used to play there every once in a while, it was like, 'Just hit it somewhere else.' I don't want to mess up the pitcher, I don't want anything to happen because of me, where the pitcher is out there busting his tail and I'm over there making errors.
"Now I want the ball. I want the ball hit to me and I want to make a play."
There's something to be said for keeping your mind in the game, being in every pitch, crafting together a sequence that may fool some of the best hitters in the world.
That's the part he misses.
When Napoli was behind the plate, his own results with a bat were much better. In 1,667 career at-bats as catcher, Napoli has hit .265 with a .362 on-base percentage and .879 OPS. In 455 at-bats at first base, Napoli has hit .235 with a 319 on-base percentage and .778 OPS.
Hitting .217 with two home runs and 10 RBIs entering Monday, Napoli hasn't found his stride yet, but he thinks he's almost there. A two-run double into the center-field triangle Sunday showed his manager the same thing.
"I think, of late, he's gaining some consistency to his timing, particularly on some pitches away," manager John Farrell said. "When he's right, he's driving those balls to right-center field or staying in the middle of the field. He's gaining some consistency."
Count Farrell among Francona's admirers
BOSTON -- Red Sox manager John Farrell couldn't help but smile when he saw that he had a text message waiting from Terry Francona on Monday morning.
With Farrell and the Red Sox getting set to play Francona's Indians on Tuesday night in Cleveland, it's time for the floodgates to open on what is sure to be some good-natured trash talking over the next three days.
Francona and Farrell have been good friends since 1988, when they were teammates with the Indians. The relationship grew stronger from 2007-10, when Farrell was Francona's pitching coach in Boston.
They celebrated a World Series championship in 2007 and combined to help guide the Red Sox to Game 7 of the '08 American League Championship Series.
"You know, before I came up [to the interview room], I had a text on my phone waiting, so I'm sure that it's some remark that will start three days of some bantering back and forth," Farrell said. "It's always fun, whether it's the conversations before or after the game or what takes place inside it. I know one thing. They've got a very good lineup. They'll be well prepared."
This won't be the first time they've managed against each other. In 2011, Francona was still with the Red Sox and Farrell was Toronto's manager.
But this series will have a more emotional feel, considering it will be the first time Francona has managed against the Red Sox since his parting with the team following the 2011 season. Farrell also has deep roots with the Indians, where he was a farm director for five years before taking the job on Francona's staff in Boston.
What impressed Farrell the most about Francona's managing style?
"His ability to blend the personalities that have come through this clubhouse door over the eight years he was here," Farrell said. "He had such a knack and a way to connect with so many different people and to bring them all to a common point. Players love playing for him. They ran through the wall for him. He just had a way of making every player know or feel that he was behind them, supported them, and if there were any issues, which there were, that it was handled in an appropriate way."
When the stakes were at the highest, Farrell remembers Francona's ability to stay calm in the heat of the moment, such as the late innings of clinching Game 4 of the 2007 World Series.
"In the heat of the moment, when there was a double-switch we were going through, I believe there were some other things going on," Farrell said. "I guess the overriding thing is that in a very important moment there was a calmness about him.
"And his ability to think on his feet was second to none. And I can't give you the exact details that transpired, but it was in a pretty important moment of time and he always gave off the impression that he had everything under control and could very easily handle all the different things that were thrown at him, and come up with the right decision."
Red Sox celebrate diversity on Jackie Robinson Day
BOSTON -- The diversity in the Red Sox clubhouse extends beyond race, but manager John Farrell is sure that whatever unique traits his 25 players bring, they'll be accepted.
It all started with accepting Jackie Robinson in the Major Leagues on April 15, 1947.
"The one thing that we always look to establish here is an accepting environment," Farrell said. "Baseball, to me, without getting so philosophical, this is something that is -- I don't want to say a testing ground -- but it reflects society in so many ways that whether it's the color barrier broken down, you've got six or seven countries being represented and you come together as a group of 25. You look to not only coexist but accept the individuality of every player that's in there.
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"Certainly the Robinson family, and Jackie himself, may be one of the most significant situations in our country's history, breaking down segregation to the point of inclusion. And I think that continues to happen in the game today."
The Red Sox and Rays dressed in uniforms donning No. 42 for Monday's game at Fenway Park. The Red Sox will again wear No. 42 Tuesday in Cleveland. In 1997, under the direction of Commissioner Bud Selig, Robinson's No. 42 was retired across all of Major League Baseball in an unprecedented tribute.
Monday, ceremonial first pitches were thrown by Carl Cruz and Khalid Bilal, descendants of soldiers from the 54th Massachusetts Regiment Volunteer Infantry. The 54th was the first military unit consisting of black soldiers to be raised in the North during the Civil War.
Farrell also thinks homosexuality should be accepted in baseball clubhouses.
"I think that goes back to just creating an environment that's accepting," the manager said. "There are going to be people of all walks of life. We respect the rights of every individual that walks through that clubhouse. The most important thing is that that respect is mutual and that we work toward a common goal.
"And our goal is clearly stated, and that's to win a World Series."
Lackey set to begin throwing program
BOSTON -- Red Sox right-hander John Lackey is feeling better by the day and will start a throwing program on Tuesday that could have him back on the mound fairly soon.
When Lackey initially injured his right biceps on April 6 in Toronto, it looked like he could be out a while.
But if things continue to progress like they have been, Lackey could return right around the time he is eligible to come off the disabled list, which is April 22.
"He's actually going to begin a throwing program tomorrow," said Red Sox manager John Farrell on Monday. "His symptoms have subsided, so any kind of range of motion that he's going through, where just a couple days ago he felt a little bit of tightness, that is gone. So we'll initiate that tomorrow."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. Jason Mastrodonato is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @jmastrodonato. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.