Mike Napoli is looking to return to form in 2015. (Getty Images)
FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox haven’t even had their first full squad workout but already Mike Napoli feels like a new man.
The slugger who had offseason surgery to address severe sleep apnea can feel an increase in energy and motivation when he heads to the ballpark.
“It’s been night and day,” Napoli said Monday morning. “Just my energy level when I wake up, I get out of bed and get my day started. Before I’d lay in bed until one o’clock. It’s totally different.”
Napoli looks trimmer than the beginning of last season, when he was still dealing with severe sleep deprivation that was sapping him of energy, making it difficult to deal with and overcome the nagging injuries of the last three seasons.
“You just have to be able to stay in the gym and get your workouts in and take care of your body,” he said. “It’s nutrition, working out and getting sleep. Now I can get sleep, which is probably going to help me out a lot. Just recovery, you get nicked up during a long season, you have to be able to recover and hopefully, I’ll be able to do that now.”
On Dec. 3, 2012, Napoli agreed to a three-year, $39 million deal with the Red Sox, pending a physical. Following a six-week period, the status of the deal was in question after his physical showed signs of a hip issue. He eventually agreed to play 2013 for $13 million.
He re-signed for two years and $32 million after helping the Red Sox to the World Series title. Last year, his numbers dipped. He batted just .248 with 17 homers and 55 RBIs in 119 games. But with his finger, knee, toe and back injuries resolved and his sleep apnea hopefully in the past, Napoli has a lot to look forward to with a rebuilt Red Sox order. He’ll have Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval and David Ortiz ahead of him in the lineup.
“It’s been great. We’re going to have a deep lineup,” Napoli said. “It’s going to be fun. Those guys have been around here for a couple of weeks now. We’ve all been getting along and having a good time. Just getting out there and working on our game.”
“There’s a good vibe going around. It feels a little like 2013 in here. Just having fun. Even the ground ball sessions right now. We’re having fun getting our work in and working hard. We had a good time bonding [at Foxwoods in late January]. We’re learning each other and getting to know each other. It’s nice to do that and it’s been fun.”
It’s been so much fun that Napoli bought a house in Boston and is loving life now.
“I just feel like the city fits me,” Napoli said. “It’s a fun city. I like the people. Of course, I go out and hang out with the people. It’s just a good time. I like it. I bought a place there.
“I’m glad I got out of there about three weeks ago. My balcony is probably filled with snow.”
Christian Vazquez leads by example: Christian Vazquez has high goals. He wants to be the next Ivan Rodriguez. “Pudge” Rodriguez was his idol growing up in Puerto Rico and is the reason that he is now wearing the No. 7 this season with the Red Sox.
“He’s my idol,” Vazquez said. “I want to be like him. He’s a great catcher with 13 Gold Gloves. I want to be like him.”
Based on the cannon of an arm he showed in his first year in 2014, he’s off on the right foot toward his goal.
“I take a lot of pride in that,” Vazquez said of his arm that helped him throw out 38 percent of would-be minor league base-runners since 2008. “That helps my pitcher and team to [prevent] runs.”
But Vazquez wants to be more. Like a leader. He has spent more and more time talking to his pitchers.
“They were spending every day with me, talking about everything,” Vazquez said. “I’m ready. I’m ready to help the team to win and help my teammates. We have a great group here, great pitchers and great offense. We’re trying to win this year and go to the playoffs. I’m here to win and help the team. I’m excited.
“I’m going to try to be the same guy as last year, be a leader and help my pitchers and team and trying to win.”
Helping him is Jason Varitek.
“He helps with little things like calling games and skills to help me catch and get me better,” Vazquez said. “He’s a great teacher and I like him. He tells me [to learn] what the pitcher likes and what he doesn’t like. That’s what helps me get on the same page with the pitcher.”
His teammates can already see how good the 23-year-old catcher is.
“He’s pretty special,” Mike Napoli said. “He wants to learn. He’s good behind the plate and works well with the pitchers. He’s got a cannon. He’s growing, he’s growing up quick. He had to.”
Runners are also learning.
“There’s been a couple of guys,” Napoli said of his conversations with baserunners at first. “Of course I mess around, ‘You probably don’t want to run on this guy.’ He has a great arm. He’s able to back pick guys. He shortens their secondary [leads] up, which helps our middle infielders on double plays. He’s special. He’s a special talent.
“They know. We go over scouting reports. We know when guys can throw and guys can’t. I’m pretty sure the league already knows about him.”