FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The spring training house is different, as are its surroundings. This rental is much bigger than the rest of Josh Beckett's previous six spring training homes since the pitcher's arrival with the Red Sox. And whereas golf clubs often occupied any empty space, now 4-month-old Ryann Beckett and her toys rule the roost.
Out on the lanai sits Ryann's 31-year-old dad. Despite the changed venue, he doesn't seem much different at all. Same demeanor. Same attire. Same dry wit. Same lip full of chewing tobacco. And -- contrary to some reports -- the same general physique.
There is nothing to indicate a tidal wave of controversy had washed over Beckett.
"I'm just as happy as I've ever been," he said.
Why not? He is coming off one of the best seasons of his career, has just started a young family with his wife, Holly, is healthy and finds himself in just the second year of a four-year deal that will pay him $68 million, with not just financial security but also the ability to remain in Boston for the duration of the deal if he so pleases thanks to having been in the majors for 10 years and on the same team for five.
But the reality is that the last few months have surfaced a faction who would have countered with "Why?" instead of "Why not?"
In one of the most tumultuous offseasons in Red Sox history, Beckett became one of the chief talking points when discussing his team's historic September collapse. Mentions of the American League's fifth-best ERA (2.89) have been few and far between, with most of his 2011 being drowned out by questions of weight, attitude, beer and chicken. People wanted their pound of flesh, and some were doing their best to make sure it came off the hide of the All-Star starter.
Now, thanks to an hour-long interview with WEEI.com, Beckett serves up answers. Why he changed, why he isn't changing and what exactly happened during a stretch that the pitcher looks at through a drastically different prism than any of his critics.
"The snitching [expletive], that's [expletive]. It's not good."
"I loved Terry Francona. At the end it got difficult for me sometimes with Tito, with him as the manager. But he didn't deserve to leave like that."
"I'm not going to apologize for being distracted. It's not going to happen."
And, perhaps the most important quote to consider …
"I wouldn't trade what I have now for three World Series rings. I wouldn't do it."
'MORE IMPORTANT THINGS …'
Perhaps the best place to start is in the hours where it all ended for the 2011 Red Sox. It was that night that perhaps offered the best example as to where Beckett was coming from as the Sox' season, and offseason, got turned inside-out.
It was just before 6 p.m. on Sept. 28, the day that would decide if the Red Sox would survive a 7-19 September to that point and make the postseason. For the previous four weeks, on every road trip, Beckett had made sure a plane was ready to head back to Boston if Holly was going to go into labor with the couple's first child. Toronto. Tampa. New York. And now Baltimore.
Word came down that Beckett's wife had gone into labor. It was just an hour before first pitch for the final regular-season game was to be thrown. The righty wasn't starting, but he was being considered to start a one-game playoff against the Rays if it got to that point despite having pitched just two days prior. On his way out to the field for warm-ups, Red Sox manager Terry Francona stopped his pitcher for a quick conversation about what was happening and contingency plans for the next 24 hours or so.
"I wasn't thinking about that game," admitted Beckett.
As soon as the game, and season, ended, Beckett was out the clubhouse door, having to make sure he caught a plane just an hour after Robert Andino's walk-off RBI single. He was home by 2:15 a.m., on his way to the hospital by 3:30 a.m. and a new father by noon.
"I went from the lowest of the lows to my having my daughter in 12 hours," he said. "I already had that plane booked, whether we won or lost. I was leaving as everybody else was in there licking their wounds. I had to get out of Baltimore by 1 o'clock to be able to land in Boston. I wanted to stay there if we won and Tampa Bay lost for me to say, 'Good job, guys,' and then I had to leave at the same time anyway. It just so happened at midnight I left the stadium and she was born the next day. Everything worked out great, except for us losing that game."
Beckett would be insulated from the chaos that ensued after season's end, tending to his new daughter first in Boston and then on the family's Internet-less Texas ranch. It wasn't until November that he started catching wind of the fallout, with Red Sox team president Larry Lucchino calling him with a message of encouragement and support, already referencing 2012.
"I'm fine with it if it takes more pressure off other guys because I can deal with it," Beckett said of the criticism. "It's not going to affect who I am at home. It's not going to affect who I am in the clubhouse. I wasn't even supposed to be here in spring training. But I was completely removed for six weeks when I went home."
The scenario offered a glimpse as to where Beckett was coming from during the time in question, and why he took the tact he did. But it did not represent a departure. In fact, the right-hander offered a glimpse into his state of mind in a late-August interview with WEEI.com.
"Baseball isn't my No. 1 priority anymore," he said at that time. "Everybody goes through that change. Some people might go through that change before that even happens, but I definitely find myself thinking about [Holly and the baby] whereas a lot of times I used to be thinking about how I was going to get this guy out, or what I needed to do that day. They're my central focus.
"Maybe a couple of months into the pregnancy, it started to become real," he continued. "When you first find out you're pregnant, there are a lot of different emotions, but it's not quite real yet. But then you get a couple of months in and you go to the doctor's appointment once a month, check in on the baby, do that first ultrasound, and it becomes real then. You realize that person is going to completely depend on me and it literally wouldn't live without us. It's something I'm really looking forward to. Since the time I've wanted it, I've wanted it bad."
At that point, the Red Sox were 30 games over .500 and Beckett was living life as their ace, carrying an 11-5 mark with a 2.43 ERA. Even in the Sept. 16 press conference in which the pitcher reiterated that he viewed "other things" as more important than baseball, the Sox had just beaten Tampa Bay, with Beckett earning the victory after allowing three runs over six innings.
But then came Beckett's two losses to Baltimore, the Sox' official end to their season and an October of fans looking for scapegoats. Perception changed.
This is where Beckett won't budge.
"I remember I was in the press conference where I got aired out by everybody for saying this, but it was when Holly and I were dealing with all this stuff and I had just won the game I pitched," he remembered. "Somebody asked me, 'How's it feel to step up for your teammates?' I pitched good. I got torn apart. Everybody just destroyed me because I cared more about what was going on with my wife than I did that game. I almost think people want me to think the other way around, and I think that's absolutely absurd. To ask a man to care more about a Major League Baseball game -- and I know it's a Major League Baseball game -- than he does about what's going on with his wife, who's due any minute. And I never want her to be an excuse. Yeah, I was distracted, but that's not her problem. That's on me. I would never trade that."
This is the message the pitcher wants to make clear: This is all on him. The priorities -- which he stands firmly behind -- were formed by him, not by his wife or anyone else.
"If somebody reads this or somebody thinks I'm wrong, they can go [expletive] themselves. That's the truth. That's what's important to me," he said. "I'm not saying baseball is not important. I could differentiate on the day I was pitching. I went out there and I was still as competitive. I'm not saying my mind was only focused on just this pitch because I did have other things on my mind. Whether you want to understand that or not, I don't care because I know who I am and what I'm trying to do.
"Somebody asked [Tim Wakefield] how he wanted to be remembered, and he said, 'A good dad and a good husband.' Because one day that's what we're going to be. Right now we're baseball players, but that's what we do and that's not who we are. You can't let that define us.
"I was like that. I was married to baseball for a long time. I had a lot of moments where I started feeling guilty about that. For so long every day was around baseball and then all of a sudden now you have a wife and she's pregnant. I kind of felt guilty. I actually had a talk with a guy who went through a similar situation and he just told me that everybody goes through it. You just have to remember that it's OK for something else to be more important than baseball. The switch went on that day and I felt better about it. But, before, I did feel guilty about it."
ABOUT THE ANKLE AND THE WEIGHT
Like much of what was being circulated about the Red Sox, Beckett didn't realize his late-season waistline had become such a talking point throughout October. He realized there had been some weight gain, not because of the hypothesis made by many (beer), but, according to Beckett, rather due to an altered workout routine made necessary because of an injured ankle (no running), along with the altered lifestyle that comes with being an expectant father.
He knew those last two starts against Baltimore -- in which he gave up six runs in each -- weren't good, but everything up that point had suggested a favorable impression had been left. Not only was his ERA a career best, but only Tampa Bay's James Shields turned in better numbers against the American League East, with Beckett going 8-2 with a 2.84 ERA in 14 starts against teams in his own division.
But, for many, the last impression was the one that stuck.
"It's not like I was standing behind the mound, bent over breathing heavy. It wasn't anything like that," he said. "It wasn't something I thought about. We all put on a little weight during the year. I can't help that I wasn't pitching good and people notice that. Another thing people have to realize is baseball players aren't supermodels. We don't all look like Jacoby Ellsbury. I wish I did, but I don't. I never have and I never will. We're Major League Baseball players. We get paid because we're really flexible in our arms, that's the only thing. I'm not a professional athlete in anything else. It's just kind of crazy. This has become this big deal about how we're supposed to look like Jacoby. If I worked out for 23 hours a day I still wouldn't look like Jacoby. It's just not in my DNA.
"I never missed a workout. If anything … one of the things we've changed this year about the pitchers' workouts is that we started doing squats last year during the season because [I] felt good doing them. But at the end of the year there was some dissension among the medical staff where some of them wanted us to do it and some of us didn't. Now we don't do squats. I loved them. I did them all the way through September. The only thing I cut back from is that I couldn't run, but I was riding the bike the same amount of time. … There are reasons why I gained weight last year. It doesn't have anything to do with my wife, either. That's life. You go through things like this. It's just the way it is."
In many ways, it was the day Beckett suffered his ankle injury after slipping coming out of the bullpen before his Sept. 5 start in Toronto when things started heading in the wrong direction. Not only did the incident make him miss his next start, but it also served as the jumping-off point for a series which some believe truly pushed the Red Sox into choppy waters.
"We were kind of in the midst of the stuff starting to stir up," he remembered. "That's when we were starting to get it from both ends. We definitely started noticing all these news companies starting sending somebody waiting for us to fall on our ass. We knew we weren't playing well. We were already playing bad, but we still had time."
After returning to Boston to get his ankle checked, Beckett came back to a team that had rebounded from its series-opening loss with a much-needed 14-0 win. The next day, Francona held a team meeting that was meant to address some lingering issues, but, according to Beckett, seemed to derail the momentum from the night before.
"Everybody thought that was odd, and then we went out and lost that game," he remembered. "That's when things started getting weird. We had holes in our ship already, but it was still too early to tell what was going to happen."
Beckett, who correctly points out that when healthy he typically pitches well, made three starts after the ankle injury, coming back to turn in six solid innings against Tampa Bay. But it was the limitations between starts that may have meant the most when it came to analyzing the injury.
"I had to alter things," he said of his September workouts. "It wasn't bothering me a lot pitching. If I wanted to make a fast cut or something -- pitching wasn't a huge issue -- but if I had to go field a bunt and plant on it, that's when it would really bother me. And then it would take me a little while before I got back on the mound and throw a pitch because I needed to recuperate."
ONE CLUBHOUSE, TWO MANAGERS
Beckett wasn't surprised when the Red Sox hired Bobby Valentine. Ever since Ben Cherington took his new title, the team's general manager and his pitcher had talked on the phone almost on a weekly basis.
And even with the initial suggestion by Valentine that Beckett seemed "pissed" during the pair's initial phone conversation, the righty came away with nothing but positive vibes when digesting both the first talk and the New Year's Day face-to-face meeting at Beckett's home.
He liked Francona, but he also was keeping an open mind.
"They were looking for somebody that was different than Tito. I don't know why. That's what they were looking for. I don't get paid to make those decisions. When Bobby called me I got the message, called him back the next day and we had a 30-minute talk about pitching coaches and all kind of stuff," Beckett said.
Included in the first talk was the subject that offered the only fly in the ointment when it came to building a relationship between player and new manager -- Valentine's criticism of Beckett's pace during an ESPN broadcast.
Beckett simply wanted to explain his side of things, which centered around a strategy that helped him have more success against the Yankees than any other pitcher in 2011 (4-0, 1.85 ERA in five starts).
"My side was: What is pitching? Pitching is upsetting the timing of hitting. What is hitting? Hitting is timing the pitcher," Beckett said. "So for me, instead of standing on the rubber already and waiting for their whole walk-up song, [expletive] it. I can play the waiting game. I'm going to be out there for 110 pitches anyway."
But while Beckett is optimistic about his relationship with Valentine, he hasn't forgotten Francona.
"I loved Terry Francona," he said. "At the end it got difficult for me sometimes with Tito, with him as the manager. He didn't deserve to leave like that. I don't know who had that much dislike for Terry Francona, but that's bad because I have the utmost respect for Terry Francona. I look back at my time with him and it's nothing but good times. He was really awesome. He helped me grow up. He kicked me in the ass whenever I needed to be kicked in the ass, and he picked me up whenever I needed to be picked up. If there is one thing I can guarantee it's he deserves another manager's job. There's no doubt in my mind.
"He didn't deserve any of [the negative personal revelations following the season]. He has stuff going on his private life, he doesn't talk about them, nobody else needs to talk about them. That's his own deal. Sometimes it seems like, it doesn't matter who you are, when it's time for you to leave you get a swift kick in the ass and somebody kicks you in the ass when you get around the corner. I thought if he wanted to be back, he should have been back."
The exit of Francona clearly upsets Beckett, as do many of the reports that accompanied the former Red Sox manager's exit.
"Somebody made that stuff up, just like somebody made up that we were doing stuff … This is stupid," he said. "I don't understand what the big deal is. Somebody was trying to save their own ass, and it probably cost a lot of people their asses. The snitching [expletive], that's [expletive]. It's not good.
"There's two things with the clubhouse thing that I have a problem with: If I'm going to say something about the clubhouse, my name is going to be on it. The second thing is you never want to be remembered as that guy because that will follow wherever you go. It's just mind-boggling to me."
All of it has led to a new manager, new rules (no alcohol in the clubhouse) and perhaps a little different approach toward living life as a Red Sox.
But Beckett also is able to summarize how quickly he expects the past to be put in the rear-view mirror, using the analogy, "We have a joke on the starting staff, that the best job in in the world is the winning pitcher yesterday. That's the best job in the world."
It's a day -- and feeling -- he knows finally is right around the corner.
"[Expletive] happens," Beckett said. "Whether you controlled it, or you didn't control it, or you could have controlled it better. [Expletive] happens. We're human beings playing a human being sport.
"It's just the way it is. Effort level has always been the same. I don't think we need to change. I remember having that conversation with Ben. We don't have problems in our clubhouse. We just don't. That almost hurts my feelings when people say that because I feel we have a lot of guys who really get along with everybody. That hurts my feelings because that's just not true. I have a really good read on what's going on in the clubhouse, and not one time did I say, 'These guys are fixing to go at it.' That's not the way we are. We're with each other as much as we're with our own families. I have two brothers and once in a while we get in fist fights. That's just the way it is.
"We do not have a bad clubhouse. We did not have a bad clubhouse even when we were 7-20. I felt everybody in there felt like it was their fault, and as much as it sucks having that feeling going into the offseason I think everybody handled it about as good as you can. You can't go back on it. A couple of years ago I had a bad year and everybody said, 'What are you going to do to make up for 2010?' Probably nothing."
The 2011 season ended in a fashion that no one around the Red Sox could have predicted or wanted, Beckett included. But he will not allow the disappointment to taint what it has meant, and what it means, for him to be at this time and place in his career and life.
Beckett is comfortable in his own skin, comfortable in who he is and comfortable where he is.
"I love Boston. I love this part of Boston. Because whenever I'm done playing I'm going to have a lot more to remember than somebody that just had a career where they were playing. I love that," he said. "That's what Boston sports are about. That's why the fans are the way they are. I think about this all the time. It's so awesome to play in that environment. I'm going to remember the downs, I'm going to remember the ups. I'm going to remember it all. You have those ups and downs. I'm going to remember that, and that's cool to me. Some people might say just go out the win the World Series every year, and that would be nice, although unlikely. But I'm going to enjoy the bad times, not necessarily when I'm in them, but when I look back at my career."