The last anybody saw of J.D. Drew was in amidst the chaos of the final game of the Red Sox' 2011 season.
Like the rest of the players in the visiting clubhouse in Camden Yards, Drew was coming to grips with a season-ending 4-3 loss to the Orioles, and the punctuation of the team's historic September collapse. His last act would be standing in front of Carl Crawford, vigorously insisting that the outfielder shouldn't be blamed for not making the catch on the decisive play of the season, while offering little insight regarding his own future plans.
That was it. After that, no more J.D.
He was only 35 years old, but he was perfectly content in disappearing. Nothing in the offseason. Nothing in spring training. And nothing once the 2012 season started. The only kind of update that existed came from Drew's agent, Scott Boras, who said during Jason Varitek's retirement ceremony in Fort Myers that Drew had drawn some interest from teams but seemed content living life as a stay-at-home dad on his 12-acre farm in rural Georgia.
But after another season of baseball -- this one without Drew for the first time since 1998 -- he has re-emerged.
"It just has kind of slipped by," Drew said by phone, talking while fixing his kids' bicycles and preparing for some hunting with a friend. "I wanted to give myself some time to get removed from the game and see what direction I wanted to go into."
While Drew's existence over the last 12 months might offer some eyebrow-raising for those unfamiliar with his personality or priorities, it really should be of little surprise. Maybe the fact that he will be spending next week in Cuba on a missionary trip might present some curiosity, but other than that his post-baseball life has been what one would expect.
Drew has spent the majority of time with his wife, Sheigh, and their two young children, working with church-based projects while occasionally hunting and constantly trying to make the adjustment of staying in one place for an extended period of time.
"Me and Sheigh were talking the other day, it's really hard to believe that the baseball season has ended. When you're part of a baseball season sometimes it feels like it lasts forever, especially those last couple of months," he said. "We've been home for just about a year now, just raising these kids. Jack started kindergarten last year, which was kind of a game plan when I signed with Boston. It would put me with a 13-year major league career, and the kids would be starting school, so I figured that would be a good time to fade out and start to focus on family and do that kind of stuff.
"We're just doing the stuff at home and merge three or four houses into one. People don't realize there is an overabundance when you play Major League Baseball of every single thing you own in your life, whether it's silverware, dishes, bath towels or bed sheets. It seems like you have triple or quadruple of everything. Then you relocate to one spot, its overwhelming. We're still going through stuff we've collected through the years."
Despite the pre-planned conclusion of Drew's five-year, $70 million deal with the Red Sox, there was plenty of unpredictability when it came to the actual end of his playing days. It was a tenure in Boston that wasn't without criticism, although it should be pointed out that Drew finished his stint with the Sox carrying an .824 OPS, with the team going 351-255 in games he played in. Still, when trying to pin down a final analysis of the run with the Red Sox, "uneven" probably serves as the best fit.
Through it all, he seemed to have a plan, hinting at retirement even before the '10 season. But there was still some thought that maybe his career had some time left past 2011.
"I was at a bow shop and was talking to my friend and this younger kid was there. It was getting close to the season and he asked me, "Are you going to go back and play?" I told him, "I think I'm done," and went on to talk about my finger and things like that," Drew remembered. "This kid was like, 'Man, you're crazy,' just hollering about not playing. And I can see it from that perspective, thinking it's the coolest job in the world. But at that point in time I had made complete peace that this was the best decision for me from a health standpoint and from the standpoint of being around home.
"At that point in time I was at peace with things. That being said, if somebody would have called up I don't know if I would have discussed it. But it was a lot relief for Sheigh that there were some peace in their life after living the life that wasn't that certain."
Drew thought '11 would offer clarity regarding his decision to retire. Instead, the decision only got murkier.
What was supposed to be a walk-off with a playoff-bound team disintegrated in that final month, with shoulder and finger injuries only adding more question marks.
"I really didn't know going into that last year," Drew said. "I really wasn't certain at that point and time what I was going to do. I kind of made it up in my mind when I signed the contract with Boston … I really wanted to go out on top last year and have a really solid season. But I had a hiccup with my left shoulder getting ready for the season during batting practice. I always had a loose shoulder and I just kind of dislocated it a little bit and it never healed to the point it didn't hurt. It really altered the way I was able to play the game from a hitting standpoint. When I did get my pitch I wasn't able to put a good swing on it. That had a lot to do with it, because I knew where I was physically.
"Unfortunately breaking my finger [an avulsion fracture] did not help in the whole scheme of things. And I can be completely honest -- my finger is still messed up. If I pick up a baseball bat right now and try and swing it, it almost puts me right back where I was at the end of the season as far as pain goes. It has finally gotten to the point where I can close my fist all the way, but not really well.
"In the end, if I had been completely healthy when the season ended and we would have made a strong run at things … things didn't unfold that way so there were a bunch of question marks in everybody's mind as well as my own going into the next season trying to negotiate with another team and seeing where I stood physically. There really wasn't a definitive answer there."
Then there was the anxiety that comes with life of a major leaguer.
Drew and Boston never were a perfect fit, but it was good enough to see his team win a World Series and 17 postseason games with the outfielder in the lineup. But it wasn't just the surroundings that led to some discomfort for Drew. Sometimes it was simply the game itself.
"I definitely didn't miss the stress and the pressure and the sleepless nights over whether I could hit a curveball or not, or who has the nasty changeup tomorrow. But as far as the competition goes, you're always a competitor, so there were things about the competition I missed," he said
"You have to understand, I come from an ignorance in baseball. We grew up in a football environment here in south Georgia. People got caught up the hoopla of what I did, but I didn't even know what I was doing. People would ask, 'How do you draw walks,' and I would be like, 'I don't know, if they throw the ball over the plate you try and hit it, and if it isn't you don't.' And the stress of dealing with and being upset with an umpiring crew, it got really bad. It's still to me where it should be. I think they want to see three-hour baseball games. I couldn't do the things I needed to do to be successful when I had to deal with that on a daily basis, and that really was one of the things that wasn't worth the stress. I don't like to have to yell at people, but I just couldn't figure that out."
Drew doesn't know exactly what his second year of baseball-free life will entail. There is a likelihood he will become more involved in missionary work, while also dabbling in some real estate ventures. It's also not as if he has shut himself off from the world of baseball completely, not only following the playoff run of his brother, Oakland shortstop Stephen Drew, but still keeping in contact with some former Red Sox teammates.
It was that communication that made watching the '12 Red Sox debacle from afar almost as painful as that final month in Boston.
"I guess when the regime changes as much as it did it's a little bit difficult of a circumstance. Watching the ups and downs of the season it's hard to see things unfold for certain players that you're pulling for," he said. "It's hard to witness a team you just spent five years with and see how things fell apart. But you have to know they have a desire to win. You can't be in that city and not want to win. It's critical to the environment of that city to have the Red Sox put together a winning program. But I'm pulling for them."
So, after it was all said and done, how does Drew view his time in Boston?
"I didn't know all the negativity because I didn't follow it. I was who I was and I had certain relationships with certain guys I really enjoyed," he explained. "To put it one way, Boston is probably one of the classiest organizations to play for of all the ones I played for. I don't look at it as a negative. We won a World Series. I have a lot of good memories, but have a lot of memories I wish we could erase, as well."
And then he reiterates, "It just has kind of slipped by." Out of Boston and into the tiny town of Hahira. Few would expect anything else.