DENVER -- Last year, there was something new seemingly every day.
Perhaps it started with the Bobby Valentine's spring training run-in with Mike Aviles during pop-up drills. But it certainly didn't end there. Day after day, there was some sort of drama, controversy or bout of chaos that had nothing to do with what transpired while the Red Sox were actually playing baseball.
When former Red Sox infielder Nick Punto described playing baseball in Boston from 7-10 p.m. as "the best thing," it not only highlighted all that was good about wearing a Red Sox uniform, but also everything that made 2012 uncomfortable outside of those hours.
"Last year everything was a big deal," said Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz. "Plus, I don't think we were handling things the right way, either. There were a lot of things."
When the opportunity arose for the Red Sox to steer clear of the chaos, almost every time they seemingly kept driving right into it. And even when the road appeared to be free and clear of the extracurricular stuff, the Valentine-led bunch managed to alter course right back into the drama.
It was a reality new Red Sox manager John Farrell became well aware of upon entering into life as the team's new leader. That's why changing course became one of his biggest priorities.
"As Ben [Cherington] made me aware of some of the challenges that emerged, and some of the potential distractions that came about, my thought was: How do you encompass everything and shift the attention to one thing? One that that would benefit all of us was making the game the most important thing, with everything else leading up to that taking care of itself," Farrell said. "The focus and attention should be just that, the game."
It's why in his opening statements to his new team, keeping the focus on the field became one of the chief mandates.
"If a message was stated, it was, 'This is where our attention needs to reside.' The more that is reminded and repeated, it draws us back to that centering point and builds up that shield for some of those things that might penetrate," Farrell said.
"It was a definite talking point, along with the tone we wanted to set with the style of play, how we were going to achieve that. But the biggest factor in all of this was the type of players we have. The game is the priority to all of them. So this was just a direction and the focal point that we wanted all our attention to be geared towards."
The conversation changed early on.
Such seemingly minute items as spring training bus rides and clubhouse drinking policies were never surfaced, and if they were, the topics were deflected. It was a far cry from the tack taken the previous season when each item became a narrative for the season.
"That potential exists in many ways," Farrell said of the inevitable distractions. "It's just staying in tune with the guys we have and having a conversation to minimize it rather than neglecting it and letting it become a bigger issue.
"With a group of 40 people there are going to be things that don't go right all the time. How do we handle it behind closed doors to address it? The most important thing in all of this is the group of guys we have. They are a very focused group by nature. They've come here to rewrite a story, and they're doing that."
Why the current group has managed to help the process of zeroing in on life between the lines, as Farrell pointed out, there are always going to be issues. Some were never surfaced publicly (a tradition former Red Sox manager Terry Francona religiously abided by during his tenure in Boston). But some were, such as many of the issues involving pitcher Alfredo Aceves … starting with a spring training batting practice session when the the righty offered 50 mph fastballs.
It was seemingly the first true potential distraction thrown the new manager's way.
"I don't know if you want to say its a test, but at the same time there are boundaries you want to establish, and along with that becomes behavior, and when behavior falls outside of that then that's where it falls on our coaches or myself to pull that back in," Farrell said. "We have to say, 'This is why we're here. This is the standard we want to set and this is what is acceptable.' Anything other than that has to be addressed."
But, as Farrell pointed out, the manager setting the tone can only go so far. There comes a time when self-policing has to take over, and, by most accounts, this year's American League East champs did a pretty good job of that.
The majority of the regulars on this roster have been to the postseason, so there is an understanding of what it takes to play past September. Part of that is not letting the non-nine-inning noise (especially in Boston) rule the roost.
"We're fortunate we have a core group of players here set the standard that is accepted," the manager said. "When certain things drifted outside of that, they were the first to remind guys. That's what you need. That's what good teams have. They have guys that speak their mind in the right way and not turn their back on something that grows into something more."
Still, the players will tell you that a reminder -- and decree -- by their manager was what set the tone. Six months later, as the Red Sox ride the best record in the majors into the postseason, the emphasis remains the same.
"Not too many things have happened, but there are always some things that happen," Ortiz said. "Then it all depends on what type of skipper you have to deal with those things. From what I understand, our skipper is the best in dealing with those things. He doesn't want to put players in tough spots with fixable things. He always has our back."