FORT MYERS, Fla. – The question: “How have you changed since coming to Boston?”
The answer from J.D. Drew is frustratingly non-committal – a fact that, in its own way, reveals a great deal about the outfielder.
“It’s hard to say,” Drew mused. “Everybody changes at some level every year at some level, different league, different team, things like that.”
The reality? Boston hasn’t put much of a dent into Drew.
Red Sox manager Terry Francona’s quote last week could have been echoed the day Drew signed with Boston on Jan. 25, 2007.
“What we talked about with J.D. in our meeting was that when he’s on the field, we’re a different team,” Francona said. “There’s no getting around it. Whether he’s hitting fifth or whatever, and playing right field, we have a different look.”
The moment Scott Boras stood in the middle of the Swan and Dolphin Resort and Hotel in Orlando and announced that his client, Drew, would be headed to the Red Sox the questions and opinion started flying. They haven’t stopped.
And all the while Drew keeps being Drew. For better or worse, the New England baseball-playing environment hasn’t drastically altered the 33-year-old, on or off the field.
While displaying the talents that motivated the much-scrutinized $14 million a year deal in a Red Sox uniform, it has been pretty much the same old J.D. And for those who might debate Francona’s assertion, or insist that the slumps have out-weighed the excellence, the facts might get in the way.
Drew before coming to Boston (avg. per 500 plate appearances): 81.1 runs, 121.3 hits, 21.4 doubles, 21.7 home runs, 68.2 RBI, 70.9 walks, 91.8 strikeouts, a .395 on-base percentage, and a .286 batting average
Drew after coming to Boston (again, avg. per 500 plate appearances): 81.7 runs, 114.8 hits, 26.6 doubles, 15 home runs, 64.2 RBI, 79.2 walks, 90.3 strikeouts, a .393 on-base percentage, and a .275 batting average. (Then there are the postseason home runs against Cleveland, the Angels, and Tampa Bay to boost up his Boston resume.)
Bottom line: The Red Sox did have a point.
“I expected pretty much what I was thrown in Boston,” Drew said. “You do well, you play well, and focus on the game (and) everything will be fine. I really didn’t anticipate anything different. But as far as the following on the road and at home, it’s been incredible.”
It is, however, when he isn’t wearing his cleats that the drama sometimes comes Drew’s way, most of the time flying by wide left, wide right, or even seemingly just simply bouncing off the outfielder’s persona.
It is a process that began even before he was officially deemed a member of the organization, with Drew having to wait 52 days while the Red Sox formulated a contract that could allow the team to void the final two years of his five-year deal if:
A. He spends 35 days on the disabled list in either 2009 or ’10 with an injury related to the shoulder injury he sustained as a member of the Dodgers, or,
B. He finishes the 2009 or ’10 season on the disabled list and can’t play the outfield in the following season.
None of the injuries with which Drew has dealt have been related to the shoulder. As such, to date, none would jeopardize his five-year deal.
All the same, given the variety of aches and pains that have cropped up while Drew has been in a Red Sox uniform, it would be natural to expect that the player’s even-keeled armor might be vulnerable to the ammunition of concerns about his contract future. Think again.
“To be honest, I don’t even know,” said Drew of the particulars regarding the clause in the contract. “My shoulder has been the last thing that I’ve thought about. I knew that coming in. I think that was a big concern when they looked at the scans, but I told them it was OK. I had the surgery the previous year and I think what happened was that I was talking to the team doc and I told him when I came back from the surgery I really could hardly throw, but after some injections as the season went along my arm strength built up and said I still have a little ways to go but at the end of the year I was throwing well. They just probably saw some things on the scan. There was a big holdup …”
And that is it. Drew is perfectly content on letting everyone else worry about those sorts of things. Like it or not, he was his own person before heading over to the Red Sox and nothing has changed.
His back still hurts when he arrives at spring training. He’s going to deal with it with the same approach that has gotten him through an 11-season big league career.
Drew will continue to use such out-of-the-box devices such as his QRS machine, and hyperbaric chamber (“I left it back in Boston,” he said), prioritize playing at a high level and continue to deadpan his explanation to the approach.
“When you get to this point in your career you have an idea what you have to do to get ready,” Drew said. “This whole back injury has been one of those things that it does not matter how much you do when you have a herniated disc like that, you can’t just make it go away, which would be the nice thing. I’m very positive in the whole scheme of things (that) I can keep it strong and mobile and everything will be fine.”
To date, there has really only been one true instance where Drew has come out of his persona in the presence of the Red Sox-following observers. That came immediately after Game 7 of the 2008 American League Championship Series.
Drew had just been called out on a swinging third strike with the bases loaded, two outs, and the Sox trailing by two runs to the Tampa Bay Rays. For more than a few minutes, he stood in front of his Tropicana Field locker questioning why home plate umpire Brian Gorman hadn’t asked for help when making the decision on whether or not Drew offered on David Price’s 97 mph, 1-2 fastball.
“At that point in the year I think everything culminated to the point where everything was very, very frustrating. I’ve never been one to be super-critical, but in that situation if you’re going to make a call like that just ask for help,” he said. “I have never even looked at it. I was completely baffled by the whole thing. I didn’t think there was any chance I went around. I know the pitch was down and away. That being said, I have not looked at it. I’ve replayed it a bunch in my head but I’ve never looked at it.
“I felt like I was tracking the ball well. I had been swinging the bat, hitting the ball. What can you do? That’s baseball. There’s nothing I can say or argue that will make that whole situation change. Yeah, I was pretty flustered by the whole thing because of the finality of it all.”
There you have it, the moment J.D. Drew came out of character. Don’t get used to it.
Two years down, three to go. At least you know what to expect.
The WEEI.com columnists are reporting live from Fort Meyers on the Full Count Blog. Click here to follow all the latest on spring training.
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Rob Bradford is the site editor at WEEI.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.