No such thing as too much baseball for '13 Sox
Game chatter continually moves from clubhouses to planes to restaurants
BOSTON -- For the Red Sox, one of the most symbolic moments of the 2013 season came on Aug. 12, a day the team didn't have a game on the schedule.
The club had just played 22 games in the previous 23 days before flying to Toronto for an off-day.
There were a lot of things that Dustin Pedroia, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jonny Gomes could have done in Toronto that day.
They picked baseball.
There they were, wearing civilian clothes, sitting in box seats as the Blue Jays and Athletics played a Monday matinee. It was just three guys who play baseball for a living soaking in the luxury of being able to watch someone else play it.
The fabled 2004 team members, with their long hair and loose demeanor, were known as the "Idiots." Perhaps this team will go down as the "Bearded Baseball Junkies."
"There's definitely something special about this team, something different," said Saltalamacchia. "This year there is something different, whether it's getting here at noon and talking baseball 24/7 or something else. It's a good feeling."
Over his entire career, Pedroia -- the ultimate baseball rat -- has always gotten to the ballpark excessively early.
But in the context of this year's team, he gets to work just a little early.
Before long, other players quickly fill the room and the conversation moves to -- yep, baseball.
"He's still the first one here -- him and Salty," said catcher David Ross. "Those guys get here, I think, before some of the clubhouse guys do. Yeah, this is a fun group. Everyone pretty much gets here early. Even when we're at home, we're texting each other about stuff from the game. We don't shut it off when we go home, either. Guys take it home with them. It's good. Especially when you're winning -- it's good to take it home with you."
Often when it's time to go home, players instead find a place outside the clubhouse to gather.
Take, for example, Thursday, when the A's and Tigers were squaring off for Game 5 of their American League Division Series.
"A lot of us were hanging out watching the game last night," said starter John Lackey. "There's a lot of baseball talk in that clubhouse, for sure. We have fun together off the field. I think the way we care about each other transfers on the field, for sure. It's pretty much one big group. We all go out to dinner."
And when Lackey says "all," he is barely exaggerating.
The night of April 15, when the Red Sox landed in Cleveland a few hours after the Boston Marathon bombing, 22 players met in the hotel lobby and went out to dinner.
Although there was obviously a much heavier subject to discuss that night, this team tends to have a one-track mind, for the most part, when it is together.
"These guys in here are just a bunch of baseball junkies," said Gomes. "With that being said, you come into this clubhouse at 12 o'clock for a 7 o'clock game, and there's guys sitting around at a table going over reports and talking about individuals."
In the context of baseball, the topic could wind up being just about anything. And just about anyone could be called upon to talk about past experiences.
"Guys are very curious," said Gomes. "They want to know about Lackey's 2002 World Series, or Shane Victorino's World Series with the Phillies or [Mike] Napoli having that monster postseason [in 2011]. Or Pedroia winning Rookie of the Year and the World Series, and then the MVP the next year. Sometimes it's just talking about the game, the history of the game. Yeah, everyone is pretty much plugged in 100 percent to baseball."
Of course, some of the most productive discussions have been of the current events variety. Well, current events within the scope of Major League Baseball.
Allow Jon Lester, who will start Game 1 against the Tigers at Fenway on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on FOX, to explain.
"When we're on the plane, we're not sitting back there goofing off," Lester said. "Most of the time, guys are talking baseball, talking shop. I've had plenty of conversations with [Gomes] in the back of the plane. I had had a lot of at-bats with him when I was younger, and I try to figure out from him how right-handers approach me.
"How do I make the adjustment when something is going wrong? Or I'll listen to him talk to somebody about running the bases or what [he looks] for in a pickoff move. These are different things to enhance your ability to be a better baseball player."
For some teams, game preparation is looked at as minutia. For the Red Sox it might as well be candy.
"I really, really appreciate it," Ross said. "You know why? It's fun to come to work. It's fun to come up with a game plan of how to beat that team that night or that pitcher. It's like, we're always trying to come up with a game plan, how to get through a lineup. Things change, so we're always talking. It's just nice to talk baseball with people that like to figure things out and know the in-depth parts of baseball."
The chatter behind the scenes is the stuff that just about everyone on this team seems to cherish.
"If you were to walk around the clubhouse when the media isn't allowed to be in the clubhouse, it would be conversations about what a guy is going to do in a certain count or the way they see pitches or what someone's plan is going to be," said lefty Craig Breslow. "It's a group of guys that are obsessed with baseball and obsessed with winning. I think that's probably as much a factor in our success as anything else."
The attention to detail pays off in each facet of the game.
"You see guys always in the right place at the right time. I don't think that's coincidence or luck," said Breslow. "I think that's an ability to see plays unfold, recognize where the most beneficial position would be and to get there. To understand that a guy might not be able to remember his multiplication tables, but he might be able to remember the way someone has pitched him in 25 at-bats. In this arena that's incredibly valuable."
In the context of a team, the most dangerous kind of knowledge, of course, is shared knowledge.
"If you were to look at this group of 25 guys, everyone is talking about baseball all the time and learning from each other, or they're passing on knowledge," said Breslow. "The number of times you see a John McDonald pull a Xander Bogaerts aside, or David Ortiz talking to a young hitter or a Ryan Dempster or a Jake Peavy or a John Lackey talking to Felix Doubront. I think those are all examples of kind of a baseball tutorial."
The Red Sox don't have an "off" switch when it comes to talking baseball, and nobody within the clubhouse seems to want them to have one.
"A lot of times, those conversations don't really interest people," Lester said. "But when you have the group that we have that explains things and really makes it easy for guys to understand, you can sit back there and talk shop all day, and it makes it fun, and guys have learned a lot of stuff this year.
"I know I have [learned] from position players, which is a little weird for pitchers to sit back there and talk to those guys and get information that might help us. They're [usually] pretty tight-lipped about that. It's been fun. Like I said, usually when you're not at the field, you don't want to talk about baseball, but that's not the case with this group."
Whenever this season ends -- be it after the ALCS or the World Series -- this team might go through withdrawals for a while not being able to have those daily conversations.
"We've already been plotting for next Spring Training, just fun things to do and things to talk about," said Ross. "Even the coaching staff gets involved. We joke around with them on a daily basis, telling them what we should and shouldn't do."