FORT MYERS, Fla. — A new Boston manager opened up Red Sox spring training with a smile on his face, and began the festivities with talk of changing the culture and turning the page.
New manager John Farrell gets his chance this season, an at-bat that Bobby Valentine struck out with last season. Farrell met the media on Tuesday at JetBlue Park — the same day pitchers and catchers reported — and spoke about new beginnings and a new era in Red Sox baseball after the franchise missed the postseason for the third straight season last year.
“Certainly we can’t wipe away what’s taken place,” said Farrell, who is the third Boston manager in three years, joining Valentine and Terry Francona. “It’s important that we acknowledge it. But as I’ve talked to guys throughout the offseason, what we do going forward is where the focus has to be. Just by virtue of nine new players on a 25-man roster is going to have some natural tendency to change that.”
The Red Sox, under first-year general manager Ben Cherington and Valentine, stumbled to a 69-93 finish last season. There was controversy in the clubhouse, there were several trades to rid the club of veteran payroll, and there were eight straight losses to finish the season.
“The most important thing is that we earn the trust of one another inside the clubhouse first,” Farrell said. “And going from there is the style of play that people can identify with this group as a team, and (be) confident that the makeup of the group initially will put ourselves in a position to do that.”
Of course, Day 1 wasn’t without news. A year after injuries ripped through the club, right-hander Clay Buchholz suffered a right hamstring strain and is considered day to day.
But pitchers and catchers weren’t the only players working out. A determined David Ortiz, eager to rid himself of the nightmare that was 2012, was among the early arrivals.
“To be honest with you I ran out of patience last year. And I’m a player. So I can imagine where the fans were at,” Ortiz, a designated hitter, said. “We definitely need to come back and play way better than we did last year.”
Many of the new veterans are regarded throughout baseball as high-character players. That’s something that should help the team’s clubhouse culture which started to sour in the historically disastrous finish to 2011, when the Red Sox went 7-20 in the final month to miss the playoffs, essentially ending Francona’s tenure.
“I think it’s very important because — in addition to the talent that was needed and brought in — Ben and his staff (considered) the makeup of the individual (and the) team environment (as parts of the) process of changing,” Farrell said. “So, when we sought the person inside the player, these were clear targets of ours.”
But of all the offseason acquisitions, Farrell will likely have the biggest impact. A former Boston pitching coach from 2007-2010 who left to manage the Blue Jays for two seasons, he needs to undo the memories of Valentine, who often clashed with his players and the front office staff.
Ortiz was one of Valentine’s biggest supporters last season. But in the offseason, Valentine said in an interview he thought Ortiz, who missed 35 games with a right Achilles strain, quit on the team.
“A lot of players had a lot of issues with our manager last year,” Ortiz said. “We have a new manager, a guy that’s familiar with the organization, a guy that we’ve pretty much grown up around. An organization, a team, is like the human body. If the head is right, the body is going to function right. But if the head is messed up, then the body is going to be all over the place.
“I’m pretty sure that everyone is looking at that as a positive move. And now it’s a like a fresh start. We’re going back to basics with a manager like John.”
Others, however, chose to stray from the Valentine excuse.
“None,” said second baseman Dustin Pedroia, when asked how much blame should be placed on Valentine. “He didn’t play. It’s the players. Bobby didn’t go out there and get any hits or make any errors or do any of that. We lost those games. It’s on us.
“We’ve got to do everything better than we did last year.”
The Red Sox lost nine of their final 10 games last season, and finished 26 games behind the New York Yankees, who won the American League East.
“(Last season) was difficult. We had a tough time. We lost a lot of games,” Pedroia said. “So I think everybody’s motivated to make sure that doesn’t happen again. We got in a lot of new guys. I think a lot of guys are excited. So there’s going to be a lot of different things going on. Everyone just has to do what they do. Don’t try to do too much.”
One of the new players is catcher David Ross, who returns to the Red Sox after a brief eight-game stint in Boston in 2008. Ross, who turns 36 in March and is a veteran of 11 seasons, was the team’s first offseason signing.
“At this point in my career, I’m not trying to put up any Hall of Fame numbers or anything. I just want to win,” he said. “I feel like this place gave me the best chance. I think they were still undecided on what they were going to do when they were talking to me. They asked, ‘Do you care who you play alongside or back up or whatever your role is?’ I said ‘I was going to try to be the best teammate I can and work hard on the days I play.’
“I’m going to do the best I can to win and support whoever my teammate is. That’s kind of how I was raised. I feel like that’s the right thing to do.”
It’s that kind of attitude the Red Sox hope catches on.