FORT MYERS, Fla. — Dew covered the grounds of the Boston Red Sox complex early Sunday morning. It might have been a peaceful, quiet time, except for the rhythm of thwack, thwack, thwack, as minor league players took batting practice.
Meanwhile, across the way in the major league clubhouse, players meandered about, their workday soon to begin. Xander Bogaerts sat down to play cards.
Bogaerts, 21, used to be one of those minor leaguers – including parts of two seasons in Portland – but Bogaerts embarked on a head-spinning journey last year, from playing in the April cold at Hadlock Field to pouring champagne on teammates to celebrate a World Series championship in October (Bogaerts only poured; he does not indulge).
It was dizzying for Red Sox fans, too, watching their team go from worst (in 2012) to first. Now Boston begins anew, preparing for the 2014 season, which starts in two weeks. This is a team with many expectations, a feeling fueled by exciting players like Bogaerts.
The excitement did not fade for Bogaerts. He went from the World Series hoopla in Boston to a frenzied return to his native Aruba. At the airport, Bogaerts deplaned onto a red carpet, greeted by a thousand fans as well as the prime minister. Parades followed. A field was named after him – the Xander Bogaerts Ballpark – compete with a billboard with his picture on it.
“Very unusual,” Bogaerts said of the off-season festivities. “I guess that comes with winning the World Series.”
If you want to see how much fame has changed Bogaerts, watch him after his workout. He will likely take the rare walk back to the minor league camp to visit and hang around.
“He’s true to himself,” said Peter Hissey, a teammate of Bogaerts in Portland. “He has friends over here and it doesn’t matter (that he’s a major leaguer). He’s humble, and a great teammate.”
Bogaerts may become the greatest player ever to come through the Sea Dogs franchise. That honor currently belongs to Dustin Pedroia, who bounced from Portland in 2005 to become the American League Rookie of the Year (2007) and Most Valuable Player (2008).
“There are a lot of expectations on him,” Boston manager John Farrell said. “He doesn’t take anything for granted. All the work sessions he’s in, he’s full go. He has had a demanding spring training, one we felt he needed.
“You watch his body language out there, and he’s a lot more free because of all the work he’s put in.”
There are several reasons for the extra work.
One is that Bogaerts missed most of spring training last year because he was playing for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic (a once-every-four-years event).
Two is that Bogaerts is coming into this season as the Red Sox starting shortstop. Boston liked Bogaerts so much that it did not bother to re-sign last year’s World Series shortstop, Stephen Drew. Bogaerts can play third, but he’s a natural shortstop. And he’s getting extra tutorial sessions from fielding guru and Maine native Brian Butterfield, the Red Sox third base coach.
“There’s a lot of stuff that Bogey missed (last spring),” Butterfield said. “But he’s highly intelligent and he works hard. With two weeks to go (before the regular season), we like where he’s at.”
A third reason for the extra work is that is who Bogaerts is.
“He’s not a guy you have to chase down to get extra reps,” Butterfield said. “He chases after you. He came in early (to spring training) and has worked hard.
“He’s very humble, but he wants to be a great player. When guys want to be great, they find ways to get work in.”
When Bogaerts came to Portland for the last month of the 2012 season, he arrived with great anticipation, already identified as one of baseball’s best young players. But the attention never seemed to affect Bogaerts, who said he was a normal guy. He just went about his business, usually with a smile on his face.
Now Bogaerts has a World Series ring, and he’s idolized in his own country.
“Yeah, always,” Bogaerts said. “It was tough (in Aruba). So many people know me back there. So many events to attend.
“But I made time for rest. I like to stay home and be around my family.”
He also made time for baseball. From his family house he can see the field that now bears his name. He would work out there, getting ready for spring training.
Now he’s preparing for the season opener, two weeks from Monday.
Xander Bogaerts has not just made it to the major leagues, he is expected to shine.
Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: