April 16, 2013

On Baseball: Attitude has been adjusted

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BOSTON - Dustin Pedroia readied to leave Fenway Park for the trip to Cleveland. The catalyst for Boston's ninth-inning rally was low-key about the 8-4 start for these Boston Red Sox.

"We push each other," Pedroia said. "We just got to keep it rolling."

Quite a contrast from this time last year. And we're not just talking about this year's 3-2 victory on Patriots Day, as opposed to last year's 1-0 loss.

This is a different team, with a different attitude, with a new manager. Those factors are all connected.

Last year at this time, then-manager Bobby Valentine, attempting to fire up his team (or find a scapegoat for its slow start), criticized Kevin Youkilis' play and desire in a television interview the night before.

In the clubhouse on Patriots Day, Pedroia could not hide his anger:

"I know that (Youkilis) plays as hard as anybody I've ever seen in my life," Pedroia told reporters. "I have his back and his teammates have his back.

"I don't really understand what (Valentine's) trying to do. But that's really not the way we go about our stuff here. I'm sure he'll figure that out soon."

You know what happened. Valentine never figured out how to make the Red Sox click. And to be fair, maybe no one could in 2012.

It's just that Valentine seemed to make matters worse, perpetuating a dysfunctional culture. Communication breakdowns were common. Performance suffered and fans wondered if anyone cared.

This season, Pedroia still struts around the clubhouse. He is a leader on a team that needs leadership from its players.

Leadership and performance. Pedroia drew a seven-pitch walk with one out, and then scored on Mike Napoli's double in the ninth inning.

This season is so early but it feels, in the words of Neil Diamond, so good.

The Red Sox front office brought in Valentine last year, supposedly to shake things up. Terry Francona was called a players' manager (as if that is a fault) and the players apparently stopped listening to him.

But they tuned out Valentine early on. And matters only got worse.

The Red Sox went back to the formula that worked before -- a team-builder in the Francona mold, John Farrell.

Farrell said he learned much from Francona when Farrell was his pitching coach from 2007 to 2010.

"His ability to blend the personalities that come through the clubhouse door he had such a knack to connect with people, and to bring them all to a common point," Farrell said. "Players loved playing for him. They would run through a wall for him. He had a way of making every player feel he was behind him, supported him.

"And if there were issues, which there were, that it was handled in an appropriate way."

In other words, dealing with players by blindsiding them through the media is not such a good technique.

Farrell said Francona let his coaches work freely.

"He treated us great. We wanted to do the best job we were capable of," Farrell said. "He made you feel part of the team. Didn't make anyone feel like they didn't have a voice or an opinion. He just has a very good way with people to make them feel included."

But the bottom line, "this is still always about the players," Farrell said.

Farrell lets his coaches coach. And the coaches call on the players to do their job.

"I love having John here," said second-year third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who ended up replacing Youkilis last year. "That whole staff is very confident. I think it carries over to us and how we play."

Middlebrooks knows about the tension last season, but points to the win-loss record.

"We were pressing last year. We weren't playing well," Middlebrooks said. "It doesn't matter who is in your clubhouse. When you're not playing well, it's tough to be happy."

So are these Red Sox happy because they have Farrell as a manager, or because they are winning?

Yes and yes.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: ClearTheBases

 

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