FORT MYERS, Fla. — Only a fool would have you believe all was well with the Red Sox last year, and that 93 wins and a first-place finish in the AL East was proof this was one fine, well-oiled hardball machine.

Yeah, only a fool would have you believe that.

Mookie Betts is no fool.

Perhaps submitting a bid to become the clubhouse leader this team desperately needs, the Red Sox star right fielder laid out some inconvenient truths Thursday morning.

Speaking of “tension in the locker room as far as if things are down,” Betts put it out there that, “We have to find a way to smile and go out and refocus on the game now versus kind of what’s been going on.”

Versus kind of what’s been going on.

Mookie Betts said that.

“I think this year will be a little different,” he said. “I know I’m going to approach things a little differently as far as, if I’m not playing well, we’re losing or what not, I can do my best to try and find a way to get everybody back happy, smiling, excited and going to play.”

Was Betts acknowledging this was not the case last year?

“I think everybody kind of knows that wasn’t always in play,” he said. “There were times when we lost a couple of games in a row and we weren’t necessarily down but we were kind of pressing to get back to the winning side instead of just letting it happen, letting the game kind of play out, especially late in the season when gaps started closing as far as the winner of the division. We started pressing a little bit instead of letting whatever happens happen.”

Mookie said this:

“We could have had more fun. I think we still enjoyed it, but we could have had more fun. I think through the rough times we could have had a little bit more fun instead of being down.”

And he also said this:

“We just gotta go in and play with urgency. We weren’t as urgent as we should have been. As we saw all the other teams, they were coming out and ready to go. We were kind of lax. For the last two years we kind of know that and we can make some adjustments there.”

Reread that last quote, especially how “all the other teams” were ready to go, how last year’s Red Sox were . . . “lax.”

Despite the first-place finish, and the one before that, the Red Sox became a team known for forgetting how many outs there were, for running the bases like fools, for failing to properly handle a crisis, such as the Manny Machado/Dustin Pedroia incident. And, especially, last year’s post-David Ortiz Red Sox became the grumpy, downbeat David Price Red Sox.

Earlier this week, David Price talked like a leader.

Thursday morning, Mookie Betts acted like a leader.

Everyone wants Betts, or somebody, anybody, to emerge as the next David Ortiz. But while acknowledging that “nobody’s him,” Betts said, “We have to find our niche in the clubhouse and figure out what works for us and how to get back to that. I never played without him (Ortiz). So I didn’t know what would happen. I think last year was definitely a learning curve. I kind of know how it works without him now.”


Now Mookie Betts can step up to the plate – literally, figuratively. Now he can be The Man, not just a man.

“I just want to be me and be someone that brings joy and smiles to the locker room and to the field and kind of everywhere,” he said. “I don’t want to be something I’m not. I can only be myself.”

Mookie Betts doesn’t need to be something he’s not. He just needs to be Mookie Betts. He doesn’t need to bust up dugout phones. He doesn’t need to hug every player on the field, whether it be teammate or foe. He doesn’t need the swagger of Big Papi, or the braggadocio of Reggie Jackson, or the quote machine that was Pedro Martinez. He doesn’t need to bark and holler, as Mo Vaughn did, and he doesn’t need to learn now to use the back stairs to the owner’s office, which was one of Carl Yastrzemski’s many talents.

Mookie Betts just needs to keep stepping up to the plate as he did Thursday morning.

Everything else will fall into place.