Bailey: Fenway the best park in baseball

BOSTON -- Newly acquired Red Sox closer Andrew Bailey is an East Coast native who spends his winters in Connecticut, so playing in Boston had extra allure. But the idea of taking that walk from the bullpen to the mound at Fenway Park is what excites him the most.

“There’s nothing like the atmosphere of running into the game from the bullpen at Fenway Park,” said Bailey, who has pitched at Fenway numerous times during the last three seasons as a visitor. “You can’t change it and you can’t put it into words. It’s something I look forward to doing day in and day out in a Red Sox uniform. It’s something I’ll always remember and it’s up there with my major-league debut. That’s how it is and Fenway is the greatest stadium in baseball and being able to pitch in that uniform and in that stadium is something I’ll never forget.”

During an introductory conference call Wednesday night, Bailey talked extensively about the trade that brought him and teammate Ryan Sweeney to Boston from the Oakland Athletics.

Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington completed the deal on Wednesday that sent Red Sox outfielder Josh Reddick and a pair of minor leaguers to the A’s in exchange for Bailey and Sweeney.

“I’m excited,” Bailey said of playing for the Red Sox. “It’s an organization that continues to win each and every year, and they’re definitely a contender each and every year. Speaking with [A’s GM] Billy Beane today, obviously with the trades the A’s have already made this offseason, that organization is heading down a different road where they’re trying to get younger and build for a future in San Jose.

“I’m grateful for the fact that the Red Sox saw value in me,” added Bailey. “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited about being a Red Sox.”

Bailey grew up in New Jersey, went to Wagner College in New York and now lives in Connecticut.

He admitted that he grew up a Philadelphia Phillies fan and now it’s kind of ironic that he’ll be replacing former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, who signed a long-term contract with the Phillies as a free agent in November.

Bailey has a total of 75 saves during his three seasons in Oakland, but pitching in the AL East will be completely different for the 27-year-old right-hander.

“The AL East is one of the biggest divisions, and obviously with the additions that the Angels and Rangers have made they’re up there as well,” Bailey said. “But the AL East is one of the toughest divisions in baseball. It’ll be a challenge to keep the ball in the park and stay down in the zone.”

During his time in Oakland, the former Rookie of the Year (2009) and two-time All-Star never experienced pitching in the postseason. Now he’ll have a better chance of reaching that goal.

“I haven’t experienced it yet, and I’m looking forward to experiencing it,” Bailey said. “It’s something that every kid out there playing T-ball strives to pitch in the postseason and in meaningful games in September, and ultimately the World Series. I’m going to welcome that with open arms, but it’s not going to change the way I attack the hitters. I’m aggressive and like to go right after guys, so as long as I stick to my guns and trust in my stuff I’ll be fine. I’m a guy who is easygoing and likes to go after guys and get people out. It’s the same three outs in April as it is in September, so you’ve just got to make your pitches.”

Now that he’s switching teams and changing divisions, Bailey has no intentions of changing the way he pitches. His mindset is simple.

“Stay healthy is No. 1. That’s the key to success,” he said. “Then don’t shy away from who you are. I’m not going to blow it by you at 98 or 99, I’m not that type of guy. I usually sit in the low 90s and rely on control and get ahead of guys. The motto I live by is ‘Strike 1 is the best pitch in baseball.’ As long as you stick with that, you’ll be fine. Obviously pitching, closing for that matter, is bigger in Boston.

“The market’s a lot bigger and I’ll be fine with that. The last three years have been great, being able to close against the teams that I’m going to be closing against in the same league. It’s not like I’m going into different territory or a new league where I need to know all the hitters, it’s the same guys I’ve faced the last three years, just with a different uniform on. The only thing I can work on is staying healthy, and sticking to my guns and staying who I am."

Bailey finished his physical and medical testing on Wednesday before the trade was complete and all signs point to him being healthy heading into spring training. He’s dealt with a number of injuries over the last few years, but for the first time in a long time he’s healthy during the winter months.

“I’m feeling good, man, “Bailey said. “To be honest with you, this is my first healthy offseason I’ve had since I’ve been in the big leagues.”

He had Tommy John surgery five years ago that he’s fully recovered from. He dealt with a minor knee issue in 2009 and had a procedure to fix the problem. He also had bone chips removed from his elbow last winter and struggled at the start of the 2011 season. But he was healthy and pitched well down the stretch, and the Red Sox are confident he will perform in Boston.

Bailey also has a close relationship with Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, who’s a native of Connecticut.

“Bobby and I are good friends,” Bailey said. “We do a lot of charity work together in Connecticut. He does a lot with the foundation I’m a part of. Bobby and I have a good relationship and he’s excited to have me on board, and I’m excited to be there for him. We spoke about how this is his first year as manager and mine over there as a pitcher, so we’re both looking forward to it. It also helps knowing someone going in.”

Bailey and former A’s teammate Craig Breslow, who is a native of Connecticut, formed the Strike 3 Foundation, which raises money for pediatric cancer research, and Valentine was the emcee for its annual event the past two years.

“It’s a good relationship. He’s a great guy,” Bailey said. “He brings a lot of energy to anything he does. He’s very engaging and he’s going to do great with the bunch of guys in Boston. I don’t know them too well, but he’s hard not to like. I’m sure everyone will get along well with him.”

Growing up in New Jersey, going to school in New York and now living in Connecticut, Bailey is thrilled to finally be a part of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry.

“Going to college in Staten Island, I’ve already gotten a lot of my buddies texting me and they’re die-hard Yankee fans,” he said. “It’ll be fun and I’m looking forward to it. I have a lot of friends that are Red Sox fans, as well. It’ll be fun to be a part of the rivalry, especially me growing up in New Jersey, I know a lot about it. I’m looking forward to being a part of it.”