Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks is keeping a diary for ESPNBoston.com. In his third entry, he talks about an interesting trip to Toronto, why Red Sox fans should come out to Fenway, and life on the road. (As told to Louise K. Cornetta)
We may have gotten rained out on Friday, but a lot happened in sports. While I sat home on my couch watching everything after a nice dinner at home, we had people thinking Tiger Woods might get disqualified from the Masters because of a bad drop [he ended up with a 2-shot penalty], Kobe Bryant is out for the season with a torn Achilles, and the Blue Jays' Jose Reyes hurts his ankle and could be out 1-3 months. All not good things to happen. But the worst probably would be what happened to Kobe because it ended his season just as they were making a run for the playoffs, which will hurt them.
The season started for us on the road. We had a successful road trip, going 4-2. The highlight for me would be the three-homer game in Toronto. The words I would use to describe that game are easy and fun. It's one of those times like in a basketball game when everything you throw up goes in. I felt like everything I swung at, I put good wood on and hit it hard. I've yet to experience what people say sometimes how the ball looks as big as a beach ball when the pitcher is throwing it. It looked the same. I just felt like I got good pitches to hit every at-bat. When I am not swinging the bat well, it feels like everything is on the corners and you're not getting good calls. This time it felt like everything was in the middle.
What will stand out from that trip to Toronto, which was John Farrell's return, is my three home runs, paper airplanes being thrown by fans and a couple of streakers. The paper airlines were coming from the upper decks. They'd be in the air for like 15-20 seconds. So ones that made it all the way down, you would hear the crowd going nuts. You'd look up and see one coming that would take a couple of pitches to get all the way down. They were taking pages out of programs to make them. Though some used their ticket stubs, which wasn't the best move since security would then know who did it. It's a rare breed up there. They are very passionate about their team. It was a fun atmosphere. I was definitely glad we could put together a good couple of games to win them for John.
The winning was the good part of Toronto. The bad part was seeing John Lackey get hurt. We got really lucky that it wasn't as serious as we first thought. Initially it scared all of us. His arm was just kind of hanging. We all thought it was his elbow all over again. It was a big scare. But to find out it is just a biceps strain is a huge relief for us.
Then we came home and I got to experience my first Fenway Opening Day. It was unbelievable and on top of everything we got the win with Daniel Nava's three-run homer. It was probably one of the loudest games I've ever been a part of with a packed house here. Our sellout streak did end on Wednesday. Why should you come out to see the Red Sox? As people are getting to know, we are a different group who is fun to watch. We play hard and we are here to win every game.
Something else that fans can look for when they watch is we've been implementing the infield shift more this season. The shift is probably the biggest change from what we were doing last year. We're just playing to guys' tendencies. If a guy is more likely to, say, hit a ball hard to the right side then we're going to play that. We're not going to shift for like a broken bat or flares or soft-hit balls because we'll probably be able to make a play on those anyway. So we're going to play to guys' tendencies. If the Orioles' Chris Davis is up there, he's obviously a big pull guy, a power guy who is not going to hit a lot to the left side. So we'll put an extra guy on the right side to take away a hit.
Someone who knows about having the shift used on him is David Ortiz. David will hopefully be back soon as he is doing a rehab stint right now. It will mean a lot to have him back. On and off the field he is a leader for us. He is a guy who has taught a lot of us the ins and outs of the big leagues as we've come up. It is always nice to have him around. On top of everything else, he's a good bat in the lineup.
We have started off the season facing three of our AL division opponents. I actually like facing them so soon in the season. You get a preview of what you are going to get all season and what to expect. Our division is really good. It helps to see those pitchers and lineups right away. As I said, it lets us know what to expect.
We have a lot of home games in April. I see it as an advantage because we are playing at Fenway. Just the way the ballpark is built, this is a place that if you aren't used to playing here, it would be tough. We know how to play the balls off the Monster. We know how to play the right-field corner. A lot of teams aren't used to that. We use knowing this park to our advantage. I have my first Patriots' Day game on Monday. I have played in the morning hours before. In the minor leagues, we'd have 10:30 a.m. or 11 a.m. games for kids' days.
If you see some camera shots of our locker rooms you may see some giant-size heads of us in here. These were left around town for Red Sox fans to try to find. We put a bunch up. Nap [Mike Napoli] had his in here and Jonny [Gomes] got his. So I got mine and we put ours up. Salty [Jarrod Saltalamacchia] has his in here, too.
This team is really a close group. We have team dinners and things like that off the field, but that's not really why you hear us saying we are close. Baseball-wise, I just feel that if someone falls or someone fails that someone is always there to pick them up. There is no ragging really going on. Everyone does have each other's back. It's nice to come in and have your teammates cheering and pulling for you. They want you to do well.
Something I am looking forward to is having my sister Lacey here. She is about to graduate from the University of Tulsa in May. She will be coming to Boston and will be a Red Sox PR intern. She will be the ball girl from time to time. She was in Pawtucket last year. She'll live with me. We were more competitive when we were growing up. Now it's not really like that anymore. She pulls for me and I pull for her. She's finishing up her last year of college softball, which has been fun to watch.
I thought I'd end with some questions about life on the road since we travel so much:
* Ballpark I look forward to playing in for the first time? Houston. I went there and watched a game there when I was younger, but I've never played there.
* Favorite road city? Dallas, because that's home. Other than that, I like playing in Philly. Toronto is fun, too. I haven't been to a bad city yet.
* Favorite ballpark besides Fenway? Philly's Citizens Bank Park. It's a good hitter's park. The ball just flies there. It has a good backdrop, so you can see the ball well. They also have good crowds.
* Teammate I go to lunch with the most on the road? Mike Napoli. Definitely the one I get lunch with the most.
* Teammate I would never want to have as my roommate? Salty because of all his hair products that would come with him.
* Best road clubhouse? New York is really nice. Kansas City is nice also. They are both pretty new, big and have built-in weight rooms. Food is good, too.
* Best clubhouse food? While Kansas City has good barbecue, I'd have to go with New York. There is just a little bit of everything. It's not one thing every night. They have different kinds of food.
My final life on the road thought will be that I faced Mariano Rivera for the first time when we were in New York our opening series. I was in a situation where I didn't have to hit the ball good to get an RBI. There were less than two outs with guys on second and third. I was really just looking to put something in play, which works out because his cutter moves so much. My lasting memory of him is how much his ball moves late. It looks like it's right there and then you swing and hit it off the end of your bat. It's definitely something I am going to have to try to get used to.