Red Sox 3B Will Middlebrooks had been keeping a diary for ESPNBoston.com this season. In the most recent entry, he talks about how he felt being sent down to Pawtucket last Tuesday (June 25), his relationship with Jose Iglesias who has taken over third base in Boston, and what the goal is now. -- as told to Louise K. Cornetta
Last week I tweeted “in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” To put what that means to me in baseball terms: You’re not always thrown a fastball. You don’t always know what’s coming. The situation you’re put in isn’t always what’s expected or what you wanted. You just have to take the positives out of everything and learn from it. This has just been a really good time for me to grow up.
I’m doing well now. The first couple of days [after being sent down] were hard to swallow. It’s never a good feeling to be told you’re being optioned or you’re going down because you work so hard to get to the big leagues. It’s tough. I know it’s temporary, it’s not a permanent thing. I have to go to Pawtucket and get my work in, get better, and stay positive. We’ll see where it goes from there. A lot of it is out of my hands.
Physically coming off my lower back strain, I’m feeling much better. I finally feel like I have my regular swing back. When your back is bugging you, even if it’s not hurting too badly, it’s in the back of your mind and you’re not swinging your normal swing. It’s a lot better now. I feel like myself again.
Lately, I feel if I were to choose one word to describe how I’ve been playing since I got down here is consistent. I’ve had good consistent at-bats. I’m getting myself in good counts and with that, you get good pitches to hit. It’s a lot easier to be a good hitter then when you are getting fastballs. [Editor’s note: On Sunday, Middlebrooks had two homers and 4 RBI.]
When I was up in Boston, there were a lot of things with my approach and plan at the plate that I needed to tweak. I’m not a person to make excuses about how I was hitting. A lot of it goes to how my body was and I was playing through a lot of stuff physically. But that is just a part of it, the other part is what I said about being consistent with my approach at the plate, which is something I am working on now.
I’ve been asked a lot questions about what was going on with me. How do I feel? How are the injuries? I hate being asked about struggling because it’s embarrassing to me. I don’t like to struggle. If I struggled it was always for a short period of time. I was able to fix it. There were just a few things that snowballed on me this year. I’ve learned from all if it and think it will make me a better player. Why is it embarrassing? Because no one wants to struggle, no one [wants to] let the team down or not do well. That’s not the person I am, I’m a competitive person. I want to do well.
When John Farrell told me I was going down to Pawtucket, I have to say, it was a very positive meeting. For it to be such a negative thing, it was a very positive meeting between us. He just said that we still have faith in you. Obviously Iggy [Jose Iglesias] is playing very well and I don’t want to just sit on the bench. If I’m going to get out of this and I’m going to get better, then I need to play. The only option is to go down to get consistent at-bats until the situation changes. It was a very positive meeting of go down, get your stuff done, and get to feeling better then we will see where things go from there.
With Iggy, he is someone I’ve been around a long time. He’s worked really hard to get where he is which is playing third base in Boston. I’ll admit, it’s tough. I mean it really is tough and hard to swallow that it isn’t me, but I can’t fault him for that. I can fault myself for putting myself in that position. But I can’t fault him for doing his job, that’s like someone being mad at me for playing well. I looked at it from that perspective. If I started to get jealous or be mad about it, I just thought, ‘Well what if that was me?’ And that was me last year. I just looked at it from that vantage point. I’m happy for Iggy. I love the kid. He’s a good player and he’s just doing what he needs to do. He can’t worry about anything else but that.
All my teammates have been there for me. They’ve all been through struggles like this. It’s a part of growing up as not only a ballplayer but a person. I talk to Pedy [Dustin Pedroia] a lot, who had struggled early in his career. David [Ortiz] has been through it. Just about everyone, like [Mike] Napoli has been through it. It’s a part of baseball. I’ve had a lot of support from my teammates and family. I’ve learned a lot from it.
In Pawtucket, Gary DiSarcina is our manager. He’s like family to me. He was my first pro ball coach I ever had. He’s someone who is very very close to me. I’ve talked with him through the last years of the minor leagues. It’s good to be here with him because he knows me. He knows what pushes my buttons and what gets me going. It’s a good person to help me turn things around.
Our hitting coach is Davie Joppie. He’s been awesome. He’s really good at building confidence. He lets you know what you do well. He’s good at physically working on what you need to. He’s a really good hitting coach that I’ve learned a lot from over the years.
I know just about all the guys on this team. One of my best friends is Alex Hassan. It’s good to see him. It’s good to see how these guys have grown over the past couple of years since I played with them. I’ve been helping Xander Bogaerts at third base while I’ve been here. He’s a really good athlete. He’s going to be a really good ballplayer whether at shortstop or third base or outfielder or wherever, he’s that athletic. I’m just trying to teach him the angles when he takes groundballs at third base, pretty simple stuff, but unfamiliar to him. I’m just trying to help out the best I can.
As I mentioned, the first couple of days being in Pawtucket after being in Boston … they were tough. Things are completely different. It would be really easy to be negative. So I’m just trying to be as positive as I can and help guys out. I know when I was there and guys would come down, we would look up to them and look for help and advice. I’m trying to be that guy. This time around I don’t have to buy the postgame meal. I did when I was on rehab, but not now.
My goal is to be in the big leagues and win a world series. Short term, I feel like I’m doing my part. I’ve always worked hard. I’m on time -- that’s a big deal to be there and get your work done. I don’t know with this situation if my time here is going to be quick. A lot of it is out of my hands. So I try not to even worry about it. I just take it day by day and try to get better every day where I’m at.
Being back here reminds me of many minor league stories of bad hotels or long bus rides. The one that really stands out is we were in the playoffs in low A ball. We had to drive all the way from Greenville, South Carolina to Lakewood, New Jersey which is about a 14 hour trip. Because it was the playoffs, we had to drive all that way for one game. We won that game then they came down to our place and we ended up losing. On the way back, we were maybe 20 minutes outside of the city after driving all night and the bus broke down. There are so many stories like that when you play in the minors.
I know the Bruins were the team on everyone’s mind the past month. A lot of their games were going on the same time as ours. So it was tough to watch but I tried to as much as I could because it was a lot of fun. It was amazing to see how much the city of Boston embraced the Bruins. Anywhere you would go, the grocery store or a restaurant, that’s all people were talking about. I loved seeing how much the city enjoyed the Bruins and I’d love to be up here and be a part of experiencing for myself going to the playoffs with the Red Sox and have that be us.