FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Good morning from the Fort, where the sun has yet to burn off the fog but is getting there, on the last day before the Red Sox begin to play games.
Say it out loud: Brock Holt. He’d have fit right in the old John R. Tunis books from a bygone era, or a Mike Lupica kids baseball novel of more recent vintage.
Even his middle name is a winner. Brock Wyatt Holt. It doesn’t get any better than that.
“Yeah, that’s what I keep hearing,’’ said Holt, who came to the Red Sox with closer Joel Hanrahan in last winter’s trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates. “Guess I’ve got to thank my parents for that. It flows off the tongue.
Holt is from Stephenville, Texas, right in the heart of what used to be Comanche territory, and now is among the Texas towns that calls itself the “Cowboy Capital of the World.’’ Ben Hogan, the golfing immortal, is from Stephenville. Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb went to Stephenville High.
In January, Bruner Motors in Stephenville sponsored an event in which Holt was the star attraction, signing baseballs to raise money for the town’s high school baseball program.
Here in the Fort, Holt has been paired at second base with Dustin Pedroia, with whom he can stand eye to eye. Holt is listed at 5-foot-10, Pedroia at 5-9. Holt bats from the left side; Pedroia is the one with the MVP trophy.
But Holt, 24 appeared on the fast track to the big leagues last season, at least after recovering from a knee injury that cost him much of the 2010 season. A ninth-round draft pick out of Rice, Holt was promoted to Triple-A by the Pirates last August, hit an eye-popping .432 in 24 games there, then was called up to the big club when Neal Walker hurt his back. He held his own in Pittsburgh, hitting .292 in 24 games with the Pirates.
And then came the trade.
“I didn’t expect it,’’ he said. “I didn’t know my name was being tossed around. But I’m excited by the new opportunity, excited to be here. I’m glad I got down here a little early, and get to know some of the guys. I went up to Boston [in January] for rookie development. That helped out a lot. The team they have here, it’s going to be a lot of fun.’’
Holt is contending for a backup spot in the infield, though Pedro Ciriaco has the inside track, based on last season’s performance, the fact that he is out of options and his ability to play multiple positions. Holt has played on both sides of the bag in the middle of the infield. At this stage, though, it appears likely he’ll open the season in Pawtucket, where he figures to share time with Jonathan Diaz, a six-year minor-league free agent who followed John Farrell from the Toronto organization.
Diaz, who turns 28 on April 10, has yet to advance beyond Triple-A, last season splitting time between the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats and Triple-A Las Vegas. Once regarded as the top defensive prospect in the Toronto system, Diaz carries a .226 career batting average, but his ability to draw a walk has resulted in an OBP of .358.
Diaz, who is originally from Miami (Coral Gables High) and was drafted out of North Carolina State, has been the lone second baseman on the “Blue” practice squad here, which has meant a madcap workload, turning double plays with three shortstops and a third baseman while fielding dozens of ground balls daily.
“I was running around like a maniac,’’ he said. “That was tough. A good time, though. I love to run around and stuff. But after that, I was gassed.’’
Diaz, listed at 5-9, was originally drafted as a shortstop, but he’s at a stage in his career where he’ll play anywhere to make a club.
“I take lot of pride in the way I go about my business and being a team player,’’ he said. “My numbers may not be great, but I go out there every day trying do something to help the team win.
“I’m a baseball player first and foremost. You can put me anywhere you want, I’m going to play the game.’’