One of the new faces on the Red Sox is catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who will be keeping a diary for ESPNBoston.com this season. In his first entry, A.J. reveals what advice his spring training roommate, Doug Mientkiewicz, gave him, how he feels about being labeled "the most hated man in baseball," why he isn't a fan of the new home-plate collision rules and what he is hoping to cross off his checklist at Fenway Park this season. (As told to Louise K. Cornetta)
Last time I had spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., was when I played for the Twins. This place has changed a lot in 11 years. There is a whole lot more to do now. There are more restaurants. There was nothing pretty much east of here before. It's just grown up. It's amazing to see the transformation with how much bigger it's gotten. How many shopping areas and malls can pop up in one area?
Doug Mientkiewicz is going to be my roommate here. We actually roomed together a couple of years ago in Arizona spring training when he was in his first year coaching with the Dodgers organization. Doug and I have always been good friends since our playing days together with the Twins, and our wives are good friends, too. We see each other in the offseason. We always talk and text back and forth during the season. So it won't be weird to live with him, but I'm kind of mad at him. I thought he was coming to big league camp with the Minnesota coaching staff, so I got a nice place. But he's three weeks late and I'm still waiting on him to get here as he's manager for their [Class] A team in Fort Myers. He has kind of stood me up.
Since Doug played on the 2004 Red Sox World Series team, he's warned me not to keep the ball, that's for sure. Every one of my friends that I've talked to who have played here, from him to Mark Kotsay to Johnny Damon, have said how great it is, how great the organization and city are. They say it's a lot of fun to play here. So far, it's lived up to everything that people have said.
I think everyone knows by now how David Ortiz and I have known each other and been friends since our Twins days. The thing about David that maybe everyone doesn't know is he puts off this big, tough persona, but, really, he's like a big teddy bear. He always puts on like he's a tough guy who struts with like a peg-leg limp, but once you get him behind closed doors, he's a big softie.
As a free agent, why did I decide to sign with the Red Sox? First of all, it's a chance to win. It's not every day that you get an opportunity to get to come to the defending World Series champions and play a major position and, hopefully, a major role. There are a couple teams in baseball, much like in the NBA or NFL, where you want to say you played for the Dallas Cowboys or maybe the Patriots now or Steelers. In baseball, it's maybe the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Cardinals. So there are only three or four teams in all of baseball that you want to say you played for, and the Red Sox are definitely one of them.
I was one of the analysts for Fox's World Series coverage, and I could see how much fun this team was having. You could see how close knit they were and how well they got along. It's kind of awkward being a current player walking into a clubhouse of another team. But when you walked in there and you saw the way they interacted and got along, it's definitely something you wanted to be a part of.
I have been labeled before as the most hated man in baseball. You're probably wondering why. I think you win it once, it's just easy for people to ask who won it last year and they just vote again for the same person. I don't even care. I just laugh about it now because it's not going to change. I don't know why I get it. I just know for the three hours I'm playing, I'm not trying to make friends. I'm trying to win the game for my team. After that, we can be friends, but for those three hours when I'm on the field, it's about beating the other guy. They can be my best friend out there pitching or on the other team, and I'm still trying to beat them.
There probably was a time being called the most hated man in baseball bothered me, like when it first came out. I actually don't think it bothered me as much as it did my parents and my family. They read that stuff and don't fully know all that's going on. As it's gone on and time has passed, we just laugh about it now. It's like a running joke in my family.
How I am on the field is competitive. I just want to win. I'm intense on the field. There are two sides of me, the off-the-field and on-the-field sides. Everyone looks at on the field and thinks that's how someone is off the field without even ever getting to know you. I think that's one of the biggest things is people see you on the field and assume that's how you are in real life.
In real life, I'm not like that guy you see in the game. You can talk to my wife and she'll tell you I'm the most laid-back, easygoing, nothing-bothers-me kind of guy off the field. My feeling is it will all work out; whatever happens, happens. But on the field, I feel I have a say in what happens and can affect things one way or the other.
This clubhouse has been fun so far. It's hard to walk into a situation where these guys are as tight as they are after doing what they did last year and most of the team is back. For us new guys in here, they've done a good job of trying to integrate us and make us feel welcome. You can see, they're fun and get along very well and enjoy being here and being around each other, which is awesome.
I'm still trying to figure out how I fit in. I'm just following Rossy's [David Ross] lead: Whatever he does, I follow him around. It's a learning process. You've got to get to games and see where you stand and go from there, but every day is a new learning experience, just trying to see where I do fit in.
Rossy has been great. I've known him for a long time, as we've both been in the league for a long time and played a lot of games against each other. I also know a lot of people who know him and gave me great reports on him. He's done nothing but go out of his way to help me and make me feel comfortable. When you have a catching tandem like this, you have to get along. I've been in situations where you don't necessarily get along, and it makes it tough. But you need both guys to buy in, and, so far, we've done that.
It helped that [manager] John Farrell set the expectation for me to catch 100-110 games this season. Anyone that knows me knows I'd like to play every day and catch 162 games, but going into the season, I know where we stand. Rossy is a good player and deserves to play. People saw that in the World Series last year. At least tempering expectations is good, and we'll see how it works out in the season.
Learning a whole new pitching staff is one of those things that you can't really do until you get into the games. You can catch batting practice, bullpens and all that stuff, but until you get into the games and there's a hitter and live action and in the fight, you can't really see the true personality of a guy. It's good that I've faced a lot of these guys. So I have a pretty good understanding of how they like to pitch and attack guys from being in scouting report meetings. It's never the same until you get into a game and actually go to battle with each one.
With the White Sox, we won the World Series in 2005. I know what this team is going through. I'd like to get another ring, though, because it's been a long time. I'd like to get another one, which was another reason to come here. I know that talking to these guys and the people here, they don't really bring up last year a whole lot, which is a good sign.
I wore No. 12 with the White Sox and last year with the Rangers. With Boston, I am wearing No. 40. It's for Hawk [Ken "Hawk" Harrelson, former All-Star and current White Sox broadcaster]. Hawk and I have known each other for a long time. He wore No. 40. When I came here, I couldn't take No. 12 because [Mike] Napoli wears it. I didn't want to fight for 12, so I was joking with some of the guys on the White Sox about how I can't be 12. They always call Hawk my dad, so I said, "Maybe I'll be 40." I know it made his day because anytime he sees me now he says, "Hey, 40."
We've now been briefed on the new home-plate collision rules, and I'm still not a fan of it. The umpires do a great job, but I think they have enough to worry about. This is one more thing added to their plate. It's going to be strange to see. You know the first month or so there are going to be some calls and some games lost because of that call. It's just going to take a whole bunch of getting used to. Five years from now, we aren't even going to remember that you could run over the catcher. But for right now, it's so new and so fresh that everyone is going to be focused on it and waiting for the first time it costs somebody the game and see what happens after that.
Honestly, I don't fully understand the new rule, either. I don't think anybody exactly does. It's going to be up to the discretion of each individual umpire. When you get into that, that's when you get into a gray area. It puts a lot of pressure on the umpires who already do a really good job. It's now one more thing they have to worry about.
There are a few things I am looking forward to about being on the Red Sox. One of them is finally hitting a home run at Fenway Park, which I've yet to do. I certainly hope I'm able to change that by the end of this season! I've hit a lot of balls off the Green Monster. I have a lot of dents out there. I've hit a lot of balls that made it to the right-field wall but not over. In fairness, I was only getting one series there a year when I was on the opposing team. It will be the last American League ballpark for me to check off hitting a homer in.
But the thing I'd say I'm most looking forward to is just putting on the Red Sox uniform and walking into Fenway knowing that people are behind you instead of being against you. It's always been a great place to play and fun because it's packed every game. But now the people, instead of hoping we do badly, will actually be rooting for me -- that will be fun.
Since I'm the new guy this year, I thought maybe each diary I'll tell you something you may not know about me. I like to travel. It's one thing I love to do. Every offseason we pick a place and go there for New Year's. We've been to Africa, Europe a couple of times, South America, Central America and Hawaii. For the last five years, we've been traveling with my former White Sox teammate Aaron Rowand and his wife, Mary Anne. It's become a fun tradition now. The most fun is picking where we're going to go because everyone has their own ideas. We try to figure out whether we want to go hot or cold or far east or far west. So it's kind of like throwing darts at a board and seeing what sticks.
The Africa trip was really amazing. The coolest thing was probably just going out and seeing all the animals, because when you think of animals in the wild here, you may see a deer and then not see another one for weeks. Over there, every animal you can think of is just everywhere. You go to a zoo in the U.S. and see two elephants, and you go out in a Jeep in Africa and there are 500 elephants walking toward you. It's a pretty amazing sight.