He'd take a ring over a starring role

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- "I'll tell you a funny story,'' Marco Scutaro said.

This was his first day in the big leagues, a midseason call-up from the Mets' Triple-A team in Norfolk, Va.

He'd flown to Cincinnati to join the big club, but because most of the Mets were registered in the hotel under assumed names, he couldn't get in touch with Edgardo Alfonzo, a fellow Venezuelan and the player on the team he knew best.

It was a Sunday day game, so he went into the hotel coffee shop to have breakfast by himself. A couple of seats down, he recognized the Mets' manager, Bobby Valentine. "Oh my God,'' he thought to himself.

He hesitated. Should he go introduce himself? If he didn't, Valentine might ask him later at the ballpark why he'd avoided him.

So he overcame his shyness and spoke to Valentine. "Hello, Bobby, I'm Marco Scutaro.''

Valentine answered, "Hi, kid, how you doing?'' and resumed eating. Then Valentine, a gregarious type, looked up and said, "So, kid, do you live around here, or are you going to school in Cincinnati?''

"I'm Scutaro,'' he said. "I'm your new player.''

Scutaro had looked forward to this day all his life, through the seven long years he'd played in the minors. Even now, Scutaro says, his first day remains his favorite moment in the big leagues.

But he never thought it would begin like this. All that was missing was Valentine asking him if he wanted an autograph.

Scutaro smiled. "Bobby said, 'Oh my God, I'm so sorry.'''

That afternoon, Scutaro entered the game as part of a double switch involving Mo Vaughn, the former Red Sox slugger, and flied out in his only at-bat. The next night, pinch-hitting against another former Boston player, Tomo Ohka, Scutaro broke a 2-all tie with a triple, and the Mets won.

That night, Valentine had no trouble remembering his name, but the story stands as a metaphor for the difficulty Scutaro has had forging his own identity in the game. For one thing, people hear the name and assume he's Italian. He is, at least on one side. His father was born in Italy and as a child played with the shells and rusted guns and other residue left by a world war. Donatello Scutaro and his family moved to Venezuela after the war, and it was in Venezuela that he married Scutaro's mother, who was from Spain, and it was there, in San Felipe, that Scutaro was born.

The Indians signed him just before he turned 19, but he labored for years in the minors, first with the Indians, then the Brewers and Mets. He lasted parts of just two seasons with the Mets, then was claimed off waivers by the Oakland Athletics, who turned him into a super sub, playing all over the diamond.

Then, after the 2007 season, he was traded to Toronto for a couple of minor leaguers. Last season, at age 33, Scutaro became an everyday shortstop for the first time in his career, and he thrived as the Blue Jays' leadoff man. His timing was impeccable. A free agent, he was scooped up by the Red Sox, who were looking for more stability at short and more offense than Alex Gonzalez, the last of four players to play the position for the Sox last season, could provide.

But even here, Scutaro has been overshadowed this spring in the excitement created by Jose Iglesias, the 20-year-old Cuban defector who already has been tabbed as the team's shortstop of the future.

Another man would have burned at the slight. That man isn't Scutaro.

"Not really,'' he said when asked if all the attention cast on Iglesias bothered him. "Actually, I'm really happy for him. Here's a kid who had nothing, not even enough food to eat, and all of a sudden he is here, making good money, a chance to go to the big leagues, build a life for himself, and his family.

"God, man, I love that. I kind of know how it works. He'll be the guy in a couple of years. I give them my two years, and then they make the change.''

Scutaro knows what it's like to feel alone, the way Iglesias does when he thinks of his parents and his five brothers and one sister. Scutaro, who has an older brother and two older sisters, was in the Indians' baseball academy in San Felipe when he received terrible news: His mother Nelida had died of brain cancer at the age of 49. She died on Scutaro's 18th birthday.

Perhaps that experience created the pool of empathy that caused him to be a source of support for Iglesias this spring, but then again, reaching out to a younger player always has been his style. Scutaro, whose locker in the Sox clubhouse is next to a fellow Venezuelan, catcher Victor Martinez, is reminded of another story.

"Me and Victor, I've known him since he was 17 years old,'' Scutaro said. "We met in the Indians' academy in San Felipe. I was a little ahead of him. He was a shortstop, real skinny.

"He's the same kid now that he was then. ... He hasn't changed a bit. The same guy. Now he's a superstar, but he's the same kid. He's great.''

Scutaro enjoyed his years in Toronto, but not enough to take the nearly three-hour bus ride to Dunedin that a split squad of Red Sox took on Sunday for a game that was rained out. "I'll see [the Blue Jays] once the season starts,'' he said.

He also could have gone back to Oakland -- the Athletics offered him a contract -- but he says this is where he wants to be.

"I'm comfortable here,'' he said. "This is a great team. And I want the ring.''

You have the ring, they don't even need to know your name. You're a winner. That's good enough, he says, for him.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.