Red Sox turn to kiddie corps

BOSTON -- He already owns a baseball team, a newspaper and a soccer club, and on Wednesday, Boston Red Sox owner John W. Henry added another enterprise to his portfolio: a preschool at 4 Yawkey Way.

All month, the Sox marketing people have been running a promotional exercise they tab "Calling All Kids." On Wednesday, it spilled onto the field, where the team started five rookies for the first time since 1987 (not including September call-ups). The newest addition was 23-year-old catcher Christian Vazquez, who was 3 when the man he replaced, A.J. Pierzynski, started his career in pro ball.

Having disintegrated on this last-stand homestand, losing seven of the first eight games at Fenway since taking two straight from the New York Yankees in the Bronx, the Red Sox are abandoning any pretense of contending in 2014. Pierzynski was the first to go, designated for assignment after a season in which the 37-year-old was a profound disappointment at the plate.

"The offense just wasn't there," said general manager Ben Cherington, who refrained from adding that when A.J. doesn't hit, the tolerance level for his regressive defense and prickly personality quickly becomes exhausted.

Cherington acknowledged that Pierzynski won't be the last Red Sox player filling out change-of-address cards before the month is over.

"I think we're in an unusual and perhaps unique position," he said. "It's unusual in the sense that we haven't been in this position -- at least since I've been here -- in a position of even thinking about trading players at the deadline. So that's unusual.

"It's unique because on the one hand, our team is where it is. On the other hand, we've got guys on the team who ... were winning the World Series months ago. That just doesn't happen often in baseball. Sometimes teams are sellers, but not necessarily with guys that are coming off success like that. So we'll just have to see what happens.

"As I've said before, whatever we do will be with the mind of trying to get better as quickly as possible and trying to build the next good team as quickly as possible."

But unlike Bobby Valentine, who was saddled with The Pedro Ciriaco All-Stars in the closing months of 2012, Red Sox manager John Farrell has been commissioned with the care and upkeep of a talented young brood comprised of players who are supposed to be integral parts of the team's future.

The freshman class doesn't end with Vazquez. Pitcher Brandon Workman will be back after the All-Star break, and highly regarded pitching prospects Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes all can be expected to get a look-see at some point this summer. Rubby De La Rosa technically isn't a rookie, but he's still raw, and he was pitching to a kid (Vazquez) while backed by kids -- Brock Holt at short, Xander Bogaerts at third, Jackie Bradley Jr. in center and Mookie Betts in right.

Beer and chicken? Sox clubhouse man Tom McLaughlin is stocking up on juice boxes and Lunchables. The Sox already have a nap room, so that won't be an issue, but Dr. Seuss will take his place alongside Maxim as clubhouse reading material.

The kids, as kids do, will bring energy and enthusiasm, as they did in sparking Wednesday night's 5-4 walk-off win over the Chicago White Sox, but we've already seen the growing pains that come with having to put on big-boy pants. Bogaerts, penciled in as Rookie of the Year on many ballots even before the season started, looks "spooked," to the eyes of one scout, as he wrestles with the first bout of failure he has ever known.

Bradley, who made a spectacular diving catch on Wednesday, may finally be coming around at the plate after weeks of looking overmatched. Betts and Holt are infielders learning how to play outfield on the fly, Holt's transition smoother than Mookie's at this stage.

Vazquez, meanwhile, will be receiving on-the-job training at the game's most demanding position. He'll have a great mentor in David Ross, but he'll have enough homework to fill two backpacks.

The Sox usually don't take off the training wheels until the kids have shown they won't fall off the bike in Pawtucket and Portland. But there is a value, Cherington said, in seeing how well they can navigate the terrain here. That's why there is still no thought at this time for Bogaerts to be sent back down, although Farrell sent up Mike Carp to hit for him in the eighth on Wednesday night.

"I don't think you say unequivocally 'no' to anything," Cherington said, "but part of what we need to do is develop players here. There are things different about playing in Boston.

"Xander is going to get a lot out of playing here, figuring things out here while in Boston. That's what we're focusing on doing."

For the rest of New England, school's out for the summer. For the Red Sox, it's just beginning. Not everyone can go to the head of the class. But it should be fun to watch these kids try. It certainly was Wednesday night.

"We haven't conceded anything," Farrell said. "The bottom line is to go out and win."