COMMENTARY | This spring, several familiar faces have popped up around the Boston Red Sox's spring training facility. John Farrell seems to be facilitating a reunion of sorts between his current team and some past players who were not only very productive on the field but also tended to be positive influences in the clubhouse.
Here are some former players who have started mentoring current Sox in some capacity:Pedro Martinez - Honestly, I don't know what Pedro is telling the pitchers. He's kind of a wild-card. Maybe he's demonstrating what to do if Don Zimmer takes a run at you.
Seriously, though, he was a fantastic talent and is a smart guy, so it can't hurt to have him around as a resource for the younger guys. Also, as I wrote about last week, if John Lackey and/or Franklin Morales really struggle, maybe Pedro can still pitch. Don't tell me you're not curious.
Tim Wakefield - Wakefield has been at training camp this year working with knuckleball-pitcher Stephen Wright, a 28-year-old hoping to break in and be a contributor at the major-league level. Wakefield is no stranger to this situation. He was a first baseman when he came up through the minors and eventually it became clear that he was too weak of a hitter to make it. He switched over to the knuckleball and was able to excel, first with the Pittsburgh Pirates and then with the Sox. He can provide encouragement to Wright in that he knows how hard it is to succeed with the knuckleball and the specific challenges that go along with trying to reinvent yourself as a player. Wright came up through the minors as a conventional pitcher and switched to the knuckleball when he stopped advancing through the system.
In addition to his potential to provide emotional support, Wakefield obviously can help with the technical aspects of throwing the knuckleball. He's one of the few people in the history of the game to be able to make a successful career leaning primarily on that one pitch; he can help as a sort of specialized pitching coach. This could be very valuable because while the Sox have their own pitching coach and a manager in Farrell who is a former pitching coach, there are issues specific to the knuckleball that they would not be experts in. The fundamentals of the pitch are different to a certain degree, and there's probably nobody out there right now in a better position to coach the knuckleball than Wakefield.
Jason Varitek - Varitek has been brought in to lend his considerable knowledge to the Sox catchers. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is still a relatively young player and stands to benefit from the leadership that Varitek will provide. While David Ross is a veteran himself, both he and Saltalamacchia can work with Varitek to understand the starting pitchers for the Red Sox. He has personally worked with some of them and can help in the pitch-calling department.
Mike Lowell - Dustin Pedroia called in his old buddy to help him and Will Middlebrooks sort out double plays. Or at least that's what Pedroia gave as the reason for calling. Based on what I've seen of Middlebrooks at third, it's the first part of the double play that needs help.
Middlebrooks is not an incompetent fielder, but he consistently takes a bad angle to the ball on sharply hit grounders. Lowell is helping him keep to a 45-degree angle. Hopefully, these lessons translate to better performance at the hot corner for the Sox. This would be a big upgrade because Middlebrooks was an above-average hitter in his first season in the big leagues, and I expect him to improve this year. The only area that needs major improvement for him seems to be corralling the baseball at third.
The biggest advantage out of all of this may be the change in attitude. The former fan-favorites in Boston are enthusiastic about this team. The Red Sox community seems to be on the same page. This team may be a longshot for the playoffs, but it's headed in the right direction.
George M. Helmholtz has been around baseball his whole life. He grew up in the Boston area and spent four years working for the Hyannis Mets and the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox of the Cape Cod baseball league.
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