If Disney World is the happiest place on earth, then Boston Red Sox camp has been a narrow runner-up this spring.
One year removed from a 93-loss season under manager Bobby Valentine, the Red Sox are experiencing a quiet camp under new skipper John Farrell. In fact, team president Larry Lucchino recently referred to "good vibrations" emanating from JetBlue Park, but not even The Beach Boys could do justice to the mood.
"Everyone's positive," second baseman Dustin Pedroia told the Boston Herald, "and when you're around people that are positive, you want to go out there and push yourself and do all you can do to not let them down."
The spring training harmony doesn't guarantee the Red Sox will have a winning season, but it's also a stark contrast to a year ago. Looking back, several players admitted to the Herald that they didn't trust Valentine, believing that he had a hidden agenda. Valentine's look-at-me personality proved irritating and divisive, and his inability to communicate clearly left players guessing about how they were regarded.
"Even when camp broke, some guys were in positions that they weren't quite comfortable with," reliever Daniel Bard told the newspaper. "Nothing felt really set in stone. It felt like we were just winging it to start the season. I don't think we'll have that feeling as much this year."
Farrell is a bear of a man, 6-foot-4 with broad shoulders, big hands, a square jaw and a steady gaze. He speaks in thoughtful run-on sentences, not pithy sound bites, and he's a straight talker, so direct that right-hander Clay Buchholz cops to having once been scared of him.
But Farrell also is the anti-Valentine, both in words and deeds. He's direct and low-key, and he has placed an emphasis on substance rather than style.
Farrell held a 50-minute team meeting Feb. 15 before the first full-squad workout. He stressed two rules: be on time and be professional. In return, several players said Farrell pledged to be honest.
"Coming in last year, we didn't know Bobby. We only heard stories," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "You don't want to judge someone before you meet him, but sometimes it was tough to approach him. It was tough to talk to him about things. That was a little different for guys.
"A lot of guys know Farrell, and even if you don't, he's real approachable. He's a guy that you can sit and talk to and have normal conversation and not feel anything other than what it was. He lets you know where you stand, too. It's a great atmosphere here, and that's what John brings."