Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks will be keeping a season-long diary with ESPNBoston.com. In his first edition, he talks about the changes from last season, how studying a shortstop has helped his game, and why he likes to interact so much with Red Sox Nation. He also reveals something you may not know about him. (As told to Louise K. Cornetta)
The biggest difference to me between spring training last year and this year is, for one, I’m no longer stuck in the corner of the locker room scared to open my mouth. I’m not sure if you’d say I have a voice or not in here, but I know I won’t get thrown into a trash can if I speak now.
This spring training has been a lot of fun. We have some great personalities in here and so far it’s been a blast. As you know, John Farrell is our manager this season. His style is he is very, very confident. He’s a confident guy and that rubs off on the coaches and us. I think a confident team is a good team.
I learned a lot in my rookie season. If I were to break down the three biggest lessons I learned from last year they would be: No. 1, to stick with your routine. I don’t mean to eat the same thing every day, not like that. It’s more about getting to the park around the same time every day, going about your business in the batting cage the same way, and just having consistencies. As we all know, baseball is a very inconsistent game. Secondly, I really learned how to talk to the media -- that was a big deal, especially in Boston. So that was important. Third was just to take care of my body. I really never dealt with too many injuries before my broken wrist and some tightness with the hamstring. I’m not 18 anymore. I can’t just run out there and play. I have to prep myself and also postgame have a routine for my body.
When I was out last year, I would sit on the bench and study the players out on the field as they played. The one that really stood out wasn’t even a third baseman. To tell you the truth, the guy I watched the most was a shortstop: J.J. Hardy from Baltimore. He’s very underrated as a defensive player. He makes only a handful of errors a year. [Editor’s note: In 2011 and 2012, Hardy had six errors each season.] He’s very solid and that’s hard to do with as many balls as he gets over there. I just watched his pre-pitch routine and the way he went about things during BP taking his ground balls and all that.
Someone on this team who was a help to me was David Ortiz. He literally took me under his wing as he’d see me sitting on the bench and put his arm around me. We would go and watch video and find my weaknesses to fix those and learn how to magnify my strengths.
I’ve definitely been asked if I am worried about a sophomore slump. It’s baseball. It’s another year and I can’t be worried about that. I’m working on, well, you name it. I’m working on everything. I’m trying to get better in all aspects. Once work stops and you stop trying to get better is when you should stop playing.
I’ve also been asked if the hamstring has limited me at all. No it hasn’t. The hamstring is something I worked on a lot during the offseason. I had a couple of tears in there for the past four or five years. There was a lot of scar tissue in there and that causes other pulls. We just tried to get in there and break all that up. Let’s just say it wasn’t really fun.
Now that I’m healthy and completely back from my wrist injury, the only goal I’ve set for myself is to play 150 games, that and win a World Series, of course. I don’t really set numerical goals other than I want to play a lot of games. The team goal is the same as it is every year and that is to get a ring. I feel like we have a target on our back, and as cliché as this is, we have a chip on our shoulder. We have a lot to prove and I think we can do it.
I like interacting with our fans. I think the fans are a huge part of the game. If you like Twitter then you may have noticed I am very active on there. My Twitter handle is @middlebrooks. I like talking to the fans on Twitter. I think people view us as superhuman and not real people. I just want to get the point across that we are real people. We’re not here to show anyone up or ignore you. Red Sox Nation is a passionate group. I’ve never been with any other organization, but I can’t see the support or passion with any other club. I think we should use that to our advantage and really enjoy it. I also became co-captain of the Jimmy Fund with Salty [Jarrod Saltalamacchia]. The Jimmy Fund and Dana-Farber are such a huge part of the Red Sox. There is a lot more to the Red Sox than just baseball and I wanted to be a part of that.
I figured since this is my first diary of the season, I’d come up with some things you may not know about me. First and foremost, I’m a huge family guy. I have two younger sisters that I’m probably a little overprotective of, but all big brothers probably are. One is 20 and the other is 22 and about to graduate college at Tulsa. My dad is actually coming down to his first spring training in a couple of weeks. He’s been a football and baseball coach for high school his whole life, so he’s never had time to come to spring training. I’m really excited for him to get down here.
Some other things you may not know about me:
* I am wearing No. 16 this season. It’s the number I’ve worn my whole life. It was either going to be 16 or 22. My dad and my sister always have worn 22. My sister wears 22 on her softball team in college. That number has a lot of importance to me, but it was already taken. So I just went with the number I’ve always worn.
* The No. 1 question I’ve gotten is: What’s the difference between Farrell and Bobby Valentine? My response is that they are two completely different coaching styles and people.
* Mike Napoli is one of the new faces on this team and someone I’ve known before, as we worked out in the offseason together. As reserved as he may seem, he’s a very funny guy. He has a really good sense of humor. Sarcasm is his style of humor. He’s really good at keeping it under wraps and coming off cool and collected in the clubhouse.
* I have WMB etched into the end of my bats. That probably came along two years ago because my name is really long, so we were just sick of writing my full name out. One of the clubbies just did it. It’s not even really my initials. My initials are WSM but they did the M-B for Middle-Brooks. It just kind of stuck.
* My best big league moment so far is my first home run, which was a grand slam. I actually was able to get the baseball because it went into the parking lot across the street from Fenway. A security guard got it back to me and I signed a bat to make a trade for it. The ball is at home with my family along with the bat I used. MLB authorized it and put a little sticker on it. So that was all pretty cool to have.
* The only nickname I really have is Brooksy. If you can come up with something better, feel free to leave a comment here.
So far, spring training has been great. I’m really enjoying the clubhouse atmosphere with everyone messing with each other. Everyone talks junk to each other every day. I have to come in prepared with some ammo for these guys, as I know they’re coming at me, but it’s fun. It’s a good atmosphere and a good mixture of getting our work done and still being able to have a good time.