Commentary

Sox clubhouse a comfort zone

Farrell has created a place where players can thrive by being themselves

Updated: February 25, 2014, 5:48 PM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBOSTON.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Dustin Pedroia started to have success at the big league level once he was able to combine his personality and baseball skills into one giant pain in the butt.

When he first was promoted to the majors during the 2006 season, and again at the start of his first full season in 2007, Pedroia struggled because he thought, as a rookie, he had to be seen and not heard. He wasn't himself and it affected his play.

Fortunately for the Red Sox, then-manager Terry Francona and veterans Alex Cora and Mike Lowell pulled the rookie aside and told him to be himself, so the chirping began and hasn't stopped since.

Over the past seven seasons, Pedroia has worked his way into a leadership position and is now the unquestioned captain of a clubhouse that reflects the character, drive and work ethic that have become the second baseman's hallmark.

[+] EnlargeDustin Pedroia
AP Photo/Steven SenneMike Napoli (left) says Dustin Pedroia's attitude sets a positive tone on and off the field. "He's energetic. He talks crap to everybody. He's just nonstop but he's the same way every day," Napoli said. "That's pretty cool."

Because Pedroia's personality stands out, other players feel comfortable being themselves, too.

That's a big reason why players such as Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes fit in so well. Both were instrumental in helping the Red Sox win the World Series in 2013. The fans were quickly attracted to their grit and the way they played the game. The beards and tattoos helped, too.

The Red Sox are Napoli's third organization, and the fifth for Gomes. Both will admit that Boston is the best fit for who they are as players and people.

"You don't obviously get the opportunity to play everywhere, so with that being said, to be able to find the market that clinches to your personality might never happen," Gomes said. "A team, or a fan base, or the game might never know how you tick and truly what makes you go outside of baseball."

When Napoli first arrived in Boston, he didn't know Pedroia on a personal level and had no idea what to expect.

"He's energetic. He talks crap to everybody. He's just nonstop, but he's the same way every day," Napoli said. "That's pretty cool, and just the way he plays the game. He's in every pitch. He cares about the game, respects the game, and that feeds off to everyone else around him."

Pedroia's influence extends into the business aspect of the game, too. In both of his long-term contracts with the Red Sox, he's taken hometown discounts to stay in Boston. While other players, such as Jacoby Ellsbury, bounce for a bigger payday, Pedroia is set on playing in a city where his ability and personality help create an atmosphere that fosters camaraderie and an all-for-one cohesiveness.

Napoli could have signed anywhere as a free agent this past offseason, but this was the baseball environment in which he wanted to play, even if it meant losing out on a bigger payday.

"You're talking about millions of dollars," Napoli said. "For me, I'm good with my money and I know I'm secure, so I'm more likely to take less money to stay where I want to stay and play. I knew I had a good thing here and this is where I wanted to play. You see Pedey do that, and the kind of guy he is to do that because he wants to win and to keep the group together, it makes you want to do it, too."

Of course, it's easy to get along as a group when you're winning. There's no doubt last year's success played a part in fostering the type of chemistry the 2013 Red Sox exhibited. Though there are new faces, there's reason to believe that formula will carry over to 2014. They're not taking that for granted, however, a fact they've reinforced in part with T-shirts that read "Turn The F---ing Page".

"Nap's been in big markets in Texas and Anaheim, but when you're in a big market and then you have a great year, the exposure doesn't change the person you are, by any means," Gomes said. "I just think it makes you more of the person you are. If you give back when you're in this big market and you're winning and everything is great, you'll get more."

When Gomes played for the Tampa Bay Rays earlier in his career (before stops in Cincinnati and Oakland), he was one of those opponents who was not well-liked in Boston. Now that he's won a World Series -- and was outspoken in doing so -- he knows not everyone in the baseball world understands him.

But Boston does.

"I can only imagine how people describe me in other clubhouses. I can't image it being that good, and I don't want it to be," Gomes said. "I never penned Nap as being a bad guy or anything, but he's just so f---ing intense. He would never talk to you when he was catching or at first. Now he's on my team and I'm like, 'Hell, yeah, don't talk to those guys.' Even when we go back to Texas and Anaheim, those are his buddies, but there are no buddies between the lines."

The home clubhouse at Fenway Park is small. The close confines can have its advantages, but can also be detrimental if a team is losing and the players don't respect one another. When Francona was managing, his door was always open and players made a habit of walking in and out of his office, especially Pedroia.

When Bobby Valentine managed the Sox in 2012, the atmosphere was dreadful because a manager the players did not like was so close to them.

When Farrell arrived, his goal was to nurture an environment in which players could be themselves. Like Francona's, Farrell's door is always open. When Francona was hired in Cleveland, he actually had the clubhouse renovated so his office would be closer to the players because of how much it helped when he was in Boston.

[+] EnlargeKoji Uehara
AP PhotoManager John Farrell, sharing a light moment with Koji Uehara, believes that the more comfortable a player is, the better he will perform to his ability.

"We all share a view that the more comfortable a player is, the more his natural abilities will come out," Farrell said.

"Guys are going to gain comfort at different rates," Farrell added. "Whether that's through their own self-confidence, or whether it's through the number of days in the clubhouse, or how they perform on the field, we try to eliminate any of the uncontrollables in their minds, so they can achieve that comfort level and be the player that their talents have shown."

Napoli and Gomes have clearly found their comfort zones. When both would play in Boston as visitors, they enjoyed the city and the ballpark because of the rich history, restaurants and entertainment. After wearing a Red Sox uniform and winning a World Series, neither will have to pay for a beer in town again.

"The fans are passionate about the game and they want you to win. It's unbelievable," Napoli said. "The city is blue collar and people get gritty out there and that's how I am. I think I've adapted well there and I love the city."

Boston Bruins forward Shawn Thornton spent the majority of his early career in the minors. He lived and played in many different cities, but when he came to Boston, he fit perfectly into the landscape. He became such a big part of the community he decided to make Boston his permanent home and says he'll stay even after his career is over.

Napoli feels the same way. He bought a house during the offseason, and he's not planning on going anywhere else.

"Yeah, it's a city I love and I'm still learning everything about it," Napoli said. "I love it there but I don't know how I'm going to love those winters after living in Florida all the time. It's just a good feeling being in Boston. I like living in the city and being around the people."

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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