Commentary

Camp Farrell kicks off

Red Sox start fresh under new manager/old friend John

Updated: February 16, 2013, 1:51 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For the first time this spring, the entire Boston Red Sox team emerged from the clubhouse here at JetBlue Park at Fenway South for full-squad workouts.

The catchers in camp packed their equipment bags on a golf cart, talking among themselves for a few minutes before walking out as a group to stretch. The pitchers followed. Then the position players joined in. One by one, coaches emerged from the giant garage door to the equipment room.

New Red Sox manager John Farrell then walked from the clubhouse, a fungo bat in hand, ready for the first official day.

[+] EnlargeJohn Farrell
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaJohn Farrell punctuated his first day leading full-squad workouts with a fungo bat, a striking prop for the old pitching coach.

It's been quiet here since players first began to arrive in camp. The pitchers and catchers have gone about their business, while the position players have done their work, too. There's a sense of normalcy. No doubt Camp Farrell is much different than a year ago when Camp Valentine was getting under way.

There are no golf carts zipping players from field to field. No one is yelling and screaming. The television screens in the clubhouse don't have a running loop of the dos and don'ts for the players to watch on a daily basis.

Suffice it to say, Farrell's camp is a little more relaxed than 2012 manager Bobby Valentine's version.

"It's good, man," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "It's been awesome."

During the team's first full-squad stretch, Farrell spoke with players, mostly the new faces in town. It seemed weird to see a former pitching coach walking around with a fungo bat in his hand, but as one Red Sox staffer said with a laugh, it's probably more of an accessory for the new manager.

"This has been a lot of fun," the staffer said of Farrell's presence.

Farrell has made it known that he would like the team to be more aggressive on the bases this season, so, naturally, baserunning was the first drill for position players on Friday. The manager stood and watched while he spoke with new first baseman/catcher Mike Napoli, who is not allowed to participate in running or fielding drills yet because of a hip issue.

It didn't take long for Farrell before he walked over to the bullpen area where the catchers and pitchers were working. Farrell and new pitching coach Juan Nieves spent more than an hour watching the likes of John Lackey and Jon Lester throw bullpen sessions. Farrell was particularly interested in the left-hander. Lester and Farrell discussed windup, arm angle and delivery.

Farrell knows that a championship team is built on pitching, so it's no wonder he spends as much time with the pitchers as he can. After all, that is his strength. When he was interviewing pitching coach candidates during the winter, Farrell made it clear he would be hands-on with the pitching staff, but would not interfere with the coach's job.

When Farrell spoke with Nieves, it was evident they shared similar ideas about pitching, and Nieves was hired.

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The conversations between Nieves and Farrell were extensive during the offseason as the pair formulated a plan of attack. Farrell's built-in relationship with many of the pitchers has helped Nieves transition smoothly into his new position with the Red Sox. It would seem to be a challenging task for a pitching coach to work with a manager whose background is built on pitching, but that hasn't been the case with the Red Sox.

"Of course I'm an extension of John," Nieves said. "He's our manager and has a background of pitching, and [the pitchers] have a rapport with him, so it helps a lot when he brings a guy in to be his right-hand man on the pitching side and work with the pitchers. It's a smooth transition."

The Red Sox pitchers are thirsty for knowledge, and the coaching staff is equipped to handle the task with Farrell and Nieves in place.

After his hour-long session with the pitchers on Friday, Farrell grabbed his fungo bat and walked back to the field where the position players were taking batting practice. He stood in left field by himself and shagged some balls. Eventually, Pedroia joined him.

From a distance, it seemed as though their conversation was serious, but Pedroia's personality quickly took over and Farrell could be seen laughing.

"It's always a treat," Farrell said after the workout. "Every day could be something different."

While the two were standing in the outfield, a ball was on the ground near an opening in the fence. A boy was standing with his father nearby when Pedroia yelled to the youngster: "Hey, kid. Go get that ball."

The boy sprinted toward the ball when the veteran second baseman yelled back: "Hey, kid. Get off the field."

Pedroia, Farrell, the boy's father and other fans all laughed.

New Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo is no stranger to Farrell.

[+] EnlargeRed Sox
Matthew J. Lee/Getty ImagesThe hope is that John Farrell's presence will pay immediate dividends for this Sox pitching staff.

Lovullo managed Triple-A Pawtucket when Farrell was still the pitching coach for Boston in 2010. When Farrell was hired to manage the Toronto Blue Jays, he brought Lovullo with him as his first-base coach for two seasons. When Farrell returned to Boston as manager last October, it didn't take long for him to name Lovullo his bench coach.

The two entered Red Sox camp extremely prepared, and it shows by how efficient each of the first few days have been conducted. Even the first official day of full-squad workouts went smoothly. At the end of the morning on Friday, the two spoke for a brief moment on the outfield grass of one of the practice fields at JetBlue Park before returning to the clubhouse. Both were satisfied with the day.

The Red Sox and Blue Jays are completely different organizations. Despite that fact, Lovullo has not seen any difference in Farrell's demeanor or approach.

"He's very consistent," Lovullo said. "He's very even-keeled. He doesn't get too high, and he doesn't get too low. He's got a thought process and he's got a great way to express his feelings to all of us. I've never seen that change. I've never seen any part of him waver, and that's one of his strengths.

"He gets his message across. He gets his point across to the staff, players and everybody around him responds."

Lovullo says Farrell's professional approach helps create a comfortable environment for players and coaches to be in the best possible position to succeed.

"He has expectations, and he outlines them, and he sets forth a plan for what he wants and the guys are going out there and executing it. Internally, he has some great ideas, and he wants to make sure the guys go out and execute that game plan. He's very consistent with what he is and who he is. That's his strength.

"I don't want to get that mixed up that he's not an intense person or that there's no fire in his belly to go out there and get things done, because we all see that internally. Externally, he's a guy who's very consistent and relays his message."

Farrell hasn't been all business all the time. He mixes in a few chirps to the players and interacts with the fans, too.

For the Red Sox players who know him the best, his presence has been a calming one.

"It's been great," said Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "I had him as a pitching coach and he was fun to be around. He's so positive and has so much knowledge. There's no wishy-washy, should we do this, should we do that. He's got our back and you've got to trust him. That's what you want as a player, you want to trust your manager, and it's been great."

Farrell has tried to make the newcomers feel comfortable as well.

"He's been great," said Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino said. "He's got one mindset, and that's to create a winning atmosphere and to be part of a winning team. That's everybody's outtake on things, but having a guy leading the way and having that approach is what it's about."

Even though this is his first season with the Red Sox, Victorino has heard plenty of horror stories from his new teammates about last spring training and how chaotic it was under Valentine.

"I think everybody is going to talk about [Farrell] being the manager here, and people will always reflect on Valentine and compare the two, but let's put 2012 behind us. As a guy who didn't play [for the Red Sox] in 2012, I'm tired of hearing about it in 2013. John's been great. He's going to be a great leader for us."

During the team's annual spring training meeting, ownership and management spent a good portion of the 50-minute session talking about being professional. It was always a good time to introduce all the new players and staff members to the Red Sox philosophy.

"The transition has been great. The guys in the clubhouse have been fun," Victorino said. "There's a lot of excitement. A lot of people want to show that 2013 is a different year. We're going to play the game correctly, and that's what we need to focus on."

Victorino echoed Farrell's message to the team. While the Red Sox have struggled both on and off the field in recent seasons, the goal is to refocus on the present.

"It's an honor to stand up in front of that group with this uniform on," Farrell said. "I can't say it was met with trepidation or anxiety, but it was a good start."

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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