Commentary

Little brother has big plans

Talent runs in the family, but Stephen Drew may have extra motivation

Updated: February 19, 2013, 11:51 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- This is what happens when you're 11 years old and idolize your big brother, and he has about the prettiest left-handed swing you've ever seen.

You stand outside, throw a baseball up on the roof, wait until it comes back down and bounces, then swing. Not from the right side, your natural side, the way you learned to hit. But from the left side. It's awkward and weird at first, but you keep at it until that, too, feels natural.

"A lot of people don't know I was a switch-hitter,'' Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew said, sitting in front of his locker in camp here Tuesday morning and recalling how he took his cue from brother J.D. "I was a natural-born right-handed hitter. I always wanted to come back and hit right-handed. If I had to do it over, I would, but it's too late in my career to fiddle with that.''

He can't resist, though, once in a while. He took a few swings from the right side this winter in Hahira, Ga., where J.D. lives with his wife, Sheigh, and their three kids just down the road from Stephen and his wife, Laura, and their two boys.

[+] EnlargeStephen Drew
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaStephen Drew says this season will be a fresh start for him after a tough period in his career. "I hope I come back and have a great year,'' he said.

"Just playing around, nothing else to it,'' he said. "I could go back and do it. I think I could. I really do. But my swing is very good left-handed.''

But Stephen Drew wants you to understand that imitation has its limits. The Drew boys, all three of them -- J.D., Tim and Stephen -- are gifted ballplayers. Three first-round draft choices from one family -- J.D. by the Phillies, Tim by the Indians, Stephen by the Diamondbacks -- growing up in a tiny Georgia town just north of the Florida border. All three made it to the big leagues. J.D. and Stephen have tasted stardom; Tim didn't get there, but for parts of five seasons still belonged to one of the most selective fraternities there is.

"We're not prideful or boastful,'' Stephen said, "but it's amazing three first-rounders out of one house. The only reason that happened was God's grace.''

And yes, Stephen is wearing the same number, 7, that J.D. wore when he was with the Red Sox, and shares a deep and abiding faith with his brothers, a faith that he says has carried him through the rough patches. But then there is this.

"Everyone knows J.D. in Boston and what-not,'' he said. "I'm not J.D. I want that pointed out. We're different. We're a lot alike, but we're different.

"It's crazy. When you're in the same household and what-not, you can be extremely different and extremely the same.''

J.D. Drew played five seasons for the Red Sox, a mixed bag of a few splendid moments, like the grand slam he hit in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Indians in 2007, above-average defense in right field, lots of time spent nursing injuries, and a gnawing sense that the passion gene was missing -- epitomized by his business-as-usual reaction to Jacoby Ellsbury's electrifying steal of home while all around him Fenway Park was blowing up.

Outside of Stephen, there was very little demand for a Sox jersey with "Drew" on the back.

Stephen and J.D. spend a lot of time together back home. They go hunting and fishing (Stephen has put in a 20-acre pond on his farm, which he stocks with bass and brim), and there are plenty of kids to watch running around. There's been time to talk about Boston.

Drew Everyone knows J.D. in Boston and what-not. I'm not J.D. I want that pointed out. We're different. We're a lot alike, but we're different.

-- Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew

"It's a baseball town,'' Stephen said. "This game brings a lot of highs and lows. I just remember being there playing against him, you could just sense it. When the highs are high, they're really high. When the lows are low, they're really low. That's what I get out of it.''

Stephen Drew, who turns 30 this March, has been around long enough to have had his own share of highs and lows. He was putting together a nice little run as the Diamondbacks' everyday shortstop -- one of the better offensive players at the position in baseball, with an .800 OPS over a three-year stretch (2008-2010) -- until the July night at Chase Field when he fractured his right ankle in gruesome fashion while trying to score on a double by Chris Young.

It took nearly a full year for Drew to return. Before he did, in early June, Ken Kendrick, the Diamondbacks' managing general partner, went on a local radio station and eviscerated Drew.

"I think Stephen should have been out there playing before now, frankly," Kendrick said. "I, for one, am disappointed. I'm going to be real candid and say Stephen and his representatives are more focused on where Stephen is going to be a year from now than on going out and supporting the team that's paying his salary."

Drew and his agent, Scott Boras, were appalled. Three weeks after those damning remarks, Drew returned. Less than two months later, batting just .193, he was gone, traded to the Oakland Athletics in a waiver deal.

"The way I look at it, that was meant to be, that was meant to happen,'' Drew said of the sour end to his Arizona experience. "I loved playing for Arizona. I had some great years there, I really did. I put up some good numbers and did very well.

"Baseball today, they come and go. Seasons. That was a season, now I'm in a different season, with a fresh start. With all the hard work I put in, coming back from the injury, being thrown under a bus, with that said, I hope I come back and have a great year.''

Kendrick's contention that Drew was angling to cash in on his pending free agency rings hollow, given that Drew signed a one-year deal for $9 million with the Sox while he tries to re-establish his market value, the same course charted by Adrian Beltre with great success. He has little doubt that his ankle is fully recovered, and has shown no ill effects this spring.

"It was a long process,'' he said. "Did I come back too soon? Yeah, probably. The whole thing with ownership, if you know me you don't question if he's real or not, if he's lying or not. The one thing you'll get to know about me is I'm very open and honest.

"That's it. What you see is what you get. I've always been raised that way and that's the way I went about my business,'' he said.

John Farrell was the Sox pitching coach for all but one of the seasons in which J.D. Drew was the Sox right fielder. He wryly noted one difference between the brothers.

"Stephen talks a lot more than J.D,'' Farrell said.

That's not hard to do, given that J.D. was a man of few words, though he had a very dry sense of humor that wasn't really known outside of the Sox clubhouse.

Stephen Drew understands that like his older brother, he might find himself in the cross-hairs of criticism from time to time in Boston.

"My faith is going to keep me strong,'' he said. "That's what I go off of. I don't look at the outside world. You're going to have fingers pointed at you. There are times they're going to hate you. There are going to be times when they love you. That's just life.

"I'm five days into camp with the Red Sox. It's a fresh start for everybody. You can never see what a season holds, but I like to think it's very promising with this team and hopefully that will hold up.''

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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