Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks is keeping a diary for ESPNBoston.com this season. In his second installment, he talks about getting swept up in FGCU basketball, the new faces on the team, and why he loves opening the season against the Yankees. (As told to Louise K. Cornetta)
How's your bracket doing? I think if you ask anyone how theirs is doing the answer is not good. Around here, Florida Gulf Coast University has definitely been what people are talking about. Their intensity and swag have been fun to watch. It's always fun watching a higher seed beat up on the good teams. I was at Blu Sushi here in Fort Myers with Nap [Mike Napoli] and [Jonny] Gomes watching when they beat San Diego State. The place was going nuts. But Bar Louie across the way had a feed that was two seconds ahead of us, so we always knew when they were going to score. We just would listen for the roar.
With spring training winding to an end, I'm looking around and I have to say that I love everything about this team. Everyone is already best friends and gets along. While we have fun, we still push each other to be better. I wouldn't say there is one particular area we need to work on but rather continuing to become closer and play together. We have a new coaching staff. So we are learning a lot of new signs and coaching philosophies. We're trying to get used to that and make it a habit. I know having the public perception of this team as underdogs seems the complete opposite of what it should be. I want us to be feared. I want us to be a team that everyone marks on their schedule, not because they think they are going to beat us but because they are worried about getting beat. I think the perception will change pretty soon.
Numbers-wise, I've had a pretty solid spring. I hope everything carries over into the regular season, especially my mentality right now. This being my second year, I'm more comfortable. I know everyone. I actually have a say-so. I feel I can be a good part of this team. I want to be able to help us win games, that's the most important thing. After my first diary, I had a momentary scare with my wrist that I had injured last year. It took about a week or two before I could get past worrying about it. The first week of games when I irritated it, I was worried and didn't trust it. I'm past that now. I just had to get to the point where I didn't worry about hurting it or getting hit there. It took time and reps and it's gone now.
Without David Ortiz in the lineup while he gets better from his heel injury, do I feel more pressure hitting in the middle of the lineup without him? No, I feel zero pressure. There are so many guys around me who are going to help also that there is no added pressure. There is not a whole lot I can do to help replace one of the best hitters of the game. I go over to his locker and mess with him to try and keep his spirits up, but he's a guy who is going to be pretty consistent with his emotions. He doesn't really ride the roller coaster. He's still David. Nothing has really changed about him, though I know he's ready to get back out there.
As you know, we have quite a few new faces on the team. I thought I'd take a look at them:
* Jonny Gomes. He is a linebacker playing left-field. He's awesome and fun to watch. He pushes me to play hard every day. He's a leader on this team already.
* Shane Victorino is the Flying Hawaiian. He's a fun guy, a high-energy guy who brings a lot of speed to our lineup.
* Ryan Dempster is one of the funniest guys on the team. Really a good guy who has been nothing but great to me so far. I think he's going to be a really good addition to the pitching staff.
* Joel Hanrahan is one of my really good buddies. We worked out the last couple offseasons together in Dallas. A great addition, a great pitcher who is going to come in and shut guys down from the bullpen. On top of that, he is a great teammate.
* David Ross is another funny guy. He's probably the most genuine guy on the team. He knows his stuff. He's one of those guys that if you need anything, you go to him.
* Stephen Drew is my locker-mate. It's been a tough spring for Stephen. He started out well but then he got hit in the head, which is hard to come back from. Concussions are tough and you need to pass a lot of tests before you can come back. I know it's been tough for him to come in here and not be able to play, but he is back on the practice field now and will hopefully be back soon.
* Mike Napoli, I call him Nap. He is probably one of my closer friends of the new guys. We hang out a lot. He lives close to me. So we'll grab dinner. A good guy, who will be fun to watch because he's going to hit 500-foot homers.
* Jackie Bradley Jr. While he is not one of the new faces we brought in from a different team, he may be a new name to some Red Sox fans. I'm very impressed with him. What is he, 22? This is his first spring training and I think about my own and I was not anywhere near as comfortable as he is. It looks like he belongs. He is playing well, is comfortable, and fits in well with the guys. I'm excited to see how he is going to help us win some games this year. I am really hoping Jackie makes the team so I won't have to be the young guy anymore.
I love that we are opening the season against the Yankees in New York. There's no better way to start the season. Those games against the Yankees are different. I obviously haven't played in the postseason but they feel like what I guess the atmosphere is like. They just feel different than everything else. It should be emotional with the Newtown police and firefighters as part of the pregame ceremony. I hope some of those families can be there for that with Newtown not being very far away. I also hope we can make somebody smile.
After New York, we head to Toronto. It sure seems like they took the entire Marlins roster from last year. They have some good additions. The front office is doing everything that they can do to put together a team that is there to win. They are going to be a force, but so is everyone in this division. We'll be ready. John Farrell managed there last year, but for us, we won't be holding any special meaning to those games. As I said, it's almost a completely different team from when he was there. They still have their core guys like Brett Lawrie, Jose Bautista, Adam Lind, and a young guy Anthony Gose, but there aren't a lot of guys leftover there. This is a tough division and we just have to be ready to play every night.
When I look back on spring training in 2013, there isn't one specific memory that stands out but something I've really enjoyed are the road trips. Now road trips are normally pretty tough for the older guys and starters who don't love going on the long ones. But towards the end here, we have all started going on them so we can play consistently. We sit in the back of bus and mess with each other and tell jokes. It's fun and relaxed. No pranks yet, but those will come. I know they will. I'd say those moments where we are messing around have been the best parts for me.