Lowrie learning art of diplomacy
While fiancée tackles global relations, infielder navigates own challenges with the Sox
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The smartest person Red Sox infielder Jed Lowrie says he ever met was featured in a national ad for scholar-athletes while still in high school. Ranked No. 1 in her class, A-plus average, student council president, yearbook editor, National Merit scholar.
He was not alone in his regard for Milessa Muchmore, who went on to earn degrees in international relations and Spanish from Stanford and a master's in public affairs and international relations from Princeton. The U.S. State Department hired her, and attached her to the American consulate in Toronto.
Lowrie is going the government one better, though. He is planning to marry Muchmore in November, which some would say makes him a pretty smart guy, too. The couple met at Stanford, where he was playing baseball and she was a pole vaulter, in the first weeks of her freshman year, he said.[+] EnlargeDerick E. Hingle/US PresswireLowrie has added first base to his repertoire but still takes most of his ground balls at shortstop.
"Obviously I thought highly of her right from the minute I saw her,'' said Lowrie, who is completing work on his own degree in political science. "We hung out a lot together in college. She was in a sorority, so we went to a lot of formals, but we never dated until after we were done with undergrad, and she was in grad school and I was playing pro ball.''
The ballplayer and the diplomat. That's a unique combination, one in which Libya and Egypt filter into their everyday conversation as well as the Yankees and Rays, but one that serves them both well, Lowrie says.
"I think that kind of drives us,'' he said. "We're both so passionate about what we're doing. We see that in the other person, we respect that in the other person, and I feel like we're pretty unique in that sense.
"And I have the offseason to go hang out with her. She's doing some pretty cool work now.''
Soon, Muchmore will receive word of another posting, most likely to Latin America, taking advantage of her fluency in Spanish. Lowrie, meanwhile, is laying stake this spring to his own position with the Red Sox, though the role they have mapped out for him -- utility infielder, one capable of playing all four infield positions -- is not the one he would design for himself.
Lowrie still envisions himself as a shortstop, but that old-fashioned American concept of competing for a job and "may the best man win" is not applicable in this case. The Red Sox said from the outset that veteran Marco Scutaro is the shortstop.
Of course, Lowrie said, he would have liked the chance to challenge Scutaro for the position, especially given the way he played after returning from a long bout with mononucleosis last year: He put up a .287 AVG/.381 OBP/.526 SLG line after coming back, and hit a career-best nine home runs in just 171 at-bats.
"I think that's what we all train for, we all prepare for,'' he said. "I said it earlier. I don't have a lot of control over their decisions. All I can do is prepare myself.''
I just have to be ready this year to do what they ask. [Utility] might be what my year is this year. In the future I wouldn't want to see it that way, but sometimes you have to do things that are going to be bigger than yourself. You have to help the club in a role you don't see yourself in.” -- Red Sox infielder Jed Lowrie
Three of Boston's four regular infielders -- Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis -- are all coming off surgery, and Scutaro played all season with a pinched nerve in his neck and also had a strained rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder. That would suggest Lowrie may see lots of playing time.
On the other hand, Gonzalez just declared his intention of playing in all 162 games, Pedroia played in 157 games and 154 games in the two seasons before he fractured his foot, Youkilis seldom sits and Scutaro will be playing to extend his career. How much playing time, then, does that leave Lowrie?
"I think it's a fair question,'' he said, "one there isn't an answer to yet, because I don't know. It's something we'll find out as the year goes along. I don't have a good answer for you on that one.
"Any time positions are set already, there's an element of uncertainty. I just have to be ready this year to do what they ask. [Utility] might be what my year is this year. In the future I wouldn't want to see it that way, but sometimes you have to do things that are going to be bigger than yourself. You have to help the club in a role you don't see yourself in.''
In a game in which players often are slotted early in their career, Lowrie refuses to entertain the idea that he might be typecast as a utility player.
"I don't even want to get in that conversation,'' he said, "because I don't see myself as that player. I'm not even going to talk about it.''
Yet he's not unaware that the team's top position prospect also is a shortstop, Jose Iglesias, the gifted Cuban defector in whom the Sox made a significant investment ($8 million over four years) and who the team has on a course that would bring him to the big leagues by 2012, if not sooner.
That raises questions about how much of a fair shot at the job Lowrie will get next season.
"I'm going to try not to think about that,'' he said. "At the same time I want to play. It's tough, a rock and a hard place. I want to play. That's really all I can say. I'm going to prepare myself to play every day.''
And Lowrie is healthy for the first time since the spring of 2008. That year, he played most of the season with a fractured left wrist. The 2009 season was lost because the club didn't see the need for surgery, and he sought additional opinions that ultimately led him to have an operation that April. The wrist was still troublesome last spring, though he could play with it.
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The Red Sox, evidently not a superstitious lot, earlier this month sent Lowrie to Port St. Lucie for a split-squad game against the Mets. It was on another trip to Port St. Lucie a year ago at this time that Lowrie complained of extreme fatigue and was ultimately diagnosed with mononucleosis, which sidelined him for several months.
"I'm not a doctor by any stretch of the imagination,'' he said, "but I think if you look at all the pieces of the puzzle I was pretty run-down. I really got taken advantage of by the virus. My body was overwhelmed by the virus.
"The first month I would struggle to get out of bed. When I did come in to work out, I'd be walking on the treadmill for a couple of minutes and that's all I had. It felt like I'd been walking for hours.''
Lowrie missed the first 94 games of the season. But once he was healthy, he showed what he could do. Almost half (23) of his 49 hits went for extra bases, and with Scutaro finally yielding to his shoulder problems, Lowrie started 19 of the team's final 24 games at short.
"Hope is always a tremendous motivator,'' he said of feeling good this spring, "so when you're not looking down the barrel of a gun, it gives you a little more hope.''
Lowrie has added playing first base to his repertoire this spring with no problem, having filled in at that position a couple of times in the late innings last year. Still, he takes most of his ground balls at short, to make sure he builds up arm strength.
With the team's plans for him and his own desires at cross-purposes, Lowrie is in a potentially tricky situation, one requiring some diplomacy. His fiancée is not the only one showing a knack for that art.
"All I can do is go out and show them where I'm at right now,'' he said. "My focus is to continue to get better as a baseball player every single day. I know I'll eventually be where I want to be.''
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.
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