Mike Lowell a class act from start to end
Retiring infielder looks back on career, considers himself 'lucky'
His name has come up in trade talks. His playing time has dwindled due to injuries. And all of this has happened since he decided to re-sign with the Red Sox for less money following the 2007 season after the club won the World Series and he was named MVP of the Fall Classic.
From the beginning of his Red Sox career, he was called "a throw-in" as part of the deal that brought Josh Beckett to Boston from the Florida Marlins prior to the 2006 season, but Lowell turned out to be much more than that in a Red Sox uniform.
He's been a leader. He's been a mentor. He's been successful. Most of all, he's been a professional through the good times and bad.
And because of all that, the Red Sox will honor Lowell in a pregame ceremony being called "Thanks, Mike Night" on Oct. 2 at Fenway Park.
"It's a very rewarding feeling that the organization you've played for for five years is satisfied and really pleased with the work you did," Lowell said. "I know this year was hard on me, but I don't think it was easy for them, either. There's always two ways in the street. I think it's very nice; I'm not saying it's a fitting way to end, but if they see it as a fitting way to end, then I appreciate that."
This season has been a difficult one for Lowell. He arrived at spring training behind schedule due to a thumb injury that required offseason surgery. Plus, his surgically repaired hip from the previous winter was bothering him.
"It obviously didn't go the course I wanted it to," Lowell said. "The thing I was most disappointed about was if I could have come into spring training healthy [things could have been different]. I think spring training, as much as people say it doesn't mean anything, it's very valuable to the way you feel going into the season.
"Some guys need six days; some guys need six weeks. That's the part that set me back a little because I knew I wasn't going to be getting the at-bats to start the season. When I did get the at-bats, I felt like I didn't have anything to base it on -- successes or adjustments. That made it hard, but that's the way life goes."
Despite all the setbacks, Lowell said he would rather focus on all the positives he's enjoyed during his tenure in Boston and not how this season turned out.
The most memorable moment of his Red Sox career took place Oct. 28, 2007, at Coors Field. Lowell stood in front of the visitor's dugout following the Sox's clinching victory over the Colorado Rockies in Game 4 of the World Series, holding the MVP trophy.
At the time, his contract was about to expire and the general feeling was the Red Sox would not sign him to a long-term deal. The Red Sox fans who were in attendance that night began to chant, "Sign Mike Lowell. Sign Mike Lowell. Sign Mike Lowell."
Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein offered the veteran third baseman a three-year deal worth $37.5 million. The sides agreed, and little did Lowell realize at the time he put pen to paper that it would be his last major league contract.
When he looks back on his career, his time in Boston will be the most memorable.
"Winning the World Series is obviously the ultimate thing," the two-time World Series winner said. "My best moment was that final out when [Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon] stuck out Seth Smith, and knowing we've accomplished something that a lot of people would have been disappointed if we didn't accomplish it. That has to be very rewarding in itself. I was fortunate to have that feeling twice.
"A lot of good players play a lot of years and never have that chance to, let alone win a World Series, but get to one or even play in the postseason. That's really special. I think it's a little bit of luck of being in the right situation, but also taking advantage of that situation by being able to have a good year."
Lowell did have a spectacular season in 2007.
He hit a career-high .324 and added 21 homers and 120 RBIs in 154 games during the regular season.
"Since he got here, at first, they weren't expecting much," second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "He was coming off a bad year in Florida, but geez, the first year he hit 20 bombs and drove in 80. In '07, he's a huge reason why we won the World Series."
With a new contract in hand at the start of the 2008 season, Lowell struggled due to a nagging hip injury and finished the season with a .274 average in 113 games. He was hurting so bad that he decided at the start of the AL Division Series that October that he needed to shut it down and have surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right hip.
I don't think people know what he did for the team and the organization [in 2008]. He was pretty much playing on one leg. It wasn't fun for him, but he helped us win games." -- Dustin Pedroia, on Mike Lowell
"When he got hurt, I had never seen anybody play through the pain like he did," Pedroia said. "I don't think people know what he did for the team and the organization. That's why all the stuff about the trades, it's not only hard on him, it's hard on everybody. The guys here saw what he went through. He was pretty much playing on one leg. It wasn't fun for him, but he helped us win games."
During that offseason, there was talk about the Red Sox wanting to trade him, but it never happened.
Lowell wanted to be ready for spring training, and even though he was never 100 percent healthy during 2009, he played 119 games and posted a .290 average with 17 homers and 75 RBIs. Once the offseason rolled around, again the Red Sox attempted to trade Lowell, especially with plans of signing free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre. But a trade never materialized.
Due to a thumb injury and subsequent surgery, along with lingering hip problems, Lowell struggled to stay healthy this season. At one point this summer prior to the All-Star Game, Red Sox manager Terry Francona allowed Lowell to return home to Florida for some much-needed family time.
It was then that Lowell seriously considered retirement.
When he returned from Miami after the break, the Red Sox waited to activate him because the possibility of a trade still existed. After July 31 came and went, Lowell was desperately needed when first baseman Kevin Youkilis went on the disabled list with a thumb injury and needed season-ending surgery.
After everything he dealt with this season, it was clear Lowell was unhappy, but he never aired his displeasure publicly. It was only recently that he announced this season would be his last.
As Lowell plays his final games, he'll especially treasure this weekend and his last trip to the Bronx -- which began with a 10-8 Red Sox win over the New York Yankees on Friday night -- and next weekend when the Red Sox close out the season, hosting the Yankees at Fenway Park.
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The Yankees originally selected Lowell in the 20th round of the 1995 draft, and he played only eight games in the big leagues for New York before he was traded to the Marlins in 1999.
"I wish [finishing against the Yankees] would have had a lot more importance to it," Lowell said.
Like the majority of former pro athletes, Lowell said he's going to miss being around his teammates on a daily basis. He's going to miss the routine and the competitiveness.
"I know everyone says it, but I really enjoy coming to the ballpark every day," he said.
He will transform from a baseball player into a full-time family guy.
"The trade-off of being able to be a lot more involved on a daily basis with my family, I'm actually looking forward to," Lowell said. "I know I'll miss one, but I'll get rewarded on the other side. It's not like I'm going home to an empty apartment and watching reruns of 'Judge Judy' all day."
Lowell believes that after he steps off the diamond as a player, he'll be back in the game at some point in the future.
"In some capacity -- absolutely," he said. "I still enjoy the game. But for the short term, I don't want anything that's going to take up a lot of my time. I think I can get a lot out of being able to run a team, manage a team and help out young guys, but at this point that's down the road. I'm not willing to put in that time right now."
Lowell doesn't know when he'll get the urge to return to the game, but he's not in any rush to find out.
After 13 seasons in the big leagues, Lowell has no regrets. He maximized his talents and became a winner on and off the field. He proved a lot of people wrong and used that motivation to make sure he didn't end his career with people thinking he was just the "throw-in guy."
"I'm pretty lucky," he said.
He's a class act to the end.
"That's what we're going to miss -- the guy, no matter how he's feeling, he's going to help the team win," Pedroia said. "He's been a huge part for us. He's a first-class guy and one of my best friends."
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox and the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.
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