BOSTON (CBS) – A healthy Mike Napoli is already in Fort Myers, along with the 30+ other members of the Red Sox who have reported to spring training early, ready to defend their World Series crown.
This year Napoli won’t be hampered by a hip disorder that slowed his first spring training with the Red Sox. He won’t have to place such a great focus on taking ground balls at first base, a position he was transitioning to full-time a year ago, and he signed a two-year deal in the off-season, meaning he knows where he’ll be for the foreseeable future.
Napoli had plenty of fun this off-season, celebrating the team’s World Series through the streets of Boston and back home in Florida. He couldn’t hide from the Red Sox Nation faithful around the country, in large part thanks to that burly beard of his, but said it was fun to be recognized wherever he went. He even popped in the World Series DVD a few weeks back, causing a few chills as he relived some key moments throughout a dramatic season.
But now, Napoli is putting all of last year’s glory where it belongs: in the past. With nothing holding him back this spring, he is eager not only to get back to playing some baseball, but begin what he hopes is another run to a World Series.
“I know we won the World Series but I want to do it again. I’m not going to be satisfied just because we won,” Napoli told reporters from Fort Myers on Tuesday. “Our goal is to do it again; we have a lot of guys with that mentality. We all stayed in touch during the off-season and talked about it. We all want to do it again.”
“It’s tough to win one, so we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves. But we’re all going to work together, take it one day at a time and go from there.”
Napoli clubbed 23 home runs and drove in 92 runs for the Red Sox during the 2013 regular season, adding two more blasts and seven more RBIs in the postseason (both playoff homers came in ALCS wins over the Detroit Tigers). The hip disorder never caused much of a fuss, as Napoli played 139 games in the regular season and showed off a stellar glove at first in 131 of them.
But one thing he wants to cut down in 2014 is his strikeouts. The slugger whiffed a Red Sox single season record 187 times in 2013, with 21 additional frustrating K’s coming in the playoffs (his struggles at the plate led to him being bench briefly during the postseason).
“I want to cut down on my strikeouts. People say power hitters strike out, but to me, I don’t like striking out,” he said. “I still take it serious; I don’t accept striking out.”
What makes Napoli different from other home run-hitting punch-out kings is the number of pitches he sees in a given at-bat. He fits in perfectly on a Red Sox team that makes the opposing pitching staff work, and while he said he’ll try to put the ball in-play more, driving up those pitch counts helps the entire team.
“I like being involved in the at-bat. That being said I’m not just going to be up there taking a first-pitch strike. I want to be aggressive,” he said. “Being involved in the at-bat and getting deep in the count not only helps me but my team. We all work as a group to get that starter out early in the game and get into the bullpen.”
“I’m going to try to do a better job putting the ball in play, but I still need to be aggressive.”
One thing Napoli won’t be cutting down this season is his beard. David Ross and many of Napoli’s teammates have already shaved theirs off, and Jonny Gomes is getting ready to do the same. But Napoli didn’t get that memo (or he ignored it), and is keeping his intact aside from a bit of grooming.
“I plan on keeping mine,” he said adamantly. “I might trim it up so it’s not all crazy and everywhere, but it’s been fun.”
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