BOSTON (CBS) – Last spring, the conversation in Fort Myers was focused on a team rebuilding itself from a horrible 2012 season.
John Farrell was taking over a Red Sox team that had won just 69 games the season before, and embarrassingly finished last in the AL East. There was a core in place, but one that needed to be rejuvenated with leadership and a winning atmosphere.
There was no talk on what happened that season before. The focus was not on the future, either. Farrell came in and urged his team to focus on the present; one day, one game at a time.
One-hundred-and-sixty-two regular season and 16 playoffs games later, the Red Sox were World Series champs. It sounds so simple, and baseball shouldn’t be that easy. But the Red Sox made it seem that way en route to the franchise’s third title in the last 10 years.
Now as defending champs, Farrell and his Red Sox face another r-word: repeat. They’ve been asked countless times this spring if they can recreate the magic of 2013 and walk away on top of the baseball world once again.
But, just like when he first arrived, Farrell’s focus isn’t on what happened last October, or even on what could happen this coming October.
The focus is on whatever day the calendar says.
“We’re thinking about being good today. Some of those words, ‘defend’ and ‘repeat,’ that is looking back,” Farrell explained this spring. “Our mindset is we have to go out and win. Whatever happens after that, if it ends up being something more unique than a year ago, so be it. But there is no focus or lost energy on that.”
“Whether it’s the first day of camp or what has been in conversation throughout the off-season, [last season] is over,” he urged.
Winning back-to-back World Series isn’t something that has happened too often over the last 20 years. The 1998-2000 New York Yankees were the last team to accomplish such a feat, and that was part of three straight World Series titles (and four of five).
The Red Sox have repeated just once in the franchise’s storied history, 1915 and 1916. The 2008 Red Sox came close, making it all the way to Game 7 of the ALCS against the Tampa Bay Rays, but fell just short of matching the 2007 team’s rise to the top. The 2005 Red Sox weren’t able to make much noise in the playoffs, as they were swept in the ALDS by the Chicago White Sox, who would go on to become champions that season.
But again, all of that is in the past and the 2013 Red Sox aren’t interested in a history lesson. They also aren’t interested in anyone trying to predict the future.
“We’re not worried about the World Series this year. That’s our goal, but we have to take it one day at a time,” said first baseman Mike Napoli. “We’re not even thinking about that, just growing together as a team and playing good baseball. We’re just going to play the game like we know how to.”
“Every year is a new year, man,” said DH David Ortiz, who come next Friday will have three World Series rings to wear. “You have to come in and do your best to compete. Whatever is in the past is in the past. It’s a new year, new competition. We have to come in and get it done.”
“We haven’t thought about it or talked about it,” Will Middlebrooks said of the R-word. “We’ve all probably said the same thing, but it’s the task at hand day-by-day. We never looked too far in advance, just at the team we were playing that day.”
While looking back or ahead isn’t their thing, that won’t keep Jonny Gomes from having faith. He had it the second he walked into the Sox clubhouse last spring, and after winning his first World Series in October, he said those feelings are back this spring.
“I can’t think of a reason not to,” he said confidently. “If you talk about the history of a game as a whole, there have been quite a few repeaters, some two-three time repeats. There’s not too many worst to first and then first to worst titles.”
The challenges will be there for Boston, and not just because 29 other teams have now placed a bull’s-eye on their backs. While Boston’s starting rotation remains mostly the same as it did in October, that was an extra month of fiercely competitive baseball they all need to bounce back from (all the starters received some extra rest to start the spring to help). Jacoby Ellsbury is no long atop their lineup and roaming center field, leaving leadoff duties to a Daniel Nava/Shane Victorino/Jonny Gomes combination, and the center field job to Grady Sizemore, who has been out of baseball for more than two years. Stephen Drew’s stellar defense is gone at shortstop, with rookie phenom Xander Bogaerts now roaming the left side of the infield with Will Middlebrooks, who struggled in his sophomore season in 2013.
There are plenty of question marks for the 2014 Boston Red Sox, but the same could have been said for 2013. And that team, under Farrell, met every each one of those question marks and challenges, and conquered them all.
“This is a deep roster,” Farrell said of his 2014 squad. “We have versatility to put guys in different positions defensively, particularly when you talk about Nava, Carp and Victorinio playing different positions in the outfield. We’re in a position in the event of a short-term injury we can rest some guys and not drop off offensively. We saw last year that guys like Carp, or the platoon of Gomes and Nava in left, those were key contributions to the overall success of the team. [The roster] is very balanced; we have some speed and some on-base ability.”
“Our rotation is very dependable and deep,” Farrell added. “We feel like we can send a guy to the mound every night with a legitimate chance to win, no matter who we’re going up against. We follow that up with a bullpen with a lot of strike-throwers with strikeout capability.”
The Red Sox are brimming with confidence entering the 2014 campaign, but that confidence has little to do with the final out that came back on October 31 at Fenway Park. All that is left from that historic season is a ring ceremony next Friday, and once that is over the book can officially be closed on 2013.
The focus now is on 2014 — one day, one game — at a time.
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