FORT MYERS, Fla. -- On a bright, breezy Saturday morning, the starting infield of the Red Sox had completed infield drills on the main back field and were moving on.
Hanley Ramirez and the Red Sox' backup at first, Travis Shaw, had taken part in some rundown drills and now it was time to head to another field. Rotating in were a group of mostly younger players ticketed for the minor leagues.
Sam Travis, about to start his second full season of pro ball, was in this group. So, too, was Allen Craig.
It's easy to forget that Craig is still part of the Red Sox organization.
His name doesn't come up when Ramirez's uneasy transition to first is discussed, and he is here now only because he was given an invite to spring training, having been outrighted off the 40-man roster last fall.
It's hard to believe that only three years ago, Craig was an All-Star with the pennant-winning St. Louis Cardinals and one of the most feared hitters in the National League, especially with runners on base.
Since then, Craig has experienced an injury to his foot, a trade to the Red Sox, and watched as his career has flatlined. Last year, he spent just 36 games in the big leagues, stashed at Triple A by the Red Sox, attempting to remain relevant.
At just 31, it's difficult to find many who believe he's still a viable major league player.
Craig, however, perseveres, with an admirable approach and stunningly positive attitude. If nearly every one else has given up on him, he hasn't.
"I feel good, I feel happy about where I'm at,'' said Craig. "Obviously, last year was a new experience for me, going back down to the minor leagues and stuff. But I feel like I did a good job down there. I just competed and did the best I could.''
The numbers suggest otherwise, however. Even in the International League, Craig didn't post impressive stats, with a .274/.368/.350 slash line. The latter, representing his slugging percentage, is a particular reminder that Craig simply doesn't drive the ball the way he once did. In 343 at-bats, he had just 18 extra-base hits, playing half of his games in hitter-friendly McCoy Stadium.
It was a long way from his first full major league season in 2012, when he posted a .522 slugging percentage for the Cardinals.
"I hit some balls really hard down there,'' said Craig, "and didn't necessarily get the results I was looking for, for whatever reason. There's many factors that go into it, but I'm not going to worry about that. I feel like that's stroke's still there.''
Still just 31, Craig won't go so far to call last year -- spent mostly at Triple A -- "embarrassing'' or even "humbling.''
"It was definitely challenging,'' he acknowledged. "But I try to make the most of my opportunities. It's not an easy deal, but I'm working through it. I know that I'm still a good player. I just look forward to any opportunities I have moving forward.''
Craig understands that pro sports are the ultimate meritocracy. Produce and you play; don't produce, and those opportunities will be harder to come by.
"I don't think that I take playing in the big leagues for granted,'' he said. "I'd be lying if I didn't wonder at times what's going on [with my career]. I just try to focus on the present and the future.''
In retrospect, Craig's time with the Red Sox seemed ill-fated to begin with.
He was devastated by the trade which sent him and Joe Kelly to the Red Sox in exchange for John Lackey. The day he arrived, he injured his foot when stepping on first base and was later placed on the DL.
"Everything happened so fast when I got here,'' he said. "I got hurt and that was pretty frustrating. It's kind of been a battle ever since. I look at how fast things have gone [in the wrong direction] and I know that things can turn around
that quickly because I know that I've accomplished a lot in this game.
"I know that's still in there. It's just a matter of playing the game and getting at-bats.''
It's likely that Craig's problems trace back to the end of 2013, when suffered a foot injury that didn't properly heal right away. Compensating for the injury, Craig made some changes in his approach and swing at the plate and found himself
getting into bad habits.
But as much as he's been through physically and mechanically, his biggest battle nay be a psychological. He's had to stay mentally strong through the demotions and disappointments.
"Maintaining your confidence and trying to stay positive is all part of the whole experience of baseball,'' he said. "The last couple of years have been tough, but I feel like I've stayed mentally strong. I'm here today and I feel like I'm in good physical and mental condition, and I'm ready to play.
"Every year is a new year and you never know what a new year can bring. I always try to be prepared. That's kind of where I'm at. I'm here to prepare for the season -- that's it. Obviously, I'd like nothing more than to be on the [major
league] team and play every day, like I have in the past. I know I can still do that and I still have that in me. But I try not to think too much about my situation. I'm just going to go out there and play and have fun doing it.
"I'm not going to feel sorry for myself.''
It doesn't help that Craig will make $9 million this season and $11 million next. Were he at a lesser salary, it would be easier for the Sox to ship him elsewhere and let him start fresh.
But in addition to the declining performance, there's his price tag, making it impossible to move him -- unless the Sox took back almost all of the remaining money.
"I don't want to get into that,'' said Craig. "It comes down to things being out of my control. What can I do beside going out and do the best that I can and be a good teammate and that's it.''