FORT MYERS, Fla. Darnell McDonald has one phrase he consistently uses to describe the 2010 season: It was a dream come true.
Apart from the deluge of injuries that swamped the Red Sox season, leaving them in third place in the American League East, out of the playoffs for just the second time since 2002, that is.
But for the No. 1 draft pick of the Orioles in 1997 who had worn the unwelcome label of career minor leaguer before 2010, last season was every bit a players dream. Appearing in 117 games for the Red Sox, he nearly doubled the previous total in his career. There was also his first plate appearance in a Red Sox uniform, an eighth-inning, pinch-hit, game-tying home run April 20 against the Rangers, which he followed up an inning later with a walk-off single, for his first career game-winning hit. For good measure, he homered in the next game, too.
It was all that and more than I expected," he said.
But, its time to move on.
Last season is over," he said. It was good but Im looking forward to 2011. Ive never been this excited for the start of the season. You can just feel the energy, the focus, from day in one in camp this year. I think everyone has moved on, including myself, from last year and looking more toward this year.
The player who joined the Red Sox as a virtual unknown last year, is now being counted on to be one of the vital pieces.
Last year we really didnt know what to expect from him, said manager Terry Francona. Now, he comes in and hes a pretty important part of our team.
McDonald knows what will be expected of him this season. The versatility he demonstrated last season will be essential again this season. He is the only Sox player ever with at least nine home runs, nine stolen bases, nine outfield assists, and more than nine sacrifices in a season. The only American Leaguer in 2010 to appear in at least 30 games and start at least 10 games in all three outfield positions, hell be called on to backup starters Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, and J.D. Drew. Hitting .294 against lefties (.247 against righties) and an AL-best .429 as a pinch-hitter, hell be pinch-hitting at times. With 9 stolen bases in 10 attempts last year, hell be pinch-running when needed.
Which is why he entered beast mode during the offseason.
Knowing what would be asked of him, McDonald hit the track. Working out at Arizona State University with the Dodgers Matt Kemp, former infielder Junior Spivey (who was with Pawtucket in 2007), a former roommate who ran at Michigan State, and several track athletes, McDonald began grueling track workouts at the beginning of the year. He went to the track five days a week for about six weeks before reporting to spring training.
This was my first time we were out there with people that actually run professionally, McDonald said. It was some killer workouts. We called it beast mode because every day we had to get into that beast mode. It was fun. I think that was the fastest way to get in shape because I dont think you ever see an out-of-shape track athlete. So it was humbling because you dont know what type shape youre in until you get out there on the track. But it was good for me, and hopefully Ill be able to translate that onto the baseball field.
The workouts also included runs up A Mountain, the iconic mount on the campus of ASU.
A Mountain will take your pride from you, McDonald said. We were running up that. We had to do it three times consecutively. Those track guys were doing it under a minute. One guy did it in 47 seconds. But my goal was just to do it without stopping. I did it. I did it. I accomplished my goal.
McDonald said he notices a difference in both his quickness and his endurance. Asked how his speed now compares to that of Carl Crawfords or Jacoby Ellsburys, McDonald let out a hearty laugh.
I dont think theres going to be any races, he said. But hopefully Ill be able to steal a few extra bases and score a few more runs.
Hes been watching Crawford and Ellsbury and picking their brains, along with that of Tom Goodwin, the organizations outfield and baserunning coordinator. Goodwin had 369 stolen bases, including four seasons with more than 50 steals, in his 14-season career.
The main thing is just getting good jumps, said Goodwin of what he focuses on in basestealing. That takes a lot of work as far as film work. If you can find out something that a pitcher does different if he goes to first instead of when he comes to the plate, those types of things come into play. It just all depends on what it is youre looking for when youre out there on first base andor second base. Theres obviously something to it because its bang-bang at second base, every little bit helps as far as getting to know what youre looking for.
Obviously McDonald did a good job last year when he had the opportunity to play, and were looking for good things to come from him.
He was a five-tool player when he came up in the draft, and you see him out there hes always going 100 percent . . . Hes been through a lot, going through what hes been through, to get a chance to play last year and go up and do really well, and to come back and still have that same drive, I think thats a testament to just what type of person Darnell is.
McDonalds goals for the season?
My goal is just to be prepared whenever my name is called, and win a championship, he said. Really thats the only thing. Thats what were all here for. You can sense the focus from day one. I think everyone is on the same page and trying to do the same thing. We have a lot of great players here and its all about winning a world championship.
Maureen Mullen is on Twitter athttp:twitter.commaureenamullen