FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Tales from the Red Sox clubhouse . . .
Life without Papi: The most noticeable thing about Red Sox spring training is what’s missing -- the enormous, ubiquitous impossible-to-ignore presence of David Ortiz. Ortiz is retired -- or so he says -- and, for now, is nowhere to be found in Fort Myers.
“Obviously I’m going to miss him, we’re all going to miss him,” said Dustin Pedroia. “I’m sure if I need some advice I’ve still got his number; he’s not going anywhere. He’ll always be on our side and a big part of what we do.”
“I’ve never really played without him,” said Mookie Betts. “I think it’s going to take us all as a unit to pick up. I think that the only way . . . there’s no real way to replace him, but to just kind of keep where he left off. The experience that none of us young guys have and just laughing and joking and what not and that leadership. We’ve got some young guys that can do some similar things but nobody’s David Ortiz.
Not David Ortiz: Not that anyone needed to be told, but Mitch Moreland -- acquired as a free agent this offseason -- is not David Ortiz. Just ask him.
“I’m not replacing Ortiz,” Moreland chuckled when asked about the pressure of replacing Ortiz. “I’m going to come in here and play first and try to work hard.”
Moreland has been told by manager John Farrell that he will play first base most days against righties and may get a start against the occasional lefty.
Sale of the century: It goes without saying, but everybody we talked to was pretty pumped about the offseason acquisition of left-handed ace Chris Sale.
“Gotta be happy, when you add someone like that," said Betts. "The best of the best [and] now he’s on your team. You kind of, mark a 'W' there [when he pitches].”
“He can overpower you with stuff, velocity, and obviously he can change speeds and locations, which as a hitter, it’s tough," said Pedroia. "And if he’s doing that consistently it’s pretty tough to hit. He can dominate you and frustrate you pretty good."
“Oh wow. I’m glad he’s on our side,” said Jackie Bradley Jr. “It’s tough. Herky-jerky. Be a different story if he threw a lot softer. It’s hard to pick up. Throws upper 90s and has a slider that starts out in the batter’s box behind you, so . . . good luck.”
He’s the ace? But who is the Ace? Two years ago the Red Sox famously entered spring training with no clear top dog in the rotation. This year there’s plenty to choose from.
So who gets the ball on Opening Day? The clubhouse favorite would seem to be Sale but David Price (also in the mix?) has different thoughts on the matter.
“I’m a believer it’s something that’s earned, “said Price. “If I had a vote I’d vote for Rick [Porcello, last year's Cy Young Award winner]. He earned it. That’s the way every team I’ve been on it kind of works.”
Room for improvement? Betts had about as good an all-around statistical season as one could have -- .318 average, 31 home runs, 113 RBI, 42 doubles, 5 triples, 26 stolen bases, .363 on-base percentage, .534 slugging percentage. What, if anything, can he do to improve upon 2016?
“I don’t want to top it," he said. "I just want to do something close to what I did last year and I think that will be a pretty good year.”
Amen to that.