By Steve Silverman
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The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry used to be the bloodiest of feuds in Major League Baseball, and perhaps in all of sports.
Was it really a decade ago that Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek was throwing punches at Alex Rodriguez after the Yankees third baseman decided to open up his mouth and make threats to Bronson Arroyo after getting hit by a pitch?
That was the kind of battle that used to frequent the old New York-Boston fight club. It appears things have changed dramatically.
The two sides appear to have warm feelings for each other. Far too much of it.
Here are just a few examples:
Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia recently said he’s been following his former Cleveland teammate Grady Sizemore and following his comeback with the Red Sox. He’s hoping that Sizemore can make it all the way back and be successful for the Yankees’ archrivals.
Yankees outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury has been angst-free since signing his free-agent deal in the offseason after spending seven seasons with the Red Sox. He was welcomed warmly by his Yankee teammates when he signed his contract, and he was greeted nicely by many of his ex-teammates and coaches when the two teams met in Tampa on Tuesday. By the way, Ellsbury still packs much of his gear in an equipment bag emblazoned with the Red Sox logo, and nobody bats an eye.
Can’t wait for the first night game between these two teams this season. The coaches will light a fire in the middle of the outfield, and players from both sides will form a huge circle around it and sing “Kumbaya.”
The tone is being set for warmth and brotherhood, which are two important life factors. However, I prefer not to get my share of it when the Yankees play the Red Sox.
One can hardly wait to see what the Red Sox will do for Derek Jeter when he makes his last visit to Fenway Park in September. Buy him a vacation home on Cape Cod?
Whatever they do for him, you can bet that Red Sox phenom Xander Bogaerts will be involved.
Bogaerts, 21, was called up late last season and played a vital role for the Red Sox in the postseason. He has budding superstar written all over him, and he is taking over at shortstop for Stephen Drew, who is still in limbo and working out on his own.
Drew’s failure to sign Boston’s qualifying offer meant his shortstop position became Bogaerts’ domain. Bogaerts is not likely to be as steady in the field as Drew, and he certainly doesn’t compare with Jose Iglesias, whom the Red Sox traded to Detroit last year, but he is going to be a dynamic hitter. Going with a good-hitting, unproven-fielding shortstop is a shaky way for any team – let alone the defending world champions – to start their season.
But Bogaerts is one happy camper, and he became even happier when Ellsbury left Boston. That’s because Bogaerts was able to ask for Ellsbury’s No. 2 uniform. The Red Sox honored that request.
Bogaerts wanted that number because it’s one worn by his idol. Bogaerts grew up in Aruba, and he patterned his game after Jeter, and he admires everything the Yankee shortstop has done on the field and off of it.
“He’s had an awesome career,” Bogaerts told the Boston Globe. “I just admire how he’s handled everything. He’s done it so well for so long.”
So, Bogaerts has joined a long list of Jeter admirers.
The two players have more than just the same position and uniform number in common. Bogaerts has spent much of his time working with Red Sox coach Brian Butterfield so he could improve his work in the field. Butterfield is a tough taskmaster who makes all of his players work long hours so they can refine their craft.
Nobody knows this better than Jeter, who worked with Butterfield when he was a 20-year-old player in the Instructional League in 1993. When Jeter and Butterfield got together, Jeter was not a good fielder. He made 56 errors that season and he needed to get better. A lot better.
Butterfield worked Jeter hard, and the young shortstop responded. His fielding turned around shortly thereafter and there’s little doubt that his improvement as a defensive player was one of the turning points that led to his brilliant career.
If Bogaerts can respond in a similar manner, it’s likely to cause a lot of problems for the Yankees.
But the way things are going, someone in the Yankees organization will likely be very happy for Bogaerts.
So much for the rivalry.
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