FORT MYERS, Fla. — Stephen Drew is the new Red Sox shortstop. And the most important thing you need to know is that he is not J.D.
This is the way it always goes with brothers. Good and bad.
Vince DiMaggio had to live with, “I’m not Joe,’’ just as Billy Bulger has to live with, “I’m not Whitey.” Stephen Drew comes to Fenway Park this year with the added burden of reminding us, “I’m not J.D.’’
Not that J.D. was all bad . . .
J.D. came to the Red Sox in 2007 and played five seasons at Fenway. He usually made it on the field for about 135 games a year (140, 109, 137, 139, and 81), hitting around .270 with 18 homers and 66 RBIs. But fans never warmed to Drew.
There was the appearance that he didn’t care. He seemed to sit with a lot of little injuries. He never got into an argument with umpires and never threw his helmet or kicked dirt. Manny Ramirez never felt the need to slap J.D. across the face in the dugout.
J.D.’s playoff grand slam against the Indians in 2007 was his signature moment with the Sox, but my favorite J.D. story involved the night he got rung up on a borderline check swing in Tampa while facing David Price. The punchout killed the Sox’ World Series bid in 2008. J.D. didn’t argue. When we saw him the following spring, he said he never checked the replay. Truly amazing.
Oh, and did I mention that J.D. was paid $70 million for his five Fenway seasons? That bothered some people.
Now we have the kid brother playing shortstop for the Red Sox. Wearing No. 7, same as J.D. (if the Sox still have unsold No. 7 “Drew” jerseys, they can put them back on the racks).
Stephen Drew is eight years younger than J.D. He will be paid $9.5 million this season after a year in which he hit .223 with 7 homers and 28 RBIs in 79 games for Oakland and Arizona — a year in which he was slow getting on the field because of a gruesome broken ankle sustained in the middle of the 2011 season when he played for the Diamondbacks.
Yikes. Overpaid. Underperformer. Too often on the shelf. Are you sure it’s not J.D.?
Count me as one who is fascinated by the Drew family. David and Libby Drew raised three boys in southern Georgia, and all grew up to be first-round draft picks who made it to the majors. Middle brother Tim was a righthanded pitcher who competed in parts of five big league seasons with the Indians, Expos, and Braves.
“There was a lot of football where we grew up,’’ J.D. Drew said. “I didn’t like all that equipment and those hot practices. Baseball seemed better.’’
Three boys. Three first-round picks. Three big leaguers. Three Scott Boras clients. Two Red Sox starters.
How does this happen?
“By God,’’ said Stephen Drew. “Ours is a football town. South Georgia is known for football and playing football, but looking back, it really is by God’s grace that we had three brothers coming through, from a small town.
“You always hear about two brothers making it. To have three brothers going in the first round, I can’t explain it. It’s crazy.’’
The Drews grew up in Hahira, Ga., a town of fewer than 2,500 people. There’s an annual banjo-picking festival in Hahira.
Dad Drew built yachts for a boat company for 26 years. Mom Drew’s family were farmers (tobacco, peanuts, corn, soybeans), and J.D. remembers driving a tractor when he was 9 years old.
Young Stephen remembers playing baseball. He had two older brothers throwing him 80-mile-per-hour batting practice. No wonder he grew up to be a big leaguer.
“For me it was great, because J.D. was a really good role model to look up to,’’ said the Sox shortstop. “He had a lot of talent.
“With his low-key demeanor and going about his business, he’s nothing fancy, but when you look around and kind of watch him and see how he goes about his business, for me to have that and to look up to, it’s kind of priceless.
“I knew when I was getting into this game and when I was called up, I knew how things were run. It felt normal. Some people have to search and figure it out. Not me, it was totally different.
“I could relate to him. I understood what was going on. A lot of people didn’t understand. It’s kind of tough. He’s getting criticized and you know what the actual truth is going on.
“It kind of gets you fired up, but that’s life. And you look at J.D. and he handled himself well.
“We grew up in a church home and understand there’s more to life than what’s here. You treat people like you’d like to be treated. It’s the golden rule that you hear, and our parents instilled that in us.
“That, and go out and work hard. That’s what you see. J.D. was quiet. I’m a little more talkative. But we just go about our business kind of the same way. We both like to have fun.’’
Does J.D. ever get mad?
“Yeah, he gets mad,’’ said Stephen. “Everybody gets mad. But he is very good at being deceptive on that. You’ve got kids around the field and stuff and you want to do a good job setting an example on that and he did a good job. He was even keel the whole way.’’
None of the Drew brothers has ever been ejected from a game.
“There’s more to life than just baseball,’’ said Stephen. “That’s how we look at it.’’