FORT MYERS, Fla. — He has character. He is a character. He has played in a market tougher than Boston. He has been a World Series winner. He has been an All-Star. He’s really fast. He appeared in an episode of “Hawaii Five-O” and he’s already written a biography. He has a great nickname.
And how much is all this worth?
Three years and $39 million if you are Shane Victorino, a.k.a. “The Flyin’ Hawaiian.”
More than any player, Victorino is the embodiment of the Red Sox’ new clubhouse culture. The Churls of 2012 are the Charmers of 2013. And Victorino is Captain Charm.
Can he still play?
Victorino hit only .255 last year and struggled through a short spring season (.139) after playing in the World Baseball Classic. He is 32 years old.
But he’s a lot nicer than Adrian Gonzalez or Josh Beckett. He’s got a smile for everybody. He’s got time to talk baseball. And he was known as a good teammate when he made it to the playoffs in five consecutive seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Does Victorino think it’s important that players get along in the clubhouse? Does he believe in team chemistry?
“I think having stars, having chemistry is a good mesh,’’ says Victorino. “We have guys who have been to All-Star Games. We have MVPs. You have guys who have been part of championship teams. And having the characters that were brought in this year, the personalities that are kind of uplifting. Sometimes that brings the best out of the guys, too, to have that mentality. When you walk in the door, you kind of check it at the door. We’re all one and we’re going to go out there and be one.
“We had success doing that in Philly. Here it can be kind of the same thing. We have leaders who have led this team and been part of championship teams. The guys who have come in, we just want to be part of that puzzle.’’
In Philadelphia, Victorino blended with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Jayson Werth, and Brad Lidge. Victorino won three Gold Gloves as a center fielder. He’ll play right field at Fenway this summer.
“In Philadelphia, we had people who had done everything you can do in the game, but we pulled for each other,’’ says Victorino. “That’s the kind of stuff that I’ve seen here with the Red Sox so far. There’s been a lot of positive attitudes and looking forward to going out there as a team. We want to bring that chemistry and camaraderie and that’s how you go out there and win.’’
Victorino has never played for an American League team. He came up with the Padres and spent 7½ seasons with the Phillies before he was dealt to the Dodgers last summer at the trade deadline. The 2012 Dodgers were an All-Star team built in the image of the 2011 Red Sox — and underachieved in similar fashion, missing the playoffs.
“You can’t just put a bunch of guys in a room with a month or two months left,’’ says Victorino. “You’ve got to have time to mesh. We won eight out of nine in the last week of the season, but it wasn’t enough. I think if we’d had another month or even two weeks we could have accomplished a lot. But it does show you that just putting a bunch of stars in a room together doesn’t mean you’re going to have a great team. You need time to jell, to work together. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.’’
Baseball is an individual game. An unhappy player generally can help the team by helping himself. It’s a batter against a pitcher. This can make baseball “chemistry” suspect.
“It is an individual game,’’ agrees Victorino. “But you can’t individualize everything. You will see weaknesses when you try to individualize the game. There’s times when you have to bunt a guy over or move a guy over. You give yourself up individually to help the team. People don’t realize that. There are times when it’s not about yourself — same with driving a guy in. It is a team sport.’’
According to Victorino, there was no talk about “chemistry” when he was courted by the Red Sox.
“Not at all,” he says. “I came here with the attitude of being a Red Sox and being part of a storied franchise. I liked the idea of coming here and playing again for an East Coast franchise. I know some of the stuff that’s been happening here for the last year and a half, but I wanted to be part of changing that. You can sit here all day and talk about it, but we’ve got to go out and do it and have fun doing it. A lot of those factors made me decide to come here.’’
He’s still got young legs. He’s a career .275 hitter. He dipped to .245 in 53 games with the Dodgers, but he was healthy enough to play in 154 games (666 plate appearances) and he stole 39 bases in 45 attempts.
Victorino looks like a player who might struggle at the start in Boston. He never looked comfortable at the plate in Florida. He has played only 148 career games in right field. But he’s unlikely to react like Carl Crawford. Playing in Philadelphia prepares a guy for life at Fenway. And for the American League East.
“For me, it’ll probably be easier to understand, but you still have to go out and perform,’’ says the Flyin’ Hawaiian. “I can’t talk about how I can handle it or how I can do this or do that. When I went to Philly, there weren’t as many expectations. They wanted to be a winning organization, but in 2005, it wasn’t like they were expecting to go to a World Series. Here, if you look five or six years ago, you automatically put yourself in a different category. So the expectations are a little higher. The fans, and Boston, and Red Sox Nation — they’re everywhere. From afar I know what the fan base is about.
“Fenway has always been one of my favorite parks to play in. Not just the park, but because of the fans. Singing ‘Sweet Caroline’ late in the game. That’s the kind of stuff that makes me say, ‘Wow, how could you not not want to play in front of this kind of crowd every night.’ ’’
But it’s not for everybody. Just as Philadelphia is not for everybody.
“I loved playing in Philadelphia,” Victorino says. “I knew it was tough on opposing players, but I was on the good side of that. I’d hear guys say that it was not fun. I knew how it was in Fenway, how much they loved their own players.’’
Is the attitude changing in the Fenway clubhouse?
“I wasn’t here last year so it’s hard for me to say, but from what I see and what I’m used to, this is what it’s about,” he says. “Look around at all the smiles and laughter. I wasn’t here the last couple of years, but this is the kind of clubhouse that I’m used to being around. I think we have gone in the right direction and the personalities are there, but we have to go out there and play.
“Starting back in 2011 when they didn’t make the playoffs here, that started a lot of the frustration. Expectation and losing the way they did. That brought the negative factors into the game, but winning heals everything.’’
In Florida, Victorino was comfortable in a clubhouse corner in between the lockers of David Ortiz and Jonny Gomes.
“We’ve got the right personalities, we’ve got the right personnel,’’ says Victorino. “We’ve got the right chemistry. Now if we go out there and produce . . . If we do that, it will take care of itself. Leave it all on the field. That’s what I’ve always done.’’
A high-energy guy. The new face of the new Red Sox. Everything is going to be just great . . . as long as he can still play.
How versatile is Shane Victorino?
Victorino brings a pretty polished resume to the Red Sox, including five trips to the postseason, three Gold Gloves, two All-Star bids, and one World Series title. Yet it’s his versatility -- as a switch-hitter, no less -- that could be of the greatest value to the Sox this year.
In the field
At the plate
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