The accommodations are not very luxurious, just a couch and a few folding chairs. But John Farrell’s small office at Fenway Park has become a gathering place for his coaches to share a meal after the game.
If you can balance a paper plate on your knees, you’re welcome at Chez Farrell. The conversation is sure to be about baseball.
“We’re open to say whatever we want,” bench coach Torey Lovullo said. “It’s just a way to go through the game and digest what happened. The food is usually pretty good, too.”
The Red Sox have the best record in baseball at 18-7 and start a series in Toronto on Tuesday riding a five-game win streak, so most of those postgame conversations have been full of laughter.
The players are primarily responsible for the Sox being worth watching again. But it’s clear that Farrell and his coaches are playing a significant role in improving the atmosphere in the clubhouse.
“Any time the people you’re looking to for answers are all on the same page, that’s great,” said Jon Lester, who starts on Tuesday. “It all goes back to making our jobs easier and winning games. They’re part of team chemistry, too.”
Lester than paused, wanting to say the right thing without saying too much.
“You can see the difference, that’s for sure,” he said.
Lester was referring to the unrest between former manager Bobby Valentine and the coaching staff last season. Their lack of communication led to the Red Sox all too often looking unprepared for games.
Valentine often stood alone in the dugout during games and managed largely on his instincts.
As the season dragged along and the Sox fell further behind in the standings, it only got worse.
Because the Red Sox have missed the playoffs three seasons in a row, Farrell wanted a staff that would help him to reset the team’s priorities. The Red Sox had grown too comfortable with the idea that everything would work for them over the long term. Meanwhile, losses piled up.
“John said after he got hired that he wanted to make the focus on the game that night,” general manager Ben Cherington said. “He wanted a staff that would make that their focus, too.”
For the coaches, that means putting in the time to prepare for opponents and passing along the information to the players. There is emphasis on taking advantage of certain matchups, shifting the defensive alignment, or bringing players off the bench in certain situations.
“John’s not afraid to take somebody out of the game if he thinks the other guy can help us win,” second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “That’s a good thing. But you need everybody to buy into that.”
Part of that comes from the coaches communicating to the players beforehand so in-game decisions don’t come as a surprise.
“We actually worked on it in spring training, we had some of the same meetings that we would have in the regular season,” Pedroia said. “It got everybody used to what they would be doing. The information is good. You feel like everybody is going in the same direction.”
Lester feels like that directly ties to the players getting along better.
“If you’re looking behind you and you feel like everybody is on the same page, that helps your confidence,” he said. “If I’m pitching to a certain location, I want to know that the infielders are where they’re supposed to be. I want to trust that the coaches have them ready.
“The same is true if you look in the dugout. It’s one less thing to worry about. We have a plan going into each game. Everybody has a job to do. It’s great knowing you have a coach who did all the studying and you can trust what he tells you.”
Farrell, who was hired in October, had time to assemble a staff he could work seamlessly with. Lovullo and third base coach Brian Butterfield were with him in Toronto for two years. Pitching coach Juan Nieves, a longtime friend, was a former teammate.
Farrell had worked with first base coach Arnie Beyeler, bullpen coach Dana Levangie, and assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez when he was with the Red Sox from 2007-10.
The only coach he didn’t have a prior relationship with was hitting coach Greg Colbrunn — and that position took the longest to fill because Farrell wanted to make sure the fit was right.
It also helps that four of Farrell’s coaches — Beyeler, Butterfield, Colbrunn, and Lovullo — have minor league managerial experience.
“We understand how important it is for us to fit into what John wants to accomplish,” Lovullo said. “We know what he needs in terms of information or feedback.”
It’s a stark contrast to last season. Valentine inherited three coaches from Terry Francona’s staff and two others came from within the Red Sox minor league organization. His only personal allies were third base coach Jerry Royster and assistant pitching coach Randy Niemann.
Niemann was the only staff member Valentine had worked with before, and that was 10 years prior. Only two of the coaches had prior managerial experience.
It was a mix doomed to fail. Before the season was even a few weeks old, several coaches barely spoke to Valentine. By the summer, there was open hostility.
Tellingly, the only coach from that group on a major league staff this season is hitting coach Dave Magadan, who landed in Texas.
Farrell was cognizant of how the feuding last season affected the players and made sure that his staff would have a unified voice. Disagreements are handled quickly.
“Winning certainly reinforces a lot of things. But that’s not always the controllable. How we prepare, how we go out about with the individual routines guys use, that’s the most important thing,” Farrell said.
“We felt that with the talent that has been brought in, if we stick to that plan then the results should be where we intend them to be.”
That the Red Sox were able to get off to a good start cemented the bonds between the players and the staff.
“They’ve been receptive to everything,” said Butterfield, who is responsible for aligning the defense. “They’ve taken it to heart and there’s a lot of trust. It is a trust game. The players have done a good job with that.
“The coaches have to stand on preparation. That has to be our thing. We need to give the players what they need.”
Lovullo said the coaching staff legitimately gets along.
“It’s a good group of guys. We’re a family in there. We have good and bad days like everybody but we all get along and I can honestly say that,” he said. “The staff is pretty tight-knit and the players pick up on that. It’s not an act.
“We do our best to research and help the players understand the opposition. They play and we don’t. It’s fun for us to watch as they gather some of our concepts and it’s fun for us to watch them perform.”
The true test of the team’s newfound chemistry will come when the Red Sox go through losing streaks. The coaches will have to work harder to put the team in a position to win.
“We as a staff will have to stay together,” Butterfield said. “The players can detect if there’s a separation in the coaching staff. We have to have each other’s backs.
“We can disagree behind closed doors but we have to stay together when that door opens. It’s easy for me to go in there and have dinner with John because we like him and it’s reciprocated. It’s a good environment and I think it’s reflected in the way that we’re playing.”