Xander Bogaerts planted his feet into the firm clay at Fenway Park and began fielding grounders at third base. As the fans trickled in to watch batting practice, Bogaerts cradled each ball cleanly before firing it across the diamond. He moved to shortstop, his natural position, and returned routine double play throws to first.
It was just his third time at Fenway, and the first time the 20-year-old actually stepped on the field. He couldn’t help but flash a smile. The pristinely manicured setting was nothing like the fields he played on in his native Aruba.
“A lot of rocks in Aruba,” Bogaerts said before Tuesday’s game against the Orioles. “No rocks here. Plain, smooth, a big difference, especially with all the fans. Hopefully I get to see all the fans tonight. Not too many stadiums are big like this in Aruba.”
After making his major league debut during last week’s trip to San Francisco and Los Angeles, Bogaerts was not in the lineup Tuesday, with Stephen Drew at shortstop and Will Middlebrooks at third base.
Wei-Yin Chen was on the mound, and some expected Bogaerts to earn the start, particularly because of his success against lefthanders.
Bogaerts has hit .291 against lefties this season, albeit mostly in Portland (AA) and Pawtucket (AAA). Drew has hit .198 against lefties.
“Definitely not,” said Bogaerts when asked if he was disappointed he wasn’t starting against a lefty. “These guys played 120 games without me, so I’m just here to contribute and do the best I can to hopefully win some games when I’m in there.”
The Red Sox opened a nine-game homestand Tuesday night, and are projected to next face White Sox lefthander Hector Santiago on Friday. Of course, Bogaerts may make his Fenway debut before then.
Middlebrooks remembered back to May 2, 2012, when he made his Fenway debut against the Athletics.
He recalled the excitement he felt as he stepped up to the plate.
His best advice for Bogaerts was to keep an even-keeled approach when it’s his time.
“Don’t get too high and don’t get too low,” Middlebrooks said. “Fenway is an awesome place to play, you’re obviously going to be really excited, but just take it like every other game.
“I remember I wasn’t that calm, I was very excited. My heart was pumping nonstop for four innings and then I finally calmed down and realized it was just like every other game.”
Middlebrooks had two hits in his home debut, and said he doesn’t think Bogaerts will have any trouble when his time comes.
“[Bogaerts] knows the game really well, and with him being up here with this group of veteran guys, it’s going to do nothing but make him keep it higher,” Middlebrooks said.
“Obviously, he rakes, so that’s when it shines. But he’s actually a really good defender also so that will show because things are under a microscope a lot more in the big leagues.”
In his first start against the Giants Aug. 20, Bogaerts was 0 for 3, and 0 for 1 on Wednesday after entering the game in the seventh inning.
Against the Dodgers Saturday, he recorded his first hit after entering in the eighth inning. On Sunday, he was 2 for 4 with a double and an RBI in an 8-1 win.
“I’m really enjoying every moment of it,” Bogaerts said. “Thankfully, we won a few games so it made it a lot better. I’m just thankful to be here.”
Upon Bogaert’s arrival at Fenway Park, plenty of reporters and TV cameras were waiting for him.
But for the humble shortstop, he did not seem to mind.
“A lot of reporters,” Bogaerts said. “I was pretty surprised. But you guys have a job to do and I’m just here to help you guys.”Anthony Gulizia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @gulizia_a.