HINGHAM — The cold, dark winter will soon envelop New England. But one Red Sox player still shows up at Fenway Park regularly to lift weights and work with the medical staff.
Will Middlebrooks doesn’t know for sure what his role will be in 2014. Like everybody else, he is waiting to see how the roster comes together in the coming weeks. For now, he is preparing himself to be the starting third baseman.
“That’s really all I can do,” Middlebrooks said Saturday after making an appearance on behalf of Good Sports, a nonprofit organization that gets sporting goods in the hands of disadvantaged kids. “I want to get my body right and be ready for next season.”
Middlebrooks opened last season as the third baseman and batted fifth on Opening Day. He dropped steadily down the order because of a lack of production, and eventually off the roster in May when he was put on the disabled list with a back injury that was more significant than the team indicated at the time.
When Middlebrooks returned in June, Jose Iglesias was entrenched as the third baseman. Middlebrooks was demoted to Triple A Pawtucket for two months, returning only after Iglesias was traded.
Middlebrooks hit .276 with eight home runs and 24 RBIs over 41 games, helping the Sox secure the American League East title. Middlebrooks started eight of the first nine postseason games before Xander Bogaerts took over at third base.
“It would have been selfish of me to complain. The important thing is that we won,” Middlebrooks said. “Our team, we played for each other. I may not have contributed much in the World Series but I feel like I helped us get to that point.”
Middlebrooks had a .271 on-base percentage last season, which has to be improved. But he does have 32 home runs over the last two years, and that righthanded power has value. At 25, Middlebrooks remains very much a factor in the team’s future, barring a trade.
Alex Hassan, an outfielder on the 40-man roster who is from Milton, will be a workout partner this winter. They will spend time at Fenway and in Woburn at the facility owned by team consultant Mike Boyle.
“It’s an important time for me. I want to be 100 percent going to spring training,” Middlebrooks said. “I want to have a clean state, start over, and help this team win another one.
“I’ve been spending a lot of time with David [Ortiz] talking about baseball and everything else. It has really helped me.”
On Saturday, Middlebrooks played Wiffle ball with about 30 kids in a cul-de-sac, the group taking advantage of the pleasant weather to take big cuts at his pitches.
John Hussey won a Good Sports auction in the spring to host Middlebrooks at his home. He intended it as a gift for his twin sons, Ben and Sam, and daughter Casey.
The game was delayed when Middlebrooks was sent down. Five months later, he kept his promise and pitched a few innings before taking questions from the kids. There were plenty of photos and autographs, too.
“Will has been so helpful,” said Christy Keswick, chief operating officer of Good Sports. “He connects with the kids and understands what our mission is. It’s a great experience for him, too.”
Quincy-based Good Sports has collected $10 million in new equipment from manufacturers over the last 10 years and donated it to 500,000 kids in 41 states, 300,000 in Massachusetts alone.
Middlebrooks will spend a few weeks back in his native Texas around the holidays. But the bulk of his offseason will be spent in Boston. He is enjoying the post-Series glow still on the faces of fans.
“People don’t congratulate us, they say ‘thank you’ and you can tell how much it means to them,” he said. “I’ll just go down to the corner for a sub and people want to talk about the team. It’s great to be a part of. I love being in this city.”