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Mike Napoli hits ground running for Red Sox this time

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Let’s start with what you really want to know. Yes, Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli still has his beard, although it’s neatly manicured compared to the woolly mammoth he ended last season with.

Most of his teammates shaved once the World Series ended, but Napoli decided to stick with his look, which is reminiscent of a Civil War general.

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“I like it,” Napoli said Tuesday after a busy first day at spring training. “I did trim it up so it’s not getting all crazy.”

Napoli took grounders at first base, joined a group for batting practice, then did a series of agility drills with strength and conditioning coach Pat Sandora before pulling up a chair outside the clubhouse and talking to a small group of reporters.

That Napoli was able to work so hard on the first day was far different than last season. The first baseman arrived in camp in 2013 only eight weeks after learning he had a degenerative hip condition.

The Red Sox were cautious with Napoli, holding him out of most workouts early in camp and limiting how much he ran. It wasn’t until the season started, when Napoli drove in 27 runs in April, that his health concerns were put aside.

“Last year I couldn’t run, I couldn’t really do a lot of impact stuff,” he said. “The condition I had, I didn’t even know I had. I had to take precautions. But there’s nothing holding me back this year.”

Napoli played in 139 games, hitting .259 with 23 home runs and 92 RBIs. He struck out a team-record 187 times but balanced that with a .360 on-base percentage.

Primarily a catcher for the first seven years of his career, Napoli excelled as a full-time first baseman, showing unexpected range and instincts around the bag.

Now that he’s not catching, Napoli feels renewed at age 32.

“I miss the game-planning, calling games, working with pitchers. But the physical part is brutal,” he said. “I remember getting out of bed in the morning and it taking me 20 minutes to walk around regularly.”

Napoli became a free agent after the season but kept his focus on the Sox, signing a two-year, $32 million deal in December.

“I told my agent I want to get it done early. I expressed that I wanted to come back [to Boston]. I’m glad it worked out so I could,” Napoli said. “Switching teams is hard. You have to meet people and see everybody’s personality and see how they are. Being here, I know I’m comfortable.”

That’s why Napoli arrived a week ahead of the report date for position players. He genuinely enjoys the environment the Sox have created.

“I want to be here early,” he said. “I’m here because I want to be here.”

Napoli even stuck around Boston for a month after the World Series, partying with fans and even wandering shirtless through the streets one memorable night.

“I enjoyed myself,” he said. “I . . . I’ll just say I enjoyed myself.”

Napoli watched a DVD about the Red Sox championship season a few weeks ago while relaxing at his home in Florida.

Napoli relived the season, from the aftermath of the Marathon bombings to the dramatic home runs by teammates Jonny Gomes, David Ortiz, and Shane Victorino in the postseason.

“It was pretty cool. I got the chills a couple of times,” he said.

“It took me back. It’s not easy to win one but I want to do it again.”

.   .   .

The Red Sox had 36 of the 58 players on their spring training roster on the field for the workout . . . None of the players face any health-related restrictions, according to manager John Farrell. The only exception could be Victorino, who is recovering from surgery on his right thumb in December . . . Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks were on the field early, going through fielding drills well before others came out to stretch . . . ESPN will televise three Sox games during spring training: March 17 against the Cardinals, March 18 at the Yankees, and March 20 against the Yankees . . . Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, appearing on WFAN in New York, said signing shortstop Stephen Drew is a possibility. “I think the answer is yes, under the right circumstances,” he said. “It’s going to have to be on terms that are mutually agreeable.” . . . Former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, who recently announced he had cancer, had surgery on Monday and is recovering, according to Twitter messages posted by two of his children. Schilling has not said what type of cancer he has or what the prognosis is.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.
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