FORT MYERS, Fla. — Pablo Sandoval arrived at Red Sox spring training camp Sunday morning, looking just as big as he looked when he arrived last spring. Maybe even bigger.
He was in a great mood. He said he has nothing to prove. He said he has no idea what he weighs. In a contradiction of what we’ve been told by Torey Lovullo, John Farrell, and Dave Dombrowski, Pablo said that nobody in Sox management asked him to lose weight during the offseason.
Ouch. In the eternal words of Bill Belichick, “This is not what we were looking for.”
Mercy. Get a load of that gut. if we didn’t know better, we’d suggest that Pablo appears not to be taking things seriously.
The Panda Watch had consumed folks in Fort Myers throughout the weekend. Last week Farrell casually mentioned that Sandoval would be in camp Saturday and when Pablo didn’t show on Saturday, the fat hit the fan.
Sandoval became the first player in baseball history to get ripped for not appearing in camp four days before the first full squad workout.
I looked everywhere for him Saturday night. I checked the deli counter at Publix and the popular Two Meatballs in the Kitchen restaurant off Daniels Parkway. I even went to the Regal Cinemas Belltower 20 to see if he might be taking in the late show of “Kung Fu Panda 3” but . . . no luck.
Meanwhile, Sandoval was taking a beating on social media.
At 7:30 a.m. Sunday, the Wait gave way to The Weight as Panda strolled into the clubhouse for the first time in 2016. Video crews from Comcast and NESN were there to record the moment. Minutes later, Panda came out of the clubhouse and greeted Farrell. Photos were snapped as the two walked arm-in-arm past the barbecue grill outside the clubhouse.
Pablo then went to the cages to hit. At 9 a.m. he took questions from the media in front of his locker.
It was an unsatisfying session.
Early in the interview, Sandoval offered no contrition for his abysmal first season in Boston. He didn’t give us the spring training mantra of, “I’ve been eating salads all winter and am now in the best shape of my career.”
No. None of that.
Pablo smiled and talked a lot about winning and being a good teammate. But he didn’t give Sox fans what they likely wanted to hear.
“I’m excited to be back,” he started. “We have good energy. Everybody is happy.”
The second question was, “Do you feel like you have a lot to prove this year?’”
“No, I don’t got nothing to prove,” he said. “I just prepare myself to perform well, support my teammates and play and try to get to the World Series. That’s what I’m doing . . .”
Next he was asked if he considers last year (.245, 10 homers, 47 RBIs, 15 errors in 126 games) a personal disappointment.
“It’s not a disappointment, it’s baseball . . . You’re going to have some ups and downs, so you have to prepare yourself to be ready,” he said. “Those down moments come. Shake it off and keep working hard to prove next year you’re better than that.”
It went downhill from there. A well-meaning reporter noted that Farrell said Sandoval lost 20-22 pounds over the winter. Was it Pablo’s goal to come into camp in better condition, we wondered?
“After the season was over, I got the clear to start working out in October to prepare myself to be an athlete on the field,” he said. “That’s what I do. I don’t try to lose weight or nothing. I just do my work, feel better . . . ”
How much weight did you lose?
“I don’t weigh in at all,” he said. “I just do my work, try to do everything I can. I don’t weigh in all offseason. I just try to get better, be in better position, be an athlete.”
Did anyone from the team talk to you about weight, or ask you to lose weight?
Shocking. When then-interim manager Lovullo met with the media in Cleveland at the end of the Red Sox 2015 last-place season, he said the Sox were going to ask Sandoval to lose weight during the winter. Dombrowski said the same thing at the Winter Meetings. At the writer’s dinner in January, Farrell said Sandoval had lost 20-22 pounds. If this is true, Panda must have been in Wilfork-land when he started shedding.
Based on what we saw Sunday, Pablo’s weight loss must be like the proverbial two deck chairs tossed off the Titanic.
Farrell attempted to clarify things after Sunday’s workout.
“We told him we needed him to come back in better condition,” said the manager. “Along with that, you anticipate there’s some potential for weight to be dropped. But there wasn’t a specific number given where we said, ‘We want you to come in at this weight.’ With every exit interview we tell them these things. There was a more direct sit-down meeting between Dave, Hanley [Ramirez] and his agent. That was more specific to the number.”
Farrell repeatedly stated that Sandoval looks to be in better condition than he was at the end of the season, but no one is talking numbers of pounds.
I believe Sandoval is simply being stubborn. He knows he’s never going to look like Mookie Betts and he’s understandably sensitive about the topic. He was subject of a weight watch with the Giants almost every spring and folks in Arizona will tell you that Sandoval usually had his worst seasons when he came to camp looking svelte.
Sandoval’s Sunday news conference got better as it went on. He said he’d been working at hitting from the right side and that he was “real motivated to have a good season.”
He said it had been tough defensively adjusting to the American League. He said he’s been working at “track and field.” (Did we miss him at the Millrose Games?)
He contradicted his opening remarks, saying, “I want to prove to the fans, I want to prove to my teammates that I can be a better defensive player, a better offensive player, to win games. I have to work hard to get to that moment.”
Nice. But the damage was done.
We need to remember that Sandoval is speaking in a second language when he takes questions from the English-speaking media. He is a pleasant and polite fellow and he looked pretty heavy when he was hitting .426 in three World Series Octobers.
Back in the day, when folks told Earl Weaver that Orioles first baseman Boog Powell was fat, Earl would say, “He doesn’t look fat to me when he’s running around the bases after hitting those homers.”
All that said, this was a disastrous introductory news conference for Pablo Sandoval. He is coming off a horrendous first season after signing a five-year, $95 million contract. He is a professional athlete and has been in the big leagues since 2008.
We thought he’d look different. And the Red Sox should have prepared him better.
The optics on this are bad and some of the words are likely to stick.Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Shaughnessy.