FORT MYERS, Fla. — Sunlight shines on Xander Bogaerts as he steers his white Porsche SUV down the highway. JetBlue Park is getting farther away and the beach closer. The air conditioner is purring, reggae tunes pulsating, and Bogaerts is wearing Flamingo Sunset swim trunks designed by his sister Chandra, an Al Pacino T-shirt, and sandals.
I tease the Red Sox All-Star shortstop about stealing Shane Victorino’s 2013 walk-up song, Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.” Did he have to give the Flyin’ Hawaiian compensation?
“No,” he laughs. “That was a great memory, bro. You saw the World Series. Whoever is in charge of the music at Fenway would stop the song and the fans kept singing, ‘Don’t worry ‘bout a thing, cause everything gonna be all right.’ That was great.”
In his 10th season with the Red Sox, Bogaerts, the pride of Aruba, has never been to the beaches of Sanibel Island off Florida’s Gulf Coast.
I have been trying to coax him there since visiting him in Aruba after the 2013 World Series. Earlier this month, he had a slight wrist injury and was given the afternoon off.
Going over the elevated bridge to Sanibel, Bogaerts smiles.
“You took me to a good place,” he says.
The view is stunning. A pelican dive-bombs into the water, and the windsurfers remind him of Sarah-Quita Offringa, the 14-time women’s champion in the sport who hails from Aruba.
At the Sundial Beach Resort and Spa, we hide the cameras in a trash bag to keep a low profile. Bogaerts passes the St. Patrick’s Day crowd unnoticed and hits the beach.
He dips his toe in and out of the water as if he’s trying to dance out of the way of an Aaron Judge slide at second base.
“It’s coooooold,” he declares. “It’s tough to get in.”
The water temperature is actually 70 degrees. In Aruba, the lowest air temperature ever recorded was 66 degrees on Jan. 30, 1976, and the average sea temperature is 80 in March.
“It’s refreshing once you get in,” says Bogaerts, “but it’s nothing like Aruba, that’s for sure.”
He swims a bit, then floats on his back.
Afterward, Bogaerts is hungry. Though there are quieter tables on the balcony, he wants to eat near the pool. He orders a Sprite, a cheeseburger, then pauses and adds a side order of onion rings.
“I’m going to split this with my dad,” he says, giggling.
Bogaerts grew up without his father but they reconciled at the 2018 World Series and have a good relationship now.
Bogaerts and his twin brother, Jair, were raised by his mother, Sandra Brown, who is a social worker, and his aunts and uncles. He never played tee ball in Aruba. He learned how to hit by swinging at almonds from his grandmother’s tree tossed to him by his uncle Glenroy Brown.
“The younger, smaller almonds break like a Chris Sale slider,” he says.
Bogaerts never dreamed he’d be a star. If baseball didn’t work, he wanted to be a teacher.
One of the reasons he re-signed with the Red Sox is that “they gave me and my brother a chance when we were 16.” His brother eventually was sent to the Cubs, became a sports agent, and now is back to school in the Netherlands.
“When we signed, we were young and innocent, and you’ve got to have a tough skin to be able to make it, bro,” says Bogaerts.
Setting some goals
Unbeknown to Bogaerts, a grandfather with a Red Sox cap is circling the table, like a human shark.
Bogaerts has little privacy in Boston. In Aruba, he has no privacy. He has tried wearing dreads, sunglasses, and a COVID mask. Nothing works.
It annoys him when fans request a selfie while he’s eating with his family.
As if on cue, the human shark strikes, mid-cheeseburger, and asks if he can sit down for a selfie. He doesn’t apologize for the interruption.
Bogaerts laughs, but the shark/fan misinterprets this as an invitation to summarize his life story, including the part about the Yankees fan in the family. Ever-polite, Bogaerts pounds his fist into his palm at the mention of the Evil Empire.
“Yankees,” he says. “Tension. It’s a fun tension.”
Eventually the shark says thank you and leaves.
Bogaerts wants to be a 20/20 man this year. That’s 20 homers and 20 steals.
“I don’t take big leads, but I am fast enough to steal,” he says. “It’s just that I don’t attempt it as much. When I steal, I don’t like stealing feet-first.”
Former Red Sox manager John Farrell used to get upset when Bogaerts slid head-first, especially into first base.
“If you’re 0 for 20-something, you’re going to tell me you don’t dive head-first at first?” he says. “I’m trying to get a knock. A base hit is a base hit, man.”
He’d also love to win a Gold Glove. Last year, he won his fourth Silver Slugger as the best hitter at his position.
“I might trade two Silver Sluggers for a Gold Glove,” he says.
He was nominated in 2015 but didn’t win.
“I wanted to cry, and then I ended up winning the Silver Slugger,” he says. “I didn’t even know what a Silver Slugger was.”
The analytics explosion can be irritating to Bogaerts. He’ll be the first to admit that smaller, quicker shortstops get to more balls than he does
“But at what cost to offense and power?” he asks.
“I’ll be honest. Last year, in the beginning, I looked at [analytics] a lot. Let’s say, for example, I don’t get a ground ball hit to me, not one. And I would see my defensive numbers go down. Really? I got to the point like, ‘[expletive] this, because all I’m putting in my head is just negative results.’ ”
Bogaerts says he’s better at dominos than baseball. Challenged to toss a french fry into a plastic cup 3 feet away, he sinks it on the first try.
“I’m competitive in everything,” he says. “I always want to win.”
Asked why he’s not a bigger star with many endorsements, he shrugs.
“I’m too laidback,” he says. “You guys want a controversial type of guy.”
Growing up in Aruba, he never got in a fight.
“We were chill,” he says.
‘Baseball, all the time’
At 29, Bogaerts is the only player on the Red Sox roster who was with both the 2013 and 2018 championship teams. Since the departures of David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, he has taken a leadership role on the team. He probably would not turn down being named captain, but he’s far too humble to advocate for it.
“It’s a huge responsibility,” he says. “There’s not a lot of captains in baseball in general.
“I mean, it’s something cool. It’s something that doesn’t happen often, and it’s something very special.”
Third baseman Rafael Devers has lobbied for him, calling him the glue that holds the team together. But Cora insists that coach Jason Varitek still wears the C.
Bogarts wants to play baseball for a long time.
“It’s not like, ‘Oh, I’m done when I’m 34,’ ” he says. “I like playing a lot, man. That’s why I play baseball. Then when I go home, I watch baseball. I wake up, I watch baseball highlights. I go to the park, I’m playing. I go back home, it’s baseball, all the time.”
Bogaerts can opt out of his contract at the end of this season but says he is not thinking that far ahead.
“I like it here,” he says. “It’s fun. It’s a great city and a great organization. The owners want to win. But we’ll see what happens. I wish I can predict the future, but I can’t.”
He’d like to get a new deal done before spring training ends. If it doesn’t, he will wait until the offseason. He doesn’t want to cause a distraction.
“It wouldn’t be fair to my teammates,” he says. “I was a lucky man. I was blessed to have really good teammates, and I’m not lying.”
On the ride back to the Fort, Bogaerts reflects on the power of the ocean and the saltwater.
“It’s making you feel a bit younger,” he says. “If the beach was closer, I’d come here, because that’s what I normally like to do in Aruba. You go to the beach instead of going to get a massage.
“Hopefully tomorrow I feel relieved. I’ll sleep good tonight.”
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at email@example.com.