Xander Bogaerts’s orange sunglasses mirror the fans who are lined up three-deep to see him earlier this month during a photo day at Fenway Park.
The de facto Red Sox captain is his usual smiling self, kneeling down to a child’s eye level for selfies while charming the gushing grownups.
When he makes his way down the third base side, a fan calls out — they don’t like seeing Bogaerts so close to the visitors dugout.
Bogaerts just laughs as he works his way toward the Green Monster.
As the event winds down, fans yell for Bogaerts to stay as a team staffer tries to lead him away. Bogaerts spins around, smiles, and gestures toward the fans with a big air hug. Then, the four-time All Star trots toward the home dugout.
Is this the beginning of the long goodbye?
“No, I wasn’t saying goodbye,” he said later. “I like it here.”
Bogaerts, who can opt out of his contract and become a free agent at the end of the season, has tried to rise above the fray ever since details of the offer extended by the Red Sox in April filtered out.
But all season, questions about his future never stopped coming for the two-time World Series champion.
Though Bogaerts is contending for a batting title, this has been a disappointing year for him. A rash of injuries across the roster, combined with inconsistent performance, sent the Red Sox into the American League East cellar and out of contention.
“I would definitely say that it has not been the easiest season I’ve played,” Bogaerts said. “It might be up there with my hardest seasons.”
Bogaerts, who turns 30 Saturday, is the only player on the Red Sox roster who was part of the “Boston Strong” World Series champion squad in 2013.
The baby-faced rookie from the happy island of Aruba has grown up before our eyes since being called up on Aug. 19, 2013. He wore No. 72. If things didn’t work out, Plan B was to become a teacher.
Bogaerts flew out to the West Coast to join the team in San Francisco.
“I wasn’t scared, but I was starstruck,” he remembered. “It was like hey, David Ortiz, this is the guy you see on TV all the time.”
He quickly learned his teammates had his back.
“Dustin Pedroia bought me two suits on my first road trip,” Bogaerts said. “He has people who do his suits. When I got to LA, he says, ‘Hey listen, tomorrow the [tailor] is coming to your room and he’ll fit you, and show you whatever suits you want, pick them out, that’s how we do it.’
“That was nice. Two brand-new suits, baby.”
Bogaerts got his first big-league hit, an opposite-field single, against the Dodgers five days later. Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez handed the keepsake ball to Sox first base coach Arnie Beyeler.
Bogaerts’s first game at Fenway Park was against the Orioles.
“It was so full, compared to any other stadium I’ve ever been in,” he said. “My mother was there.”
Bogaerts grew up playing on rocky dirt fields in Aruba. He learned to hit swinging by a broomstick at zigzagging almonds tossed by his uncle, Glenroy Brown.
The Sox gave Bogaerts his chance. He considers them family.
“There’s a lot of relationships here,” he said. “When we signed, we were young and innocent.”
In 2013, the Sox’ swashbuckling beard brigade captured the spirit of the city after the bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon finish line that April.
Try as he might, the rookie fell far short of joining the likes of Ortiz, Pedroia, Mike Napoli, and Jonny Gomes when it came to the facial hair.
Bogaerts laughs when he thinks about how follically challenged he was back then.
“I was 20 years old. I had no beard,” he said with a shrug. “All the guys had the beards on but I couldn’t grow it back then. I tried.”
Now, Bogaerts’s ability to grow a beard isn’t questioned — and neither is his work ethic as he grinds through his 10th season.
Bogaerts doesn’t think his next contract will be his last. He believes he has plenty in the tank.
“I want to play for a while, man,” he said before the season.
Probably not Tom Brady long, but more than the next five years.
He wonders if he’ll get emotional during the last game of the season. He doesn’t want to be a puddle at the plate.
But all is not lost.
One positive sign? Bogaerts says he has been talking with Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom.
Would he like to stay in Boston? “It would be nice,” he said.
It’s the day after the Red Sox are eliminated by the Yankees in a rain-shortened loss. The team didn’t get home from New York until the wee hours of the morning. They are tired.
“I think I could use a break after this, I really do,” Bogaerts said while sitting in the clubhouse. “Dealing with the whole situation, to be very honest about it, it was very tough.
“Maybe I’ll go to Bora Bora, or someplace far away.”
But Bogaerts admits he can’t stay away from the game he loves for long.
“After a week, I’ll probably be doing something.”
Twenty minutes later, he’s one of a handful of players taking fielding and batting practice. As he heads for the dugout, the Red Sox’ minor league award winners are arriving in sport jackets for a media session. They watch every move he makes.
Bogaerts stops, signs three pearly-white baseballs for some wide-eyed kids, and disappears down into the tunnel.
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.