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Learning the ins and outs of striking a leadership balance with Justin Turner

Justin Turner wasted no time making his first in-game cuts with the Red Sox on Sunday, going 0 for 2 on just three pitches against the Rays.Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The unmistakable call of spring bellowed from Fenway South on Sunday afternoon, with the Grapefruit League home opener offering the Red Sox some welcome sunshine and the comforting sound of the crack of the bat.

Not everything was quite that familiar, however. Those pizza-box bases, as manager Alex Cora so delightfully described them, and the tick-tock threat of the pitch timer here to force batters and pitchers to pick up their pace.

For veteran Justin Turner, an addition signed to a one-year, $10.85 million contract, everything in Fort Myers is new. And nothing cemented this latest stop on a long and winding baseball journey like putting on his No. 2 Boston jersey for the first time.


“That first game, every spring training, it’s always exciting to put the unis on, and today fortunately we got to put on the home whites,” Turner said after a walk-off, 7-6 win over the Rays. “It’s just a different feeling. The preparation, getting ready for a game, getting ready to go to battle for a team wearing a different uniform.

“It’s all exciting, so a good day.”

Turner is excited to get to work as a member of the Red Sox.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Baseball has been good to Turner, the onetime Mets castoff who turned a surprising non-tender back in 2013 into an improbable, impressive rise to World Series champion with the Dodgers. The red-headed, bearded slugger cemented himself as a Southern California favorite, the local kid gone big, the community staple who would eventually add the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award for service to his resumé too.

In the ongoing shuttle between Boston and LA, Turner joined former Dodger friends Kiké Hernández and Kenley Jansen, bringing a clubhouse personality and profile Sox management believes can offset the departure of some veteran mainstays. But no matter how many times Turner is mentioned as a new clubhouse leader — the exact phrase Cora used about him again on Sunday — he is in no rush to force himself on his new teammates.


If his circuitous road taught him anything, it’s that it takes time to form the bonds that lead to good chemistry.

“I’m just going to come here and be myself, be as available to guys in conversation, share my experiences, what I’ve gone through, which I think has been a lot,” he said. “I’ve probably experienced just about everything any of these guys in this room have gone through. So hopefully I can be that person that guys can lean on when they got stuff going on and help have those conversations.

“It all comes with time. Getting to spend time around the cage and in the dugout during games, having those conversations during games, talking about guys. A lot of times, it’s ‘Remember this?’ or ‘You played with this guy, what was that like?’ Or ‘Hey, what happened when you were with the Mets and you got let go?’ Stuff like that. It takes time.

“You can’t just vomit everything into everyone and then on top of that expect them to retain everything. It’s little conversations at a time, and having those conversations, earning trust, earning respect, and hopefully we’re making our way toward that.”

From College World Series champion at Cal State Fullerton to utility infielder in New York, to walking wide-eyed into a star-studded Dodgers locker room filled with gratitude for one more shot, Turner has plenty to share at age 38.


“Especially the younger guys and what they’re going through and what it’s like coming into a big league spring training, trying to make an impression on the club, all different situations,” he said. “Whether it’s their first camp, or their second, third or fourth camp and they’ve been up and down and they’re trying to be here full time, I’ve been through all of it.

“I made some mistakes and I’m trying to make sure those guys don’t make those same mistakes. Understand that you’re not always going to hear what you want and that you have two choices: You can feel sorry for yourself and pout and mope around and end up costing yourself something in the future, or you can handle it like a pro and get back to work and figure out how to get back to the big leagues.

“I can share my whole story.”

Turner and Kiké Hernández are pals dating back to the days with the Dodgers.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The newest chapter got underway on Sunday. Not quite official yet with it only being spring training, but still a concrete step into the new surroundings. Batting third behind Triston Casas and Rafael Devers and ahead of Masataka Yoshida, Turner rushed to the plate for his first at-bat, so fast he realized he still had 16 seconds on the clock when he stepped into the box — the new rules require there be no less than eight.

He saw but one pitch from Rays’ prized prospect Taj Bradley. Turner popped it up, and later, when Bradley requested the ball back, autographed it at the young player’s request.


“It’s different, but again, I was in the same position, coming up, getting to face Félix Hernández for the first time, like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ ” said Turner, who also grounded out on two pitches in the fourth inning. “My first time I walked into a Dodgers clubhouse it was crazy. Carl Crawford. Andre Ethier. Matt Kemp. Adrián González. Juan Uribe. Hanley Ramírez, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Brandon League, Kenley Jansen, J.P. Howell, the list went on and on and on. You walk in and you’re like, ‘Do I belong in here?’ These guys are perennial All-Stars, do I even belong?”

He answered that question with authority. Now, he’s happy to share how.

Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Follow her @Globe_Tara.