FORT MYERS, Fla. — Shane Victorino left the Red Sox clubhouse on Thursday afternoon and saw a group of reporters waiting for him. He said he was late for a tee time and couldn’t do an interview.
A few minutes later, Victorino parked his black Range Rover in front of the clubhouse door, having reconsidered his position.
“You guys stick around for a minute,” he said.
Victorino grabbed his cellphone, pushed back his golf date, and then spoke for nearly 15 minutes. He has so much to say that the words seemed to rush out all at once, a stream of consciousness with one underlying message: He will not go down without a fight.
Victorino has not been an everyday player for the Sox since 2013. He was on the disabled list three times last season before giving in to back surgery in August. In the interim, Mookie Betts came up from the minors and the Sox signed expensive free agents Rusney Castillo and Hanley Ramirez.
Now Victorino is back and seemingly out of a starting job. Betts, who a year ago didn’t merit an invitation to major league spring training, is penciled in to play right field and bat leadoff.
Victorino arrived at JetBlue Park on Wednesday afternoon and on Thursday took part in a full workout. He did some throwing, took batting practice, and joined the outfield drills.
“I was excited, no limitations,” he said. “Day 1 in the books and I feel good.”
Victorino said it was the earliest he had reported to spring training in his career. But then, this is not a typical year. Victorino is 34, in the final year of his contract, and coming off surgery to repair two bulging disks. There are questions about his viability that only time on the field can answer.
“I’ve never been more focused and more determined,” he said.
Victorino is a compelling player when healthy. He won a Gold Glove in right field in 2013, quickly solving the tricky angles of Fenway Park. At the plate, Victorino gave the Red Sox an .801 OPS in 2013 along with 21 stolen bases. His play in the postseason was crucial.
This is a two-time All-Star with four Gold Gloves and two World Series rings.
“I have to prove that I’m healthy. I don’t have to prove anything else in regards to the game of baseball,” Victorino said.
Victorino is a proud and opinionated player. But he was careful to say several times how much respect he has for the other outfielders on the roster and that he considers any competition to be friendly.
But he’s also not backing down.
“I have no intentions of being a bench player. I have no intentions of doing that,” Victorino said. “If I’m healthy I think that will take care of itself. If that’s in Boston, playing right field [or] center field, I’m all for it.”
Whether it’s in Boston or with another team, Victorino wants to start. He compared himself to Alex Smith, the NFL quarterback who sustained a concussion and was replaced by Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco before being traded and flourishing in Kansas City.
“People are quick to forget. I can’t help that I was injured,” Victorino said.
It’s easy to suggest the Sox should just trade Victorino, but that’s complicated. He is owed $13 million and played only 30 games last season. A few decent at-bats in spring training won’t raise his value that much.
Beyond that, the Sox would be wise to maintain their depth. Ramirez has missed an average of 46 games the last four seasons and Castillo and Betts have a total of 253 major league plate appearances.
A motivated Victorino could be a valuable player for the Sox. He can play three outfield positions and a decrease in playing time could keep him healthier. He also has taken up switch-hitting again after abandoning the left side in 2013. The issue is whether he would accept a secondary role.
“People will say that I’m not the starting right fielder. Mookie’s going to be the guy, Rusney’s going to be in center, and Hanley’s in left. Hey, I’m ready,” Victorino said. “I want to be in right field. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be . . . If I’m healthy I see no reason I shouldn’t be starting.”
Victorino, in his mind, doesn’t have any physical limitations. But the Sox are planning to be cautious with him given the surgery and his history of leg injuries.
Victorino has spoken to manager John Farrell and understands the situation.
“He knows who I am and what I am and how I want to go [like a] bat out of hell,” Victorino said. “But again, understanding that we do have a 162-game season . . . I plan on doing every single drill and everything we do as a team. I plan on playing as many days as I can in a row and being ready to go on [Opening Day].”
Before he went to play golf — and that would seem like evidence his back is feeling pretty good — Victorino issued a challenge.
“Count me out, please. Call me the underdog. I’m all for it,” he said. “I think that when it’s all said and done the rest will write itself. If it doesn’t, I’ll have no regrets.”