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Alex Speier

A Red Sox decision in 2004 helped shape Mookie Betts

Mookie Betts got an up-close look at professional baseball when he was just 11.Barry Chin/Globe staff/Globe Staff

As David Ortiz prepares for his final postseason, it feels in many ways as if the last link to the Red Sox’ unforgettable 2004 championship run is being snipped. Yet from another vantage point, this postseason represents the next stage of that year’s legacy.

Eight months before that 2004 Red Sox team ended four score and six years of title-seeking futility, the team brought infielder Terry Shumpert to camp as a non-roster invitee. Shumpert, then 37 and entering his last season, felt driven to join forces with that team.

“God said sign with the Red Sox because they’re going to win the World Series this year. True story,” said Shumpert, recalling that he reached out to former Rockies teammate Jerry DiPoto, then a Red Sox front office member, to try to secure a place with that Red Sox team. “I said, ‘The Red Sox are going to win the World Series. I need to be with them this year.’”

Shumpert was a consideration for the last spot on the bench coming out of camp, but he was edged for that role by Cesar Crespo. The Sox offered Shumpert a chance to play in Pawtucket. He declined.

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“I thought about it and said, ‘This is going to be my last year. I’m going to go home to Nashville and spend it with my family,’” said Shumpert. “The great thing about it is I got to bond a lot with Mookie and be around my family. It turned out great.”

Mookie, of course, is Mookie Betts. Shumpert signed a minor league deal with the Pirates so that he could play for their Triple A affiliate in Nashville, where he was surrounded by family. That proximity permitted him to bring both his son, Nick (now in the Braves organization), and his nephew, Mookie Betts, to the ballpark almost every day after school.

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Betts, 11 years old at the time, got to run around the field – shag fly balls, hit when his uncle would throw to him, and take ground balls. Thanks to the presence of an uncle who’d been cut by the Red Sox, the 2004 season thus became a cornerstone of his baseball education, a lesson in the value of routine and work as well as an opportunity to refine on-field skill.

“It was really helpful [to see how] I needed to work,” said Betts. “Now, I look back on it, it was pretty cool, being around professional ball for so long and seeing how they go about their work.”

In many ways, the 2004 season thus became not only the one in which the Red Sox broke through with their championship, but also a key moment in the baseball growth of Betts with future postseason implications that are now coming to fruition. Betts’ exposure to professional baseball at such a young age in 2004 helped to put him on a fast track to the big leagues in a way that propelled him to MVP candidacy as a 23-year-old and that now has him joining Ortiz on the veteran’s final postseason run.

“It puts something in you. It gives [players who grow up around the game] an inner confidence,” said Shumpert. “You can’t really explain the effects that this has on a guy, but you know it gives them a lot. You look at the Ken Griffeys.”

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Twelve years after he shadowed his uncle at the ballpark, Betts recognizes the influence that 2004 had on him as he looks to sustain the legacy of that seminal year in Red Sox franchise history.

“I do know that the work I’ve put in for so long has kind of paid off,” said Betts. “It’s just awesome to be able to make it, knowing that I’ve done so much through my whole life trying to make a dream come true. I finally did.”

Now, Betts represents a critical contributor for a Red Sox team that is looking to add to the run of titles that started in a season that his uncle saw as the year that everything would change for the franchise.


Alex Speier can be reached at alex.speier@globe.com. Follow him on twitter at @alexspeier.