WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval have taken their share of punches from the Boston media and fans the last couple of years. They were both introduced at a press conference at Fenway Park on Nov. 25, 2014 — Sandoval signing a five-year, $95 million deal and Ramirez a four-year, $88 million deal with a vesting option for a fifth season at $22 million.
Even before they came together here, they were friends, seeing a lot of each other when they were Dodgers-Giants rivals.
Ramirez has gone through his bloody times in Boston. The left field disaster in 2015 was fodder for media and fans alike. But he overcame it and rewrote the story of his Red Sox career.
Now it’s Sandoval’s turn.
“I’m on top of him,” Ramirez said. “I’ve told him to go out and do his job and control what he can control. I’m going to be on top of him all season. If I see something, I’ll remind him. What we don’t want is to put too much pressure on him. We just need him to fit in.”
We’ve ridden Sandoval for his weight issues, admonishing him for not getting himself in shape when he joined his new team. Then he got hurt last season, but even before that, he had lost his third base job to Travis Shaw.
Not that Shaw wasn’t worthy, but how embarrassing for a man who had helped the Giants win three World Series, one of the top postseason performers of all time. And then he hurt his shoulder, had surgery, and missed almost the entire season.
Let’s face it, he was fat. He had been fat at various points in his career, but he was able to play that way when he was younger. But as he approached 30, that changed. It was harder for him to maintain quickness in the field. It showed.
So two years of that five-year contract are gone. His first year in Boston was the worst of his career. Can’t get that back. But can he relive his glory days in San Francisco?
The Red Sox don’t even bother mentioning that.
“We need him to stay healthy,” said hitting coach Chili Davis. “Because if he’s healthy, the numbers will be there. Everybody knows what kind of a player he is.
“Pablo has accomplished some pretty special things in this game. His confidence right now is very high. He’s done that for himself, getting into shape and taking things very seriously. The confidence we have in him is very high.”
Ramirez says he talks to Sandoval quite often. If there’s one thing he needs to keep on him about, it’s that “he can overthink things,” said Ramirez. “He just needs to go out and play the game and have fun doing it. We need him. We need him to be good and I think he’s going to be very good.”
Nobody has worked harder than Sandoval to change the story line.
He understands that Ramirez was able to do it. Now he wants to do it.
It bothers him that people in Boston haven’t seen the Sandoval who was so beloved in San Francisco, where people in the stands wore panda heads. That made him feel good. He was adored for the great postseasons he had.
You know the old saying that he was so popular that he would never have to buy a meal again? Well, the Giants hoped that nobody would buy him a meal. The team fought with him constantly about his weight. Sometimes he’d get it and sometimes he wouldn’t.
But he was younger then. Maybe foolish. He was certainly foolish when he showed up in Boston looking fat.
So there’s a pride issue now. While he won’t reveal his diet, he is obviously on a good path with nutrition and exercise that has left him about 30 pounds lighter. He has been diligent in his routine.
“The big thing is to get my shoulder healthy so I could swing the bat without pain,” he said. “I’ve been able to do that. It took a long time. A long rehab, but I haven’t had any problems.”
There was a pivotal moment at his home in Miami when Miguel Cabrera, one of the greatest hitters of all time, came to work with him.
“It was more of a mental thing,” Sandoval said. “He taught me how to be comfortable in the batter’s box. When one of the greatest hitters is telling you things, it means a lot. It sticks into your head.”
Sometimes it looks as though Sandoval may even be overdoing it. But he says the Red Sox have him on a program, which includes down time, and it seems to be working for him.
Sandoval has talked a lot about trying to win over his teammates. He wants to prove to them that he’s worthy of being a full-time starter.
No, John Farrell has not yet said that Sandoval is his starter at third, but you can see where this is going. It’s obvious that, barring a setback (either through injury or weight gain), Sandoval is this team’s starting third baseman. But he will not take that for granted, because a year ago, Shaw was beating him out.
He says he tries not to think about his glory days in San Francisco. That is for another time in his life.
His chapters there have been written, and they had a happy ending.
His chapters in Boston have been dark and gloomy.
“I want to get to a World Series with the Red Sox,” Sandoval said. “I want to help get us there. We have a great team here. Lots of good starting pitching, good bullpen, good lineup. We have a great chance. It would mean a lot to go there with this team.”
That’s what Ramirez hopes for his friend, and that Sandoval can change the narrative, much as he has.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.