Celtics coach Brad Stevens visits Red Sox camp
FORT MYERS, Fla. — A brief Sunday morning workout served as a setting for a meeting of the coaching minds, as Celtics coach Brad Stevens took advantage of the NBA’s All-Star break to visit with the Red Sox in spring training for the second straight year.
Stevens, whose mother lives in Southwest Florida, joined Red Sox manager Alex Cora, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, and VP and special assistant Tony La Russa on the back fields of Fenway South.
“I could sit and listen to Alex Cora give a thesis on coaching and Tony La Russa give a thesis on coaching from two different generations all day long. It’s special to get a chance to pick the brains of all of them,” said Stevens. “Whether it’s those guys or [Bill] Belichick or whoever, we’re really blessed to have a lot of people to pick the minds of in Boston.”
For Stevens, the visit offered a measure of perspective. Though this year’s Celtics have had an uneven march to a 37-21 record, including what the coach described as “two clunkers” in the final weekend before the break, he noted that his team had been worse entering last year’s All-Star break, losing four of five before winning six of its first seven after the break.
“When you get a chance to come here and be around that championship vibe and 80 degree weather, life just feels a little bit better,” said Stevens. “Maybe everything is a little easier with Vitamin D.”
Cora, meanwhile, said that he’s learned a lot about the culture of great expectations in Boston and how to manage those expectations with and through the media by watching Stevens and Belichick.
“From [Belichick] I’ve learned a lot. Can’t do it yet with you guys, but it’s pretty cool the way he is with the media. But then you talk to him and he’s a real person and he’s funny and obviously very smart,” said Cora. “[Stevens] is younger than I am by a year. Just to see what he’s done through the years, rebuilding and now with the expectations. There’s no ups and downs with him. It’s very consistent with the way he preaches the game, coaches the game, and deals with the media. That’s something I’ve learned from both of them.”
With the arrival of J.D. Martinez at JetBlue Park on Sunday, every Red Sox player is now in big league camp. Though Martinez fit seamlessly into the Red Sox upon signing his five-year, $110 million deal late last February, he welcomed the chance to go through an offseason in which he knew where he’d report to spring training rather than the uncertainty he endured while on the open market last winter.
“It’s a lot more comforting knowing where you’re going to spend the year,” he said.
Still, Martinez said that such uncertainty — both his own in 2017-18, and that of the current elite free agents who are waiting to find new homes — would not affect his decision about whether to exercise an opt-out clause in his contract at the end of 2019.
“At the end of the day, I know my value and I know what I bring to the table and I really don’t kind of look at that,” said Martinez, who hit .330/.402/.629 with 43 homers and a league-leading 130 RBIs last year. “I really judge me on me.”
Martinez did make clear that he feels a kinship not just with his Red Sox teammates but also the fans of the team.
“I love Boston. I love the passion. It kind of matches my personality,” said Martinez. “The fans, I almost feel like they’re just as passionate as me. Obviously I’d love to stay here, but that’s not something I’m worrying about right now.”
Instead, the 31-year-old is focused on maintaining his place as a middle-of-the-order force. While he played in 150 games last season, Martinez said he hopes to better maintain his health over the entirety of 2019. He suggested that an oblique injury hindered his production for part of September — a development that may have cost him a shot at the Triple Crown and, with it, greater consideration for American League MVP.
Martinez finished fourth in the voting, claiming one of the two first-place votes that did not go to teammate and award winner Mookie Betts. Martinez was unsurprised that he didn’t finish higher.
“For a DH to win an MVP, they’re going to have to walk on water. That will never happen. It became the talk in the clubhouse last year and everyone was like, the only way you’re going to win is if you win the Triple Crown or whatever. I was like, 100 percent,” said Martinez. “I know how my peers think of me and I know how my peers thought of me with the text messages I got and the congratulations I got, and last year I won the Players Choice MVP of the season and that to me was huge to be voted by my peers.”
The Red Sox will have their first official full-squad workout on Monday. Prior to that, an organization-wide meeting will take place that includes owners, players, front-office members, and support staff. “We’ll take a picture tomorrow with everybody to remind them how close we are, how important everybody is,” said Cora. “We’re family.” . . . Brock Holt is coming off a year in which he hit .277 with a career-high OBP (.362) and slugging mark (.411). As he enters his final season before being eligible for free agency, the 30-year-old reflected on his appreciation for the Red Sox. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere but right here, doing what I’m doing, getting to put on this uniform every day and play for this organization,” said Holt. “It’s something that you can only dream about and I’m getting to live it every day.”