SEATTLE — Xander Bogaerts makes his presence felt in a most literal sense when he enters a room.
Whether it’s a fist-bump, a pat on the back, a squeeze of your shoulder, or a bro hug, the Red Sox shortstop acknowledges every teammate, coach, or staff member he encounters in some way.
It’s not contrived. When Bogaerts asks how you’re doing, he actually wants to know.
“Bogey is one of the best teammates I’ve ever had,” catcher Christian Vazquez said. “He cares about everybody like we’re his family.”
Which is why it’s hard for Bogaerts to even consider that this could be his final season with the Red Sox. That he will become a free agent once the season ends is something he tries not to think about.
He signed with the Red Sox out of Aruba when he was 17 back in 2009. They are all he knows.
“When you reflect on the ups and downs, the good times, the great times, the bad times, you appreciate it,” Bogaerts said. “It’s not half my life, but it’s pretty damn close to half. These guys gave me a chance.”
That history means something to him. When he trots out to his position to face the Seattle Mariners Thursday, Bogaerts will become the first shortstop to start six consecutive Opening Day games for the Red Sox since Rick Burleson from 1975-80.
At 26, Bogaerts has provided drumbeat reliability at a position that was in flux for a decade after Nomar Garciaparra was traded in 2004.
“When I started back-to-back years at shortstop on Opening Day for the first time, everybody made a big deal about it because it hadn’t happened for a while,” Bogaerts said. “It’s special for me.
“It’s been awesome, all the experiences that I’ve had here and the people who helped me. So many of them are still in the organization, too. It’s like a family, my baseball family.”
To honor that history, Bogaerts does not want to talk about extending it until after the season is over. He hopes to stay with the Sox, but that business can be handled later.
“Out of respect to my teammates and the team, I should focus on the task at hand,” he said. “What we have going on here is special. I should keep my focus on the field and helping us to be successful again. I’m looking forward to that challenge. I want to have a louder voice in that, too.”
When Bogaerts made his major league debut in 2013, Red Sox manager Alex Cora was in his first year as an analyst for ESPN. After seeing Bogaerts play on television, he took to Twitter with a hot take.
“I know this early but Xander Bogaerts = Manny Machado,” Cora wrote.
The quick-to-anger Twitter wolves jumped on Cora’s praise for the rookie.
“I got crushed,” Cora said. “But I wasn’t that off. He’s a good player.”
Cora helped make that happen last season by encouraging Bogaerts to focus less on going to the opposite field and more on using his size and strength to pull the ball with authority.
The result was career bests in doubles (45), home runs (23), RBIs (103), and OPS (.883).
“I like him as a slugging shortstop,” Cora said.
Now Cora wants to see Bogaerts use his speed. He has stolen 49 bases in 61 attempts in his career, a percentage that suggests he should try more often. But Bogaerts has never had more than 15 steals in a season.
“That’s part of the game,” Cora said. “I’d like him to run because it makes us better. I want to add him to the mix in terms of stealing bases, enough so that people pay attention.”
The other aim for this season will be improved defense. Bogaerts wants to better process the scouting information provided by the coaches.
“I know I work at it hard, but I want to be more open-minded to the coaches about positioning,” he said. “I have to let them help me. This year I’m looking for more.”
The coaching staff thought Bogaerts improved in the postseason, making several plays that he probably would not have during the regular season because of how he was positioned.
For a relatively young player, Bogaerts can be stubborn about trusting himself more than the scouting reports. The Sox want their players to use their judgment and read the situation but also to incorporate what the percentages say.
To help promote that, Cora plans to work more closely with Bogaerts and third baseman Rafael Devers on how they can work together more efficiently on the left side.
“We’re going to do a few things to push that,” Cora said. “They can be a lot better. Xander could fight it, but we want them to stay with the process. You have to believe in what we do.”
As Bogaerts discussed his play at shortstop, he paused the conversation to make a point.
“Remember when they moved me to third base?” he said.
In 2014, the Sox shifted Bogaerts over to third after signing free agent Stephen Drew on May 21.
“They called me in the office to tell me the day before,” Bogaerts said. “I was going to third but I would stay at shortstop until he was ready. The second play of the game that night, I threw the ball away.
“Then I bobbled another ball later and the crowd booed me. I was 21 and getting booed. That was the low point in my career, that day.”
Bogaerts hit .182 in 44 games at third base, miserable the whole time that the team had lost faith in him.
The Sox, who had won the World Series the previous year, finished in last place in 2014 amidst a series of terrible decisions.
But Bogaerts now looks back on those trials almost fondly.
“I believe obstacles, going through lows, makes you appreciate the highs more,” he said. “If your life was just great, great, great, I think it would get a little boring.”
Bogaerts is represented by Scott Boras, an agent who believes his clients can best determine their worth in free agency. But Boras also represented former Sox catcher Jason Varitek, who three times in his career had the agent make deals so he could stay with the Sox.
“Scott works for me,” Bogaerts said. “He has the information you need. But whatever you want as a player and what is best for your family, he’s there to work for us. You find a way and you figure it out. It’s up to me in the end.”
Bogaerts then waved his hand in front of his face, figuratively brushing away thoughts he doesn’t want to have.
“It’s weird to even think about,” he said. “I’m a baseball player, you know? I just want to go out there and play shortstop. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”