The two 16-year-olds beamed with smiles that suggested their lives had changed. And they had — as had the direction of the organization they had joined.
Ten years ago Friday, on Aug. 23, 2009, Xander and Jair Bogaerts signed with the Red Sox at Fenway Park. The day now represents a landmark moment for the organization.
“You’re making us sound so old. Time goes by so fast,” said Jair Bogaerts. “That’s crazy, man.”
Yet the passage of time is perhaps not as crazy as the origins of the Bogaerts twins in the organization.
In late 2007, Red Sox vice president Craig Shipley, who headed the team’s international scouting, hired Mike Lord to scour developing talent bases. Lord — known to friends as “The Wolf” for his independent, restless spirit — spent 2008 in Europe, then was asked to redirect his efforts to the Caribbean. The idea wasn’t so much to find players at that time as it was to create an infrastructure in countries where the Sox didn’t have an established scouting presence.
A generation of players from Curacao had grown up watching Andruw Jones, and was starting to reach an age where they could sign. Lord and Shipley spitballed ideas about other regions to cover.
“That’s how Aruba happened. We were like, ‘What if? Why wouldn’t we?’ ” said Lord. “We were just kind of out Wild West-ing it.”
The Sox were interested in getting to places such as the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Aruba to start following players who were, at the time, 12, 13, 14 years old and would be eligible to sign in a couple of years, once they turned 16. In early 2009, Lord wasn’t so much looking for players as he was trying to create a foundation that would permit the Sox to sign young talents in the future.
But unexpectedly, the search for future talent gained immediacy — and presented incredible possibility.
Is there anyone else?
Jair and Xander Bogaerts, who turned 16 in October 2008, knew that they would be eligible to sign with a team starting in July 2009. They’d participated in enough international tournaments to recognize that they were on level ground with the best players from surrounding islands, but they didn’t know which teams might be interested, or how much they might be able to command in bonus money.
Though the two lived with their mother on the island of Bonaire, they moved to Aruba to stay with their aunt in 2009 to get more exposure to the scouting community. And in late June 2009, they caught wind from a coach that the Red Sox were holding a workout — the team’s first in the country, and Lord’s first trip to Aruba.
Jair Bogaerts stood out. He featured a thick, powerful frame and showed raw power and hands that worked well behind the plate. Lord wanted to know more and talked to the charismatic 16-year-old at some length.
“I saw Mike looking like a hippie,” chuckled Jair Bogaerts, amused at the memory of a scout who reminded many in the family of the twins’ father, Jan Maarten Bogaerts. “I was next to him talking the whole time.”
That conversation proved pivotal when Lord’s inquiries about talent on the island included a staple of every scouting trip he made: Who else do I need to see.
Jair’s answer was emphatic. His brother Xander was the best player in Aruba, but hadn’t been able to take part in the tryout because he had the chicken pox. Everyone else at the workout — coaches and players — echoed the sentiment.
At the start of that day, Xander Bogaerts had been resigned to missing the Red Sox visit.
“I was a little bit disappointed,” he recalled. “But there were so many tryouts, it was like, ‘You’ll miss this one, but you’ll get the next one.’ ”
Lord had a different perspective. His visit to Aruba was to be brief. He didn’t want to miss seeing a player about whom he’d heard nothing until that day — particularly if it meant that the rest of the scouting community was likewise ignorant about a special talent.
The Red Sox scout met Glenroy Brown, the twins’ uncle, that evening. The two hit it off immediately, and Brown confirmed everything that Lord had heard: It was worth the scout’s time to see Xander Bogaerts.
A small group of coaches, as well as Jair Bogaerts, deployed to see if they could peel Xander Bogaerts out of bed to take part in a scrimmage. The twins’ aunt deflected the inquiry to their mother, Sandra Brown, who was finally contacted by telephone in Bonaire.
She agreed. Xander Bogaerts — dormant for two weeks — could play in front of the Red Sox scout. The shortstop felt trepidation not about how he might perform but about the physical consequences of the workout.
“Going to a tryout, I figured I’d be energized,” said Xander Bogaerts. “I was more worried about the aftereffects, like, ‘I don’t want to die or something.’ ”
Don’t leave the island
Xander Bogaerts arrived, Lord recalled, with star quality. It didn’t take long to find out why. He was skinny but broad-shouldered, the physique of an athlete. On a field of sand and rock, Bogaerts immediately showed atypical tools — hands to handle the uncertain hops, an easy sense of who and where he was while playing shortstop.
Lord started filming, a common practice of Sox scouts in order to share information and get more sets of eyes on players. The little commentary that the scout whispered in his hitting montage featured a hint of giddiness.
“This guy, Xander Bogaerts,” Lord narrated in an 88-second clip of Xander Bogaerts hitting.
Bogaerts didn’t have a belt. His pants rode low because of the weight he’d lost while sick. He had no batting gloves, just a helmet and a bat that he whipped through the zone with startling whip.
Whack! Bogaerts crushed a fastball from a righthander through a night breeze.
“This guy just rolled right out of bed here,” Lord commented a few pitches later while filming from a side view. “Chicken pox.”
Whack! Bogaerts crushed another pitch, this one on the outer half of the plate, to right for another home run.
Lord instantly understood he’d caught “lightning in a bottle.” He checked to see if any other scouts had been present. There were none. He talked to the Bogaerts twins and their uncle and said that he soon would be back in touch, this time with his supervisor, Shipley.
Lord edited the video and eschewed the typically detailed scouting report. He e-mailed Shipley with a simple message.
“Ship, watch this.”
Almost instantly, Lord received a call.
“Holy crap, don’t leave the island,” Lord recalled Shipley saying. “I’ll be there in a couple days.”
Lord’s video immediately became legendary within the Sox front office. Everyone wanted to see the skinny kid from Aruba.
“Shipley called and said, ‘You’ve got to take a look at this video,’ ” recalled Red Sox assistant general manager Eddie Romero, who in 2009 worked under Shipley in international development. “You see a projectable frame. You see the fluidity of the swing. You see how he repeats the swing. You see how he’s able to manipulate at a young age — he hits a ball to right field, he turns on a ball on the inner half — those are things that obviously stand out when you’re scouting young hitters. It stands out.”
Despite the excitement of the Red Sox, however, the twins had learned to be skeptical of interest from scouts. Typically, they’d heard from teams who said they’d be back in touch but never were.
Lord and Shipley were different. They returned a few days later to hold a private workout for the twins, after which they took the twins, as well as their uncle, to an all-you-can-eat steakhouse. (Xander Bogaerts was “a bottomless pit,” Lord recalled, underscoring the impression that he had room to fill out and gain strength.) At the outset, Glenroy Brown established one condition for negotiations.
“I told them, ‘Package deal.’ Those were my first words to them, before they even mentioned anything about money,” said Brown, meaning that the Sox could discuss a deal for both brothers or end the conversation immediately. “They are twins, and they’ve always played together. Having one leave the other one behind would have been hard.”
That proved unnecessary. Shipley was empowered to make an offer on the spot to the twins. By the end of the meal, there was an informal agreement: Xander Bogaerts would sign for $410,000, and Jair would receive $180,000.
That said, there were additional conditions — the twins had to be allowed to complete their high school degrees in the fall, and they would not make their agreement official until later in the summer, after they’d had an opportunity to represent Aruba in the Senior League World Series that summer.
“[The Red Sox] were kind of scared that we might go fishing with someone else,” said Brown. “I explained to him that if I give you my word, my yes is a yes, and you can write it in stone.”
That proposition was tested. Once news of the agreement spread, and as additional scouts saw the twins playing in the Latin American qualifying round of the Senior League World Series, additional teams expressed interest. Members of the family recalled the Astros, Mariners, Reds, Braves, and especially the Yankees among the teams that tried to make a run after the brothers already had given their word to the Red Sox.
“The Yankees were like, ‘We’ll double that,’ ” recalled Xander Bogaerts.
But even though the brothers were technically free to change their minds, all late offers were turned away.
“The Red Sox showed interest first, so we gave them the first opportunity,” said Brown. “It was not a financial decision.”
The brothers played in a mid-August tournament in Bangor, Maine. Aruba advanced to the semifinal round but lost to California. Though disappointed, the Bogaerts brothers had quite a consolation prize: A drive to Fenway Park to sign their deals on Aug. 23, 2009.
Outside the park, Jair wrapped his arm around his skinny brother, whose head barely seemed to fit into his new Red Sox cap. The two would watch their first games in a big league park that night, sitting behind the plate as the Red Sox hosted the Yankees.
The hues of that night remain vivid. Yet those first memories in the Red Sox organization have been replaced by others.
Ten years later
Jair and Xander Bogaerts made their pro debuts in 2010 in the Dominican Summer League but quickly took divergent paths. By 2011, Xander Bogaerts was ready to jump on a fast track to cornerstone status; Jair Bogaerts ended up being dealt to the Cubs as part of the compensation agreement that resulted in Theo Epstein leaving the Red Sox.
Jair Bogaerts was released by the Cubs later that summer. He traveled to Salem, Va., where his brother was in the high Single A Carolina League in the middle stages of a meteoric ascent through the minors. The time together altered Xander Bogaerts’s perspective.
“That kind of opened my eyes,” said Xander Bogaerts. “You could see how bad [Jair] wanted [another chance]. I was like, ‘That isn’t going to happen to me.’ ”
He vowed not to take his opportunity for granted — and perhaps that helps to explain Xander Bogaerts’s perspective now on his 10 years in the Red Sox organization, and his status for years to come as a franchise linchpin.
“I don’t think anyone from Aruba had played in the playoffs and I have two rings. Coming from a little island, all those obstacles you have to beat — most guys are signed and released — that’s where I go, ‘Wow, you came this far from such a small place,’ ” said Xander Bogaerts. “Sometimes you can’t believe you made it this far.”