Life as a baseball player in places like Boston and New York isn’t for everyone.
The expectations are high, the pressure can be extreme, and the attention is constant. There are many more external demands that can be relentless and make an already difficult game to play even harder.
Of course, some players can handle the scrutiny and the spotlight, and for those that do there are some pretty good perks, as Boston Red Sox slugger Jason Bay and his bulging offensive numbers can attest to.
“People always ask is it tough to play here? In some aspects, with the external stuff, it’s a little different, not tough, but what people don’t realize, is that all that stuff aside, it’s a fairly easy environment hitting-wise to thrive in,” says the left-fielder from Trail, B.C. “You look up and down that lineup, I don’t think I’m the guy, I’m just one of the guys and I think that helps me out a little bit.”
Sure seems that way.
Nearly a third of the way through 2009, Bay is on pace for the best year of his impressive career. He’s batting .288 with 15 homers and 49 RBIs, continuing the torrid pace he was on after joining the Red Sox from the Pittsburgh Pirates last July in the three-team deal that sent Manny Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
That trade has rejuvenated the 30-year-old, who was worn down by 4 1-2 seasons of constant losing in Pittsburgh. Every time he thought there was light at the end of the tunnel for the Pirates, there was only more tunnel to be found.
It was bleak.
That’s partly why the World-Series-or-bust atmosphere around the Red Sox that grates on some players was invigorating for Bay. He batted .293 with nine homers and 37 RBIs in 49 games with Boston last year and then hit .341 with three homers and nine RBIs in 11 post-season contests.
The expectations, pressure and attention? He savoured every bit of it.
“Yeah, I think so,” says Bay. “Being in this situation and being on a team like this, it’s something that I never really had before in Major League Baseball and when you play in this type of atmosphere you realize that’s what makes it fun.
“The days when your team loses and you get a few hits, you go home and sleep a little easier but it doesn’t make it fun. But when you’re winning games and you’re contributing that kind of gives you a little extra, not that you need more incentive to play this game, but it gives you a jump in your step that sometimes gets lost.
“Never having it and not knowing what you’re missing, and then having it, it’s like a little extra edge.”
The Red Sox have benefited as much from the relationship as Bay has.
Ramirez’s sideshow had grown old at Fenway Park and Bay’s team-first approach and low-maintenance nature was like a breath of fresh air. He doesn’t have the presence of Ramirez but delivers elite-level numbers without the drama — just what the team needed.
And Red Sox nation is beginning to adopt Bay as one of its own, too. He doesn’t yet get love the way David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis or Jason Varitek do, but he’s well on his way to that level, fans appreciating his blue-collar play and straight-forward manner.
“I think people just want to hear the truth, not beating around the bush,” says Bay. “I’m one of those guys that if I make a mistake or I do something, I’ll let you know.
“I’m not trying to hide behind any excuses and I think they appreciate it. For the most part, with what I’ve done, it’s been fairly easy. There’s going to be times when you struggle and you try to be the same guy and I think people respect that.”