EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 1, 2007

Beckett chills: Boston's ace-in-waiting has discovered a comfort zone following difficult 2006 season

By Rob Bradford , Staff Writer

FORT MYERS, Fla. - It is the 17th hole, the two foursomes are tied in their fight to the finish, and Jon Lester is on the tee box.

"Hey, Jonny," shouts a nearby competitor. "You got a Spootenator?"

Lester steps away from his ball and looks at the member of his group with a quizzical stare. What was Josh Beckett talking about?

"You know, a Spootenator," Beckett said, "the muscle that connects your heart to your guts."

The term has been introduced to the Red Sox pitcher by a former teammate, Mike Mordecai, and seemed to fit Beckett's vernacular perfectly.

If nothing else, it had become clear throughout the Texan's career that his anatomy most certainly included a Spootenator. No X-rays were needed, just any film of his Game 6 complete game for the champion Florida Marlins in the 2003 World Series would do.

For Beckett, that muscle was never difficult to find. But the 26-year-old did discover something else recently which might mean even more in the long run - himself.

"I'm in a great place right now," he said while sitting in the dugout at City of Palms Park prior to Boston's final home spring training game last week. "People have noticed that I'm in a much better place this year. I don't know if it is a matter of being more comfortable with the team as much as it is maybe being comfortable (with) me as a man."

There have been other discoveries during this last month and a half in Fort Myers. For instance, Beckett found a bit of a groove in his golf game after playing about 25 rounds during spring training, although he did come away feeling a bit unsatisfied. ("I didn't consistently practice enough," he said.)

But the true value of his time spent away since leaving Fenway Park last September has been the unveiling of his newly discovered inner peace. Sometimes it unveils itself in shouts across the clubhouse, other times it can be simple "Good mornings" to medical staff employees, whose jobs begin before dawn.

Beckett is happy as his second season in Boston begins, and that peace of mind wasn't always easy to come by last year.

"I've always been the type of person who expects a lot of myself and take responsibility when things don't go exactly the way I would like," he said.



"I had a lot of different things going on, with my parents going through a divorce last year and things like that. It was just one of those deals that nobody knew anything about because I didn't want people to make excuses for me. I'm not the type of person who might say, 'Things could have been different if this would have happened.' That's not my personality and my dad didn't raise me like that, to use those deals as crutches.

"I pretty much stayed to myself last year. This year, I'm in an unbelievable place, and I have great people around me who love me, my family, my friends."

Beckett's inner circle includes two childhood buddies who are assisting him in his day-to-day life - Randon Hayes, his personal trainer, and Jason Oberle, his financial adviser. Wherever the pitcher is, at least one of them is usually within earshot.

Along with his parents, they are his support system.

Does he ever want to add a wife to the group?

"Sure."

How about kids?

"Yeah."

Life has a focus right now for Beckett. Starting a family for a person so dedicated to his career might be too far off the beaten track at this time.

"I'm getting closer to that, I just have to find the right one," he explained. "I'm kind of a selfish guy right now. It's one of those deals where I have to be honest with whoever comes into my life and tell her who I am."

...

Beckett is finally comfortable with himself, that much is evident watching him weave in out of the various groups within the locker room. It is a security that might have been launched by the three-year, $30 million extension he signed with Boston last July.

Some have told him he should have held out for more, especially the way the pitching market is exploding. He has another view.

"Forty-seven million dollars."

That's how much he estimates he will have made by the time he turns 30 years-old, and in his eyes that's more than enough.

"I worked really hard and I don't believe there is anybody in baseball who is overpaid. At the same time, I don't think anyone, like me, who takes a contract when they are young to financially set themselves, is underpaid," he said.

"I don't believe in that. If you want to sign a contract then you should honor that contract. Everybody is saying, 'Well, if you waited until the end of this year. ... Well, if frogs had wings they wouldn't bump their butts when they hop.



"I'm not like that; I don't think like that. Did I leave some money out there? Yeah, maybe. But I don't know that. I'm going to go out and play this contract out with the Red Sox, hopefully sign another one, and stay here for another seven or eight years."

...

Beckett's desire to continue his maturation in Boston is obvious. Despite the tough times throughout the 2006 season, he saw enough positives to know that he had found his home with the Red Sox.

It was a realization that started to take root during the 2006 Fenway Park opener. He also is slated to pitch in the home opener this season.

"I had been a part of a lot of different things, but that is totally different," said Beckett of the opener. "Fenway Park. First game of the season. Boston, Massachusetts. Everybody is pretty excited. I remember warming up and thinking this is right up there with Game 6 of the World Series. It had the same feeling.

"My first start of the season against the Rangers was kind of a blur, but I kind of lived in the moment during that whole Fenway Park thing. It was very comfortable to be there and just live in the moment. I don't really do that a lot. I'm not a guy who stops and smells the roses enough. I'm one of those guys that likes to get things done, take care of business and play after that. Maybe I might sit back a couple of times a year and thank the stars I am where I am."