EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


April 1, 2007

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

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.

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