NASHUA, N.H. — Now four years removed from his final at-bat with the Red Sox, Brian Daubach couldn't help but notice a different feel around Boston in his first visit back to Fenway Park on opening day.
"I can tell how much more positive Red Sox fans are now," said Daubach. "Even though Boston has struggled a little (recently), it seems like fans believe they'll find a way to pull it out in the end instead of lose the lead like before. But I guess that's what winning will do for you."
Six years removed from his final full season in Boston and three years after his last major league game, Daubach is back in baseball as the hitting coach for the Nashua Pride of the independent Can-Am League.
"I'm excited," he said. "This is a great place to start and is a good opportunity. I'm looking forward to taking advantage of the experience."
After spending seven years in the minor leagues with the New York Mets and Florida Marlins, Daubach broke out in his first year with the Red Sox in 1999. The 28-year-old hit .294 with 21 home runs and 73 RBIs and finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting.
Daubach spent four seasons (1999-2002) as Boston's primary first baseman, replacing 1995 American League MVP Mo Vaughn. In 511 games he hit .266 with 104 home runs and 298 RBIs. He also became a fan favorite thanks to his hard-nosed play, earning him the title of "Dirt Dog" along with teammate Trot Nixon.
"I think it was because I came out of nowhere and people thought I overachieved," he said. "I always gave my all, and people appreciated that. And I was a little superstitious, with changing my facial hair. But I think that was because Nomar (Garciaparra), the most superstitious man in the world, rubbed off on me."
After one year with the Chicago White Sox, Daubach returned to Boston for 30 games in 2004. Despite playing his final game as a Red Sox player on June 8, he still received a World Series ring.
"I knew what it meant for the fans," said Daubach, who represented the 2004 champs at this season's opening day ceremony. "After 86 years, they had been through a lot."
After finishing his career with 15 games with the New York Mets in 2005, he returned to his home in suburban St. Louis.
"I was playing a lot of golf and fishing," said Daubach, the father of two.
"I was getting kind of bored. I wanted to get back into baseball. Then I was in Boston for a few autograph sessions at Fenway a few weeks ago, and seeing how people still appreciated what I did, I realized how much I loved this area. New England was great to me."
Daubach had been in touch with Pride general manager Chris Hall, whose squad had been looking for a permanent hitting coach since the season began. And on June 30, it was announced he was joining former Red Sox player Rick Miller's staff, replacing Richie Hebner, who left early in the year for a job in the Baltimore Orioles system.
The 36-year-old feels his 12 seasons of experience in the minors (1,125 games) will benefit him as a coach.
"I have experienced just about anything these kids could go through," he said. "I went from being a non-prospect to batting third for the Red Sox in the ALCS against the Yankees. I was a pretty streaky hitter, so I know all about slumps.
"My last few years I was up and down between the major leagues and the minors, so it was like I was coaching. I felt like I was rubbing off on the players in a positive way, and I realized I could help younger guys get to the majors."
Nashua first baseman Bryan Duplissie was thrilled with the opportunity to work with the ex-big leaguer.
"He has been through a lot and can teach us so much," he said. "He's quiet, but you know he can fire you up, and that's what I like about him. I feel like he is making a difference already."
Daubach plans to continue his work on WEEI during off-days, but he is excited to dive into his new career head-first.
"My goal is to get back to the big leagues as a coach," he said. "It should be anyone in baseball's goal to make it to the highest level. Hopefully it'll work out and I'll keep moving. I'm in it for the long haul."
The Brian Daubach File
Career: Played eight seasons for Florida (1998), Boston (1999-2002, 2004), Chicago White Sox (2003) and New York Mets (2005). In 661 games, hit .259 with 93 home runs and 333 RBIs. Was 3 for 5 with two runs in Red Sox victory over Cleveland in Game 5 of 1999 ALCS. Also hit a three-run homer in Game 3 of the series.
Legacy: Earned "Dirt Dog" title for hard-nosed play while with Boston.