BOSTON — Growing up in Westboro, Mass., Jack Butterfield — the father of Red Sox third base coach Brian Butterfield — learned that sometimes school can play second fiddle to baseball.
“His grandpa tapped him on the shoulder with his cane in the morning on school days and said, ‘We’re going into Fenway to watch the Red Sox,’” Butterfield said of his then-8 year old dad. “This was back in the Ted Williams era. And they would hitchhike into Fenway.”
Jack Butterfield went on to coach baseball and football at the University of Maine, and raise Brian as huge a Red Sox fan.
“I always dreamed about playing for the Red Sox but this is second best,” Butterfield said.
The 55-year-old Butterfield is in his first year with the Red Sox after coming over from Toronto with manager John Farrell. He is living out his dream, one that he has had since he first could walk.
But his job with the Red Sox isn’t an easy one at all. Coaching third base is one of the tougher jobs in all of sports, because decisions must be made within a split second.
Add to that a spacious right field at Fenway Park and the left field Green Monster short in distance from home plate, and being the third base coach of the Boston Red Sox can be a downright headache.
“If you think about it, it’s the only coaching position in all of sports where the coach is competing and he’s actually making decisions during the course of the (active) game,” Butterfield said. “All the other games, it is before the ball is put in play a coach might send a play in. But the third base coach is actively involved while the ball is put in play and the decision-making process.”
A family thing
Butterfield has plenty of local ties. He is the brother of Londonderry’s Val Reilly and the uncle of former Lancers and St. Anselm athletes Jack and Rachel Reilly. Val Reilly attended Opening Day at Fenway.
“And I think she’s been to a few other (games),” Butterfield said. “And my niece has been to a couple.”
Butterfield grew up in Orono, Maine loving the Red Sox and playing baseball.
“Dad used to bring me here (to Fenway) once a summer,” Brian Butterfield said. “We would watch a three-game or four-game set.
Butterfield, who also tirelessly works with the Red Sox infielders, played five seasons of minor league ball. He played 13 games in Triple-A, but never reached the majors. He was an infielder, mostly a second baseman.
Butterfield previously coached third base for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Toronto Blue Jays.
His job is all about good positioning and quick decision-making. Butterfield often positions himself far down the third base line — extremely close to home plate — when runners are on base.
“Left field is a bit more difficult to score guys just because of the area,” Butterfield said about Fenway Park. “It’s a short area. Left field is right on top of you. As tough as it is in left field, right field is spacious and you’re looking for more opportunities.”
Butterfield has talked about his positioning with umpires. Since he is so close to home plate, he is aware that is he more susceptible to being hit with a foul ball.
“When our right-handed hitter is hitting, I want to get as far off the line as I can so I’m behind his (the hitter’s) back so it’s almost impossible for him to get me (with a foul ball),” Butterfield said. “I feel like my best decision making comes when I’m standing still instead of fighting to get down the line to make a decision.
“So the farther I get down, the better it is for me to see and the farther away from the line, the safer I am.”
No matter where he stands, Butterfield is in a vulnerable position when a lefty is batting.
“The one thing is that when I get that far down with a left-handed hitter, and (with a pitcher) that’s throwing real hard, I might get a late swing and then I’m in trouble,” Butterfield said.
Other third base coaches, including Cleveland’s Brad Mills, stand far down the line like Butterfield.
“In this ballpark you need to get a little bit deeper so you have a longer time to see the outfielders and the ball in play,” Mills said. “Because of the shape of the ballpark you need to be deeper. You’re deeper (in every park) when there’s a runner on second, but you’re probably deeper here.”
Every park brings a new adventure. Butterfield knows that — and that is one of the reasons he loves his job so much.
“Yankee Stadium in right field there’s a short porch and a lot of times their right fielders play shallow,” Butterfield said. “When you go to Tropicana (Field), Tampa Bay’s outfielders play shallow so the game is a little bit faster there. We just came from Philadelphia where right field is short and a lot of it depends on that arm strength in that shortened area.
“In Baltimore, you have a guy like (right fielder Nick) Markakis who can really throw,” Butterfield added. “So there are a lot of different areas that might be the same dimensions but sometimes the arm strength kind of takes over.”