Victorino ready to embrace Boston's tradition
All-Star outfielder introduced at Thursday news conference at Fenway Park
BOSTON -- The Red Sox and the Phillies were in similar shape heading into last season: high expectations, high payroll, the whole nine yards. And there were really rabid fan bases that needed answers when both teams slipped.
Outfielder Shane Victorino, the Red Sox's newest addition at three years and $39 million, was prepared for Red Sox Nation in Philadelphia. Now, if his bat can match his charisma and defense, the Red Sox will have gotten it right.
"I mean, hopefully it's not worse than Philly," the switch-hitter joked Thursday. "I hope you guys ain't that much tougher, because that was a pretty tough market. ... I played in a big market, played in Philly for all those years and had success doing it. Last year was definitely a trying year for us. But I learned through that experience, too."
Victorino put on Johnny Damon and Daisuke Matsuzaka's No. 18 Thursday in his introductory news conference at Fenway Park, where he's expected to play right field with the talent of a center fielder.
"I'm beyond ecstatic, to say the least," Victorino said. "We've all paid attention to our counterparts on the other side, what this organization is all about, the tradition this place holds. Coming to Fenway, people always ask what my favorite park is. I always said Fenway is one of my favorites -- there and Wrigley, because of the tradition. Coming in here, having an opportunity to play in Boston has been absolutely amazing as a visiting player."
Victorino, 32 and a Hawaii native, was with the Phils for 7 1/2 seasons until he was traded to the Dodgers in the middle of this past season. The only other team he played for in the Majors was the Padres, as a rookie in 2003.
Victorino is a character and a drawing personality. In the same way that Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz can command attention and respect, he can, too.
"I think I should get a shirt that says that: 'Low-key, shy guy,'" Victorino said. "Playing and spending eight seasons in Philly and focusing on that and being with one group of guys, I think that trade helped me a little bit -- getting to go to a new clubhouse, getting around a bunch of new guys. The one thing they told me when I got to L.A. was, 'Be yourself and go out there and have fun.' If there's one thing you're going to get with me, you're going to get me. I'm going to be fun. I'm going to be loud. I'm going to talk a lot, as you can tell from this press conference. You're going to get what you get."
Victorino was down offensively in 2012: He had a .255/.321/.383 line between Los Angeles and Philly. Some of that could've been related to pressure he put on himself in a contract year. But he said a bothersome right index finger that required a cortisone shot wasn't an explanation he would lean on.
"There was a lot that went into it," Victorino said. "Early on in the season, I wanted to get something done and stay in Philly. That was a little bit of my focus. ... I kind of wanted to say to myself, 'Hey, this might be the time for me to put forward the foot.' Again, let's look beyond that. I'm a Red Sox now. That's what I'm looking at."
If it looked like the Dodgers would have long-term interest in Victorino, that dissipated when, coincidentally, the Sox and Dodgers pulled off their blockbuster and outfielder Carl Crawford went to Los Angeles.
Now that he's here, Victorino plans to make his presence felt in right field out near the Pesky Pole. He has three Gold Gloves, from 2008-10.
"I'll wrap myself around that pole," he said.
Victorino's been a career-long center fielder, but was asked in Los Angeles to play right field. He said he's happy to do the same in Boston.
"It's definitely a big right field, but I'm always up for the challenge," Victorino said. "I'm going to work hard in Spring Training to get that opportunity at what we called, as an opposing team when we went to play [at JetBlue Park] last year, 'Baby Fenway.' I'm going to be there in Spring Training and work on that kind of stuff and work with Jacoby [Ellsbury] in center field. Playing with two center fielders, I'll trust in his legs. Playing in our home ballpark, we don't have to worry about left field too much with that wall out there, so we can both kind of shift over and play and take away a lot of right-center or right field.
"Hopefully, he'll have faith. In fact, he called me last night because I sent out a tweet about how much I love clam chowder, and he goes, 'It's not chowder. It's chowda.'"
There is a subplot, though, to Victorino playing right. If Ellsbury, a Scott Boras client, is traded or leaves as a free agent after this season, Victorino is a viable option to take over in center -- even if only as insurance.
"Part of our attraction to him is he is a center fielder, and we think can play any of the three outfield spots in Fenway, but certainly could play center or right," general manager Ben Cherington said. "In our particular case this winter, we would like to have two center-field-quality defenders on the team, and we think we have that now. I think the best Red Sox teams generally have that, a really good defender in right field. We haven't been able to do that every year, but generally good Red Sox teams have that. That was part of our attraction to Shane. He just does a lot of things well."
Victorino had pronounced splits in 2012, hitting .230 against right-handers but .323 against southpaws. Cherington said he feels "confident based on what we looked with video and talking to Shane, he's going to be good from the left side."