Napoli raring to go for Red Sox this spring
With contract difficulties behind, veteran ready to play for Boston
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As Mike Napoli walked into the Red Sox's Spring Training complex for the first time on a balmy Sunday afternoon, his stalled contract negotiations during the winter were far from his mind.
Everything worked out, and Napoli is ready to play baseball for his new team -- albeit for a guarantee of one year instead of three.
Carrying a Texas Rangers equipment bag -- one that will presumably be replaced soon -- Napoli went into the clubhouse and immediately saw a familiar face. Moments later, he emerged onto the agility field and played catch with John Lackey, his batterymate when both players were with the Angels.
It was a soothing way for Napoli to open his tenure with the Red Sox, in an informal setting two days in advance of the first official workout.
"It's always nice to get back," Napoli said. "It was nice seeing this facility. It's a real nice facility. I took the drive up from Fort Lauderdale today. It was a long offseason, but I'm ready to go and I feel good."
Yes, Napoli said he feels good, despite a hip condition called avascular necrosis that delayed his signing with the Red Sox for 51 days.
"I don't have any symptoms," Napoli said. "I went through a physical and they checked out my hip and they found out that I have AVN, so it's something I don't feel. I'm on medicine now. I've got an MRI coming up to see how everything is, and [I'll] just go from there -- take it day by day and see what happens."
In Napoli's mind, the one drawback of his hip diagnosis is that he won't get the opportunity to catch. Instead, the Red Sox have decided to play him full time at first base, which the club had already plotted as his primary position even before the hip issue popped up.
But this isn't the story of a player making a complete position switch. Napoli has started 118 games at first in his career.
"I've been out there before. I'm comfortable," said Napoli. "It's not like I'm out there on an island or anything. I'll go out there and I'll work on it and I'll try to make myself better every day. I'm excited and it will be a lot more taking stress off my body than being behind the plate. We'll see what happens. Hopefully, this hip thing goes away and I'll be able to get behind the plate. For now, we're going to worry about playing first base and go from there."
When Napoli took the two-hour drive across the state of Florida on Sunday, the issues that might have been stressful during the winter seemed as far gone as some of the home runs he's likely to put over the Green Monster this summer.
Asked what he thought about during the drive, Napoli quipped, "Don't hit any alligators on Alligator Alley."
Because everything worked out, he can easily look back now on what transpired.
"I agreed to terms early, and it didn't go through, so I became a free agent again," Napoli said. "I was excited to be here for the first contract. We worked things out. I always wanted to come here. I'm here now and I'm going to make the best of it."
The 51-day stalemate was largely an information-gathering time period for the right-handed-hitting slugger.
"I was just trying to figure out what was wrong with me," said Napoli. "I had to see a bunch of doctors, and was flying all over the country to get different opinions. The first thing was to see where my health was and what I can do. When we figured that out, we were able to talk to teams again, and it came down to signing here."
Did it ever enter Napoli's mind that he would change course and sign somewhere else?
"No, because we never really squashed anything," Napoli said. "[The Red Sox] expressed to me that they wanted me here. We never lost contact. We just had to figure out what the problem was and what was going on in my hip. It never entered my mind that I wasn't going to be here."