About a year and a half ago, I was trying to force myself to come to grips with the fact that I would never be seeing David Ortiz in a Red Sox uniform again. I’d had the entire 2016 season to prepare for that reality, but as it always is with these kinds of things, it didn’t officially set in until it was actually happening.
But it did eventually happen, at last. The Sox got swept right out of the American League Division Series by the Indians, and just like that, Big Papi was done. For the guy who was one of, if not the most important player in the history of the Boston Red Sox, there wasn’t even an exclamation point for him to go out with.
Shortly after that, I was talking with my friend Joey about Ortiz’s retirement; about how it was the end of an incredible era that ended the infamous “Curse of the Bambino” and brought three World Series titles to Boston. Joey asked me a question that I wasn’t sure how to answer.
“So now that Ortiz is gone, who is the face of the Red Sox?”
I actually found myself speechless. I really had no idea. I didn’t usually have trouble with things like this. Who was the face of my other favorite teams? Tom Brady was obviously the face of the Patriots, and at the time, Isaiah Thomas was the face of the Celtics (my goodness, how things change in just a year and a half). But the Red Sox? I was stumped.
“I have no idea, man,” I responded. “No idea.”
Joey, who just happens to be a Yankees fan, was shocked by that. He thought it was plain and simple.
“Are you serious? That’s easy, it’s obviously Dustin Pedroia.”
“Oh yeah, I guess that would make sense.”
He had a point. After Ortiz, Pedroia was the longest tenured member of the Red Sox. He’d been around for almost a decade. He was a key member of two World Series teams, and a former American League MVP. He’s always been one of the top tier second basemen in the Major Leagues, and he’s just an all-around good guy. He’s the kind of guy you want to root for.
But we were both wrong though. Pedroia wasn’t the new face of the Red Sox. None of us realized it at the time, but the new face of the Sox was actually the young outfielder who belted 31 homers during the regular season at the ripe age of 23. It was Mookie Betts.
Fast forward a year and half later to May of 2018, and that statement couldn’t be any truer. When people think of the Boston Red Sox, they think of Mookie Betts. He has a smile and a personality that is infectious to Sox fans. Above all else, he’s one of the biggest reasons why the Red Sox have won back-to-back AL East titles, and could be on their way to a third this season. Mookie is the biggest superstar on this team, and it’s not really a debate.
He’s proven that even further with the tear that he’s been on to this point in 2018. He currently leads the team with 15 homers. At the rate he’s going, he’s projected to hit over 50 dingers this year, which is pretty incredible for a guy who usually bats in the leadoff spot. I mean, how many baseball teams can say that their most dangerous power threat is the guy at the very top of the lineup?
Typically, you would like a guy with Mookie’s strength and power to be hitting in the three-hole, or maybe even the clean-up spot. But that’s what makes him one of the most unique players in baseball. It would almost be wrong to NOT have Betts hitting in the leadoff spot, because he epitomizes everything that you could ever want out of a leadoff hitter. He constantly puts together good at-bats, he gets on base, he’s a fast runner, he steals bases (11 so far this year, which is the most on the team by far). And to go along with all of that, he also just happens hit a whopping amount of home runs.
Mookie Betts is just about as close as you will ever get to a perfect baseball player. It’s almost like he was created in a lab or something. And the best part about him? He’s only 25 years old. It’s incredible to think that this guy, who is already hands down the new face of the Boston Red Sox, is only just now entering the prime of his career.
The funny thing is, I had been itching to write all of this about Betts for a while. Nobody has been better for the Red Sox in 2018, and probably for the entire league. Everything written in this column has been building up for weeks. I was just waiting for the right moment to type it all out.
When Betts came up to the plate on Saturday night with Sandy Leon on second base, in the bottom of the fifth inning in a 1-1 game against the Orioles at Fenway Park, I just had a feeling that this was going to be it. In most situations, you could almost always count on Mookie to come through. Why would this one be any different?
Sure enough, he took a 2-1 pitch and sent it soaring into the Green Monster seats for his 15th homer of the season, putting the Red Sox on top 3-1, and I knew it was officially time. This Mookie Betts column was finally ready to be written.
The Sox went on to beat the Orioles 6-3. They’ve won 31 games, the only team in baseball to this point to have cracked the 30-win mark. And sure, there is plenty to be said about the other guys who are getting it done for Boston, like J.D. Martinez, and Andrew Benintendi, and Hanley Ramirez, and Chris Sale.
But those are all just guys who play for the Red Sox. Mookie Betts on the other hand? He IS the Red Sox.