Nightengale’s Notebook: New Red Sox signing Trevor Story ‘can’t wait’ to play in AL East gauntlet

Nightengale’s Notebook: New Red Sox signing Trevor Story ‘can’t wait’ to play in AL East gauntlet

USA News


Unemployed a few weeks ago, Boston’s $140 million man is playing a new position and was thrust into baseball’s most heated rivalry to start 2022.

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NEW YORK — It was easily the worst opening-day performance of his career.

Trevor Story went hitless in five at-bats, struck out with a chance to be a hero in the 11th inning, and the Boston Red lost the game, 6-5, to the New York Yankees in front of a sellout crowd at Yankee Stadium.

“But you know what, man, I had the time of my life,’’ Story told USA TODAY Sports on Saturday morning. “Obviously, it didn’t go the way we wanted personally, or as a team, but it was just so much fun. That intensity. The environment.

“It’s a big reason why I came here.’’

Story had worn only a Colorado Rockies jersey in his entire career until this weekend.  and had hit .333 with three homers and five RBI in his opening-day starts.

But those games were in Arizona, Milwaukee, Miami, Texas and Denver.

This was the Big Apple, baby.

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Story leaned back against his locker and exhaled, still trying to comprehend just everything he’s gone through these past few weeks. He was still unemployed 2 ½ weeks ago, signed a six-year, $140 million contract March 24 in Fort Myers, Fla., was summoned to his Texas home a night later by his wife, Mallie, who went into labor. They had their first baby 12 hours later, he squeezed in 11 at-bats in spring training, and then found himself being quickly ushered into the fiery AL East rivalry Friday against the Yankees.

“It’s been a whirlwind, to say the least,’’ Story says, “but this is everything I’ve always wanted.’’

He goes from the chill environment in Colorado, into the toughest and most powerful division in baseball where one bad game is brightly illuminated for everyone to see.

“I told him he’s going to love it,’’ says Yankees infielder D.J. LeMahieu, his former Rockies teammate. “He’s not afraid of the moment. I think he’ going to thrive in a place like Boston.

“I don’t know if you can elevate your game even more because he’s such an excellent player, but I just think he’s going to be comfortable in that environment.’’

Story, 29, spent the past six years as one of the finest shortstops in game for the Rockies. He was part of perhaps the greatest free-agent shortstop class in history, but as his peers signed, he was on the outside looking in, a man without a seat in the game of musical chairs.

Corey Seager signed for $325 million with the Rangers. Marcus Semien signed for $175 million with the Rangers, too, to play second base. Detroit signed Javy Baez for $140 million. The Minnesota Twins grabbed Carlos Correa, signing him to a three-year, $105.3 million contract with annual opt-outs.

The Seattle Mariners, San Francisco Giants, Toronto Blue Jays expressed early interest, but once the lockout ended, the Red Sox started a heated pursuit. They already had an All-Star shortstop in Xander Bogaerts, but asked Story if he would move to second base.

“I’ve played shortstop my whole career so it was tough to move off,’’ Story said. “There weren’t too many players I’d switch positions for, but this was it.’’

Story might have balked if he felt he was walking into an uncomfortable environment. The Red Sox, after all, already have Bogaerts. He would be delighted playing alongside him for the next six years, but Bogaerts is expected to exercise an opt-out clause in his contract this winter.

Certainly, he didn’t want to be viewed as a threat or an insurance policy.

The recruiting calls and texts poured in from the current and former Red Sox players, coaches and front office, but none meant more than Bogaerts, who persuaded him to sign with Boston.

“It might have been completely different, or uncomfortable, but the way Bogey handled it,’’ Story said, “that put it over the top for me. It was awesome. It made me more comfortable with it.’’

Red Sox GM Chaim Bloom knows that if Bogaerts departs, he can simply slide Story back to shortstop. Yet, he insists the plan is to have them together.

“This wasn’t anything about how we feel about Xander,’’ Bloom said. “These two guys are about winning. They’re both A+ human beings. I hope they’re both here a long time.’’

Story, 29, says he’s just fine staying at second base. Even when Bogaerts takes days off, Story and Red Sox manager Alex Cora have decided that Story would remain at second base, just to get comfortable.

“I signed here to play second baseman for the Red Sox,’’ Story said. “It’s that simple.’’

The Red Sox have already fallen in love with Story’s unselfishness, professionalism, and burning desire to be great.

Story had a flexor strain that required a 10-day stint on the injured list, but even though he could have taken more time to be healthy, he kept on playing, even though his game suffered. He wound up with the worst year since his first full-season in 2017, hitting .251 with an .801 OPS, 24 homers and 75 RBI. His throwing struggles raised eyebrows among scouts, with his free agent stock slipping.

“I obviously had the flexor injury, and it took me a little bit to come back and really trust my arm but towards the end I felt really good about it,” ’Story said. “I understand what was going on there, but I had a great offseason and felt great.’’

The Red Sox did their due diligence and ran him through extensive medical exams, but perhaps even more importantly, thoroughly researched his make-up.

“It’s a credit to his athleticism and his range that he made more than his share of plays at shortstop with what he was going through,’’ Bloom said. “To make a commitment like this, you need to do a lot of research. I could not find anyone who had spent time around Trevor who didn’t swear by him. People who have been in the trenches with him, love him. They trust him. And him being here, you can see why.

“You see the passion. The intensity. The brains. He’s a trustworthy person. That checked out with every single source we could dig up.’’

Storyo wants to savor every minute of the new experience, beginning with Boston’s home opener Friday, April 15, against the Minnesota Twins.

“I remember going to Fenway for four games with the Rockies and that atmosphere is just crazy,’’ Story said. “It’s one of those places that you feel different. There’s a certain mystique about it.

“The competition in this division, just like DJ said, is the highest level you can ask for. It brings out the best in you because every game is going to be such high intensity.

“Man, I can’t wait.’’

Votto mic’d up

Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto stole the show the first weekend of the season while being mic’d up for an inning on ESPN2 in their season opener against Atlanta.

“I think as time moved along, I started feeling more comfortable in my own skin,” Votto told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “More comfortable speaking out and having a little bit more fun, and letting my personality show a little more. … I have a little bit more space, a little bit more energy to be able to do some things that are new to me. We’ll see how it goes. Ultimately, I want to perform well and do my job. If I can do both, I think that’d be the best for the fans and for myself.”

Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who used to work for ESPN, hopes that more players follow suit. He was thrilled that Red Sox outfielder Enrique Hernandez agreed to be mic’d up for Sunday night’s game against the Yankees.

“Ten years ago, I’m sure people were like ‘What are you doing?’” Cora said. “But I think it’s good. We’re trying to sell the product. We have to sell the product. We have to do stuff like this. I think people are going to like it.

“What we’re trying to accomplish is to get this product where people buy it, see it, and they enjoy it.’’

Around the basepaths

– The Chicago White Sox, who nearly acquired Sean Manaea of the Oakland A’s before he was traded to the San Diego Padres, would love to now grab A’s ace Frankie Montas.

But they refuse to give up outfielder Andrew Vaughn, who the A’s are demanding in return.

– Justin Upton, who was designated for assignment last week by the Angels, twice exercised his no-trade clause to thwart trades to small-market, non-contending teams before he officially cleared waivers Saturday.

– Bobby Valentine, 71, who played three years for the Angels and managed 16 years against the Angels, is now broadcasting for the Angels, joining their TV crew for pre- and post-game shows.

Valentine is a longtime family friend of Angels GM Perry Minasian, whose father, Zack Minasian, was head of clubhouse operations when Valentine managed the Rangers.

– Strange signing by the Orioles, bringing back Matt Harvey, who testified at the drug trial of former Los Angeles Angels communications director Eric Kay that he used and provided opioids with the Angels, while also using cocaine going back to his Mets days.

He faces a 60-day suspension.

“He did a lot to help us last year,” Orioles GM Mike Elias said. “The innings that he threw, the luck that he had, and I think most importantly for us, the pro and the teammate that he was in helping us get through a very difficult season was something that we wanted back. We feel he might provide us depth and he might be able to help us and he was in the process of kind of unlocking some things, coming off an injury.”

– This is the first time since 1959 the Phillies don’t have a Black player on their opening-day roster, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

– It was 1,117 days between openings days at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, and, oh, was it worth the wait.

The Blue Jays came back from a 7-0 deficit to the Rangers for a 10-8 victory, the largest opening-day comeback since the Yankees in 1950, and the third-largest in history.

The Blue Jays spent the 2020 season with no home games, and spent most of the 2021 season playing in Dunedin and Buffalo, before returning to Toronto.

“This is the funnest team to watch in baseball, I’m telling you right now,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said. “You’re going to see a team that plays the right way, wins games and has fun.”

Don’t forget scaring the daylights of every pitching staff, too.

– An emotional moment for Rockies shortstop Jose Iglesias, who hit an RBI single in his first at-bat on opening day, and wept.

“I lost my dad a few weeks ago and this was the first hit that he couldn’t see,” Iglesias told reporters. “It was for him. It was a very emotional moment for him. He’s a big part of my life and career.

“He was everything to me. His dream was to watch me in the big leagues. He told me once ‘If I can watch you play for one day, I’ll be good to go after that.’ He watched me play for 10 years.

“He’s in a better place now, watching me play every day.”

– Buck Showalter, who managed a game on opening day for the first time in 1,285 days, already is making a difference with the Mets.

– The Cardinals considered moving in the outfield walls at Busch Stadium, but once they produced five Gold Gloves last year, they decided to stand pat.

“We started to think we may have an edge here with this particular configuration,’’ Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We have an elite defense and we’re contemplating doing something that might minimize the impact of that defense. Let’s not.”

– Red Sox manager Alex Cora is thrilled that Carlos Beltran, who was fired before managing a single game with the Mets for his role in the 2017 Astros’ cheating scandal, is working for the Yankees this year as a YES Network analyst.

“For him to be back in the game, it means the world,” said Cora, who was suspended for a year in his role as the Astros’ bench coach. “As a friend, I wish him the best. I know it’s been very difficult the last two years. We’ve had some great conversations and he knows I’m here for him. He knew the whole time I was there for him, which is very important. Not only for him, but forJessica and the kids. I know how hard the whole process was. …

“I wish him nothing but the best. Hopefully he doesn’t crush me on TV.”

– CC Sabathia, on his new role as special assistant with MLB, where he will have strong input in player relations and social responsibility.

“I’ve been a big one in wanting our league to run like the NBA, and how close [commissioner] Adam Silver is with the players,’’ Sabathia says, “and how big the players’ opinion matters in the game. I’ve been the biggest advocate for this type of situation. So it was either put up or shut up.”

– Phillies rookie shortstop Bryson Stott is wearing No. 5 in honor of his best friend, Cooper Ricciardi, who died six years ago from cancer.

– Tough break for Phillies center fielder Mickey Moniak, who finally was living up to the hype as the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft with a monster spring, suffering a hairline fracture of his right hand on his last at-bat of spring training games.

Moniak hit .371 with four doubles, five homers, and a .914 slugging percentage this spring.

He’s expected back in six weeks.

– The Pirates, who enter the season with a miniscule $50 million payroll, made the biggest salary commitment in franchise history by signing third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes to an eight-year, $70 million contract extension. It tops the previous franchise record set by former catcher Jason Kendall in 2000 with his six-year, $60 million contract.

– Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright found himself stuck in downtown St. Louis traffic on his way to Opening Day, but appreciated the fact that it meant the home opener would be sold out for the first time before COVID-19.

“It was totally jammed,” Wainwright said. “I was thinking about taking alternate routes. Then I said, ‘You know what, I want to be in this. I’m just going to be patient. I’ve already prepared. I’m good to go. If this traffic lasts until 30 minutes before the game, I’m fine. I’ve got this. I’m enjoying this.’

“For the first time in my life, I enjoyed sitting in traffic.”

Wainwright then proceeded to pitch six shutout innings against the Pirates at the age of 40 years and 220 days. He was the fourth-oldest pitcher produce a scoreless inning of at least six innings on opening day since 1901.

– The Padres acquisition of closer Taylor Rogers from the Twins assures that he and his twin brother, Tyler Rogers of the San Francisco Giants, will often see each other in the NL West. The two teams meet 19 times this season.

“I think the NL West is the best-looking division in baseball,’’ Tyler Rogers cracked.

– Yankees shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who grew up in Hawaii, is actually a fourth cousin of former Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner, the Mets’ broadcaster for 51 years.

– Red Sox ace Chris Sale on missing the first two months of the season with an oblique injury.

“I’ve been here for six years,’’ Sale said, “I’ve given these people one full [expletive] year. You kidding me? I wouldn’t like me, either.”

– The Astros, meanwhile, tied an AL/NL record by winning their 10th consecutive Opening Day contest thanks to back-to-back homers from Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez in the eighth inning. Houston’s 10 consecutive Opening Day victories are tied with the Boston Beaneaters’ run from 1887-96.

– New Atlanta first baseman Matt Olson was born and raised in Atlanta, but he never had set foot at Truist Park in Atlanta until opening day.

The last time he played a home game in Atlanta was with Parkview High School in the 2012 state championship game.

He was greeted with a standing ovation before his first plate appearance.

“It was a little different,’’ he said, “waking up in my own bed, coming here.’’

– The Tampa Bay Rays’ payroll is a franchise record $78.245 million this year.

It’s still $200 million less than the Dodgers and Mets.

– Brewers Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes, who struck out a record 58 batters before issuing a walk last season, walked the first batter he faced this year. He walked three batters in five innings in their season opener, eclipsing his total from his first seven starts of last season.

–Jurickson Profar is the first Padres player to start in left field on opening day in back-to-back seasons since Ryan Klesko in 2004-2005.

The longest active streak of using different opening day starters now belongs to the San Francisco Giants, who used their 16th consecutive different left fielder with Joc Pederson.

The record is 19 consecutive years by the St. Louis Browns/Baltimore Orioles, who used a different left fielder every on opening day from 1937-1955.

Bobby Witt Jr. became the youngest player in Royals history (21 years, 297 days) to make his MLB debut on opening day.

Witt celebrated by producing the game-winning double in the Royals’ 3-1 victory over Cleveland. He became the first player in the modern era to have his first career hit be a go-ahead extra-base hit in the 8th inning or later on Opening Day.

– There were 17 teams who opened the season with new hitting coaches, and only four who changed pitching coaches.

That was the fallout from a .244 major-league batting average last season, the lowest since 1968, with 2,664 more strikeouts than hits.

– That was Diamondbacks slugger Seth Beer who became the first rookie to hit a walk-off homer with his team trailing on opening day in baseball history.

Of course, it happened on National Beer Day.

– Atlanta opened the season with only two starting pitchers who have spent at least two full seasons in the big leagues: Charlie Morton, 38, and Max Fried, 28.

The other three starters are Ian Anderson, Kyle Wright and Huascar Ynoa.

– The Dodgers opened the season with 16 pitchers on their roster, with another six on the injured list.

– There were 275 international-born players–  28.2% of the league – on opening-day rosters this year.

The breakdown:

  • Dominican Republic: 99
  • Venezuela: 67
  • Cuba: 23
  • Puerto Rico: 16
  • Mexico: 13
  • Canada: 12
  • Colombia: 10
  • Japan: 7
  • Panama: 6
  • Curacao: 5
  • South Korea: 4
  • Bahamas: 3
  • Aruba, Australia, Brazil, Germany, Honduras, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Taiwan, and the U.S. Virgin Islands: 1

The Astros have the most foreign-born players with 16 on their roster, followed by the Nationals with 15.

– Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, who was battered for a 5.63 ERA against the Red Sox last year, including the wild-card loss, says he’ll forever remember the pain.

“In this sport, you have to take the good with the bad and as a competitor, when you lose, it kind of eats at you,’’ he said. “So, I think there’s a part of me that always carries along the scars that we get when we fall short of what we’re trying to accomplish. But at the same time, if it doesn’t kill you, it’ll make you stronger.”

– Kudos to the Cubs for honoring George Wiseman, the 76-year-old lifelong fan who died in January. Wiseman, who could not speak due to a medical condition, would ring a cowbell in the bleachers.

The Cubs’ faithful bleacher bums purchased 200 cowbells for opening day.

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