Red Sox ready to get down to business

Spring in Red Sox's step as team begins camp

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Sitting on a bench among the palm trees in a warm breeze is a long way from working in Fenway Park's basement in the middle of winter.

That is one reason Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein and skipper Terry Francona were completely relaxed and ready to go Saturday as pitchers and catchers reported to the club's Minor League complex.

"There is a lot of time spent in the basement, doing the work that needs to be done, and that's why this day feels so good," Epstein said of the offseason work at Fenway Park.

There will be plenty of time to address who will be in the starting rotation and who will begin the season in the bullpen and which pitchers will need more work than others in camp. Saturday was a day to welcome all of those in Red Sox uniforms who share the same objective.

"The goal is to wear a ring at the end," Francona said.

But first things first. Following physicals Sunday morning, Francona will hold a team meeting with pitchers and catchers at noon ET and then release the team to the practice fields at around 1 p.m. for the first workout of the spring. Position players will report Wednesday with the first full-squad workout to follow on Thursday, one week from the club's first Grapefruit League game against the Twins at Hammond Stadium.

"Even with returning faces, we treat Spring Training the same way and that'll be some of the message of the first meeting," Francona said. "We try to build loyalty. If it happened overnight, it wouldn't mean a whole lot. I think baseball in general is really good at breaking down [personal] barriers and welcoming people.

"I think the Red Sox, in particular, are the best at it I've ever seen. We'll put our arms around these guys, coaches, teammates, Theo, and make them feel welcome. I think we do that better than any place I've ever been."

One of Francona's main missions this spring will be to mesh returnees like Curt Schilling, Keith Foulke and Mike Timlin with newcomers such as Josh Beckett, David Riske and Julian Tavarez.

"What's not overrated is wins," Francona said. "If we're not winning as much as we want, there will be a lot said about how we're not meshing. If we're going right through the league winning as much as we want, we'll be meshing beautifully. That's the way it goes.

"Each team gets their own personality and you can't force it, but the sooner they achieve it, the better. That's what you try to do starting down here, is get guys to develop relationships and care and to get them in baseball-playing shape and then that baseball personality [will come]. We don't know what that is yet, but it'll come."

Epstein reiterated Saturday that he is happy to put all the offseason questions about his career behind him and focus on the team, a team he said will be more focused on run-prevention and run differential than just outslugging the opposition.

"Just on paper, this team might not have quite the offensive firepower, but the upside is that it's still very good offensively and we probably have more pitching depth than we've had and our bullpen is deeper," Epstein said. "We hope to be better on defense, but these are all on paper and that doesn't mean anything until you go out there and prove it."

"We have depth and I think we all hope the glass will remain half-full," Francona added. "Usually, it's somewhere in between. I think we're trying to guard against if we have someone with an injury or someone who's not throwing well, it's not going to cost us a lot of games. I think when you think you have too much pitching, you still don't. I think you have to guard against that and I think we've done a very good job of that."

Between roster and non-roster invitees, there will be 60 players in camp at the beginning, a larger-than-normal number.

"We try not to get carried away with batting averages and statistics," Francona said. "There's going to be some kid in here this spring who knocks everybody's socks off and he's probably still going to go to Double-A. That is just Spring Training and how it can be."

Still fresh in the minds of Epstein and Francona is the three-game sweep at the hands of the eventual World Series champion White Sox, an American League Division Series loss that ended Boston's hope of a title defense.

"It seems to last longer every year," Epstein said. "From that last out [against the White Sox] and waiting through a long winter to get to the sound of the ball coming off the bat again, I'm glad we're finally here. This is why we're all in the game, actually play on the field and win and accomplish something as an organization.

"The offseason is a means to an end. You have to go through that to build a club to get here and this is what it's all about."

Mike Petraglia is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.