Stern facing tough competition

Healthy Stern ready to compete for backup job

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- These are exciting -- if not uncertain -- times for Red Sox outfielder Adam Stern.

While it was thrilling to join the defending World Series champs before last season, 2005 turned out to be one challenge after another for the speedy and strong-armed outfielder, taken as a Rule 5 Draft selection from Atlanta.

The 26-year-old fractured his right thumb while sliding during his first Spring Training with the Red Sox, delaying his Major League debut until July 7 at Baltimore. He also injured a hamstring while managing to appear in 36 games with the Red Sox, primarily as a late-inning outfield replacement and pinch-runner, before surgery on his right labrum ended his first big-league season.

But his season didn't conclude before he scored a very important run in a 4-3 Red Sox win Sept. 24 against the Orioles in the midst of a pennant race.

"I knew I was going in for surgery, so it was good to get into my last game," Stern recalled Sunday. "That's the kind of thing I was here with the team to do, go in score runs, score on a single or go first-to-third. And when I finally got to do that, I felt like I accomplished something -- that's what I'm here for."

Turn the clock ahead five months and Stern finds himself battling for a long-term future with the Red Sox, with knowledge that the club must keep him on the 25-man roster for another 17 games to fulfill Rule 5 obligations.

"I knew I had to be ready for Spring Training and I knew I had to compete for a job," Stern said. "I had a hard time sitting around after the surgery. Two or three days later, I was in conditioning, trying to get into shape, and I just wanted to get my body in the best shape and get my shoulder in the best shape. Anyone who's had surgery knows it's a tough road sometimes -- you're going to take a step back before you can go forward.

"You just have to go out there and compete for a job and see what happens. The 17 games, you can't let that affect you. You just have to go out there and see what happens," he added.

And in the midst of this battle comes a chance to represent his native Canada in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.

"To play for my country is huge," said Stern, who was born in London, Ontario, and went 8-for-32 (.250) for Canada in the 2004 Olympics. "I played in the Olympics for Canada, and wearing that name across the front, you can't really explain it. You're representing your whole country, and in Canada, we have a lot of pride up there.

"In international competition, you have a lot of different styles. ... It's a different style of baseball. Having that experience and playing in the tournaments, you feel like you know how to do it."

All Stern needs to do is look around his locker in the Minor League complex clubhouse to see the stiff competition for the fourth and fifth outfielder positions. Names like Dustan Mohr, Willie Harris and Gabe Kapler all figure to battle for spots on the 2006 Red Sox.

"Uncertainty is the game of baseball," Stern said. "You can't concern yourself with all the things in your way. All you can do is concern yourself with is how you go out there and approach the game. You can't worry about what everyone else is doing or who you're competing with."

The two injuries limited Stern to just two hits in 15 at-bats in his first season with Boston, after recording a 16-game hitting streak with Triple-A Pawtucket while rehabbing his sore thumb.

"Starting every day in the Minor Leagues [was great], [but] coming off the bench [in the Majors] was hard. You have to talk to other people and see what it's like. Obviously, in my situation, you have to be successful at it," Stern said. "I had a couple of fumbles and getting up to game speed was tough for me from the get-go. I felt like I wasn't used to coming off the bench and I tried to press too much."

"I've got to let the game come to me and realize, you come to the seventh inning, just go out there and get the most out of it," he added.

Stern's easygoing style and presence in the clubhouse has made him a favorite of many veterans, and it's the veterans who have taken him under their wing to help him through his role as a reserve.

"Jason Varitek is a great guy," said Stern. "Being the captain, he likes to pull the young guys aside and say, 'Hey, listen you're doing a great job. Don't worry about it.' Guys like Tony Graffanino and Alex Cora make you feel like you can talk to them and ask questions like, 'Am I doing the right thing? 'What should I be doing?'

"Last year, Alex and I got to spend a lot time on the bench together, being that he's a late-inning guy, too. He would tell me what to look for or what you should do [in certain situations]. For a young guy who has no idea how to do that, that's tough. The American League is a little different. I came over from Atlanta and all the double switches. They've been great in keeping me prepared, and hopefully it will help me a lot down the road."

Cora was only too happy to help Stern learn the ropes on the bench.

"He brought that up -- the speed of the game," Cora said. "It's a little bit different here than in the Minor Leagues, and you can take advantage of it sometimes. People go through the motions sometimes, and if you're [thinking] ahead of them, you can take advantage of them."

Cora says Stern is already a master in keeping his teammates loose on the bench and in the clubhouse.

"In the offseason, he should become a comedian, have his own tour -- 'The Adam Stern Comedy Show,'" Cora said. "He's fun and fun to be around. And he has an energy that not only rubs off on veterans, but the whole team, and I think people appreciate that."

Stern hopes to avoid a career in stand-up for the time being and focus on being at least a stand-in in the outfield.

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