Youk, Pap, Lester among early arrivals

Youk, Pap, Lester among early arrivals

BOSTON -- Throughout sunny Florida, there are early-bird specials which are especially appealing to senior citizens who don't like to drive after dark. But there is a much different type of early-bird program going on in Fort Myers, Fla., where some of the most prominent members of the Boston Red Sox are already at the complex working out with still more than a week left before the Feb. 18 reporting date for pitchers and catchers.

While New England was getting belted by a snow storm on Wednesday, Red Sox fans could take heart in the fact that Kevin Youkilis, Jonathan Papelbon, Jon Lester and Manny Delcarmen represented just some of the players who have been going through the paces in Southwest Florida since the beginning of the week.

Per usual, the media welcome wagon was led by Jonny Miller, the veteran radio reporter for WBZ-AM Boston who typically gets to Fort Myers by late January.

The Red Sox, who were swept out of the American League Division Series by the Angels last year, are eager to get the 2010 season in motion.

"Yeah, I'm ready to go," Lester told Miller on Tuesday. "For some reason, this offseason was a little different. I don't know if it was because it ended a little early or what. I guess those extra couple of weeks help you get that itch a little sooner and get excited about coming down here. I'm pretty excited about this team this year and getting going."

It was an eventful winter for the Red Sox, who added John Lackey, Marco Scutaro, Adrian Beltre and Mike Cameron but lost Jason Bay.

Lester, who has long shared a close relationship with Josh Beckett, is excited about adding another fierce competitor to the rotation in Lackey.

"I think he's just going to be another Josh," Lester said to WBZ. "[He'll be] another bulldog out there, another guy who will give you quality starts. He'll compete every five days. We have five or six guys that will do that this year. It's going to be a fun year. If we all stay healthy and go out there every five or six days, everything will take care of itself."

While most players on the Red Sox live in warm-weather climates during the winter, Delcarmen -- a Boston native -- could truly appreciate the beauty of being away from the cold and snow in his hometown.

"It's pretty exciting to be down here in Florida," Delcarmen said. "I know we have a couple of new faces. It's going to be exciting. Spring Training is always fun. You get to meet the new guys and just get ready for the season."

Though Youkilis has established himself as one of the elite right-handed hitters in the AL the past couple of seasons, he still likes to be among the first to get to camp.

"I feel good," Youkilis told WBZ. "I'm just getting ready and prepared. We still have a couple of more weeks until we start up, but I'm just winding down with the hard workouts with weightlifting, because as you go on, you can't lift as much. I'm just trying to get the strength as high as I can and get in baseball shape during Spring Training. There's nothing that you can prepare you for putting on the cleats and making the turn and getting the adrenaline rush of baseball."

This week, Youkilis, Papelbon, Lester and Delcarmen have been joined by Minor Leaguers. But by next week, the rest of the squad will start filtering in, increasing the excitement level even more.

"I think it's going to be an exciting year," Youkilis said. "We have some new players in here and a great pitching staff. All we need to do is stay healthy and good things will happen. We've got a great team in our division that won the World Series last year that we're going to have to compete with and three other teams in that division that are always real tough to play. It's one of those divisions that I think is the best in baseball. It's going to be a battle."

But it's the type of battle that requires bats and gloves instead of snow shovels, and that thought fact alone should be enough to warm up New England.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.