Lowell makes spring debut at first base

Lowell makes spring debut at first base

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Mike Lowell's future with the Red Sox is very much in doubt, but for one afternoon at least, all of those issues were put aside.

Playing first base for the first time in his career, the veteran made his Grapefruit League debut Monday, going 1-for-2 at the plate and playing three innings in the field before being replaced by Aaron Bates.

"It was very nice to see him on the field," starter Tim Wakefield said. "He got a great ovation from the fans. He feels good. It's good to have him back on the field."

"It was great to see my man out there," David Ortiz said. "It was like the old days. Having Mike around, it's like family. Watching him play is even better."

Lowell's fifth Spring Training with the Red Sox has best been described as one in limbo. He is without a position or a role. The veteran was nearly traded to the Rangers this offseason, but he is still here. Lowell has spent most of the spring rehabbing his right thumb following offseason surgery and building up strength in his longer-standing hip issue. Everyone in Boston's clubhouse wants Lowell to stay with the club in 2010, but it's also pretty evident he's auditioning for jobs elsewhere in baseball.

Lowell made a good first impression. Hitting high in the lineup so he could get a couple of plate appearances in quickly, Lowell singled the other way off Orioles starter Brad Bergesen in the bottom of the first. He flew out to right in the third inning and then his day was done. The veteran was gone by the time the clubhouse was opened to reporters.

"It was nice to get him in there," manager Terry Francona said. "Obviously, we're not going to hit him second. It was good to get him a couple of at-bats. He got to run the bases, he got to play a little first base. He hasn't been in the game for a while.

"We'll try to do the same thing [Tuesday] night -- get him a couple more at-bats and kind of get him back going in there."

It was the first time Lowell has played first in his career. There were no challenges defensively, but there were also no misadventures and his teammates marveled at how quickly he's taken to the other corner after playing third base for so many years.

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"He looks comfortable over there," Wakefield said. "He's very athletic. I think if you put him anywhere, he'd look normal there."

"He looked like a natural first baseman," Ortiz said. "I told him when we were taking grounders, 'Man, you look like you've been playing here forever.' That's what happens when you are pretty good defensively. You look natural everywhere."

Where he won't look natural, in the eyes of his teammates, is in another uniform. He cemented his place in the hearts of fans with his huge season during the 2007 championship run. What he means to his teammates goes far beyond what numbers show up in the box score.

"The list goes on and on," Wakefield said. "He's been as professional as anybody I've ever played with. He's been a great leader in the clubhouse. He's been a great friend off the field with me. He's just a tremendous guy. To see him battle injury the last couple of years, it's been difficult to watch, but he's a gamer. Just knowing that and having him out there, whatever his role might be this year, I'm glad he's still with us."

It remains to be seen just how long he will be. The Red Sox signed Adrian Beltre to play third because they felt Lowell wouldn't physically be able to play every day. Lowell respectfully disagreed and would like to go someplace where he can get the chance to be a regular again. And that's where things stand. Lowell will continue to get ready for the season, wherever he might play it, hoping an opportunity comes around. His teammates will enjoy having him in the clubhouse for as long as it lasts.

"From a personal standpoint, I'm glad that he didn't get traded to Texas this offseason, because by far he's the most professional guy I've played with," Wakefield said. "He's been a tremendous teammate and leader in this clubhouse. It's something that would've been sorely missed if he had been traded to Texas."

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