Friday, March 11, 2005

Payton's Place

Jay Payton appears to have it pretty easy as a backup in Boston, but it’ll take some getting used to. From a premiere rookie starter on a World Series Mets squad, to flourishing success in Colorado, then falling apart in San Diego, Payton will have to accept the fact he’s a backup on a World Championship club. Francona believes Payton will play a bigger role in 2005:

"I probably wouldn't call him a backup," agrees Terry Francona. "Jay is basically taking the place of both [Gabe] Kapler and [Dave] Roberts. He's going to play some right with Trot [Nixon]. He's going to back up Johnny [Damon]. He'll play some left. He's going to get his at-bats. He's come to a good team. But if Jay does his job, he's going to make us a better team.”

He’s excited about the fact he can make his home in the great baseball city of Boston, play under the Fenway lights, and get out of the pitcher friendly San Diego park. With Roberts earning a starting role with another team, and Kapler busting for Japan, Sox GM Theo Epstein knew Payton was a quality outfielder with starting experience. He brings excellent speed, home run power and most of all, is trying to regain those power numbers from the Rockies days.

"He's a smart guy," says Francona. "I think he understands what he's here for. It's our job to make him understand."

Payton will play a variety of roles for the Red Sox, most likely playing all three outfield positions, pinch running and contributing as a late inning defensive substitution for Manny, much like Roberts and Kapler did last season. He knows and understands the pressure of playing for the Red Sox and having to constantly contend, something he hasn’t felt since being with the Mets in 2000. He might look like a rookie early, but give this guy some time.

"When the Padres GM called me to say I'd been traded, I figured that, well, I was going to a great team,” Payton says. He also realizes what a difference Fenway Park can make.

"I've only played in Fenway twice," he says, "but I'm looking forward to playing there after spending the season in Petco last year."

Going from a pitchers park to a hitters park will only help Payton on his new unfamiliar journey as a backup.

(Quotes courtesy of Bob Ryan’s Globe article 3/10)


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