Middlebrooks turning heads in Beantown
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Maybe the success Will Middlebrooks is having as a rookie isn't all that surprising to many. After all, the 23-year-old Greenville, Texas native was rated as Boston's top prospect for 2012 by Baseball America heading into this season. So to see him hitting .289 with 11 HR and 42 RBI isn't a huge shock for anyone who has watched him play recently.
Sure, he earned his chance in the show in early May when the Red Sox starting third baseman Kevin Youkilis was injured and Will was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket, but it's safe to say this native Texan has made the most of this incredible opportunity and then some for the denizens of Fenway Park.
Middlebrooks admits that during spring training he figured he would be in Boston at some point this season but not even he figured the call every minor leaguer is waiting for would come just over a month into the season. "I knew if I did well and something happened with an injury like what happened that I'd have a shot. But I didn't think it would be that early," he said. "I thought it would be after the All-Star break."
Boston starting shortstop Mike Aviles is in his sixth year in the big leagues and second in Beantown after spending the previous four years in Kansas City. The veteran infielder has seen firsthand what an impressive player and even more importantly, guy in the clubhouse his new teammate has been and he and the rest of the Red Sox roster are markedly impressed.
"He's a good ballplayer. He comes to the park, he's willing to learn," Aviles said. "He's very open to suggestion, which is always good for younger players because when you're younger it's always hard to listen to guys that have been around here. But he's been good. He's of good character so he fits in well. He's a heck of a ballplayer so I know he's going to have a great career and I wish him the best."
Aviles is just one of several Boston veterans who have helped the young Texan feel right at home in the big leagues. "Youk[ilis] meant a lot to me but the guys who really helped me out the most was [Mike] Aviles. He's my best friend on the team and Papi [David Ortiz], we're really close, Adrian [Gonzalez] also," Middlebrooks said. "There's numerous guys who have helped me out."
But that doesn't mean that like every other rookie, he isn't immune to enduring some rookie rites of passage from his new teammates. "Oh, I carry plenty of beer and water, whatever these guys need on the plane-suits, whatever they need me to carry," he said. "I just carry everything."
A product of Liberty-Eylau High School in Texarkana, this week marks Middlebrooks' first appearance in the Lone Star State as a big-leaguer and since the current three-game series with the Rangers also marks Boston's only regular-season appearance in Arlington this year, this is also likely the only time friends and family from back home can see him play in person.
"It was just good to see everyone. A lot of people I haven't seen since high school get to come out and catch a game and have some fun with it," he said before Monday's series opener.
"Actually a lot of people bought their own tickets [so I didn't have to get a ton of them]. I'm getting my family tickets and that's about it."
Of course, he and his family used to make the approximately two-hour drive from Texarkana to Arlington to make several Ranger games per year. But even though Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is a place he knows well, it doesn't make playing there for the first time weird in the least. "A little but then again, it's just another game, looking forward to it," he said.
The numbers Middlebrooks has put up through his first 58 games both at the dish and in the field in any other season might be enough for him to earn serious consideration for American League Rookie of the Year honors. However, with a young Angel outfielder named Mike Trout taking not just the AL but the entire baseball world by storm, this young infielder knows any chance of that is slim. But it's not like he concerns himself with such individual honors anyway.
"I just want to go out and win. I can go 0-for-4, make a couple of good plays on defense, we win the game and that's fine," he said. "I'm just here to win. There's a guy kind of dominating right now-Mike Trout. Happy for him, he's a good kid. I played with him in the [Arizona] Fall League. He was my neighbor out there too, so I couldn't be more happy for him."
Besides adjusting to life in the big leagues in a new city and with new teammates, he's also playing for a new manager in former Rangers skipper Bobby Valentine. And like many, one of the first things he notice about Bobby V is what an incredible baseball mind he has.
"Great baseball mind, biggest thing in baseball's experience and he's definitely got plenty of that," Middlebrooks said. "He's been around big-league baseball for 40 years playing and coaching, so there's a lot of knowledge there."
It's already been an eventful season to say the least, between starting the year in the International League to the solid numbers he's posted as a rookie to fighting his way through a hamstring injury that shelved him for about two weeks. Each experience he has already endured and will endured will help to further shape him as a player as well as a person, experiences he clearly welcomes going forward.
"Unreal, it's been an awesome first experience in the big leagues, awesome teammates, really good coaching. So I'm really enjoying myself," Middlebrooks said. "Just being able to on a daily basis focus on playing at the highest level [has been the biggest adjustment for me]."
And one final interesting fact on Will Middlebrooks, when he joined the Sox earlier this season, he made it eight Texas natives on the Boston roster, a list that also includes outfielder Carl Crawford (Houston), starting pitchers Josh Beckett (Spring) and Clay Buchholz (Nederland), good company indeed for the Greenville native.