DUNEDIN, Fla. — The most intriguing thing about John Farrell’s decision to accompany a scrub-filled Boston Red Sox split squad for Monday’s contest with the Toronto Blue Jays is that he could have travelled with the group facing the Tampa Bay Rays, but instead chose to face his former club.
There won’t exactly be welcome mats waiting for Farrell at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium before what’s suddenly become a very interesting Grapefruit League contest, and the way he’s greeted by his old players will be closely watched.
“As a person I like him, as a manager I like him, he never did anything bad or wrong to me,” a diplomatic Jose Bautista said Sunday. “You can’t blame somebody for having the desire to get to a certain place in his career. At least he said it and made it obvious and made it known to everybody. …
“I would rather him be there doing that, than be with us wanting to be there. I’ll go say hi to him, see how he’s doing, see how he’s feeling, normal chit-chat. And then I’m going to try to kick his ass.”
Blue Jays fans would love that, as many are still sore over the way he stated an interest in pursuing the Red Sox’s managerial opening after his first year as Toronto skipper, and again following his second, a season that was dogged by rumours linking him to Boston in the final months.
Even though it’s just a spring contest, fan reaction is sure to be negative, and Farrell should be able to hear every word at the cozy confines of FAES.
What’s interesting is that he would put himself through that, given that it would probably be more typical for a manager to stick with most of his regulars and on the trip closer to home. Port Charlotte, where the Rays are based, is about 45 minutes from the Red Sox’s camp in Fort Myers, while Dunedin is a traffic-filled three-hour drive north.
An argument could be made that it gives him a chance to see the muscled up Blue Jays, who have R.A. Dickey and Josh Johnson each slated to throw two innings, and that it gets the first awkward encounter out of the way. It also keeps anyone from thinking he’s ducking his old club.
By the same token, another school of thought is that by seemingly going out of his way to make the trip, he’s looking to stir things up and make his return a story, especially because few will be in a rush to see him.
“I’m sure we’ll all be professional out there, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens,” said Adam Lind, who has previously criticized Farrell publicly. “I don’t think he’ll be, really, looking for us. If he’s close to me, I’ll say hi, but I’m not going to go out of my way.”
Also returning will be longtime Blue Jays third base coach Brian Butterfield, who followed Farrell to Boston to fill the same role.
Butterfield’s ties in the clubhouse ran far deeper, and there should be some warm embraces for him.
“Butter, since I’ve been here, I love him to death,” said catcher J.P. Arencibia.
As for Farrell, Arencibia said: “Listen, at the end of the day, this is a business and sometimes things happen and it doesn’t change the person they are, it doesn’t change what they have done for my career, so you always wish them well and I think that’s the way you go about it.”
Regardless, Monday’s contest will be but a token rehearsal for the real thing April 5 in Toronto.
Farrell chose it, and now he’s going to get it.