Before rookie Kyle Stowers could step inside the famed Green Monster yesterday, he first had to stand in front of it and try to track fly balls.
He did it in batting practice Monday afternoon and later during the game, the grass soaked beneath his feet from a storm that sent the teams indoors after the second inning.
Stowers got his first experience playing left field in Boston, where legends have roamed and others have been flummoxed. The distance from home plate, the narrow strip of dirt that constitutes foul territory, and the areas on the wall that create unusual caroms.
Spring training was the closest that Stowers came to simulating the Boston experience, but he played right field at JetBlue Park, also known as “Fenway South.” Doesn't count except for what he saw.
“I never played left in any of the mock ballparks,” he said. “The closest thing I can say that I’ve done is in Durham. I don’t think it’s quite as high, but same style of wall. There’s definitely a little more strategy with how you play defensively. I was just trying to get as comfortable as I could in warmups, and felt like there were some moments I did a good job of playing left, and some moments that probably could have been a little better.”
Nothing weird happened to Stowers, who served as designated hitter last night while Anthony Santander started in left. One fly ball near the line eluded him before Ryan McKenna replaced him in the eighth.
Stowers popped up to end the top half of the inning and wasn’t going to bat again.
“I think first and foremost is understanding that pretty much anything over your head that’s hit hard you’re going to be playing off the wall,” Stowers said. “Give yourself enough space to adjust, because there’s so many different bounces it can take. And then also knowing that anything to the left of you, between you and the center fielder, is going to bounce off, too, so being ready to back up in all scenarios. You never know how things are going to bounce.
“And then obviously getting accustomed to the depth that you’re playing. You’re playing more shallow than you usually are. Those were the things that were most different.”
Going full-speed toward the line is a risky pursuit with the stands so close to the field. There isn’t much time to slam on the brakes.
“I did notice that,” he said. “I had some that were close but still in fair territory, but didn’t have like a bang-bang play where I was going to have to either stop myself with the wall or slide or whatever. It’s definitely something you have to think about, too.”
Veterans have wall stories about the dead spots on it, and how the ball won’t react the exact same if it strikes different portions of the scoreboard.
The ladder makes it seem more like a skills competition.
“I’m hoping I’m not jinxing this when I say it. I haven’t seen a ball hit off that ladder yet, but I can only imagine how crazy that could end up turning out,” said center fielder Cedric Mullins.
“It’s a matter of everyone backing up everybody. I’m pretty sure there’s a play where the shortstop would back up Stowers or whoever’s playing left field out there. It’s just crazy.”
Mullins went over a few points with Stowers, relaying how he had the rookie’s back. Figuratively and literally.
“Just on a quick note kind of thing,” Mullins said. “It’s more or less just continuing to look at each other. The non-verbal communication that goes a long way in the outfield, especially a field like this. Having an idea where we’re at and knowing that we can still be aggressive on balls. Like, I’ll be behind if something goes wrong.
“He did really well out there yesterday. Had some opportunities to make some plays.”
Mullins never knows who’s going to be on his right side. Managers past and present have their own ideas, usually based on the expansive ground in right field.
That area is no picnic, either.
Brandon Hyde prefers Austin Hays in right, which is why Stowers and Santander tried to tame the monster in the first two games of the series.
“Haysie’s so used to playing right field,” Hyde said. “The right fielder here is the center fielder, like left field is for us. With Hays’ center field experience, I decided to put him in right. But even though this is a small outfield in left, it is tricky if you haven’t played it before because of the wall, and the small corner, too. No room down there. You play a little bit different positionally.”
It’s easier to go inside the wall than to master its quirks.
“Super cool,” Stowers said. “Obviously, this entire ballpark, you can just feel the history. But stepping inside of that, seeing all the different names on there and being able to put my name next to them, it was really cool. It’s a very historic game, and the fact that we’re getting to experience something that baseball players have been experiencing for a long time is really cool.”