The Fenway Park outfield can be a treacherous place. Just ask Angels outfielder Torii Hunter, who broke his ankle in 2005 trying rob David Ortiz of extra bases at the bullpen wall in Fenway's triangle.
Particularly for those who aren't familiar, all the odd angles and bizarrely sized walls in that outfield can be a veritable minefield, with obstructions to deal with every which way. That's why it takes a special sense of where those walls are — which probably only comes from repetition — to avoid those hazards.
"Don't run too hard in left or left-center," warns Hunter. "If you hit that steel out there you'll be taking a long dirt nap. It's a tough place to play, center field here, but you just have to be cautious and be careful."
Hunter should know a thing or two about playing center in Fenway, dealing with those odd angles, the triangle and everything in between. The veteran has spent his entire career in the American League and won nine consecutive Gold Gloves in center field. However, Hunter isn't the only player on the Angels to experience the frustration of Fenway's fences.
"It's just knowing where you're playing," says Vernon Wells, who won three gold gloves as a center fielder while playing with the Toronto Blue Jays. "You can give yourself a little more space, move into right-center because of the Monster being there. There's more communication with the left fielder about who's going to go after balls off the wall. There are a lot of little things, but the more you play here the more you get used to it."
In addition to the injury concerns and the potential to have to sacrifice the body, an outfielder also has to be careful that he doesn't give hitters extra bases misplaying a ball off the wall. It's a huge part of the Red Sox' home field advantage, so opposing outfielders have to do their homework and learn over time.
"If the ball hits high off the left-field Monster and you try to go up and you miss it, it bounces off and gives that guy a triple," explains Hunter. "It's very tough."
So what about the new guy, Mike Trout, who visited Fenway for the first time in his life on Tuesday. Trout now mans center field over several other outfielders in his own clubhouse who have been known for their outfield glovework, so the expectations on him are probably pretty high. Of course, Trout's already received many accolades for his highlight-reel catches, and his youthful abandon probably has him less worried than he ought to be.
"It's a different way to play — balls off the wall, balls high off the wall — but if you look left you've got a lot of running room," says Trout. "It's going to be fun, especially if someone hits it in the gap you can run some balls down, and just playing balls off the wall it's going to be interesting."
"Fun" probably isn't the word some outfielders would use to describe playing Fenway's center field, but when you're having the kind of season Trout is, who's going to tell him any differently?