FORT MYERS, Fla. — Each of the five fields at the Red Sox player development complex have been abuzz with activity this week, but the fans often focus on just one or two, wherever the biggest names are. If David Ortiz, Carl Crawford, Kevin Youkilis and J.D. Drew are taking batting practice, chances are most of the visitors and media members will be on hand.
That doesn't mean that what happens elsewhere lacks importance. More often than not, that's where one would find the guys in the organization that make all the big decisions.
Meetings early in camp gave manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Curt Young a chance to stress to young pitchers in camp not to empty the tank early if those powerful names, specifically general manager Theo Epstein, are staring a hole right through you. Don't be a hero and throw the ball through the wall, essentially.
It's sometimes easier said than done.
"I learned the hard way last year because I wasn't able to do that," said Kyle Weiland, a lanky right-hander who is in his second big-league camp and is getting used to having Epstein, arms crossed and sunglasses on, staring at him expressionless. "You think that in your mind until you're out there on the mound and you really can't help it. Your adrenaline's going, and you want to compete. If you can't hold it back, you don't know how."
At this stage of the game, it's all about building arm strength and getting reacquainted with the mound. Pitchers begin throwing lightly on flat ground, progress to the mound, then throw to hitters with a screen in front of the mound, then remove the screen and finally, if all goes well, get into a game.
Each stage only serves to increase the level of intensity, at times making it even more difficult to pull back on the reins.
On Wednesday, after Clay Buchholz finished throwing live batting practice, Michael Bowden stepped to the mound and many fans and other onlookers left. When Jason Rice, an intriguing hard-throwing righty, got to the mound after Bowden, it became even more lean surrounding the field. Epstein remained, his eyes barely moving from the man on the mound.
Although it is his first big league camp, Rice has learned to let his best stuff come to him, regardless of who is watching.
"There are times to turn it on and there's times to, you know, put it in neutral throughout the day," Rice said. "You don't want to be going 100 mph throughout the whole day every day. It would be pretty tough to get out of here in one piece."
"You get a sense of who's around at times, but at the end of the day it's still the same game you've been playing your whole life so all you can do is just go out there and try to remember that stuff."
Not every young pitcher will even be on the major league radar this year. Weiland and Rice both hope to be in Pawtucket and certainly will be considered options for a promotion if injuries hit the major league staff. For now, it's about making an impression without emptying the tank.
"You just want to put it in the back of their minds that you want a jersey one day," Rice said.
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