BOSTON — Jonathan Papelbon etched quite the career for himself as a 2007 World Series champion with the Boston Red Sox.

Growing into his role as the closer took time with some key experiences along the way. One of which came in spring training in 2005, where a rookie mistake turned into a teaching moment to earn the respect of several key veterans.

The Red Sox had a road game against the Baltimore Orioles. Papelbon was set to make the start and took a van to the game across Florida with several veteran players such as Alan Embree, Kevin Millar, Mike Timlin, Trot Nixon, Tim Wakefield and Doug Mirabelli.

“We had to go over to Ft. Lauderdale to play the Orioles,” Nixon told reporters at Fenway Park prior to the Red Sox Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Wednesday. “Nobody was happy about it because you go across the state. It takes forever to get there. It takes forever to get back. So, you have the bus that’s leaving and then you have the van.”

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The day did not get off to the best start for Papelbon by any means.

“I missed the bus that morning,” Papelbon said. “I’m taking the bus with all of these big-leaguers that just one the championship. … First off, I made them all late. I thought they were gonna come pick me up. They’re like, ‘Pap, where are you?’ I’m like, ‘I’m waiting for y’all.’ They’re like, ‘Nah, we don’t come to you. You come to us.'”

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Papelbon certainly got an earful from the reigning World Series champions, making for an early learning experience as he began his journey to make his mark with the Red Sox.

“When Pap got there, he looked like he combed his hair with a rock,” Nixon added. “He literally just rolled out of bed.”

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Papelbon attempted to apologize to then-manager Terry Francona, who told the young right-hander to focus on his start at hand for the Red Sox.

“He just said something along the lines of, ‘Don’t worry about it, we’ll talk after the game. Just get out there and pitch your ass off, kid,” Papelbon remembered.

For an exhibition game, tempers flared when Orioles hurler Daniel Cabrera pitched inside with fastballs approaching 100 mph. That did not sit well with those in the Red Sox dugout. Papelbon then understood he had an unwritten obligation to respond for his team.

“A few guys are saying things around the dugout, but nothing directly to Pap,” Nixon said.

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“I remember thinking, ‘There’s no way I’m going back in without drilling somebody,'” Papelbon recalled. “I’m not gonna drill (Rafael) Palmeiro because he’s a Mississippi State guy.”

Instead, Papelbon plunked Sammy Sosa, the famous home-run hitting slugger who took the baseball world by storm with the Chicago Cubs in the late 1990s. Sosa, in his first season with the Orioles, charged the mound and forced the teams to come ease tensions.

That act from Papelbon stayed with several Red Sox veterans as he started his impact at the big-league level, making his MLB debut later in 2005.

“I know you don’t get that policing nowadays, but it worked,” Nixon added. “Right then and there when he did that… he earned so many guys’ respect. So many veteran guys that were there. He was humble about being out there. He knew what he could do.”

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Ironically enough, Papelbon truly thought that may have been the end of his real future with the Red Sox. That couldn’t have been further from the eventual truth.

“It was like the worst start of my life,” Papelbon said. “I remember being on the bus going home like, ‘Alright, I think I gotta find a new job.’ … They saw that I had the team’s back and they gave me another chance.”

Papelbon went on to record 219 saves over seven seasons with the Red Sox, posting a 2.33 ERA while earning a World Series title. That production brought Papelbon to the 2024 Red Sox Hall of Fame class alongside Nixon and Dustin Pedroia to headline the group.

Featured image via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images