By BRENDAN McGAIR
Sunday in Southern New England saw Jack Frost get the last laugh with temperatures in some parts barely climbing above 20 degrees. Certainly a cold day doesn’t make one anxious to head outside to shag fly balls and perform baseball-related exercises geared toward maintaining sharpness.
In short, Sunday’s bone-chilling weather is exactly why Red Sox prospect Alex Hassan prefers sunny Naples, Fla. to his hometown of Milton, Mass. The 26-year-old outfielder, who could very well start the season with Triple-A Pawtucket after a successful 2011 campaign with Double-A Portland, divulged at Friday’s Hot Stove gathering at the reason behind his inclination to prepare for the coming season with sun serving as the backdrop as opposed to snow.
“For me when I was home, I would have to drive 45 minutes to hit, another 20 minutes to the gym and another 20 minutes to a place where I could throw,” stated Hassan inside McCoy Stadium. “In Florida everything is closer and I get to be outside. For me I thought I would get a little bit more by being down south.”
This marks the second straight offseason that Hassan, drafted by the Red Sox in 2009, has called Florida home. Following a stay in the Arizona Fall League, Hassan returned home to Milton for Thanksgiving and again at Christmas.
“There’s a field right across the street from my house [in Naples, which is right up the road from the Red Sox’ spring training complex in Fort Myers] where I’m able to get most of my work done,” Hassan pointed out.
As new Red Sox farm director Ben Crockett explained, every player in the minor-league system is encouraged to seek out the best possible training means during the offseason that will allow him to come into spring training ready to go.
“To be in the best place to make that happen is a decision that each player needs to make. Not everybody whether its finances or family responsibilities are able to do that, but certainly if you’re in a warm place, it makes things easier,” Crockett said.
Hassan’s words got me thinking about a similar question once posed to Rocco Baldelli and Chris Iannetta. Can a pro ball player truly and adequately prepare for the season while enduring a New England winter?
Here’s what Baldelli, who sought the comforts of the indoor batting cages located in the basement of Hava Java in Woonsocket, had to say on the matter in a Jan. 2007 piece: “It’s actually a lot harder to stay in shape and get what you need done here. With the weather you’re limited in what you can do. You can’t go outside and you’re limited in terms of facilities.”
Iannetta cited similar terms in a Feb. 2010 Q&A session.
“Coming to the Baseball Institute [located off Post Road in Warwick] is something I’ve done since I was little kid. No one knows me be better than John [Mello, facility director] when it comes to baseball. He gives me all that I need. You might not be outside every day, but you can definitely get everything you need to get done [indoors]. I’m comfortable with this and know it works.”
In final analysis there appears no right or wrong way, though after Sunday’s unbearable cold more people, more people might be more inclined to follow Hassan’s route.