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It's an hour before game time at Red Sox training camp, and Coco Crisp sits at his locker, leafing through a binder with the intense gaze of an undergrad cramming for an exam. Boston's new centerfielder is studying a booklet of ... what? Scouting reports? Statistical breakdowns? "Actually, it's TV-show proposals," Crisp says. "I've got a lot of stuff in the works. Right now my godbrother [Marcus Andrews] and I have a reality dating show we're trying to get picked up. I'm working on some movie ideas too."
Also a rapper with his own music label, Crisp, 26, has aspirations for a career in entertainment, but the challenge that awaits him in Boston is as daunting as breaking into Hollywood. Acquired in January in a seven-player deal with the Indians, he's expected to fill the shoes of an All-Star centerfielder and Boston icon. "I don't know Johnny Damon, and I'm not going to try to be Johnny Damon," says Crisp. "I'm just going to go out there, have fun, play hard and run into a couple of walls. People will stop making comparisons once they get to know me. They don't talk about the guy who was here before Damon."
The ebullient Los Angeles native brings his own bejeweled style and eccentricities--Crisp doesn't wear batting gloves or use pine tar--but at the plate he is essentially a younger, far less hirsute version of Damon: a speedy leadoff hitter who sprays the ball to all fields and possesses good power. Last season Crisp improved his average, on-base percentage, hits and home run total for the second straight season. He also performed considerably better away from pitcher-friendly Jacobs Field (.323 with a .370 OBP and 12 home runs on the road; .275, .319 and four homers at home). "This kid's at a different time in his career [than Damon]," says manager Terry Francona. "We're going to see his best years."
While letting Damon go was a cost-effective option for Boston--he signed for four years and $52 million with the Yankees, who have relegated the Red Sox to second place for the past eight seasons--the acquisition of Crisp, who will make $2.75 million this season, also signifies a shift in philosophy for an offense-oriented club.
"On paper this team might not have quite the firepower and upside offensively, but we've probably got more depth in our bullpen than we've had, and we expect to be better defensively," says general manager Theo Epstein. "Our philosophy is that a run prevented and a run scored have equal value. We believe in more of a balance." Rated as the top defensive leftfielder last year by thehardballtimes.com, Crisp is a defensive upgrade in center; so, too, are winter acquisitions Alex Gonzalez at shortstop, Mark Loretta (second base), Mike Lowell (third) and J.T. Snow (first).
While the pitching staff may be deeper, the fragility of its three most important members will require Red Sox Nation to keep the Dramamine close. Righthander Curt Schilling was ineffective for most of last season while recovering from '04 ankle surgery, though he says he hasn't felt as good as he does now since his 21--6 season two years ago. Another righty, Josh Beckett, acquired from the Marlins in a seven-player November trade, has the stuff of an ace, but over four years he has made nine trips to the disabled list, six of them with a blister on his right middle finger. Righty closer Keith Foulke has had two knee operations over the last nine months.
Changes have left the Red Sox roster bearing little resemblance to the one that won a World Series two seasons ago. Of the 21 players who saw action in the '04 Series sweep of the Cardinals, only nine remain, and just 16 of the 55 players who reported to camp last spring returned this year. "It's a bit strange, for sure," says first baseman Kevin Youkilis. "You look around the locker room and you realize all the guys you played with the past couple of years are gone."
Last year the Red
Sox led the majors in runs for the third straight season, the first team to do
so since the Dodgers in 1951, '52 and '53. The Red Sox also had been the last
AL club to do it, in 1948, '49 and '50.