GLENDALE, Ariz. — It was the first official day of spring training, with fans lining the players’ walkway to the back fields and everything.
Tim Anderson raised his arms and waved with both hands to cheers and picture-taking. Tony La Russa was cheered, later joking that the fans must have thought he was Ozzie Guillen. And Luis Robert made their day after the workouts, stopping to sign autographs on the way out.
Someone shrieked for glee after Robert put pen to baseball.
La Russa said he would wait till Tuesday, when everyone was expected to have arrived, to give his message to the team. He offered a brief one Sunday, though.
“Today was, ‘How are you? Nice to see you,’ ’’ La Russa said. “And I did tell them that pitching and defense — ever since the game was played — the better we pitch and defend, the fewer runs we have to score. So that starts here.”
The Sox’ defense starts with Robert, a Gold Glove center fielder as a rookie in 2020 who will have to cover a lot of Roger Bossard’s plush sod at Guaranteed Rate Field with defensively challenged Eloy Jimenez in left field and perhaps converted first basemen Andrew Vaughn or Gavin Sheets in right.
Watching Robert run down fly balls with swift, long strides is just one reason why buying a ticket to a Sox game is worth the investment. Watching him run the bases, hit and hit with power is another. He already has been the talk of MVP speculation, something he doesn’t shy away from.
“Every baseball player has that goal in mind every year,” Robert said.
Well, maybe not. Some are just trying to win a spot on a roster.
But Robert is thinking big. As he probably should, considering his immense talent.
“Win an MVP, Gold Glove and get as many awards and accolades as possible,” he said. “At the end, what matters the most or the biggest goal is to win it all, win a World Series. That’s the goal, not just for me but for every baseball player.
“That definitely makes me feel good, just knowing people have that high of an opinion of me. I always try to do my best when I’m on the field. That’s never going to change.”
The key for Robert, who has dealt with injury problems off and on through his career, is to stay healthy in 2022, La Russa said. To that end, he worked hard during the offseason and was ready for spring training weeks ago.
“You don’t really have control over injuries,” Robert said. “Those things happen.”
After he missed three months with a torn hip flexor, Robert returned and batted .350/.389/.622 with 12 home runs in 43 games. He said Sunday he was holding back after the injury but let it go in the postseason, which could have caused his back to tighten up in Game 4 against the Astros. He feels 100% now and was ready to go in February.
Ready to flash those six tools Frank Thomas says Robert has.
“I’m not sure how you describe the sixth, but he has one more than the five-tool guys,” La Russa said. “Maybe it’s his smile.”
Whatever it is, Robert made La Russa smile during a baserunning drill.
“They were running at a nice pace but not overextending,” La Russa said. “One of the coaches that watched Robert said, ‘Man, you’re supposed to go kind of easy.’ He said, ‘That was easy.’ He’s beautiful.”
Everything was beautiful on the first official day of camp. Everyone was happy.
“When the fans are happy, we’re happy,” La Russa said. “I just told them the key is to be happy in October. And they all nodded.”