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Big league swing
Reddick reflects on wild ride to majors this season
josh reddick 2
Boston Red Sox outfielder Josh Reddick, who grew up in and still calls Effingham County home, works with some of the 28 kids who took part in the Mustang hitting camp at his alma mater of South Effingham High School on Saturday. After taking some time off, Reddick is back at work to get ready for spring training — which starts in February. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

Soon, it will be back to work for Josh Reddick.

The former South Effingham High School star is now a big-league baseball player, after his midseason call-up to the Boston Red Sox. After starting the year in Double-A, playing two stints with the big club and getting a Triple-A assignment mixed in, it’s been a welcome break.

Since the season ended with the division series loss to the Angels, Reddick took about a month off, “doing nothing,” he said. He has started his offseason workout regimen and is about to commence swinging the bat again.

“Surprisingly, I’m playing a lot more golf than I thought I would be,” he said. “I’m trying not to spend too much money.

“For me, at the end of this year, it was still tough for me to take it all in, trying to keep reminding myself that I go to that level. It was kinda fun to sit at the house and do nothing and get it out of my mind for a while.”

Reddick spent Saturday helping out with the Mustangs winter hitting camp, giving some tips to the 28 youngsters who packed into the batting cage at his alma mater to work on their own skills.

“After a long season, it’s always good to come home and enjoy some time off and pass along some of the knowledge I know now to help them with their future.”

Between three levels of professional baseball, and a stay on the disabled list while at Double-A Portland, Reddick played in 104 games, getting 386 at-bats. He was able to keep his stamina up throughout the year, even playing into October for the first time in his career.

“I’ve really struggled with that in the last few years,” he said. “This year, I did really well with eating healthy and staying in shape with my workouts.”

Getting the call to the show
Reddick originally got called up July 31, yet his destination was still unknown. It was a busy day for the Red Sox front office — they sent Adam LaRoche to Atlanta for Casey Kotchman, called up reliever Marcus McBeth from Triple-A Pawtucket and moved Daisuke Matsuzaka from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL. And there was a hole in the outfield to fill with an apparent injury to J.D. Drew.

“It was weird, because they told me to pack up and get ready to leave but didn’t know where I was going at first,” he said. “At the last second, they told me I was meeting them in Baltimore.”

Reddick, then with Double-A Portland, was in Reading, Pa., as the Sea Dogs were taking on the Phillies’ Eastern League affiliate. It was a three-hour ride and once he got to the hotel, he was told to come to the ball park.

That’s when he knew he was going to be placed on the major league roster.

“I really didn’t have time to react,” he said. “I had to hop right back into a taxi and go right to the ballpark. I had to keep it all in until I got back to the hotel after the game. I think it took me forever for me to get to sleep that night.”

Reddick went in as pinch-hitter for Rocco Baldelli in the ninth inning that night and grounded out to shortstop against former Red Sox reliever Cla Meredith.

In his debut, Reddick was told by Boston manager Terry Francona to get loose and get ready to go in. That took Reddick a little by surprise, given the Red Sox were ahead by only one run, 6-5.

“I got out on deck and looked around and took it all in and took a deep breath and tried to calm myself,” Reddick said. “I actually hit the ball pretty hard — just right at the shortstop.”

The next night, he went 2-for-4 in his first start, lining a 2-1 changeup from David Hernandez in his first at-bat for double to center field.

His first major league homer came in the following game as he hit a fastball into the stands in left center to lead off the third inning. Reddick’s blast came on the eighth pitch of the at-bat, after he fouled off three 2-2 pitches from Brian Bass.

“The home run was more exciting than the hit. I wanted to start yelling when I hit the bases. I had to do what I could to keep my head in,” he said.

As he made his way back to the visitors’ dugout at Camden Yards, Reddick expected to get the time-honored baseball tradition of the silent treatment for a first home run. Instead, his new teammates were trying to make sure his first home run ball was secured and was going to be put back into his hands.

As a non-regular, Reddick was told by Francona the night before his first start that he would be in the opening lineup.

“I was eating after the first game,” he recalled, “and he came up to me and said, ‘you’re starting tomorrow, so be ready.’ It was tough, but it was like another day at the ballpark. They told me to ‘do what you’ve been doing all year.’”

Sent down to Pawtucket on Aug. 5, Reddick was called right back up the next day. He spent the next nine days with the big club — including playing two games at Yankee Stadium and making his home debut Aug. 12 at Fenway Park against the Detroit Tigers.

“It was just unreal,” he said of his first visit to Yankee Stadium as a member of the rival Red Sox. “All the fans are heckling you pretty bad, so you have to deal with that. I tried to take it all in. I tried to build off the heckling, because it keeps me relaxed more than anything.

“New York’s unreal — you can feel all the pressure on you. When you get to Fenway, it’s the total opposite. For a small ballpark, it sounds like a ballpark of about 100,000 people when you have about 40,000 at the most.”

Reddick was sent down to Pawtucket on Aug. 15 as the Red Sox continued to shuffle their lineup, trying to add infield depth. He rejoined the big league team on Sept. 2 and stayed there for the duration of the season.

Making the jump
For the season, Reddick hit .233 with 15 homers and 39 runs batted in. At Portland, he hit .277 with 13 home runs in just 256 at-bats. He learned the difference between pitchers in the minors and big-league pitchers — and also just how different the level of defense he faced was.

“The pitchers have so much more command with every pitch,” he said. “There were a couple of balls I hit that I thought would have been base hits and these guys are making easy plays on them.”

And it’s just the pitchers and how the defenses play behind them that were different, either, Reddick noted.

“The strike zone was a big thing,” he said. “I was learning to develop my plate discipline and taking close pitches. I took about 20 pitches I thought were strikes and they were called balls. The strike zone had to have shrunk about six inches. But, being a rookie, I got rung up on some pitches that were balls, too, so what can you do?”

What he hopes to do is continue in the Red Sox organization. He spent much of last spring training with the big club before being sent to the minor league camp.

“I think I’ve showed them what I can do,” he said. “But I think I need to show them what I can do on a more consistent basis. I’ve always believed in myself that I think I can play up there every day. I’d like to stay where I’m at right now.”