How Zdeno Chara's message is resonating in Red Sox clubhouse

Rob Bradford
May 22, 2019 - 9:41 am

TORONTO -- Different sports. Exactly the same message.

That was the takeaway from Zdeno Chara's poignant lesson regarding how young players should be treated. These were the words of a leader. It just so happened it was in a hockey locker room, being uttered by a hockey player. But listening to Rick Porcello Tuesday afternoon in the visitors' clubhouse at Rogers Centre you come to understand the importance of having such messengers in any and all athletic worlds.

Porcello -- one of he undeniable leaders on this Red Sox team -- hadn't seen or heard Chara's comments, but he certainly felt the power of the topic. The Red Sox pitcher has experienced the approach to first-year players, both the bad and the good.

His view of the wrong way to approach such a dynamic came in 2009 when he was called up to a veteran Tigers team at just 20 years old.

"Just in comparison in what I am familiar with, when I got to the big leagues in 2009 it was a great group of guys but I was also by far the youngest guy in the big leagues, the youngest guy on the team. There were a couple of instances I definitely felt like a rookie," Porcello said. "At times you don’t feel the same vibe coming to the ballpark as everyone else feels. You feel maybe not quite as part of what is going on. We were having a pretty good year. We were making a playoff push. I guess the second half you kind of get over it a little bit, but the first half took a little bit to settle in and just understand I’m here to be seen and not heard. I’ll do my job every fifth day but other than that stay out of everyone’s way. It’s changed now."

The evidence of the evolution isn't hard to find.

The Red Sox have welcomed rookie Michael Chavis in with open arms, both in terms of playing time and everything that goes with being a big league player off the field. It isn't by accident. As Porcello explained, such a welcoming environment has to be a priority these days. This isn't 2009.

"You have so many talented guys coming up and they’re making such an impact early on in their career so as a team we want them to be as comfortable as possible," he said. "You want them to be part of this. You want them to experience it all. They’re helping us, a lot. For example, Michael has come up and provided a big spark for us and really helped us turn a corner. You don’t want to take anything away from what his ability is, making him uncomfortable and not making him feel confident when he’s playing the game or around the clubhouse. You kind of realize that now. If you’re here and the first and foremost is about winning then you want those guys to contribute as much as possible.

"There’s a line. When you’re young and get to the big leagues there is certain etiquette, for lack of a better term, that maybe you aren’t used to or understand and you need to be taught those things. That’s a veteran’s job to kind of lead you down that road, help you out and tell you things like you have to be on the first bus and those things. But don’t tell them you can’t get on the bus, period, and you need to take a cab. The balance of veteran leadership and understanding how to help young guys and help them get accustomed to the big leagues so they can help the ball club win probably has come a long way even from what experienced. I’ve heard stories about 10, 15, 20 years prior to that how much worse it was. I can’t even imagine what it was back in the day. But even in the 10 or 11 years I’ve been in the big leagues it has changed considerably."

Sometimes, however, it might not be as simple passing the word along that players like Chavis won't be treated any differently. This is where the true leaders emerge as the ones holding everyone in that locker room/clubhouse accountable, even with the occasional uneasiness.

It's the kind of dynamic that makes today's followers tomorrow's captains, as Chara and Porcello are living proof of.

"I think every instance is different," Porcello noted. "If it’s a lesson that is being taught and it’s being taught by another veteran and it’s the right lesson that needs to be taught that’s something you let happen. But if it’s something that is completely out of line and doesn’t have any basis for a situation where rules are  broken or whatever kind of etiquette has been established in the clubhouse, you might not make a scene right then and there but you might pull a guy aside and say, ‘That might not be the best approach. We need him and we don’t want him feeling like that.’ There have been plenty of instances like that.

"The thing about veteran leadership is that those guys have been rookies and then you try to establish yourself and once you become a veteran it takes time to learn your responsibilities and how to help guys the right way. Maybe some of those veteran leaders you had when you were younger you thought that’s how it was supposed to be done but maybe there is a better way. There’s a process that goes along with learning to be a leader, too."

Related: Why Zdeno Chara has proven to be the leader Kyrie Irving never was