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Smoltz: ‘Wearing a new uniform, for me, is not a problem’

02.13.09 at 1:54 pm ET
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As John Smoltz sat down for an introductory session in the Red Sox spring training complex at Fort Myers, he tugged a cap with a ‘B’ onto his head.

“I think it fits,” he mused.

It seemed reasonable to wonder whether that would be the case as Smoltz — who spent 21 seasons with the Braves — contemplated major-league life with a new team. But while it might have been easy for Smoltz to suggest that the experience was foreign, he suggested the exact opposite.

“The one thing you can be assured of with me is that wearing a new uniform is not a problem,” Smoltz said. “I’€™ve turned the page.”

Smoltz did reflect on the circumstances that led to, and followed, his departure from the Braves. He is enamored of the opportunity to compete for a championship in Boston, but at the same time, it is clear that he harbors some disappointment in the fact that his time with the Braves came to an end.

“There’s no doubt (there was a desire to spend an entire big-league career in one uniform). I made it a mission to do that. But I can tell you this: the reason why I was disappointed was the reaction or the statements that they put out, which just weren’t true,” he said. “This could have been a peaceful departure, as it could have been any time in the past. When you make it your mission to stay there, represent the city — and I will still always represent the city — it doesn’t change anything else for competing or proving something. I’ve done that my whole life. …

“From the standpoint of where I was, and the circumstances that led up to it, I was very disappointed with the way (the Braves) handled it — not the fact that I’m not there. It’s just the way they handled it. They had to do what they had to do. Certainly, so did I. And I’m presented with the greatest opportunity of a lifetime, if you ask me.”

Smoltz was asked whether, after a certain point, he assumed that he would never leave Atlanta. He was adamant that he never took that outcome for granted.

“In this sport, the longer you stay in this sport, you become a prisoner of the circumstances of the environment and everyone assumes for you. I really had no decisions when it came past 15 years of, ‘Oh, you’re going to retire a Brave; oh, you’re always going to be here,’ because I had done it,” Smoltz said. “The one thing I say is that I became a free agent four times. It was not like it was a beautiful marriage where I never became a free agent and I was able to stay. I had to experience that part of it four different times, and the fourth time it just didn’t work out. Most places, I don’t know what the history is with guys who stayed their whole careers, I don’t know how many times they became a free agent or if they were a free agent. So it led me to a belief that everyone assumed that I would always do the right thing and I would always do what everyone says. As I said before, 22 years of history, something had to be very, very different for it not to be a 23rd and 24th (year).

“With one situation comes another opportunity. That’s the way I look at it. I used to close doors. Now, I realize that a closed door is just an option for another one to open. That’s where I am today.”

– As for his current role with the Red Sox, Smoltz said that the team faces something of a challenge in holding him to a timetable that has already been agreed upon and rigidly defined. Regardless of the fact that both the team and the pitcher believe that he could return in the early months of the season, the team will not veer from a timetable that has him returning after at least two months of the season.

“They don’€™t really want me to think of anything but June,” Smoltz confirmed. “Sometime in June or thereafter, to be as strong as possible to help them down the stretch. That gives me 12 months of rehab, even if I feel like I’€™m ready in April or May, it doesn’€™t matter. … I told them their biggest challenge for me is to tame me down. I’€™m a full-bore guy and I like to compete.”

He will throw solely off flat ground for most of spring training, progressing to the mound only towards theend of late March. During that time, Smoltz will follow a program that he described as “grunt work” — the indoor workout schedule — to ensure that his shoulder recovers fully before he gets back into game competition. He professed no concerns about his ability to concern, either physically or competitively, to the point where he can dominate at his customary level.

“I’€™m super-confident or I wouldn’€™t be here today. I have nothing to gain to just come back and say I can throw again. I have everything to lose if that’€™s my mindset,” said Smoltz. “It’€™s not something I’€™m worried about. … (The biggest challenge is) can I stay inthis mode and slow down when I want to pitch? The pressure is off for me with that regard, the way they’€™ve approached it here. They’€™re not missing too much for this team to have a chance to win, with or without me. I’€™m glad for a chance to be a part of that.”

Smoltz also touched on a few other topics in his introductory press conference. Among them:

–He described himself as a scratch golfer who plans to compete on the Champions Tour after he retires from baseball.

–He is eager for young pitchers on the Red Sox to seek him out for advice. In Atlanta, Smoltz suggested that there was such an intimidation factor in play that pitchers were sometimes reluctant to approach him, Tom Glavine or Greg Maddux. In Boston, he senses that not to be the case, that there is more of an expectation for young players to seek out the knowledge of veterans.

–Smoltz raved about the quality of the Red Sox pitching staff, and particularly Jon Lester.

“The stuff on this staff is unmatched,” said Smoltz. “We had a pretty darn good staff, the five of us, but nowhere near the stuff. The results were really good…

“They have, in a short period of time, worked themselves into one of those staffs that can compete for a championship. I tell you what my blueprint is: you’ve got to have mix and match stuff. You’ve got to be able to limit how hard they can hit the ball if you’re going to have a chance. That’s what they do.

“I’m not blown away by too much. But I love watching playoff baseball if I’m not in it. What these guys have done, especially Jon Lester, what he did last year, I just sat there with my mouth open. At that time of the year, you’re not supposed to be doing what he did. It’s a tribute to his success and his ability to rise up. To me, postseason and postseason experience, you’ve got to rise up to a different level. Regardless of whether you’re 1-20 or 20-1, it’s a different time of the year, and they’ve been able to do that.

“Look at the young guys waiting in the wings, and the guys who have made transitions already into the bullpen, can come out there and throw 97 m.p.h. and quiet a lineup–it’s pretty impressive.”

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