Xander Bogaerts reminisces in bittersweet return to Fenway Park

BOSTON — The last time Xander Bogaerts stepped foot on the field at Fenway Park, it was a drizzly, early October day in 2022, the final day of a disappointing regular season for the Boston Red Sox.

It had been a difficult year on many levels for Bogaerts, and he knew his time with the only organization he’d ever known was drawing to a close.

Eighteen months later, the 31-year-old, now in the second year of an 11-year, $280 million deal he signed with the San Diego Padres in winter 2022, returned to the ballpark through a different entrance to a much smaller clubhouse. It was a bittersweet return for Bogaerts, who won’t play in the series against the Red Sox as he recovers from a fractured shoulder he suffered on a diving play last month at his new second-base position.

“That does suck because it’s one that you had marked on your calendar, and I was looking forward to it,” Bogaerts said before a 9-2 Padres win Friday as he sat in the visitors dugout surrounded by a throng of reporters and cameras.

Though his time in Boston didn’t end the way he’d envisioned or hoped, his relationships with members of the organization remain strong.

“I was here so long and have a lot of memories. A lot of good ones, also bad ones, tough ones,” he said. “But I feel like it’s been a lot more good than bad. Maybe being able to be on the bench isn’t the worst thing. I can probably have more time to reflect on the stuff that I did while I was here, the people that helped me get to where I am right now. Pretty much everyone on that side that helped me, I’m very appreciative for them, players, coaches, front office. They were always really nice to me. I really don’t have no hard feelings at all towards them.”

Over 10 big-league seasons in Boston, Bogaerts won two World Series, was named an All-Star five times and won the Silver Slugger Award four times. In 1,264 games with the Red Sox, he hit .292 with an .814 OPS and 156 homers.

In other words, he has a lot of history here and a lot of connections that won’t soon dissipate.

The Padres arrived in Boston on Thursday and Bogaerts spent the day with family and friends at Rafael Devers’ house for a cookout hosted by his former teammate and close friend. Bogaerts still talks with Devers frequently and has been watching the rise of rookie Ceddanne Rafaela, a fellow Curacao native, from afar.

“He was one I was looking forward to playing with but it didn’t happen,” Bogaerts said of Rafaela, noting his own similarities as a rookie to the free-swinging Rafeala. “All I needed was a little time, the team showed some trust in me, gave me more at-bats and playing time. I’m happy I’m the player that I am today because of that. I’m thankful for that. So I think with him it’s the same thing, just patience.”

In many ways, the team looks drastically different than when Bogaerts left, but Devers has been a constant.

In similar, but different ways, Devers has turned into the leader that Bogaerts was for him when he debuted in 2017. The two formed a very close bond, playing alongside each other for six seasons. Whether he likes the spotlight or not, Devers is learning how to embrace a bigger role without Bogaerts.

“I think the first step was him trying to learn the language,” Bogaerts said of Devers, who speaks English to his teammates but uses a translator for interviews. “I felt like he wanted to communicate with the other guys. And I felt like that was one of the biggest steps that he had to take in order to do that. Maybe the leadership torch got passed probably quicker than he expected.”

Cora witnessed Bogaerts’ mentorship of Devers firsthand and the continuing process of Devers finding when and how to speak up and not just lead by how he prepares and produces on the field.

“As far as routines, structure, how to handle the clubhouse, how to handle the off-the-field stuff, without Xander, it was gonna be a challenge,” Cora said. “It was gonna take longer than expected. Different personalities, Raffy and Xander. Hopefully at one point, Raffy can feel comfortable just talking to everybody and speaking his mind whenever it’s needed. We’re in that process. But at the same time, just the accountability of showing up every day and posting every day, that’s something he learned from Xander Bogaerts.”

Just before the top of the second inning, a familiar song started blasting from speakers at Fenway. Bogaerts’ walk-up music, a song by the rapper DMX, ‘X ‘Gon Give It To Ya’ – a nod to Bogaerts’ nickname ‘X’, started playing over a video montage of his time in Boston.

The Padres second baseman stood on the top step of the dugout beaming before stepping onto the field, taking off his hat and waving to a crowd that gave him a hearty standing ovation. His former teammates clapped and he waved their way too.

“I’m happy,” Bogaerts said a few hours earlier, “And I feel like they’re happy also.”

(Photo: Orlando Ramirez / USA Today)

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