Lowell an unassuming leader
Veteran downplays his role, but teammates beg to differ
ST. PETERSBURG -- Leader? Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell pondered that title for a second, but wasn't quite sure he qualified.
"I don't know [about] leader. Everyone has their own definition of that," said Lowell. "Clubhouse guy? Yeah, because I feel like I'm one of the guys."
And perhaps that sums up why Lowell is a leader. He doesn't try to be one. He doesn't think of himself as one. He just is.
"Oh, he definitely is," confirmed Red Sox ace Josh Beckett. "He's got unbelievable leadership qualities."
You see, Lowell's leadership stretches from the clubhouse to the dugout to the diamond and, this year in particular, to the stat sheet.
On a team that boasts a pair of hitting giants in David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, it is Lowell that ranks first on the squad in both hits (114) and RBIs (73).
What would Lowell have said a few months back if you told him he'd be a leader in those categories on this team?
"I would have said Manny or David got hurt," said Lowell. "I'd still be surprised if I'm there at the end. Both of them are guys that literally can hit six or seven home runs in a week or drive in 15. That's a good month for most people. I'm happy with the way the RBIs are coming for me. I think I'm doing a good job with guys on base. I think I'm in a good situation in the lineup to have a lot of opportunities. I think it's a little bit of a mix. They're ready to explode and I think I'm doing a pretty good job."
A four-time All-Star, Lowell is one of those players who commands respect both by the way he does his job and the way he approaches it. There are elements to his story that have helped to shaped who he is.
Batting away cancer
When Jon Lester made his battle back from anaplastic large cell lymphoma a week ago and beat the Indians, Lowell couldn't help but reflect on 1999, when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer during Spring Training of his rookie season with the Marlins. He returned to the field three months later and has been an everyday player ever since.
"I can't say I felt what he was feeling, but I understood his emotions," Lowell said. "I think the only difference between the two of us is my first game back was my first game with the Marlins, so I think I had a lot of new things going on. I really didn't even know my teammates or anything yet.
"But being a starting pitcher was different from me. I could kind of hide in the cracks at third base. All eyes were on him from pitch No. 1. I was just very happy for him. I was actually happy for him after the first pitch, strike one. He could have given up eight home runs in the first inning and it was still a success."
Lester got the win and Lowell was one of the many teammates who felt inspired.
|"It's more than just what everyone sees and even people that play with him see. I know the leadership. Besides that, he's probably one of the smartest players you'll ever see play the game."|
|-- Josh Beckett, on Lowell|
In a clubhouse where there are ebbs and flows of emotion throughout the course of the long summer, Lowell is a picture of consistency. His triumph from cancer is a part of that.
"I think the core of who you are stays what it is, but I think it put baseball in a certain perspective for me of where it really is important and it's about fifth on the list of things instead of No. 1," said Lowell. "I think it made me appreciate things a little bit more."
One man, two languages
Another factor that has helped Lowell greatly in his role as a team uniter is his heritage. Lowell was born in Puerto Rico and raised in South Florida by his Cuban parents. His house was bilingual, which, fittingly, so are virtually all Major League clubhouses in this day and age.
Lowell speaks both English and Spanish as if they are his first languages.
"I know I've been through it with him because he's been the bridge for me to certain Latin guys when we were with the Marlins and certain guys here," said Beckett, who was traded along with Lowell to Boston on Thanksgiving night of 2005.
And Lowell has never used his knowledge of the language to make token conversations. It is something he uses with great meaning.
"In the Minor Leagues especially, I think I was a major bridge communication-wise," said Lowell. "I remember in A-ball, I had my hatchback Honda Accord and we'd fit seven guys to go to the park because there wasn't any other way to go. I consider myself kind of that Americanized Latino where I went to school here in the States and my education is here in the States, but I still have my values and my culture as Latin.
"I think I was able to bridge the gap a lot of times. Guys didn't know how to do a money order. They'd come to me instead of just let two weeks go by and not have electricity. A lot of times, it's not that a lot of guys are ignorant or dumb, but they don't want people to think they're ignorant so they just go and they're quiet. But yeah, I feel like I relate to more than just one guy. I feel like I can relate to a guy who went to college here and I think I can relate to guys that grew up in Latin America because that's what my family is. That only helps me. I don't think it's ever been something that's hurt me."
When Lowell looks back to his baseball youth, he speaks not of game-winning hits, but of times spent with teammates.
"I remember my high school baseball team on Saturdays after we had our workout we would go eight, 10, 12 of us to the beach and we'd all hang out together," said Lowell. "I've just always liked that camaraderie. I think most guys like that."
|"I wouldn't want to leave. But I'm kind of like at a 'We'll see' [mentality]. I really haven't thought about it that much. I'm actually enjoying the year and hopefully things can work out. We'll see what the offseason brings."|
|-- Lowell, on his pending free agency|
"We go to a new city and say hey, 'Who wants to go eat?' We have to go make a reservation for 15," said Lowell. "I think that can only help. Team chemistry and guys are rooting for each other, you feel different. You really feel like everyone is on the same page going for the same goals."
October and beyond
Lowell was part of a Marlins team in 2003 that took off late in the season and shocked the baseball-watching public en route to a World Series triumph over the Yankees. He spent the last three Octobers as a television-watching spectator and it has left this ultimate competitor hungry.
The Red Sox have led the American League East for almost the entire season, and Lowell looks forward to another postseason run.
"I think that's what everyone yearns for," Lowell said. "I think once you've gotten a taste of it, you desire the repeat taste even more than the first time because it's such a good feeling. It's such a satisfying moment for a team to come together. All the stuff you go through, the ups and downs of a season. To be able to go to the playoffs and be successful, you can't put it into words and I don't think you can trade it for anything else."
But what about November? Lowell will be eligible for free agency then, not that he wants to leave Boston.
As in any case of free agency, the Red Sox will have a decision to make, and so will Lowell.
"I wouldn't want to leave," said Lowell. "But I'm kind of like at a 'We'll see' [mentality]. I really haven't thought about it that much. I'm actually enjoying the year and hopefully things can work out. We'll see what the offseason brings."
As for how much Lowell brings?
"A tremendous amount," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "Mike also brings a phenomenal glove at third. He's come up with a lot of big hits for us. He's swung the bat extremely well."
"It's more than just what everyone sees and even people that play with him see. I know the leadership," Beckett said. "Besides that, he's probably one of the smartest players you'll ever see play the game."
Smart enough, it seems, not to call himself a leader but to just act like one.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.