BOSTON (AP) – Clay Buchholz has already pitched a no-hitter during a pennant race. That doesn’t make him an expert on life in the big leagues.

Buchholz is one of 12 top Red Sox prospects attending a rookie orientation this week, learning about the pressures, expectations and temptations of playing baseball in Boston.

“This is my rookie year still, so I’m still in the learning phase of everything,” Buchholz said Tuesday.

Several rookies came through for the Red Sox during their 2007 championship season, and the team wants to make sure its best young players are ready for what they face on and off the field.

As part of the club’s 12-day orientation, modeled after a Cleveland Indians program, players stay with host families while seeing sights and learning their way around the city – when they aren’t working out at Boston College. “I think it’s a terrific program,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said in New York, where he was promoting awareness about staph infections and how to prevent them. “You’re just trying to give every kid the best chance possible to succeed.

“Just try to explain to them how things work and how they’re expected to behave and just things like that,” said Francona, who developed life-threatening complications after knee surgery in November 2002, including a blood clot in his lungs and staph infections in both knees that required several follow-up operations.

“It’s easier for these guys to be good players if they’re comfortable in their surroundings. … It’s not going to make somebody hit .300, but it’s a very good program,” the manager said.

This year, University of Connecticut basketball coach Jim Calhoun was among the motivational speakers. Francona met with the players and reinforced the team’s ethic to never back down in any game situation. ESPN baseball analyst Peter Gammons spoke with players about dealing with the media swarm covering games.

“It’s a big deal. That’s part of it. If we’re not aware of that, shame on us,” Francona said.

High expectations come with the city’s passionate fan base, but director of player development Mike Hazen said the team tells its players to welcome the attention. “Is it a challenge at times? Absolutely,” he said. “But embrace that and relish in the fact that when you do something, people care.”

The orientation, in its third year, isn’t just about handling the major aspects of Boston baseball. Players also learn smaller details, such as how to treat clubhouse attendants and hotel workers. To minimize distractions, the Red Sox want their players to know all about big league life before they actually live it. “There are no surprises to these guys when they then come up to the major league level and we ask them to perform,” Hazen said.

Last year, the team didn’t hesitate to use young players when it mattered most. Rookie outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury hit .360 in the postseason. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia was the AL Rookie of the Year. Buchholz, still a rookie after pitching 22 2-3 innings in the majors last season, threw a no-hitter Sept. 1 against Baltimore and had a 1.59 ERA in four games.

Buchholz, shut down in September with shoulder fatigue, said he quickly felt comfortable in Boston. But he goes into the 2008 season uncertain about his status in the rotation and still eager to learn “how to act, how to react to everything,” he said.

Justin Masterson, who pitched for Double-A Portland last season, said he wants to be a good role model and stay away from the partying and hard living that can derail a career and tarnish a team’s image.

He said he knows a lot of people want to do things for Red Sox players, but the team orientation has emphasized that the decisions he makes also affect Boston’s baseball tradition. The Red Sox want their players to see themselves as upholding a higher standard, Masterson said.

“It’s kind of like their idea: We’re like no other, we are the Boston Red Sox,” he said.



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AP Baseball Writer Mike Fitzpatrick in New York contributed to this report.

AP-ES-01-15-08 2039EST


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