It’s the sunshine and hint of warmth that remind us what we’re missing.

In the early spring, we expect baseball. We expect hot dogs on the grill and peanut shells beneath our feet.

Dealing with that void, I was reminded of one of the final interviews I did before MLB postponed spring training in early March.

It was with Boston Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers.

Devers is 23 years old and coming off a season in which he finished 12th in American League MVP voting despite a sluggish April. He looked poised for a top-five finish in 2020 with just a little improvement. And as I listened back to the interview, which was supposed to be for a story about the relationship he’s formed with Xander Bogaerts, I was struck by something else he said.

There’s a certain purity that Devers has, one that rarely lasts among big leaguers for more than a few years, much less an entire career.

He still possesses it. He still feels so much emotion in the first inning of every game that he considers it the most difficult obstacle he’s dealt with in his three major league seasons.

As we spend too much time on our couches without any baseball to watch this spring, here’s the interview with Devers, who we can assume is hurting more than anybody without baseball games to play right now.

What do you remember about the first time you met Bogaerts?

“Because of the person Xander is, how open and awesome he is, it was an easy transition of becoming a good friend because he’s such a good guy, such a good person.”

What stood out to you about him?

“He’s open. So open to speaking with anybody. He goes up to anybody who strikes up a conversation. It was the way he was brought up. You can tell. And it just attracted me to him because here’s a guy who talks to anybody, just wants everybody to be happy and everybody to be in a good place.”

Do you see yourself in him at all?

“No. Xander is a one-of-a-kind person, very humble, awesome to be around, gets along with everybody. I don’t get quite that open with people.”

How nervous were you when you arrived in the big leagues and did Xander help?

“Xander eased my transition. I didn’t get a hit through my first game, but just through talking to him, I felt better. He said, ‘this is the grind of it. It’s all right.’ I came in that second day just much more comfortable from that conversation.”

What kind of pressure did you feel coming up as a prospect and how did Bogaerts help with that?

“Xander just told me, ‘Look, I am where I am now (as a two-time All-Star), but I’ve been there too. I’ve made these errors. I’ve been nervous. I’ve had this anxiety before the games. This big crowd – I’ve been here too. It’s just something that comes along with this. You’re here for a reason. You’ll be all right.’ It’s that putting an arm around me and helping me out.”

What’s been the hardest moment for you in three years as a big leaguer?

“The hardest thing I still go through is every game I still get this anxiousness of the game starting. It’s this happiness of being out there and being on the field and playing and getting over that anxiety. I’m just over-emotional about the opportunity and being out there playing.

“Because it’s not like a nervous thing, it’s more of an excited thing. That first inning is a big rush. But after that first inning settles, I get an at-bat and it’s like, all right, the game kind of settles. It’s just me being overly emotional about how happy I am.

“It’s something I’ve been working on since I’ve been here. I’ve been working with previous people in the organization that led me to some of my breathing techniques that I do now. But it’s all about controlling myself. I know it. It’s still there and I’m still working on it. But I have gotten much better at it.”

Your first day as a big leaguer, you said you wanted to be a superstar third baseman. Have you been one?

“Yes, however I still want to continue to get better and prove every single day, prove it when I’m out there. I want to be that complete player, the player who can do it all on the field. I feel I’ve made a lot of advancements. But I know I can still get better and still be that player I want to be.”


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