Mike Napoli found exactly what he was looking for during his time with the Boston Red Sox.
Oxford’s Dictionary defines a contender as “a person or group competing with others to achieve a higher goal”. In professional baseball, there are contenders that hail from all across the world. These gifted individuals are blessed with the work ethic, ability, and mental toughness to compete on the biggest stage and work their whole lives towards completing that goal. Some play strictly for passion and others for money while the few and far between play to be remembered. They play to be immortalized and for their names to be synonymous with champion.
But what is a champion? Oxford’s Dictionary defines a champion as “a person who has defeated or surpassed all rivals in a competition”. But at what point in a career does a player cross that bridge? At what point is he able to pass that threshold from contender to champion? For some players, that happens earlier than others.
In 2013, the Boston Red Sox called up top prospect Xander Bogaerts to aid in their playoff run. Soon thereafter, Boagerts was able to call himself a champion. At just 20 years of age, this baby-faced kid from Aruba, with just under 20 Major League games under his belt had accomplished something few players get to do in their careers and something even fewer players get a second chance at.
Coming off of his lone All-Star campaign with the Texas Rangers, first baseman Mike Napoli was searching for something. Having been in the big leagues for seven seasons, Napoli was known around the league as a team-first player and a power threat at the plate- a great combination for the way Boston’s roster was being constructed.
After having a multi-year deal fall through due to a hip condition-avascular necrosis- Napoli and Boston came to terms on a one-year pact.
“To be honest I kind of felt like it was a good fit for me, the former All-Star recalled. Obviously it was out there there that I had a problem with my physical so a lot of people weren’t going to take a shot on me anyways.”
In 18 games that Spring training Napoli hit .306/.375/.490 with two home runs. Soon thereafter Boston’s final roster, including Napoli, was on a charter to New York to begin the season.
After going 7-4 to begin the season, Boston was looking to sweep the Tampa Bay Rays in the final game of a wraparound series.
For Napoli – and all of Boston – that Monday, that game and that team are distinguished memories of an immortalized team.