Bradford: How Mookie Betts isn't getting caught up in the (expletive)


FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It almost seems like Mookie Betts has snuck up on us.

He is the guy who only brought one hat to spring training, wearing out the floppy canvas lid atop the Red Sox outfielder's head virtually every moment outside the confines of JetBlue Park. He is the guy who has two pieces of jewelry, one a gold chain his father bought him in high school and the other the plastic ball and bat passed along by seventh-grader Griffin Cantrell. He is the guy who doesn't look all that different than the 160-pound second baseman trying to make his way in professional baseball starting six years ago. He is also the guy who spent Tuesday making sure to get in quality time with his mother, Diana, while everyone was murmuring about Mike Trout's new $430 million payday and how it might be setting Betts up for something similar.

"He’s pretty humble. He’s grateful for everything that he has and he gets," said Diana just before picking up her son. "I don’t think he really changes. He doesn’t get emotional like a lot of people. He gets excited but it’s more internal. I think he will pretty much stay like he is because that’s just who he is. Me, his Mom, on the other hand? It’s a different ballgame for me."

But the reality of Betts is getting hard for even him to hide. 

This is the guy, after all, who could very well be trending to becoming the highest-paid athlete in all of sports.

"Yeah. It’s definitely a blessing and a curse," said Betts of the attention he's getting since winning the American League MVP. "Sometimes you just want to be a normal person. It’s just the representation of you doing something well. I really started noticing it back home this offseason. Usually, back home I don’t get recognized very often. Before I would go to (games) and nobody will notice. I can’t really do that anymore."

This is Betts' new existence. This has been apparent for the 26-year-old since arriving in spring training. 

Like it or not, when you're the best player on the best team demand is going to be a bit out of the ordinary. Yet the tidal wave of attention hasn't noticeably dented the affable outfielder's demeanor or approach. And, as Red Sox manager Alex Cora has seen first-hand, this is a process that isn't always as turn-key as Betts has made it seem.

"He’s the same guy. Nothing has changed, honestly," Cora said. "You can’t even tell … You have to remind him he’s that good. You tell him he’s the best player in the game and he looks at you like he doesn’t like it. He’s very humble. He’s genuine. Nothing has changed in the clubhouse. He’s still doing his routine. He’s still insecure when he’s 0-for-3.

"MVPs, their lives change. He’s not getting caught up in all the bullshit."

And that's it in a nutshell.

"All of those things come from work. The people around me have put me in the right spot. There’s so much that goes into playing the game. You can’t forget about that," Betts explained. "You have to go out and do it all, but you can’t forget about the people and things that got you to where you are. There are little things you just have to figure out. There’s no formula to it."

Betts has managed to keep life simple in a very complicated new world. Inside the Hammond Stadium visitors' clubhouse Monday, for instance, he was the star outfielder who almost immediately changed from Superman into Clark Kent thanks a less-than-daunting appearance which includes decorative eyeglasses, a schoolboy backpack and that floppy hat. Other than handing over a big bill to the clubhouse attendant, taking care of the tip for some of the younger players on the trip, there were few hints that this was one of the two best baseball players on the planet.

Again, did we mention that this is a guy who could very well end up being the highest-paid athlete in the history of sports?

"It seems like a lot more people want to talk and meet Mookie. He’s pretty much the same. That’s just who he is. He just says, ‘Mom, it’s OK. Just talk to them.’ I get excited. For me it’s a thrill. I’m living my life through him," Diana said.

"I’m not worried about Mookie as far as the media and what he gets hit with. You always want to feel like you’ve raised your child so they can accept the responsibility and act whether you’re there or not. Every mother worries about their child, period. And I do worry about him because some people are mean and not everybody has your best interest. I worry about him in that sense. But as far as him making decisions and being responsible, I’m comfortable and confident that I think he will make the right decisions."

"He’s very low-key. Obviously, he’s super humble," said Betts' teammate Andrew Benintendi. "He never mouths off and talks about himself. It’s kind of nice. I think he understands what comes with it. I’m sure he doesn’t enjoy it all the time but he knows he has to do it. He gets it."

So far, it's hard to argue.