The foundation for how Mookie Betts is approaching his future started long before anyone could predict superstardom or contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
It began on a youth football field in Tennessee.
"I had started playing football and it was the first day I ever put on pads and I was pit against a guy who it was his fourth year," Betts told WEEI.com prior to Wednesday night's game at Globe Life Park. "He was murdering me, just killing me. So I told my Mom I wanted to quit. This is crazy. If this was what football is I didn’t want to play anymore. It was an emotional decision. It’s not a decision that is necessarily what is right. She told me there was no need to quit. Just because you had a bad day or just because things didn’t go your way doesn’t mean you quit. You see it through, you started it and you finish it. It was an emotional decision and that was to quit. That was my first thought."
And thus the approach toward all of Betts' big life decisions was born. Business was always going to win out over emotions. That's how it has been and, according to the Red Sox outfielder, that's how it will be.
"It’s nothing new. It’s just a bigger amount of money," Betts explained. "It’s the same thing. The perception is that he hates it here and that stuff. Those are all emotions. Put that all to the side. Just focus on business."
Betts has been very consistent in his answers and strategy whenever his financial future is brought up. So many want to compare and contrast others who have been in his situations -- elite players in line to reel in big contracts. Others want to surmise where Betts might be beyond 2020 (when his contract is up) based on a sound byte here or some sort of personal interaction there.
The 26-year-old wants to tell people not to waste their time. It has been well-established: Whether or not Betts agrees to an extension with the Red Sox will be based on business.
"It’s how I was raised to look at the thing," he said. "As a whole, when it comes to business in general, whether it’s buying a building or contract negotiations or whatever it is, you have to take emotions out of it. That’s what people forget. Fans and media get caught up in emotions and that’s just not how I was raised and that’s just not what my point of view with my agents is. We take emotions out of it and we focus on the business part. Of course, I love it here. This is all I know. But you also have to take that emotional side out of it and get to what is actually real.
"Even when I was younger. My Mom and Dad always told me to not act on emotion, act on what is real. When you’re mad don’t do something wrong because you’re mad. If you’re going to do something bad that’s because that is what the situation called for. It’s anything, not just this situation. You take emotions out of it and focus on what is real."
Well before his current situation, Betts already had numerous opportunities to practice what his parents preached.
There were those days after being taken in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, when the Red Sox tested exactly how much the then-second baseman wanted to play professional baseball over heading to the University of Tennessee.
"You weigh your pros and cons and what’s real. You want to play baseball? Yeah. You want to go to school? If that’s the best option, than that is what it is," he said.
He would ultimately take the Sox' offer of a $750,000 signing bonus, but not until just moments before the deadline he had to accept the deal. If there was no business-first philosophy in place? "Than I would have jumped at the first option they came with and I didn’t. We said we were going to go to school. I ended up winning that one," said Betts, who made approximately $400,000 more by sticking to the plan.
But the most difficult test Betts has had -- and likely will have -- came the season before he became arbitration-eligible. It was that year, leading into the 2017 season, that he said the Red Sox first came at him with numbers for a contract extension. There would be no deal, with the outfielder playing 2017 for $950,000 before winning in arbitration ($10.5 million) a year later.
"That was a really emotional time because I was like, ‘Mom, we’ve never seen this amount of money.’ She was like, ‘OK, cool. It’s a lot of money. I think we know it’s a lot of money. So let’s focus on the facts. Let’s focus on what is real and we took the emotions out of it.' The first one was definitely the hardest," said Betts, who agreed to a one-year, $20 million deal last offseason. "At the time we had never seen anything like that."
Now the decision-making process is set in stone.
For one, Betts is in perfect sync with his agents Ed Cerulo and Steve Veltman. "I was able to implement their point of view with our point of view and it all kind of came together perfectly. They could say this is a great offer we think you should take it. But that’s not what we do. We’ve been talking about this since the beginning of the year," he explained.
And then there is the dismissal of the outside noise.
"It’s how a lot of the majority of people react to everything. But I don’t care about it," Betts said of the very public guessing game. "It is what it is. I am who I am and my family is who we are and we’re going to make the right decision."