I met him a few years ago in Manchester, N.H. He is a quiet, polite and unassuming young man who always went out of his way to accommodate my interview requests... it never mattered whether I wanted a half-hour of his time or just a quick sound bite.
He is amiable until it is time to walk onto the diamond, when he turns on the switch and gets very intense. He was born to play the game of baseball, though I often wonder whether his approach at the plate fits with the organizational philosophy of the ballclub.
S1F: Were you a huge baseball fan when you were growing up?
JR: Oh yeah; baseball’s been my thing since I was four years old. My dad played baseball growing up, and he got me interested in the game.
When I was around a year old, he got electrocuted… he actually died and had to be resuscitated. He dedicated his life afterwards to helping me become a baseball player and living out my dream of making it to the big leagues. I never had a back-up plan. (Playing pro baseball) is all I’ve ever wanted to do.
S1F: Was your dad the most important person in your development as a ballplayer?
JR: Absolutely. He and Tony Kirkland, my high school coach from 11th and 12th grade at South Effingham High School.
My dad played baseball growing up and got me interested in the game. He played ball in high school and then played men’s league softball… then (he was electrocuted). He just loves the game so much. He coached me and my brother growing up, and he coached my sisters… he loved the game so much that he just kept with it. And in spite of the (severe) injuries he suffered in his accident, he still taught us how to hit.
S1F: Going into the 2006 draft, did you have expectations regarding where you would be drafted?
JR: Yeah, actually I did. The Red Sox and Angels both told me that I would get drafted somewhere around the seventh round and I was set for that.
When that didn’t happen, I got really frustrated. I was listening to the draft online at the place where my mom works, and when I wasn’t picked and it started getting later (in the draft). I kinda got mad.
I went home and quit listening, but about 20 minutes after I got home, I got a call from my buddy and he said “Congratulations! You were drafted in the 17th round.”
And then Jason McLeod (then Sox amateur scouting director) called me and said they were really happy to get me, but then they only offered me $60,000 to sign. Right away, I said, “No, I’m gonna go back to college”.
That summer, I played in a wooden bat league and did real well. I played against Team USA and faced Ross Detwiler, a left-hander who (eventually) was the sixth overall pick (in the draft). I had three hits and hit a home run off him.
There were 20 or more scouts there for the game, including the guy who scouted me for the Sox (Rob English). I was really flying under the radar until that happened.
My agent called Jason MacLeod (the Red Sox scouting director) and said “you’d better sign this guy now before someone else gets him”. So the Red Sox made me a new offer and I signed.
S1F: If you were tasked with writing a scouting report on yourself, what would you write?
JR: That’s a hard question. Um, let’s see. With regard to hitting, I’d write that I have a smooth swing, that I’m a gap-to-gap hitter with good power to the right side, but that I can be a little too aggressive at times.
Defensively, I go out to play every day, at a hundred percent, and give it my all. I’m a guy who plays the game hard.
S1F: The Red Sox have asked you to make adjustments to the way you approach hitting... what specifically did they ask you?
JR: They told me that I need to walk more. They have been preaching more patience, but that is a hard adjustment for me. I’ve never been a patient guy at the plate. (In the minor leagues), they tried to embed (their approach) in me by changing my batting mechanics. I wasn’t really very approving of that.
At times, I got really frustrated. My dad taught me a philosophy that if I see a pitch I can handle, I should go out and hammer it. I (developed as a player) like that, then they tried to change me.
I understand what they’re trying to do and why they’re doing it. Initially I met with mixed results, but it has gotten progressively better.
S1F: Why have you experienced greater success this year than you have in previous years?
JR: Last year was rough with the struggles that I had, and it was tough watching Ryan Kalish come up and have so much success. He and I are basically the same type of player, so that made me work so much harder in the offseason...I spent a lot more time in the batting cage.
This year, I have had the opportunity and have been given consistent playing time, and that has made me more comfortable...and that has led to more success.
Plus, I have had the chance to play with the guys for the last couple of years, and that familiarity has made it an easier transition for me up here, and that has helped me be more successful, too.
And being able to play here (at Fenway Park) and give the team a boost has been really great.
S1F: What is the best thing about being on a baseball diamond?
JR: Being in front of the fans. In college and the minor leagues, you really don’t have a lot of fans in the stands, though in the Red Sox organization, we would routinely get 10,000-plus fans a game.
In Boston, it's just amazing. It’s really great. It gives you an adrenaline rush, and there is nothing like it in the world.