FORT MYERS, Fla. — Ron Roenicke walked into the Red Sox spring training complex Wednesday morning and went to his usual locker in the coaches’ room.
His clothes were gone. Then he realized his belongings had been moved to the manager’s office, his new home.
“So everything’s still a little different for me,” Roenicke said.
It’s been that kind of offseason for the Red Sox, which was why they cherished Wednesday, when pitchers and catchers had their first workout. The sound of catcher’s mitts popping during bullpen sessions, bats cracking during batting practice and even the minutiae of pitcher’s fielding practice made things start to feel normal again.
“Just starting today and getting through a normal day, I think, is important,” Roenicke said. “I enjoyed today.”
It was just Monday that the Mookie Betts and David Price trade was finalized after it was dragged out in public for nearly a week. It was Tuesday when Roenicke was named interim manager, which came less than a month after the Red Sox fired Alex Cora for his role in the Astros’ 2017 sign-stealing program.
While MLB’s investigation into the Red Sox’s own alleged illegal sign stealing in 2018 still hangs over their heads, with the results not yet finalized, Wednesday was the first day that baseball — the actual product on the field — began to take over the conversation at Fenway South.
Roenicke handled his first (non-introductory) press conference as interim manager with aplomb. He was still asked about the investigation — he doesn’t want to comment while it’s ongoing — and replacing Betts and Price, but spent more time answering regular manager questions.
There were questions about Chris Sale, whose flu has turned into a mild case of pneumonia. The left-hander, who is trying to put together a bounce-back season and prove he can stay healthy after elbow issues last season, won’t report to camp until at least Friday and will have a slow start to spring training.
There was talk about who would hit leadoff — Andrew Benintendi and Alex Verdugo are candidates, Roenicke said. There was talk about who would be his closer — Brandon Workman deserves a shot to prove he can do it again this year, Roenicke said. There was talk about whether the Red Sox would use an opener, which new chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom’s old team (the Rays) mastered. It’s possible, depending on whether somebody steps up to win the open fifth-starter spot, Roenicke said.
A baseball lifer, Roenicke was ready for all of the questions and handled them with ease.
“I honestly believe that if I didn’t have all that [experience], I wouldn’t be comfortable talking with you guys,” Roenicke said before a large horde of reporters. “I like questions, I really do. I’ve always liked questions. But it’s because I feel like I have answers for what I do, what goes on. So all those years and all the stuff that happened to me … all of that set me up to coach and manage.”
Roenicke thought back to 2013, when he was managing the Brewers and Ryan Braun was suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs. He spent half the season answering daily questions about Braun, he said.
The challenge awaiting him now is different — leading an iconic franchise back from a brutal offseason — but baseball has finally begun again and Roenicke is embracing the pressure.
“I think that was one of the discussions I had when I was interviewing,” he said. “Because all the stuff that I’ve done in the past, I think it really helps me to deal with what’s going to happen through the season. I know I’m going to get tough questions all year, I understand that. But I really enjoy challenges. The experiences make it way easier to get through the challenges that happen.”