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February 26. 2012 8:44PM

Kevin Gray's On Baseball: Veterans, youngsters together in one place


Boston Red Sox fans get their first look at JetBlue Park at Fenway South, the Red Sox's new spring training facility and stadium in Fort Myers, Fla. (REUTERS)

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- NEW JETBLUE PARK and the adjoining player development complex appear to be tailor-made for Ben Cherington.

Now he can watch Carl Crawford on one field and young pitching prospect Anthony Ranaudo on the next. The new complex brings major and minor leaguers together for the first time at spring training at The Fort, which is perfect for Cherington, who rose to general manager by identifying young talent and developing a productive farm system.

Minor leaguers don't officially report to spring training until next month, but many young players already know where to find the weight room and hydrotherapy tank. No, the farmhands won't be sharing the same locker room as the millionaires.

“It's important that young, developing players see players at the highest level to learn from them and feel a sense of proximity,” Cherington, of Meriden, N.H., said. “It's an honor to move from the minor-league clubhouse to the major-league clubhouse, but it's an honor that must be earned.”

Cherington has been answering the urgent questions with a sense of calm, helping fans and media continue moving forward since the disastrous September. What's the biggest on-field question facing the Red Sox right now? “It's not a question. We need to be accountable to each other every day, on and off the field,” he said.

That's a diplomatic way of saying, “If we are going to succeed, we must have players who care so much about their teammates that they'd never leave the dugout to drink beer and play video games.”

When Theo Epstein handed over the keys to Cherington, he didn't exactly leave a full tank of gas. Huge contracts given to the underperforming Crawford, Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey — throw Bobby Jenks in the mix — pushed the Red Sox toward their financial limits. Cherington's biggest off-season move was hiring manager Bobby Valentine and trading Marco Scutaro in a salary dump.

Cherington brought in three veteran arms to compete for a starting job in the rotation. Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla and Carlos Silva will compete alongside Felix Doubront, Andrew Miller and others for a spot in the rotation.

The 37-year-old Cherington, who pitched for Lebanon (N.H.) High and led the Raiders to the 1991 Class I championship, didn't spend much time in the Granite State during the off-season. There's not much time for hiking or skiing when you're the general manager of the Red Sox — but he did lace up his skates.

“I had a couple high school buddies down for an hour of ice time at Fenway. We were in Boston, but we were playing hockey outside, so it felt like New Hampshire,” he said.

The Red Sox may have lots of unanswered questions entering the season, but their fans, as always, are happily optimistic this time of year.

“I feel confident they are going to show all of us that late 2011 is not what the Red Sox are about and they have a chance to define what we're going to be about moving forward,” Cherington said last week.

Cherington plans to send Boston's No. 1 pitching prospect, Anthony Ranaudo, to Portland, Maine, to begin the season. That's great news for the Sea Dogs and any fans hoping to watch the 6-foot-7 fireballer pitch in the Eastern League. Portland makes its first visit to New Hampshire in a four-game set beginning May 1.

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ACROSS TOWN: Salem High and Boston College graduate Terry Doyle, drafted by the White Sox in 2008, has a new home with the Twins at Fort Myers this spring. The 6-foot-4 righty had a terrific season in the White Sox organization last year, going 8-10 with a 3.07 ERA in 26 starts at Class A Winston-Salem and Class AA Birmingham, but he wasn't protected on Chicago's 40-man roster. The Twins grabbed Doyle in the Rule 5 Draft during baseball's winter meetings.

When the Twins picked me, that kind of validated my last couple years and made me feel like I've been doing the right things,” Doyle said. “Now here I am fighting for a spot in the Twins' rotation or bullpen.”

Minnesota must keep Doyle on its big-league roster for the entire season or offer him back to the White Sox for $25,000. Doyle would also be exposed to waivers before returning to the White Sox. Here's hoping he sticks with Minnesota. Johan Santana was selected by the Twins in the Rule 5 Draft — and that worked out pretty well for the Twins.

“Everything is going well so far,” Doyle said. “It's a pretty similar setup as far as my throwing routine and stuff. I'm having a lot of fun and learning a lot about the mental approach and what it takes to make the big leagues and be successful.”

Staff writer Kevin Gray covers pro baseball for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. His email address is kgray@unionleader.com.


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