The Red Sox named Brian Butterfield their third base coach on Oct. 30. But only in the last few days has he truly felt like part of the team.
Butterfield took the job with the caveat that he still hoped to be selected as the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. It was something he made sure Sox general manager Ben Cherington and manager John Farrell understood.
“I was committed to the Red Sox, but it was a tough time for me because I wasn’t 100 percent committed,” Butterfield said Friday in his first interview since joining the Sox. “I didn’t have both feet in.”
Butterfield, who spent 11 years coaching in Toronto, badly wanted to manage the Blue Jays and believed he had a chance at the job. But the team wanted a manager with experience and went with John Gibbons on Tuesday.
“I was disappointed,” Butterfield said. “It was kind of a letdown. It was something I took very seriously. I loved that city, the people there, and the team.”
Farrell understood and told Butterfield to take a few days.
“John was great; he knew how I felt,” Butterfield said. “I had been with Toronto for a long time. I had to let it soak in and turn the page.”
A conversation with his mother over Thanksgiving dinner helped. Patricia Butterfield retold some family stories about the times Brian would demand to stay in front of the television to see Dick Radatz close out a game for the Sox and the trips they would take from their home in Orono, Maine, to Fenway Park.
“Carl Yastrzemski, Reggie Smith, Rico Petrocelli, I loved all those players,” Butterfield said on Friday. “Growing up in New England, it was part of who I was.”
Butterfield is eager to get to spring training. Red Sox players will find that no coach is more committed to their success than Butterfield.
The 54-year-old is one of the best at what he does. Along with coaching third base and working with the infielders, Butterfield believes that coaches have the duty to make sure players handle themselves professionally on and off the field.
His message is one the last-place Red Sox need to hear.
“All coaches could want to stand for such a thing as respect for the game and integrity,” Butterfield said. “Players and coaches have a great responsibility beyond hitting a home run or striking somebody out.
“How you respond to a manager or the umpires or the clubhouse attendants, respect encompasses an awful lot. As a coach, we have to stand for that and instill it in the players.”
With a résumé that includes 34 years in professional baseball, the last 16 in the majors, Butterfield has the credentials to back up his personality.
“I’ve gotten to know some of their players. For me, as a coach you want your infielders to do things in a certain way. Dustin Pedroia and Derek Jeter are benchmarks for infielders in baseball,” Butterfield said.
“Dustin, the way he goes about his work, the way he competes and carries the torch and reacts to game situations, you can tell the Red Sox are his top priority. I’m so anxious to work with him.”
As a third base coach, Butterfield talks to opposing third basemen often. He is impressed with what he has learned about Will Middlebrooks.
“He had nothing but glowing praise of Kevin Youkilis and Youkilis had nothing but praise for Will as a player and a person, saying that he is the future,” Butterfield said. “It’s going to be fun getting to know him.”
Butterfield also offered a scouting report on shortstop Jose Iglesias.
“I made it a point to go watch him take infield. He certainly has all the prerequisites,” Butterfield said. “Great feet, makes plays easily. There’s no panic in his hands. He’s going to take away some hits.”
After two seasons with Farrell in Toronto, Butterfield believes the Red Sox made a smart choice as manager. Farrell, he said, has improved on the job.
“He’s very organized, very detailed, and he gets input from all his people,” Butterfield said. “He’s open-minded, and to me he’s gotten better as a manager. It’s a difficult chair to sit in.”
The Blue Jays, like the Red Sox, fell out contention because of injuries.
“It just happens, and the game goes in cycles,” Butterfield said. “There are some good things in place in Boston. It’s an unbelievable place to play and a demanding place to play and coach. That is something I can’t wait to experience.”
Butterfield hasn’t lost his desire to manage. But he called it an offseason aspiration.
“Once I step on Florida soil [for spring training], it’s out of my mind,” he said. “I want to be the best coach I can be and give my best effort. I love coaching base running, coaching third, and working with the infielders. Thoughts of being a manager cease and desist.”
Butterfield, who still lives in Maine, grew up loving baseball and football. His father, the late Jack Butterfield, was the baseball coach at the University of Maine and an assistant football coach. Jim Butterfield, Brian’s uncle, coached football at Ithaca College from 1967-94 and won three NCAA Division 3 titles.
Butterfield is one of the most passionate and knowledgeable Patriots fans you will ever meet. His friends have joked that he took the Red Sox job just to be closer to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
“That’s not 100 percent true,” Butterfield said, laughing. “But we had a lot of fun watching that Jets game [Thursday] night.”
. . .
Greg Colbrunn will interview for the Red Sox hitting coach position on Saturday, Farrell said on WEEI. That could make five candidates who are interviewed. The Sox could have this wrapped by next week. They didn’t name a coaching staff until Dec. 23 last year.