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Evans was outstanding in his field

His work in right worth recounting

Dwight Evans, who won eight Gold Gloves in 19 years with the Sox, will be honored by the Sports Museum of New England. Dwight Evans, who won eight Gold Gloves in 19 years with the Sox, will be honored by the Sports Museum of New England. (File/ Steven Senne/ Associated Press)
By Robert Mays
Globe Correspondent / June 13, 2010

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Dwight Evans doesn’t reminisce much. Not even after eight Gold Gloves, three All-Star Games, and two trips to the World Series. Not even after a career that spanned Watergate and the start of baseball’s steroid era. He says he’s moved on because there’s this funny thing about the glory days: They can make someone who they are while keeping them from being who they want to be.

That’s why tomorrow night will be a welcome chance to explore the past for the former Red Sox outfielder. That’s when Evans will join Celtic great Jo Jo White, the 1970 Bruins, and others as part of The Tradition, an annual event held by The Sports Museum of New England dedicated to honoring legends of Boston sports.

Evans began his 19-year stint with the Red Sox in 1972. Two years later, he was joined by Jim Rice and Fred Lynn to form one of the best outfields in major league history.

“We had a lot of fun together,’’ Evans said. “I still think that outfield we had was a great outfield. I try to put another together that was better.’’

After pausing for a moment to think of a worthy comparison, Evans conceded, “I can think of great outfielders. But I can’t think of a great outfield that was together as long as we were.’’

Lynn agrees, saying a big part of the trio’s success owed to the way Evans patrolled right field. As a hitter, Evans didn’t fully develop until 10 years into his career, but as a fielder, his talent shined through from the start.

“I’d put the three of us against anybody, especially with Dwight out in right,’’ Lynn said. “He was certainly one of the best right fielders you ever wanted to see.’’

Evans combined a strong arm with a knack for navigating Fenway’s unorthodox right field. While the corner down there still presents the challenges it did for Evans back in the ’70s and ’80s, the playing conditions are different.

During pregame practice, Evans would have balls hit to him in every way possible: ground balls, shots ripped down the line, anything he could use to better understand the bounces of the park.

“When I played, the ball would do a lot of different things,’’ he said. “You had to work on it. How deep you played or how shallow you played, how you moved toward the pole, how you angled back.’’

The familiarity Evans had with right field played a role in what has become the most famous play of his career, his 11th-inning catch in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. It is often overshadowed by Carlton Fisk’s home run in the 12th, but without it, Fisk may not have gotten to be the hero.

With Ken Griffey Sr. on first, future Hall of Famer Joe Morgan came up with the score tied, 6-6. As Morgan moved toward the batter’s box, Evans began to consider each scenario. A line-drive single meant a play at third. A ball in the gap had to be cut off. A ball over his head probably meant the Reds would take the lead.

“All of these things are going through my head,’’ Evans said. “What I’m trying to say is, all great plays are made before they happen.’’

Morgan crushed the ball to right field, and Evans immediately turned to his left and angled toward the fence. Most balls hit to right by lefty batters tend to hook toward the line. This one didn’t. And as Evans neared the fence, he lost the ball for a second before sticking his glove in the air behind his head and pulling the ball in.

Griffey had taken off with the pitch, and Evans easily doubled him up.

“It wasn’t the best catch I ever made,’’ Evans said. “It wasn’t the prettiest. But it was the most important.’’

The play is the most asked-about moment of a career that was long for that era. When Evans joined the Red Sox in 1972, conditioning and nutrition weren’t popular subjects.

The clubhouse was often filled with unhealthy food. Snacks on the team plane consisted of hot dogs and cheeseburgers. There were weights, but the way to properly use them was unknown to most players. Some players, such as Lynn, played basketball and ran heavily in the offseason, both activities that can do more damage than good.

A knee injury in 1977 showed Evans how important maintaining his body was to prolonging his career. He began using weights regularly in the offseason, and always threw or hit afterward to stretch his muscles. He combined weightlifting with new workout devices, such as the Versa Climber, a machine designed to mimic mountain climbing.

“An hour, an hour and 15 minutes on that thing, I’ll tell you what,’’ Evans said. “When I retired, that machine was in my house, and I never got on it again.’’

In the early ’80s, Evans started doing karate to avoid muscle pulls, and started forgoing clubhouse food on the road in favor of meals at quality restaurants.

“I felt my body was like a Mercedes, and I didn’t want to put regular fuel in it,’’ Evans said. “I wanted to put high-test in there.’’

These days, Evans works as a player development consultant for the Red Sox. His job is to cultivate the mental attributes of the minor leaguers. Evans says that most players have the physical talent but it’s the mental part that holds them back. He’s held the position since 2003, and he says that being a member of the organization for its World Series wins was a feeling he’d been waiting on for a long time.

“It meant so much to me, being a part of the organization and being with them, and having them win was just awesome,’’ he said. “It was great to see.’’

Evans’s role brings him in contact with current Red Sox players, but this honor has given him an opportunity to look back.

“When I see highlight films and things that I’ve done, it brings back good memories,’’ Evans said. “It gives me a good feeling, and I think Monday night will be fun. It’ll bring me back a little bit.’’

Robert Mays can be reached at rmays@globe.com.

The Tradition
What: Ninth annual celebration of the New England Sports Museum
When: Tomorrow, 5:30 p.m.
Where: TD Garden
Honorees: Dwight Evans, Kristine Lilly, Steve Nelson, Jerry Remy, Jo Jo White, 1970 Bruins

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