He’s not the first Mookie to make a splash in pro sports.
First there was Mookie Wilson. Then, there was Mookie Blaylock.
But this Major League Baseball season, which kicks off on Sunday night, you will get to know Mookie Betts, if you don’t already.
Betts is a 22-year-old centerfielder for the Boston Red Sox, competing for the starting job this spring. He’s home grown, born in Tennessee. He’s a brother in a sports that has seen the percentage of African Americans drop in recent years.
Best of all, Betts can flat out play. So much so that some of his teammates are comparing him to the Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star centerfielder Andrew McCutchen.
“It’s a tough comparison to make – Andrew is one of the elite outfielders in the game,” Red Sox right fielder Shane Victorino told the media. “But when you see things, the way Betts goes about playing the game, with that little swag … there’s something about him.”
Betts, a humble kid, lets his actions speak for him. “Spring is going fine so far,” said Betts, who entered Tuesday with a healthy .452 batting average in Florida.
Betts, a right-handed hitter who could bat in the lead-off spot, has a simple goal in mind for his first big league spring training as he gets ready for his first full season in Boston.
“I’m not trying to out-do my numbers from last year,” Betts said. “I’m just trying to be consistent, kind of do the same things I have been doing. That’s how kind of got me here and I’m trying to keep myself here.”
Betts, who came to camp with a newly added 20 pounds of muscle, is having fun and didn’t put too much pressure on himself. “You have to relax to play this game,” Betts said. “You can’t feel pressure because it’s a game of failure. Pressure doesn’t make it any better.”
Betts’ approach helped when he was called up to the majors on June 28, 2014. And he got his first hit in his first MLB game the next day against the New York Yankees.
In 52 games, Betts batted .291 with five homers and 18 RBI.
The thing that stood even more than his bat was his defensive work. Betts was a highly regarded second baseman in college and the minors. Coming into the 2014 season, MLB.com ranked him the third-best prospect among second baseman.
Of course, the Red Sox have an All-Star second baseman in Dustin Pedroia. Hence, the Red Sox put him in the outfielder, a spot he never played professionally prior.
Betts embraces defense but said you have to be an all-around player. “You have to be able to affect the game in both defense and hitting,” he said. “You may not be doing one one day so you have to be able to do the other.
“So I can’t put one above the other. They are both really important to this game.”
The big key for most young players that have success out of the gate at the plate is the pitching adjustment that will surely come in their second season.
“I’m sure there will be some adjustments made,” said Betts, who was nicknamed Mookie by his parents for Blaylock. “I don’t know what.
“I’m not going to force an adjustment, just adjust as the games goes. The more you force it, the harder it gets.”
Betts is really excited about his team. After all, the Red Sox made a lot of moves in the offseason, including a trade for starter Rick Porcello from the Dteroit Tigers. He will be their No. 2 starter in the rotation.
“We have some new faces to help us out,” Betts said. “I feel like we will be good. We have a good chance to make a deep run and win it. I feel strongly about this team.”
The same can be said about the Red Sox’s feeling about Betts’ future.
The Red Sox like Betts so much that they reportedly refused to even talk about a trade for Philadelphia Phillies starter Cole Hamels if Betts had to be a part of the deal.
Betts is keeper, one who will eventually be as well known as the other two Mookies before him.