The question came out of nowhere, and Xander Bogaerts stopped in his tracks to think of the proper response. He was silent for several seconds, not because he didn’t know the answer, but because he was trying to find the right way to put it into words.
What had the Red Sox shortstop learned about Trevor Story in just over two months as his teammate?
“I don’t think ‘not give up’ is the right word,” Bogaerts finally said. “He’s resilient. That might be the word. Just, after the game sometimes, he’ll be working and working until he gets it right. … Persistent might be another good word. Persistent in being successful.”
It can take a while to know a player, even an All-Star who stepped into the Red Sox clubhouse already a fully-formed, well-known commodity. Getting to the root of what made him that way can take time. His personality, tenacity and capacity for work don’t show up in the statistics, and so on May 5, when Story was booed at Fenway Park after striking out four times and did not wait at his locker to answer questions postgame, it was seen as a red flag. New England sports culture prides itself on accountability, and the new guy had failed to face the music. His absence was telling — it remains, perhaps, the defining moment of his early Red Sox tenure — we just didn’t know yet what it was saying.
It’s true, the story did retreat that afternoon. He descended the stairs to the indoor batting cage for a postgame hitting session with JD Martinez, Alex Verdugo and hitting coach Peter Fatse. The Red Sox media relations department, not yet accustomed to Story’s tendency to do more postgame hitting than most, did not alert him to the inevitable media crush and ask him to wait a few minutes before heading to the cage. The longer the hitting session lasted, the less anyone wanted to interrupt him. After more than an hour, Story was officially a no-show. He talked the next day (and said he would have talked the night before if anyone had let him know).
But those postgame sessions have become a far more essential element of Story’s early days in Boston. They’ve been a way to process failure and spin it into progress. He’s been resilient and persistent, and maybe a little contagious. As Story got hot at the plate, the Red Sox began to move up in the standings. Manager Alex Cora said more players have been hitting postgame this season, and he credits Story with leading the trend.
“I think Trevor (started it),” Bobby Dalbec said. “He did it one game and it fired AC up and fired a lot of other guys up. I think that’s something our team is built on. We’re going to work harder than a lot of other people, so I think that’s where it comes from.”
And that’s where Story comes from. When he made his big league debut in 2016 and hit seven home runs in his first six games with the Rockies, an ESPN story hinted at an impact beyond the gaudy numbers, quoting Rockies hitting organizational coach Duane Espy.
“Because of his work ethic and how he is as a person,” Espy said, “(Story) has an ability to connect with his teammates and draw them in.”
All players hit pregame. It’s baked into the routine, but postgame work is not nearly as common. Story said he got into the habit when he was in Colorado where Nolan Arenado liked to hit postgame and “a selective few” would join. Arenado brought the practice to St. Louis, and Story’s brought it to Boston.
“It was all passed down,” Arenado said. “I would see (Troy Tulowitzki) working after games, so I started taking it on sometimes. It’s something where you want to go home knowing that you put the work in or you have the right feel, instead of going home and wondering, When am I going to get this back?”
The sessions are not meant for every day. Story said he doesn’t often grind in the cage after a two-hit day, but when he’s searching for his swing or trying to find the right feel at the plate — when he’s batting .210, just struck out four times, and got booed by the home crowd — Story would rather attack the problem when it’s fresh than let it linger overnight.
“More than anything, it’s kind of humbling,” Story said. “All the cards are down. You probably didn’t have a great game if you’re doing that afterward, so your guard’s down, and you may address stuff that you might not pregame. And sometimes that’s what leads to something clicking for you.”
Not every Red Sox player has followed Story’s lead. Bogaerts doesn’t like to hit postgame. He said he was planning to do it one day last month when he was stuck in a one-week slump, but that was the game he collided with Verdugo, so Bogaerts decided not to take the additional swings. Others, like Verdugo and Dalbec, have embraced the postgame sessions to work through offensive struggles. Martinez routinely does in-depth video sessions postgame, and Christian Arroyo has joined some of those. The postgame group varies from day to day.
Players and coaches who have participated in the session as focused and often collaborative. Sometimes it’s one player and one coach working on a particular aspect of the player’s swing. Other times, it’s multiple players or all three hitting coaches floating ideas and talking through various solutions.
“I never left a basketball court until I made my last shot,” Arroyo said. “I think it’s the same with baseball. … I want to make sure I feel that last really good swing. I want that to be the last thing I feel before I go.”
This year, more than any other, Story has reason to leave his bad swings at the field. Just days after signing his $140-million deal and reporting to Red Sox spring training, Story had to leave the team for the birth of his first-born son. Ever since — basically every day of his Red Sox career — he’s gone home to a personal life that is forever different from his days in Colorado.
Postgame hitting, Story said, is something of a “flush.” It shifts his mentality from the frustration of failure to the hope of resolution. And there’s no question which of those he wants to bring home to his family.
“The mental game is so huge in baseball,” Story said. “I’m a big advocate for that. Your perspective changes when you take action toward it instead of either guessing or letting it linger a little bit. That’s the way I’ve looked at it, and it’s worked for me. … When I’m home, I want to be home and I want to be with my wife and my son. I don’t want to cloud that time. (After a hitting session, the focus shifts to) this is what we’re working on, feel good about it, and move on. So, that’s kind of where it comes from for me.”
Where it’s led is toward transformation. After the four-strikeout game on May 5, Story struck out six times in his next three games. His batting average dropped to .194 and Cora dropped him to sixth in the order. It looked hopeless on the field, but changes were happening that only Story’s teammates and coaches could see. And they were taking notice.
“He knows how good he is,” Bogaerts said. “And when he’s not playing the way he wants to play, he just goes out and makes sure he gets that feeling that he wants to get.”
A two-hit game on May 10 was the start of a dramatic turnaround for Story. He hit his first home run a day later, beginning a burst of nine home runs in 14 games. His numbers now suggest a legitimate All-Star candidate at second base, and as Story got hot, the Red Sox did, too. After a 2-0 win Sunday against the Mariners, they’ve gone 23-10 since Story’s turnaround, climbing out of last place and into the early playoff picture.
“We have created a culture of work,” bench coach Will Venable said. “And (Story)’s another big piece of that. He’s a guy who comes out every day and just works, is always willing to put in the time and make the adjustments. We’ve seen him be consistent in that since he got here, and that’s something that’s a big part of what we do.”
Story has embraced his teammates in other ways, too. When the Red Sox traveled to Dallas in the middle of May, Story brought some teammates with him to a Mavericks game. Story grew up just outside Dallas and learned to love the Mavs during the Dirk Nowitzki years, and so he shared that slice of home. But even as his real hometown team was in the NBA playoffs, Story began wearing Celtics gear around the Red Sox clubhouse, embracing the new home he’s building in Boston as well.
“You can see in the meetings,” Cora said. (He’s been) more vocal. You see him on the field talking to players, and off the field he’s been great. … As far as the position players, he’s the new guy, right? I think obviously the guys that have been here, they’ve done an amazing job embracing him. Now you can tell he’s part of it.”
Said Bogaerts: “I’ve been going to him a lot of times. Like, some plays I haven’t been able to make, ‘What is your thought process on that,’ or ‘What would you have done?’ He will give me feedback on that. … He does put in the work, and guys who put in the work and see the results, those are the guys that always get rewarded.”
The reward is the part that’s easiest to see. It shows up in the box score, and it gets cheered at the ballpark. Two weeks after his four-strikeout game, Story was back at Fenway Park for a curtain call after hitting three home runs. The shift to that success seemed sudden.
The hidden work suggested otherwise.
“At the end of the day, it’s just about winning,” Story said. “You want to do whatever you can to win and contribute the way that you know you can. Sometimes that’s what it takes is to go in (the cage) and hash some stuff out, and sometimes it can be the other way, too. I think knowing yourself and realizing when the time is right to do that, it’s been cool. These guys love to work, and that’s why I love the culture here.”
It’s a culture Story’s embraced, and already begun to shape.
(Top photo: Dale Zanine / USA TODAY)