FORT MYERS, Fla. — What a grand day it’ll be in the pleasant, leafy little town of Winchester, Mass., when local baseball star Corey Kluber makes his first regular-season start for the Red Sox.
I’m guessing they’ll let classes out early at schools all over town. The kids should be allowed to get home to watch this, right? It’ll be like what happened in 2011 when legendary Boston Bruins executive and longtime Winchester resident Harry Sinden brought the Stanley Cup to town. “All the kids lined up around the corner from where it was being displayed,” Sinden told me a few years ago. “They had their picture taken with it.”
And right about now, you’re saying: Wait, Corey Kluber is not from Winchester. He was born in Alabama. He was raised in Texas. He played his college baseball at Stetson University in Florida.
Well … yeah. Sort of. A long, long time before the two-time American League Cy Young Award winner signed with the Red Sox in January, he was already living in Winchester. His wife, Amanda, is the actual Winchester native in the family, and she inspired her baseball-playing husband to settle in the old sod. They also have a place in Tampa, but the passage of time will determine whether that’s a long-term thing. But it sounds like Winchester is on their forever list.
“We didn’t live there right out of the gate,” Kluber said. “Once we had kids, we moved up there. We have plans to keep a place (there).”
Kluber, who is expected to make his first spring training start Tuesday against the Miami Marlins, turns 37 in April. His best seasons were with Cleveland, with whom he won his two Cys, but since then he has been a journeyman. The Sox will be his fifth team in five seasons, as he’s hop-scotched from Cleveland (2019) to the Rangers (2020) to the Yankees (2021) to the Rays (2022) to Boston. As The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal has noted, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom pursued Kluber because a) Boston’s pitchers generally had a hard time getting the ball over the plate last year, and b) Kluber generally gets the ball over the plate. He threw 69.5 percent of his pitches for strikes last season. The Sox would love to get a piece of that action. “We need to take the strike zone back,” Bloom told Rosenthal.
What Kluber gets, in addition to a one-year, $10 million contract, is a chance to work from home, so to speak, and build on the success he had with the Rays (10-10 with a 4.34 ERA in 31 starts over 164 innings) in 2022.
The man knows his way around the Boston area. Even before he made his big-league debut with Cleveland in 2011, he was taking in Red Sox games at Fenway Park after his minor-league season was over. He attends Celtics games. He says he’s been to “a couple of handfuls” of Patriots games.
Kluber hasn’t been to a Bruins game yet. “But I know they’re having a pretty special season,” he said.
“When I’m driving around Boston I still throw the GPS on for safety’s sake, but I can get to places on my own,” Kluber said. “Fenway’s pretty easy once I’m on 93. But there have been some times when the GPS has taken me to some back roads to stay away from traffic and I found myself saying, ‘Is this taking me to Fenway or is it taking me somewhere else?’”
Surely there have been other well-known professional athletes who neither grew up in Boston nor played for a Boston team and yet settled in the area. It’s just that I can’t think of many. (I’m confident our ever-alert readers will help out with this.) As a jumping-off point, though, retired all-star outfielder Dale Murphy, a two-time National League MVP, lived in the Boston area from 1997 to 2000 while serving as president of the Boston Mission for The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints.
If we may stretch the net a little to include all of New England, Sandy Koufax, one of the great southpaws in the game’s history, bought a farmhouse in Ellsworth, Maine, about five years after his 1966 retirement from the Dodgers. Though he was attracted not just to the beauty of Maine but also to the much-coveted privacy it offers, Koufax left after three years. As Tom Verducci wrote for Sports Illustrated in a 1999 feature on Koufax, “Not even the serenity of Maine … could quell Koufax’s wanderlust.”
And then there’s the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who lived in Cambridge for a few months during summer 1972, a year after leading the Milwaukee Bucks to their first NBA championship in franchise history. In fact, he lived just around the corner from 16-year-old me, in a newly built apartment building on the corner of Harvard and Bigelow streets.
In 2008, when the Celtics were playing the Lakers in the NBA Finals, I happened upon Abdul-Jabbar at Staples Center and asked about his once-upon-a-time residency in Cambridge. Pleased to be seeing someone from the old neighborhood, he explained he had been taking a summer course in Arabic at Harvard University.
But, again, it was just for the summer. Come the fall, Abdul-Jabbar was back with the Bucks. And Murphy and Koufax were already out of baseball when they moved to New England, their residencies lasting only a few years.
Let’s be honest: Boston, and for that matter, all of New England, isn’t known as a destination spot for big-time professional athletes. The hot spots tend to be, well, the hot spots — generally Arizona, Florida and California. Just last week, former Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who made a visit to the team’s spring training base in Fort Myers, was going on and on about coaching his kids’ youth league teams in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he now lives. He’s just one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of professional athletes who’ve settled in Greater Phoenix.
And if it’s not Arizona, it’s Florida. Hall of Fame former Red Sox stars Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz have lived in the Miami area, and Derek Lowe lives in Fort Myers.
Then there’s California. During summer 2007, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge was trying to swing a deal with his old buddy, Minnesota Timberwolves general manager Kevin McHale, that would bring Kevin Garnett to Boston. Garnett would have to agree to a contract extension with Boston for that to happen, and so Ainge decided to go to Garnett’s house, knock on the door, and make his case. That house and that door were in Malibu, Calif., which is where Garnett, raised in South Carolina, had bought a place.
The list of current and former Red Sox, Bruins, Celtics and Patriots players who have settled in the Boston area is long and impressive. It includes such Hall of Famers as Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Raymond Bourque and Andre Tippett. It includes should-be Hall of Famers Dwight Evans and Luis Tiant. It includes a former Red Sox pitcher (Jim Lonborg) and a former Patriots offensive lineman (the late Bill Lenkaitis) who became dentists. It includes the late former Red Sox outfielder Dom DiMaggio, an original investor in the Boston Patriots. And it includes the late Red Sox shortstop Johnny Pesky, who spent decades with the team as manager, coach and broadcaster, to say nothing of his side gig as a TV pitchman for JB Sash & Door Co.
Another long and ever-growing list consists of natives of Greater Boston who grew up to play for the hometown team and then stayed around. Tight end Jermaine Wiggins, whose biggest contribution to the 2001 Super Bowl champion Patriots was his 10 receptions for 68 yards in New England’s epic divisional round Snow Bowl victory over the Oakland Raiders, was raised in East Boston and went to Eastie High. Hyde Park’s Manny Delcarmen, a proud graduate of West Roxbury High, earned a World Series ring with the 2007 Red Sox. Current Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk grew up in Charlestown and still lives in the Boston area. One of the proudest chapters in the life of Brookline native and Northeastern University graduate Rick Weitzman was being a member of the 1967-68 Celtics. He made an appearance in Boston’s championship-clinching 124-109 victory over the Lakers in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, contributing a bucket to the scoresheet. Weitzman, who turns 77 in April, still lives in the Boston area.
An easy assumption is that what separates all these gentlemen from Corey Kluber is that they all rooted for various Boston athletes growing up because, well, they’re from Boston. Whereas Kluber, to refresh your memory, was born in Alabama, raised in Texas and played his college baseball at Stetson University in Florida. Given that Kluber spent his formative years in Coppell, Texas, just 21 miles from Globe Life Field, can we assume Kluber’s rooting interests were limited to his hometown Texas Rangers?
No, we can not assume that.
“I was actually a pretty big Red Sox fan,” he said. “Pedro (Martinez) was my favorite player.”
Asked why a kid growing up outside Dallas was a Pedro Martinez fan, he said, “Why not? Who isn’t?”
There was more.
“And I used to tap my toes in the batter’s box like Nomar (Garciaparra) did, and all that cool stuff,” he said. “Kids try to emulate the players they see on TV, and I was one of those kids.”
He is, then, just another kid from the Boston area who adored Pedro Martinez and patterned his batter’s box habits after Nomar Garciaparra. He’s been to Red Sox games, Celtics games, Patriots games.
Memo to Winchester’s Harry Sinden: See whether maybe you can set up Winchester’s Corey Kluber with Bruins tickets once the Stanley Cup playoffs start.
(Top photo: Maddie Malhotra / Boston Red Sox / Getty Images)