As I’ve pointed out so many times in the past, the relationships you cultivate in the minor leagues are what makes my job special. Over the 2008 and 2009 seasons, I have become especially friendly with Jeff Natale. Affectionately known as the third member of our broadcast team, Natale conducted weekly interviews with teammates in a segment called “At Bat With Nat”. He proved to be an adept and insightful interviewer who could get away with questions that other media members might not ask. Nat appears on this weeks episode of PawSox Insider. He joined me from Fort Myers and we dished on a variety of topics.
Jeff spent the winter in Boston working out and in the process, shedding 20 pounds. He went from 195 to 175 and expects that the added strength as well as the slimmer frame will translate well out on the playing field. “It was a lot of running, power lifting and gymnastic type workouts.” Natale added he sees results already. “I’m running much better this year. I’m getting to balls in the infield that I might not have gotten to in the past. I’m also hitting with more power. It’s kind of fun to see where the balls are going.” Boston first base coach Ron Johnson, Natales’ manager in Pawtucket the last two seasons, told Jeff, that real or imagined, there was a perception that his defense wasn’t as good as it could be. That didn’t sit well with the Trinity graduate who excelled in baseball and hockey while at the school. “Reputations are hard to break in baseball. This year I’m quicker, my throws are more accurate and I’m smoother turning the double play. I feel cleaner.” Natale joked that his new physique will lend itself to him walking around a lot without a shirt. “Ya gotta show it off” he laughed.
Natale told me he considered this a “make or break” season with Boston. He’ll be a free agent at the end of the 2010 season and he really wants a chance to play in the Majors. With RJ up in Boston, having Terry Franconas’ ear, it could be the support that Natale hasn’t had before. “It was frustrating the last couple of years, getting limited at bats (326 combined between ’08 and ’09). You could do one of two things. Wallow in it and cry, or light a fire under my butt and do something about it. That’s what I chose to do.” Natale continued- “If I have RJ up there advocating for me, that’s great. It can only help.”
Since his rookie year in 2005, Natale has been a career .298 hitter in the Red Sox organization. He has played along side perennial MVP candidates like Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia. While he respects their talent, he is not intimidated by them. “I’m not in awe. I respect them. Am I as good as they are right now? Of course not, but I truly feel that I can play with them. You can’t have the mentatlity that you can’t play with them. If you do, you never will.” Natale has a couple of goals for 2010. “I want to start and play every day for the PawSox, and I pray that I get my shot with Boston.”
You can hear the interview in its’ entirety along with the rest of PawSox Insider Saturday afternoon on WHJJ radio, or log onto pawsox.com and listen online.