Papelbon, Pressure and Playing in Boston

Despite their super-human salaries and the devout worship of fans that would make Greek gods jealous, athletes are still real people. They have great jobs, but they have jobs nonetheless. Jonathan Papelbon called attention to this oft-overlooked fact with a smug, smiley interview. The Phillies opened up their 2012 interleague schedule by hosting his former team, the Boston Red Sox. Papelbon joked about how pitching at night in Boston meant you would likely still be hurling into the wee hours of the morning. Pap seems to relish the lower level of competition in the National league, especially since he makes more money for less work.  Grueling games night after night against the world’s best baseball competition can wear on a pitcher, so it’s not surprising the Papelbon was happy to exit the AL East. The emotional closer already won his World Series ring and cemented his baseball legacy as a member of the 2007 Boston Red Sox. Now, the 31 year old is enjoying a higher salary and lower pressure NL environment in Philadelphia. Many guys are content to relax amongst their millions once they have a ring on their finger. Of course, there are the precious few Tom Brady’s of the world who posses the innate competitiveness and undying hunger to be the best of all time. But for every Brady there are 10 Papelbons. It’s not that Pap is a bad guy…most folks would be happy to take the money and run once they achieved their career goal. Further, the Phillies are still a premier franchise posed to compete for a Championship perennially, so it’s not like Pap has given up on winning. However, it’s become clear that the Florida native had enough of the pressure cooker that is Fenway Park. Boston is perhaps the most intense, competitive city in the US. Life is faster here. People expect more from you. And this attitude translates directly into the sports culture. Fans of “The Town” may note that standing on the mound at Fenway is like standing at the altar of Boston’s Cathedral. In Boston, competition is religion. So, if anything is to be learned from Papelbon’s comments, it’s that the Red Sox were wise to let him go. $50 million over 4 years is a lot to pay for a closer, especially one that doesn’t like to work overtime. But it’s all good…Papelbon accomplished a lot in a Red Sox uniform and no one can take that away from him. Plus, there are plenty of young guys out there who would kill for the chance to pitch in America’s most beloved ballpark. Both Pap & the Red Sox franchise will be fine as they go their respective ways.

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