Man With the Plan: Meriden's Ben Cherington Comes Through in Year Two

Boston Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington sits in the stands before a baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees in Boston, Sunday, Aug. 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Boston Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington sits in the stands before a baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees in Boston, Sunday, Aug. 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Boston — When Meriden’s Ben Cherington was named general manager of the Boston Red Sox 23 months ago, the organization was facing a number of unanswered questions. During his introductory news conference, the 1992 Lebanon High School graduate scanned the audience of reporters and remarked: “My eyes are wide open that there are going to be tough days that come with this job. But there’s so much enormous upside.”

True on both accounts.

The team Cherington assembled for 2013 is currently living on the upside part of town. Surprising baseball prognosticators, this year’s team exceeded all expectations by capturing only their second outright American League East title in the last 18 years. Most major baseball magazines and websites snubbed the Sox in their preseason predictions — relegating the Sox to a fifth-place finish in their division. No one had the team even making the playoffs.

But thanks to Cherington’s eye for talent, combined with his patient approach to filling the team’s needs, Boston finished the season tied for the best record in baseball and will open the AL Division Series this afternoon against Tampa Bay at Fenway Park.

Cherington was out of sight for much of the celebration the night the team guaranteed itself the top spot in what is arguably baseball’s toughest division. He appeared briefly in the clubhouse, thanking the players, management and the coaching staff as well as the members of his baseball operations staff.

But when the celebration moved back onto the field, Cherington remained behind, choosing instead to stay out of the public eye — which is more comfortable with his low-key persona, taking his spot behind the scenes as an observer for much of the on-field celebration.

While avoiding the spotlight, Cherington was on the spot last winter, trying to bring the team back from the disastrous one-year tenure of manager Bobby Valentine.

The first move was to bring in the steady hand of former pitching coach John Farrell to take over as manager. After filling that position, Cherington then turned his attention to finding the right position players to fill his beleaguered roster.

“We were trying to find guys, who have the right fit for the team, for the roles that we needed, that understood their part on the team and the league, etc.,” Cherington said recently about how the parts were assembled. “These guys could have gone other places, but they wanted to be in Boston and be a part of this. They were attracted by the opportunity, coming off the year we had.”

Cherington went on to praise his players for their determination and intuition.

“It was a leap of faith by some of the guys,” he said. “Players are smart. They know the teams that are committed to doing things a certain way. They know here, when you win, that Boston is really special.

“We have some guys who really want to win and wanted to be a part of that.”

But Cherington is not about to sit on his playoff laurels.

“This is an important step one,” he emphasized. “Right now we will take time to enjoy (capturing the American League East title), but it is not the final step. To obtain that, there still needs to be a lot of hard work, by a lot of people.”

True to his personality, Cherington downplayed his role though in the success of the team. “It’s satisfying, but I don’t really think of it on the personal level,” he said. “It’s satisfying to be a part of something that’s bigger, and that’s good. We all want to be a part of something special.

“It’s an incredible job by everyone in the clubhouse, anyone in uniform, obviously John and the coaches and players, our medical staff. They were on a mission from day one of spring training. You could see it and it was a lot of fun to watch, but it’s just step one and they have a lot of baseball left to play.”

One of the key points to his team’s success this season was the depth of the roster, an issue the last few seasons. Cherington went out of his way to thank ownership for their part — spending the money to acquire the right players.

“There are two ways to build (depth),” he said. “First, acquire the right players at the right spots. Then develop from within, getting the young guys closer to the big leagues.

“We did a little of both this year and it helped us. Whenever we did have a bump or bruise or a little tough stretch, we had some guys step up and come through, allowing us to get more out of our bench this year.”

Cherington also praised Farrell for the manager’s leadership and manner on a daily basis that led to the success the team had.

“John has done a terrific job. He talked to guys this winter and in spring training about being prepared, bringing us together. These are easy things to say, but harder to pull off,” Cherington said. “He’s got coaches’ respect, players’ respect and he led us from the first day of spring training.

“From day one he pounded a mantra we are going to focus on the game tonight. Every day, it was, ‘We are going to play the game tonight, prepare to play the game tonight and try to win this game.’ ”

With the Sox in the playoffs, Cherington’s job is done — for the time being. There will be plenty of time in the coming months to deal with contracts, free agents and other roster issues. Right now, Cherington is thinking only about the present group and how they have come together.

“This group decided in spring training that they were going to win, so here we are,” Cherington said. “We saw a core that just loved to play baseball. They loved to prepare and do things the right way and were motivated.

“The guys who were here before were more motivated to put last year behind them. The guys who came in new were motivated to do something special. They set out together to do that,” Cherington added. “And they succeeded.”