By Mark Paulette
It was a year ago at this time when murmurs began emanating from Fort Myers of a young first baseman who pulverized fastballs with the force of Thor’s hammer. A young player who appeared as though he had been transplanted from a 1930’s blacksmith shop and stepped into the batter’s box without the aid of batting gloves. Entire articles were penned on the fact this young player went shirtless under his white and red-trimmed jerseys, evoking Paul Bunyon-esque imagery in the minds of Red Sox Nation. For much of the Nation that remained separated from Fort Myers, trapped in the harsh North’s fleeting winter months, these descriptions were building the 67th overall pick in the 2014 MLB draft into a figment of folklore. And thus, the legend of ‘Sluggin’ Sam Travis’ was born.
Despite hitting a mere .447 with two home runs and 14 runs batted last spring, the question of who exactly Sam Travis is still eluded many casual fans. His 2016 season was cut short after just 47 games in Pawtucket when the first baseman tore his ACL before he could mount enough production to pressure the front office into giving him a showcase in Boston.
His name went relatively unmentioned for the remainder of the year as the Sox took off on their run to the AL East crown. There was little need to analyze the future, as a near-record setting offense had Sox fans dreaming about a postseason run. This offseason, a story was reported that Dave Dombrowski opted not to sign a high-priced free agent bat to fill the void left by David Ortiz as to not stunt the growth of, or block a future roster position, for young Sammy.
Travis has signaled his return to full health in a big way this spring, roping a home run in Boston’s first live action, an exhibition scrimmage with Northeastern. He has continued to mash with a pair of home runs, six runs driven in and maintained an average of .313 through the first set of games on the spring slate. While putting up these grapefruit sized grapefruit league numbers, Travis has forced his way into lineups constructed mostly of everyday Red Sox players. Now that we’ve seen the quiet, bare-chested, right-handed Sultan of Swat with semi-regularity on NESN’s coverage, I figure it’s time to find out just who this legend-inspiring 23-year-old is…
Before being selected in the 2014 MLB draft’s second round by the Sox, Travis had already established a decorated baseball career, earning Chicago Tribune Illinois Player of the Year honors as a senior in high school. Travis followed that a year later by being named Big Ten Freshman of the Year at Indiana and later in the summer played for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox of the Cape Cod League, where he was named a Cape All Star at summer’s end. Travis capped his amateur career by winning the Big Ten Most Outstanding Player of the Year in 2014.
His Twitter handle is @DoctorChill6, but that sheds little insight into his personality, as the name doesn’t seem to bely the serious demeanor captured on his mid-week stubble-covered face. But teammates claim he’s a clubhouse favorite and he’s quickly becoming a popular topic in New England sports media. If Travis continues to hit at his current pace (a career .303 minor league hitter) it will be hard for the Red Sox to keep him in the minor leagues very long. His stoic demeanor and ability to pound baseballs will remind some of past Red Sox stalwarts Carlton Fisk and Carl Yastrzemski. The old saying goes, “some guys just need a jersey” and for a player who seemingly lacks frills as well as undershirts, that is all Sam Travis needs.
Mark Paulette is the senior producer on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.