He rarely has any moments of peace any more on Aruba -- an island that seemingly exists for the sole purpose of relaxation.
All the attention makes Xander Bogaerts uncomfortable. It's not in his nature to be coddled, idolized or worshipped. But as a World Series champion with the Boston Red Sox, a rare major leaguer from Aruba, and one of the top prospects in baseball, Bogaerts knows it's his responsibility to shake hands, sign autographs and mingle among his countrymen, who not long ago didn't know who he was.
At age 21, Bogaerts is a phenomenon, and with that comes some inconveniences.
A normal trip to the grocery store becomes chaotic once a fan spots him. Soon he is surrounded, asked to sign autographs and pose for photos. At dinner, he's not able to eat because so many approach him with requests. Tourists from Boston even visited his house this offseason.
In a short time, Bogaerts has become the most famous and in-demand person on the small island, and because he's a gregarious and friendly person, he usually tries to accommodate everyone.
"It was fun at the beginning, but after a time, it wears you down," Bogaerts said. "It's overwhelming, and especially me not being that type of guy who wants the attention -- it doesn't work sometimes. It's tough. I don't know if I'll get used to it, but I just have to deal with it."
* * *
He spent the majority of his young life in anonymity. He was one of Sandra Brown's three children, and she took great care to protect her kids from harm. Brown, a social worker from Bonaire, had raised the children -- Xander, twin brother Jair and older sister Chandra -- mostly by herself, with the help of her brother Glenroy Brown, because the children's white Dutch father left the family to pursue business interests in Hong Kong when the boys were only two years old.
The two boys picked up Glenroy's love of baseball, and soon they were practicing every chance they got. They played pickup games on dirt fields and practiced with worn out equipment. Although a baseball community existed in Aruba -- four players from the island, prior to Bogaerts, played in the majors -- there weren't many organized leagues.
By the time he became a teenager, Bogaerts had begun to overshadow some of the other players on the island. He played on select teams and participated in tournaments in places like St. Thomas, St Croix, Venezuela and Puerto Rico. Although he always considered his brother to be better, few on the island shared that opinion.
Yet Bogaerts was virtually unknown in the scouting world.
He didn't get noticed by a major league team until he was discovered by a shaggy-haired, unkempt, beach-loving hippie who had spent the day unimpressed at a tryout in Aruba, and then asked one simple question, the defining question in Boston's signing of Bogaerts. It spoke of the inquisitive mind and persistence of the person whom the Red Sox had entrusted to scout faraway destinations in search of hidden gems.
"So," the man asked, after hours of tryouts on a dusty field, "have I seen everybody on the island I need to see?"
* * *
To trace Boston's pursuit of Bogaerts, you'd have to go back almost forty years -- to another country, another continent and another boy who had been ignored by the baseball world.
On a nondescript day in the winter of 1978, an excited 15-year-old Australian boy named Craig Shipley prepared for a day at the ballpark. The boy was an anomaly. At that time, the major leagues had no presence in Australia: no scouts, no academies and hardly any programs to teach the sport. Shipley was undaunted. He'd grown to love the game. And on that particular day, two coaches from the famed Los Angeles Dodgers -- Monte Basgall and Red Adams -- were going to conduct a clinic.
Shipley would never forget that day, and how the blue from the Dodger uniform was the most beautiful blue he had ever seen.
"I can't even describe the tremendous impact that was made on me by seeing those two coaches," Shipley said.
Shipley would go on to be a star in Australia and play college baseball in the United States at the University of Alabama. He signed a contract with the Dodgers and ended up playing 11 years in the majors. After that, he became a scout and was eventually hired by the Red Sox to run their international scouting department.
Shipley vowed that if there were boys playing baseball anywhere in the world, even in the most unlikely places, he would find a way for the Red Sox to get there. If he'd managed to become a professional player, Shipley believed, then there were others all over the world who could too, even though nobody had heard of them. They were just waiting to be found.
"Nobody scouted Australia," Shipley said. "Guys from my generation, we had to create our own opportunities." He, in turn, wanted to create opportunities for all those others.
Shipley's idea was not new: Others before him had scouted in faraway places. The Dodgers and Toronto Blue Jays had done it in the Dominican Republic. The Houston Astros had done it in Venezuela. Although both the Dominican and Venezuela are now known as talent hotbeds, there was a time when scouting there was considered revolutionary.
But scouting, and international scouting in particular, has a tendency to stagnate. Trends become norms, and soon the creativity that empowered teams to head overseas in the first place is gone.
"There are very few mavericks," former Red Sox international scouting assistant Fernando Tamayo said. "Everybody follows the leader."
By 2007, the year that Shipley had a grand vision for a roaming scouting position, international scouting was mired in a rut of public workouts and showcases.
Independent trainers in countries like the Dominican and Venezuela spent years preparing prospects to excel at hitting batting practice, throwing bullpen sessions, and fielding grounders in order to impress scouts. Teams had to attend these workouts because the best players in Latin America were usually being shown publicly, and the more times a team had the opportunity to see a player, the better. But seasoned scouts, like Shipley, enjoyed trudging to unlikely destinations and spotting a player no one had seen. There was a sense of competition around finding these hidden prospects. Showcases made the marketplace too even: The only competition was how much a team was willing to bid for a bonus to purchase the player.
If Shipley could bring back the quest for the unknown, then perhaps the Red Sox would gain an edge on their competition. Even the slightest advantage was crucial in the search for amateur talent. So he decided to create a brand new position and fill it with someone from the outside, someone who had no experience scouting internationally. To fill this role, he would need to find the perfect personality -- someone who wasn't a conventional thinker, and perhaps someone who wasn't really a scout. Someone who was, well, a bit weird, a free spirit, a hippie.
Shipley would need his old friend from the Padres.
* * *
Mike Lord had almost run out of ideas by 2007. In his 30-year baseball career, Lord had pitched at UC Riverside, coached baseball in high school and college, and pitched batting practice for the Padres. Yet he was unsatisfied with where his career was headed. No matter what job he had, Lord seemingly was always on the lookout for a different challenge, a different adventure.
Lord had earned a reputation for being antsy. A native San Diegan, Lord fit every stereotype of the beach bum: laid-back, free-spirited, unkempt, always wearing shorts. He often let his hair grow out, and his skin was always tanned from spending so much time in the sun. Lord was the type of coach you'd hire when your team needed a quick boost, but his tenures were generally short-lived. He was a bit of a shooting star: he'd shine brightly for a moment, then eventually fade out.
"I know I got to the point where I was high risk, high reward," Lord said. "I'm always on the edge of awesome or a train wreck."
But Lord was almost never short of job offers. People wanted to work with him because he was a knowledgeable baseball man, and because he is incredibly personable. During his time with the Padres, he'd befriended Shipley; after Shipley took a job with the Red Sox, he was always trying to find some role for Lord in the organization.
The two had talked about having Lord throw batting practice for Boston, but that never materialized. But in the fall of 2007, Shipley finally found something that might work. He wanted Lord to be his adventurer scout.
Lord initially was hesitant. He knew he didn't want the arduous scouting life on the road. He told Shipley he was only good for about 50 days away from home. Also, if he worked too many consecutive days on the road, then he'd need a few days off. No other scout made those kind of demands.
Shipley agreed anyway, and to sweeten the offer, told Lord that he'd get to scout in places like Curacao, the Bahamas and Barbados -- destinations any beach lover would beg to visit.
The deal was struck. Boston announced Lord's hiring on Dec. 3, 2007.
Amongst the rest of the Ivy League-educated, prim-and-proper, preppily-dressed Boston front office, Lord was an anomaly.
Tamayo was often assigned to travel with Lord. The two took trips together to Buenos Aires, Sao Paolo and Panama City. Tamayo would often laugh to himself when he'd arrive at the airport and see the unshaven, long-haired Lord dressed in polo shirts and khaki shorts, like "a haggard Tom Petty." Often, Lord would get stopped by security at the airport and sent to secondary inspection.
Tamayo would joke with him: "How did we get you? How were you even hired?"
But everyone learned quickly why Lord was hired. He was a gifted baseball man and was able to get along with anybody. He quickly made friends with the data guys and the Ivy Leaguers, the scouts and the rest of the front office staff.
Lord started out scouting Europe, but soon he was looking at cricket players in Barbados and in the Bahamas. He was traveling to the British Virgin Islands. He was sent to Curacao, and after visiting one time he thought to himself, "Why don't we scout Aruba?"
He suggested the idea to Shipley, who quickly agreed. Most teams had ignored Aruba because all the talent was thought to be in neighboring Curacao.
"You're going to hit lightning in a bottle if you hang down there long enough," Shipley would tell Lord.
Lord's first visit was scheduled for May 2009. Shipley knew it was unlikely that he'd find anybody worth signing in time for the July 2 international signing date, and if there was such a player, he'd likely already be attached to a team. But he wanted Lord to establish contacts in the country and to start collecting a database of 12- to 13-year-old youth-league players.
So Lord headed to Aruba that May with modest expectations. There had been no buzz about any Aruban players that spring. Every team was focused on Curacao's Jurickson Profar.
Lord set up a tryout, and local coaches were asked to bring their players. A boy named Jair Bogaerts somewhat impressed Lord, but overall he wasn't overwhelmed by the talent.
To make sure his report to Shipley would be as complete as possible, though, Lord wanted to ensure he'd seen every possible prospect on the island. Although it was unlikely someone had been missed, you never knew unless you asked. So he asked.
* * *
While at work, Shipley received an email from Lord that simply said, "Ship, look at this." The email contained a short video of a tall lanky player Lord had just seen in Aruba. The video quality wasn't great, and the 16-year-old boy was only captured on film for a few moments, partly because he had been lured out of bed despite a 102-degree fever and chickenpox. The boy's name was Xander, a name that was as unique as his skills.
"What stood out about Xander in that video was his athleticism," Shipley said. "He was taking ground balls in a way that was freestyle. One of the balls hit to him knocked him down. He threw to home plate while on his back. His stance and his swing is what you see now."
After watching the video, Shipley scrambled for his phone and texted Lord: "Oh shit. Don't leave the island. I'm coming down."
Lord had seen Bogaerts on a Monday. He waited for Shipley to arrive on Thursday, when Bogaerts was scheduled to play in a game.
Upon arriving, Shipley devised a plan. While he scouted Bogaerts' game, Lord was to spend his time working the crowd to see who made the decisions in the Bogaerts household. This was Shipley's macro vision for Lord's job, adjusted to a smaller setting: a grassless field in Aruba where the only concession stand was stacked out of cinder blocks.
Predictably, Lord found Glenroy Brown, the boy's uncle, and quickly made friends. By the end of the game, Shipley and Lord were having beers with Brown and the rest of the observers.
Shipley and Lord had been astounded with Bogaerts' athleticism, but they were also taken aback by the boy's makeup. He was polite, friendly, educated and religious. It was easy to see that Bogaerts would fit in well wherever he played. He was confident, but not cocky -- an almost impossible trait to pull off.
Tamayo was back in Boston collecting all the scouting information that Shipley and Lord were accumulating. He received a message from Shipley that read: "He has superstar quality. He's a stud. Look how he moves around. He's an alpha dog."
The day after the game, Shipley and Lord were introduced to Bogaerts' mother, Sandra Brown. The group scheduled a dinner to discuss the Bogaerts boys' futures. It was obvious that Boston would have to sign both twins. By end of the week, the family had verbally agreed to a combo deal with the Red Sox: both Jair and Xander would sign with Boston for a total of $590,000. Xander would get $480,000.
There was just one hitch: Xander wanted to play in the Senior League World Series in Bangor, Maine in August. Aruba had won the Latin American regional and was a finalist. Shipley had no choice but to agree and hope the family kept their word on the deal. To ensure the relationship wouldn't waver, he assigned Lord to essentially shadow them. He would be a constant presence in the Brown/Bogaerts household. And that proved to be the difference.
"They loved Mike Lord," Tamayo said. "He was the key to that signing because he's a nice, goofy dude. He went into the house and made friends almost immediately."
While Bogaerts had been lauded by local scouts, no other team had sent a top official to watch him work out. And Lord had Shipley's ear. International area scouts typically have to go through several layers of front-office people before they reach anyone with decision-making power; Lord simply had to send a four-word email.
News of Shipley's visit had reached other front offices, who began to send higher level scouts to Aruba. The family was constantly approached with offers.
But the response from Sandra Brown was always the same: "Where were you four months ago? We're happy with the Red Sox."
Lord was in a constant state of panic. He worried the family might wilt and accept another offer. But he had no reason to be scared. Sandra Brown was a loyal woman. While the tournament in Maine could have been problematic for Boston -- other teams now only had to travel to New England to meet with the family -- the trip instead turned into a celebration of Xander and Jair's imminent signing with the Red Sox.
On the first day of the tournament, several international scouting directors were in the crowd waiting to speak with Xander. Lord approached them and asked them to respect Boston's deal with the two boys -- and they agreed, in part because many admired the way the Red Sox had outworked everyone to get to Xander.
"We missed and did a bad job," Pittsburgh Pirates international scouting director Rene Gayo said. "Not good. He is from Aruba, a very small island. Though Curacao is covered well, Aruba is not. We now have our supervisor in Colombia covering Aruba and are working on getting a competent local scout…I am real proud of the Red Sox. That is what scouting is all about. I love to compete, and admire talent in my competitors. Why would you want to play against guys that are no good? If you want to be the best, you've got to beat the best. They out-scouted everyone on the player -- print it, because it's the truth."
At the end of the tournament, Lord drove the family to Fenway Park where Jair and Xander signed their contracts. They were officially Red Sox.
The Bogaerts signing was the type of adventure Shipley and Lord had craved. This was old-school scouting, where hard work and unconventional thinking had made the difference.
* * *
Once Bogaerts signed, Lord and Shipley knew they no longer had any control over the process. Scouts sign players. Farm directors are in charge of a player's development.
Yet from the moment he signed, Bogaerts was an immediate success. He was assigned to Boston's Dominican academy outside of Santo Domingo. In an environment that would have overwhelmed many -- he arrived without speaking Spanish, he had never played baseball at such a high level, he was adjusting to a new culture -- Bogaerts thrived.
"In Aruba, no guys threw 90 mph," Bogaerts said. "And when I went to the Dominican, my first year, everyone was throwing 90 mph, so you had to adjust quick or else or you won't do so well. It's a different culture, especially the language -- that was the first one. You have to know how to speak Spanish. If you don't know, you better learn. It's their country. Just like when you come to the US, you better learn English. It was tough, but you adjust."
Bogaerts had taken a little bit of Spanish in middle school, but ended up dropping the class because he never thought he would need it. But it didn't take long for him to become fluent. In just a few months, he was conversing with his Dominican teammates in their native language, and without the benefit of a language class -- teams don't offer Spanish classes because there is rarely a need. It helped that Bogaerts had already shown a mastery of languages; in addition to his native Papimiento, Bogaerts also spoke English and Dutch.
All of Bogaerts' on-the-field instruction was given in Spanish. Bogaerts worked closely with coach Nelson Paulino, who did not speak English. The two found a way to communicate until eventually Bogaerts was able to understand.
"Now that you mention it, it's weird how I learned Spanish so quickly," Bogaerts says now.
Dominican academies work on a six-day schedule. Players train and play all week, then have a day off on Sunday. On Saturdays at noon, the academies empty out as Dominican players head back home to spend time with their families. For foreign players like Bogaerts, that 24-hour period can be the time they get most lonely and homesick. But Bogaerts was never deterred. In a short time, he'd lead other foreign players on excursions into Santo Domingo to go to the movies.
"He's just got such a vibrant personality that he embraced the whole experience," said Red Sox assistant director of personnel Duncan Webb, who frequently visited the Dominican.
The transition didn't affect Bogaerts' performance. Although he had no prior exposure to such talented pitchers, Bogaerts battered Dominican Summer League pitching. That summer, in his first season of professional baseball, Bogaerts hit .314 with a .396 on-base percentage and a .423 slugging percentage, astounding numbers for someone with so little experience.
"People look at that first summer in the DSL as vital to his development," said Webb. "If he came to the States, he might have struggled, and you don't know how he would have dealt with that."
In the Dominican, Bogaerts became beloved by coaches, teammates, and everyone in the front office -- a field version of Mike Lord.
While Bogaerts' batting instincts were immediately successful, his fielding needed some work. Although he was gifted athletically, his actions at shortstop were often slow and calculated. But with the help of Paulino and his teammates, Bogaerts gradually became more and more adept.
"It doesn't hurt when everyone loves you," Webb said. "Coaches wanted to work with him. People wanted to help him. It really was a genuine thing with Xander."
By the end of 2010, Bogaerts was named Boston's Latin American player of the year. An impressive showing in the instructional league that offseason catapulted him into Class A Greenville, where he had similar results. That season, Bogaerts had an .834 OPS. Off the field, he endeared himself to his Latin American teammates by often acting as their translator on social outings.
During the season, Greenville manager Billy McMillon often remarked to Bogaerts: "You know you're that good, huh?"
Bogaerts was puzzled.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Bogaerts told him. "I don't know how good I am. I don't know."
Bogaerts had never been around enough superstars to realize he was talented enough to be one.
"I have no idea how good I was, how good I am," Bogaerts said. "I think that's what helped me along the way. I really don't know how good I am until I prove it in the majors and my numbers show it. I really can't imagine how good I can become. Coaches see stuff because they've been around players. They know what talent is. Scouts can predict. But I don't know how to do that."
Not all the scouts were able to predict Bogaerts' abilities. In fact, it was just two: Lord and Shipley.
But as Bogaerts ascended quickly from the minors to the majors to starting in the World Series, the two men most responsible for his signing were no longer in the organization.
Shipley left the Red Sox in 2012 to take a job with the Arizona Diamondbacks as an assistant to general manager Kevin Towers. The job was a promotion for Shipley, who no longer deals with international amateurs. With information becoming so easily available on the internet, the chances of finding those hidden gems becomes less likely. The job had become less of an adventure.
"It's a place where it's tough to operate," Shipley said. "Competition is so great. So many people are scouting Latin America."
Lord left the Red Sox in 2011 to take the head coaching job at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tenn. The grind of being on the road had finally gotten to him. While Shipley had assured Lord that he would only be on the road 50 nights a year, Lord was spending more than 100 nights away from home. Some of those trips led him to treacherous places, like back roads in Mexico where he'd often get stopped by police officers who were puzzled by the presence of this shaggy-haired blond man.
Lord left scouting altogether, although his tenure at Trevecca didn't last too long either. The ultimate wanderer, he spent only one season in Nashville. He and his wife, both native San Diegans, simply couldn't live so far from the coast.
"I think my wife was going to shoot me in the middle of the night," he joked about the possibility of spending one more year in Nashville.
After a pit stop back in California, Lord is now in Florida, north of West Palm, working as a private instructor for kids of all ages.
He hopes to find a more stable job in baseball. Lord is waiting for a phone call, another opportunity, another chance at an adventure like the one that sent him to Aruba, where he found the next great shortstop.