Attention to detail is Butterfield's calling card
Red Sox's third-base coach might be the best instructor in baseball today
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Technically, Red Sox third-base coach Brian Butterfield sleeps until roughly 2:30 a.m. ET on most days of Spring Training.
In truth, the man sleeps in the offseason.
His title doesn't do him justice. In the minds of nearly everybody who works with him, Butterfield is the best at what he does.
Yes, the best.
In other words, there might not be another coach in the Major Leagues who handles the volume of responsibilities Butterfield does with such execution and such attention from his players and fellow coaches.
Butterfield runs the Red Sox's infield, both individually and collectively. He spends an exhaustive amount of time designing shifts. During the season, Butterfield spends hours studying the opposing team's films and spray charts so he can properly align his defense for each game. He works with every position player on baserunning. And, oh yeah, he coaches third base.
"They say he's the best in the game for a reason," said third baseman Will Middlebrooks. "When you have [Dustin Pedroia] come in and say, 'Man, this guy is awesome. He taught me this, he taught me that,' you're like, 'He taught you? I thought you knew everything.'"
Pedroia won a pair of American League Gold Glove Awards -- 2008 and '11 -- before Butterfield started coaching him. But when Pedroia won his third last year, a lot of observers thought it was his finest season on defense.
What did Butterfield do to help Pedroia raise his game?
"Oh, he's done a ton," Pedroia said. "Just preparation, positioning and understanding a lot of different things about the game. The mindset on how to play team defense. He's pretty darn good at what he does. He's the best."
What sets Butterfield apart from his peers?
"The hours he puts in," Pedroia said. "He tells you where to play. There's not even a second thought or anything. He's watched more film than anyone on the planet. That's a fact. I think everybody in the organization appreciates what he does for us."
Butterfield's intensity is so ratcheted up that it brings smiles to all those around the Red Sox. But there is definitely an understanding that the man has a method to his madness.
"It's pretty cool. That guy works harder than anyone I've been around," said Middlebrooks. "He's here at 3:30 every morning watching video. Is he nuts? Maybe a little. But he's great for us, he's great for this team, he's great for this organization. We're lucky to have him."
All you need to know about Butterfield's dedication/obsession to his craft is that he frequently awakens in the middle of the night to take notes about what he wants to bring to the office the next day.
"I put a notepad on my bedside stand and I'm always clicking the light on," Butterfield said. "That's probably why I don't sleep. I think about something in the middle of the night, and I write it down and I've got to go do that tomorrow. That's the life I live."
Butterfield's co-workers have come to appreciate it.
"It borders on the line of craziness, but I know that he has a reason to get here," said bench coach Torey Lovullo. "He has a little time to himself where he coordinates his own day and what he needs to accomplish that day. By the time we all get here, at 5:30, 5:45, as a group, he's in a full lather. He's spitting, ready to go and make things happen. That's who he is. That's exactly who he is. I know this team wouldn't be where it's at without him."
Don't make the mistake of asking Butterfield's longtime wife, Jan, what it is like to go to Spring Training.
Butterfield adores his wife, and that's why he doesn't let her be disappointed by seeing what it would be like to send a spring with him.
"I love what I'm doing," said Butterfield. "I've made some sacrifices. I love my wife. She's my best friend in the entire world, but I can't remember the last time she was in Spring Training, because she knows that my hours are going to be to leave the house at 3 o'clock, before 3 o'clock, and I won't get home until it's dark and then I'll go right to bed. She's back in Maine taking care of the grandkids.
"I can't remember the last time I've ever had breakfast with her during the season. There are some sacrifices. I love being around her, but I also love being here and preparing."
When the Red Sox had a night game against the Phillies on a recent Saturday, it was a rare opportunity for Butterfield to try to sleep like a normal human being. Maybe he could have a leisurely breakfast, read the morning paper and get to the park at say, 9 a.m. for a 7 p.m. game?
"I wanted to sleep in, but I found myself waking up at about 4 o'clock. I went and got a coffee and got in here because I've got to get on Baltimore and Milwaukee [preparation], because that's going to be right around the corner," Butterfield said about the Red Sox's first two series of the regular season. "And when we get to Baltimore, we have an off-day, but we're going to the White House. Then we have a night getaway game and a day home opener against Milwaukee. I'm trying to get on top of that right now, because before you know it, it's going to be here."
Forgive Butterfield if he's even distracted on April 4 when he runs out during pregame introductions to receive the first World Series ring of his career in professional baseball, which started in 1979.
"That is a reflection period we've done in the past. When things slow down at the end of this year, I think that's when we might be able to reflect on that ring a little bit more," Butterfield said. "But that day we're getting the ring, we have to compete against the Milwaukee Brewers, and that's where our minds have to be. It surely is going to be an honor, but it's going to be a short-lived honor, because we're playing a good club."
In many ways, Spring Training is Butterfield's time of year. Look out on to the field at any point during the Red Sox's morning workout and Butterfield is taking the lead on a defensive drill. Often he stands at home plate, mimicking the batter and hollering out instructions.
"It's my favorite time of year, because it's preparation," Butterfield said. "I think it's real important. I think it's 45-50 days of guys trying to hone their skills and us trying to identify the kind of team that we're going to be. I think it's real important that as a coach, you're ready to come in and strap it on and be physical and prepare the best you can. ... I think everything that precedes the regular season is so important to what we do."
Last spring, Red Sox clubhouse attendant Tommy McLaughlin had heard all about Butterfield's work habits from manager John Farrell, so he knew he better give him a swipe card to get into the Spring Training complex.
The first thing Butterfield does when he gets to the otherwise empty JetBlue Park is get in a workout.
"I need to stay in shape," said the 57-year-old Butterfield. "I'm not getting any younger, so I want to get in here and get on the bike and do some weights and do some stretching. That makes me feel better during the day. The better shape you're in, the more you're able to go. The more you're able to do extra work, the sharper you stay with your mind. It's a young man's game, so I better take care of myself, especially during Spring Training.
"I like getting in there, and I check out Torey's worksheet of the schedule of the day and I try to get my mind right. I try to think about some of the guys that I'll be working with during the day, because you have a game plan with certain defenders and you want to get everything in your mind right. I look at the team defenses that we're going to do and try to gather my thoughts. It's a great time of the day."
Inevitably, Minor League infielder instructor Andy Fox will be the second through the door every day, at roughly 4 a.m.
"Some of my best baseball conversations have been at four to five o'clock in the morning," Butterfield said. "That stems back to my days as a Minor League coach in the Yankees organization, and out in Arizona with a bunch of good coaches out there. The players aren't there yet, so you can have some great chalk talks early in the morning.
"I can remember with Rob Thompson of the Yankees and Gary Dembo and Buck Showalter and Trey Hillman and so many good baseball people, also Don Wakamatsu. And I'm having them now. Andy Fox is the second one through the door every morning. We have great discussions. He's helped me so much with Xander Bogaerts, understanding Bogey and helping him the best I can. Foxy knows him better than anybody. Early morning baseball conversations are fantastic."
Last spring, when Mike Napoli traded in his catcher's equipment to become a full-time first baseman, he had the perfect teacher in Butterfield.
"I remember one of the first conversations I had with him," said Napoli. "I told him, 'I want you to teach me the position. I know I'm a big leaguer, but I'll want to go from square one.' That's basically what we did."
And Napoli took to the instruction immediately.
"Everything he says, I'm always in tune and I'm always listening. He also teaches the practice quick and fast, always," Napoli said. "It's not just going out and taking ground balls. It's being able to practice hard and doing things at game speed. You should be tired when you take ground balls.
"He just has something about him. You want to listen to him, and he makes you feel good. He always sees every little thing. He's a good communicator. For me, I can't wait to work with him. I always want him hitting me ground balls. It's not anything against anybody else, it's just I know he's watching and he's watching every little thing.
"We have a relationship to where I want him to tell me any little thing, even be picky or nitpick me. It's just a confidence thing, too. He makes you feel confident. You put the work in, you should get better."
Butterfield clearly has a gift when veteran players who have played in All-Star Games and been stars in the World Series look forward to the fundamentals of the day.
"It's a lot of fun," Napoli said. "I want to come to the field to see what's going to happen that day and see what I'm going to learn and get better at."
Somehow, this life-long New Englander didn't land with the Red Sox until 2013.
Butterfield's late father, Jack, coached at the University of Maine and then went on to the role as vice president of player development and scouting for the Yankees.
Brian Butterfield played in 397 Minor League games with the Yankees and Padres (1979-83) before starting his career in coaching, which included time with the Yankees, D-backs and Blue Jays.
Now manager of the Red Sox, John Farrell was the pitching coach for the Red Sox when he first took note of Butterfield's coaching mastery.
"When I was here in Boston as the pitching coach, I would watch his early work and watch how he coached third base," Farrell said. "To me, he was one of the top third-base coaches as to how he went about dealing with the infield to the decisions he made at third base."
Once Farrell became the manager in Toronto, he was all too happy to retain Butterfield on his staff.
"Then I got to see him every day, and the passion and the energy he brings," Farrell said. "The technical expertise that he has with infielders is by far the best I've ever seen. We're fortunate that he decided to come here to Boston. You can't say enough about his insights, his experiences, his knowledge of the game. He takes no short cuts. His work ethic and time devoted to his preparation is unmatched. I have no qualms in saying that. He's the hardest working coach I've ever been around."
Lovullo also worked with Farrell and Butterfield on Toronto's staff from 2011-12.
"His passion for his position and passion for teaching is as great as any coach I've ever played for or coached with," said Lovullo. "It's real and relentless. It's infectious. He sets a great tone for what his players need to go through each and every day. He's the elder statesman. ... Probably one of the highest tenured coaches in the Major Leagues right now. When he speaks, you listen. When he has something to say, you interpret it and understand that he's trying to say something that's really, really important. There's nobody better as far as I'm concerned."
And there's probably nobody who wears a Red Sox uniform that would disagree with that assertion.