As a former independent league player, did you ever imagine you'd play in the majors this long?
I never knew how long I was going to play. I never had a number. But I knew in my heart that I was going to come to the big leagues just to prove the doubters wrong. I always live off that. It's easy to say no one's going to make it, because 99.9 percent of the time you're going to be right. I was probably the only one who believed I was going to do it, because I didn't have a tool box, or the five tools. It's been an unbelievable run.
How close did you come to playing in Japan before joining the Red Sox?
It was about as close as it could come. We agreed in principle. It was a done deal. And the Red Sox claimed me on waivers - the first time it's ever happened to any player going overseas. When that happened, obviously I wanted to stay and play [with] the Red Sox. There was a war in Iraq that started, so it was a little bit hairy. And it was a six-week battle trying to get out of that situation.
How did you get out of it?
It was an amazing thing. Numerous day-in and day-out calls from my agent at 3, 4 in the morning, because their time change was different than ours. They wouldn't let me out of the contract. [Commissioner] Bud Selig got involved, Major League Baseball got involved. ... The funny thing is, I'm not that good of a player. If it was [Barry] Bonds or [Sammy] Sosa, I could see it. I just got out of it over time.
Did the 2004 Red Sox really do shots of Jack Daniel's during the American League Championship Series?
We basically did symbolic toasts. Did we drink complete Jack Daniel's before a baseball game? No. That would be wrong, being a role model. Basically, it was a cold day in New York. We didn't take batting practice outside. It was a misty rain. I put Jack Daniel's in a cup and offered a toast. It's hard enough to hit baseballs sober. No one hits baseballs drunk. So that kind of takes on its own little story.
What's more difficult, raising three kids or facing Johan Santana?
Way harder being a father of three kids. It doesn't stop. It's like spring training. You get up every morning, they've got to eat, they take naps, the poopy diapers. Johan is a challenge to try to figure out when he's going to throw a 25 mph, Bugs Bunny changeup, but being a daddy, it doesn't end. It's one of the greatest things I've been a part of, but it's still draining.
How different are Manny Ramirez and Miguel Tejada?
Very similar hitters, very talented players. A lot of their power is to right and right-center. As far as their personalities, Manny is very unique, period. Manny is as unique as you're going to find in a human being. Tejada is hilarious, more vocal, more of a version of me as far as his mouth. He's a lot of fun to be around.
How's your quest going to get the club to relax its facial hair policy?
It's been absolutely a negative. But like I've said, the more we win, the blinder that [manager] Sam Perlozzo becomes. You've just got to take that for what it is.
If you had to give up the Harley or the Porsche, which would it be?
That's going to be the toughest question of them all. Right now, I'd give up the Harley because of the kids. But if you asked me that before the kids, I probably would have said, "Take the Porsche." I enjoy riding the motorcycle. The Porsche has been a fun thing, but it's still been a little odd getting in and out of that car, because I never thought I'd be that guy. I'm more of a Harley guy. I enjoy getting on the bike and just cruising a little bit. But the Porsche has been fun, especially going across Alligator Alley. I think we made it to Fort Myers in about 40 minutes.
Do you regret saying last year that some teammates were more concerned with the jewelry they wore and the cars they drove than winning?
No, because I feel I was speaking for myself, also. It almost looked like I was on a pedestal talking down, and that wasn't the case. I was talking about how we were a team and we needed to start worrying about baseball games, and that included myself. It just came out strange, like I was talking about 24 guys. There's nothing I regret because at that time, I believed that was a true statement.
Can a day go by without you hearing the phrase "Cowboy Up"?
No, not on the baseball field. That's been said every day since '03. It's taken on a life of its own. It's hard to explain until you've played in a market like Boston. Those people, that's what they know me as, the "Cowboy Up" guy. They just don't realize I'm from Los Angeles and I used to go boogie boarding every day.
Did you really take batting practice once in your underwear?
In St. Louis. That's true. We had seven or eight guys hitting early, getting to the field around 2 o'clock. I just got in my tennis shoes and underwear and that was it, and I walked out there with this body. [Terry] Francona and everybody were just dying laughing, so I took batting practice. But the ironic part of the story was, by the time I was hitting, there was a 50-person tour of Busch Stadium and they were all women. I look behind me when I was hitting and there were women laughing. They had their cameras out and were taking pictures. Me with my shirt off is not pretty, anyway, and I was a laughingstock out there.
You don't consider yourself to have an athletic body?
No, I'm a baseball player. And that's the only thing that's different with our sport. If you open our locker rooms, you look at some bad bodies. But this is the one team I've seen that has, generally, good bodies. Look at Aubrey Huff, though. That's a bad body. That's a baseball player's body. Am I right or wrong?
Have you thought at all about retirement?
I don't think about it. I enjoy this game too much. I'm going to enjoy every day I get a chance to be up here, whether that's two years or four years. I live for the moment.
Will you stay in baseball once you're done playing?
Yeah, I'll stay in the game. I'm a baseball junkie. I love this game. It's all I know. Whether it's coaching, a manager, the front office ... people ask, "Will you manage in the big leagues one day?" Yeah, maybe. Depends what happens the next few years. If Gabe Kapler becomes manager of the Boston Red Sox in five years and he asks me to be his hitting coach, maybe I'm his hitting coach. I want to stay in the game.
What are some of your favorite places to hang out in Baltimore?
We used to live right across the street from Fleming's and there was an Irish pub next door. We'd go there a lot. Granite was a place to go and have a drink. As far as food-wise, Fleming's is my restaurant.
Is this a tighter-knit group than in 2006?
One hundred percent. It's not getting overblown. You've got baseball players here, whatever that means. I don't know what it means, but you have baseball players. You don't have a whole bunch of superstars. You've got a bunch of good guys in this clubhouse and guys who care about each other. They laugh, share, rag on each other. When you have a team that can laugh at each other, it becomes close, and we have that here.
What's been the worst part of spring training besides this interview?
The long bus rides. That's the one thing with Florida that people don't realize. Who accepts the fact that you've got to drive three hours to play a game and drive three hours back and it's OK? You never miss the long bus rides.