How Richard Fitts adjusted to the opposite side of baseball's legendary rivalry

Red Sox

Richard Fitts' career-changing evening in December didn't start with a warning. It didn't start with a dramatic, movie-like reveal for him, nor did it start with a sense or suggestion that his life was about to vary.

It began with a sudden phone call.

And yet that decision was enough for Fitts to know something was flawed. The pitching prospect within the New York Yankees organization wasn't much of a conversationalist, so it was rare for him to feel his phone buzzing in his pocket. But the phone just kept buzzing. And it hums. To the purpose where he distracted himself from the dinner he was eating at a Christmas party with among the pitchers he had trained with within the offseason.

Fitts pulled out his phone and skim who was calling him. He knew immediately that this wasn't a typical phone call. His dinner would should wait just a few minutes.

He left the party to reply the decision. The other players on the party noticed Fitts' sudden departure and wondered what he was being told, otherwise his face wouldn't light up.

With wide eyes and an open smile, Fitts pointed directly at Boston Red Sox pitcher Garrett Whitlock, who was perhaps probably the most confused person within the room. Whitlock asked his friend what he desired to say, but Fitts just kept pointing. No one had any idea what was occurring until he hung up.

When Fitts returned to the clubhouse, not a single eye looked away from him. He took a moment to gather his thoughts and blurted out the words that had turned his baseball life the wrong way up.

“I’m a Red Sox!”

The news spread shortly afterwards. The Red Sox had acquired Fitts and two other players in a trade that sent outfielder Alex Verdugo to the Yankees. In this manner, Fitts was now a member of the Yankees' arch-nemesis.

It wasn't long before Fitts' phone began buzzing even louder.

“I was really excited,” Fitts told “The Red Sox wanted me here and that made me feel really good.”

That one call gave Fitts, who currently plays at Triple-A Worcester, a chance that the majority baseball players never get. There is a brief list of players who played for considered one of the Red Sox or the Yankees and experienced the bitter, century-long rivalry between them.

Whether it's the motivation to perform well in front of 1000’s of spectators or the will to see probably the most hated team lose, the players on these two teams take the games between one another very seriously.

“Both teams think that way,” said WooSox reliever Lucas Luetge, who had two saves against the Red Sox during his time with the Yankees. “It's a historic rivalry of the game that is usually shown on prime television… I know from that perspective, we're looking forward to it.”

There is a fair shorter list of baseball players who’ve played for each organizations. Fitts joined this list when he placed on a Worcester Red Sox jersey for the primary time. Despite never having played under the brilliant lights of the Bronx, he was drafted to the Yankees and shortly worked his way as much as grow to be considered one of the team's top 20 prospects in the complete organization. Now he's in the highest 20 of the Red Sox, where his latest team's biggest fans resent the organization that welcomed him to the game.

“You look at ESPN, you look at everything, and it's all 'Yankees-Red Sox: the huge rivalry!'” Fitts said. “It’s really cool to kind of have both perspectives.”

Although he's had a number of time playing baseball from the Yankees' perspective, Fitts admits it took a mental adjustment to see himself in a Red Sox jersey. However, that doesn't matter because he embraces the change.

“I sometimes look in the mirror when I'm wearing red and think, 'That's a little weird!'” Fitts said. “But I enjoy it. I like that. I try to incorporate a little bit of red into my shoe game and all that kind of stuff.”

Although it is going to take a while to get used to, taking up a historic rivalry is nothing latest for Fitts. He grew up an avid fan of the University of Alabama – his mother's alma mater – as did many individuals from his hometown of Helena, Alabama. Where he comes from, college sports reign supreme, and few other teams can match the Crimson Tide's stranglehold on the state. Fitts spent much of his childhood under the spell of the flood.

Until his older brother Trevor began playing college baseball at Mississippi State University and have become a campus hero. Trevor Fitts' Bulldogs made it to the College World Series when he was a sophomore in 2013, and he began two games on the mound at prestigious Charles Schwab Field (then generally known as TD Ameritrade Park).

Fitts, 9, was allowed to travel to Omaha with the remaining of his family and witness Trevor's starts in person, and as he cheered on the Bulldogs in the course of the tournament, he moved from one team wearing crimson to a different. There was something concerning the lights and atmosphere of this field that completely fascinated him.

“I was like, '” Fitts said. “How can it get any better?”

This field would proceed to fascinate him as he began to dream of becoming a university baseball star and playing within the College World Series like his brother. This dream haunted him the complete time until he was sufficiently old to comprehend it. Now all that was left to determine was where to play.

He selected the University of Auburn.

Fitts and anyone who cares about college sports knows how much Alabama and Auburn hate one another. The two schools' athletic programs have battled for dominance over the state of Alabama since 1893, and that zeal has not waned with time. A fan of 1 team would almost never wear the opposite team's colours for some reason.

But Fitts was willing to make the move if it meant it will profit his baseball profession. And it did. Fitts began his college profession with a College World Series appearance as a freshman — he even pitched on the identical mound as his brother before him — and finished it as considered one of the Tigers' best and best arms as a junior.

Fitts thrived after moving from one competitive team to a different. He's able to do it again.

“[When] You hear 'the greatest rivalry in sports' … Yankees and Red Sox are at the top and then Auburn and Alabama are pretty close there too,” Fitts said. “It's funny to go from these two different things, but I think it kind of helped me a little bit.”

Fitts' experience moving to those two contrasting teams reflects a reality most players fear: Everything can change right away. There is nearly no way for a player to understand how long his locker might be his, or when he might be asked to wear a brand new, possibly competing uniform shortly after his current one starts to look right.

Lütge, who has played for 3 major league teams and plenty of more within the minor leagues, knows this fear all too well and has developed a mindset that makes it a bit of less scary.

“I tell the boys never to fall in love with a team, otherwise you could be gone the next day,” Luetge said. “For me, whatever uniform you wear, you wear it with pride no matter where you are.”

So that's what Fitts does. He embraces his latest team and wholeheartedly takes on every hitter, whether it's a team he's played for before or a team he knows little about. Fitts shows them just as much mercy: none in any respect.

“First class boy. Incredible competitor,” WooSox manager Chad Tracy said. “We have people [from] The Yankees here who knew him before said he was a guy [that] You want to have the ball in your hands and have him out there because he loves to compete and those are all things that I noticed here.”

That competitiveness, combined along with his and Luetge's attitude of treating all teams equally, made Fitts wish to “win us some games for the Boston Red Sox.” He could have began his profession with the Yankees, but he has since switched sides in baseball's best rivalry, and he has done so with glee.

Fitts has big dreams for his baseball profession, similar to becoming an ideal pitcher, winner and role model for kids. He had those dreams when New York drafted him, and he's able to make them come true, not as a Yankee but as a member of the Red Sox.

“Ultimately I feel like I adjusted pretty well and I feel like a Red Sox at heart,” Fitts said.

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