MLB.com Columnist

Anthony Castrovince

Mookie the embodiment of a perfectionist

Mookie the embodiment of a perfectionist

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- We saw him in his other natural environment over the weekend, the six-strike string he put together in Chris Paul's Celebrity Invitational Charity Bowling Tournament that finished with a Larry Bird-like lookaway on the last roll. Mookie Betts in a bowling alley is arguably as enthralling as Mookie Betts on a baseball field.

"I've done it for a long time," Betts said, "so I just try to have fun with it."

But at the risk of blowing your mind, let it be known that bowling and baseball are different sports. To roll a 300 is perfect, and Mookie has done it a time or two. To bat .300 is, well, close enough in a game that will confound even those who excel at it.

So that's where we find young Mookie, on the heels of that second-place showing in the American League MVP Award voting, trying to be as close to perfect as the more lucrative of his two sports will allow.

Even right there, in the words "second place," there is evidence of imperfection, though Betts offers no ill will toward those voters who broke from tradition and didn't let the Angels' 74-88 record get in the way of Mike Trout's just reward.

Betts' walk-off strike

"He's a great player, he deserves it," Betts said of Trout. "He's first or second in the voting every year. So I'm not mad, by any means. That's not the reason why we play. We play to win the World Series, and that's our goal."

Sounds perfect. And that's why Betts is here at Fenway South, doing the little things ballplayers do to elevate or, in Mookie's case, preserve their stature.

In batting practice, Betts will let the ball travel in, deeper and deeper still, and then hone those incredibly quick hands to get barrel to ball and send it shooting the other way. To be less pull-centric and to continue to improve his ability to catch up to pitches on both halves of the plate is how he shapes his particularly disciplined batting-practice sessions, especially in these early days before the actual Grapefruit League games. Betts says you could sign him up for last year's numbers -- a .318/.363/.534 slash line with 31 homers, 42 doubles and a Major League-high 359 total bases -- and he'd come away happy. But those who work with him know better.

"He just strives for perfection," hitting coach Chili Davis said. "I feel bad for him, because it's an imperfect game. But perfection, I think he's going to find it at the end of his career when he's 20 years into the game."

For now, the 24-year-old Betts takes a purposeful approach to his preparation. It's not about time spent doing this or that but the focus exerted within that time frame. Red Sox people are enamored not just with Betts' obvious talent or his work ethic, but the mental side of the equation. How mindful he is of his few limitations and how he addresses them tactically.

"As a hitter or as an athlete, period, what makes you better than the other guy is how you test yourself," Davis said. "You're working on an inside pitch? Test yourself. See how far you can go and still get to that pitch. And that builds trust. If you're an outfielder working on going back on the ball, you come in more shallow in BP, and then when a ball is hit over your head, you bust your butt to get back on it. Test yourself. Because once you establish that you can get to that pitch in the shortest way and get your barrel on it, then you can trust that inner part of the plate more and start looking out over a little more."

That's what it's all going to boil down to for Betts as his career continues to evolve off of that MVP Award-worthy effort. This is a game of maximizing your opponents' mistakes, and Betts' quick hands are the assets that allow him to capitalize on more than most.

"You cannot throw him two pitches in the same location," a rival catcher said. "You have to continually mix it up, and you have to keep him off his front foot, because he's such a good bad-ball hitter."

There might be a higher percentage of "bad balls" in Betts' future, with David Ortiz out of the equation, but there will also be more RBI opportunities that accompany a full season in the middle of the order.

All that said, the only "more" Red Sox officials harped on in their early spring check-in with Betts on Monday morning was the extracurricular element.

"He's put himself in a class of player that there's going to be a lot of demands on his time," manager John Farrell said. "We want to be sure he maintains the priority, as he's done, and not allow some of the other things that are going to be attracting to him take away from his work and his preparation."

Betts is a safe bet to adhere to that piece of advice.

"He doesn't look at himself like a superstar," outfield mate Chris Young said. "He has tenacity, as far as getting after it every day, making adjustments every day. He can get three hits in a game, know he didn't feel quite right and then go in the cage to work on it. You do that over the course of the season and have his natural ability, and you have the makings of a great player."

Betts is a great player and, yes, a great bowler. You can't be perfect in both sports. But Mookie, already on a roll, is going to try.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.