CHICAGO -- As the Red Sox took batting practice before Friday's series opener against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, a familiar figure stood on the visitors' side of the grass beyond home plate.
Theo Epstein exchanged pleasantries with David Ortiz, Adrian Gonzalez, Jon Lester and several others with whom he formed relationships during his 10 years with the Red Sox.
For the first time since taking over as president of baseball operations for the Cubs, Epstein saw his new team face his old one.
"Obviously, being there for 10 years, there's a connection and it will never go away," said Epstein, who grew up two miles from Fenway Park. "I don't feel like it's my team, so to speak, but I do root for a lot of people there."
While Epstein's tenure in Boston was largely successful -- highlighted by the club's first two World Series titles since 1918 during his tenure as general manager -- it ended with infamy. The 2011 Red Sox became the first team in Major League history to own a nine-game lead in September and miss the postseason.
"I think everyone moves on," Epstein said. "I remember stuff from 2003. I'll sit there and see Aaron Boone coming to the plate sometimes. Every time you have the opportunity to advance and do some damage in the postseason and get to the postseason, and you don't, that always stays with you -- last September in particular, because we not only failed to perform in the standings, but we lost our identity as a team.
"That was a tough pill to swallow. I think for everyone involved, it stayed with them. But at the same time, you move on and learn from it, and try to get better. I take responsibility for the team not getting to where we were supposed to go. But I think a lot of the people involved took responsibility and have moved on."
The fundamental things Epstein is trying to change with the Cubs are very similar to when he took over as GM of the Red Sox before the 2003 season.
The difference, however, is that the Red Sox were built to win when he started, led by established stars like Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra.
At 21-42, the Cubs entered Friday's game with the worst record in the Major Leagues.
"We made moves at the big league level and had some success right off the bat, and that bought us time to commit to the Red Sox way of doing things, which we established there in scouting and player development," Epstein said. "The work is similar here, but there was clearly a mandate for change."
Valentine knows lineup is 'a moving target'
CHICAGO -- On Friday afternoon, outfielder Daniel Nava was out of Boston's starting lineup for a fifth straight game as he recovers from soreness in his left hand. However, the good news is that Kevin Youkilis was back in action after being plunked under the left ribs by a pitch on Tuesday night against the Marlins.
"Yeah, I saw him in the lobby yesterday and he was feeling good," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said of Youkilis.
Nava did pinch-hit in the ninth inning of Boston's 3-0 loss to the Cubs on Friday, striking out against Carlos Marmol. Valentine hopes Nava might return to the starting lineup by Saturday.
Youkilis started at third base, while David Ortiz played first and Adrian Gonzalez started in right field for the 16th time. Will Middlebrooks was the odd man out.
With so many players in and out of the lineup, Valentine appreciates the willingness of veterans to move around and even play out of position.
"It's not very versatile, but the guys have made it more versatile," Valentine said. "I wouldn't say that it's necessarily roster versatility -- it's a couple of individuals who are going a little beyond the call of duty to give us the best chance of winning. I think it's real important to have individuals who are willing to do the right thing and help the team win."
Valentine admits that it's been hard for the Red Sox -- who entered Friday with a 31-32 record -- to have a clear identity, given all of the lineup and roster flux.
"I don't know that a team necessarily has a personality, but I don't think this team has totally figured out what they are because there have been so many changing parts," Valentine said. "I don't know how they're looking at themselves. It must be a moving target."
Then again, adapting to the moving target is personality-forming, in a way.
"To their credit, we've learned to deal with it," Valentine said. "Sometimes guys start making excuses and using that as a crutch. I haven't heard any of that. It's more like what we were referring to earlier. It's part of the group's mentality and personality, whatever it is. They overcome stuff."
Red Sox may have Ross back next week
CHICAGO -- Red Sox outfielder Cody Ross, who has been sidelined since May 19 with a fractured navicular bone in his left foot, will start a rehab assignment for Triple-A Pawtucket in Buffalo on Sunday. Ross will then travel to Syracuse with the PawSox for Monday and Tuesday's games.
Ross could return to the Red Sox by the middle of next week if all goes well.
Ross was with the club in Miami earlier this week and clearly looked antsy to get back to work.
"Yeah, baseball is his life," said Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine. "He loves it. He didn't like not playing."
When Ross returns, the Red Sox could have some interesting decisions to make. It might be hard to continue playing Adrian Gonzalez in the outfield while having David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis and Will Middlebrooks all in the lineup if Ross is also available.
"We'll see," said Valentine. "We'll see who else is in the mix when he comes back."
No. 37 pick Light among Boston's signings
CHICAGO -- The Red Sox announced on Friday that they have signed 11 of their selections from last week's First-Year Player Draft, including sandwich-round pick Pat Light, a right-handed pitcher.
Light, the 37th overall pick in the Draft, went 8-3 with a 2.40 ERA in 14 starts this season as a junior at Monmouth University. His deal is for $1 million, which is below the assigned slot value of $1.394 million.
Boston also reached agreements with right-handers Jamie Callahan (second-round pick), Ty Buttrey (fourth round) and Mike Augliera (fifth round). Buttrey signed for $1.3 million, above the assigned fourth-round value of $291,300.
Catcher Miguel Rodriguez, a 36th-rounder out of UNC Charlotte, was another signee. He is the son of Red Sox Minor League hitting coordinator Victor Rodriguez and the brother of club scout Victor Jr. Miguel made 20 starts behind the plate for Charlotte this year and caught 10 of 22 would-be basestealers.
Additional signings announced on Friday included right-handed pitcher Kyle Kraus (seventh round), first baseman Nathan Minnich (eighth round), infielder Mike Miller (ninth round), left-handed pitcher Dylan Chavez (14th round), center fielder Shaq Thompson (18th round) and first baseman Jake Davies (21st round).