FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) -Sean Casey broke into a smile so huge that the creases beside his sparkling eyes deepened.
He even cracked up usually serious Jason Varitek as they stood by the batting cage Saturday. Casey's grin padded his lead for the spring training Triple Crown with the Boston Red Sox - laughs, hugs and handshakes.
``Everyone will think that our team is a lot nicer because he's the nicest guy I've ever met in my life,'' Mike Lowell said.
Not a bad reputation to have, especially in a sport that took a big hit with the use of performance-enhancing drugs and has some perpetually grumpy players.
``It's OK to be known as a nice guy. That's fine with me. That's not such a bad thing,'' Casey said Saturday, just four days after he happily put on a Red Sox uniform for the first time, a simple act of dressing for work that he called ``pretty cool.''
The first baseman was thrilled to join a team with great tradition and a full house of passionate fans for every home game. He experienced some of that fervor in Detroit, another storied franchise he enjoyed, where he spent the past 1 1/2 seasons.
``Wow, I'm excited,'' Casey said of joining Boston. ``I really am excited.''
Sure, he had to take a pay cut from $8.5 million last year to $800,000 in his one-year contract with Boston. And he knows he may not play a lot for the first time after 11 seasons in which he built a .301 career batting average.
Worry?
Why?
``At this stage of my career, I don't know if it's about individual stats,'' Casey said. ``After playing on Detroit and realizing what it's like to go to the World Series and what's it's like to be on a winning club and be a part of that environment, it kind of changes how you feel about things.''
Casey made the All-Star team three times during his eight seasons with Cincinnati then spent the first half of the 2006 season with his hometown Pittsburgh Pirates. The Tigers traded for him at the trade deadline in 2006 and he hit .529 with two homers in the World Series, but they lost to St. Louis. Last year, he batted .296 with four homers, 30 doubles and 54 RBIs in 143 games for Detroit.
``I'm a good guy,'' Casey said, ``but when I step in the batter's box, I don't ever see friends out there.''
He became expendable when the Tigers moved Carlos Guillen from shortstop to first base.
Casey gives the Red Sox a reliable left-handed batter off the bench. He can spell David Ortiz at designated hitter and Kevin Youkilis at first base or start when Youkilis moves to third to give Lowell a day off - occurrences which may not be very frequent.
He can be ``the rare guy who can be a clubhouse presence and a leader even without being a starting player,'' general manager Theo Epstein said. ``Coming off a year in which we won a World Series, I think his passion, his hunger to be a world champion, might rub off some day in August when it's hard getting out of bed.''
By the way, he's a very good hitter even if he hasn't hit more than 10 homers in any of the past three seasons.
``To me, he was the perfect player,'' manager Terry Francona said. ``Smiles from ear to ear, treats everybody like they're the most important person in the world, respects the game and he hits .300.''
Casey already is fitting in very well. He started with Cleveland in 1997, when Manny Ramirez was on the team. He's friendly with Ortiz - the incumbent as the team leader in smiles - from their days as minor league opponents.
Lowell played against Mr. Nice Guy in 1994 in the Cape Cod summer league for top collegians.
``People say, `Oh, is it an act?'' Lowell said. ``That was the summer of '94 and he's still the same guy, so unless he's the best actor in the world, he's been doing it for 14 years already, so he genuinely is a really good guy.''
Casey is so friendly he even won over Varitek when they first met in camp.
``He's so excited,'' Varitek said. ``There's no better teammate than Sean Casey, from everybody I've ever spoken to.''
Still, Casey had to meet his new teammates.
``It's like the first day at a new school,'' he said. ``It's a little uncomfortable because you don't know everybody. I think with my personality, I just kind of introduce myself and get to know people.''
Then came this shocker:
``I'm a human being. We're all going to make mistakes,'' said Casey, who admitted to actually being in a bad mood occasionally. But, ``for me, it's like you are who you are. That's the bottom line so, for me, I've never tried to be somebody I'm not.''

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