I saw Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz pitch for the first time on June 26, 2007, in Manchester, NH. I instantly knew that I was watching a star in the making. I could not wait to get home to report what I had seen. I told Red Sox Nation to get to the ballpark to see him pitch and declared, “You’re in for a heckuva treat!”

He threw a no-hitter on September 1st of that year and his road to stardom seemed assured. But he struggled mightily for the next two years, bouncing back and forth between Pawtucket, RI, and Boston. For every outstanding outing there was a disastrous one…and in between there were a bunch of forgettable efforts. At times he got very frustrated. Pundits suggested that the no-hitter had actually been counter-productive, that it prompted him to take success for granted. As his struggles persisted, there were some in Red Sox Nation who started to question his status as a prospect. Many fans said the Red Sox should trade himas recently as last winterbefore the floor fell out on his trade value.

I was not among the doubters, not even for a minute. I’ve said on MANY occasions that, in my mind, it wasn’t a matter of whether he would be a star…the only question was whether he would develop into a SUPERstar. And if last year is any indication, it appears superstardom is just around the corner. For Buchholz, the trick will be to keep moving forward without having to take a step back beforehand.

To their credit, the Red Sox organization stuck with the Nederland, TX native throughout his struggles. GM Theo Epstein knew what he had and was determined to stick with him. The Red Sox front office and coaching staff advised him to stay with the program and learn from his struggles. At times it was hardnext to impossible. But he persevered. He applied himself. He grew as a pitcher and a person.

Last spring he went into spring training uncertain as to whether he would have a spot in the rotation when the club headed north. He got his first start on April 11th and went 3-3, 3.82 in his first six starts. And then he hit his stride. He went 7-1 in his next eight starts. Then, after a no decision, he went 5-1 (with two more NDs) in his next eight starts. He made his first All-Star team in July, and when the season was finished his numbers came to 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA (second in the league).

It was an extraordinary season by any measure, but in spite of last year’s long-awaited success he is not looking back. He is fully focused on 2011, a season that promises to continue well into October or even early November.

When he CAN be coaxed into talking about 2010, he generally keeps it brief and quickly looks ahead once again: “I feel like I stepped in and did a decent job last year…I made strides, (but) I still have things I need to improve on and to work on. That is what spring training is for. I need to get ready for the season.”

He says he is looking forward to going to Florida: “I’m definitely ready to go. It’s something I’ve been thinking about since the second week of the offseason.” Obviously, as he prepares to report to Fort Myers, he has a much greater level of comfort knowing there is a spot in the rotation with his name on it: “It makes me feel a lot better…A lot of stress will be withered away and (the stress) won’t be there as much as it has been the last couple of years going in to spring training.”

Of the club’s prospects in the upcoming season, he said: “I’ve talked to a few people and they’ve said it’s the best they’ve seen on paper in a long time. If everybody is healthy and ready coming into spring training, I think it’ll be a pretty eventful year for us.”

And it all begins in a little more than three weeks…

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