Growing up, that competitiveness overcame my size limitations well enough to enable me to succeed, if not necessarily excel, in most athletic endeavors. At the same time, my positions in each sport were fairly well prescribed. I was a point guard and a middle infielder by default, and those positional identities have colored my rooting interests ever since. For example, while I worshiped Yaz and Pedro, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Red Sox second basemen, nearly all of whom have toiled in the shadows of their more-acclaimed teammates. From Jerry Remy to Marty Barrett to Jody Reed to Tim Naehring to Mark Bellhorn and even Mark Loretta (and excepting Jeff Frye and Mike Lansing – man, what an utterly forgettable era), I’ve had a keen rooting interest in the unsung heroes of the middle infield.
So there was some amount of pleasure to be found when 5’ 9” (in the program) Dustin Pedroia rocketed through the Sox’ farm system. Although a shortstop in college (where he was the Pac-10 Player of the Year and a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award at Arizona State), he’s been destined to the Sox’ second baseman of the future since he entered the system. Before I knew anything about him other than his size and position, I was ready to welcome him with open arms.
He did nothing to dispel my high hopes when he made his major league debut last fall, but I’d become so disillusioned with the 2006 Sox amidst their wrenching late-season collapse that I paid less attention to the details than I ordinarily might, and as a September callup, Pedroia kept a low profile. I could tell, though, that his listed height was generous, speaking as someone who knows these things. Another checkmark on the good side of the ledger.
As the Sox have rolled through their 2007 schedule (current hiccup annoyingly notwithstanding), Pedroia’s not only been one of the bright spots on the field, he’s displayed a feisty attitude completely in keeping with my personal lunacy. After a dismal start to the season that had Red Sox Nation at large pining for more Alex Cora (I said it was a dismal start), Pedroia caught fire to the point where he led the Sox in OPS for more than a month’s worth of games. He currently carries a .315 batting average and a .823 OPS, good for 5th on the Sox roster. He’s a leading candidate for AL Rookie of the Year and he’s removed any doubts about his place in the big leagues.
More important than what he’s done, at least in my fan’s addled mind, is how he’s done it. Pedroia plays every moment of every game with the wild abandon of a guy who knows he’s got to throw his whole being into his efforts to be good enough to stick. He runs with arms akimbo - a tiny gunfighter – dives with reckless abandon (a personal favorite attribute – just ask my friends), stands in at second base against charging baserunners, and takes mighty cuts at every pitch. He’s also a lead-with-his-chin instigator in the clubhouse, where he’s every Sox player’s little brother.
And if I hadn’t already grown to love the guy, this interview with his college coach, Pat Murphy, elevated (term used loosely) him to legendary in my mind. (Hat tip to Bruce Allen by way of SOSH) Money graf:
“One time we’re playing Fullerton or something like that and he’s a freshman and he strikes out to lead off the game, which is something he rarely ever does, and I come over to Dustin and say ‘hey Dustin, how was that slider?’ and he says back to me ‘Coach…that thing is so nasty.’ Well the rest of the team heard him say that and they’re going to start thinking it’s nasty and if Pedroia can’t hit that slider then the rest of them can’t hit it either.
I pulled him aside and I said ‘Pedroia, for the rest of your life if someone asks you about a pitch you say ‘ah…it’s alright but I should have hit it.’On a team marked by reserved professionalism and laid-back cool, Pedroia carries himself with a unique intensity and, dare I say it, an irrationally competitive streak that reminds me of my own self. I used to say that if I’d been 6 inches taller I could have been a professional athlete. Now I know that I’m just a tiny insanely competitive person with not quite enough talent. Thanks for that, Dustin, and long may you man the middle infield at Fenway.
But now you’ve got the other side of it where you’ve created a monster and for the next three years every time…every time you asked Pedroia how the pitchers stuff was he would say 'this guy sucks…he’s terrible.’ He’d just be screaming at the guy ‘this guy's terrible…you’re terrible’…all 5-foot-6, 120-pounds of him.”
Oh, and Bite Me, Randy Newman.