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With a Rookie of the Year Award and World Series title, Dustin Pedroia has left the doubters in his dust

Email|Print| Text size + By Gordon Edes
Globe Staff / February 10, 2008

Dustin Pedroia's only fan? That would be overstating things.

But let's just say this guy's timing couldn't have been any better. This goes back to last April, when every night felt like Judgment Day for an undersized, follicle-challenged second baseman who wasn't hitting, couldn't make the short walk from Fenway Park to his apartment without some loudmouth busting him, and came home one night to find his wife, Kelli, crying on the phone to her mother, because of the things they were saying about her new husband on TV.

"I thought to myself, 'This has got to change,' " Pedroia said. " 'I've got to do something.' "

The card show was in Medford, he thinks, but he's not certain. It was a cab ride, and sure enough, the cabbie had his radio tuned to the sports talk station, and everybody it seemed, hosts and callers, were making sport of Pedroia.

"Those guys were crushing me," he said. "I'm thinking, 'This is tough.'

"I get to the signing, and this guy comes up to me with a baseball and says, 'Hey, I want you to sign "Dustin Pedroia ROY '07." ' "

The acronym is shorthand for "Rookie of the Year." Pedroia was hitting about a buck eighty at the time.

"I said, 'Dude, what are you, drunk? Get out of here, man,' " Pedroia said. "The guy says, 'No, I'm serious.'

"I said, 'Hey, buddy, if I sign this and win Rookie of the Year, I want that ball.' He goes, 'No problem.' "

Fast-forward to August, and another card show.

"The same guy shows up," Pedroia said. "He didn't want anything signed. He just showed me the ball. A really good guy. He had his little son with him, he had my jersey on, I'm thinking, 'This is pretty cool, this is what it's all about.'

"Kelli was with me. I go, 'Honey, there's the guy. This guy's great.' I was going nuts."

Pedroia is telling this story in a hotel suite in New York, a few hours before Craig Biggio, who played second base for almost as long as Pedroia has been alive, presented him with the American League Rookie of the Year trophy at the New York baseball writers dinner.

"In April, when everybody was crushing me, there were people who still believed in me, and that's what made it special," Pedroia said. "He just said he loved the way I played, the way I take everything personal. He said he wasn't the most talented guy when he played - I got the whole high school story - but he said he really appreciates the way I play.

"I don't know his name, but he said he's coming to spring training and he said when he gets there, he's going to give me the ball. I'm going to sign another one for him and his kid."

Ignition and recognition

It's Denver in October, the day before Game 3 of the World Series, and Pedroia is walking into the players' entrance at Coors Field for that day's workout.

"I didn't see the security guy," Pedroia said. "It was like he was hiding behind a bush. He started yelling, 'Hey, hey, hey.'

"I said, 'What?'

"He said, 'Get out of here.'

"I said, 'Dude, I play for the Red Sox.' He said, 'Let me see your ID.' I whip out my card. He goes, 'Anybody can make these.'

"I go, 'Hey, dude, you got to calm down. I'm the guy leading off the World Series, hitting bombs. Chill out.' Everybody started laughing. I was so mad about it."

Manager Terry Francona, who made Pedroia his regular cribbage partner all summer, tells a slightly different version of this story. He said that when Pedroia was asked to identify himself, he said, "Ask [expletive] Francis who I am. I'm the guy who hit a bomb off him."

Pedroia concedes that yes, he did indeed refer to the home run he hit off Jeff Francis to lead off Game 1 of the World Series. "But I can't say that," he said. "You think I want people throwing at my head?"

The Colorado Rockies had come to Boston as inspired underdogs. In mid-September, after losing three straight to the lowly Marlins, the last a 10-2 beating, the Rockies were in fourth place, 6 1/2 games behind. They won their next 11 games, lost once, then won three more, including a one-game playoff against the Padres in which they trailed by two runs in extra innings but rallied against 500-save closer Trevor Hoffman to claim the wild-card spot.

They polished off the Phillies in the playoffs, then the Diamondbacks, and despite an eight-day layoff, they were hoping momentum would carry them against the heavily favored Red Sox.

With one swing, Pedroia blew up that scenario.

"I was going to swing at the first pitch of the game if it was close," Pedroia said. "It was outside, and [the umpire] called it a strike. I looked back and said, 'Jeez, my arms are only 12 inches,' and I kind of laughed.

"It was weird. I was real relaxed, not a care in the world. The next pitch, I hit out. I knew it was out. I thought that was cool. Everyone was relaxed and we had Josh [Beckett] on the mound. He's a freak. It was fun."

You have to hand it to him

Pedroia became the sixth Sox player, and first since Nomar Garciaparra in 1997, to win the Rookie of the Year Award. He received 24 of 28 first-place votes - Delmon Young, then of the Devil Rays, was the only other player with multiple first-place votes (3) - and 132 of a possible 140 points in balloting by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

His .317 batting average was a big-league record for a rookie second baseman, the highest by a Sox rookie since Fred Lynn, the '75 ROY, hit .331, and the highest by a Sox second baseman since Billy Goodman batted .354 in 1950. He also led all rookies in doubles with 39 and was second in on-base percentage (.380), hits (165), and multihit games (49). After finishing April with a .182 average, Pedroia hit a scorching .415 in May and hit no worse than .299 in any month the rest of the season.

He remembers a game in which he wound up batting third on Francona's lineup card. "Josh looked at the lineup and said, 'Are we trying tonight?' " Pedroia said with a laugh. "That was Josh."

At second base, he made just six errors. From April 13 to Aug. 11, he made just one, a span of 90 games.

All this while playing with a cracked hamate bone in his left hand for the last two months of the season, an injury he didn't learn of until early September.

"We were at home, and the Devil Rays came to town," he said. "My hand was killing me. I went into Tito's office said, 'Listen, dude, my hand hurts. Obviously, I'm going to play, but I'm just telling you. He said, 'Thanks for being honest. Get it checked out and see what's going on.'

"I went to the doctor on the offday. He said, 'Dude, you got a broken bone in your hand.'

"It's pretty common. It didn't crack off. [Eric] Hinske took a swing when he was with Toronto, and his broke off, and he couldn't play. I thought, 'All right, cool. If it can't damage the nerves or anything, fine.' I just played."

When he was struggling back in April, people told him he was taking too many swings before games, taking too many ground balls. He ignored them. Every day, the routine was the same. Show up at the ballpark by 1 p.m., take soft toss and hit in the cage with hitting coach Dave Magadan, who counseled him to wait longer on the ball, and take ground balls with infield coach Luis Alicea, who helped him develop one of the league's better turns on double plays in what was his first full season as a second baseman.

Even at his lowest, he said, teammates were supportive, no one more so than Alex Cora. And those people on the outside who were ragging him? He used that for motivation. Besides, it didn't hurt that he has basically fought through this kind of stuff his whole life. You think scouts were fighting over 130-pound high school shortstops?

"Boston, if you win, it's great, the best place on earth," he said. "Once in a while, though, people said stuff, obviously it hurt. Shoot, I hadn't turned 24 yet. I didn't know how to take it.

"Sometimes fans don't look at you as people. You're only a baseball player. If you don't do your job, they're going to let you know. It's tough, but you've got to embrace it."

Challenged to repeat

World Series parade, Rookie of the Year Award, hand surgery, two-a-day workouts at the Athletes' Performance Institute in Arizona, buying a new house. The baseball stopped, but little else. The day he and Kelli moved into their new house, when he couldn't do much to help because his doctor had advised him not even to lift his wallet with his left hand, was also their first anniversary. Pedroia was relieved when Kelli said she'd couldn't think of a better way to spend it than at home with him.

"We're quiet people like that," said Pedroia, who swears the only meals he took in New York last season were room service.

But even Kelli had her limits, which is why she was ecstatic when Pat Murphy, the Arizona State baseball coach who remains close with Pedroia, laid down the law to Pedroia, big leaguer or no.

"Murph's like, 'I'm taking you guys to Hawaii,' " Pedroia said. "Kelli's like, 'Oh yeah, I'm in.' I'm thinking, 'I'm not going to Hawaii, what do I want to go there for?'

"But right before Christmas, API closes for three days, so we went for five days. It was awesome. Willie Bloomquist, who I played with in college and is with the Mariners now, went, too, and we went tuna fishing, marlin fishing. It was great, then back to normal."

It should be different in camp this spring, he said. Less anxiety. Just as much work, if not more.

"Now that we're world champs, we've got to work harder, because everybody will be gunning for us," he said. "That's why I began my two-a-days the day after surgery, I went in and worked on my legs. It's a matter of fighting everybody off to do it again. That's definitely the toughest challenge for us."

But in the meantime, Pedroia will be looking for him. The guy in a Pedroia jersey, and his little boy, and a baseball as bold and brash in its prophecy as the man who signed it. Dustin Pedroia, ROY 2007.

Gordon Edes can be reached at edes@globe.com.

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