About a month and a half after the Red Sox drafted Dustin Pedroia in the summer of 2004, he was introduced to the wider Red Sox world in a conversation with the late Nick Cafardo in the Globe. He’d yet to play for his new professional organization, and it will shock no one who’s watched these last 15 years to know he wasn’t OK with it.
“They just didn’t want to throw me in there and have me get hurt because I wasn’t in baseball shape, but I can’t wait to get out there,” the 20-year-old said. “I just want to get in there and start hitting the ball and getting my uniform dirty.”
He’s played more than 1,800 games if we count the playoffs and his time in the minors, and in excess of 15,000 innings. That 20-year-old is 35 now. Decorated but deeply dinged after year after year of going all out, most notably in those cadaver parts that now live in his left knee.
“If I play out of control and do something, I could wake up the next day and it could be bad,” Pedroia said this spring. “I don’t want to have worked for as long as I have to mess that up. … Because if I dive and bang my knee in a certain way and can’t walk …
“I probably don’t want to do that.”
His colleagues and teammates, as aware of his monster work ethic and the delicate balance between health and competitive drive as anyone, certainly appreciate the sentiment. The praise for the longest-tenured Red Sox this spring has been, to say the least, effusive.
"He's been in full uni since 7:00"
— Boston Red Sox (@RedSox) March 7, 2019
Here’s a sampling.
“He has the biggest mouth and he backs it up, so anything that he says, I fully believe he can do. If he says he’s going to fly, I think he’ll fly. He works hard and I think being on that field means the world to him, and he’s going to definitely prove that anything is possible.” — Xander Bogaerts
“Maybe 45 homers, 120 RBIs, 40 stolen bases, a Gold Glove, Comeback Player of the Year, and MVP? I wouldn’t put it past him. … I’m excited for him. He looks good. I think he’s ready to go. I’m happy for him. It’s been a while. We’re excited to have him back, for sure.” — Brock Holt, after Pedroia homered to straight-away center during a batting practice session
“He’s one of those guys you can never rule out. I dare you to rule him out, actually, because he’s out to prove a point this year. That’s a scary thought. You take a perennial All-Star, three-time world champion, former MVP. If he wants more now, I think we’re in for some pretty awesome stuff with him this year.” — Chris Sale
“He’s the ultimate guy to lead a team. He can be a vocal leader, he can lead by example, a lot of different ways he can show his leadership. I think that’s what makes him special. Everybody wants to have him back. Obviously we don’t want to have him back at the expense of his own health. … I think just to see him out there doing the things he’s done his whole life, it’s good for him mentally, physically he’s getting his strength in. I’m excited for him.” — Jackie Bradley Jr.
“He’s been through a lot the last few years, and just to see him out there is great. I know he’s been very frustrated. I got a year of it last year and I can imagine it before. He’s fun to be around. I enjoy hanging out with him, talking to him. He looks good. He’s swinging the bat well, he seems to be moving great. He’s put a lot of work in.” — J.D. Martinez
“I’ve been pretty vocal about how special he is. If anybody can do something, it’s him, and if he can’t it will be because of the way he played for so long that it just beat the crap out of him. But no, I’ll be pulling for him like crazy.” — Terry Francona, Pedroia’s former manager and longtime cribbage partner
“Just look at all the odds against him. When he first came up people said he was too small, his swing was too big for a little guy and all that stuff, and then he just kept proving people wrong. Rookie of the Year, MVP of the league. Great Gold Glove second baseman. So if people think he’s out, watch him prove you wrong.” — Jerry Remy, NESN
“He’s in the Tom Brady mode — me against the world. He’s been doing that since 2006. Nothing different.” — Manager Alex Cora
“I’ve told people that he backs up what he says. We’ll be a better team if he comes back.” — Bogaerts
Pedroia, who’s played four innings at second base so far, is next scheduled to play on Tuesday.