I hope you understand just how good Dustin Pedroia was. I wish I didn’t have to wonder if you do. I wish it didn’t feel so long ago, so foreign a place.
I wish his didn’t feel like one of those careers most memorable for what it could’ve been, when it was so much.
“I don’t have any regrets, and that’s what I’m proud of. Could it have ended better and I finished my career the right way? Yeah, of course. But there was a reason I was the first one dressed at 5:30 for a 7 o’clock game,” Pedroia said during his retirement Zoom debrief on Monday. “I’d always tell my teammates, ‘You never know if the game is going to start early, right?’ My biggest thing in my mind was, ‘This could be my last game.’ You don’t know, and that’s the way I approached it from Little League on. I played every game like it was my last one. I had the best time.
“I’m proud of every single step my baseball career had to offer.”
That last game was a random Wednesday in New York, April 17, 2019, two years to the week after Manny Machado’s spike began Pedroia down the road that led to knee replacement at 37. Two years ago, Pedroia told WEEI’s Rob Bradford that “I think about it all the time.” He was 13 months removed from knee surgery No. 3 then, deep in rehab, and about 13 months from being told he’d need knee surgery No. 6.
That replacement was prescribed last January and performed in December. All he can’t do now, Pedroia said Monday, is run. That’s good enough for him.
“When you play second base, and you play second like me, you hang on to the last possible second to get the ball. If there’s a slim chance at a double play, there’s one guy on planet Earth that could turn it, and you’re talking to him,” Pedroia said, asked directly about the Machado play. “It happened, and unfortunately, I just got caught in a wrong position and that was it. . . . The way it ended, it ended that way, and that’s OK.”
He was far more than OK. From 2007-2016, Pedroia won a Rookie of the Year, an American League MVP, four Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger, two world championships, and was — by Baseball Reference’s WAR calculation — the fifth-best player in all of baseball behind only Robinson Cano, Adrian Beltre, Albert Pujols, and Miguel Cabrera. And the next year, after Machado literally shredded his knee, he played 89 of Boston’s final 145 games, hitting .299/.376/.413 and walking more times than he struck out.
“I had to be out there for them. That’s the way I looked at it,” he said Monday, basically rehashing what he said about the times he took ground balls with a broken foot, or the whole season (2013) he played with a torn thumb ligament. “Fifty percent of me can find a way to help us win a game.”
The manifestation of hard working, chest-puffing New England. “Our” guy, in the face of the big city to the southwest. Picking up the baton dropped by another middle infielder, just about the same time Pedroia arrived, and holding it higher than ever before.
Pedroia became a Red Sox on June 7, 2004, his selection 65th overall buried behind news that Nomar Garciaparra was about to play his first game of the season. By then, the Nomar dream was over. He’d refused a four-year, $60 million extension before the 2003 season, wanting $68M, then four and $48 million after it. (“Market correction,” it was declared.) He called into WEEI from his December honeymoon upon learning (off television) the team was planning to trade him for Magglio Ordonez. He opened 2004 spring training lashing about the hurt and the lack of communication, and he finished it on the disabled list with Achilles’ tendonitis.
By mid-July, he wanted a trade. By August, he was a Chicago Cub. But not before Red Sox fans, despite Garciaparra not playing a game, nearly voting him into the All-Star Game. (He finished second to Derek Jeter.) That’s what happens when you’re the face of a franchise. Humble and committed. The great athlete, better person. The one your kids would mimic. Hell, the one you would mimic.
Jeter? Please. Nomar was better. Nomar was the best. Nomar was a Hall of Famer. Nomar was forever. And then, he wasn’t.
Not unlike Pedroia, though the injuries took him off the Cooperstown path in Boston colors because he actually took the below-market deal to stay.
They never played together, but they’ll turn double plays on a lot of all-time Red Sox teams, especially the “What if?” ones. The 2004 championship happened between Garciaparra and Pedroia, but they both feel like spiritual members, don’t they? Nomar was the climb, part of the reason people around here really did start to believe. Pedroia helped make it so, a linchpin of the dominant (and relatively forgotten) 2007 juggernaut and, in so many ways, the manifestation of what it meant to be a Red Sox in the last two decades.
“I just hope I set the right example for their kids or anyone. I just hope I played the game the right way, and they can look back on my career and say, ‘He did everything he could for his team.’ That’s what I care about,” Pedroia said Monday. “I didn’t play for anything else, other than winning and winning with your teammates.”
We’re cleaning up after the party in New England, aching the morning after a 20-year championship bender. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are about to play a Super Bowl for Tampa Bay. The ‘B’ in Mookie Betts is turning Dodger blue. Zdeno Chara is slamming home goals from just inside the blue line in Washington Capitals red. The nation is savoring our comeuppance.
Good for them. But having Dustin Pedroia around was better.