Pedroia: The College Years

Here’s one of the coolest stats you’ll see this year: Dustin Pedroia has swung the bat 1,114 times this season. He has connected with 1,027 pitches and missed 87. Think about that. It’s the best percentage in the majors this season.

Even an expert like Tony Gwynn couldn’t explain exactly why, but he knows first-hand how dangerous Pedroia’s swing can be. Shortly after Gwynn took over as head coach at San Diego State, he faced Arizona State, whose leadoff hitter was a certain 5-8 shortstop. Pedroia had two hits in all three games, going 6 for 17 with a home run, a double, and four RBIs in a Sun Devils sweep.

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“He just killed us,” Gwynn said. “He hit some home runs. Stole some bases. Played with some fire. You keep your eye on those types of guys. It’s really not surprising to me to see what he’s doing. Talking to scouts back then, they said he’s too small, doesn’t do enough of this, enough of that. I thought, he’s just having a monster year this year. Whether he can continue to swing as hard as he’s swinging, I just know that he puts the ball in the play. He isn’t afraid to hit behind in the count. Throw all those things into the forum, chances are he’s going to be successful.

“He left a lasting impression. He played the game right. He played the game hard. When we left, I wondered how much of a shot he’s going to get being a 5-8 shortstop. I wasn’t surprised the Red Sox took him. They take the best players. Right before they were saying, ‘Bring him up,’ he kind of struggled. Being a former major leaguer, you kind of know Boston is one place where the heat could get kind of intense. He turned it around, got it going. Started to show people what he could. Now he’s a producer. He’s really made himself into a complete player. You knew he had the skill set to be a successful big league player, but you didn’t know if he would get that chance.

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“The thing I love about him, he’s a gamer. He’s a guy who’s heard his whole life, ‘You got a chip on your shoulder, you don’t hit with enough power, you don’t have a great arm.’ It’s been kind of fun to watch. Seeing them slide him in the four hole a lot, it makes for interesting watching.”

Arizona State coach Pat Murphy offered some more insight on Pedroia’s college days. Pedroia, despite his stature, was a monster college recruit — Miami, LSU, Stanford, all the powerhouses wanted him. And yet.

“He looked like the bat boy,” Murphy said. “You’d only have to talk to him for five minutes to find out he wasn’t the bat boy. He thinks he’s the MVP.”

When Arizona State made the 2005 College World Series, the year after Pedroia departed, Murphy wrote Pedroia’s name on his cap because, “he deserved to be there,” Murphy said. He felt so indebted because during Pedroia’s junior (and final collegiate) season, Pedroia gave up his scholarship so Murphy could recruit other players, Murphy said.

“This kid is such a throwback,” Murphy said. “He doesn’t care who’s on the mound, doesn’t care who’s pitching. He doesn’t want to offend anybody. He just plays the game with an urgency. He’ll never admit this to you, but he’s playing the game like, ‘I’m going to get in the Hall of Fame. I’m going to win championships for my team.’ He’s a special kid. You know it from first day you met. One season, we put together a highlight tape. You’d say we were putting out reruns. We had to cut the highlight tape short. Had too choose between too many of his tremendous plays.”

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One more thing from Murphy:

“He’s a better defender than he is hitter,” Murphy said. “That’s how great a defender he is. Put that in there, so everyone in Boston knows how crazy his college coach is.”

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