HEART, TALENT AND MOUTH

     I will always have a special place in my “baseball heart” for Dustin Pedroia.  Long before he became the American League Rookie of the Year or the A.L. MVP, I liked him.  The guy.  The brash, outspoken young man from California.  We marvel at how he can back up even his most outrageous claims.  In that he is smaller than most successful pro athletes, he has, in fact, become larger than life.

     When I first stepped into the Red Sox clubhouse in Fort Myers, this spring, as usual, Pedroia quickly put on a scowl, and shouted across the expansive room- “Get out of here Hyder, I don’t have time for you!!”  Trying to hold back the smile as I approached his locker, I told him, “Hey Pedey, you may have these other guys fooled into thinking you are a tough guy, but I know you.”  After hugs (fully clothed) were exchanged, we set up a time for a “sit down”.  At this stage of Spring Training, the guys have answered a million questions a million different times.  I appreciate the “one on one” time with a guy like him.  I watched him sweat through a batting practice session with hitting instructor Dave Magadan before he blurted out- “God Hyder, what are you a stalker?  let’s get this interview over with!!”

     As Opening Day 2011 arrives, Pedroia is chomping at the bit.  “It’s going good, it’s going good.  I’m excited about the season.  I can’t wait to get out of Fort Myers and get the season going.”  Especially eager after his 2010 campaign was cut short due to a  foot injury, the All Star second baseman is healthy, and ready to prove it to the rest of the American League.  “I feel great…we’re still working and getting ready for the long haul.”  He then went into further detail.  “I’m just trying to get ready.  It’s going to be a long season.  Every year has its’ ups and downs.  I’m just trying to get my swing ready, get ready defensively, get used to the speed of the game.”

     Pedroia looked back on 2010 and has no regrets concerning his ill-fated comeback.  “I tried to wait as long as possible.  It was one of those things.  Could I play through it, or would I need surgery?   I wouldn’t have done it any other way.  My foot just wasn’t able to take it.  It wasn’t healed all the way.  I had the screw (surgically) put in there to make sure everything healed up.”  Pedroia looks at his numbers through the 75 games he played and knows he was headed to another “Dustinesque” season.  “Yeah,  I was having one of my best years.  Power-wise, rbi’s, everything.  It’s part of the game.  Injuries happen.  You don’t plan for them.  It was tough, but it does make you more excited about this year, being healthy and taking off!”

     Dustin chuckled when he was asked about who he bugged more during his time on the disabled list. Was it manager Terry Francona, or wife, Kelly?  “It was tough.  Especially with that injury.  I couldn’t walk, so that makes it tough.  I tried to deal with it the best that I could.  I’m sure I was a pain in the butt for everybody, but I’m excited now.”

     With the additions of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez,  Pedroia is even more “amped” than normal.  “They’re great.  They’re great players.  They are on a team that wants to win.  We’ve seen Carl for a long time.  He’s been great in the league for a long time.  Adrian is a run-producing machine.  It’s going to be a fun season playing with these guys, not only this season, but for a lot of years to come.”  When pressed about anything less than a World Series title in 2011, Pedey made me read between the lines.  “I don’t make predictions.  We’ve got a good team.  We have to go out there and prove to people that we can play with anybody.  Once we do that, we’ll start looking ahead.”

     He may have a new hair style that manager Terry Francona said makes him look like actor Giovanni Ribisi, (Pedroia- “I don’t even know who the hell he is”) but he has the same work ethic, talent and maniacal approach that has made him one of the top players in the game.

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