BOSTON — It didn’t take long for Boston Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington to know what he had in Dustin Pedroia.
Cherington, speaking as part of the Hot Stove Cool Music Baseball Roundtable at Fenway Park on Tuesday, recounted Pedroia’s first few days in the Red Sox organization. Those days weren’t too different from what you’ll see today, further highlighting the authenticity of Pedroia’s overall game.
Cherington was working as Boston’s farm director when the Red Sox drafted Pedroia 65th overall in 2004. Pedroia’s first stop in the Red Sox organization was Single-A Augusta — now a Single-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants — where he played shortstop for 12 games before joining High-A Sarasota. Cherington remembers Pedroia as being “a little chunkier” back then, although the young infielder’s less-than-stellar physique had absolutely no impact on his limitless confidence.
According to Cherington, Pedroia was on first base during one of his first few games with Augusta when former Red Sox farmhand Brandon Moss — now of the Oakland Athletics — singled into right field. Pedroia, the ultimate aggressor, immediately had third base on his mind. The right fielder came up firing, overshooting the cutoff man in the process. Pedroia, as the story goes, slid in safely ahead of the tag at third base before immediately popping up in frustration.
Pedroia’s issue was with Moss, who failed to take second base on the right fielder’s overthrow. Cherington said that Pedroia, despite not yet knowing anyone in the organization, began screaming across the diamond. The future Red Sox leader literally has pushed his teammates since Day 1.
“Every team he was ever on in the minor leagues, magically when he appeared, they got better, they started winning games,” Cherington said. “So there is certainly something to be said for it.”
Flash forward 10 years. Pedroia is a four-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner, two-time World Series champion and former American League MVP. The Red Sox second baseman also is one of the most competitive, energetic and genuine leaders that Major League Baseball has to offer.
“If you had watched before games began in spring training — we don’t play a game, it’s all work — he still comes off the field [covered in] dirt from head to toe,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said Tuesday. “Somehow, he’s ending up with a headlong dive in fielding ground balls or turning double plays. He sets the tone for us, and everyone falls in line. When he performs as he does or he backs up the words that he says — because, let me tell you, there’s a lot of words that he’ll say — he’ll back them up. It’s any manager’s dream to have a Dustin Pedroia.”
Pedroia, seemingly a perfect icon for a blue-collar city like Boston, has become a superstar in his eight big league seasons. His on-field success, contagious passion and unmatched grit have earned the 30-year-old the respect of his peers, as well as a lucrative contract extension that will keep him in Boston through 2021. The hope within the Red Sox organization is that Pedroia’s work ethic and intensity will continue to have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the players in the Boston clubhouse.
“Ask any head coach, any manager, anybody’s that led a team,” Farrell said. “When one of your best players sets the work tone, the intensity and the pace of it, it makes that head coach’s or manager’s job that much easier.”
Adding to Pedroia’s appeal is that his win-at-all-costs mentality, his respect-commanding demeanor and his cockiness-bordering confidence all are part of his fabric as a person, not just as a ballplayer. Pedroia, who already has sent baseball-related text messages to Farrell and legendary sportswriter Peter Gammons this winter, seemingly is the closest thing there is to a major leaguer who eats, sleeps and breathes the game.
“The Dustin Pedroia that you guys see in the media is the same guy that we saw in the clubhouse and the same guy that was texting [Peter Gammons] and John [Farrell],” Pedroia’s teammate, Craig Breslow, said Tuesday. “As such a visible leader of the team, he’s authentic. He’s the real thing.”
Pedroia always has been the “real thing.” He likely always will be the “real thing.”