GLENDALE, Ariz. -- After being drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981, Stu Pederson played eight games in the major leagues in 1985 for the Blue Crew, and then, spent the rest of his 12-year career in the minors. He was the classic Four-A player: He hit .278 for his career at Triple-A, but never again made the big club.
Now, thanks to the slow recovery of Matt Kemp, one of Pederson's two sons -- Joc Pederson -- has a chance to do what his father never did: Break camp with the Dodgers.
Baseball, it turns out, is a very small community, and it just so happens that a name from the Pederson family's past may wind up having a significant impact on Joc's future.
During his final spring, Stu was in minor league camp with the Toronto Blue Jays, where he met a wet-behind-the-ears an erector set of a young, left-handed hitter named Shawn Green.
Green went on to go 30-30 with the Blue Jays, and starred in Los Angeles as a Dodgers slugger – the first Jewish superstar the team had had since Sandy Koufax – and finished his career with 328 home runs, 1,070 RBIs and a .283 average in 15 seasons. Though Green retired in after the 2007 campaign, he's still rattled around the game, mentoring young players, visiting spring training and promoting a Zen Buddhist approach to baseball. It was on one of his stops back at Dodgers spring training that he met a young Joc, in 2012.
"When he came in with the Dodgers, before everyone introduced me, he was all, ‘I knew your dad,' and obviously, I knew who he was," says Pederson, who, growing up, was admittedly "more of a Barry Bonds guy," growing up in Palo Alto, Calif.
"I met him a little bit there, an we got to talk a little bit. He told me about how he went about his career and what-not, so it was nice," Pederson says.
Eight months later, Pederson and Green would meet again, as they prepared to both represent Team Israel in the 2012 World Baseball Classic Qualifier in Jupiter, Fla.
Eligibility for Team Israel is the same as the requirements for citizenship in the Jewish State: Have at least one Jewish grandparent. Pederson has two – on his mother's side.
"That's kind of what got me in," says Pederson, who has been, admittedly, irreligious his whole life, but was thrust into a mix of players with Jewish backgrounds of varying levels of observance. "It was definitely different. I don't go to Temple, but I was rooming with Jake (Lemmerman, another Team Israel member) when he was with the Dodgers and they asked me to play, and he was like, ‘Dude, you're a half-Jew anyways,' but I talked to (manager) Brad Ausmus, and he said a lot of the guys aren't necessarily observant. Overall, that was one of the best baseball experiences I've had, just a group of guys. All we're trying to do is win for Israel and try to get baseball bigger. It was an unbelievable experience."
Green was a big part of that experience down in Florida, where Team Israel lost just one game – the winner-take-all finale against Spain – in the modified double-elimination tournament.
"I went out to Florida, and I already had a relationship with him, so he took me under his wing a little bit, showed me around and we talked hitting a lot," says Pederson, who, last season, put Green's advice into practice, drawing 70 walks, stealing 31 bases, posting a .381 on-base percentage and a .278 batting average with a career-best 22 home runs. His 24 doubles were two off his career best, and those 70 walks? Best mark of his career by a margin of 19. Young Grasshopper Pederson had learned well.
"It was awesome to play with him and get to see him, how he goes about his business," Pederson says. "He was really big into his tee work, finding a quiet space and really focusing on certain stuff. To see him really go to work was pretty awesome. He'd interact with us, to show us his drills, show us how he works with certain pitches or pitchers or keys. We played some inters-quad games before that, and in those games, just having him in the dugout, I've never had a teammate like him, to where he's finding the pitches that the pitchers are tipping, he's telling pitchers, ‘Hey, you're tipping this pitch,' it was just unbelievable how good his eye was. He's just a really educated player. Probably one of the smartest guys I've ever played with. I guess it's an honor to say that I got to play with him."
Pederson's time with Team Israel gave him some insight into the culture and tradition of his mother's side of the family, and it sparked in him a desire to learn even more.
"If we would have won, they would have taken us on our own Birthright-type trip over there, but I'm going to try and get out there, for sure," Pederson says, referring to the philanthropic venture whereby young American Jews between the ages of 18 and 26 get a free, guided, 10-day trip to Israel. "I have a couple buddies who went on Birthright, and they said it was an incredible experience."
When Pederson arrived in Arizona this spring for his first Major League camp with Los Angeles, he brought his older brother – former University of Pacific star and current Dodgers minor leaguer Tyger Pederson -- with him. The two live together, and commute to and from camp. He also re-connected with Green, who pulled on the Dodger uniform for the first time in years to do a little coaching.
"When came around here, it was just cool to check in," Pederson says. "I spent a lot of time with him, and he came to our winter development camp, and gave a speech, so I've seen him throughout the past few years quite a bit. He's a good dude."
Green spent just a few days at Camelback Ranch, but it was long enough to see Pederson break a scoreless tie with the White Sox in the seventh inning with a titanic opposite-field two-run home run.
"I think a lot of it has been Donnie (Mattingly), who's really been talking to me about really slowing the game down and controlling it, getting a mental approach. I was just trying to slow it down, get a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on it, don't try and do too much. Luckily, it went out of the park," says Pederson. He's heard that mantra before -- several times, in fact – from Green. "Kind of find that focal point, and really lock in on that and don't try and go above that, because you're not at your best when you're exerting too much energy, or your energy level is too high."
Pederson has taken that approach off the field and into the race for an outfield spot with the Dodgers, which, depending on Kemp's health, could be a four-man or five-man logjam, with Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig also in the mix.
"I think I've just got to go about my business, and play the game the right way," says Pederson. "Hopefully, my ability shows on the field. I think a lot of it is just the mental side, maturing, playing an older-type game, a more advanced-type game. I think it's just a lot of maturity and getting a little better approach at the game, being more efficient on your routes in the outfield, hitting more efficiently, just getting a routine that you can go to – stuff like that. I'm fortunate enough to be here with these guys to take notes after them and have guys like Greenie come in and tell me about his routine. I'm like, ‘OK, well, he does this, Ethier does this, Kemp does this, Crawford […] – I can kind of build off of that, and then people can go, ‘Joc does this.' I see what they all do and then make it into mine, and one day, I'll be where they are."
As Pederson walks into the locker room following a 3-3 Dodgers tie with the Brewers last week, the game's starting pitcher -- Josh Beckett -- playfully squawks at the rookie: "Two walks? I expected so much more." Beckett didn't put in his tie-breaking home run request early enough, it would seem.
"I was just looking for good at-bats, more than anything," says Mattingly. "I just want to give him some experience, let him have some at-bats in camp. I think we all like his swing. He's got nice, easy timing. We're just looking for guys to have good at-bats. We'll see what it looks like in spring training, and then go from there."
For Pederson, it doesn't much matter where he winds up this season, but though conventional wisdom would put him at Triple-A, where he can get 500 at-bats and regular playing time, rather than as the fourth or fifth outfielder on a loaded Dodgers side, the dream of being a Major Leaguer doesn't deal in rationality.
"I think, right now, it's about getting at-bats, but if they think that I can help the team win, and all I get is 50 at-bats to try and help the team win, that's what my job is," says Pederson. "It's all about winning. That's on them. That's out of my control. When I'm in the lineup, I'm going to play, and when I'm not, it is what it is."
‘It is what it is.' Shawn Green would be proud.
Past Meets Present Meets Future for Pederson
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