"This" being his swing-from-the-heels approach. How can a guy who looks like a singles hitter swing so violently?
"This" being his range in the field. Look at how small and stubby he is. How's he going to get to balls hit into the hole?
"This" being his defiance. Rookies are supposed to melt into the scenery, speak only when spoken to and approach life in the big leagues with wide-eyed acquiescence, not talk trash in the dugout, strut around the locker room, battle the manager in cribbage and wear garish clothes.
Alas, Pedroia is a lot of things. Acquiescent is not one of them.
"When you meet Dustin for the first time, you kind of step back a little bit because he's not that usual minor league kid with a relaxed demeanor," Curt Schilling said. "He's somewhat ‘I'm going to kick your ass and there's nothing you can do about it.' That's a little different. When you're 5'2'' it's obviously very different."
Pedroia—listed at 5-foor-9 but quite possibly closer to 5-foot-2 than 5-foot-9—never would have reached the majors, never mind won the American League Rookie of the Year award as he did today, by waiting his turn. After all, who's waiting to give a shot to a short, stocky and balding kid who seems even smaller outside of uniform?
The Sox spent a second-round pick on Pedroia in 2004, but that was a draft in which the Sox were expecting to add minor league depth and not long-term building blocks. Of the 27 draftees signed by the Sox, only two have reached the majors (sixth-rounder Cla Meredith is the other).
But Pedroia, who arrived at Arizona State as a 130-pound freshman in the fall of 2001 and departed as a national player of the year finalist, forced himself into the big league mix by hitting .308 with a .391 on-base percentage and a walk-to-strikeout ratio of 125/77 in 1,040 minor league at-bats.
"You don't have to be big to play this game," Pedroia said. "If you work hard, you get better. I've played this game a long time—since I was like four years old—so I don't think size is an issue.
"It is that first month of every level I go to. Then after that, that's about it."
"That's about it" seemed to sum up the feelings about Pedroia after he hit .191 following his recall last Aug. 22 and .182 in April. But Terry Francona stuck with Pedroia despite the calls for Alex Cora—"Everybody gets bored, starts writing that the guy's 5-2 and he needs to go," Pedroia said—and Pedroia rewarded his cribbage buddy by hitting .333 the rest of the way to finish at .317—the highest average ever by a rookie second baseman—with eight homers, 50 RBI, 47 walks and just 42 strikeouts.
He made just six errors at second base—including just one in a 90-game span from Apr. 13-Aug. 11 and made the defensive play of the year Sept. 1, when he dove behind second base to stab a grounder by Miguel Tejada, whirled and threw out the Orioles shortstop by a step at first to keep Clay Buchholz' no-hitter alive.
"Defensively, he had a phenomenal year, and I speak first-hand because he did some things behind me that [were] spectacular," Schilling said.
Pedroia recovered from a slow start in the playoffs to deliver two of the biggest hits of October—a two-run homer that extended the Sox lead to three runs in the seventh inning of Game Seven of the ALCS and a leadoff homer in Game One of the World Series three nights later. His performance was even more impressive considering he played the entire postseason with a cracked hamate bone in his left hand (he had surgery earlier this month).
Whatever "this" is, it works. Pedroia's antics in the dugout and clubhouse have allowed him to begin emerging as a team leader at 24 (said Pedroia: "I try to have fun, keep everybody relaxed. I'd rather have a guy on our team think I'm insane so they're not worrying about [if] something goes wrong for them, you know?"—even if his teammates are still amused by his behavior.
After Game Two of the World Series, Pedroia wore a suit that included a pink tie. "You know it's casual dress, right?" J.D. Drew said.
"Styling and profiling, just like Ric Flair," Pedroia said, referring to the wrestler.
Eric Hinske shook his head. "What a dork," he said.
Yeah. But it works.
Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at email@example.com. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752. To subscribe to Diehard or diehardmagazine.com, please CLICK HERE
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