Precocious Pedroia a team favorite
Red Sox rookie having fun on the field and in the clubhouse
BOSTON -- Dustin Pedroia, Boston's 5-foot-9 sparkplug, is tired of talking about the physical toll of year-round baseball on a man of his size. He hopes everyone else is, too.
"I think I hit over .300 my last month," Pedroia said, "so that pretty much shuts everybody up about that."
Actually, Pedroia hit .302 in September, a 25-game stretch in which he totaled almost as many plate appearances (110) as he did in August (113), his busiest month. In August, by the way, he hit .346 and slugged .490. And July? Just a hair under .300 -- .299 -- in 97 at-bats.
Without his .317 second-half average, in fact, Pedroia wouldn't have broken the Major League record for batting average by a rookie second baseman. Pedroia finished the regular season with a .3173 average, besting the old record of .3171, held since 1913 by a little-known Pittsburgh Pirate named Jim Viox.
Once again, Pedroia demurs.
"I don't really care about personal achievements, man," Pedroia said. "It's pretty cool, I guess."
Those who know Pedroia best are aware that self-reflection, of any kind, goes against his nature. Talk is cheap. The irony, of course, is that he carries one of the biggest mouths on the team.
It wasn't always that way. Arriving in Boston as a 23-year-old rookie in April, Pedroia claimed the starting job at the keystone despite hitting .226 during a lackluster Spring Training. In April, he went 10-for-55 with just three extra-base hits, all doubles. He was struggling in much the same way as he struggled during a late 2006 September callup. And he was doing so silently.
"You know, when you're a young player," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona, and "you're coming into a Major League atmosphere, [with a] veteran team, there's a way to act. And sometimes balancing that isn't the easiest thing to do. While he was quiet, and maybe that's not his nature, the veterans, I think, respected the way he was handling himself, and the way he was handling his adversity early on.
"And then he started getting hot."
And so Pedroia's historic rookie season, the year in which he became a feisty, dirty-jerseyed icon for the next generation in Boston, really started in May. He began to hit, and hit with authority, lighting up American League pitching with a .415 average and a .600 slugging percentage in May. He made all the plays in the field, solidifying his grip on the starting job over backup Alex Cora.
It was then, Francona said, that Pedroia's true personality came out.
"It started being a case where the energy was good, the veterans loved him, and that's the way he needs to be to be a good player," Francona said. "But I still think he handled it correctly. You come in on Day 1 saying some of the things he's saying on Day 160, and somebody might have smacked him. In fact, they still do. But it's worked. I think he handled himself very well."
A loudmouth? The ribbing Pedroia takes -- and gives -- goes on behind closed doors. Teammates badger him by posting images of mice caught in traps, the mice aptly named after the Red Sox's smallest player.
To fans, Pedroia's bat and glove speak loudest. He swings like a larger man, which such viciousness that he racked up 48 extra-base hits during his rookie season. He attacks the ball in the infield with the same kind of aggressiveness.
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"I'm just trying to do things to help us win," Pedroia said. "I don't really care what I hit or what I do. I just want to make a couple of plays, get on base and help us."
Most impressive of all, this all came in a season in which his manager once wondered whether overworking Pedroia would cause him to waste away.
"I think you can make mistakes by leaving guys out there," Francona said in July. "Then, when Pedroia weighs 130 pounds, I'll be kicking myself."
But the numbers said otherwise -- the first- and second-half splits, the month-by-month repetition of performance.
"I think when you look at Dustin," third baseman Mike Lowell said, "he's played with a lot of consistency. He's done everything we've expected him to."
"He's been doing it all year around, no different," said David Ortiz. "He's had a good one."
How, then, is he feeling after six months of Major League Baseball? Has his body survived the grind?
"Dude," Pedroia said. "I don't really want to talk about that."
Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.