Energetic Pedroia heart, soul of Red Sox
Second baseman has no off switch, sets tone on and off field
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For all that has changed around the Red Sox -- from the general manager to the manager to key players and even a lot of the perceptions that surround the team -- perhaps the most important element remains.
He hits self-proclaimed lasers. He plays Gold Glove defense. He never stops chirping. He never stops working.
Dustin Pedroia has always been important to the Red Sox, dating back to his American League Rookie of the Year Award season in 2007, but the case can be made that in this season of transition, his presence has never been as vital.
If you are the former manager or the new manager, a holdover player or a new acquisition, everyone seems to glow when the subject is Pedroia.
"He's a wonderful person and just the model baseball player, the guy you'd write a book about and want your baseball kid to grow up like," said manager Bobby Valentine. "He's terrific. He's everything I had imagined and more."
Valentine is just getting to know Pedroia. How about the guy who managed Pedroia the last five years?
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"He's the most special player I've ever managed," Terry Francona said recently.
So what makes Pedroia this revered by those who are around him every day? Probably the fact that he has no off switch, be it on the field or in the clubhouse.
In a sport that has 162 games in a season and can be draining, Pedroia's infectious demeanor can be invaluable.
"He's definitely one of a kind," said right-hander Clay Buchholz. "I know there's a lot of guys that are sparkplugs for different teams, but when I look at him, he's our sparkplug. He's probably the leader on this team as far as what he brings to the table every game that he plays in."
This past offseason, Buchholz decided he would train in Arizona for the first time. There was little doubt which workout facility he was going to work out at. He was going to train with Pedroia, who is legendary for his winter workouts with Andre Ethier and several other Major Leaguers who live in the area.
"He understands that he's one of the best in the game, but he takes it with a grain of salt and tries to get better every offseason," said Buchholz. "This was the first time I've worked out with him in the offseason, but he was always there early getting his work in and he was excited for the upcoming season to arrive. That makes the people push a little harder to get better and understand that this is our job and we have to be ready to do what we need to do."
Pedroia gets in teammates' ears for all the right reasons. He wants them to get better, so in turn, the Red Sox can be better.
That process doesn't end when baseball season ends. For the 28-year-old Pedroia, it's a 12-month endeavor.
"We're around each other so much," Pedroia said. "Then it just stops. You want to stay in touch with them, see how they're doing and make sure they're doing the right things to get ready for the season."
Though there are other infectious leaders around the game, Pedroia is definitely one of the most unique.
"This is the only organization I've been in and he's the only guy I've played around that's like him in stature -- and he's loud," Buchholz said. "He lets everybody know what's on his mind, and I think that's a good thing. He's a big deal to this team."
Utility infielder Nick Punto, who played on a World Series championship team last year with St. Louis, quickly took note of Pedroia's impact.
"[He's] just like I thought he would be," Punto said. "High energy. Great personality. Well liked by his teammates. Gets away with stuff in the clubhouse that nobody could get away with. It's hard to be in a bad mood with Dustin Pedroia. He's always on."
David Ortiz, who has quite a personality himself, actually got Pedroia withdrawals during the winter.
"In the offseason, I talked to Pedey pretty much every day, because at one point, I kind of missed him," Ortiz said. "When you're not listening to him talking all that [trash] ... you kind of get used to it for nine months, so for three months it's kind of weird. I always texted him and called him, and he always has something to say. It's great to have Pedey around and get to the point where you can hear what he has to say. Pedey always gets me in the mood. He always gets me going one way or the other."
Even in this transient era in which players are switching teams quite often, it's hard to imagine Pedroia wearing a different jersey.
It might make Red Sox fans feel better to know that Pedroia hopes to stay for a long time.
"Yeah, absolutely. I know in today's game, it's hard," Pedroia said. "But I've seen some guys who are going to get the opportunity to do that, and it's definitely something that I want to do. I want to be a Red Sox. I want to be with the team that drafted me and be with them my whole career. We'll see what happens."
Unlike a year ago, when Pedroia played with a screw in his surgically-repaired left foot and still had a monster season, there are no health worries going into 2012.
"I feel great. My body feels great," Pedroia said.
That's a good thing. For if anyone on the Red Sox sets the tone, it is Pedroia.