Dustin Pedroia is listed at 5’9″. If that’s true, then Charles Barkley is 6’9″ and Randy Johnson is 7’0″. Pedroia isn’t even 5’9″ with his shoes on, yet he’s the American League MVP, which says a lot about both Pedroia and Major League Baseball’s drug testing policy.
It’s hard to imagine anyone Pedroia’s size starting in the bigs, let alone in just two years becoming the best player on the Boston Red Sox. Pedroia has an air of cockiness about him, but wouldn’t anyone in his size medium jersey? After all, Pedroia has dominated at every level, from high school in Woodland (CA) High School to Arizona State, where he was a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award in 2004, on to the Minors where he was named the 2005 Red Sox Minor League Offensive Player of the Year before earning Rookie of the Year honors and an MVP trophy in consecutive seasons.
The diminutive second baseman may be a Boston hero to the point where “Pedroiaaahhhhh” has made everyone in New England forget they ever yelled “Nomaaahhhh,” but he’s still a Northern Californian at heart. Formerly a San Francisco Giants fan and still a Niners fan, Pedroia’s strictly a no-nonsense guy who says what’s on his mind but still seems allergic to self-promotion. Case in point: as the cover athlete for Sony’s MLB 09: The Show, I met Pedroia at an event Sony threw in San Diego where Pedroia performed simple baseball-related tasks in a motion capture suit. In his first time actually playing the game as himself on a 42-inch Sony Bravia plasma TV, virtual Pedroia took CC Sabathia deep. After crossing homeplate, Pedroia did a very extensive handshake/patty-cake celebration with virtual David Ortiz. Pedroia wasn’t pleased, yelling, “I don’t do any of that!” Pedroia was laughing, but you can be damn sure Sony will take that celebration away from his character before the game hits the shelves in a few weeks.
Pedroia’s outspokenness and moxie on the field have made him the favorite of Red Sox fans everywhere, but his lack of pretension (along with the Reef flip-flops he wore to the mo-cap event), showed he’s a West Coast guy at heart.
Here’s an interview I did on Thursday with Pedroia along with IGN’s Avi Burk. Earlier in the morning ESPN recorded a live interview with Pedroia that was shown on First Take, which included a scene of a shirtless (and decidedly not-cut) Pedroia dancing next to a woman on stage at a Mike Lowell charity event. This interview spans everything from Pedroia’s thoughts on the importance of height in baseball to Manny Ramirez to Mike Singletary. It also took place three days before his older brother was taken into custody on sexual molestation charges. Good timing, since if that story had broke before the mo-cap event I’m sure Pedroia wouldn’t have been nearly so forthright with us. Or maybe he would have.
IGN: What was the mindset this winter when you went ahead and signed the extension to take you through arbitration?
Dustin Pedroia: Just one of those things. I played two years in the big leagues and they offered me that amount of money, and who am I to turn 40 million dollars down? I’m not going to do that. So I just went ahead and signed it, and I love playing in Boston so I figured it was the right thing to do.
IGN: When you see some of the numbers getting thrown around in arbitration right now, do you ever second-guess that decision?
DP: Not really. I mean if I go out and break my leg next year and can’t play ever again, I got 40 million dollars. Nothing’s guaranteed in this world, except that 40 million dollars.
Bay Area Sports Guy: (pointing to the MLB 09: The Show poster featuring Pedroia prominently displayed behind him) And The Show money, too!
DP: And that, too.
BASG: Looking at your (MLB 09: The Show) cover here, was it part of your contract that you had to have the uniform dirty or you wouldn’t be on the cover?
DP: (laughs) No, I’m not big on demands or anything like that.
BASG: I just noticed that’s a big part of your game. It seems like, and maybe you’ve heard announcers say, “He’s somehow dirty by the first inning.” Is that a part of your game that you have given thought to over the years, or is it something that just sort of happens?
DP: That’s just…how I am. Just sort of happens…
IGN: That’s not (Kevin Youkilis) rubbing off on you, is it?
DP: No, he’s never dirty. He might seem like a dirt dog and all that stuff, but he’s a little more fancy than that. You see him wearing those nice, feathered hats and stuff. I’m going to get on him about that. No, but especially on the right side of the infield it’s fun, Youk and I are always diving around and trying to make plays, stuff like that. It’s great.
BASG: When you play videogames, do you find that being a hitter and facing Major League pitching that you might attack hitting differently? Do you take pitches more than somebody off the street, or do you hit differently playing a videogame than you would actually at the plate?
DP: A little bit. Like when I play videogames I’m trying to go deep every pitch. I’m definitely not going to try to do that in real life. In the (video)game I’m trying to leave the yard.
IGN: You mentioned loving playing in Boston. It’s a real different media scene out there. I know you’re a California kid from the Sacramento area. What’s it been like adjusting to the East Coast media and the Boston media in particular?
DP: It’s alright, you know. I didn’t know what to expect at first, but I think me myself, they gotta embrace me. If they don’t, screw ’em. I am who I am, I’m not going to change for anybody.
BASG: How did you find out that you won the MVP award?
DP: A guy from the New York, uh, sportswriters (Ed. Note: Pedroia almost slipped up and told us his source, which would have been fun!) called me. I’d won the Rookie of the Year the year before and he’s the same guy that called me. So I saw the phone number come up and I’m like “Damn, I might have won the MVP, this is crazy, you know?” So I answered it and sure enough, I did. So I just turned around and went home and told my wife and called my parents and everybody, and they ended up announcing it a couple hours later. So, that was pretty cool.
BASG: After winning MVP, what are you trying to work on this offseason? Is it just trying to kind of stay in good condition and stay healthy, or are there different parts of your game you focused on and tried to improve?
DP: Just everything, trying to get stronger, faster. That’s the biggest thing with me in the offseason, put my body through intense training so I can last 162 (games) or 185 if we make the playoffs and try to win the whole thing.
IGN: A lot of times guys who are your size kind of fly under the radar and have a tougher time getting noticed by scouts. But looking back at your career, all the way back to your amateur days, you’ve always been a guy who’s earned a lot of recognition and received a lot of accolades. What do you attribute all that to? A lot of guys with similar stature put up good numbers but they have a tough time getting noticed by scouts.
DP: I don’t know. I think anybody, if they were the same size as me, and they were putting up the same numbers as me, they would get recognized just as much as I did. So, I don’t know.
IGN: You don’t particularly fortunate that you were able to stand out in that way?
DP: Not really. I mean it doesn’t matter if I’m 5’5″ or 6’5″, if I’m hitting .330 with 20 bombs, who gives a shit, you know? It doesn’t matter if you’re tall or small.
BASG: I heard somebody asking you about the Yankees, but the Red Sox have been adding players seemingly every day. What do you think about the moves that you guys have made to get ready for next year?
DP: I think we did a great job. Getting John Smoltz, Brad Penny, Saito in the bullpen, get Mark Kotsay back, Josh Bard too. We got some pieces that are definitely going to help us hopefully win the World Series. We got Rocco Baldelli as well, we’re covered at every area in case of an injury or something like that, we can still go out and perform at a high level.
IGN: The media talks a lot about Manny, Manny being Manny, being a character. What was your time playing with Manny like? How would you describe him as a teammate?
DP: Well, he was great to me. I think he just ran into a situation where he was unhappy about his contract, (pause) and kind of didn’t play out the way he wanted to in Boston, so I think it was time for us to move on and for him to move on.
IGN: What can you say about Jason Bay and what he meant to the team when you guys made that move?
DP: Oh, Jason’s awesome. True professional, plays hard every day. Good all-around player, plays defense, steals bases, he does everything he can to help his team win and we definitely loved getting him over there.
BASG: Now it looks like they’re really talented, but in the beginning of the year were you shocked at how good Tampa Bay was this season, or was it something that you guys saw coming with all their young talent coming up?
DP: We saw it coming. They have so many good young players, you know, they’ve had a lot of first round picks early in the draft for a lot of years. That’s just how it goes. And all of them came up together and made some really good trades. They got Scott Kazmir, who pretty much anchors their staff. They got great young pitching and position players that are very athletic. They’re going to be good for a long time.
BASG: Do you worry more about them or the Yankees?
DP: Right now I’m worried about them. They won the American League. The Yankees didn’t win the American League. If they did, we’d worry about the Yankees. Obviously, we’re concentrating on that first game of the year, which is against the Rays, so we’ll think about them first.
IGN: When you get a day off or when you get back to the hotel, who are some of the guys that you enjoy watching play when you aren’t busy on the field yourself?
DP: Nobody in particular, I just like watching baseball. I mean, after every game we play if there’s a game on, like an ESPN game I’ll turn it on and watch it. I don’t have the package though, I’m not that crazy.
IGN: Which pitcher that you’ve faced over the last couple of years do you think has the nastiest stuff? Who’s the toughest at-bat for you?
DP: Probably Roy Halladay. He’s great. Great stuff.
IGN: Is it just the stuff, or is it move…
DP: Oh both, I mean you know going into that at-bat, he’s mentally tough, he’s going to fight you to the end. Movement, his ball moves everywhere, it’s heavy. He’s the man.
BASG: There was an ESPN The Magazine piece I read about you that kind of portrayed you as the little guy with the big mouth. Is that close to the truth or was that a little embellishment there?
DP: That’s a little, yeah. They take things to a whole new level. I definitely give guys a hard time. I like to keep it relaxed and joke around with guys, but I think they were stretching it a little bit.
BASG: One other thing that we saw this morning on ESPN’s First Take – we were watching you in the other room…
DP: Did you see me with my shirt off?
BASG: We did, actually.
DP: I’m ripped now, don’t worry about that. I got you covered.
BASG: No, we thought it was great. But we did hear you’re a Niner fan.
BASG: What do you think of coach Singletary and the way the team’s going?
DP: I think he’s great. He’s not putting up with any B.S. He’s taking care of business. You don’t want to play, get out of there.
BASG: That’s right. That was a good speech.
DP: Yeah, he could beat anybody’s (slight pause) butt there. I like that.
IGN: Do you fly the Niners colors out in Boston?
DP: No, I got a Frank Gore jersey, though. I mean, I got some jerseys.
IGN: Do you hear it loud from Patriots fans, though?
DP: I don’t really care what they think. If they don’t like me then, that’s it.
BASG: Is Jon Papelbon as crazy as he seems on television?
DP: He’s alright, he’s just a normal guy.
BASG: They focus on his face and his expression and everything like that, but you wonder, is he really that intense?
DP: Jonathan Papelbon is a great guy, but this other guy, Cinco-Ocho, which he calls himself, that guy’s an idiot. (laughs) He’s got two people, he’s literally two people. Cinco-Ocho, he’s a little different.