Dustin Pedroia Comes Out Swinging
He’s not that short, can’t stand his hometown, and thinks A-Rod is a big “dork.” And even after the World Series win, even after the MVP award, he still feels he needs to fight for respect.
Besides, any 25-year-old nervy enough to set down his memoir is clearly not paralyzed by other people’s criticism. And yet athletes, even the great ones—maybe especially the great ones—have an endless capacity for cultivating a sense of victimhood. It’s a useful self-deception, a way of rousing the emulative ethic deep in every jock’s soul. Pedroia’s coach at Woodland, Rob Rinaldi, likes to tell the story of Chris Patrick and the National Classic. It was 1999, and Rinaldi had recently returned from a major tournament down in Long Beach, where he had coached this Patrick kid, a shortstop. He was a coach’s dream. Great leader. Made all the plays. Patrick was a soon-to-be senior at a high school near Fresno. Pedroia was a junior-to-be in Woodland. One day, Rinaldi happened to mention to Pedroia just how much he liked Patrick.
“What was so good about him?” Pedroia demanded.
“Great leader. Makes all the plays,” Rinaldi told Pedroia.
“This really bothered him,” Rinaldi recalls today. Pedroia chewed on this for the rest of the year and even into the following high school season, approaching Rinaldi every month or so and asking, “What about Patrick, man? You still think he’s better than me?”
As it happened, the two teams met in the 2000 National Classic, one of the premier events in high school baseball. The squads were booked into the same hotel, and shortly after Woodland checked in, sure enough, in walked Patrick’s team. Pedroia turned to Rinaldi.
“Which guy is he?” he demanded.
“Patrick. Which guy is he?”
Rinaldi pointed him out.
“Go get him right now. Tell him I want to take ground balls in the parking lot right now. We’ll see who’s better.”
In the game, Pedroia gave Woodland its first run when he doubled, stole third, and tagged up on a foul ball on which the pitcher, first baseman, and catcher all converged. (The catcher made the play, but no one covered the plate.) Then, in the seventh, the game’s final inning, Pedroia uncorked a three-run home run to push Woodland to a 4–3 lead. In the bottom half, he flipped a double play. “Dustin single-handedly won the game,” Rinaldi recalls. Afterward, Pedroia gave his coach an earful. “Who you want on your team now?”