Dustin Pedroia Comes Out Swinging
Nearly a decade later, in a slack moment during spring training, the reigning American League MVP laughs coldly at the mention of Rinaldi’s story.
"You know what?" he says. "It ticked me off. He’s my coach, first of all. If you want [Patrick] on your team, go coach his high school. You’re either on my side or you’re out of here. You’re either two feet in or two feet out.
"I remember it," Pedroia goes on. "I remember everything. I remember thinking to myself, ‘There’s no way that guy’s better than me.’ But that’s what pushes me. At that time, was that guy better than me? Yeah, probably. But I wasn’t going to let myself think that."
Pedroia has somehow imagined himself into a scenario in which, even after winning a World Series, even after the accolades, he remains the unappreciated little guy in a world of Chris Patricks. We’ll see who’s better. And listening to him here in Fort Myers, at the top of his profession, talking sadly of ancient slights, it becomes abundantly clear: No one pushes the scrappy myth harder than Pedroia himself. He buys into it all the way, all 5-foot-8, 170 pounds of him, just as surely as the old politicians bought their own guff about log cabins.
It is early afternoon now, which, in the languid nature of the first week of spring training, means it has been a long day for the Sox. A warm sun arcs over Florida’s Gulf Coast. Pedroia is talking once again about A-Rod. His subject now is last year’s All-Star Game, where Pedroia and teammate Kevin Youkilis made up the right side of the infield, while Rodriguez and Yankees idol Derek Jeter constituted the left. Tomorrow, perhaps leery of feeding a rivalry whose coverage in the tabloid press alone accounts for the destruction of several spotted owl habitats, Pedroia will ask that his comments about A-Rod be stricken from the record. ("That guy," he will say, pausing for a moment to find the right word, "is a dork.") But at this moment, here in the shade of the clubhouse, he is expansive.
"He was the man. He’s always been the man, everywhere he’s been," Pedroia says. "Me and Youk want to be the man, but we’ve never been looked at like that." Pedroia’s tone is emphatic now, and for a moment you forget that he and Youkilis were well enough regarded to finish first and third in last year’s MVP voting. But listen to him now, making tiny mental adjustments, positioning himself (just a step one way or the other) so that he still has something to prove, so that he remains the perpetual underdog.
"So that drives us," he continues, now thumping the table, "to be even better"—THUMP—"and better—THUMP—"to prove to everybody we’re just as good as they are. You know what I mean? How come people don’t think like that?