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Dan Shaughnessy

Pedroia benefits from the embrace of hardball’s softer side

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By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / July 8, 2009
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Dustin Pedroia didn’t play for the Red Sox Monday night. He rushed out of Fenway Park after batting practice because his wife - seven months pregnant with their first child - was hospitalized with complications.

“It seems like everything’s OK,’’ Pedroia said yesterday afternoon. “I had to be there last night, obviously. It’s been tough. But she’ll be all right. She’s good. She’s a lot more together than I am, I can tell you that.’’

With Pedroia a late scratch, the Sox went with an infield of Aaron Bates, Nick Green, Julio Lugo, and Kevin Youkilis. The Townies managed only two hits and were thrashed, 6-0, by the dreadful Oakland A’s.

No problem. The important thing was that Kelli Pedroia was OK and Dustin Pedroia had some peace of mind.

The episode is a perfect demonstration of Terry Francona’s managing style and the evolution of old-fashioned hardball rules. In the bad old days, players heard about family emergencies and baby deliveries via Western Union. Management did not encourage players to leave. Ever.

“When I was born, my dad didn’t get to see me for a couple of weeks,’’ said Francona, a father of four children. “That’s just the way it was. I missed one of ours being born. My wife is still mad at me.

“I was playing for Cincinnati and I told [manager] Pete Rose and he said, ‘We have a day off, go tomorrow.’ It wasn’t like I was hitting .340. My daughter still talks about it, but at the time, it really wasn’t a decision.’’

Longtime big league player and manager Felipe Alou used to tell writers that he didn’t see his son Moises for a full year after the future outfielder was born.

Former big league catcher Ray Fosse, now an A’s broadcaster, remembered, “When I was with Cleveland in 1970, my grandmother died and I was not allowed to go to her funeral. I had a teammate, Ted Uhlaender, who was a pilot and offered to fly me home, but my manager [Alvin Dark] said, ‘This is baseball, son. You’ve got to deal with it.’ It’s something I never forgot, obviously, because here I am still talking about it 39 years later.’’

Dennis Eckersley, who broke into the bigs in 1975, knows all about the old baseball mentality.

“I didn’t go to my daughter’s college graduation and that was in 1998,’’ said Eck. “I was playing with the Red Sox and I was scuffling and the game was just too important. I regret that now. I’m not proud of it. It was the worst thing I ever did and she still hates me for it.’’

Today players have a choice. And a ballplayer’s decision is accepted and supported. Pedroia actually returned to Fenway during Monday night’s game, only to be sent back to the hospital by his manager.

“My wife told me to come back here and play the game so I came back,’’ said Pedroia. “I kind of do what I’m told. Tito said, ‘You got to get out of here, man. Obviously, you got to take care of your family.’ I headed back, spent the night. It’s good. They had this little bed in there.

“It was tough. It’s our first child. I didn’t really know what to do. I’m learning on the fly. It kind of happened real fast. I’m glad she’s OK and the baby seems to be OK. I’m going to wait and see. She’s probably going to be in there a while. But we’ll get through it.’’

This is where Francona is at his best. As the son of a 15-year major league ballplayer, the Sox skipper lives at the corner of Old School and New School. He grew up seeing things done the old way and now he brings his own rules to the game.

Players’ families come first. It earns him a lot of loyalty in his clubhouse.

“Times have changed,’’ said Francona. “Different people probably feel differently. If one of our players’ wives is giving birth, I think they should be there. I just feel what I feel and do what I feel is right.’’

Pedroia certainly won’t forget these last few days. He has new appreciation for his bosses.

“It’s the best,’’ he said. “The Red Sox organization. [GM] Theo [Epstein] texted me late last night. My whole team. That’s why we’re a great team, because we care about each other.’’

Pedroia was back in the lineup last night. He went 1 for 3 with an RBI single in Boston’s 5-2 victory over the A’s.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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