And so what Dustin Pedroia has learned this year is what many of us learned a long, long time ago, specifically that Boston can be an excruciatingly difficult place to play professional baseball when things do not go right. Almost no one escapes unscathed. Some of Pedroia's behavior and commentary this season brings into question his leadership skills and suggests he still has some growing up to do -- don't we all? -- but only the most rash and foolish Red Sox follower would deem him to be part of the real problem.
You have watched Pedroia for six years now, after all, so trust your eyes and your instincts. You have seen him bunt runners from second to third without being asked to bunt. You have seen him bat leadoff and cleanup, second, and third. You have seen him run, dive, pick himself up and do it again, and you have seen a player committed to baseball, to the Red Sox, to his job and, most of all, to winning.
"I want to be a Red Sox my whole career," Pedroia recently told Rob Bradford of WEEI.com in a lengthy interview. "I want to be here during the World Series times, during the September collapse, the biggest trade, and I want to be here when we're world champs again. I want that. I've been through times when not a writer said a bad thing about me, or the talk show hadn't said a bad thing about me, and I want to be here when they say a bad thing about me. I look in the mirror every day and at the end of the season I'm going to look back and say I did everything I could to help us win. Were there parts I regret? Yeah, without question. There were a lot more than in the past, but I learned from those things. It's going to make me better, I believe that. Yeah, I have to believe that. It's going to."
Let's remember something about the relatively new generation of Red Sox player, from Pedroia to Jacoby Ellsbury to Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. Until this year, they had never really faced any professional adversity. Not as a team. During Pedroia's rookie season in 2007, the Red Sox trailed the Cleveland Indians in games, 3-1, during the American League Championship Series. And yet there was a feeling in the Boston clubhouse that the Red Sox season was far from over, that they could come back and defeat the Indians because they had overcome a 3-0 series deficit against the New York Yankees only three years earlier.
And so you know what happened? The Red Sox won seven in a row and claimed their second World Series titles in four seasons, Pedroia and Ellsbury and Buchholz inheriting the traits of the revolutionaries before them. The Red Sox strived glory where they once feared shame, their entire organization having undergone a massive change in culture and mentality.
"That's a great thing to have associated with your organization," then-general manager Theo Epstein said at the time. "It establishes a real culture of winning and overcoming obstacles throughout the organization. You can't teach that."
Even a year later, don't you remember what happened? The Red Sox were on the verge of being bounced from the ALCS by the Tampa Bay Rays in five games. They faced a whopping 7-0 deficit entering the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 5. The Sox then rallied for an astounding 8-7 victory and won Game 6, too, their comeback ultimately falling short in Game 7 at Tropicana Field.
Even in defeat, in many ways, we celebrated the Red Sox character, resiliency, fight.
Pedroia was a member of those teams as surely as he has been a member of the last two, so here's the point: Pedroia always has been someone who plays to the crowd more than leads them. On the field, he has always set tone and provided spark. In the clubhouse, he has always been more of a chop-buster and a prankster, which is hardly a criticism. The best teams have a little bit of everything, on the field and off, and Pedroia always has given the Red Sox so much is so many ways.
What we learned this year is that Pedroia cannot give the Red Sox everything, at least not yet. Maybe not ever. When Bobby Valentine tweaked Kevin Youkilis early in the season -- and that is all it was -- a true clubhouse leader might have pulled Youkilis aside and said something to the effect of, "Hey, I don't like it, either, but he's the manager now. If we're going to be a team, we need to step in line behind him." Instead, Pedroia helped fortify a wall that already existed between Valentine and his players, something for which he has admitted fault.
Whether you buy Pedroia's explanations on some of the other happenings at Fenway this season -- from his absence at Johnny Pesky's funeral to his infamous photograph with a sleeping Valentine -- that is up to you. But anyone who knows Pedroia even a little knows that though he carries a sizable chip on his shoulder -- that is what makes him the player he is -- he intentions are good. He is hardly malicious. One of Pedroia's greatest talents is that he knows how to fit in, which proved to be a curse in a Red Sox clubhouse filled with overpaid, underachieving malcontents.
And so, when this Red Sox club started heading in the wrong direction -- at least in the clubhouse -- Pedroia followed. He did what he has always done and played to the crowd. Pedroia may be a lot of things to some, but overpaid and underachieving is a hard tag to put on a player who has spent his major league life as the opposite.
Does that mean Pedroia's behavior should be forgotten? Hardly. The negatives, like the positives, stay there forever with all of us. For now, many of us are willing to chalk it all up to a very bad year. Pedroia may someday prove to be the leader of the Red Sox, but he is not there now. Whether he ends up there is entirely up to him, but it is not essential for him to be the team leader in order for him to be a key member of the Red Sox for years to come.
Dustin Pedroia, after all, has won here.
And at the moment, he is one of the relatively few players in the Boston clubhouse who still knows how to.
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