If there’s such a thing as a gym rat in baseball, then Dustin Pedroia is the game's new poster boy. The 2008 AL MVP is a feisty, trash-talking pit bull who will grind himself into dust if that’s what it takes to gain an edge. A small man with a big personality—and an equally big swing—Dustin can be hard to take, especially if you're rooting against him. But then again, it’s hard to keep from smiling once you’ve spent some time around him. As a teammate, there are few better. From the day Dustin picked up a baseball bat and took his first mighty cut, all he’s thought about is winning. This is his story…

GROWING UP

Dustin Luis Pedroia was born on August 17, 1983 in Woodland, California. (Click here for today's sports birthdays.) His parents, Guy and Debbie, owned a tire shop in town. They provided for Dustin and his older brother, Brett. The family typically logged 15-hour days in the store, so a strong work ethic was ingrained in Dustin from an early age. His job was to sweep out the warehouse behind the store.

Woodland—an agricultural town of about 50,000—is located about a half-hour north of Sacramento. It is known for its tomatoes, and for being the birthplace of Charles Schwab. For Dustin, it was a land of second basemen he could emulate. Steve Sax was from Sacramento, So was Fernando Vina. He borrowed a little from both.

Dustin followed Brett into baseball. The older Pedroia was a catcher who led the way through youth ball, high school and ultimately to college. Brett’s career ended when he snapped his ankle sliding in a Juco game.

Beginning in Little League, Dustin was always the best player on the field, and almost always the smallest. He pitched and played shortstop. Brett’s high school teammates still remember the tough little kid who always found a way to join them on the practice field.

Dustin’s swing was a self-taught home run hack. He almost looked comical taking huge upper cuts and practically corkscrewing himself into the ground. Yet somehow, he made solid contact and sent balls screaming all over the outfield. Those who knew Dustin in Little League swear his swing hasn’t changed.

Part of Dustin's development was tied to his favorite big leaguer, none other than Barry Bonds. The slugger signed with the San Francisco Giants before the 1993 season. Dustin's approach at the plate was reminiscent of Bonds's power and patience.

Dustin’s athletic talents were not limited to baseball. He was also a good quarterback. After enrolling at Woodland High School in 2001, Dustin won the starting job on the freshman team. His football career ended that fall when future NFL star Lance Briggs broke his ankle during a game.

Dustin recovered in time to make the Woodland High varsity baseball team. He was an instant favorite of coach Rob Rinaldi. As a sophomore, Dustin earned his first of three All-Delta League honors. As a senior, Dustin batted .455 and was named the top player in the league. Normally, these credentials would have generated some interest among college and pro talent evaluators. Dustin, however, was still a wisp of a boy.

Because of his diminutive size—he was 5–2 and 140 pounds as a senior—Dustin was ignored by most scouts. Then came the Area Code Games, an annual baseball tournament among All-Star teams representing California’s various area codes. He murdered the ball all tournament long.

ON THE RISE

Suddenly, Dustin was getting real offers from real baseball programs. When given the chance to play at prestigious Arizona State, he signed on the dotted line. Dustin joined a squad coached by Pat Murphy that starred Andre Ethier and Jeremy West. He endeared himself to Murphy by showing up at his first practice, flexing his muscles, and asking, “What do you think of these guns?"

Actually, Murphy thought quite a bit of them. Dustin beat out sophomore Ian Kinsler as the team's starting shortstop, prompting Kinsler to transfer out of Arizona State. Murphy cringed at Dustin ’s swing, but offered only one piece of advice—never make an out to centerfield. Dustin listened and focused on hitting the ball up the alleys and down the lines.

Dustin’s freshman year in 2002 erased any doubt that he wasn't a big-time ballplayer. He batted .347 with 45 RBIs, and was voted second-team All-Pac 10. The only freshman middle infielder who outhit him was Stephen Drew. The Sun Devils went 37–21, finishing third in the conference. They lost to Houston in the NCAA Regionals.

By any measure, Dustin’ first year in college was remarkable. But that was nothing compared to what he did after the season. Dustin stunned Murphy by giving back his scholarship. A Juco pitcher named Ben Thurmond was ready to transfer, and Dustin wanted the Sun Devils to grab him. There were no more scholarships available, so Dustin gave up his. He and Thurmond had played together on a US junior team. Dustin’s parents were making enough to afford the tuition, but Thurmond’s parents were not.


 

 

 


Barry Bonds, 1993 Upper Deck

     
 

The Sun Devils had a spectacular season in 2003, winning 54 times against only 14 losses. They finished second in the Pac 10 to Stanford, and ultimately lost to Chad Cordero and Cal State Fullerton in the NCAA Regionals. Dustin finished second in the conference with a .404 average and led the league with 120 hits, 83 runs and 34 doubles. His buddy Thurmond went undefeated and posted a 2.73 ERA. After the season, Dustin was named the Pac 10 co-Player of the Year and second-team All-American behind LSU’s Aaron Hill. Arizona State finished the year ranked #7 in the nation.

That summer, Dustin got the nod as the starting shortstop for Team USA. He batted .294 and helped the Americans go 27–2, although they lost to Cuba in the Pan Am Games. Among his teammates were future pro hurlers Huston Street, Justin Verlander, Jered Weaver and Micah Owings. His roommate was Kyle Bakker of Georgia Tech, who stood 6–9. They made quite a pair walking through hotel lobbies together.

Dustin’s third and final year at Arizona State saw the team drop down to #22 in the rankings with a 41–18 record. Dustin had another great year, batting a team-high .393. He began to flash a little muscle, too, drilling nine home runs to tie Travis Buck for the team lead. An early exit in the NCAA Tournament was softened a bit when he was named first-team All-American, edging Drew and Brian Bixler for the honor.

With little left to prove on the college level, Dustin now turned his attention to proving he was big enough to play pro ball. He had grown almost five inches in college and now stood 5–7. Arizona State listed him at 5–9, but the media guide wasn’t fooling the pros.

Still, the Boston Red Sox gambled a second-round pick in a shortstop-heavy draft. Before Dustin was tabbed, Matt Bush, Chris Nelson, Trevor Plouffe, Blake DeWitt, Reid Brignac, Drew and Bixler came off the board.

The Red Sox signed Dustin to a $575,000 bonus and started him off at Low Class-A Augusta, where he murdered Sally League pitching at a .400 clip. After a couple of weeks, he was promoted to Sarasota, where he replaced Hanley Ramirez, who had moved up to Class-AA. Dustin continued his torrid hitting, finishing with a .336 average in 30 games. Later in the year, he played in the Arizona Fall League for the Scottsdale Scorpions.


Dustin Pedroia, 2003 Upper Deck
     
 

The 2005 season was Dustin’s first full year in pro ball. He began the year with the Class-AA Portland Seadogs at a new position, second base. He made the switch without complaint or problem. After a few weeks, he looked as if he’d be playing there his whole life. At the plate, Dustin batted .324 and began driving the ball, crashing eight homers in 66 games. That was enough to earn him a promotion over his new DP partner, Ramirez, who was having a so-so season in Portland.

Dustin finished the campaign as the everyday second baseman in Pawtucket. He struggled at times against the better pitching, batting just .255. But he did add five more home runs to give him 13 for the year—an important number for a middle infielder when Fenway Park is your final destination. He was named the organization’s Offensive Player of the Year.

It had been a long time since the Red Sox had so many jewels in their farm system. Besides Dustin, there was Ramirez, Jonathan Papelbon, Brandon Moss, Manny Delcarmen and Jon Lester. All were expected to contribute on the big-league level.

Dustin was invited to the major league camp in 2006 and could feel the stares of veterans wondering who the little guy was. He decided to make a quick impression by belting the first pitch he saw a mile. In his first at-bat of the spring, he overswung on a high fastball from Jason Miller of the Minnesota Twins and wrenched his shoulder. Dustin thought he had broken his arm. He missed the opening month of the season while he rehabbed his injured wing.

Mark Loretta was slated to be Boston’s everyday second baseman. No one knew exactly how long the 35-year-old would stay productive, so Dustin knew he had a chance to prove he belonged. After coming off the DL, he took care of business in Pawtucket, batting .305 in 111 games. However, after his August promotion to the Red Sox, he struggled for the first time in his baseball life. He batted .191 as the team sank to third in the AL East.

Of course, given the way Dustin swaggered around the Red Sox clubhouse, it was hard to tell he hit below the Mendoza line. Dustin felt like he belonged the moment he crossed the threshold. The players had no idea what to make of the little rookie, but they soon grew to love him. He embodied the kind of ridiculous confidence the team had—and later lost—during the 2004 championship run.

MAKING HIS MARK

Dustin went to spring training in 2007 battling Alex Cora for the second base job. Despite a .226 average, he broke camp as the starter. When Dustin struggled in April, he gave Cora a chance to play his way into a platoon. That was the wakeup call that Dustin needed. He soon went on a 13-game hitting streak, his average rocketed up over .300, and he was named the AL Rookie of the Month for May. Boston fans loved Dustin’s never-say-die attitude and his scrappy style. In no time, he played his way back into the lineup and into the hearts of the Fenway faithful.

The Red Sox held a comfortable lead for most of the summer, and held off a charge by the New York Yankees to win the AL East. Dustin’s final stats were superb. He batted .317 with 39 doubles, eight homers and 50 RBIs. Those numbers earned him Rookie of the Year honors.

In the Division Series against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Dustin was a non-factor at the plate, collecting just two hits in Boston’s three-game sweep. He turned it on in the ALCS against the Cleveland Indians, helping the Red Sox come back from a 3–1 deficit. Dustin batted ,354 for the series and led all players with eight runs scored. His home run in Game 7 helped Boston take the pennant.


Hanley Ramirez, 2004 Bowman
     
 

Dustin got the World Series off with a bang against the Colorado Rockies, hitting a leadoff homer against Jeff Francis in Game 1. It was just the second time the first batter in the Fall Classic had homered. Boston took the first two games at home and won Game 3 at Coors Field, 10–5. Dustin and fellow rookie Jacoby Ellsbury combined for seven hits in the romp. The Red Sox swept the series to end a magical season. Dustin’s final World Series numbers were steady with a .278 batting average, a homer and four RBIs.

Dustin’s numbers were all the more remarkable given the revelation in November that he had played the final two months of the year with a cracked hamate bone in his left hand. He had no idea how he broke it.

Dustin was healed and healthy heading into 2008. Now comfortable in the league and in the Boston lineup, he locked in on AL pitchers and had a season for the ages. Dustin stung the ball all year, finishing second in the batting race with a .326 average.

He practically carried the club in late August and early September, even batting cleanup for several games. By Labor Day, whenever Dustin came to the plate, Fenway fans were chanting MVP! MVP! They had a good case. Dustin more than doubled his homer output to 17, led the league with 118 runs and 54 doubles, and tied Ichiro Suzuki for the most hits in baseball, with 213.

With the Yankees having a horrid year, the Red Sox appeared to have a clear path to the playoffs. But Boston found a new division rival in Tampa Bay. The upstart Rays edged the Red Sox after a summer-long battle for first place in the AL East. They may have been young and inexperienced, but they had Boston’s number. The Rays beat the Sox when it counted to take the division crown. Boston had to settle for the Wild Card.

In the Division Series against the Angels, Dustin’s bat finally cooled off. He still contributed in the field, however, making a You Tube quality play on Vladimir Guerrero to help Boston win Game 4. He also had an RBI double that game.

Dustin’s bat came alive against the Rays in the ALCS. In all, he clubbed three home runs and batted .346. But when the rest of the team was unable to solve Tampa Bay’s fine pitching, and theythe Red Sox lost their chance to defend the 2007 championship.

After the World Series, MLB started passing out the major awards. With no no-brainer for AL MVP, Dustin and teammate Kevin Youkilis were in the running, along with Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers and Francisco Rodriguez of the Angels. Word came down on November 18—Dustin was the man. He added the MVP trophy to the Players Choice, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger he had already won. The last Boston player to win MVP was Mo Vaughn, in 1995.

Building on a trend all over baseball, Dustin has proven that the size of a player’s heart is what means the most. His infectious energy and enthusiasm have breathed new life into the Red Sox, and his MVP season established him as one of the team’s clubhouse leaders. Every time Dustin steps to the plate, it's a good bet that someone will jokingly comment on his big swing. Just don't expect to get a laugh out of the opposing pitcher.


Jacoby Ellsbury, 2008 Heritage
     
 

DUSTIN THE PLAYER

There is very little that Dustin Pedroia can’t do on a baseball diamond. He is a Gold Glove-caliber fielder, a swift and opportunistic baserunner, and a dangerous, attacking hitter.

Dustin’s swing is not exactly textbook for a player his size. He approached hitting like Al Simmons did, taking a violent cut and stepping in the bucket. Yet he swings and misses less than almost any other player in baseball—about eight percent of the time. And when he makes contact, it is usually with the fat part of the bat.

Fortunately, over the years Dustin's coaches have resisted tinkering with imperfection—they weren’t going to say anything unless it stopped working for him. And it hasn’t yet.

As a teammate, Dustin is a dream. He's intense, funny and all about winning. Whether on the field or in the clubhouse, he is a natural leader.

 


Dustin Pedroia, 2008 Stadium Club

 

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