Todd Claus was in his freshman year with the Boston Red Sox organization in 2004, leading the advanced minor league A-level team in Sarasota, Florida, as a round 20-year-old with a baby face, perhaps 5-foot-7, introduced himself.
He said, ‘I am Dustin Pedroia. I’m your new shortstop, “recalled Claus and looked at tiny Pedroia.” And I think, “No, you aren’t.”
“During his first punch training, he swings off his heels. I speak to Bill Lajoie (the late Red Sox scout) and say, “This will never work. I know I’m new here, but what if we make our top picks to sign such people? ‘
“Bill says, ‘I hear you. I think the child can play. ‘”
The boy played and played until he could no longer physically. Pedroia, 37, announced his retirement on Monday, sparking a flurry of memories including Pedroia’s time in Portland and outstanding seasons.
“We knew that day was coming, didn’t we?” Claus said by phone on Tuesday.
“The fact that he has played a 17-year career has exceeded all expectations except his own.”
Claus, 51, now Scouting Director at the Red Sox, said Pedroia didn’t always make a good first impression, but that was of little consequence compared to his performance. Claus soon became a fan of Boston’s second-round draft pick.
“He goes out and plays shortstop and the boy doesn’t make a mistake. We are talking about (class) A-ball fields.
“He didn’t care about Flash. All he cared about was the split second in which you were out first. “
On the plate, Pedroia beat .336 in 30 games (after beating A .400 in a dozen games in the low class).
In 2005, Claus and Pedroia switched to Double-A.
“Wait to see this guy play,” Claus Sea Dogs told fans during an offseason event in Portland.
After 42 games in A Ball in 2004, Pedoria was among Boston’s other top prospects in Portland in 2005 – 2003 first-round draft pick David Murphy, aspiring pitcher Jonathan Papelbon and touted shortstop Hanley Ramirez. With Ramirez, Pedroia made the expected move to the second base.
In a team of stars of the small league, Pedroia stood out.
“Dustin was as good as it gets,” said Claus. “He was an excellent teammate. It’s all about winning. He was never afraid to work. You saw that foreplay stuff (which he was known for in Boston) in Portland.
“He was a professional at work from an early age. He knew what he wanted to do. “
Pedroia was ambitious and dedicated and never presented herself to the media above the team. In spring training 2005 he said: “I only study day in and day out, just like many others.”
Those other guys were still in Portland when Pedroia was promoted to Triple-A after just 66 games – the fastest rise of any Red Sox prospect in Portland to Jackie Bradley Jr. in 2012 (61 games) and Mookie Betts in 2014 (60).
Before Pedroia arrived at Triple-A Pawtucket, Claus PawSox manager called Ron Johnson. Recalling his first impression of Pedroia, Claus wanted to give Johnson a heads-up.
“I said,” RJ, we’re sending you this kid. He’s not impressive (at first), but you have to see him play. He will do things you win games. ‘
“RJ called back a week later and said, ‘Hey, you were right. ‘The next spring, RJ had the same conversation (about Pedroia) with Tito (then Red Sox manager Terry Francona). “
During the Pedroia video press conference on Monday, he greeted Johnson, who died last week from complications from COVID-19, and his fellow minor league coaches.
“The small leagues have been a big part of my success as the big leagues,” he said. “I thought I should have gone from college to the big leagues… In my mind I thought I was already developed.
“When I got to Double-A, I learned Profiball, how to play a long season and how to deal with mistakes on the same day.
“When I got to Triple-A with RJ – which we just lost – he really taught me how to handle everything. You will have times during a season that you feel cold. Just the ups and downs. I needed it. I had never played three games without a goal. You do that in the minor leagues. It’s baseball. All of what I’ve learned in the minor leagues prepared me for the craziness of coming to Boston. “
Pedroia may have arrived in Boston in 2005 but was hit by bad luck and broke her left hand. He missed two weeks and shuffled and hit .255. It was Pedroia’s first long fight as a professional. Other injuries slowed Pedroia down in 2006, but on August 22nd, he finally got his call to major leagues.
Pedroia was named first second baseman in 2007, batting .172 on May 1.
“I had problems when I started and I relied on the struggles I had in Triple-A for the first few months,” said Pedroia, “and that helped me get through.”
The year ended with being named Rookie of the Year and collecting the first of three World Series rings – quite a career for someone who had some coaches and Boy Scouts shaking their heads when the Red Sox picked him.
“He was a very second most important choice in the second round,” said Claus, “until he just went out and did it.” He would do it his way. He was a little Sinatra.
“He was the mentally strongest player and the person I have ever seen. Baseball has so many adversities. He’s type A-plus. It is remarkable to compete the way he did, to try hard and play for 17 years. “
Pedroia’s physical decline began on April 21, 2017 when Manny Machado slipped onto his knee to end a double game. Pedroia was still playing 105 games, hitting .293.
In the following seasons, however, there were many more injuries than in the actual games. In 2018 and 2019, Pedroia only played in nine Red Sox games. His 3v31 performance brought his career batting average by one point to 0.299.
Pedroia’s last professional game was during a rehab out at Hadlock Field. He left the game on May 24 after just four innings.
Pedroia was still hoping to play but was derailed again the morning after training in January 2020.
“I woke up and my knee was huge … it looked like there was an explosion there,” said Pedroia. “I was told I needed a partial knee replacement.”
The pandemic delayed this surgery until December – it eased the pain in his knee and guaranteed he would never play again. “I can’t run anymore,” he said.
Official retirement took place on Monday. He ends with a career of .805 OPS, 51.6 WAR, an MVP Award, four Gold Gloves and legendary status in Boston.
“A rare, rare baseball player,” said Claus. “I hope he spoke about this for the Hall of Fame. Look at all of his work.
“He played the game clean, played it hard, played it right.”
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