On Monday, Feb. 1, longtime Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia announced his retirement from Major League Baseball. The 5’9” fielder finished his 14-year career with nearly every award a position player can receive. From breaking on the scene with a Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player award in his first two seasons to his four All-Star appearances and three World Series Championships, the undersized kid from Woodland, California, left his mark on Red Sox Nation for years to come.
With the tail end of his career marred by injuries (he played only nine games in the last three seasons), it can be easy to overlook his contributions in favor of more recent star players. Mookie Betts, Chris Sale and J.D. Martinez might have carried the Red Sox to their latest championship in the 2018 season, but for anyone growing up in the late 2000s or early 2010s, Pedroia embodied what it meant to be a Red Sox fan.
I was seven years old when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2007, the same year Pedroia won his Rookie of the Year award. As a young kid growing up in the Boston area, every kid I knew either had a Pedroia jersey or tried to get number 15 when playing in Little League. I remember getting the Wilson A2000 DP15 baseball glove - modeled after Pedroia’s - and throwing tennis balls off any wall I could find, all while pretending I was turning double plays under the Fenway Park lights as Pedroia did.
Ask anyone living in Boston about the year 2013, and they will have mixed emotions. All of New England (and America) were glued to their TVs in April when two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon, right after a Red Sox win at Fenway Park. A baseball season that began in tragedy wound up culminating with the Red Sox celebrating a World Series Championship on the pitcher’s mound at Fenway. Later that season, it was reported Pedroia had torn his ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb on Opening Day but finished the season playing more games (160/162) than any season in his career. Nothing kept him off the field, and Boston loved him for it.
It is no secret that Boston can be a difficult place to play professional sports. Between the history, media attention and fan expectations, some players who have made a name for themselves elsewhere try to continue their legacies in Boston, only to learn that it was not what they expected (Pablo Sandoval and Kyrie Irving come to mind). Those that succeed - the Tom Bradys, David Ortizs, Zdeno Charas and Paul Pierces - do so not only based on talent, but because they view their sport through the same lens as the fans do. For most professional athletes, their sport is their job. For Boston fans, on the other hand, sports are their life. Players come and go, but the teams are forever. If you are not from Boston, ask a Red Sox fan about the last decade of Red Sox teams, and you will soon notice that we talk about each season the way most parents talk about their children. We are aware of every feature and every flaw, but we are the only ones who get to criticize them.
Pedroia played for the Red Sox in the same way most fans watch the Red Sox. Every season he thought they had a shot at the World Series. Every loss stung and every win, well, that was your job, go do it again tomorrow. Very few athletes connect to their fan base on the fans’ terms, but Pedroia did just that, and it seemed to come naturally.
I hope to see Pedroia’s number 15 retired alongside the greatest players in Red Sox history. He gave the city of Boston everything he had until he physically could not jog out to his position anymore. He won everything there was to win and did it all in a Red Sox uniform. Thanks for the memories, Laser Show.