Murphy was overseas when one of his assistants recruited Pedroia to Arizona State. "The first time I met him, he walked into my office and he had on a white cutoff undershirt," Murphy says. "He's standing there with his pale skin, all of 138 pounds, and he goes, 'Hey, Coach, what do you think of these guns?' Obviously, there was nothing there. I said, 'Hell, you better be able to pick up that ground ball.'"
In a game against Wichita State and its ace, Mike Pelfrey (now with the Mets), Pedroia hit the first pitch he saw off the wall and screamed at Pelfrey, "Ninety-six coming in, 104 going out! Get ready for the laser show all day!" Another day, while Florida State took pregame infield, Pedroia yelled at its star shortstop, Stephen Drew, "You want to see how a real shortstop fields? Take a seat and watch. You're the guy on the cover of Baseball America? Are you kidding me?"
Recalls Murphy, "Stephen, who is a beautiful human being, is looking over with this look like, Who is that batboy screaming at me?"
Pedroia hit .384 at Arizona State, but nobody wanted him through the first 64 picks of the 2004 draft, which included seven middle infielders (only one of whom, Drew, has become an established regular) and six picks by the Twins alone. Now it was Boston's turn. "He was on our list of guys we thought would definitely be gone by the time our pick came around," Epstein says. "It was him or Kurt Suzuki.
"During that year the scouts kept coming back and saying, 'We didn't consider him coming into the year, but you know who's a good player? That shortstop at ASU. He's tiny and doesn't really have any tools, he takes a huge swing but squares the ball up as well as anybody, he probably has as good hands as anybody in the country.... It's just too bad he doesn't have more tools.'"
The Red Sox, though, were enticed by Pedroia's hitting for extra-base power with few strikeouts. They also marked his makeup as "off the charts." Says Epstein, "It was pretty clear he loved the game, was not afraid and was a big-time baseball rat."
Three springs later the Red Sox handed Pedroia the second base job, but by May 3, 2007, he was hitting .180 and major league scouts and the media had written him off as an ill-fated combination of being a little man with big man's swing. Indeed, Pedroia swings with a fierce uppercut, a long stride and some occasionally choppy footwork, like a hammer thrower in the batter's box. But the violence in his swing is confined to his lower half. His barrel, in fact, takes a quick path to the ball because his hands are so extraordinary. When the Red Sox this spring measured all their players' hand-eye coordination, Pedroia and Jose Iglesias, a slick-fielding shortstop prospect, came out on top.
Supreme athleticism is the foundation of Pedroia's big swing as well as his footwork in the field. "I love that little [guy]," says White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. "It looks like he escaped from Cirque du Soleil and they put a uniform on him."
In the midst of the slump at the start of his rookie season, while riding in a taxi with Kelli, Pedroia called Murphy. In the background the coach could hear Kelli saying, "Dustin, look what these people are saying!"
What the media were saying did not bother Pedroia. Ever confident, he couldn't believe people would question him like that. "Do you believe these guys are on me like this?" he said. After Pedroia and Murphy finished talking, Pedroia sent his coach a text. The 5'8" rookie who was hitting .180 and getting hammered in the press typed out this message: I'm about to put Red Sox Nation on my back.