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Kelli and Dustin Pedroia and their cheeky two-year-old son, Dylan, live across the street from Fenway Park, and one reason why is clear from the view out their 13th-floor windows. Fenway in the quiet morn, before the sausages sizzle and the pilgrims parade in wearing the liturgical garments of Red Sox Nation, sits below them like an unopened Tiffany box, all neat, pristine corners and possibilities. The Pedroias can see the centerfield scoreboard and, through a crack in the asymmetrical grandstand, first base. They also can spy a large chain-link gate on wheels, which sometime in the middle of the day will be rolled open to Red Sox personnel for the symbolic start of the baseball business day.
Kelli will catch her little guy pulling the drapes aside and checking the status of the gate. Is it open? How about now? Now? "It's ridiculous," she says. "He paces until it's open. He's not calm until he's at the ballpark."
And at last when his surveillance is rewarded—the gates swinging open six, seven hours before the game is scheduled to begin—the little guy is happy, for he knows it is finally time to go out and play. He is out the door and across the street in no time.
Dustin Pedroia even takes Dylan with him sometimes.
Strip away the television ratings, the attendance figures, the merchandise sales, the gambling, the beer ads and the rest of the variables that measure the import of professional sports in our culture. Think about what's left: how we connect emotionally with the games. On that level baseball, perhaps not in popularity but in esteem, occupies a unique place. It remains for many children the portal to organized sports, and if they're lucky, when they grow up they never stop seeing baseball through 10-year-old eyes. It is an uncomplicated, unchanged kid's game that does not require tremendous height or weight.
To understand the game in this vein is to understand Dustin Pedroia. He embodies baseball the way our inner child imagines it. He swears he is 5'8" and 165 pounds. "If you shook hands with him," said Pat Murphy, his coach at Arizona State, "you would think you are shaking hands with a 10-year-old." He doesn't drink. He has no hobbies. He never shuts up. He has two nicknames that are printable and hates them both. (A third nickname, bestowed by his manager and comic foil, Terry [Tito] Francona, is not printable.) He swings as if his life depends on it.
Pedroia plays baseball with as much passion as his 2,640 ounces allow, while—with great unorthodoxy—chasing the footsteps of the greatest second basemen in history. He is the patron saint of the vertically, muscularly and follicularly challenged. "Let me tell you this," says his teammate David Ortiz, "I don't think there was a player born before him and I don't think there will be a player born after him that cares about baseball more than Dustin Pedroia. I would have to see it to believe it.
"Sometimes, I'll be honest with you, I get worried about it. He's got a kid. He's got a family. We travel so much and play so much, and he's at the ballpark so early. One time I got to the ballpark just to get there before him. And he was already there. I've stopped trying to beat him. There's no way in hell you can do it."
Says Kelli, "He's like a Little League kid. How great is it to do something that you love every day?"
Pedroia is so small, so unimposing, that when he reported to Class A Augusta in 2004, after Boston took him with their first pick, and 65th overall, of that summer's draft, the manager, Chad Epperson, left a harried voice mail with the Red Sox' front office, saying, "Are you sure you sent the right guy? This is our top pick?" When Pedroia took batting practice at Fenway after that draft, the Red Sox' players thought he was one of the owners' sons or the son of one of the PGA players who were visiting the ballpark that night. One player, Kevin Millar, told general manager Theo Epstein, "You mean to tell me your scouts have the whole country, 50 states, every high school and every college in America, and this is who they came back with?"