Exactly one year ago, Dustin Pedroia was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, captured flying through the air as he turned a double play. The Red Sox were finishing up a stretch in which they went 39 games over .500, and the headline accompanying Pedroia’s image was “Heart of the Red Sox.’’
Tuesday night, Pedroia came home to Fenway Park, wearing the scars of his first public flogging by the beast of Boston baseball. He went 1 for 5 against the Angels in another demoralizing 5-3 loss as the Sox dropped five games under .500.
Pedroia was crushed by fans and sports talk radio jockeys last week when news leaked of the Palace Revolt from late July. Fenway folks got angry when it was reported that Pedroia led the “fire Bobby” storm that swept across Red Sox Nation. Boston’s former MVP was characterized as a bad guy in the clubhouse and reminded again that he’s the one who said, “That’s not the way we do things here,” when Valentine attempted to light a fire under Kevin Youkilis.
He took a couple days away from the media when the Sox lost two of three in New York. I caught up with him in the Sox dugout three hours before the series opener against the struggling Angels.
“The truth was this,’’ he started. “Yeah, I was vocal in that meeting, without question. I’m one of the leaders of the team, but I wasn’t vocal in any way toward Bobby. That was the part that bothered me.
“The reason I play the game is for the respect of my teammates. I play hard to win, with respect for the other team, and for them to challenge that, that was hard to deal with, man. It was pretty unfair.
“When I spoke, they asked me what I felt was wrong and why we weren’t winning games and I told them how I felt. It had nothing to do with Bobby. Maybe whoever told the person about the thing didn’t like my answer. That’s basically it. There’s nothing.
“It’s difficult, though. I show up every day for this organization and I have since I got drafted. It’s been difficult. But our fans are smart. I’m sure they understand. They know what kind of guy I am. They should.
“I’ve been in the major leagues for six years and I’ve been in the organization since 2004 and I’ve never had a problem with one player, one teammate, one coach. I’ve never had a problem with anybody in my life in baseball.
“If people think I’m a problem, then that’s fine. But I don’t think I’m an issue.
“I hope the fans know how much I care about this place. That’s basically it. I’m beat down from all of the other stuff. That’s basically it.
“I just want to play the game and help us win games. I don’t care about all the side stuff. I just want to play the game, play for my teammates, play for the city, and have fun and win tons of games. That’s how I’ve gone about my business every single day since I’ve been here.
Any belief in the notion that it’s simply too tough to play baseball in Boston?
“Baseball is baseball,’’ he said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re playing here or anywhere. I love it. It’s fun. I love coming to the field and competing against the other team and trying to win.
“That’s why I show up every day, and get here early and put the work in. I want to help us win games. This atmosphere doesn’t bother me one bit. I’ll play anywhere, man. It doesn’t matter.
“I love playing the game. This is all I know. I don’t really know how other places are or how they do things. I just know when you win here, there’s nothing like it.
“But if you lose here, it makes it a lot more difficult on your team and people try to pull it in different directions. It’s tough trying to keep it together.
“You deal with adversity on the field. You have an 0-for-four game and you hit the ball hard with runners in scoring position and you get out. That’s dealing with adversity.
“But when you talk about off-the-field stuff, I’ve never really had to deal with that in Boston. Now going through it, all I want to do is shut it all off and go concentrate on my job and playing the game right and not worrying about what people say or what reporters say, or what anybody says.
“The hardest part for me right now is all that stuff comes out and people say, ‘Trade him, he’s part of the problem,’ whatever. My wife is nine months pregnant. I didn’t want to talk for a few days because I don’t want her reading all that stuff and forcing our baby out early and having stress and stuff like that.
“It’s a little unfair, but I deal with it, man. I’m strong enough to deal with it.’’
These are bad days. Paranoia strikes deep at Fenway, and the MVP second baseman is collateral damage. But he looks like a guy who is still trying, which, sadly, cannot be said for all of his teammates.