Dustin Pedroia entered Fenway Park on Friday, these last two days his first visit since 2019, through center field on a red carpet. Smoke shot out in front of him. The extravagance was a stark contrast from how he’d entered Fenway 17 years ago, a brash draftee yet to back up all his chatter.
After battling knee injuries for several years, Pedroia announced his retirement at 37 on Feb. 1. The 2007 AL Rookie of the Year and 2008 MVP was limited to nine games in the 2018-19 seasons, and did not play in 2020. Friday was a chance to honor him, before a 5-3 victory over the rival Yankees and in front of the first sellout crowd (36,869) of the season.
“When I walked out and saw the people, the reaction, and all the gifts — just everything — it’s special,” Pedroia said. “I did something good. This place is home for me. It means everything to me.”
Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy, speaking before the ceremony, emphasized how important Pedroia was to the franchise.
”He’s just such an important part of everything we tried to build here over the last 20 years,” Kennedy said. “He really does represent everything that we’re trying to build in terms of the character and type of championship player.”
The ceremony started with a video montage of some of Pedroia’s best moments with the team. Following Pedroia’s red carpet entrance, former Red Sox teammates Mike Lowell, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Tim Wakefield entered from center field. Pedroia teared up as he heard video messages from former Red Sox manager Terry Francona, his Arizona State coach Pat Murphy, former Red Sox announcer Don Orsillo, and former teammates turned managers Kevin Cash and David Ross.
The final message, which came with a big ovation from the crowd, was from David Ortiz. Ortiz could not attend, he said, due to a recent surgery.
“With you, I learned one thing. It’s not about sizes. It’s about heart, and you’ve got a big one,” Ortiz said. “I don’t think you can ask a player for more than what you gave us. You gave everything. You left everything on the field, every day.”
Pedroia spent more than an hour with Ortiz earlier Friday to ease his nerves, believing he was returning to Fenway too early and unsure what to say. Pedroia asked Ortiz how he could tell the fans how much he appreciated them.
Ortiz’s simple response: “They already know that.”
”He calmed me down. The message he said was when I finally knew, I did it right,” Pedroia said.
Pedroia’s work with The Jimmy Fund, Gold Star families, and following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing were also recognized.
Then, the team announced it was waiving the typical five-year waiting period and voting, immediately including Pedroia in the Red Sox Hall of Fame class in 2022. Pedro Martinez and Luis Tiant entered from center field to welcome him to the club.
And last, but certainly not least, retired professional wrestler Ric Flair entered through smoke and flames with a blue championship belt to the sound of “Woos” from the Fenway crowd. Flair had presented Pedroia, a huge wrestling fan, with a championship belt following a game during the 2011 season.
”That was a shock. It was special. That was awesome, man,” Pedroia said, laughing.
Pedroia threw out the game’s first pitch to manager Alex Cora, who donned the former second basemen’s red number 15 jersey along with current Red Sox players and staff.
”He’s very special. What this kid means to the organization, for me personally, and for this city is, you can’t put it into words,” Cora said. “From day one, he gave everything he had to the game, to the Red Sox. He didn’t take a play off in his career.”
Pedroia will be eligible for the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2025. Cora says he’s already in his personal hall of fame, “not only as a player, but as a person,” and that he’ll willingly step aside if Pedroia is ever interested in managing.
With a catch.
“If [Pedroia] wants to manage the Red Sox in a few years, hey, I don’t mind that. I really don’t,” he said, laughing. “I’ll be like a senior advisor. We’ll make a new job description. I can help him from afar. I still get paid more than him.”
Pedroia says he’s focusing on being a great husband and father right now, but that “it’s just a matter of time” before he is back in the major leagues in some capacity.
”I’ll be in uniform again. I think everyone knows that,” Pedroia said. “I want to raise my boys and make sure that you don’t miss anything in their life. They deserve that. But after that, it’s go-time.”
Julian McWilliams of Globe Staff contributed to this report.
Kris Rhim can be reached at email@example.com.