FORT MYERS, Fla. — He has seen first and worst, duck boats and disaster. He played cribbage with Terry Francona and accused Jacoby Ellsbury of using spray tan. He scolded Bobby Valentine about the way things are done in Boston, and instructed young Jose Iglesias to “follow me around like I’m Fidel Castro!’’ He’s said hello to dozens of Sox shortstops and goodbye to Jon Lester.
Now 31 years old, the second-ranking Red Sox in continuous service, Dustin Pedroia arrived at JetBlue Park Saturday morning, ready to work, ready to lead, and ready to come back from his latest surgery.
But he is not ready to say anything provocative. Pedroia knows and understands the Boston baseball experience. He knows there is doubt about his ability to be the hitter he once was, but he is not going to give us the satisfaction of telling us he’s hurt by the negative noise.
“I don’t mind if you guys get on me,’’ said the second baseman. “It doesn’t really bother me. I don’t really have any feelings anymore. It doesn’t really matter. Nobody’s harder on the team or yourself than you. You’ve got to look in the mirror.’’
Pedroia has undergone three surgeries in the last 24 months, two on his left hand. His numbers have been on a steady decline and — while he’s still an elite defender — there’s concern that his hard play has made him a broken-down hitter. He batted only .278 last year with a career low OPS of .712. He had season-ending surgery on Sept. 11. He’s hit only 10 homers in his last 831 at-bats and his slugging percentage has dropped in each of the last four years.
On Saturday, Sox manager John Farrell acknowledged that the club wants to decrease Pedroia’s workload. This might mean an occasional day off for a guy who wants to play 162 every year.
What about it, Dustin? Are you on the downside of your career?
“We’ll see,’’ answered Pedroia. “What did I do the year before last year? I hit in the 3-hole for the world champion team. That’s right.’’
That statement aside (it was uttered in a one-on-one session), we didn’t get much of the famous feistiness from Pedroia as he spoke to a horde of New England media in front of his locker before Saturday’s first workout for pitchers and catchers. Pedroia can be downright Jeter-esque in group interviews.
“It’s fun, getting back to work,’’ he said. “It’s a new year. Everyone’s excited. So it should be fun. I feel great. Ready to go. I lifted weights and got ready. Same as every offseason, except in the last couple I had surgery and stuff. I got this [surgery] done quick, so I was able to have a normal offseason, conditioning and stuff. I’m ready to go.
“We made a lot of great moves. We’ve obviously got a very talented group . . . everyone’s excited and ready to play baseball. It was a long winter. Everyone’s fired up and ready to go.
“I’m ready to play. I’m excited and healthy and ready to go do what I do.’’
There was much more boring banter in Pedroia’s introductory news conference. It’s pretty clear that he doesn’t want anyone to know that he’s on a mission to silence his critics and get the Red Sox back into contention.
Worst to first? Again?
“We’ve obviously done it before,’’ he said. “But you’ve got to worry about today’s practice and go out there and try to get better today. You can’t look at the big picture. You have to do the right things every day. You build your identity as a team. Do things with a purpose. This is work. We want to make sure we’re good at the end.
“I get it that if you don’t perform well as a team and don’t win, there’s consequences. That’s how you should view everything. I’m excited. This group’s going to form together and we’re going to play well.’’
After the snore session, I congratulated Pedroia on his ability to move his lips and say almost nothing.
“I’ve always said nothing,’’ he stated proudly.
Cool. What about sliding headfirst? Farrell said he didn’t want to see any more Pete Rose dives from Pedroia.
“I don’t know why everyone’s getting on me about that,’’ said the Laser Show. “I played 178 games after I headfirst slid [he played a full season and playoffs after hurting himself with a headfirst slide on Opening Day in 2013]. I should have headfirst slid last year. Maybe I’d have been better off. But no. I won’t do it anymore.’’
What about Lester, I wondered? Deep down, a player like Pedroia would figure to be wildly disappointed, perhaps annoyed, that the organization did not do more to keep its best pitcher, a proven champion who came up in the Sox system with Pedroia.
Any thoughts, Dustin?
“It’s not my job to get mad,’’ he answered. “I love Jon Lester. That’s the only thing I’m going to say. I think everybody knows that and I’m not the only one that feels that way.’’
OK, then. We’re on to Cincinnati.Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Shaughnessy.