DENVER — There is at least a small chance Dustin Pedroia’s left knee will heal enough to allow him to play for the Red Sox again and he plans to cling to that hope as long as it exists.
But on Tuesday, there were indications Pedroia understands he has to focus on something more than getting back on the field.
“That would be great. But this time I’m taking it by steps,” he said. “It would be nice to not hurt first and then be able to do normal life stuff and then, if that’s the case, we’ll jump to the main goal.”
For as much as Pedroia wants to line a double off the wall at Fenway Park and slide into second as the crowd roars, that can’t come at the expense of being able to coach his sons instead of watching from behind the backstop.
At 36, Pedroia is getting old for baseball. But he’s still a young man in the game of life.
Pedroia rejoined the Sox for their two-game series against the Rockies, his knee wrapped in a heavy black brace following surgery Aug. 6 at The Steadman Clinic in Vail, about two hours away from Coors Field.
He met with his doctor there Monday and will return Thursday morning for three more days of rehabilitation work.
“It’s good to have him around,” teammate David Price said. “It’s been tough. He’s left everything he’s had out there on that baseball field for the Boston Red Sox. To see him right now, it’s tough.”
Pedroia played only six games this season before persistent pain led to him returning home to Arizona to be with his family and decide on a path to take.
But even that didn’t provide comfort.
“When I got back home, I was hurting pretty good,” Pedroia said. “Once I stopped playing, mentally, you try to relax and my knee was getting worse and worse.”
There were a few times Pedroia threw batting practice to his three sons and couldn’t walk the next three days. He had to rely on his wife, Kelli, to get around.
“When you can’t do things like that, it stinks,” he said. “We had to do something.”
That proved to be a fourth surgery on his knee since 2016. Pedroia has been told he will need a full knee replacement at some point, but opted for something less invasive.
Playing wasn’t part of the decision. This was more about the quality of his life.
“We haven’t really got that far,” Pedroia said. “It was something that, when they got in there, I had some really big bone spurs that they had to take out. Had a lot of scar tissue. They had to do a scar revision.”
Pedroia said his surgeon, Dr. Matt Provencher, drilled into the bones of his knee and replaced damaged tissue with a bone marrow-like material, instead of the cement some older patients choose. That required Pedroia to be on crutches for five weeks. Pedroia will then be able to start exercises to strengthen the muscles around his knee.
“I have to have a certain amount of time to heal [and] get the range of motion back,” he said. “I have a 12-week period where I have strengthen my quad, the inside part of my leg, my calf because it’s been through a lot the last few years.
“[Provencher] said once you get all the strength back, your knee will tell you if you can play baseball or that’s it.”
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“It’s hard,” Pedroia said. “Everyone knows how I love playing and being here. It’s been a lot of downs. I try to lean on the guys and my family to get me through the tough times. I’m lucky to have all of them. They’ve been great.”
Pedroia had a locker in the clubhouse and pulled his No. 15 back on for the game as he watched from the dugout. He was part of the team again.
“It’s great to see everybody,” Pedroia said. “I’m watching the game and texting and FaceTiming, things like that. But it’s not the same. Just being around them for a few days is nice. Just to talk to them, see what they’re going though. It’s been fun.”
Sox manager Alex Cora understands the emotions. His brother Joey, a major leaguer for 11 years, needed a knee replacement.
For Cora, this is more a matter of being there for one of his closest friends. Cora and Pedroia played together from 2006-2008, winning the World Series at Coors Field in 2007.
If Wednesday is the last time they’re in the same uniform together, maybe it was meant to be it was at the scene of a shared triumph.
“I want him to come back and him to perform at this level. But at the same time there’s kids involved and family,” Cora said. “We talked about that, getting up early and taking the kids to practice . . . that’s what it’s all about.”
When the Red Sox left the dugout to stand for the national anthem before the game, Pedroia stayed behind and pulled himself up on his crutches, leaning on the rail for support.
Teammate Eduardo Rodriguez stood with him. For a few days, maybe for the last time, he was a teammate again.