Dustin Pedroia reached Fenway Park for the first time in September of 2006 with an aww-shucks demeanor and a tendency to stare at his shoes during interviews. At 5-foot-9 and already exhibiting the hint of a receding hairline, he wasn't much to look at. Was this really the team's top prospect?
"You haven't seen the real Pedey yet," one of his friends told me. "He's cocky. He's got an EDGE. You'll see."
Did we ever. Within a year, Pedroia was a household name, winning both the Rookie of the Year award and a World Series. By the end of his second full season, he owned an MVP. The Laser Show had been born.
We envisioned Pedroia playing out his Red Sox career well into this decade and then making a case for Cooperstown. He'd challenge Robinson Cano for best second baseman of this era and Bobby Doerr for best second baseman in Red Sox history. Maybe he'd finish with 3,000 hits. Maybe he'd retire with another couple of championships.
We now know that was wishful thinking.
Pedroia played with wanton disregard for his body, and at 175 pounds, he simply wasn't built to last. The Manny Machado slide that effectively ended his career in 2017 wasn't a bad break so much as the last straw. Pedroia had played hurt in one way or another for a decade. Finger, thumb, wrist, oblique, foot, knee. Were he a videogame character, his damage bar would've constantly blinked red.
And so we have reached what feels like the end. There is effectively zero chance that Pedroia plays again. The cartilage restoration procedure he underwent in his left knee in a Hail Mary effort to save his career has not taken, and Pedroia knows he'll need a knee replacement probably sooner than later, a devastating blow for any 37-year-old man, let alone one so relentlessly athletic in his prime.
The Red Sox may strike a deal with him this winter to remove him from the 40-man roster and officially end his career with one year remaining on what felt like a bargain eight-year, $110 million contract extension when he signed it in 2013.
Regardless, we've known for at least two years that he was through. And while in one sense it's tragic that his career never reached its appropriate conclusion, let's also be thankful for what he gave us.
Pedroia believed in speaking loudly — and boy did he carry a big stick. His motormouthed bleep-talk is the stuff of legend, whether it was telling a Coors Field security guard who didn't want to let him in to Game 3 of the 2007 World Series that, "I'm the guy who took Jeff Francis onto the Mass. Pike," or threatening to drill a ping pong ball off the throat of musclebound Heisman Trophy winner Brady Quinn during an offseason workout in Arizona, or declaring himself the strongest 160 pounds of USDA Grade A beef in baseball history, or noting the arrival of the bomb squad at Fenway Park, flexing his muscles, and announcing, "They're early."
He backed up every last word on the field, where he routinely ripped fastballs at his eyes off or over the Monster, ran the bases like a waterbug, and made acrobatic plays at second en route to four Gold Gloves.
He earned his final All-Star nod in 2013, a season that saw him lead the league in plate appearances despite playing virtually the entire year with a torn thumb ligament. He last looked like himself in 2016, when he hit .318 in 154 games before immediately undergoing knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus, one of at least half a dozen surgeries he endured during his Red Sox career.
Now, as the official or unofficial end nears, we prepare to say goodbye to one of the most memorable players in Red Sox history. He may have arrived with wide eyes, but once he burst from that shell, there was no missing the Laser Show.
It's just a shame it couldn't have lasted a little longer.