The first time I laid eyes on Dustin Pedroia in a Red Sox uniform in 2006, my reaction was probably like that of everyone else who had ever undersold him -- that's it?
He wasn't much to look at. Shorter than me. Kinda doughy. Hair already thinning. Staring at the floor and shuffling his feet while answering questions. A little shy.
"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."
Cocky? This guy? It didn't take long for Pedroia to redefine the word. Within a year, he'd be telling a Coors Field security guard that, "I'm the guy that took Jeff Francis onto the Mass. Pike." Not long thereafter he'd threaten Notre Dame legend Brady Quinn that he planned to rip a ping pong ball off the throat of the 6-foot-4 Adonis during offseason workouts. He'd rant about the Laser Show, and that he was 160 pounds of USDA Grade A beef, and how his life was great because he had a hot wife, three great kids, and he was rich as (bleep).
For more than a decade, he embodied everything we love about athletics -- never giving in, maximizing his ability, leaving every last ounce of himself on the field. Those Red Sox of the late aughts and early teens may have belonged to David Ortiz, but they were Dustin Pedroia's teams, too. He didn't necessarily look the part, but man oh man did he play it.
All good Laser Shows must come to an end, however, and on Monday Pedroia finally acknowledged the inevitable: it's over.
He announced his retirement after 14 years in the game, the last three in varying states of rehab, recovery, and pain. His knee is shot to the point where it will likely require a replacement, one last gift from the sport that took as much as he gave. A dirty slide by Manny Machado in 2017 started Pedroia down a path of misery from which he never recovered.
Rather than dwell on the 3-for-31 over his final two seasons that dropped his lifetime batting average from .300 to .299, however, today should be a day to celebrate what Pedroia accomplished.
A four-time All-Star and three-time champion who also won Rookie of the Year and MVP Awards, Pedroia fit exactly one mold on a baseball field, and it was uniquely his own. You wouldn't teach his swing to anyone, with his collapsing back leg and desire to turn every fastball into a pitch at his eyes, which is where he somehow did vicious damage. You'd counsel another 5'8" second baseman to stay out of the line of fire instead of charging headlong into the breach. Put Pedroia's words in the mouth of anyone else and the non-stop bleep-talk would probably earn him a beating.
But the complete package served as a gift not just to Red Sox fans, but the game itself. Mike Trout and Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez were blessed with otherworldly physical tools, but not Pedroia. Ortiz and Mark McGwire and Gary Sheffield could terrify opposing pitchers just by stepping into the box and waving their bats with menace, but not Pedroia. Baseball America could lavish praise on toolsy prospects like Delmon Young, Jeremy Hermida, and Lastings Milledge in 2006, but not Pedroia.
It didn't matter. Pedroia was the rare big leaguer who looked from afar like the rest of us, though in reality that Everyman characterization did his physical gifts a disservice. His instincts and first-step quickness out of that little hop at second before each pitch were unparalleled, helping him win four Gold Gloves, as well as one Wilson Defensive Player of the Year award.
His physique, especially once he started spending his winters working out Athlete's Performance in Arizona, was chiseled. His power defied reason, but was grounded in the physics of torque; at his best, his wrists rivaled Mookie Betts' when it came to cleaning out inside fastballs.
The shame of it is he just wasn't built to last. It's a sign of how degraded his knee has become that he's not even attempting another comeback at age 37. In a perfect world, he'd have at least been given a sendoff like the two-day special the Mets arranged for their former captain, David Wright, a friend of Pedroia's (they share agents) whose career also ended prematurely because of injury. What we wouldn't give to watch Pedroia line just one more pitch into the corner and tear around first going for two ...
Pedroia's body simply won't allow it, and so instead he'll retire to Arizona to raise his three boys. While it would be easy to wonder if he feels regret at the way his career ended, a better way to look at it is this: Dustin Pedroia squeezed every last ounce out of every single day he spent in the big leagues.
He has nothing left to give, which is actually one hell of a legacy.