- Gordon Edes, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- It goes beyond being named rookie of the year in his first season, winning an MVP award his second, and being chosen an All-Star in each of the last three. In just his fifth season with the Red Sox, the little man, Dustin Pedroia, is generally revered here as someone who has outgrown the normal limits of human experience.
A single inning from Monday night's win over the Angels reinforces the image. In the top of the fifth, Pedroia was breaking toward the middle to field Bobby Abreu's bases-loaded bouncer, but the ball struck pitcher Clay Buchholz and took a sharp detour toward right field. Somehow, Pedroia was able to apply the brakes, flip his body in the opposite direction, glove the ball and flip it to second for a force. Rally averted.
Then, in the bottom of the inning, Pedroia had one of those at-bats that will not be forgotten by anyone who was watching, a 13-pitch duel with Angels ace Jered Weaver in which he fouled off seven straight two-strike pitches before smacking a two-run single on pitch No. 13. That left his manager, Terry Francona, still talking about him in mystical terms a day later.
"He's really talented,'' Francona said, "but so much of it is will. It's will with him.''
We love to roll out all the familiar adjectives. Fearless. Relentless. Indestructible (at least until he fouled a ball off his left foot and fractured it last June). All of them are applicable when he is on a ball field.
Vulnerable? Not so much.
And yet, even Pedroia will admit there are moments he, too, is scared, though you probably won't hear him use the word. Times when the little boy in him is alone with his fears, comfort beyond his reach.
Dustin Pedroia, like so many millions, dreads flying. And maybe this is even greater testament to his will, that as much as he hates it, he finds a way.
"Yeah, I don't like flying,'' he said the other day, "but I deal with it. I have to. Otherwise, I have to pick a new job.''
As a kid growing up in the Sacramento suburb of Woodland, Calif., Pedroia didn't do much traveling that required getting on a plane, beyond a couple of trips to Arizona State, where his uncle ran some kids' football camps. So there was no single traumatic experience that he pointed to as a cause of his anxiety.
"I just don't like the feeling,'' he said. "It feels weird. Do I get nervous? Yeah, I'm getting better though. I heard taking those sea sickness pills help. I might start taking those.''
The Red Sox fly on charters, which spares them from having to endure some of the indignities of the typical air traveler. That does not make them immune, however, from turbulence, bad weather or aborted landings. Yes, Pedroia said, there have been some close calls. He describes them as only Pedroia can.
"We had one in New York two years ago,'' he said. "They swept us, man, and we took off in a thunderstorm, and I'm going like, 'Man, this is a bad way to die. We just got swept, swept by the Yankees, and then we're going down for the count.' ''
Take a poll, and how many people on the planet in the moments before facing what they believe is imminent doom would have been agitated about the Yankees? We'd guess the list is short. One.
There was another scare last month in Cleveland. That time, Francona chose to go check on Pedroia instead of listening to a flight attendant who demanded he return to his seat and fasten his seat belt.
"That one in Cleveland this year was horrible,'' Pedroia said. "We had to divert to another airport. We were on our descent and they came on and said we can't land, the wind is too bad, so we diverted to the other airport. We were going right by the lake [Erie] and we were hitting the wind. It was brutal.''
Funny thing is, Pedroia said, there are a few guys on the team -- he named Tim Wakefield, J.D. Drew and Josh Beckett -- who know how to fly a plane. And Beckett's wife, Holly, he added, has her pilot's license. He's talked to all of them, he said, about his phobia.
"You know, Logan's not really easy,'' Pedroia said. "It's kind of bumpy coming in and out of there, and you're flying over the water, and you get that wind. But you deal with it.''
The Red Sox had another player of considerable skill who, like Pedroia, was from northern California and, like Pedroia, won an MVP award. Jackie Jensen ended his career prematurely in great part because of his fear of flying. That was back in the late '50s, when flying was a much more perilous enterprise than it is now.
Not to worry, Pedroia said. He's not in the same league as Jensen when it comes to fear of flying. He elected to fly to David Ortiz's charity event in the Dominican Republic last December, then took a 10-seater with his good friend Andre Ethier of the Dodgers and their families from there to the Turks and Caicos for a vacation.
Still, his life would be infinitely better if he never again had to hear "please place your tray table in the upright position."
"In the offseason, I had to fly to Boston to get my foot checked,'' he said. "It was like, 'I don't even want to go -- can they fly out here?' ''
Given how much he means to the team, it might have been worth asking.
Tuesday night, Pedroia didn't get a hit off his nemesis, Dan Haren (0 for 16), but he made another remarkable play, snagging a line-drive and throwing off the wrong foot to complete a double play that snuffed an Angels rally.
"That's a great play,'' Francona said. "Even when Pedey doesn't get hits, it seems we end up talking about him.''
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.
2dInterview by Buster Olney