Commentary

Pedroia feels at home again

A year after death threats, Red Sox star says it's great to be in Oakland

Updated: July 20, 2010, 8:51 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The last time the Boston Red Sox played the Oakland Athletics at the Coliseum, many of Dustin Pedroia's teammates did not want to be anywhere near him.

It was April 2009, when Pedroia, a native of Woodland, Calif., needed extra security at the ballpark and team hotel as he and his family received death threats after a story in Boston magazine quoted him calling his hometown "a dump."

Woodland is just 77 miles from Oakland, and Pedroia half-jokingly said he was planning on wearing a bulletproof vest.

[+] EnlargeDustin Pedroia
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireDespite having a walking cast on his left foot, Dustin Pedroia participated in infield drills Monday at Oakland, taking throws at first base.

This season, there's no need for extra security because Pedroia was able to straighten out the entire mess during the offseason. It seems everyone in his hometown loves their native son once again.

"I was upset about the whole thing," Pedroia, out with a broken bone in his foot, said after taking ground balls early Monday afternoon. "Geez, I grew up there and I still consider Woodland home, and I always will, even though I live in Arizona. It was tough how that whole thing went down.

"However that article was written is not how I feel about how I grew up," Pedroia added. "I love the place I grew up, and everybody knows that now. I went back there [during the offseason] and saw everybody and talked to everybody. Everybody in my hometown knows who I am, but it was tough for the people who don't know me, and that was the part I was upset about it. People who do know me know what kind of guy I am."

Now a resident of Chandler, Ariz., Pedroia returned to Woodland this past winter and spoke at a charity dinner. The event was planned with him in mind, and he's now paying for renovations at his former high school field, which is old and in desperate need of repair.

"It was fun. It was just fun to see everybody," he said. "I'm going to do a lot of stuff for the field, and there are a bunch of people working hard on it. It's pretty cool."

During that visit home, he also spent some time at the local Little League field, signing autographs and hanging out with the kids.

"It was cool. Ever since I went to college, I hadn't really been back and seen everybody," he said.

Pedroia was looking forward to his visit back here this season, but he's on the disabled list with a fractured left foot, so there aren't many fans, friends or family members (or snipers) in the stands this summer.

It actually might be a good thing Pedroia is not playing here. In 14 career games at the Coliseum, he's batting just .164 with one homer and three RBIs.

Still, he wishes he were healthy and in the lineup.

"That part's tough," he said. "Even here, I haven't played well because I'm trying to do so much to impress everybody who saw me my whole life. When you try too hard, you really don't do well. It's tough not playing. Even in San Francisco, I was so excited to play there, and in my first at-bat I broke my foot, but just being here is great."

He still needs to be in a removable cast, but he has been walking better and has been able to maintain his strength workouts.

When he first suffered the injury, he knew it wasn't good.

"I've fouled balls off my foot my whole life; that's just how it is," Pedroia said. "My swing, if you're throwing in, I'm turning on it. I don't have any fear turning on a ball in. Sometimes you'll hit it over the fence, or sometimes you'll hit it off your leg. This one, I knew when I hit it, it hurt and I didn't pop up like I normally do. You walk it off and it feels better, but I couldn't really get up and that's when I knew something was up."

Pedroia came out of the game, took his spike off and noticed a large lump on the top of his left foot.

"I was like, geez, I never really had one of those," he said. "That can't be good."

It wasn't.

This is the first time during Pedroia's big league career that he's been on the disabled list, but it's not the first time he's suffered a significant injury.

"Both were pretty bad," Pedroia said. "With my foot, I couldn't walk for three weeks and that was tough. Going to Toronto and going through customs with crutches wasn't a lot of fun, but breaking my face was pretty bad."

In the summer prior to his sophomore season at Arizona State University in 2002, Pedroia was playing for Team USA in the Honkbal Classic in Haarlem, The Netherlands, near Amsterdam, in preparation for the World Baseball Championship that August in Italy.

Team USA was playing Cuba, and there were two outs in the ninth inning when Pedroia, then a shortstop, took a hard ground ball off the face.

Pedroia broke six bones under his eye and one above it, and suffered a concussion and lacerations. Early on, he thought the injury might end his career. He doesn't remember walking off the field but recalls waking up in the hospital surrounded by doctors.

Red Sox teammate Eric Patterson, who was recently acquired to fill in for Pedroia, was the second baseman for Team USA and was on the field when Pedroia suffered the eye injury.

"We were staying in the same room, and it was gross," Pedroia said.

Patterson agrees.

"It was nasty. It was a ground ball that was absolutely smashed," he said. "It was one of those that hugged the ground. He got in front of it, and at the last second it popped up and popped him in the eye. You could hear it and there was blood everywhere. I just stood there. He came out of the game and I didn't see him until I got back to the hotel. His face was all swollen. He couldn't eat and couldn't do anything."

Patterson didn't know what to do, or what to say to his teammate, so he just tried to keep Pedroia's spirits up. To this day, it was the worst on-field injury Patterson has witnessed.

"It was bad -- by far," he said. "I'll see a ground ball hit like that and think of what happened. Fortunately, everything worked out and he had it taken care of, but at the time it was pretty scary. It was miserable and we definitely felt bad for him."

After the injury, he spent a few days in the hospital before he was sent back to the United States. He couldn't open his eye for another two weeks, and the entire time he was nervous he wouldn't be able to see. Once the swelling went down Pedroia was able to open his eye slightly and what he could see was clear and in focus.

He had dodged a bullet.

Pedroia eventually had surgery to reconstruct the orbital area and returned to game action the following spring.

With Pedroia out of the lineup for Team USA, the club's hopes in the World Baseball Championship dwindled. The U.S. reached the finals but lost to Cuba, the same club it had beaten in The Netherlands when Pedroia was injured.

The Red Sox are in a similar situation now.

Boston is 8-7 without Pedroia in the lineup. He's hoping to be back sooner than doctors have estimated, and he knows his teammates want him around.

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins and Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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