Dustin Pedroia: How to Overcome Misperception

The following appeared in the January/February issue of Junior Baseball:

by: Jeff Goldberg

Dustin Pedroia may be short in stature, but on the diamond, he stands tall. In the clubhouse, Pedroia is the most vocal and the most boastful, his big pronouncements constantly emerging from a diminutive frame. Then he goes out and backs it up at the plate and on the field, earning oversized respect from teammates and opponents.

Listed at 5-foot-9, but playing closer to 5-foot-6, Pedroia has always been told what he can’t do. Then he goes out and proves them wrong. In 2007, the Red Sox second baseman was AL Rookie of the Year and postseason hero with a huge Game 7 in the ALCS and leadoff homer in Game 1 of the World Series.

In 2008, Pedroia topped himself, winning MVP honors at age 25, just the third player ever to win both awards in his first two seasons, joining Cal Ripken (1982-83) and Ryan Howard (2005-06).

“I would never give up,” Pedroia recently told Junior Baseball.“ Baseball is a game where you don’t need to be big. You don’t need to be that strong. If you go out there and you’re a smart player and you understand baseball, you can be successful at it. I always studied the game and watched other players and that helped me get to where I got today.”

Even during an injury-shortened 2010, after breaking a bone in his left foot on a foul ball in Colorado in June, Pedroia could not be kept off the field. Literally. With his foot in a cast, Pedroia took fielding practice from his knees before games at Fenway Park, in order to keep sharp for what he hoped would be a quick return, even if his foot suggested otherwise. It was a work-ethic Pedroia had long ago instilled in himself, willing his way past critics who trumpeted his physical limitations.

“Most of my coaches, they hit me a ton of ground balls, they threw to me countless times, but they never really had to tell me to keep working hard,” Pedroia said. “They never had to motivate me. I always loved playing baseball. If you go out there with a good attitude and are willing to work, you’re going to continue to get better. There’s not a guy out there that if you work hard, you’re going to get worse. That was my biggest thing: The more I worked, the better I was going to be.”

An exemplary teammate, Pedroia won over the clubhouse during his rookie season of 2007. Despite hitting under .200 in his first month as the starter, Pedroia never lost his confidence and finished with a .317 average. In Game 7 against the Indians in the ALCS, as the Red Sox erased a 3-1 series deficit, Pedroia drove in five runs over the final three innings to turn a close game into a series-clinching rout.

“He’s the true example of what a major leaguer is,” David Ortiz said. “Dustin Pedroia, he’s the top of the line of how good a player can be. He’s got [guts]. This guy, the way he plays the game, it’s ridiculous. I had a lot of fun myself, just watching him play the game. He’s amazing. If you want to talk about somebody who really, really helped a ball club win games...look at that little guy right there."

DP's Tips to Believing in Yourself

1. Play Early and Often
Pedroia said perfecting your skills by playing the game and practicing as often as possible, even if just hitting balls off a tee, is vital to success and gaining confidence. “It doesn’t matter what kind of drills you do and stuff like that,” Pedroia said. “It’s the more times you swing the bat and hit the ball, the better you’re going to be. You’ll improve yourself to get ready to play in high school, then hopefully in college. The more games you play, the better you can be.”

2. Don’t Get Discouraged
Pedroia said having a short memory is vital. There are going to be mistakes and setbacks. They can be overcome with determination and self-confidence. “I just tried to have fun,” Pedroia said. “If I went 0-for-4 or made an error or did something, I just tried to think, ‘no one’s perfect.’ I’m going to make the next play, and I moved on. You have to forget about what happened two seconds ago. The more you play, the more you realize you’re going to have little failures in baseball. It’s how you overcome them that makes you a good player.”

3. Play It Safe
Pedroia strongly discourages youngsters from trying to bulk themselves up with excessive or unsafe weight
training. “I didn’t do any of that,” Pedroia said. “I just played. [Kids’] bodies are still maturing. Heck, you read nowadays, guys are lifting heavy weights at a young age. I don’t really believe in that. Just go and be a kid. Have fun and play. Enjoy the game with your friends.”

4. The Swing is the Thing
Pedroia’s size contributes to his use of a unique, uppercut swing. It worked for him as a youngster and he stuck with it. But he also knows being stubborn can work against a young hitter. “If you’re successful, it doesn’t matter what swing you have,” Pedroia said. “Just keep doing it. But if you’re not successful, you have to be willing to change. I was always successful with mine, but if I wasn’t hitting, I’ll stand on my head if it helps. Be open to change."

Ensure you receive more great content like this by signing up for a Junior Baseball subscription today!