Tuesday, April 7, 2015

No Captain, My Captain

Pedroia belted two home runs as part of a 3-for-5 day yesterday (FoxSports)
Dustin Pedroia chafed at the possibility of becoming the next Boston Red Sox captain.

"I'm not even captain of my own house," he quipped, which is why he's setting his sights on the upcoming season instead. “I’m ready to go…If (the season) started tomorrow, I’d be good,” he told Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe back in January. “I plan on playing 162 (games this year). My body’s back. I feel strong. I’m lifting everything. Right back to normal.”

Both Pedroia and the Red Sox would like a return to normalcy after a disastrous 2014 season. Boston followed up its 2013 World Series championship by finishing last in the AL East with a 71-91 record, trading away much of its title-winning roster before season’s end. Pedroia suffered a down year as well, batting just .278/.337/.376 with seven home runs and six stolen bases before undergoing wrist surgery in September. Excited by recent high-profile additions such as Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, Pedroia expects better results from himself and the Sox in 2015.

“We’ve upgraded our offense. We’re going to be pretty deep. A lot of really good players,” Pedroia said of this year’s club. “Every year there’s always guys who step up and do different things. We’ve got a ton of guys and we’re going to need them all to accomplish what we want.”

As always, Pedroia puts the goals of his team above all else. It’s that kind of attitude that would make him a great captain, the role he seemed poised to inherit from former teammate Jason Varitek when Varitek retired three years ago. Surprisingly, Boston has not promoted its de facto captain in the meantime.

“When (Varitek) retired…we felt like the right thing to do was to ask 25 guys to lead and be captains and not just one, and Dustin certainly bought into that,” general manager Ben Cherington explained to NESN. “To me, that’s sort of still where we are. But we know when we walk into the clubhouse that a lot of eyes are on (Pedroia) and we rely on him for a lot of leadership.

“What we need is 25 guys leading, not just one. That’s what’s led us to our best success.”
It's plays like these that make Pedroia one of the best second basemen in the game today (YouTube)
Given that neither Boston’s 2004 nor 2013 World Series champion squads had captains, Cherington might have a point. In fact, there has been a noticeable dearth of Red Sox captains over the years. Only four men have held the position in the past nine decades, and just three since World War II. Many outstanding, long-tenured Red Sox were never given the title, Ted Williams chief among them. Boston once went 23 seasons without a captain, a dry spell that makes the current streak seem like a blip.

Still, it’s a good bet that the next Red Sox captain will be Pedroia—the team’s sparkplug second baseman since 2006. He’s emerged as one of the best players in baseball during that time, winning a Rookie of the Year and MVP award as well as four Gold Gloves and two World Series rings. Now 31, the four-time All-Star is entering his tenth season with the Bosox, who recently inked him to a $108million contract extension that runs through 2021. By that point Pedroia will be 38 and near the end of his career, meaning he’s all but guaranteed to retire with the only professional organization he’s ever known.

It’s hard to imagine the Red Sox not naming Pedroia captain before he hangs up his spikes, but they say they are comfortable with his role in the clubhouse and don’t feel pressed to change it.

“It doesn’t require that letter on his chest to be the captain or the leader of our team—one of them,” manager John Farrell said during January’s Red Sox Town Hall event at Foxwoods Resort Casino. “I can say this, if you put a ‘C’ on Pedey’s jersey, he’s not going to change. He plays for the Red Sox, not the ‘C’ or the name that’s on the back.”

Captain or not, Pedroia will continue to carry himself like one. He’ll keep swinging from the heels and running out grounders and diving for every ball hit in the vicinity of second base. Nobody plays harder than the plucky Pedroia—one of Boston’s best players and most respected leaders, with or without a “C” stitched to his uniform.

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