Make no mistake, Dustin Pedroia is the clubhouse leader of the Boston Red Sox.
If you weren’t sure of this, you weren’t in the locker room bright and early Monday morning. As the Sox strolled in for an 11 a.m. start on Patriots Day, players were greeted by their first controversy of the year.
In an interview Sunday night on Sports Xtra on Boston television station WHDH-TV, Manager Bobby Valentine had a surprising answer to a question about the early-season struggles of Kevin Youkilis.
“I don’t think he’s as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason,” said Valentine of Youkilis. “But (Saturday) it seemed, you know, he’s seeing the ball well. He got those two walks, got his on-base percentage up higher than his batting average, which is always a good thing, and he’ll move on from there.”
Needless to say, the media wanted reaction Monday morning from both the manager and his third baseman, and got both. What it also got was a rallying cry from Pedroia.
“I know that (Youkilis) plays as hard as anybody I’ve ever seen in my life,” Pedroia said. “I have his back and his teammates have his back. We know how hard he plays. I don’t really understand what (Valentine’s) trying to do. But that’s really not the way we go about our stuff here. I’m sure he’ll figure that out soon.”
Pedroia was asked if he thought Valentine was trying to motivate Youkilis or the team.
“Maybe that stuff works in Japan,” said Pedroia, “but here in the USA we’ve got a three-game winning streak, and we want to come in here and feel good about things.”
What made the situation so jarring for players was this type of thing would never be said by Terry Francona. Say what you will about the former manager, but his comments were never out of line or controversial.
Meet the new boss, definitely not the same as the old boss.
Valentine will speak his mind, even if it ruffles a few feathers along the way. His players will occasionally have to answer questions about their manager’s comments, something they’ve never had to do before.
One thing hasn’t changed. Over a long baseball season, the 25 men on the roster have to have each other’s backs. They need to play for one another, and need to feel they can trust the other men on the field.
More than any other sport, the baseball season is a marathon.
On Marathon Monday, while most teams were sleeping in with a night game ahead of them, the Red Sox again were reminded that playing in Boston is an experience unlike any other in the game.
At Fenway, it’s a fresh news cycle every day. For the first time in many years, the team has a manager that will be providing material for that news cycle. Valentine said he didn’t make the comments to motivate anyone, but it might just work out that way.
Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.