FORT MYERS, Fla. – Two years ago, Dustin Pedroia told me he was ready to prove everyone wrong. He would show them all — the doubters, the naysayers, the critics — that he could become a big league star despite standing only 5-foot-6.

Those comments came just four months after Pedroia was named American League Rookie of the Year. Fact of the matter was, there weren’t many people doubting him after 2007.

Yet Pedroia needed to keep his me-against-the-world mentality in spite of his rookie accolades. It fueled him to be the best he could be. That summer, it was an attitude that led him to the league’s MVP award.

Baseball is a humbling game. To succeed, players need to deal with failure on an almost nightly basis. Having a thick skin becomes crucial, learning to play with a chip on your shoulder can motivate you.

There are more than a few Red Sox players shouldering chips, real or imagined, this spring. David Ortiz, in many ways the most important part of a lineup that has some question marks, was quick to talk about the “negativity” he felt last season.

“I think people gave up on me too early, too fast,” said Ortiz. “They started talking about age, all that stuff. You listen for a minute, it’s the same people who were clapping for you before.”

Truth is, Red Sox Nation was exceedingly patient with Big Papi in 2009. Most players would’ve heard much louder boos — and more quickly. Imagine if that were Julio Lugo with a sub-.200 batting average two months into the season.

Closer Jonathan Papelbon spent the winter thinking about the ultimate blown save, giving up a three-run lead in the final game of the American League Division Series with the Los Angeles Angels. Forget that the runs ended Papelbon’s major league record for longest postseason scoreless streak; all he could think about this offseason was how the year ended. He watched the video of the loss time after time, even playing it while he worked out.

“I’ve got it on tape and I watched it 100 times in my weight room. I used it as motivation whenever I was feeling tired and weak in the weight room. I’d pop it on and say, ‘There’s still work to be done.’“

Mike Lowell overcame offseason hip surgery to bat .290 with 17 home runs last season. He had an on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) of .811, the third time in four years his OPS was .800 or better.

Yet Lowell arrived at spring training without a place to play. The Sox signed Adrian Beltre to a one-year, $10 million contract this winter. Kevin Youkilis is the everyday first baseman, and Ortiz is the regular designated hitter, at least until proven otherwise. Lowell, an 11-year veteran, suddenly has to prove himself all over again at age 36.

“I’m highly motivated to show I can play,” Lowell said. “Where that takes me, I don’t know. We’ll see.”

There are other players trying to prove things in the weeks ahead during Grapefruit League play. Beltre and Mike Cameron are newcomers trying to bounce back after disappointing offensive seasons. Jason Varitek is trying to show the world he can still hit and can adjust to the role of backup catcher. Daisuke Matsuzaka had a horrific, injury-filled season and is still trying to prove he can be successful over a complete season. Manny Delcarmen is looking to earn once again the trust of management in late-game situations.

To be sure, there are a lot of “ifs” in Fort Myers, but there is also a lot of motivation. It is a veteran club with something to prove, with the best starting rotation in baseball to back it up.

It could be a dangerous mix. Just ask Pedroia, who is still trying to prove people wrong even though those people agree he is one of the top young stars in the game.


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.


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