Dustin Pedroia is shown during spring training in 2005, the year he played with the Portland Sea Dogs while on the fast track to a stellar major league career with the Boston Red Sox. John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Todd Claus was in his first year in the Boston Red Sox organization, in 2004, managing the advanced Class A minor league team in Sarasota, Florida, when a round, baby-faced 20-year-old, maybe 5-foot-7, introduced himself.

Todd Claus

“He said, ‘I’m Dustin Pedroia. I’m your new shortstop,’” Claus recalled, looking at the diminutive Pedroia, “and I’m thinking, ‘No, you’re not.’

“During his first batting practice, he’s swinging from his heels. I’m talking to (late Red Sox scout) Bill Lajoie, saying, ‘This is never going to work. I know I’m new around here, but what are we doing, using our top pick to sign guys like this?’

“Bill goes, ‘I hear you. I guess the kid can play.’”

The kid played, and played, until he physically could no longer. Pedroia, 37, announced his retirement on Monday, prompting a flood of memories, including Pedroia’s time in Portland, and stellar seasons beyond.

“We knew this day was coming, didn’t we?” Claus said by phone on Tuesday.

“The fact that he played a 17-year career exceeded everyone’s expectations, except his own.”

Claus, 51, now a scouting director for the Red Sox, said Pedroia did not always make a good first impression but that mattered little, compared to his performance. Claus soon became a fan of Boston’s second-round draft pick.

“He goes out and plays shortstop and the kid doesn’t make an error. We’re talking (Class) A ballfields.

“He did not care about flash. All he cared about was the split-second you were out by at first.”

At the plate, Pedroia batted .336 in 30 games (this after hitting .400 in a dozen games in low Class A).

In 2005, Claus and Pedroia moved up to Double-A.

“Wait until you see this guy play,” Claus told Sea Dogs fans during an offseason event in Portland.

After 42 games in A ball in 2004, Pedoria was in Portland in 2005 among Boston’s other top prospects in Portland – 2003 first-round draft pick David Murphy, rising pitcher Jonathan Papelbon and touted shortstop Hanley Ramirez. With Ramirez there, Pedroia made the expected move to second base.

In a team of minor league stars, Pedroia stood out.

“Dustin was as good as it gets,” Claus said. “He was an excellent teammate. It’s all about winning. He was not afraid to work, ever. The stuff with his pregame (that he was known for in Boston), you saw that in Portland.

“At an early stage, he was a professional in his work. He knew what he wanted to do.”

Portland Sea Dogs second baseman Dustin Pedroia is congratulated by teammates after he hit a home run against the Norwich Navigators on April 10, 2005. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

Ambitious and committed, Pedroia never presented himself above the team to the media. In spring training in 2005, he said, “I’m just learning day by day, just like a lot of other guys are.”

Those other guys were still in Portland when Pedroia was promoted to Triple-A after only 66 games – the fastest rise of a Red Sox prospect in Portland, until Jackie Bradley Jr. in 2012 (61 games) and Mookie Betts in 2014 (60).

Before Pedroia arrived in Triple-A Pawtucket, Claus phoned PawSox Manager Ron Johnson. Remembering his first impression of Pedroia, Claus wanted to give Johnson a heads-up.

“I said, “R.J., we’re sending you this kid. He’s not impressive (at first) but you have to watch him play. He’s going to do things that wins you games.’

“R.J. called back a week later, saying, ‘hey, you were right.’ The next spring, R.J. was having the same conversation (about Pedroia) to Tito (then Red Sox Manager Terry Francona).”

During Pedroia’s video press conference on Monday, he gave a shout-out to Johnson, who died last week of complications from COVID-19, and his other minor league coaches.

“The minor leagues were a huge part of my success as a major leaguer,” he said. “I thought I should’ve gone from college to the big leagues … In my mind, I thought I was already developed.

“Once I got to Double-A, it’s where I started to learn pro ball, how to play a long season, and how to deal with failures every day.

“Once I got to Triple-A with R.J. – who we just lost – he really taught me how to deal with everything; you’re going to have times in a season when you’re cold. Just the ups and downs. I needed that. I had never gone three games without getting a hit. In the minor leagues, you do that. It’s baseball. All the stuff I learned in the minor leagues prepared me for the craziness to get to Boston.”

Pedroia might have reached Boston in 2005, but he was hit by a pitch and broke his left hand. He missed two weeks and scuffled, hitting .255. It marked Pedroia’s first prolonged struggle as a pro. Other injuries slowed Pedroia in 2006 but he finally got his call to the big leagues on Aug. 22.

Named the starting second baseman in 2007, Pedroia was batting .172 on May 1.

“I struggled when I started and I leaned on the struggles I had the first couple months at Triple-A,” Pedroia said, “and that helped me get through it.”

The year ended with Rookie of the Year honors, along with collecting the first of three World Series rings – quite a career for a someone who had some coaches and scouts shaking their heads when the Red Sox picked him.

“He was a highly second-guessed second-round pick,” Claus said, “until he just went out and did it. He was going to do it his way. He was a little Sinatra.

“He was the most mentally strong player, and person, I’ve ever been around. Baseball has so much adversity. He is Type A-plus. To compete the way he did, to exert the effort he did, playing 17 years is remarkable.”

Pedroia’s physical decline began on April 21, 2017, when Manny Machado slid into his knee to break up a double play. Pedroia still played 105 games, batting .293.

Dustin Pedroia returned to Hadlock Field in May 2019 as part of  an injury rehab assignment. His final professional game would be a few weeks later, in Portland. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

But the following seasons featured much more injury rehab than actual games. In 2018 and 2019, Pedroia played in only nine Red Sox games. His 3-for-31 plate performance knocked his career batting average down a point to .299.

Pedroia’s last professional game was during a rehab assignment at Hadlock Field. He left the May 24 game after only four innings.

Pedroia still held out hope of playing, but was derailed again the morning after a workout in January 2020.

“I woke up and my knee was huge … it looked like an explosion went off in there,” Pedroia said. “I was told I needed a partial knee replacement.”

The pandemic delayed that surgery until December – alleviating the pain in his knee and guaranteeing he will never play again. “I can’t run anymore,” he said.

The official retirement came on Monday. He ends with a career .805 OPS, 51.6 WAR, one MVP Award, four Gold Gloves and legendary status in Boston.

“A rare, rare, baseball player,” Claus said. “I hope he’s talked about for the Hall of Fame. Look at his whole body of work.

“He played the game clean, played it hard, played it right.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.