You may have noticed that I follow the Red Sox. Really, I ask my Red Sox Fan Husband a lot of questions. Nevertheless, we've just returned from a four-game series between the Red Sox and the Kansas City Royals. The Red Sox won only one game, but for a question-asker and a people-watcher, I had a fun time. Three of the Sox players especially interest me.
Baseball's gym rat. MLB's poster boy. A leprechaun in baseball uniform taking a preparatory jump at his second base position when each pitch is released. That's our Dustin Pedroia. He's feisty, trash-talking, pit-bull-like. He's someone who will grind himself into the dust if that's what it takes to get an edge over the competition. From the first day he picked up a baseball bat and took his first swing, he's thought of nothing but winning. He'd rather play baseball than eat or sleep, and it shows.
He was 5'2", 140-pounds as a senior in a Woodland, California, high school and named the top player in the league. But because of his size, he was ignored by most scouts. Then Arizona State gave him a chance to play. Later, Team USA took him on as shortstop in summer 2004, where he helped the Americans go 27-2. Five inches taller, he was ready to prove he was big enough to play pro ball. By 2006, he was invited to the Red Sox Major League Camp and hit a leadoff homer in Game 1 of the World Series with the Colorado Rockies in 2007.
Pedroia has proven that the size of a player's heart is what means the most. His self-taught home-run-hack from LIttle League days in California still works. As a teammate, he's a dream. Intense, funny, and all about winning. A natural leader. And a natural family man. He left games in progress twice when wife Kelli entered the hospital to birth each of his two sons.
Ortiz, the current designated hitter has earned a worthy nickname "Big Papi" in the Boston Clubhouse. As a father-figure, he's done more than anyone else to exorcise the "Curse of the Bambino". Here's the story: The Red Sox won four World Series championships in the eight years Babe Ruth played on the team. In 1918, Ruth was sold to the New York Yankees. The Sox didn't win another World Series until 2007, a dry spell that became known as the "Curse of the Bambino". Ortiz, with his easy-going, friendly style and wonderful sense of humor helped pull baseball's most dysfunctional family out of the gray area and put championship rings on their fingers for the first time since Woodrow Wilson was president.
Ortiz always has been a calming influence, first with his own family in the Dominican Republic, then with his fellow players. He was picked up by the Seattle Mariners' Dominican Summer League Club ten days after his 17th birthday. His career road was rocky with setbacks and injuries, doubts and discouragements, but that's most players' histories. Six-foot-four and 240 pounds, Ortiz is fun to watch, electric swinging a bat, and a solid winner on the field. He keeps his team loose and remains the predictable practical joker in the locker room.
Most noteworthy about Jon Lester is his recovery from anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a form of cancer. July 2006 he was diagnosed, underwent treatment, and was declared cancer-free in December. He rejoined the Red Sox team as pitcher in the spring of 2007, put together a plan for getting back into shape, and on July 23, climbed on the Red Sox mound to beat the Cleveland Indians. He also started and won the clinching Game 4 of the 2007 World Series against the Colorado Rockies.
Jon, 6' 5" tall, makes an imposing image. He is known to be mentally tough and highly disciplined. He follows a rigid, consistent between-starts routine that keeps him focused and completely ready when he shows up in the pitcher rotation. He's not hard to admire. I bet his wife, Farrah, and son, Hudson, agree. They all have founded an organization called "Never Quit" to support children in their battles with cancer.
Good weekend. Good baseball. Good memories.