A week from today, Dustin Pedroia will be flying into Southwest Florida International Airport a different man.
"When you see me," said the Red Sox second baseman by phone last night, "you will definitely see a change."
His metamorphosis stretches far beyond a strut befitting a potential new big league starter. It encompasses much more than being a newlywed, having been married in November.
Pedroia's most visible transformation results from 11 weeks of diligence, all of which revolves around the 23-year-old's desire to avoid the difficulties that cropped up far too many times throughout the 2006 campaign.
"Right now, I'm about 172 (pounds). Last year, I was 195 at the beginning of camp," said the 5-foot-8 Pedroia. "Anytime you get opportunity like (potentially starting), you're not going to let it go by. I'm just excited to get there. I haven't been this excited in my whole life. I just want to get to spring training and let out all the hard work I have put in. I can't wait for it."
Looking back on last season remains bittersweet for Pedroia. On one hand, he did make it the major leagues, called up by the Red Sox Aug. 22 from Triple-A Pawtucket. But the memories of what transpired during his first taste of the bigs are what drove him throughout the offseason.
First came the weight gain, which was partially attributed to a knee injury suffered in Pawtucket at the end of the '05 season. Then, on March 3, Pedroia strained his left shoulder while swinging and missing, keeping him out of the remainder of spring training. The problems continued to mount early in his Triple-A schedule, hitting .255 and .263, respectively, in the season's first two months.
Pedroia finally appeared to right his ship by the time June came around, hitting over .300 until the call came from the big club to join Boston on its season-sinking road trip in California. That's when he was again mired with problems.
The former Arizona State University shortstop notched just six hits in his first 49 major league at-bats (.122), leading to questions regarding the organization's faith in whether he is its second baseman of the future.
"I learned a lot," said Pedroia of his initiation to the majors. "Getting up there was a learning experience. It prepared me for what I needed to do to perform. I know when I got called up I was pretty worn down from the year. I was tired. It was late August and the whole shoulder thing from spring training had killed me because I couldn't lift weights like I wanted to. My body kind of broke down at the end.
"I wanted to make sure that wouldn't happen (again), so I killed myself. I'm 100-percent healthy now and I can't wait for the opportunity."
Pedroia invested in his future by signing on to train at the prestigious Athletes Performance Institute in Arizona, a facility where teammates Kevin Youkilis, Curt Schilling and Kyle Snyder had all previously undergone intensive offseason workouts. Yet even before his intense offseason began, Pedroia showed signs he was intent sticking with Boston this season. In his final 40 at-bats last year, he hit a respectable .275, while claiming a .356 on-base percentage and only striking out twice.
"I hit a lot of balls good, but I had some bad luck. Like my first at-bat, I lined into a double play with the bases loaded. You've got to deal with stuff like that," he said. "I started settling down. You've just go to take the positives and do what you have to going into spring training."
What Pedroia has done - other than taking a 10-day honeymoon in Hawaii - is committing himself to long days in the API training facility.
Those workouts started at 9 a.m. with a two-hour session devoted to speed work. After that came two more hours of baseball-related drills, followed by two hours of lifting weights. The session was then completed with another round of conditioning.
Also participating in Pedroia's workout group were Youkilis, Baltimore's Brian Roberts and Jay Gibbons, highly touted prospects Travis Buck (Oakland) and Brandon Wood (Angels) and Tampa Bay outfielder Carl Crawford, who has passed on some valued information during the down times.
"He told me a couple of things" about new Red Sox shortstop Julio Lugo, Pedroia said. "Carl just said, 'With him hitting at the top of your lineup, you guys are going to score a bunch of runs.' I'm excited to see what (Lugo) is all about."
The same can be said about himself.
"I've put a lot of hard work in," Pedroia said. "The days over there are kind of tough. We're always moving around, lifting, sprints, all that stuff. It's hectic, but for me and Youk we have put in the time and it's going to pay off."