BOSTON — David Ortiz was as blunt as he was philosophical.
"Some day I will tell my grandchildren that I played with one of the toughest, bad asses ever in baseball," said Ortiz. "Man, he's special."
Before you spit out his countrymen, Pedro Martinez or Manny Ramirez, as the "he" in this equation spit again.
The object of Ortiz's baseball affection is none other than Dustin Pedroia.
"You don't know how good this kid is, how tough this kid is ... nobody knows," said Ortiz. "I realize he's a little guy, like 5-foot-3, but he plays like a giant. He plays like he's my size."
Apparently people do know. Players, media and, yes, fans have caught on.
Pedroia, who is generously listed as 5-9, is one of seven Red Sox players and several coaches who after yesterday's game with the Orioles chartered a private plane for New York to participate in the All-Star Game festivities beginning today.
But Pedroia is not a charity case who is taking up space as a member of the popular defending champs.
The reigning American League Rookie of the Year will be starting tomorrow night, as voted by the fans.
The leading vote getter at second base, Pedroia bested Texas Ranger Ian Kinsler, who some are calling the MVP of the American League thus far.
Even more impressive, Pedroia also easily beat out two popular All-Star game alums, Robinson Cano of the Yankees and Brian Roberts of the Orioles.
Ortiz, who was voted in as the designated hitter, will attend the festivities in New York as an observer.
Speaking of observing, Ortiz has had one of the best seats in the house lately, on the Red Sox bench nursing an injured hand since June 1. It has coincided with two Pedroia streaks.
In the first, Pedroia had only six hits in 51 at bats (.118). And the second, which is ongoing, he has 52 hits, including two on Sunday, in 116 at bats (.448).
The current streak included a career best 17-game hitting streak which ended on Friday. But even that game wasn't all bad. He walked twice that game.
"That's mental toughness," said Ortiz. "Not many guys can (go from one extreme to the other)."
We have come to find out that Pedroia was aching in his early June swoon, but there is a fat chance at finding out anything more.
"Everybody is beat up and hurt at some point," said Pedroia. "I fought through it, just like everyone does. It wasn't a big deal. That's what major leaguers are supposed to do."
If you sense his defensive nature, and I'm talking his words not his .989 fielding percentage, you are correct. Pedroia is not simply happy to be here in Boston, arguably baseball's mecca, or even starting in the All-Star game.
As provincial we are, we like to hear how special it is playing in Boston, that it's a dream come true, so on and so forth.
It's not happening with Pedroia.
"I don't get caught up in a lot of things, like playing in a city or being around superstars," said the 24-year-old. "Do I love playing here? Sure. But I can't compare it to anywhere else. This is the only place I've been."
Red Sox super sub Sean Casey, an 11-year veteran, who can't say enough good things about his 31/2 months wearing a Red Sox uniform, laughed when he heard about Pedroia's response.
"He's telling the truth," said Casey. "I don't think it matters where he is playing. It could be in another country. It could be for another team. He just loves to play. I respect that."
It's been almost 15 months since the send-Pedroia-to-Pawtucket outcry.
Pedroia finished the 2006 season as an August call-up, hitting only .191 in 31 games and began the 2007 campaign hitting only .172 through May 2.
From that point on he hit .335 to all but steal the Rookie of the Year Award. After a 5-for-29 start in the playoffs, he closed with 12 hits in 31 at-bats (.387). That included a two-run homer in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series to put the Sox ahead 5-2 en route to a 9-2 romp.
Pedroia is still is not in a forgiving mood.
"I don't care what anybody says about me, especially the media," said Pedroia. "I'm a good player. I don't let other people's opinions affect me."
Pedroia's backup, Alex Cora, a bastion of strength for Pedroia during his early struggles in 2007, says don't believe everything you hear coming from the second baseman's mouth.
"You win a World Series and perform the way he did and people know who you are," said Cora. "Dustin's a good guy. I play cards with him all the time. He's a competitive guy. But a lot of what he says is a show."
In other words, the gruff Pedroia has feelings like everyone else.
Rookie of the Year, playoff hero, All-Star, Pedroia often is still overlooked playing with likes of established stars Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Mike Lowell, Kevin Youkilis.
Maybe it has something to do with the fact he doesn't look like a ballplayer: he's short, prematurely balding and not exactly chiseled (remember the Mike Lowell fundraiser when he danced with his shirt off!)
But none of that matters on the field.
Pedroia's defense is on a par with any second baseman's in baseball.
His five errors rank fifth lowest in the majors among those who have played 80 or more games. He also ranks fifth in fielding percentage (.989) and capped off the first half of the season with an outstanding catch with a runner at third for the final out of yesterday's win over Baltimore
It's no coincidence he is almost always the first Red Sox player on the field before every game taking grounders.
"I compare him a lot to Derek Jeter," said Casey. "He's not going to have those big numbers the big guys get, but he's always doing something important. He has a confidence about him, which might appear to be a little cockiness. He just believes in himself. He's not afraid of anything. His biggest tool is his heart."
Which brings us back to Pedroia's biggest fan, Ortiz, the king of "no fear."
"He's not the fastest guy and he's definitely not the biggest," said Ortiz. "But if you have to hit a line drive, I want Pedroia up. If you have to take away a hit, I want it to go Pedroia."
Ortiz said Pedroia reminds him of fellow Dominican Rafael Furcal, the All-Star shortstop for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"Furcal is a little taller, but Pedroia is a little stockier," said Ortiz. "Furcal is a tough, man. He plays the game right. So does Pedroia.
"To think that Pedroia is only in his second season, man, that's crazy. He is so professional. He reminds me of me. I love him."
E-mail Bill Burt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All-Star voting ... Second base
Player% Team %Votes
1. *Dustin Pedroia %Red Sox% 2,458,455
2. *Ian Kinsler %Rangers% 2,006,101
3. Robinson Cano% Yankees %1,458,126
4. Placido Polanco% Tigers% 1,040,514
5. Brian Roberts %Orioles% 734,465
Did you know ...
Dustin Pedroia and fellow All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler of the Rangers both played at Arizona State. Kinsler took Pedroia's shortstop position moving Pedroia to second, and then Pedroia took it back as Kinsler moved to second. In the end, Kinsler transferred to the University of Missouri.
Facts about Pedroia
Was the first player selected by the Red Sox in 2004, 65th overall.
Played the final two months of the 2007 season with a cracked hamate bone in his left hand, which was operated on a week after the World Series. According to a report, Pedroia found out about the injury during an MRI in September, but still played.
Married his college sweetheart from Arizona State, Kelli Hatley, on Nov. 11, 2007.
The northern California native is a big fan of the Sacramento Kings of the NBA and San Francisco 49ers of the NFL.
Established a major league record for the highest batting average by a rookie second baseman (.3173), surpassing the .3171 for Pittsburgh's Jim Viox in 1913.
Did not commit an error in the 2007 playoffs on 53 chances.