EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 24, 2013

He's our Derek Jeter

Red Sox officially make Pedroia the leader of franchise with huge, new contract

By Bill Burt
bburt@eagletribune.com

---- — For at least a half-dozen years we figured that Nomar Garciaparra was the Boston Red Sox’s answer for Derek Jeter.

The dynamic duo/counterparts weren’t always the most productive guys — though they were close — but they appeared to represent their fans and their franchises better than anybody in some time.

To steal a line from New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft, we were duped.

While Garciaparra was as tightly-wound as most of us life-long New Englanders, he eventually wilted under the difficult pressure. You can’t blame him totally, because we are tough to play in front of. Our passion and cynicism are off the charts.

But we got a second chance at finding Jeter’s “equal,” in the back nine holes of Jeter’s career, in an antsy, 5-foot-8-ish, dirt-dog with a massive chip on his shoulder.

We got Dustin Pedroia.

And yesterday, he officially became our Derek Jeter as the Red Sox paid (maybe slightly overpaid) the second baseman with a $100 million deal over seven seasons.

This was a long time coming. Of course, it took some house cleaning, too, as in the departure of some influential players in the Red Sox clubhouse, players who were more concerned with whining than winning.

The influx of the new Boston Red Sox — i.e. the fun-loving bald guys wearing those ugly, bushy beards — set the table for management to officially hand this team over to Pedroia, which is where it has belonged for at least two or three years.

We know by now that Pedroia’s worth to this franchise and region can not be quantified by Bill James and his entertainment company. No matter what the stats say, Pedroia is the most important player on the Sox roster and he has been since he arrived.

While Jacoby Ellsbury, who was hoping for that $20 million per season deal (which isn’t going to happen), continues to struggle either mentally or physically with nagging issues, you have to fight to keep Pedroia out of the lineup.

Has another athlete in Boston professional sports played through more pain than Pedroia, who missed only 21 games in 2012 while playing through a torn ligament in his thumb, which he hurt on opening day?

Of course, we take his defense, which is as good as any second baseman in baseball, for granted. Every few games there is the “Wow!” play he makes.

He does make me laugh, the way he says people have always doubted him. Quite frankly, after two months of his rookie year, I don’t know of one person that doubted him.

And the fact that he said the Red Sox were the only team that believed in him? That’s a funny one, too. The Red Sox drafted Pedroia in the second round, 65th overall, out of Arizona State, where he had a Hall-of-Fame career. My guess is he wouldn’t have lasted longer than the third round.

But that’s what makes Pedroia so appealing. He’s not only competitive, but he’s crazy about baseball, which brings us back to his counterpart in New York, Derek Jeter.

They don’t have to hit 35 homers or knock in 140 runs to prove their worth.

They just have to show up. And their teammates usually will follow.

As for the Red Sox saying they were done giving 7-year deals to players only a few months ago and then extending that courtesy to Pedroia, I say one thing: You couldn’t have picked a better guy.

Bill Burt is sports editor of The Eagle-Tribune. You can email him at bburt@eagletribune.com.