FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It was the winter of 2014-15, a few weeks before spring training, and Dustin Pedroia had come to say that the Laser Show wasn’t over.
Pedroia coined that phrase -- "Laser Show" -- years earlier, when he was still playing for Arizona State, to describe how such a diminutive player could hit a baseball so far. But the 5-foot-9 (on his tiptoes), 175-pound (soaking wet) Boston Red Sox second baseman was coming off three straight seasons in which hand and wrist injuries dulled his power.
As always, though, nothing was wrong with his confidence.
"I'm shocked the balls I've been hitting haven't hit your laptop from Arizona yet," Pedroia said as a way of updating a reporter on his condition after September 2014 surgery on a tendon in his left wrist. “I’m ready and motivated like never before.”
For three months last season, it showed. Pedroia went deep twice on Opening Day in Philadelphia and matched his 2014 total of seven home runs in only 183 at-bats through May 27. He was playing his usual Gold Glove defense and putting up All-Star numbers when he slipped while rounding first base after stroking a sixth-inning single June 24 at Fenway Park.
And just like that, the Laser Show skidded to a stop.
Pedroia strained his right hamstring and missed most of the next two months. He tried to come back in July, only to wind up back on the disabled list. By the time he returned in September, the Sox were destined for another last-place finish.
It isn't any wonder, then, that Pedroia's stock on Baseball Tonight's annual Top 100 list has fallen to No. 99 from No. 50 last year and No. 20 in 2014. Considering that second basemen tend not to age well (just ask Chase Utley and Chuck Knoblauch), it’s fair to wonder about Pedroia’s future with six years and $85 million left on his contract.
"You set goals, you want to be out there every game possible, and sometimes you can't control it," Pedroia said. "It was tough (last year). I felt great up until that point. It was hard to deal with for a while because it was one of those things where I stepped awkwardly on a bad spot on the field. I was upset for a while and then just realized, man, I can’t control that stuff."
Though Pedroia might not be able to prevent bad luck, the 32-year-old can train his body to better withstand the rigors of both a six-month season and an all-out, all-the-time playing style that he’s unlikely to scale back even as he ages.
Pedroia played the entire 2013 season with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb. Because the Red Sox won the World Series, he was unable to have surgery until mid-November, which kept him from his usual offseason weightlifting program. Looking back, he says he overcompensated the following winter, perhaps neglecting his lower body and leading to the hamstring problem last season.
So Pedroia spent this offseason “focused more on that overall training to be an athlete.”
"I'm not trying to hit a home run or drive the ball," Pedroia said. "I'm trying, whatever is thrown at me, to be able to acclimate and make a play. That's it. I'm just training to be an athlete instead of more sport-specific."
Red Sox manager John Farrell can help, too. Farrell realizes Pedroia could benefit from occasional rest, and with utilityman Brock Holt capable of filling in at second base, odds are the team’s de facto captain will get that time off.
"I'd like to say yes, but at the same time, we know he never wants to come off the field," Farrell said. "As he gets deeper into his career, he knows what it feels like coming off a day off where he’s a little bit more fresh. You never want Pedroia out of the lineup, but a day off might give you benefits in the subsequent days following. Pedey has come into it a little more open-minded toward that periodic rest."
At this point, that might be the best way to keep the Laser Show from fading.