BOSTON -- For Boston Red Sox right-hander Joe Kelly, the reaction play Dustin Pedroia made in his last start against Seattle -- the one in which Pedroia snagged a ground ball that had deflected off the glove of first baseman Mike Napoli and threw to him covering at first -- was one of the best plays he'd ever seen. Kelly, who will be pitching Wednesday night against the Texas Rangers, was so surprised at how Pedroia materialized seemingly from nowhere to make the play that he almost stumbled over the bag.
For Jeff Evans, watching from the press box in Safeco Field, it was nothing he hadn't seen Pedroia do before.
"He was always in the right spot from day one," Evans said. "I saw him do so many amazing things."
Evans, the assistant director of baseball information for the Seattle Mariners, isn't exaggerating when he references day one. In 2002, he was 22 years old and beginning his second season as sports information director at Arizona State, where the Sun Devils were awaiting the arrival of their newest recruit.
"He shows up before school starts in August, and it's, like, 100 degrees in Tempe," Evans said. "We're out at the batting cage, I'm meeting some of the new freshmen, and he comes around the corner.
"I was kind of looking out for him. This little guy comes around the corner in this orange, cutoff T-shirt that he'd taken some scissors to, receding hairline, he's tiny. I look at Graham Rossini, our director of baseball operations, and I say, 'That's Pedroia?'"
The new recruit dispensed with formal introductions.
"He comes over and says, 'Hey, man. I'm Dustin,'" said Evans, who then mimics what Pedroia did next, slapping his biceps. "He said, 'How do you like these guns?' And I looked at Graham and said, 'Wow this is going to be a fun three years.'"
For the better part of those three years, Evans made it his mission to persuade legions of skeptics to look beyond the vitals -- he sometimes deliberately didn't include them when he was lobbying Pedroia to be included on All-America teams -- and to recognize what for Evans was obvious.
"Somehow, some way," Evans said, "he was the best player on the field. From Jump Street."
The Sun Devils in Pedroia's freshman season played their home games at HoHoKam Field, the former spring training home of the Chicago Cubs.
"He just took off," Evans said, pulling out a photo that shows an 18-year-old Pedroia looking so young, some movie theaters would have balked at letting him into a PG-13 flick. "He takes this gigantic hack with an aluminum bat, he's choking up, but everything he hit was a line drive. Three hits one day, two hits the next."
Laser show? Evans laughs. Pedroia didn't wait until he got to the big leagues before he came up with a name for the exhibitions he put on at the plate.
"He'd come in and say, 'Laser show today, laser show today, I'm going to hit bombs today,' then he'd go out and do it," Evans said. "That's the way he carried himself, and it didn't stop.
"I remember him just talking about wearing pitchers out -- 'Yeah, I got him.' He never met a pitcher he didn't think he could hit."
The bravado was nonstop.
"No fear," Evans said. "His sophomore year, 2003, we went into Long Beach State. Abe Alvarez, who later played for the Red Sox, pitched Friday night and ASU got beat pretty good.
"Dustin does not like losing at all. He's leading off the Saturday game against Jered Weaver, best pitcher in the country. First pitch of the game, he lines a ball to third base about as hard as you can hit a ball. He didn't even get out of the batter's box.
"On his way back to the dugout, he's yelling, 'We'll be here all day,' right at Weaver."
While "laser show" became part of the Pedroia lexicon, less known is the fact that his time with ASU was also the Season of The Witch. That's the name Pedroia gave to his glove. Pedroia's college coach, Pat Murphy, said Pedroia used to sleep with it.
"Ask Dustin about 'The Witch,'" Evans urged. "That's what he called this Zett mitt, which he used forever. It was falling apart. The laces going everywhere. It smelled."
Yes, Pedroia said last weekend in Seattle, he was especially fond of The Witch. He uses a Wilson A2000 now, but his glove is modeled very much like The Witch.
"Oh man, I used that glove, like, since I was 10 years old until my first pro ballgame," Pedroia said. "My first game in the pros [Augusta], it broke. The leather was shot. I was a little nervous.
"This year, I'm using a new glove, but I used the last one for eight years. I don't go through too many gloves."
As the SID, Evans got to know Pedroia's family. Guy Pedroia and Debbie owned a thriving tire shop back home in Woodland, California, and they were regulars at ASU games.
"They went everywhere," Evans said. "Hilo, Hawaii, Wichita, everywhere."
Evans doubled as official scorer, and admits there were times he feared Debbie's wrath.
"She'd look up at the press box and give me a look," he said.
Being around Guy and Debbie, Evans said, gave him a pretty good idea why Pedroia was so driven. Debbie's brother, Phil Snow, was defensive coordinator for the ASU football team and conveyed to baseball coach Murphy that he best recruit his nephew.
"Dustin's DNA is so unique," Evans said. "Then you meet his parents, it kind of starts to make sense. Debbie is a firecracker. She was a college tennis player. You meet her, and she's this tiny, bubbly, energy-driven, life-of-the-party lady.
"Guy is more level, probably along for the ride, but Debbie was a firecracker, that's the best way I can describe her. Dustin was a good mix of the two."
Evans admits it's hard for him to be objective about Pedroia. The way he sees it, they grew up together, and they both refined the respective skill sets that took them both to the big leagues. In his office in Safeco Field, Evans has an autographed picture of Pedroia wearing his ASU uniform.
It didn't surprise him, he said, to walk into the visitors' clubhouse the other day, long before the game, to find Pedroia and Napoli engaged in a game of dominoes. Just as it didn't surprise him to hear that when Terry Francona managed the Red Sox, he and Pedroia regularly played cribbage.
It was no different at ASU, Evans said. There was no place Pedroia preferred to be than the ballpark. He would come in the morning, watch some film, then go to class. Come back after class, watch some more film, go to another class, then come back for practice. And chances were pretty high, Evans said, that even when Pedroia was in class, he had a scouting report secreted in his textbook.
"The way he acted off the field was so special, so unique," Evans said, "and he hasn't changed. You see players change -- when they get the money, play in All-Star games -- but he hasn't changed one bit. There he is playing dominoes with Napoli."
And on the field? "The fist-pumping, the dirty uniform, insert a game from 2003 and 2004, it's the same thing. Same plays, same demeanor.
"When he was at ASU, we all fed off him. Pat Murphy fed off him. The players. Even the SID. He's A-number-one in my book. A really special guy."