Pedroia hopes to return, lead off on Opening Day

February 15th, 2019

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The bravado that once carried with him as frequently as his bat and glove has been replaced by a cautious optimism.

Call Pedroia wiser and more realistic, which is to be expected after all he has gone through the last year and a half to come back from the toughest injury he has ever had.

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But in no way is Pedroia defeated. The 35-year-old plans on playing baseball for the Red Sox this season, and if Spring Training goes as he expects, he will lead off on March 28 in Seattle for Opening Day.

"I hope so," Pedroia said. "I've definitely worked pretty hard to get to this point, so just taking it one step at a time."

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For now, those steps consist of showing up to Spring Training for light workouts. The days will become more intense on Monday, when the full squad begins daily workouts.

Unlike last year at this time, when Pedroia was just three months out of major surgery on his left knee and confined to indoor activities, he thinks he can have a normal Spring Training and be ready with the rest of his teammates for the season when the Grapefruit League schedule ends.

"Do what I can do. That's basically it," Pedroia said. "Every day, you show up, you try to attack the day -- whatever that is -- whatever they tell me to do. I go do it."

Any restrictions?

"I don't have any restrictions right now. I just have to be smart, that's the thing," Pedroia said. "I don't need to take 100 ground balls. I need to take the amount that it takes for me to get ready for the game and stop, to just limit my time on my feet and make sure that I'm always staying on top of things to stay healthy."

At the end of camp is the carrot Red Sox manager Alex Cora left for him by saying Pedroia would mark his lengthy comeback by getting to lead off that one time on Opening Day as a reward for all he has gone through.

"I appreciate him doing that," Pedroia said. "He better not give me too many days hitting leadoff, I might stay there. But I appreciate that. These guys have seen how hard I've worked and what I'm trying to get back from. To give me that opportunity would be cool."

There will be tests to pass before then, such as just going through a Grapefruit League game schedule.

"I just look at it like I'm OK, but I have to be smart because if I play out of control or do something, I could wake up the next day and it could be bad," Pedroia said. "I don't want to work for as long as I have to mess that up. I know everyone thinks I'm crazy and I won't listen to anybody, but that's not the case. I want to make sure that I'm on the field and doing all I can to help us win."

The Red Sox did win without Pedroia last year, but that doesn't mean they want to try it again. , his late-season replacement, left as a free agent. Second base should again belong to Pedroia.

Though it might have seemed like human nature for Pedroia to feel left out watching the team win it all without him, he actually found it quite satisfying.

"No, that was the best like I've felt," Pedroia said. "Watching that was unbelievable. Just the way the guys played, the way it ended. I wish I was playing, but it couldn't have been any better because if we didn't win, I would have taken it pretty hard not being able to help on the field."

Knowing what he knows now, Pedroia thinks he could have played more than three games in 2018.

"I think the difference was last year, it was like everybody wanted me to come back like better than I was before, instead of just me coming back, you know what I mean?" Pedroia said. "I might have pushed it too hard or done too much, but as far as following directions, yeah, I followed every step. I think some of the directions were, timing wise, a little off."

Though there's no turning back now, Pedroia isn't sure unorthodox cartilage restoration surgery was the best thing for him.

"No, I wouldn't have done it," Pedroia said. "I just, I mean, I don't regret doing it, but looking back and knowing what I know now, I wouldn't have done it. You know what I mean?"

What would Pedroia have done instead?

"Yeah, change rehab styles, treatment styles, things like that. It's a complicated surgery," Pedroia said. "The cartilage in my knee is great now, but the graft is the thing. You're putting somebody else's bone in your body. To get that to incorporate fully, there's so many things that -- and going into it I didn't know all that stuff. I thought they were like, 'You tore this, we can fix it.' I'm like, 'Oh, that sounds great.' But I didn't know."

These days, Pedroia is thrilled he can focus on baseball again instead of medical minutia.

"I'm enjoying it. Every day I show up, I'm having fun. I'm not worried about anything. I'm enjoying having the opportunity to play," Pedroia said. "This offseason, it wasn't that bad. It was more rest. The human body can only take so much, so you've got to let it heal. But I mean, obviously when I started going again it was tough, but it wasn't like the year before. Maybe that's why I feel so good now. I healed up, got some rest, my body's recovered, and I'm excited."

Pedroia doesn't just expect to play this year. He expects to play well.

"I don't know, I think I'm pretty much the same guy," Pedroia said. "You guys have seen me. I have a couple gray hairs, but that's about it. I'm more under control in certain situations. Playing wise, if I'm out there, I feel like I can do the same as I did then. That's what we're all working hard for me to be able to do."

As far as what the Red Sox are trying to accomplish as a team, Pedroia relishes that challenge because he has seen first-hand at other points in his career how hard it is to repeat.

"That's the toughest thing in sports," Pedroia said. "You're the hunted and everyone is coming after you. Every game you play, you have to be on top of your game and be the best. We're ready for that. We're excited."