As he fouled off a pitch on April 17 at Yankee Stadium, the popping noise in his left knee was so loud that Dustin Pedroia heard it over the crowd.
“Well, maybe that’s it,” he thought.
Pedroia stayed at the plate, hit a fly ball to right field, then came out of the game. He went back to the clubhouse, threw up because he felt sick, and went back to the team hotel wondering if his career was over.
On Saturday morning, only 10 days later, Pedroia went through a full workout on the field before the Red Sox played the Tampa Bay Rays. He took batting practice, went through defensive drills at second base, then ran the bases.
There was a new custom-made brace on his knee. It arrived on Friday and Pedroia is confident that it will enable him to play in minor league games sometime soon.
“I have to be able to play every day,” Pedroia said. “The restriction they put me on before when I was playing was hard. It was hard for me; it was hard for our team.”
By every day, Pedroia means five of every seven games at least.
“That’s what we’re trying to do. We have to find out if my knee can handle it,” he said.
If you’re waiting for Pedroia to give up, better pull up a comfortable chair.
“There’s no quit,” he said. “What example am I setting for my children if I quit? Or the kids I meet at the park who say I’m their favorite player?”
Yet doubters persist. A percentage of Red Sox fans, and that’s probably not the right word to describe these bitter souls, would like to see Pedroia step aside. He knows they’re out there.
“I think there’s a lot more who don’t,” Pedroia said. “It’s OK. I don’t think that’s the majority. Those are the people who call into radio shows, the people in comment sections.
“But when I’m going to the grocery store, people say they can’t wait to see me back out there and that I’m setting a good example for their kids. That’s why I’m doing it.”
Pedroia also is driven to be part of the solution after the Sox got off a slow start. He’s been a part of six playoff teams and knows what needs to happen.
“Absolutely. That’s a huge part of it,” he said. “It’s already frustrating enough as we’re trying to find the right brace, the right footwear, the right everything to be able to play.
“That’s why I say last year was the perfect situation when we won it. What I had to go through, if we didn’t do what we did, that would have crushed me. Now we’re struggling, I want to help fix that.
“I live and die by this. I got drafted by the Red Sox in 2004. It’s personal. The people who say the other things, that doesn’t bother me.”
The new knee brace will determine what comes next for the player who is arguably the best second baseman in franchise history.
The custom brace, Pedroia said, will allow him to “unload” properly when he swings.
“When I was playing defense and running, it was fine,” Pedroia said. “In the box, the movement, the brace was pulling me in a direction to not allow me to do that. It was restricting me.”
Pedroia is now using what’s called a double upright brace instead of a de-rotational brace. The first brace twisted his thigh one way and his shin the other, which helps explain why he was making contact but not getting much out of it. His legs weren’t part of his swing.
“I do feel in the end it’s getting to be back to normal,” Pedroia said. “My knee will let me know if I can do it.”
If he can’t, Pedroia has a good idea of what happens then.
He presented David Wright with a No. 5 from the left field scoreboard at Fenway Park last September when the Mets were in town.
Wright had decided to stop playing only a few days before after missing nearly three seasons with a back injury. He made a deal with the Mets to restructure how the remaining two years of his contract would be paid off once he was released.
Pedroia, 35, is signed through 2021 and has approximately $37.5 million remaining on his contract. His agents, the same ones who represented Wright, may have to work out a similar agreement with the Sox
I asked Pedroia if he feared going through the same forced departure.
“No. If my knee can’t do it and I don’t play again, I don’t have one regret,” he said. “I never took one play off in my life. It’s unfortunate that I got hurt. But you can’t control that.”
Dylan Pedroia is 9, Cole Pedroia is 6, and Brooks Pedroia is 4. Their baseball memories should be of a packed house at Fenway Park cheering their dad, not ice packs and crutches.
“I want them to see me overcome this. That’s it,” Pedroia said. “They know I’m good. But they also know I had a really bad injury. They’ve seen the tough times and you guys haven’t. They’ve been with me through the worst of times. I want them to see me at the best of times.”