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Unlikely Heroes: Fenway's Fun-Sized Idols

(Photo courtesy of bostondirtdogs.boston.com)

Big Papi wasn't always big. And Dustin Pedroia never will be. But these two ballplayers are huge in the hearts of every Boston fan.

Dustin Pedroia first got his hands on a bat when he was still in diapers. Since then, he has never stopped swinging. He grew up in northern California, played college ball at Arizona State University, and was drafted in the second round by the Boston Red Sox in 2004. But many people are drafted and never play a game in the major leagues. For two years, Pedroia fought through the farm system and struggled to prove to everyone that he had what it takes to play big league ball. Everyone could see that he had incredible talent. He was a natural baseball player. But there was one thing that held him back; one thing that coaches, scouts, and his fellow players always doubted in him. One thing he couldn't change.

David Ortiz was signed by the Seattle Mariners in 1992. Like Pedroia, he did not find his way to the major leagues for quite some time. In 1996 he was traded to the Minnesota Twins as a no-name. Literally the trade agreement included David Ortiz as "a player to be named later." He played his first major league game in September of 1997 and for the next five years would split time between the Twins and their minor league affiliate, the New Britain Rock Cats. Over the course of 6 seasons and 455 games, Ortiz recorded 58 home runs and 238 RBIs. He was then cut by the Twins organization. Not good enough, they said.

Dustin Pedroia is 5'7" tall. That's a fact he's never been able to escape. Sure he's been playing with (and dominating) bigger players since age 7. Sure he can get on top of just about any fastball thrown his direction. But try telling that to the hundreds of collegiate scouts who overlooked him. Or to the security guard who wouldn't let him through the players' entrance at Coors Field. This kid is short. But too short? Not a chance.

In 2004, David Ortiz became Big Papi. Well, technically Ortiz was signed by the Red Sox in 2003. He split time with Jeremy Giambi and rumor has it that he had trouble remembering his teammate's names, so he just called them all "Papi". Eventually he learned their names, probably around the time he earned the starting DH spot. So his teammates began to call him "Papi", and the "big" part is pretty obvious. But it wasn't until 2004 that "Big Papi" came to mean something more than size.

Pedroia watched the 2004 Boston Red Sox win the World Series, breaking the Curse of the Great Bambino, on a television set from his minor league clubhouse in Sarasota, Florida. Sure he was a part of the organization, but as he says himself in his book Born to Play, "I would try to follow the Red Sox, but it wasn't my main objective to watch the big team. I was more worried about myself and trying to climb up through the minor-league system."  Pedroia has always been that way – determined. He wouldn't quit until he had proven wrong all those who doubted him. In 2007 he became the regular second basemen of the Boston Red Sox. The same year he would go on to win AL Rookie of the Year as the Red Sox beat the Rockies in 4 games to win the World Series.

Success was not everlasting though. In 2012, the Boston Red Sox finished the season 69-93, worst in the American League. They had become a joke. A perfect example of how a team could utterly collapse. Manager Bobby Valentine, hired in December 2011, was subsequently fired. He went on to criticize the play of Ortiz. It wasn't only him though; everyone seemed to be questioning the value of Ortiz. In 2013, Ortiz answered those questions.

At 2:49 pm on April 15, the city of Boston shook. 2 bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon leaving 3 dead and 264 wounded. Four days later the city was locked down as a daylong manhunt unfolded culminating in one dead bomber and another in custody. David Ortiz watched this unfold as he rehabbed an Achilles injury he suffered in 2012. Days later, Ortiz emerged as the face of the Red Sox fight against terrorism when he took the mic at a pregame ceremony honoring the bombing victims. "This is our fucking city! And no one is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong!" he said. (see the whole speech here )

Ortiz has a way with words. Boston knows it, and so do his teammates. In game 4, down 2-1 against the Cardinals in the World Series, Ortiz gathered his teammates in the dugout, reminding them that this was the game they had dreamed of playing in. This was the culmination of all those years of hard work. This was their opportunity to prove themselves, and to show the world, exactly who Boston was.

The Red Sox went on to win game 4, game 5, and game 6. Over the course of the series, Dustin Pedroia recorded 5 hits, 5 runs, a walk, and an RBI. David Ortiz recorded 2 home runs, six RBIs, eight walks, and batted an unprecedented 11/16 (.688). This would be his 3rd World Series win in less than 10 years.

The Red Sox, in many ways, brought Boston back to life. Fenway Park, arguably the most historic park in the country, has become a symbol of strength, perseverance, and struggle. Not only for the people of Boston who saw their mantra, 'Boston Strong', carved into center field. But also to the players, who have dreamed for years of one day stepping up to home plate and sending a ball over the Monster in left field. Baseball in Boston is more than a game. Nobody understands this better than teammates Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. For them, this World Series is much more than a trophy. It's proof. It's recognition. It's enough to show everyone who doubted them that they were wrong. And exactly how wrong they were.

This article first appeared in the December issue of the DoG Street Journal. Thoughts? Comments? Email the author, Scott Guinn or leave a message below)

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