Class A minor league baseball is no place for the faint of heart. The days are long and the bus rides are longer. You put in the work or you get kicked to the curb. Quickly.
Tug Johnson, manager of the Class A Augusta Green Jackets knew these facts better than anybody. He’d spent his whole damn life in the Minors, felt that way anyways. But the one day he’ll never forget took place in early Spring 2004.
As Tug sat in his office finishing off a bit of late afternoon chew there was a knock at his door.
The knock was followed quickly by a squeaky voice. “Excuse me sir. I’m your new Second Baseman.”
“Like hell you are,” Tug replied.
Standing in the doorway was a five foot nothing, hundred pound nothing who looked more like the newest Bat Boy then any Professional Ball Player Tug had ever seen.
“I think you got the wrong sport, kid”, Tug remembers saying. “The racetrack is two towns over. I hear they’re looking for new jockeys.”
The young man stood up straight and looked Tug right in the eyes. In his sternest voice he said, “No sir. I’m here to play ball and be the best Second Baseman this darn game has ever seen.”
“And I’ll be damned,” Tug says now, 15 years later. “The little whippersnapper was right.”
A decade and half after that fateful afternoon in the backwaters of the Minor Leagues, after all the trophies and awards and championship rings, the dust is finally settling on the perpetually dirty uniform of the one and only Dustin Pedroia.
But all the hardware in the world could never do justice to the true legacy of the Little Dirt Dog Who Could.
Pedroia was the perfect fit for Boston. He was the embodiment of the working class underdog, the hardy New Englander who gets up every day to do their job and never complain. Work hard. Speak softly and carry a big lunch pale. Get things done.
Pedroia showed up in Augusta ready to work and 15 years later he’s still working just as hard. Only this time it looks like his best just won’t be good enough. The tiny body that took him to such great heights is now letting him down. A body can only take so much and Pedroia rung every last ounce out of his five foot nothing hundred pound nothing frame.
He left it all on the field.
“Did I do good Coach?” Tug recalls Pedroia asking him late one night on an endless bus ride across the South. The rest of the team had long since drifted off to sleep but the grizzled old Coach and the plunky little Rookie remained wide awake. The unlikely pair talked base ball as the bus wound down the back roads of yet another nameless town.
“Yes son,” Tug said. “You did the best you could and that’s all we ask.”