In February, on assignment for Boston Magazine, I sat down with Dustin Pedroia in Fort Myers, Fla., and we spoke for an hour in what may well be the last interesting interview Pedroia ever gives.
Our conversation has since become something of a scandal, mainly because Pedroia had some unexpectedly sharp words for his hometown of Woodland, Calif. "It's a dump," he told me, among other things. "You can quote me on that. I don't give a shit." In response, a Woodland motorcycle-customization company put up a sign reading: "Hey Dustin Pedroia. Maybe You Suck." (That gracious "maybe" is what stays with me, admitting as it does the possibility he doesn't suck.) A local crazy got it into his head to call up the Pedroias' tire shop and threaten to kill all the men in the family. The Sacramento Bee alone pulped a bird sanctuary to cover the fallout from Pedroia's comments.
This was all a very serious business, apparently. It was as if Tom Sawyer had just crapped on Hannibal.
Since then, Pedroia has backpedaled furiously, offering the standard damage-control line that I had taken the quotes out of context, and that I failed to realize he was joking. Here, for the record and with only minor edits, is a transcript of the portion of the interview in question (I should note that the Red Sox set ground rules for the interview, chief among them that I couldn't ask about his brother's arrest on child-molestation charges):
Me: Describe Woodland for me. ... The way it's always written about, it's like The Andy Griffith Show or something.
Pedroia: It's a dump. You can quote me on that. I don't give a shit. It's all right. To be honest with you, I had a group of about five or six friends in Woodland, in high school. Still to this day, they're my best friends. Great people, but after that ...
Me: Really? What's so bad about it?
Pedroia: It's just ... everyone wants to get out of there. You don't wanna stay in Woodland. What do you wanna stay in Woodland for? The place sucks.
Me: Did your friends get out, too?
Pedroia: Most of them. My best friend still lives downtown. He sells auto parts there. Awesome guy. A true and genuine person. But a lot of people there are kinda nosy people. They wanna know your business. The newspaper there, I don't really get along with.
Me: Why not?
Pedroia: They're just ... it's more of a tabloid.
Me: We're all tabloids now.
Pedroia: Nah, but I'm sure you wanna write positive things about me. They don't. Or they do, but they've gotta put in a spice that they don't. That to me ... I come from your town. You should embrace me. I play for the Boston Red Sox. You haven't had a lot of major leaguers come out of your city. But they don't wanna embrace me. So ...
Me: Has it been like that for awhile?
Pedroia: Kind of. Probably. I don't know. I'm at a point now, I live in Arizona, and I consider that my home.
Me: I read these stories, though. They're throwing you parades.
Pedroia: One week. One week. There's a lot of great people in Woodland. There's a lot of not-so-great people. It's just like anywhere.
Me: Do you have grandparents who live in Woodland?
Pedroia: My whole family lives in Woodland except one of my uncles. Everyone's still there. I have a big family. ... It's just one of those things where, my family grew up there, everyone's there. I think I'm at a point now ... I think I'm upset at the city for something — I can't really tell you.
Me: You mean you don't know or you don't wanna tell me?
Pedroia: I just don't wanna tell you. It's personal.
Me: I think I have an idea.
Pedroia: It'll come out later what really happened. I'm at a point where, I call my family all the time. I love my family. But I don't wanna live in Woodland. My home's in Arizona. I've turned the page. I don't forget where I came from, though. I'm a genuine person. I'll do anything for anybody, but I've just moved on.
I feel bad for Dustin Pedroia. These are all typical and largely harmless complaints, familiar to anyone who has left a small town for a bigger one, not to mention anyone who has ever had the misfortune of driving through inland California. And they're all the more understandable given what he believes to be the shabby treatment of his brother. Of course, Pedroia is a certifiable baseball celebrity now, which means he has to behave according to other people's puerile demands about what certifiable baseball celebrities should be — i.e., humble, grateful, plucked from a panel of Gil Thorp, three things no great athlete has ever been. That's idiotic. You can quote me on that.