The suggestion to “merck” (defined by the Urban Dictionary as “To destroy. Derived from the word ‘mercenary’”) unofficially ended another day of preparing for the 2010 baseball season, allowing the focus to change over to a video game (Call Of Duty, to be exact) showdown at Pedroia’s house.
The trash-talking that came with lifting, running, hitting and throwing that had dominated a gym, high school field, and junior college baseball stadium was shifting to the room Pedroia calls “The Merckenation Station,” where No. 15 for the Boston Red Sox abruptly switches over to the video game tag of "HBO."
(“Simply the best,” explains Pedroia when asked why that handle was chosen.)
The reality is that while “The Merckenation Station” is one of the more popular rooms in the Pedroia home, its occupation is hardly the priority for the 26-year-old in these final days of big league baseball's offseason. One look around at the images that litter the walls and it becomes eminently clear that there are two things of most importance for Pedroia: 1. His wife, Kelli, and young son, Dylan; and 2. Baseball.
Those are what fill up most of Pedroia's days, and this Monday is no exception.
Preparing for the 2010 Major League Baseball season goes from 9:30 a.m. until 2 p.m., with family time dominating the rest of the way (OK, with about an hour in “The Station” mixed in).
‘THAT’S HOW YOU GET IT DONE’
Pedroia arrives at Keith Poole’s Training Zone in Chandler, Ariz., at virtually the same time as his workout partners — Andre Ethier of the Dodgers, the Giants’ Kevin Frandsen, and Bordes — all of whom walk into the small gym carved out of a strip mall around 30 minutes before the session is scheduled to begin.
“Time for a blue collar workout,” exclaims Pedroia.
The venue is nothing fancy, and certainly not the kind of elaborate facility Ethier, Frandsen and Pedroia moved from when Athletes Performance’s relocation made the commute a bit too hefty to handle. But it has everything they need — equipment, batting cage, and, perhaps most important, camaraderie.
Poole is the instructor, having carved out his niche in the local fitness world after starring at wide receiver for the Arizona Statefootball team in the mid- to late-1990s, as well as playing in the NFL with both the New Orleans Saints and Denver Broncos. It is his place, and he is the group’s guide, but it is almost as if the 35-year-old is meant to jump in and train alongside his students.
Physically, it is Bordes who doesn’t quite fit the mold of the rest of the room’s participants, standing at 6-foot-0, 170 pounds and throwing around weights not near the magnitude of the other three. It is for good reason: The former Arizona State standout is the posse's only pitcher, a lefty reliever who finished the 2009 campaign at Baltimore’s Single-A affiliate in Frederick, Md.
Frandsen’s uniqueness comes from the fact that he is the only one of the five who did not attend Arizona State, having played against his former Sun Devils counterparts in college before integrating into the group while at Athletes Performance.
The 27-year-old second baseman, who is coming off a season in which he played 23 games with the Giants, is referred to by everybody in the group (and even Kelli Pedroia) as “Fed Ex.”The nickname was spawned out of the similarity in monikers to Britney Spears’ ex-husband, Kevin Federline, but, in Pedroia’s eyes, morphed into something more fitting.
“He’s the Fed Ex package,” the Sox’ second baseman explains, “always delivering on time.”
As the two-hour workout progresses, the tone in which Pedroia describes Frandsen’s call sign serves as an example of how the former American League MVP operates. While there is a constant wave of good-natured bragging and boasting, it rarely turns into the dismantling of others. To the contrary. With every pat on his own back, Pedroia offers three for those with whom he’s throwing around weights.
And nobody receives more of these comical verbal bouquets than Ethier.
The 27-year-old outfielder has turned himself into a baseball-playing behemoth. With Ethier now lifting an inhuman amount of weight, the memories of when Pedroia first met the once-skinny kid from Phoenix seem a lifetime ago. Ethier now is on the precipice of major league stardom, having just signed a two-year, $15.25 million deal with LA that bought out his first two years of arbitration.
Ethier might not look like the 5-foot-7 Pedroia, but there’s a reason they are best friends.
“Andre is the ring leader of his circus. He’s the guy who is screaming and yelling after a set, looking in the mirror for the next 20 minutes,” explains Pedroia. “I feed him just to get him fired up.”
For example …
Upon bench-pressing a few reps of weight most major leaguers only dream of lifting, Ethier is being fed by Pedroia. “You see that? That’s how you get it done,” the second baseman yells at the nearby video camera documenting the workout, “Send that tape to Theo!” (It is no secret the Red Sox star would like to somehow play with his former ASU teammate once more.)
And then there is Pedroia.
‘THIS IS WHERE I SHINE’
Among the 113 days since Pedroia made the final out of the Red Sox’ season, Monday stood out.
After tossing around a medicine ball and doing a bit of light striding inside Poole’s batting cage, the Sox standout put on baseball cleats for the first time since walking off the Fenway Park field back on Oct. 11. Also of note was the fact he was making his inaugural voyage in New Balance footwear after having spent his entire big league career in Easton.
The group of five would change their footwear, walk across the street and execute a series of running drills on the outskirts of the Chandler High School football field.
“This,” Pedroia says, “is where I shine. I feel good. I’ve been running good.”
He had stolen 20 bases in ’09, the same as the season before, but was caught eight times compared to the one failed attempt in ’08. Pedroia had noted how heavy his legs felt throughout much of last year, vowing to alter that sensation in ’10.
So far, so good.
“I just felt slower last year,” Pedroia says. “That’s something I wanted to change. Now I feel a lot better.”
The image might appear to be similar, complete with cut-off “GI Joe” T-shirt. But the execution has been altered. The strides are a step quicker, and the weights are a bit heavier. It was that added poundage that led to the second reason for Monday being a hallmark moment.
Once back inside, after the sprints, Pedroia would lift more weight than he had ever hefted in any of his 26 years. Two dumbbells, each weighing 95 pounds, would be pushed up seven times. Sure, he had lifted 105-pounders twice last year, but never had he executed so many reps with such a high weight.
“I definitely feel a change in how I’m lifting,” Pedroia says.
He isn’t heavier — still residing at 167 pounds — but he is different. At least that’s how Pedroia sees it. The running, the lifting, and even the eating. This time around, everything has changed for the better. The first two could be traced to the small gym tucked away across from a car wash. The food? That can be credited in large part to a kindly woman waiting for Pedroia back at the player’s house, a woman by the name ofShafeeka Brown.
Brown had been hired by Pedroia to serve as the family’s personal chef, not only helping Dustin stay on point with his nutrition, but also alleviating some of the pressures Kelli faced as the mother of an infant. As good a winter as the Sox’ No. 2 hitter was having, as far as the Pedroias were concerned, Brown’s offseason was equally as productive.
On Monday, Brown had tortilla soup waiting for Pedroia and "Fed Ex," having drilled into the infielder’s head the nutritional importance of each element of the meal. Before the two got up from the table, walked by the office with the elephant head on the wall and into the “Merckenation Station” for a quick round of Call Of Duty, the words “best soup I’ve ever had” were mentioned more than once.
But even with the comfort of Shafeeka’s soup, and the video game chairs, there still was one more portion of Pedroia’s work day that still needed to be completed: a trip over to the Chandler-Gilbert Community College baseball field.
‘THAT WAS THE SWING’
The idea was to integrate into the Chandler-Gilbert baseball team just long enough to get in a few swings and take a bucket of ground balls. Sure, "Fed Ex" would be there, but the rest of the field would be populated by wide-eyed junior college ballplayers, all wearing their uniforms, along with looks of admiration.
But when Pedroia exited his Jeep, the first player he saw tossing a baseball was former Red Sox teammate Brendan Donnelly. The well-liked reliever many Sox knew as “Donkey” also was using the field to prepare for the upcoming big league season, playing catch with another big leaguer, Cubs pitcher John Grabow.
Donnelly, who had just recently signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates (after drawing some interest from the Red Sox), would finish his workout before Pedroia swung a bat, but he stayed long enough to relive the good old days of 2007 when the Sox clubhouse was filled with trash talk between the pair.
But as comfortable as Pedroia was with Donnelly’s presence, it was another participant on the field that allowed for the second baseman to settle into his baseball-playing comfort zone.
Robbie McClellan was the pitching coach for the CGCC Coyotes, but he was also a big reason Pedroia, Fransden and Ethier were so at home working out at Chandler-Gilbert. McClellan, or “Chis” as Pedroia called him, had also played at Arizona State, having ultimately been drafted by the Royals as a pitcher. What "Chis" also could do was match wits with his former teammates.
“Chis was the first guy I met at ASU,” Pedroia says. “We used to call him 'The Child.' He came in wearing his Wrangler jeans and white T-shirt, and never had even gone to a mall before he got here. Then he started buying all of these necklaces and stuff. That’s when we stopped calling him 'The Child' and started calling him 'Chis.' He’s great. One time he was pitching against UCLA and wore a ‘Superman’ chain that they made him take off because it was blinding all the hitters. He’s awesome.”
What else was awesome in the eyes of Pedroia was how "Chis" threw batting practice. With a bunch of college kids gearing up for their first game of the season Wednesday by hanging on every swing by the Sox second baseman, Pedroia was finding his groove. The BP session would end with the batter neatly placing two straight outside-edge straight balls into right field, walking away with total contentment.
“That was the swing,” he says. “I was all over Chis today.”
It would be, Pedroia later explained, the first time in the offseason his swing felt just right. After a few grounders and a couple of memorable handshakes for the college kids, Pedroia was off. He and Bordes had some “mercking” to do.
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