BOSTON — Dustin Pedroia returned to Fenway Park on Friday, this time to be showered with appreciation from fans and a collection of Red Sox royalty for the 17-year career that cemented his place as one of Boston’s most-beloved players.
The Red Sox’s undersized big man was honored by the team prior to its latest matchup with the rival New York Yankees, a fitting tribute to a player who at the time he announced his retirement in February was the longest-tenured player on Boston’s roster and the only holdover from its 2007 championship team.
With his family looking on, a pregame ceremony began with a jersey-clad Pedroia walking out of the outfield tunnel through smoke and a flash of pyrotechnics as video boards displayed “DUSTIN” and “15” in the outfield.
Pedroia wiped away tears while recorded messages from several coaches and teammates were played. The list included his former coach at Arizona State Pat Murphy, Kevin Cash, David Ross, former Red Sox manager Terry Francona and David Ortiz. Pedro Martinez joined the festivities in person.
“It’s special. My whole career I kind of had blinders on. I worried about each day. I never looked back and thought about what I did, what impact I had,” Pedroia said. “To see that today when I walked out today. … It’s special. I did something good.”
Representatives from several of the charity initiatives dear to Pedroia were also on hand, including families and victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Their inclusion also brought on emotion from Pedroia, as did an announcement that he would be elected to the team’s Hall of Fame in 2022, eschewing the usual five-year waiting period.
After a brief speech, Pedroia threw out the ceremonial first pitch to current Red Sox manager and 2007 World Series teammate Alex Cora. The final nod was given by former wrestler Ric Flair, a friend of Pedroia, who presented him with a championship belt.
It was a whirlwind of emotions for Pedroia, who acknowledged afterward that he visited with Ortiz on Thursday to get advice about his feelings of anxiety about returning to Fenway for the first time since April 2019 during one of his final comeback attempts.
“I’ve been through a lot. I thought it was too soon for me to come back,” Pedroia said. “I just wanted to stay away and deal with it.”
He told Ortiz he didn’t know what to say to fans to express his gratitude. Ortiz told him, “They already know that.”
“That kind of helped me relax,” Pedroia said.
The 5-foot-9 Pedroia was AL Rookie of the Year in 2007 and the MVP in his second season. But the four-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner played only nine games over the three seasons following a spikes-high slide by then-Orioles shortstop Manny Machado that took out Pedroia’s knee in 2017.
Pedroia had made 11 consecutive opening day starts for the Red Sox, second in franchise history only to Carl Yastrzemski. But Pedroia’s career effectively ended with Machado’s slide into second base to break up a double play.
He would try to return to form over the next four years with the same relentlessness he used to help the Red Sox capture a pair of World Series titles in 2007 and 2013.
It wound up being a merry-go-round of surgeries and setbacks that eventually wore down his body to the point where he was told future attempts would adversely affect his quality of life.
Though it was an abrupt end to his time on the diamond, Pedroia said this year that he had no ill will toward Machado or sour feelings about what happened afterward.
Any lingering memories of the incident were overshadowed by Friday’s return to Boston.
Pedroia said he has no doubt that he’ll don a uniform again, saying “maybe” to the possibility of managing someday.
“I think everyone knows that,” Pedroia said. “It’s just a matter of time. I want to raise my boys and make sure I don’t miss anything in their life. They deserve that. Then after that, it’s go-time.”
Kylie Hightower, The Associated Press