Born to Play: My Life in the Game

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9781439157756: Born to Play: My Life in the Game

The inspirational story of Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia -- a giant talent in a small package -- who defied his critics with hard work, relentless determination, and a looks-can-be-deceiving attitude to become one of the greatest players in the game today.

Dustin Pedroia, at five feet seven inches and 170 pounds, is not the biggest, the strongest, or the fastest player in the game of baseball, but in just two years of major-league play he's become a Rookie of the Year, a Most Valuable Player, and a 2007 World Championship titleholder. At a time when steroid scandals dominate media coverage of America's beloved pastime, Pedroia has proven to the world that a good baseball player is more than size and statistics. His success comes from the heart.

Pedroia started swinging a bat when he was just a toddler, and by the time he was four years old he was hitting line drives off his older brother. He has natural talent, an unparalleled work ethic, and a pure love of the game, but he has spent his life overcoming the naysayers who believed he was too small, couldn't hit, and would never make it in the big leagues.

With commentary from coaches, teammates, and friends, including Red Sox manager Terry Francona and ninety-two-year-old fan (and daughter of Babe Ruth) Julia Ruth Stevens, Pedroia shares the story of his difficult and uplifting journey to prove himself at every turn -- from giving up his college scholarship so his team could have a shot at the College World Series to helping the Red Sox win their second championship in four years in his rookie season to nearly winning back-to-back World Championships in 2008. He takes readers into the legendary Red Sox clubhouse and reveals the challenges a rookie faces in a city so serious about baseball.

More than anything, Pedroia's love of the game and desire to win, not just for himself but for his teammates, defines him as an athlete -- but his dedication, his perseverance, and, of course, his monster swing have made him a beloved new symbol of baseball and offer hope for the future of America's favorite game.

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About the Author:

During his brief career in the majors, Dustin Pedroia has already won several awards including being named the 2007 American League Rookie of the Year and the 2008 American League MVP.  Pedroia ended the 2008 season with a .326 average with 17 home runs, 83 RBIs, and 20 stolen bases. He was tied for the MLB in hits with 213 and led the league in doubles (54), while leading the AL in runs scored (118).  In December 2008, Pedroia signed a six-year contract extension with the Red Sox.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1

Early Innings

Is it possible to have swinging a baseball bat as your earliest memory? I swear mine is.

My parents say I was still in diapers when they gave me a miniature San Francisco Giants bat, the kind of tiny bat you buy at a souvenir store. It was maybe sixteen inches long, and probably weighed six ounces.

What I have no memory of is this: I'm told I began to pick up that bat and take my cuts as if I'd just been waiting to get it in my hands. I'd swing at anything in front of me, and I'd do some damage. Chair legs, whatever. Sometimes the family pets.

We had this little goose my mother had gotten as a pet. When I was something like eighteen months old, I had my bat in my hands and I just went after that thing. It was like instinct. From what I'm told, it didn't turn out too well for the goose, unfortunately. I was a little baby and I was just swinging at everything. And then my mother made a decision that I'm definitely glad for: she decided to lose the goose and let me keep my bat.

I have no recollection of all that, but it's clear in some of my earliest memories that I was swinging that bat hard. Even then I was raking. This was as a really young kid, maybe four years old. I was hitting before I even knew any better. It started as kind of a joke, the way you can get little kids to get up and do something funny. Saturdays in the fall, my family would ride up from my hometown of Woodland, California, to the University of California at Berkeley to see the football games. My uncle, Phil Snow, was the secondary coach of the Cal Golden Bears, so my family never missed a home game.

We'd get to Memorial Stadium in Berkeley early and tailgate before the games. My mom and dad say I carried that bat around constantly from when I was barely able to walk. I remember that as the adults sat around, eating and talking, my brother would wad up foil balls and throw them to me. Usually at that age, kids don't have much hand-eye coordination, or really anything close to it. But Brett would throw me the foil ball and I would hit line drives everywhere.

I was like, "This is fun."

I would run around and do all kinds of stuff. I'd hit and catch and throw like I was my older brother, because Brett loved baseball. It was all just kind of funny to my parents. Everyone at the tailgate party would be saying, "Wow, your son's really good."

My parents would just laugh.

My famil y is down-to-earth, and we work hard. My grandfather Bo Pedroia was a truck driver for fifty years. To my father's side of the family, it was about being a man's man. Bo was always a big, strong guy, and I always respected him. He was a big-time authority figure. If he said, "Do this," I did it without question. And when Grandpa Bo Pedroia talks to you, he kind of puts the fear in you.

He loved playing cards. We'd go to family Thanksgivings at Bodega Bay and Grandpa Bo and I would play cards all day. And he was competitive. If he was losing, every other word out of his mouth was a curse. He's an awesome guy and he didn't care what people thought of him if he knew he was doing the right thing. I'd say he was also a little crazy.

My dad, Guy Pedroia, is the opposite of his dad. My Grandpa Bo was way more outgoing, and my dad was much more on the quiet side. He used to be a little loud when I was a kid and he had to yell at me, but as I grew up it got to a point where he didn't need to do that anymore.

When I'm asked where I got my work ethic, I just point to my parents.

What I do, playing baseball for a living, is easy compared to how hard they've worked all their lives. My parents own three tire stores around Sacramento, California. My dad has been in the tire business since he was a kid. My mother, Debbie, works there, too. They've run the business together since before I was born.

The original shop they started off with is called Valley Tire, in Woodland. It's been around for years.

Dad was a really good baseball player when he was young. But when my grandparents got divorced, my dad moved in with his mom. There really wasn't a lot of money, so when he was fourteen years old he started working at a tire shop, owned by a man named Mr. Orrick. He was working for something like $1.25 an hour. He worked there for eleven years under Mr. Orrick.

Dad worked, went to school, and played sports. He met my mom when she worked at a coffee shop in Winters, California. It's about twenty minutes away from where my dad grew up. She was a waitress and he was just eating there; he went back every day for a month and tried to ask her out on a date. She kept turning him down until finally she said yes.

Mr. Orrick had two daughters, and neither of them wanted to take over the shop. He asked Dad if he wanted to buy it. Dad told him he wanted to but didn't have the money. So they worked out a deal where Dad would take over the shop and pay him back as soon as he could.

Because Mr. Orrick knew my dad was honest, and that he had always worked hard, he sold Dad the shop on a payment plan.

Those first years, my mom and dad would open the store at six in the morning and close it at nine at night. For years, my parents worked fifteen-hour days to keep it going and make enough both to live on and to make good on their payments -- they paid off Mr. Orrick within a few years. When Brett was a little kid, he spent all day in the shop, playing while my parents worked.

When Brett was young and people asked him where he lived, he'd say "Valley Tire." I don't think he was joking.

I did my time working at the shop later on, but when I was little, all I wanted to do was play baseball, and my parents made sure that Brett and I always had that support from them.

Both sides of my family were athletes. My mother played tennis at Sacramento City College, but that ended when my parents got into a bad car accident. They were driving home from a family event and were struck by a hit-and-run driver. My mom ended up with two broken legs and a fracture in her back. That ended her tennis career. But she's an extremely good athlete, and maybe the most competitive of all of us. My mom says that when she'd lose a tennis match in college, she couldn't sleep for three or four nights after that. It was how she was. All I did was inherit that.

My mom's brother, my uncle Phil, had played college football; my dad was a good baseball player. He played softball later on, although that was just for relaxation -- slow-pitch softball was about drinking a beer and then launching some bombs.

The good thing about my hometown was that it was small, and there was basically nothing to do in Woodland but play sports. Growing up, I always played baseball and basketball. I'd be tagging around with my brother and his friends, trying to play with them, because I was always beating the guys who were my own age. I figured I might as well try to beat my brother and his friends. We all had a competitive nature. I'd play my brother one-on-one all the time in basketball, and beat him, and he was always getting pissed, trying to beat me up and stuff. I thought, Wow, this is awesome...

And I just always played baseball. Once I got old enough, I played in the Woodland Little League, where my dad was a coach. My first year, I was seven years old and they had Single A, Double A, Triple A, and Majors. They started me off at Double A. My brother was a twelve-year-old, so my dad coached him and not me. It was hard to coach two teams on top of all the work he had at the shop. My brother's team was the Red Sox, and I got to be batboy. That was the first time I wore those words, when I got to wear that uniform for his games.

After all the kids did the tryouts, they had the Woodland Little League draft, and I was the first player taken. But the team I played for that first season ended up being the worst team. I think we went 2-20. I learned what it was like to lose, but right from then, I knew I didn't have to enjoy it. After the games, all the kids would want to go get ice cream or something, but I'd just be pissed. I was seven and I already had decided that losing totally sucked.

My dad used to work with Brett and me. One of his rules was that I had to take as many ground balls as swings. I always wanted to just hit. But my dad knew I needed to be a more rounded player. So if I got fifty swings at the ball, then I got down and took fifty ground balls. Or a hundred swings, then a hundred ground balls.

Dad threw a lot of pitches during my childhood years. I never got tired of swinging at them.

Because I was showing some ability, I got to go to a local hitting clinic run by a guy named Rich Chiles. He was from Sacramento and he'd played in the big leagues for the Astros, Mets, and Twins. He had a hitting facility about ten minutes from our house, and my dad would send my brother and me there for lessons.

Rich would have us hit for an hour and do all these funky drills. It was me and all these guys who were five years older than me. Right from the start, I was hitting better than all of them. And then they were all getting pissed and trying to beat me, this kid who was seven and hitting better than the twelve-year-olds. I thought that was even more awesome. My brother shrugged and told them that I was just kind of a freak.

Rich had a batting cage at his facility, and in it was one of those old "Iron Mike" pitching machines, the kind that has a long metal arm that throws the ball. The machine was set to pitch the balls at something like sixty or seventy miles an hour, which from a Little League mound was probably like a hundred-mile-an-hour pitch from a mound on a full-sized field. And I hadn't even seen a forty-mile- an-hour pitch playing in the Woodland Little League Double A, I'll tell you that.

One day, Rich had it cranked all the way up to top speed. The problem was that the pitching machine wasn't too accurate. I mean, the balls were just flying all over the place. Rich looked at us, and said for anyone who wanted to try hitting to step in. All the other kids were saying, "No way I'm getting in there!" No one was going near that ...

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