|The man who almost stopped Pedroia from being a Red Sox||06.02.10 at 3:28 pm ET|
On Tuesday, Dustin Pedroia offered his first positive sign at the plate in some time. In his fifth and final at-bat against the A’s, he smashed a ball to right-center, which crashed on the warning track and hopped into the stands for a ground-rule double that snapped an 0-for-17 slump.
But he was not alone in showing signs of a turnaround. In fact, the player who almost prevented Pedroia from becoming a member of the Red Sox also showed his own signs of life.
That would be Athletics catcher Kurt Suzuki, who had been struggling since returning from the disabled list (due to a strained side) in early May before going 2-for-5 with a double and triple on Tuesday.
In 2004, the Sox were left with an unexpected dilemma on draft day. The team did not have a first-round draft pick, but as the team’s top selection (the 65th overall pick, late in the second round) approached, a pleasant surprise started to present itself.
“We had both Pedroia and Kurt Suzuki as two players we thought would be gone by the time we picked,” Sox GM Theo Epstein once recalled. “We’d done our work on them, but they were over on the other side, so we hadn’t spent a ton of time getting them in the right order.
“But with two or three picks left, we were like, ‘Wow — two guys who we thought would be gone for sure could still be there.’ We took a quick minute to make sure we all felt the same way about which guy we would pick.”
Suzuki, a standout catcher at Cal State-Fullerton, knew that the Sox had been following him. As the draft unfolded and he remained on the board into the second round, the idea that he might land with the Sox seemed real.
“I thought there was a chance that I could go to the Red Sox. I knew they only had one pick in the first two rounds,” said Suzuki. “Obviously, there were a few teams that were interested in taking me fairly early. I’d known the Red Sox were one of those teams. The Red Sox, Oakland, the Blue Jays – teams that were college-oriented.”
The decision at the time was not obvious. Even after making the call for Pedroia, there were some in the organization who wrestled with the question of whether the right choice had been made.
The team viewed Suzuki as a player at a premium position whose college performance suggested a high likelihood of both offensive and defensive value. But Pedroia’s impeccable track record of success, even against elite pitching both in the Pac-10 conference and as a player for Team USA, led the Sox to choose Pedroia.
Two picks later, the Athletics jumped on Suzuki. The A’s catcher cannot fault the Sox’ decision.
“Obviously, everybody knows how that worked out. I played against him in college and I knew that he was going to be a great player,” said Suzuki. “I thought he would be [drafted higher] based on his college numbers.
“But people always talked about his size. It’s nice to see that he’s put a lot of those critics to rest. It’s not always about how big you are or tools. It’s what you do between the lines. He’s obviously had a knack for producing everywhere he’s played. He shows that just because you’re not the biggest and strongest that you can produce. It’s nice to see that.”
Pedroia clearly has offered the Sox exceptional returns on their draft choice. He has been a Rookie of the Year, two-time All-Star and MVP.
For his part, Suzuki has also delivered tremendous returns for Oakland. He is currently the cleanup hitter for the A’s, and offers one of the better offense/defense catching packages in the game. A year ago, he hit 15 homers, drove in 88, and hit .274/.313/.421/.734, and seemed on the cusp of a breakout before his April injury.
Yet even as he showed signs of rebounding from his injury with his strong performance at Fenway Park on Tuesday, Suzuki has spent little time contemplating just how close he came to being a Red Sox.
“At this point in my career, I don’t really think about it much. Maybe when I got drafted, I thought, ‘It would have been cool to be a Boston Red Sox and to be able to play at Fenway,’” said Suzuki. “But I couldn’t be happier to play where I’m at right now. Oakland gave me the opportunity to come to the big leagues. They’ve been patient with me. They’re great.
“At the same time, it’s a business. There’s opportunities that come up. I’m hoping that I can stay with Oakland for the rest of my career – absolutely. At the same time, everybody knows how this business works. Sometimes there are other opportunities out there and you have to move on. But this is the place I’m comfortable with and where I’d like to stay for the rest of my career.”
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