Jim Mitchem wants to talk about heart.
Make no mistake, I’m no fan of the Boston Red Sox. I used to like them back in the day when they had Jim Rice, Dewey Evans, and Fred Lynn. And sure, they were a great story in 2004. But there’s something about the air of entitlement Boston sports fans carry around that doesn’t agree with me. Celtics. Bruins. Pats. Sawks. It’s unnatural. But I digress, this post isn’t about the Red Sox. Or even Boston sports. It’s about heart.
It’s that time of year when it seems that all of my friends are obsessing over football – even during the World Series. When I was a boy I used to love football. I collected trading cards. I hung pennants in my bedroom. I played the sport. And I was pretty good too. Small for my age, I had quick hands and so one year in Pop Warner my coach though I would make a great center. Smallest guy on the team lined up across from the meanest, toughest, usually biggest kid on the other team. Surprisingly, I excelled. Playing center when I was 10 went a long way in toughening me for life. A few years passed, and other boys kept growing while I lagged behind. Eventually, I stopped playing football, and turned exclusively to baseball. That’s when I realized that excelling in baseball didn’t mean having to be a middle linebacker or power forward. Size didn’t matter. Heart did.
If you can turn away from the NFL long enough to watch any of this year’s World Series, you’ll notice a nervous guy bouncing around at second base for the Red Sox. His name is Dustin Pedroia. He’s generously listed at 5′ 9″ and around 180 pounds. I’m 5′ 11″ and around 185. I consider myself normal-sized (though with the steroids in food these days, I’m probably now considered smaller than average.) If you’re capable of watching a few innings of any game during the World Series, you’ll notice something else about Dustin Pedroia—he’s a total badass. His range as defender, his prowess at the plate, his daring on the base paths all have one thing in common—passion. Pedroia is one of the most intense players in the game today and the main reason his team is on the verge of their third World Championship in ten years. Pedroia is the epitome of heart. He’s not the biggest guy on the field. Nor is he the fastest. And he’ll never hit the ball out of the stadium. But no player leads his team with the same consistent intensity day in and day out over a long six-month season the way Pedroia does. And he leads with his heart. His teammates follow that lead.
If I were a kid growing up today I’d definitely look to Pedroia as a beacon of what you can accomplish when, like most humans, you’re not blessed with enormous size. I loved playing baseball for lots of reasons. For its rhythm and grace. For fielding fly balls against an ocean of blue sky. For the smack of leather in a game of burnout. But mostly I loved baseball because it was an equal opportunity sport. I knew that as long as I gave it my best, I could be competitive. And have fun. Eventually, it does matter whether you can hit a curveball, so sometime in High School, I gave up baseball for girls.
Today I love baseball for all the same reasons I did when I was a kid, though I’m now too old to fulfill my dream of being a cold-blooded closer. Baseball might not discriminate against size, but age is a different story. That is, unless you’re a knuckleballer. Nonetheless, I still take pleasure in watching the game, especially this time of year. And guys like Dustin Pedroia (who won his third Gold Glove on Tuesday) is a big reason why.
Originally published on Obsessed with Conformity
Photo: Matt Slocum / Associated Press