Gary Traynham has a column up where my former high school coach, Rob Rinaldi, talks about coaching Dustin, and his potential to shoot for the stars in the coming years. Reprinted here because the Daily Democrat's articles disappear into the ether after several days.
A prime example
By GARY TRAYNHAM/Sports Editor
Rob Rinaldi remembers when Bret Pedroia's little brother would tag along and participate in Woodland High School baseball practices.
The sixth grader would jump in and take ground balls with the regulars and want 'em hit as hard as they came for the others.
He would get a chance to swing the bat too, and he didn't want the pitchers to ease off.
"If you took something off the pitches, he got mad," Rinaldi recalls. "He still hit as many line drives as the others."
The former Wolves coach knew the young guy would be something special from the first time he saw him. His impression has not changed.
Rinaldi added that the tiny kid even took some left-handed swings with success.
"He has unbelievable coordination."
Now the head baseball coach at Pleasant Grove High School in Elk Grove, Rinaldi is smiling about his former team leader jumping into the Boston Red Sox lineup this week.
Few of that stock come along in a coach's lifetime. Rinaldi coached major leaguers Tony Torcato and Steve Andrade and several other pro signees, but Pedroia's attitude, work ethic, production and confidence rank second to none.
"The more you're around the kid the more special you realize he is," Rinaldi continues. "He has incredible hands and instincts for the game. And confidence.
"He just doesn't believe anyone can beat him at anything. Wherever he has gone at every level, he has never been in awe. He feels like he should have been there last year, and he has succeeded at every single level."
Pedroia broke his leg playing quarterback for the Douglass Junior High School football team, but he was back playing baseball that spring and taking aim on playing shortstop for the Wolves that summer.
Bobby Hawke, Paul Pinegar, Jason Ball and Jace Dennis were all excellent athletes who had played shortstop at the lower levels, but Pedroia made an immediate impression even though not back to top speed.
After two days of practice, Rinaldi knew who would be his shortstop for the next three seasons.
"When he was a sophomore, he was the leader of the team. Nobody challenged it. The same thing at ASU (Arizona State University) and Pawtucket and other stops. If they keep him around long enough, he'll probably be running the Red Sox."
By the 10th grade, he was regularly traveling to Sacramento to condition under noted trainer Al Biancani.
Nobody spent more time fielding ground balls and swinging at balls in the batting cage.
"He didn't leave anything to chance," Rinaldi says. "I don't know how many can say that. And I still say what he has done is amazing.
"This is not the Kansas City Royals, and Boston is in a pennant race, and you're in Anaheim against the hottest team in baseball the last two months."
Today Rinaldi continues to hear queries about Dustin from coaches who were in opposing dugouts during his high school career.
"They all remember him. They swear in three years they never got him out. We'd go to those Modesto tournaments every year and they would ask about him. He made an impression on everybody he came across. He played hard, had a lot of fun and got the most out of his ability."
When he received a scholarship to Arizona State, Rinaldi was convinced he would be a good Pac-10 player but uncertain of bigger conquests. He was unsure if he would be a starter.
"If he was just a bench player at ASU, that's making it. And he dominated in the Pac-10 for three years."
Pedroia made him a believer.
"After that first year at ASU, I said, 'He's going to make it.' He just gets it done at every level. That was the first time I could tell myself (he would make it to the majors) and believe it. When he went to ASU and did what he did. I went on record that I won't ever say the kid can't do anything again. At that point, the sky was the limit. He was going to do whatever he was going to do."
Throughout Pedroia's career, the assessments have been the same. He's a very good player, but he's small, lacks speed, not enough power and doesn't possess a great arm.
And the results have always been the same. He wins and becomes a team leader. His skeptics have all been proven wrong.
"Without a doubt, he's an overachiever," Rinaldi says. "We've seen incredible athletes with incredible work ethics and great ballplayers and they never got close to the majors.
"And he makes it in two years. It's such an accomplishment.
"I think a lot of Woodland kids have been able to look at that and put no limits on themselves. . They've seen Dustin, and it tells you the sky's the limit."