By KEVIN OKLOBZIJA
They held Dustin Pedroia Night at Frontier Field on Friday.
OK, the official promotion was “Renew Your Vows Night,” which featured long-retired former Boston Red Sox outfielder Bernie Carbo and a member of the Red Wings front office dressed up as an ordained minister and claiming to be someone else.
But one look at the lines outside the Frontier Field gates before the game, and then a glance at the stands during the game, provided the true reason for the bump in attendance on a chilly Friday night in downtown Rochester.
Pedroia, the two-time World Series winner and the 2008 American League MVP with the Boston Red Sox, was continuing his rehabilitation assignment with the Pawtucket Red Sox. Walk-up sales accounted for more than 1,000 tickets on Friday, a pretty significant number considering it’s still May and a crisp breeze made it feel like it was 50 degrees.
When the gates opened and the first of 7,477 fans rushed into the park, they moved into position on both sides of the visiting dugout for autographs. Dozens and dozens of fans entered the ball park wearing Pedroia Red Sox jerseys or T-shirts. There may have been more red of the Red Sox than red of the Red Wings filling the green seats of Frontier Field.
There were posters for Pedroia to sign. And gloves. And photos. And baseballs. And he signed for several minutes before the game.
“If there’s a time they’re not asking for your autograph, it might be time to go home,” Pedroia said after batting practice, a good hour before the gates had opened. “I know there’s probably more Yankees fans than Red Sox fans here, but there are Red Sox fans all over.”
Pedroia, 34, is working his way back to Boston after undergoing restoration surgery on his left knee in October. The microfracture procedure was done to alleviate bone-on-bone contact caused by cartilage deterioration.
The microfracture surgery entails a lengthy recovery period, since tiny holes were drilled into the bone in order to promote the formation of a new cartilage-like material within the knee.
Pedroia took part in extended spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., last week and on Monday joined the PawSox to play a series of Triple-A games. He went 1-for-3 in that game but had his Tuesday start washed out by rain. He never planned to play in Wednesday’s morning game, Pawtucket was idle on Thursday and he finally returned to the diamond on Friday.
He batted second and served as the designated hitter, going 0-for-2 with two walks and two strikeouts. He was given a loud ovation as he stepped into the batter’s box for his first at-bat from Red Sox and Red Wings fans alike.
Wings starter Stephen Gonsalves got him to swing and miss at a fastball in the first inning, walked him in third and walked him in the fifth. In the seventh Pedroia was called out by plate umpire Jeremy Riggs on a 3-2 fastball from reliever Alan Busenitz, a pitch that may or may not have caught the outside corner.
It’s all part of the process of getting ready to again face big-league pitching.
“It takes time,” Pedroia was saying before the game. “The more at-bats you have, the better you start feeling at the plate and the more you can play on defense, the more comfortable you feel.”
Gonsalves went 5 1/3 innings and picked up the win in the 2-0 Rochester victory.
The good thing for the Red Wings: Pedroia will be back at Frontier Field for Saturday’s 7:05 p.m. game, and for Sunday’s 1:05 matinee. Step right up to the ticket window.