"He's always upbeat," new Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew said. "He's a great teammate, fun to be around. He's a professional."
This has been an interesting few months for the Red Sox, who've undergone a dramatic makeover in both style and substance. In the wake of a bitterly disappointing 69-93 season, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington restocked his roster with a bunch of respected, no-nonsense veterans: Jonny Gomes, David Ross, Mike Napoli, Ryan Dempster, Stephen Drew and Shane Victorino.
Cherington also hired John Farrell, a tough, detail-oriented former Red Sox pitching coach, to manage his team. Just as important, the Red Sox didn't touch the core people in their Minor League system.
They seem likely to be a closer, more cohesive group in 2013, and definitely seem headed in the right direction. However, the landscape in the American League East appears to have shifted away from the Yankees and Red Sox and toward the Blue Jays and Rays. Which doesn't mean the Red Sox are conceding anything.
"I've got a feeling we're going to be really good," Ortiz said. "Chemistry is something you don't go to the pharmacy and buy. You need to have a lot of guys trying to be on the same page. And you need a manager who lets us know how things are going to be. He's doing an outstanding job."
Amid last season's disaster, there were lingering questions about attitude and professionalism. Whether those were fair or not, it's striking how these new Red Sox seem cut from a similar mold. Actually, they're cut from the Pedroia mold in terms of work habits and being a good teammate and all those things that can't be easily measured.
Which brings us back to Ortiz. He and Pedroia are beginning their eighth season together, and along with pitcher Jon Lester, they're the longest-tenured members of the Red Sox.
Through the years, they've become both teammates and friends, and even after all the miles they've traveled together, Ortiz is as impressed as ever by his buddy's approach to almost everything.
"That's my energy guy," Ortiz said. "All year round. I don't know how he does it. He's the best. He brings so much to all of us. He's a great player and great teammate. He's a guy who cares so much. He brings a lot to the ballclub."
There's plenty to be said for this approach and the impact it could have on others.
"Every team is going to run through those periods where you're dragging a little bit, whether it's the result of some tough games played, weather, travel, whatever it may be," Farrell said. "To have that kind of outspoken personality in the clubhouse -- and we've got more than just Dustin in this group -- I think that energy has a way to kind of jump-start some people on a Sunday day game after a night game. We're expecting that to happen this year."
For Pedroia, this is a particularly happy time. He has completely recovered from the thumb injury that landed him on the disabled list in 2012. He's also close to Farrell. How close? Well, there was the time when Farrell, then the Red Sox pitching coach, stuffed him in a dumpster.
"He sets the tone in how he goes about his work, the energy he shows in anything he gets involved in," Farrell said. "[It's] individual defense or a team fundamental we might be going through or just the way he talks. He's one of the leaders on our team, for sure."
Pedroia is fine with that leadership role. He has the locker next to young third baseman Will Middlebrooks this spring and said there are times he finds himself offering advice, the kind he received from veterans when he first came to the big leagues. He also adds, "I'm one of 25 players."
"We've got a lot of guys who can help lead the team and help younger guys and play the game right," Pedroia said. "It's been fun learning from them and getting to know them and playing together. I think it's going to be a good group."
Pedroia knows less is expected of these Red Sox than in previous years. That stuff, he said, is "outside noise."
"I'm just focused on us," he said. "You never know. There could be injuries. Other teams could have them. We could have them. We're just worried about what we're trying to do and the way we're trying to play the game. You can't worry about the other teams."