A year after what can only be categorized as an unmitigated disaster, the Boston Red Sox own the best record in the American League. The prospect of postseason baseball at Fenway Park has fans buzzing and a palpable energy permeating the city.
A major reason for the turnaround is comfort, along with a renewed commitment to excellence. Recently, the good people at New Balance invited me out for a game and a chat with second baseman Dustin Pedroia, the company’s first spokesman and, apparently, biggest on-field pitchman as well.
“After last year we lost a lot of games, it was a new start,” Pedroia said while I ate a roast beef sandwich in the press box. “We had a lot of new faces and we wanted to make sure that we enjoyed the way the Red Sox play the game and enjoy the atmosphere of everything. It started in spring training. Everybody has been all on board from Day One—all about winning. That’s the only thing that anyone cares about and it’s been happening all year. It seems like each day the guys are coming more together and it’s been a blast. That’s how you win.”
The rapid turnaround for the Red Sox mirrors the seemingly overnight takeover of New Balance’s baseball division.
Three years ago, you couldn’t find a single Major League Player wearing New Balance cleats. How times have changed.
The Boston-based company signed hometown hero Pedroia and things began to snowball. Through word of mouth the brand’s on-field presence grew exponentially. The number of players now sporting New Balance on the diamond has ballooned to 450 – 300 of them on active rosters. Their stable of talent includes Miguel Cabrera, Curtis Granderson, C.J. Wilson and Evan Longoria.
“I care about all the other guys,” Pedroia said as I helped myself to another free cookie because it was free. “I don’t want some other first baseman to say to me, “hey, my feet are killing me.” I don’t want the poor guy’s feet to hurt. If they ask, I tell them they are the best. There have been tons of guys who ask [about them] and I always have the same answer.”
The former MVP said New Balance’s attention to detail and willingness to design around his needs are a welcome change.
“It’s been awesome. I broke my foot in 2010 and you’re real sensitive on the stuff you wear because we’re out wearing out spikes for long games – sometimes four and a half hours – so the way that your spikes feel on your feet is huge for a player. After I broke my foot, it seemed like everything was custom-made for my foot.
“Each year it seems like there are little things here and there that we’re tweaking, but they’re perfect. Every day I run out there I feel comfortable. I don’t feel like I’m going to slip or roll my ankle when I plant.”
It’s hard to miss the gold-plated shoes turning double plays or legging out a double. Pedroia, a self-proclaimed 49ers fanatic, pays homage to his favored team in King Midas fashion. And although he admits he’s not the fastest, he says the flashy kicks make him look juuuuust a bit speedier.
Pedroia pointed to the company’s emphasis on character and charity as another reason for the partnership. The brand has dropped three athletes following off-field incidents that fly in the face of their commitment to integrity, according to New Balance’s general manager of team sports and marketing Mark Cavanaugh.
“We literally say no to guys,” Cavanaugh said.
Pedroia estimates he goes through 30 pairs of cleats a year. The game-worn ones are then, you guessed it, auctioned off for charity.
“You have so many things that you want to do in that aspect and New Balance is interested in doing all of it,” Pedroia said of the emphasis of giving back. “I grew up in California, live in Arizona and play in Massachusetts. My wife is from Chicago so I’m in a ton of different spots. There are a lot of things I want to do and New Balance is always 10 steps ahead of me on it. It’s cool to see smiles on kids’ faces and stuff like that.”