10 Years, 2 Kids, 1 Ring and a Whole Lot of Memories

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Every night, when I put my daughter to bed, I kiss her on the forehead and we say the same two things to each other.

I tell her I love her. (She says back, “I love you!”)

And I tell her to dream big. (She says back, “Dream big!”)

I love you obviously speaks for itself.

And dream big….. what I mean by “dream big,” I think, is that I just want to encourage her to always GO FOR IT in life. Not that she has to be a perfect person, or that she has to accomplish everything she sets out to do. But the one thing I want to make sure my daughter knows is that, when it comes to what her dreams can be….. that’s limitless.

I’ve just always felt like, man — there are so many ups and downs that we all have to deal with, so many challenges that we have to face. But I think the one gift we can give ourselves, one of the things worth really hanging onto as we move through life, is to never compromise on our dreams. And every night, I guess, I try to remind my daughter of that.

What’s funny is, recently, I’ve also been reminding myself.

After 10 years in the Dodgers’ system, I signed a one-year deal this week to play for the Cubs — and the emotions right now are pretty intense. On one hand, I’m just beyond ready for this next chapter of my career. I’m jacked for the opportunity. But on the other hand, you spend 10 years somewhere, and saying goodbye is never going to be easy. You make friends for life. You build amazing memories. Those things are hard to let go of.

At the end of the day, though, the one thing I keep coming back to is: dream big.

Those aren’t just words I tell my daughter — they’re words I’ve lived by my whole life.

David Dennis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I remember being 18, and getting ready to head down to USC for orientation. 

The Dodgers had offered me $500k to give up on college and go pro. I told them I was willing to do it for $800k, but they weren’t budging — so I was going to play ball for the Trojans. I was enrolled, I’d gotten my roommates, I’d just bought a little cruiser bike, my bags were packed….. everything was set up. And then with about an hour left before the MLB signing deadline, I got a phone call from Logan White of the Dodgers.

He said, “Hey, man, look — I’ve never done this before. But we’re going to offer you $600K.”

Part of me was still sitting there thinking, Uhhh no thanks. They weren’t even close to my number….. and besides, playing at USC sounded pretty appealing!! I love USC. I wore a USC sweatshirt almost every day in middle school. I rooted for those Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush teams like crazy. It’s a great school, great program.

But then I really thought about it.

I mean, I really thought about it. I asked myself what I most wanted from all of this. 

What was my dream?

And with all due respect, my dream wasn’t to be playing college ball. And it wasn’t to be sitting in a classroom all day. My dream — my big dream — was to become a star in the big leagues. It was that simple. And while the Dodgers might not have been willing to bet on me at my number, ultimately I could live with that. It wasn’t the most important thing.

The most important thing was that I was willing to bet on myself.

Larry Goren/Four Seam Images via AP Images

Now it’s 10 years later — and what’s wild is, in a lot of ways I’m in a similar position.

I love the Dodgers, man. I love LA.

That city, that organization, those fans, my teammates….. that’s family.

But I think part of being family is being honest with each other. And as memorable of a run as it was for me there — honestly, I think we both agreed that it was time to part ways. 

I won’t speak on the Dodgers’ behalf about their reasoning, other than to say two things. One: Andrew Friedman, I have a lot of respect for that dude. He was always a straight shooter, even when he was telling me the team probably wasn’t making an offer to bring me back. I’ll always appreciate him for it. Two: Obviously our team last year was just so, so loaded. We went 43–17, and won a World Series. You don’t go on a run like that without having an absolutely stacked roster. And with a roster as stacked as ours, you can’t prioritize everyone. I get that.

And then on my end, you know, it was really pretty simple: I want a chance to play every day. 

I hope everyone can understand that aspect of where I’m coming from. Being an everyday player….. it’s what I’ve trained for. It’s what I’ve worked for and played for since the moment I picked up a glove. My entire life, I’ve wanted to be seen as the kind of player who just gets punched into the lineup card, every day, rightie or leftie, no questions asked. The kind of player who gets left in for the whole game, regardless of what matchups the other team is trying to exploit. The kind of player who is just….. a ballplayer. Not a part-time player. Not a specialist. A full-time, everyday, All-Star caliber player. 

That’s been my big dream.

And when this offseason came around, I’ll tell you what: I had some nice offers. There were teams willing to give me pretty great money to be a part of their outfield platoon — a role I've had success in. Any one of them would have been a comfortable choice….. kind of like how USC would have been a comfortable choice, way back when.

But as tempting as it was, I knew one thing in my heart: If I took that money, then that would be me accepting a part-time role as my identity as a baseball player. That would be me confirming “part-time player” as the ceiling of my career. And I wasn’t ready to do that.

I just wasn’t ready to sell my childhood dream at that price. 

I didn’t feel like kissing my daughter every night before bed, and telling her to dream big, when her dad was already compromising on his dream at 28.

Finding out if I have what it takes to play every day in this league….. it’s just something I have to do, you know? 

I might try and succeed. I might try and fail. But I have to try.

And that became my goal for the offseason — to find a team that was willing to bet on me as an everyday player. 

To find a team that was willing to give me the opportunity to bet on myself.

Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

So I ended up doing some research. 

I started going on my cell phone and looking up all this stuff, like who was under the luxury tax, and what would a deferred-money deal potentially look like, and what kind of options would that open for me. Of course I was also looking at who had a need in left field.

And then I swear to God this happened: It’s about 11:30 at night, and I’m in bed on my phone. I’m shuffling between various roster pages, thinking through different possibilities, trying to figure it all out. When all of a sudden it hits me — man, I’m telling you, like a bolt of lightning. 

I turn to Kelsey and I say, “Shoot — I figured it out. I’m gonna play for the Cubs.”

She gives me one of those looks, like, Don’t get my hopes up. Chicago is probably her favorite city.

And I’m just like, “Let’s talk more tomorrow. But it’s going to be the Cubs. You watch.”

Wake up that next morning. Connect with Jed over the phone — unreal conversation. We’re even more on the same page than I could have anticipated. 

Next step, Jed connects me with Rossy.

“Woah! You just made my offseason.” That’s how Rossy opens our call.

We talked about..... everything. We really vibed. It was awesome, man.

He told me about his managerial style. He was like, “I’m going to be blunt with you. I’m going to be real honest about things.” (Great. That’s how I like it.)

He told me about what I could expect my role to be. He was like, “You’re going to be our guy in left field, save for the occasional rest day, same as anyone. But if we’re at the All-Star break and you’re hitting a buck fifty, you know….. we’re going to reassess. We’ll probably have to make a change.” (100%. I absolutely respect that, and I respect Rossy for saying it. Anything else would have felt like a fake promise.)

He told me he was all in, and he’d love to have me on the team. I told him I was all in, and I’d love to be there. 

And what can I say — now I’m on the Cubs.

I couldn’t be more excited.

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

This right here, though….. this is the hard part.

This is the part where I’m going to write about having to say goodbye — say thank you — to the only franchise I’ve ever known.

I was 18 years old when I got drafted and signed with LA. In other words, I was just a kid. And now I’m 28 years old as I’m saying goodbye. So much has happened over those 10 years — it’s wild to think about. Of course, all that BASEBALL happened: six straight division winners, three NL pennants, and one epic World Series title. But somehow it’s the LIFE that’s happened that’s even harder to believe: I started dating Kelsey, and we got married. We have our two amazing kids, and our dog, Blue. We straight-up built a family, you know?? All of that happened while I was a Dodger. Sometimes I can’t even wrap my head around it.

And it’s left me with a hell of a lot of people to thank.

I want to thank my teammates, first and foremost. There’s too many to name here, obviously, but they know who they are. We made a lot of history together — but more importantly, I’ve made friendships for life. It’s just an incredible culture. The best group of guys.

Speaking of culture, I actually do want to single out one teammate: Chase Utley. Chase was my Vet those first few years in the league, and the knowledge I absorbed from him will last me my entire career. He changed my approach to the game — and, in a lot of ways, I think he changed our whole team’s approach to the game. So many of the good things that finally happened for us last season, I can trace back to Chase’s influence. Just a one-of-a-kind leader. Best teammate I’ve ever had.

I want to thank Andrew Friedman — who, like I said, I’ve always felt treated me fairly. 

I want to thank my coaches, my trainers, the clubbies and all of the talented people who are involved with making Dodger Stadium one of the best places to play baseball on earth.

I want to thank our ownership group, who have been first-class in every way. I’ll never forget stuff like how, when my daughter was born in LA during the NLCS against the Brewers, and we were playing in Milwaukee — they had a private plane all set up and waiting for me, so I could get back to Kelsey and make sure I didn’t miss a thing. Or when there were some complications with the birth of my son last fall, and the team put me on the Family Medical Emergency List, and gave me as much time off for paternity leave as I needed, no questions asked. Honestly, when I think about moments like that, “first class” doesn’t even cut it. That’s just heart. That’s a human touch as an organization that you either have or you don’t.

Taylor Baucom/The Players' Tribune; Courtesy of the Pederson family

I want to thank everyone with the Dodgers who has gone out of their way to make Champ a real part of the team. (For those who don’t know, Champ is my oldest brother and he has Down syndrome.) I remember back in 2015, during those playoffs….. I mean, first of all, I was a rookie. Plus I’d gotten benched a little while ago, because I couldn’t buy a hit. And still, Don Mattingly, who was our manager at the time, he comes up to me..... and says he wants Champ to give a motivational speech to the team before the Mets series. Man. Again, you really have to understand: I’m a benched rookie. All those vets we had in our locker room, Adrian, Clayton, Jimmy, Chase….. they barely even know me yet. I’m nobody. Any one of them could have been like, Who’s this young turd and his brother??? And instead they’re letting Champ give a motivational speech before Game 1 of the NLDS. (By the way, he crushed it.) They also let him travel with the team plane — that’s a rule Don put in, and Dave kept around: Champ is literally the only person not affiliated with the Dodgers who is cleared to fly on the team plane. I probably don’t have to tell you how much stuff like that has meant to him (and to me), but, yeah: It’s been everything. It’s meant a lot.

And then lastly, I want to thank Dodger fans everywhere. I think what sets Dodger fans apart for me is how you can never really put them in a box. Like, yeah, you’ll get some celebrities coming to games. But for the most part? Those are diehard fans, with legit Dodger roots. It’s such a diverse group — in every sense. You’ve got fans from every generation. You’ve got fans of every ethnicity and economic situation. You’ve got fans in every city. Actually, check that: in every country. I remember we were in Australia, in 2014..... and keep in mind I hadn’t even debuted in the big leagues at this point. But one day I was just hanging out with Tim Federowicz and Drew Butera. We were chilling. And suddenly some local Australian men come riding along past us on their bikes. They see us as they ride by, and stop dead in their tracks. “Hey, mate,” one of them says to me, pointing. “You’re JOC PEDERSON!!!!” I will always remember that moment — it was my first of many glimpses into just how deep the Dodgers’ fan base goes.

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

One more thing I wanted to say and then I’ll get out of here.

We lost Tommy Lasorda last month — an all-time Dodger, and an all-time baseball legend.

More than that, though, he was my friend. I don’t think I was unique or anything — he made everyone feel like they were his friend. That’s part of what made him Tommy. But I’ll never forget how much he cared about me, and how much he looked out for me. He gave me advice. He took me out to dinner. (Pretty sure Tommy hadn’t paid for a meal since 1981.) He mentored me. He coached me like I was his own player. He was so full of love.

And I was thinking about that the other day — and it wasn’t even because Tommy passed. It was just something that was on my mind, I think, because of the decisions I had in front of me about my future. I was thinking about this time when, years ago, back in the minors, Tommy paid us a visit. And sometime during that visit, he took me aside, and we started chatting. We started chatting about the future, and my prospects as a baseball player, and what kind of a player I was hoping to be. What level I was trying to reach. 

And then he tells this story. 

I’m paraphrasing, but he says, “This is way back when I was a scout. I’m sitting there scouting, man, up in the top row at Dodger Stadium….. and I’m just not at all satisfied with my career. Then one day, something gets into me — who knows what — and I turn to my wife and I say, ‘I’m going to manage that team one f*cking day.’ And I’m telling you, because this is the key: From that day forward, I believed I was going to manage the Dodgers. Next thing you know? Not only am I managing them, we’re winning the World Series.”

Then he comes to his point. He says, “Listen, here’s the deal: If you want to get to where you’re going, you better look in that mirror every f*cking day. And you better tell yourself that you believe in the person you see staring back at you. Because I’ll promise you something: If you don’t believe in that person in the mirror? You don’t have a f*cking chance in this game. Not one f*cking chance.”

I’m sure a lot of guys who crossed paths with him over the years have a Tommy Lasorda story like mine. Still, though, even knowing that….. it feels incredibly special. Moments like that with Tommy — they felt like he’d just told you one of the world’s great secrets. Like he was handing you the cheat codes to baseball, or to life. For all I know, he was.

And of course if Tommy was still with us….. he’d probably be “very annoyed” at me right now for leaving Los Angeles. (I mean, he’d be very annoyed at anyone for leaving Los Angeles.) 

But I also like to think that, in his own way, he’d be proud of me too. I think he’d understand that I’ll always be Dodger Family, and so grateful….. but I’m on a new mission this year with the Cubs. I think he’d agree that I’ve got something to prove — and now’s the time.

I think he’d love that that kid from the minors grew up to believe in himself.