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Pedro J. Martinez

The Man at Ease
A Conversation with Pedro Martinez

By Dan Shaughnessy, Globe Staff, 10/3/99

He loves to water the plants and flowers on the balcony of his Chestnut Hill home. He's never been married, lives with his sister, buys Presidente beer in Jamaica Plain, and is surrounded by cousins and friends from the Dominican Republic. And every fifth day from April to October, Pedro Martinez takes his tiny frame to the major league mound and humbles hitters with his 97 mile per hour fastball.

The Red Sox finish their startling regular season in Baltimore today and open a best-of-five playoff series on Wednesday. The Sox were not expected to be in the 1999 post-season tournament, but are back in the playoffs on the strength of a historic season by their 27-year-old, 5-foot-11, 174-pound right-handed ace.

"It's gonna happen someday, and I think soon," Martinez said when asked about the Red Sox chances to end their 81-year championship drought. "I think one of these days it's gonna happen that the little ground ball that went through Bill Buckner's feet will probably be caught."

Martinez makes the Red Sox a threat in any short series. Boston has the American League batting champ, Nomar Garciaparra, plus a team of "grinders and .270 hitters," according to relief pitcher Rod Beck. But teams don't want to play the Sox because Martinez can pitch (and win) twice in a five-game series.

In 1999, Martinez went 23-4 with a 2.08 earned run average and 313 strikeouts to go with only 37 walks. But the stats say nothing about the K-Cards, the Dominican flags, and the World Cup atmosphere Martinez has brought to Fenway Park on the days he pitches. There is no measurable data when it comes to free spirit, generosity, and goodwill.

Boston for too long has been renowned as a city unfriendly toward people of color, and Bill Russell, the Hub's greatest black superstar, trashed the region for 30 years after his retirement in 1969. But like Mo Vaughn before him, Martinez says he's comfortable in Boston and gives time and money to the community.

Another K for Pedro! "Boston is beautiful," Martinez said earlier this week, on the day the Sox clinched their wild-card spot with a win in Chicago (Pedro celebrated with a cartwheel on the Comiskey Park lawn). "The summer, the trees, the area, the river. If I was born in Boston I don't think I would ever leave it because it's a beautiful city. It's clean. The way it's built. The atmosphere. I feel good, especially where I live. I feel it's a safe city."

He doesn't go out much. There have been no reports of Martinez in the breakdown lane of I-95 after a night at the Foxy Lady in Providence. He accepts the demands and risks of being a millionaire star athlete out on the town.

"I'm not a club type of guy," said Martinez. "When I go out, which is not very often, I take my chances. I know I'm going to be asked for autographs and pictures. You gotta live with it."

He says he has experienced no racism in Boston, adding, on the subject of racial slurs, "We don't know how to answer those things because we don't have a color in our country. In our country, what we have in mind is how you are as a person and that's what we care about."

His older brother Ramon, who also pitches for the Red Sox, lived with him earlier this season, but Ramon has moved to his own digs. Pedro's sister, Anadelia, lives with him now and almost every day there are visits from cousins Franklin, who lives in Providence, and Angel.

Pedro's cousins and friends are happy to do favors for him. It's not unusual for Pedro to drive his black Mercedes to a gas station, then have his cousins pop out of a trailing minivan, fill the tank, and use Pedro's credit card for payment.

"I don't feel uncomfortable here because I learned a lot about the culture in America," said Martinez. "Being surrounded by Americans doesn't bother me. It's also nice to see some of the things that happen in the Dominican areas in Jamaica Plain - and the little Dominicans that are there in Boston, Lawrence, and Providence."

Before the Sox left on their current road trip, Martinez spent his final off-day of the regular season speaking to students at South Lawrence East School, then visiting patients on the pediatric ward at Lawrence General Hopsital. He put a smile on the face of a sick teenage boy who had just been informed he wouldn't be able to play football this year.

"I never say no," said Martinez. "What I can, I do. I just have to separate the time I have to work. You only do those things when you know you have the time. The one day that I really felt I needed to go and take for myself was the day I had to go to Lawrence to the school and the hospital. But those are the things that were needed more than the rest that I needed. Kids grow up and they look at you as the guy with the Boston Red Sox, the big player. It's really important to get the right image to them."

Raised poor, he is in the second year of a six-year contract which will pay him $75 million. His enormous wealth is beyond comprenhension in his homeland where so many have so little. Is he guilty about his astronomical salary?

"No," he said. "Because I give a lot. I give more than I spend. Do you know that? How can I feel guilty? I work, and if I give 20, I keep 20. Nothing wrong with that."

Martinez does give. He built the Immaculate Conception Church in his hometown of Manoguayabo, and he's trying to buy a piece of land that will expand the local cemetery. He donated 300 computers to the Manoguayabo schools. There are plans for a sports center, a medical facility, and a new school. When Hurricane George swept through the Dominican Republic in 1998, Martinez donated $100,000 to the relief fund.

Like Vaughn, he has established his own charitable foundation in Boston. It focuses on the needs of the area's Latin community, especially children.

When he was traded from Montreal to Boston, he sent Rolex watches to manager Felipe Alou and Expos coaches. And he's been known to take Sox rookies on shopping sprees if he thinks their wardrobes need help.

Recently, Martinez spent an afternoon at Fenway's 600 Club to help raise $62,000 for the family of the paralyzed Dominican jockey, Rudy Baez.

Eddie Andelman, a longtime Boston sports radio talk host, organized the Baez event (billed as "Lunch With Pedro") and said, "Pedro couldn't have been nicer. He took pictures and shook hands with each person. These were movers and shakers of Boston and they were in awe of him and so was I. He's got it: the duende, the charisma."

There are other ways to give. When Martinez was presented the 1997 National League Cy Young Award at the Boston Baseball Writers' Dinner, he saluted Dominican Hall of Famer Juan Marichal, saying "You are my daddy" - then gave the trophy to Marichal.

His two-year Boston stay has not been without controversy. In 1998 when he was sick (his weight dropped to 164 pounds) and briefly ineffective, there were some boos from Red Sox Nation and Martinez was stung. In August of this season he interrupted an otherwise smooth summer when he blasted manager Jimy Williams after Williams punished him for arriving late to work for a Saturday start. When news photographers staked out the Red Sox players' parking lot to see if he'd be on time for his next start, Martinez threw a fit in the clubhouse before the game.

Calm now, he has forgiven Sox fans for the rough treatment of '98 and takes responsibility for this summer's tempest, saying, "I made a mistake and I paid for it. There's no crying in baseball." Still sensitive about the episode, he keeps a pro-Pedro/anti-media letter to the editor published in the Globe taped over his locker.

He is proud of his fluency in a second language. The joke around the pressbox is that Martinez speaks better English than Clemens. It's not far from the truth. Martinez took English lessons when he was a student in the Dominican Republic and again after he was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"My lowest grade in Dodger School was 98," he said proudly.

His only complaint about Boston is the climate. Martinez hates the cold and sometimes looks like a character from "Dr. Zhivago" when he bundles up in the Red Sox dugout.

Not even Griffey can escape the K! He lives within walking distance of The Country Club, but you won't find him tracing the steps of the Ryder Cup.

"We emphasize so much on playing baseball and golf is pretty much a higher society type of game," he said. "You need shoes. You need to be fancy. In the Dominican, we just grabbed whatever was closer and that was baseball. You didn't have to rely on anything but making your own baseballs." Pedro's sister says her brothers used the heads of her dolls for baseballs.

"My brothers and I, we always threw hard. Throwing rocks, anything. And we still do it in the winter. We go out there and pick up rocks and by the time we realize it we are competing to see who throws the rocks further."

He looks forward to raising his own family when his playing days are through, and said, "When I'm 40, I want to be sitting at home playing with my kids. Hopefully, I will achieve everything I need, do everything I have to do, and pretty much feel comfortable with my life."

In his last seven starts he went 6-0 with a 0.82 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 55 innings. Included in this roll was a Friday night 17-strikeout victory before 55,000 at Yankee Stadium that may have been the most dominant game ever hurled against the Bronx Bombers. In the post-World War II baseball vernacular, Martinez is mentioned with Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Greg Maddux, and Roger Clemens.

He's going to win the 1999 American League Cy Young Award and has a chance to take the Most Valuable Player trophy. A World Series ring would be the hat trick.

"I wasn't born by the time the Curse of the Bambino occurred," he said. "I wasn't born those years they went through all those things. But I know everything can change. When it's meant to happen, it's gonna happen. Believe me. It's gonna happen."

Pedro starts when the playoffs begin Wednesday.

This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 10/03/99.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.

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