On the Retirement of Pedro Martinez

Posted on December 5, 2011 by

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A little blurb today on the Red Sox blog on Boston.com, quoted here in its entirety:

CAP CANA, Dominican Republic — Pedro Martinez usually attends the David Ortiz Charity Golf Classic. But he was back in Massachusetts tonight, helping raise money for charity there with an autograph session in Bedford.

Martinez made a little news, telling reporters that he will be officially retiring in a few weeks. Given that he last pitched in Game 6 of the 2009 World Series, Martinez was pretty much retired anyway.

Pedro, 40, was 219-100 with a 2.93 ERA and 3,154 strikeouts over 18 seasons. He won three Cy Youngs and has a World Series ring. That speech at Cooperstown should be fun to listen to.

I have a print of an oil portrait of Pedro in his wind-up hanging right at the foot of my bed. His bobblegänger sits on my kitchen counter. I used to fall asleep every night watching a tape of Game 5 of the ’99 ALDS, when he came into the game, hurt, in the 4th to pitch six hitless innings against a punishing Indians lineup despite the fact that he was barely breaking 90 on the radar gun, until I wore the tape out. I’ve long thought that some day I will write a book about those years of my life in terms of Pedro – I’ve actually already got an outline, a structure, the layout of the chapters – but for now, as his pitching career winds to its official close, I just want to share a little bit of what it was like watching him in Fenway Park at his height – not the stats (although they are astonishing: see my friend and awesome baseball blogger Pat Sullivan‘s run of tweets from the afternoon of 12/4/11 for some gems), but the emotion, the poetry of a Pedro game at Fenway Park c. 1999/2000.

I was a big Sox fan when I was young – I even attended a World Series game as a little kid with my grandfather in ’86 – but baseball and I grew apart after that heartbreaking loss to the Mets. The next time I set foot in Fenway was in 1998 to see this new pitcher everyone was talking about. My uncle offered me the tickets, and I almost didn’t go – the Bruins had a playoff game that night – but I asked who was pitching. When he said it was Pedro, I took my Walkman (1998) so I could listen to the hockey game, and went. Within a couple of innings, I had forgotten all about the Bruins (whose season was, as it turned out, about to come to a close) because I was completely hooked.

I went to several more of his games that year, but the following season was when I really went all in. From 1999 through 2004, I attended all of Pedro’s home games but four. One I missed for my uncle’s wedding, one because I was out of the country, one for my brother’s college graduation, and one because I was confined to a hospital bed. The Red Sox always hold some seats for day of game sales, and for the first several years this was my usual path. I had it down to a science, based on opposing team, pitching match-up, etc, what time I would need to get in line to get a day-of ticket. For a weekday game against the (then) Devil Rays, I could show up at 6am or even 7am and have no trouble getting a ticket when they opened at 8. For a showdown against the Yankees, it was no later than 2am the night before, 10 or 11pm if the opposing pitcher was Clemens.

On those occasions when I couldn’t wait in line, I used scalpers, ticket agents, ebay, whatever I could find. In the later years, I got the Sox ticket release schedule down pat, and nearly always managed to get a ticket on redsox.com just by buying at the moment they released the extra press/player/owner seats a day or two before the game. For playoff games, a family friend got her cop friends to sneak me in. Sometimes I went with friends, more often alone. I didn’t care where my seats were – or even if I had a seat – because whether I had a field box or a bleacher seat or just a standing room ticket, I was always in the same place: standing up at the back, next to the big green I-beam at the aisle between sections 20 and 21, right behind home plate, where you could see the pitches dance and dart wherever Pedro told them to.

It is no overstatement when I say it was a privilege to watch him pitch during those years. It was like nothing I had ever seen, and I don’t expect to see its like again. Whatever else was going on in my life, I had those few hours a couple of times a month when there was nothing else. The smells of hot dogs, old beer, grass, tar, the metallic paint on the beam; the crunch of peanut shells; the snap of the ball hitting the catcher’s mitt; the music of the organ; the wild rapture of the crowd. And at the center of it all, this one slight man who could throw a baseball better than maybe anyone ever had, the indelible angle of his arm, eye, glove, heart; the breathless moment right before his wind-up when he glared out from under his hat. It was one of those transcendental experiences that elevate sports. It was enough to make your whole life worthwhile.

When the Sox finally won the World Series in 2004, the joy I felt was as much for the fact that Pedro had gotten a ring with us and for us as it was for the end of the 86-year drought. It meant I could watch him leave Boston that winter with no regret. I watched all his games for New York and Phillie, went to see him beat the Yankees at Yankee Stadium as a Met, and remained content that I had been present for something special during his years in Boston, for one of those moments, events, careers that give sports meaning.

I don’t care what anyone says about putting the team before any one player: this has long been my dirty secret as a Red Sox fan: I love the Sox, but I loved Pedro more. Always will. Thank you, Pedro.

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Posted in: Baseball