Buckley: Red Sox pitchers could learn how to handle Boston from Pedro Martinez
FORT MYERS — Pedro Martinez will never again pitch for the Red Sox. He’ll never again electrify Fenway by blowing away this or that would-be slugger, and he’ll never again have everyone either cheering or grousing after he’s put a high, hard one under some guy’s chin.
And yet, on a different level, Pedro Martinez is just as important to the Red Sox as he ever was.
Just by tooling around on a practice field, as he was doing yesterday at Fenway South, Pedro Martinez is a living, breathing reminder that it’s possible for a big-time pitcher to join the Red Sox and flat-out refuse to be intimidated by the Boston Baseball Experience.
It happened with Josh Beckett. Rick Porcello, too, had growing pains when he joined the Red Sox. Last year, it was David Price’s turn to be blinded by the reflection off the Charles River. And when Chris Sale arrived in Fort Myers last week and climbed into a Red Sox uniform for the first time, pretty much every question boiled down to this: Are you ready for Boston?
As for Pedro Martinez, he came to town in 1998 and became our daddy, delivering a 19-7 record and 2.89 ERA in 33 starts. And he loved every minute of it.
No player speaks baseball better than Pedro. Heck, not many players, wherever they were born, speak English better than Pedro. Consider, for example, his explanation for what players who have been successful elsewhere need to do when they come to Boston: “I think it’s having to restart your mind.”
That’s great. That’s better than great. It’s perfect.
“I was listening to too many voices,” he said, taking us back to his first days in Boston. “It was, ‘Oh, you’re gonna get lost every day. Don’t do anything bad. Be careful where you go. You’re gonna be this or that.’
“And I ended up enjoying Boston as much as anyone. It wasn’t false that Boston might be difficult to drive around. But not that I was going to get lost every day. Come on now. I used to take my car out and just drive around to see where I was going to get lost, and I never got lost.”
Listen up, Red Sox fans, because this next part is for you.
“I knew when they saw me good, they were going to be great,” he said. “When I wasn’t that good, well, I was going to hear about it. And I didn’t have a problem.”
Well, sometimes he did. He could get a standing ovation and yet grouse about that one leather lung behind the dugout. But Pedro got it. He always got it.
“I realized right away, as soon as I struggled in one game, I realized right away that the fans were really demanding, they were passionate, they knew their game, they knew what they wanted, they knew what they paid for me, and I was totally fine,” he said. “I chose to just prove to them I was worth every penny they paid for me. It worked out. It worked out.
“It’s hard work, it’s a lot of dedication, it’s a lot more than just being the player and (getting) the fame and the money. It’s community, it’s relationships, it’s handling yourself in a professional way.”
Martinez hasn’t actually had a heart-to-heart yet with Price, who often seemed uncomfortable in his first year in Boston. But he confided the left-hander “actually offered to hear what I have to say. He said, ‘You’re welcome to tell me whatever you see.’ And it’s lovely to work with guys like him and Porcello. (They make) the quick adjustments, boom, right away.”
And this is for you, David Price.
“He’s too smart,” Martinez said. “He won’t let that get to his game. One thing that all those guys who have success are able to do is separate. Once they step over the white line, it doesn’t matter what you say.”
What did Martinez think when he took the mound?
“I’m Pedro,” he said. “I’m here to compete. I’m here to beat you.
“I used to always jump the white line because I wanted to really tell myself that this is different.”
Pedro was a bit of a tease yesterday. For more than hanging around in the outfield and kibitzing with the Prices, Sales and Porcellos, the Dominican Dandy also grabbed his red glove, went to the bullpen, toed the rubber .?.?. and threw.
“Always,” he said. “Always mess around with the rubber. Always. Same thing with the ball. Never let go of the ball. Always have a ball with you.”
And he reached into his back pocket, pulled out a baseball, held it up.
“It’s always great to have the opportunity to go back,” he said. “Remember all the good moments, be out there to smell the grass, pass along a little message to some of those guys that need it. That’s all we have left to do.”
That’s more than enough. But it should be mandatory for every pitcher in camp, from the Porcellos, Prices and Sales to the first-year kids headed for A-ball, to have some Pedro time.
He’s Boston’s daddy.