The good son returns home

Originally Published: June 28, 2006
By Amy K. Nelson | ESPN The Magazine

BOSTON -- The wrapped bottle of Cristal champagne was sitting in his new chair. A case of his country's Presidente beer was nearby on the floor with a card on top from Jason Varitek addressed to "Petey." Tommy McLaughlin, the visitors' clubhouse manager at Fenway Park, made sure to give him the "Cal Ripken" locker in the cramped clubhouse, with two empty stalls nearby. And, as a final welcoming act, McLaughlin made sure to stock up on Dominican food.

When Pedro Martinez returned to Boston on Tuesday for the first time since he signed a four-year, $53 million contract with the New York Mets more than 18 months ago, he walked into a den of love and happiness. At 7-3 with a 3.01 ERA this season, Martinez will take the mound Wednesday night and pitch against many of his former teammates and friends.

When asked last week how he thought he should be received, Martinez referenced a phrase from his native country.

David Ortiz, left, and Pedro Martinez
AP Photo/Rick SilvaBefore joining the Mets to begin last season, Pedro Martinez, right, was a teammate of David Ortiz for two years with the Red Sox.
"We have a saying in the Dominican Republic," he said. "The good son always returns home."

A few days before returning to Boston, Martinez, 34, said in an interview in Toronto that he was unsure how he would be received. He also reflected about his seven years here, during which he went 117-37 with a 2.52 ERA and won two Cy Young awards. There are many memories, but he spoke of a few special ones.

Martinez said he remembered the beautiful summers and the lake behind his house, where he would often go to escape his enormous celebrity. He recalled his 1999 All-Star game MVP performance at Fenway, saying it was when he really felt like he and the fans "became close." He remembered how much he enjoyed interacting with fans in the outfield because of the low walls. And how he also played jokes on teammates, especially when he once scared Mo Vaughn by greeting him in the dugout with a Yoda mask.

"He hasn't changed one bit," said Mets bullpen coach Guy Conti, who's known Martinez for 18 years. "One day he'll pitch his heart out and the next day he'll come in wearing a mask. He can be like an 8-year-old boy."

With a scheduled off day on Monday, Martinez chose to revisit parts of his past. He spoke with his godbrother, visited with friends and spent part of the day at City Hall as a group of female employees greeted him with hugs and kisses, which he called "beautiful." He also checked in with his dentist ("no cavities"), saw one of his doctors and walked around the city. Then he arrived in the Red Sox players' parking lot a little before 4 p.m. and walked into the home clubhouse with this greeting: "Hi everybody, what's going on?"

Martinez even had enough time to sleep in on Tuesday morning, blowing off a good friend.

"I was up at 8:45 this morning just to make sure his lunch was ready," said David Ortiz, who embraced his former teammate and countryman near the batting cages before the game.

Martinez also got his first reception inside the park as he made his way to his news conference. In a surreal scene, Martinez stepped out of the visitors' clubhouse as photographers' bulbs snapped while he walked through the dark corridors of Fenway Park. Scores of adoring park employees parted to either side of him; a wave of food-service vendors, security guards and grounds-crew workers applauded, hooted and hollered while clicking their cell-phone cameras and yelling, "We miss you Pedro!" and "We love you!"

Martinez, always a man of grandeur, shook hands, embraced and hollered right back, with an enormous smile. "Aramark!" he yelled to the Aramark food vendors behind the counters. An older man quickly approached and reached for Martinez's hand. "Thank you for the ring," Aramark employee Rae Lunam said, with tears in his eyes.

Best W-L for one team*
Pitcher Team W-L
Pedro Martinez BOS 117-37
Bob Caruthers STL 106-38
Bill Hoffer BAL 79-29
Spud Chandler NYY 109-43
Preacher Roe BRO 93-37
*All-time (minimum 100 decisions)

There was a time when a feel-good reunion seemed an unlikely possibility. Though he has recently tried to remain diplomatic about what occurred in the winter of 2004, Martinez still appears to harbor hurt feelings over what he perceived to be a lack of respect and commitment from the Boston front office.

In particular, Martinez points to a meeting with owners John Henry and Larry Lucchino at a Dominican Republic airport in early December 2004. The suggestion of seeing Lucchino in Boston made Martinez laugh at the memory of that meeting.

"I remember that laugh from Lucchino when I said, 'Hey, I got four years,' " Martinez said. "He goes, 'bull----. You've got to be kidding me. Nah, you didn't get four years.' And I had sunglasses on, I went and took them off like this [he motions very slowly] and I said, 'I got four years.'

"John Henry said, 'You guys, just get it done. Get it done.' "

That, of course, didn't happen. Martinez said the original offer was just one year with a nonguaranteed option if he were to get hurt. At the last minute, he said, the Red Sox offered three years, but he had already given his word to Mets GM Omar Minaya, who had made the four-year offer to Martinez, that he would negotiate. Through a spokesman, Lucchino declined to comment.

"We played our cards right," Mets assistant GM Tony Bernazard said. "The timing was right, and we knew that the window opened [to negotiate]. That's why the window was so important, because we knew it wasn't going to be open for long. We were able to take advantage."

"I remember that laugh from [Larry] Lucchino when I said, 'Hey, I got four years.'"
-- Pedro Martinez on receiving an offer
from the Mets

Martinez became a Met and went 15-8 with a 2.82 ERA in his first year while resuscitating a losing franchise. Pedro was an attraction and his starts became an event -- just as they were in Boston. But he also was sad, he said. Sad and disappointed that he couldn't participate during the ring ceremony to further celebrate the World Series victory, which was the highlight of his career. He was sad about leaving his Red Sox teammates and sad that the Red Sox didn't consider the possibility that he could someday go into the Hall of Fame in another cap.

"That will be a little confusing," he said. "What hat am I going to wear? Thank God it's not my decision anymore. That was something that I thought Boston would take into consideration, out of respect just say, 'Hey, maybe we can keep him here for three years.'"

To former Boston general manager Dan Duquette -- who traded for Martinez in 1997, sending Tony Armas and Carl Pavano to Montreal -- the departure of the franchise pitcher wasn't as surprising because of the current free-agent culture. But retaining Martinez "would have been my goal," Duquette said. "He was a fantastic pitcher. Pedro did a great job; I guess it was time for him to move on."

On Tuesday, it was time for him to come back. But how would the fans react? Would there be bad feelings about the way Martinez left and his bitterness thereafter? As Duquette points out with a laugh, "You never can predict what they will do."

Martinez hoped the fans would remember his work and his heart.

"I don't know anybody that would like to be received like a bad person or like a delinquent," Martinez said. "I can say proudly that I did my job. I earned everything they paid me. I don't really have to say it because the numbers are there, but I lived up to every expectation they had."

The question was answered at the end of the first inning, when the Red Sox showed a video tribute of the right-hander's career with a message saying: "Welcome Back, and Welcome Always, Pedro Martinez." The crowd stood and chanted his first name, and after a few moments Martinez, dressed in his black Mets uniform with the number 45 on the back, came out and raised his hands in the air. He bowed, wrapped his arms around his shoulders as if he were simulating a hug, and then tipped his cap.

"It felt great," Martinez said. "It's emotional, unless you don't have a heart."

For Dr. Charles Steinberg, executive vice president of public affairs for the Red Sox, "It was one of those moments that gives you chills."

Steinberg said an e-mail chain between himself, owners Tom Werner, Henry and Lucchino, GM Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona started roughly 10 days ago. The discourse was about Pedro's return, and all were in unison that they wanted to celebrate with class.

"You don't demonize the enemy," Steinberg said. "You still honor and value the person regardless of what uniform they're wearing."

The good son had finally come home.

Amy K. Nelson is a writer/reporter for ESPN The Magazine.