- Mike Fish, ESPN Senior Writer
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SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- Pedro Martinez continues to stand by controversial fitness guru and massage therapist Angel "Nao" Presinal. And Presinal, in turn, promises to deliver something sure to brighten the New York Mets' pennant hopes come late summer -- a return of the vintage Pedro.
"Pedro is working again [with me]," Presinal gushes. "Pedro will be brand-new, the Pedro of maybe '97. It is my challenge, to build Pedro the old Pedro way. The old Pedro form. Everybody is waiting for Pedro. Everybody will have the new, like the old Pedro.
"Pedro will again have the power in the fastball."
A flashback of Pedro with velocity in the mid-90s could be impressive. In the meantime, it raises some eyebrows that Martinez and a cadre of elite big leaguers from the Dominican Republic -- including Ervin Santana, Robinson Cano, Luis Castillo and Francisco Cordero -- toiled this offseason under the watchful tutelage of Presinal.
If the name isn't familiar, it should be. Presinal, 54, popped up on Major League Baseball's radar in October 2001 after he and former two-time American League MVP Juan Gonzalez, then his primary client, were linked to an unmarked bag, reportedly containing steroids and hypodermic needles, that was seized by Canadian authorities at the Toronto airport. Questioned by Canadian Border Service agents, Gonzalez said the bag belonged to Presinal. Presinal has said the bag and everything in it belonged to Gonzalez, then a Cleveland Indians outfielder.
Ultimately, Canadian authorities decided there wasn't enough evidence to charge either Gonzalez or Presinal. Word of the incident, though, has made Presinal persona non grata in the majors -- but not in the Dominican Republic, where he remains highly respected and a cult hero to players on the Caribbean island.
Asked about the bag episode, Martinez, rehabbing from rotator cuff surgery on Oct. 5, told ESPN.com: "I have no idea about the controversy. I just know that I would give Nao my support anytime. Nao has worked with me for a long, long time. And all he has done is help me with my training, help me with massages and stuff like that.
"I don't know what went on between him and Gonzalez or anybody else. I just go about my job. I don't really pay attention to controversy. When you are training, there is no controversy. There shouldn't be. What I have done is work hard. And Nao has been there for me to work hard. And when it comes to my therapy and getting my massages, getting my stretching, helping me do my work -- Nao has done that with me."
After Martinez had surgery, he traveled between his homeland and Miami this winter, checking in with former Red Sox doctor Bill Morgan (who performed the surgery with Mets doctor David Altchek), the Mets' medical staff and his physical therapist who monitored the progress of his right shoulder. Presinal says he began working with Martinez within three weeks of the surgery. Martinez's physical therapist has also traveled to the Dominican to work with the Mets pitcher.
Martinez left his Dominican connections behind this week and reported to the Mets' spring training complex in Port St. Lucie.
"The Mets' [doctors] wrote the program for Pedro to rehab the shoulder," Presinal said through interpreter Enrique Rojas, an ESPNdeportes.com reporter. "I help Pedro to follow the program. I follow this program, but the whole body [conditioning] is in the Nao style. I work with Pedro every day."
From what Presinal hears, medical folks are impressed with the offseason program as well as the strides made by Martinez from the surgery.
"The doctors say to Pedro, 'You are ahead of schedule.' They asked him to [raise] his arm up. Pedro shot it right up. They go 'No, no [not so fast] -- go down,'" says Presinal, laughing proudly as he tells the story.
All of this should put a smile on the face of Mets brass, of course. But during a recent visit to the club's camp in the Dominican Republic, general manager Omar Minaya appeared caught off-stride to learn of the Martinez-Presinal hookup.
Asked what role Presinal played in his star pitcher's rehab, Minaya responded: "There is no -- as far as I know, there is no connection between Nao and the Mets and Pedro. That is news to me."
As for Presinal working with Martinez, he said: "I don't know. I don't know that."
Just the day before, Martinez dropped by the Mets complex in Port St. Lucie and flew from Florida to the Dominican with Minaya and Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon.
"I bring my program from the therapist and the doctors from the Mets," Martinez told ESPN.com. "I do my program like they tell me with Nao."
Said Martinez of Presinal: "He is experienced about muscles and flexibility. He understands really well how to work on the body, especially with the therapy and massage. And Nao is a really good therapist when it comes to understanding how muscles react."
For certain, Martinez, 35, speaks from experience about Presinal. Martinez regularly called upon Presinal's services in the offseason until they had a falling out four years ago, presumably over compensation. Presinal casts Martinez as less generous than his other award-winning clients, Gonzalez and Bartolo Colon. Presinal said Gonzalez gave him bonuses of $50,000 and $80,000 after his two MVP seasons (1996 and '98), and Colon provided a two-year-old black Hummer after winning the Cy Young Award (2005).
Not an extra dime came from any of Martinez's three Cy Youngs.
"I did not see him for four years," Presinal said of his renewed relationship with Martinez. "Now because he has big trouble he comes back, 'I'm sorry now. Everything is fine.'
"Four years ago we had a difference about money and other stuff. Now Pedro is coming and my family had a good Christmas from Pedro this year. Pedro pays in full. Four years bad, nothing. Now, he says, 'Hey, take it. You are worth this.'"
Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. ESPNdeportes.com's Enrique Rojas also contributed to this report.
3hJohn Fisher, ESPN Stats & Information