Saturday, December 3, 2011
It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to watch Pedro Martinez in action, but he’s still one of my all-time favorite players. (Technically it’s a tie between him and David Ortiz for my top spot, but the way I figure it, since one is a pitcher and the other is a hitter, I shouldn’t have to choose.) When Pedro was in his prime, there was no one more dominant. One of my favorite stats to quote is that his 1.74 ERA in 2000 was less than half of the 3.70 compiled by the 2nd-place finisher. But don’t even ask me to pick my favorite Pedro game. I might eventually settle on Game 5 of the 1999 Division Series, when he came into a slugfest with an ailing back and held the mighty Cleveland offense hitless for the final six innings – but not before considering his 17-strikeout one-hitter in New York in September of 1999, or the Pedro vs. Roger duel on Memorial Day weekend of 2000 when Trot Nixon’s ninth-inning homer won it for the Sox, or the “Where is Roger/In the shower” playoff game in 1999, or the near no-hitter in Tampa Bay in 2000. Or maybe I’d pick Labor Day of 2000, when Carlton Fisk’s #27 was retired before the game and Pedro beat the Mariners. On paper it was a rather methodical 8-inning, 11-K performance, but I had the pleasure of seeing that one in person, and what stays with me most about that day is walking back to the T after the game and watching as gleeful fans ran down Lansdowne Street waving giant Dominican flags and chanting “Pedro, Pedro!” while car horns honked and people cheered.
Pedro Games during his heyday were certainly appointment viewing. At work we’d try to predict not the outcome of the game, because that was never in doubt, but how many strikeouts he’d pick up or whether this would finally be the night he threw a no-hitter. In person, it was even more fun. Normally at games people will wait to get up from their seats until the visiting team is at bat, but when Pedro pitched that’s when we were glued to our seats. It was after he’d walk off the mound at the end of the inning that we’d see the mass exodus of people heading to the concession stands and restrooms.
So when I heard that The Best Pitcher on the Planet himself was going to be hosting a toy drive in a nearby town, I knew immediately that I had to go. The event was held at the HomeGoods in Bedford, MA, and benefited children here in Boston and in the Dominican Republic. We just had to bring two new, unwrapped toys to donate, and we could get an autograph from the future Hall-of-Famer. As the day approached, I felt like I had gone back in time to a decade ago and was counting down to Pedro Day again. That anticipation was especially welcome after a horrid end to last season and a beginning of the off-season that saw the team I love further dismantled. But here I was walking around for a week with a grin on my face thinking, “I’m going to see Pedro,” just like in the good old days.
The event was scheduled from 5 to 7 pm, but shortly after noon a friend of mine posted on Facebook that she had driven past the store and people were already in line. So I rushed to get ready and jumped in the car, arriving around 2:00. The line was already over 100 people long, and we would be waiting outside all afternoon. It was a sunny day and relatively mild for December, but by the time the sun set at 4:00, I was wishing I had brought my hat and gloves.
When Pedro arrived at 5:00, we were finally allowed to enter the store, but it was still another hour before I got to the front of the line. I had brought with me a picture of myself with the 2004 World Series trophy which I’ve taken to Spring Training and other events to be signed by members of that historic team. It’s getting pretty full, but he found some space and signed in neat lettering. I made sure to thank him for his part in what was the best season ever as far as I’m concerned: “Pedro, I just want to thank you for 2004. It meant so much to so many people.” If I could personally thank every last one of them, I would! The best part was his response: “No, thank you. It was well-deserved.”