Thursday, December 30, 2004
We both came to Boston in the fall of 1997. We both got our first "real" jobs in the Hub. I just graduated from college and you graduated from the JV squad in Montreal. Your introduction to Beantown came with a little more media attention than my Enterprise Rent-a-Van pulling up outside of my first apartment at 31 Gardner Street. I think my Mom has a picture or two.
Your acquisition and my new address renewed my devotion to the Red Sox which had faded after entering college. Academics were my focus for four years with a few twists: beer, music, girls, more beer, video games, stupid human tricks and other activities that I am not at liberty to discuss. Seriously, it was kind of tough to follow the club in the spring with finals and then I spending each summer without NESN. The strike of 1994 and uninteresting Sox clubs prior to 1998 did not help either. But that all changed, the Red Sox acquired you, the best pitcher in the world about to enter his prime.
I still remember the press conference to introduce you to the media and Red Sox Nation, which at the time was still in its formative years. Your eyes burst with enthusiasm and disbelief with all of the attention. Snow had piled up in the stands as you walked around the field with DD and Johnny Boy. Hordes of media members were watching your every move and snapping picture after picture - a tad different than Montreal.
Your first season did not disappoint, as you pitched the Sox to a playoff appearance against the Indians. You got the lone win for the Sox in that series. But it played as your introduction to the broader baseball world. The casual fan now knew of Pedro Martinez.
In the 1999 season, I got a new job working out of One Beacon Street. My college buddies, Meaney and Mattie Boy, and I would have to ride through Kenmore to get back to our apartments. Now we had a few more bucks to spend than when we first moved to the city, so on nice evenings before we left the office, we would call each other and try to talk one another into going to the game. The conversations would usually go like “come on what else are you going to do" and "it's only ten bucks" (yes, $10 for bleachers). At some point, one of us would ask "Is Pedro pitching?" If the answer was “yes”, we were there. You were the trump card. We never wanted to miss a Pedro start. There was always a possibility of witnessing history.
In 1999-2000 when it was your turn to take the mound, there was a type of buzz that has never been duplicated before a Sox game. It was the sense that I, the fan in the stands, could be a part of history today. I recall many games, when you were pitching and once the Sox scored, fans would be like “okay, time to go home.” The game was essentially over. No need to waste time watching the rest of the contest because you would shut down the other club. Let's head to the bar for cheaper beer. When you were on the mound in 1999 and 2000, we felt like MFY fans - our team would always come out on top.
There were so many magical moments in 1999. I missed most of your All-Star Game domination. Chico and I won Phish tickets for the same night during an all day bar hoping drinking bonanza from West to East via the Green Line. Great day, but I am not much of exhibition games anyway. I did catch you whiffing Sammy Sosa while waiting in line for a beer or was that a bong hit.
I have a tough time picking between your 1-hit, 17 strikeout wizardry over the MFY in their house, and the wounded warrior non-fastball throwing six relief inning dominance of the 1,000 run scoring Indian lineup in the deciding fifth game of the ALDS as my favorite performance in 1999. Regardless, I recall both evenings as they were yesterday, well…not really, probably more like a few months ago so excuse some discrepancies (I spelled “discrepancies” without the assistance of spell check. Shut up. It’s a big accomplishment for me.)
I did not have cable back in the day, but the game was on WSBK-38. I was watching it alone on my 13-inch set with rabbit ears. I did not get the sense of the history until later into the game because it was a close contest with the MFY. I can still see the one mistake made to Chilly Davis that he hits to dead center. But I can also see the classic Pedro hip turn-flip follow through with arms raised toward the sky after striking out number 17 for the final out with Seanie Mick saying something like “Pedro Martinez strikes out 17 New York Yankees! A historical performance!” Great stuff, but you became a legend that night in Cleveland.
I had tickets to Game 4 at Fenway when Johnny V hit two dingers in a something like 22-6 ass kicking of the Indians that sent the series to a deciding fifth Monday night game at the Jake. Game 4 was so long, I didn’t make it back to my apartment until about 1 a.m. and I needed to rise about six to catch a flight to Baltimore. It sucked.
After working in the day, we - I and two non-Sox fan co-workers - went out for dinner. I was exhausted. We tried the ESPNZONE in the Inner Harbor, but they were not showing the game. I was beside myself and the guy at ESPN was like “It’s Monday Night Football and that takes precedent over everything else.” Even though the guy had that D-1 college football middle linebacker look, for a few seconds I contemplated pulling a Zell Miller on his ass. Freaking Disney/ESPN/ABC conglomerate made me watch the game in an empty Pizzeria Uno on a small screen.
Anyway, it was great the ups and downs of the first few innings (I got to personally thank Troy O’Leary for his two homers during warm-ups when he was playing for the Expos). But nothing was better than the silence at the Jake as the bullpen door opened and Super Petey exited onto the field. It was over. Everyone knew it. You threw inning after inning of no hit ball, as I got more and more intoxicated. The free beers didn’t help either. The server hooked me up. I assumed she was a Sox fan. Anyway, after the final out, I raised my arms in triumph and I rode back to the hotel drunk and happy.
After your historically season of 1999 where you were robbed of the MVP award, SI put you on the cover of their baseball preview issue for 2000. SI predicted you would pitch the Sox to a championship. A few years early right.;) A buddy and former co-worker of mine, Kimball, helped me reconfigured the cover to incorporate a picture of the Babe, Buckner and with the caption "SI JINX, BUCKNER BLUNDER, CURSE OF THE BAMBINO NOT Y2K COMPLIANT." The Curse was not Y2K compliant. It just seemed that way for a few extra seasons.
This is how I want to remember Pedro Martinez. The diva act, the respect talk, the “my daddy” and the like do not mean anything to me. What I am going to remember most is having the privilege of experiencing that Pedro buzz high before a start at Fenway. It was one of kind like your dominance on the mound from 1999-2000.
Pedro, you reinvigorated my passion for the Red Sox, the game of baseball and you delivered on the implied promise at the time of your acquisition - a World Series Championship - thank you.