In a tour de force news conference Wednesday evening, conducted as storm clouds parted over the sparkling ballpark a few hours before Game 1 of the World Series, Martinez contended he was “the most influential player” ever to appear at the old stadium, that he'd shucked Don Zimmer to the ground six years ago in part because Zim had said “a couple bad words about my mom,” and that he is inspired by the Bronx echoes of, “Who's your daddy?”
For 15 minutes, it was epic Pedro, manic Pedro, honest Pedro, cerebral Pedro, wobbly Pedro, signature Pedro, all Pedro.
He blamed the media for casting him for years as evil; the image he carries in his head is of a long-gone newspaper caricature of him in a devil's horns and pointed tail, an old tabloid standby.
“I'm a Christian man,” he sniffed.
He turned away from the New York Mets' inability to reach the World Series in his four years there.
“We can't really choose our destiny,” he said. “Only God knows why I didn't make it with the Mets.”
Solemnly, Pedro sat in the heart of the Bronx and let it all out. A great pitcher once, and a great pitcher 12 days ago in Los Angeles, and the starting pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday night here, Pedro narrowed his eyes and came as clean as he could.
Which was pretty clean.
Considering it all, he seemed to say, considering all he'd endured and conquered on this one block at the center of the baseball universe, considering all he'd enjoyed and lost, ahem, “I don't know if you realize this, but because of you guys in some ways, I might be at times the most influential player that ever stepped in Yankee Stadium. I can honestly say that.”
You guys, the press, mistreated him, he said, turning the fans against him, making him more important than, apparently, Ruth and DiMaggio and Mantle and Jeter and, Martinez's favorite player in the game, Mariano Rivera(notes). There were some chuckles in the news conference. Martinez did not so much as smile.
Surely he meant as a visiting player.
“I think in every aspect,” he corrected. “The way you guys have used me and abused me since I've been coming to [Yankee] Stadium, just because I wore actually a red uniform just like this one while playing for Boston, it's been like – I remember quotes in the paper, 'Here comes the man that New York loves to hate.' Man? None of you have probably ever eaten steak with me or rice and beans with me to understand what the man is about. You might say the player, the competitor, but the man?”
He rolled straight into Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS, the pitch that hit Karim Garcia because Martinez's shoulder was sore and unreliable, the shouting, the charging Zimmer, the reports that, he said, “made me look like a monster.”
It was awful, he said. Seeing the 72-year-old Zimmer sprawled out, he said, brought to mind his own father, made him cringe at the sight of a good man humiliated. It was, he said, “a disgrace to baseball.” He regretted it, of course he did.
“I just had to react and defend myself,” he said. “We are both, I consider, mature people, Zim more than I am, wiser than I am, and he acknowledged that it wasn't my fault; that it was his fault.”
A day before, on Tuesday afternoon, Martinez had sat at a table in the Great Hall at Yankee Stadium. A large cardboard sign mounted above and behind him announced it was indeed him. Dozens of reporters leaned in, readying their questions.
A man with the microphone pushed his arm toward Pedro as far as it would go, so it looked like he was reaching for a wrench that had fallen center-cut under his car.
“Pedro!” he shouted. “Pedro! Could you tell the story about how you got here, starting with the mango tree?”
“The what?” Pedro said.
“The mango tree. You know, how you dreamed about baseball as a kid in the mango tree.”
Martinez sighed. How the people here are obsessed with him, with how he beat them and how he lost to them and how he pitched four seasons right here in this city, on the other side of the Triboro Bridge, teasing them with who he once was.
It was the seven years in Boston. It was Zimmer and a face full of infield. It was the inside fastballs, back when he brought them at 98 mph, and the threats and the sneers and the fearlessness. Mostly, it was the winning. He was 11-11 in 32 regular-season starts against the New York Yankees but 8-4 at Yankee Stadium, with an ERA better than three and a haughty laugh.
Unearth the Bambino, he said, and he'd drill him in his ghostly, vaporous rear end.
"Who's your daddy?" they asked.
He smiled and shook his head. The mango tree. Really.
“Oh, I can't go back there,” he said. “It's too far.”
If this is to be it, starting Game 2 of the World Series four days after his 38th birthday, Pedro of course will not depart willingly.
He'd be asked about getting the ball here, of all places, in this neighborhood if not exactly that ballpark.
“I'll pitch here just like any other field,” he said. “I mean, how big is it? Is it nine innings? Is it 27 outs? It's the same game then.”
Maybe so, but probably not. Barely 24 hours later, he'd reveal that it was more than nine, longer than 27, unlike most anything he'd do. It's different here for him. It's different here because of him, for the man who brings his own ghosts.
- Pedro Martinez
- Yankee Stadium