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1999 MLB All-Star Game

An affair to remember

Boston loves Pedro Martinez ... and he's pretty happy, too

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Posted: Monday July 12, 1999 03:03 PM

  Pedro's party: Who wouldn't love a home-team pitcher with a 15-3 record and a 2.10 ERA? Jed Jacobsohn/Allsport

By John Donovan, CNN/SI

ATLANTA -- It will be an old-fashioned love-in Tuesday night, a chance for the whole baseball-caring world to see the kissy-kissy relationship between a city and the most beloved baseball player in Beantown.

Oh, sure, Baltimore has Cal Ripken Jr. and St. Louis has Mark McGwire. There's Sammy Sosa in Chicago and Tony Gwynn in San Diego and hometown favorite Barry Larkin in Cincinnati.

But there isn't a love affair in baseball as hot as the one currently being carried on between pitcher Pedro Martinez and the head-over-heels fans of Boston.

"From the first days he's been [in Boston]," says Red Sox manager Jimy Williams, "he's been everything that other people have said about him. He's a great competitor, he loves to play -- certainly his numbers speak for themselves."

Certainly, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more dominant pitcher in baseball right now than the whippet-armed right-hander from the Dominican Republic. He goes into his All-Star start at Fenway Park on Tuesday with a 15-3 record and a 2.10 ERA. He leads the American League in ERA and wins, plus strikeouts and innings pitched (he averages more than seven innings a start), and he's holding opponents to a league-best .213 batting average.

That handsome resume is enough to inspire some major-league devotion in a baseball-savvy town like Boston. But Martinez brings much more than that to the Fenway Park.

Martinez brings a lotta love.

Yes, Boston loves Pedro. But Pedro loves Boston, and its fanatic fans, too.

"They are the ones that are there every time you struggle," Martinez says. "Every time you go through a good moment, they're there with you. So there's no better place for me to have an All-Star Game than in Boston."

The city of Boston fell for Martinez almost from the start, when he arrived after a trade with the Montreal Expos, was greeted at the airport by a few hundred fans and signed a six-year, $75 million contract. And then won his first two starts, and his first five decisions.

Among the fans, Martinez has inspired an especially loyal following among Hispanics, who flood into the ballpark on the days he pitches and spend the days in between talking about their hero's exploits.

"Everyone likes him," says Hector Martinez, who does Red Sox play-by-play on WRCA, the team's Hispanic radio network. "He is not only followed by Dominicans. But Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Nicaraguans -- everybody that plays baseball."

In fact, Martinez even is gaining a loyal following among Boston fans from some Central and South American countries, places where soccer normally is the game of choice. Hector Martinez runs into "Pedromania" every Sunday at the Betel Evangelica Iglesia, where his fellow churchgoers like to talk about nothing more than Pedro.

"In Spanish or English, he is the big news," says Hector Martinez. "I don't tell anybody that I do the broadcasts in Spanish, because I know I'd have to get into the conversation. They don't want to let you out."

All the excitement can get out of hand sometimes. There was the game early in his stint with Boston when the fans booed when Martinez got an opposing batter to pop out.

"I figure, ohhh, what are these people up to?" Pedro Martinez asked.

The answer was simple: The fans wanted a strikeout. And Boston fans of every color still cry for them when Martinez is on the mound. They bang on their seats and the walls, they wave their "K" placards, and their cheers grow louder with every strike.

Martinez has responded, averaging more than 12 strikeouts per nine innings this season.

Almost more than pure power, though, the fans realize that when Martinez is pitching, they will get an honest effort every time out.

"I don't know how many times in the first half of a season that a starting pitcher has a decision for every start," says Williams. "He's kept us in 18 games -- and he's won 15 of them. Because of the type of pitcher he is -- and the type of pitches he has -- he rises to the occasion every time he goes out there."

Martinez's way with the media and fans also has made him a near-instant hit in Boston. He is open and wellspoken. One of the first things he did when he signed his contract -- the biggest in baseball at the time -- was build a church in his hometown of Manoguayabo. He is liked by his teammates, and fans have found he is one of the more approachable major leaguers around.

"You can tell the man has not let fame and money change him," Hector Martinez says. "He opens his heart to you, and he opens his heart to anybody. If he doesn't like something, he lets you know. But if you show respect, if he gets it, he shows it back."

With the great expectations of an organization, the Dominican Republic, millions of Spanish-speaking fans and the rest of Boston's rabid fans heaped on him every time he walks out to the mound, Martinez has shown no sign of letting it all get to him. He is as even-keeled as baseball players get, something that is immediately recognized by teammates and fans alike.

"I just do the best I can. I don't make it too complicated," he says. "I know what my job is. I do it honestly, I do it cleanly. I do it the best way I can. And they have to respect that."

About the only time Martinez and Boston fans have had any kind of a falling out was last year, when Boston fans booed him in an April game against the Detroit Tigers when he gave up four runs in six innings in what was, for him, a washout.

What the good fans of Boston didn't realize was that Martinez, 2-0 at the time, was fighting a stomach virus and probably shouldn't have taken the mound in the first place.

"I thought it was a little bit quick. I don't think it was their right to boo me," Martinez said. "But it's all forgotten. It's all gone. It's all good, from now on."

Good? For Martinez and the fans of Boston, it's nothing shy of flat-out love.


 
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