1993 was easily my heaviest year of baseball fandom to that point. I was 11 years old, fully in love with the Boston Red Sox, and beginning to exhaustively study the history of the game. I worked to memorize World Series winners and losers, MVPs, Cy Young winners, batting champs and Rookies of the Year. I spent my time in the library making photo copies of baseball players from books with dimes I’d saved up — Dave Winfield, Pete Rose, Tom Seaver, Carl Yastrzemski, Brooks Robinson, and on down the line.
And, of course, there were baseball cards. I bought packs of Fleer, Fleer Ultra and Upper Deck that year, but I concentrated mainly on Topps. By then, I’d realized that Topps was the only company that would print the entire career of a player on the card backs, and being the student of the game I was, it was a big draw.
Pedro Martinez’s first card came to me that summer. I didn’t think much of him and eventually filed him away with the rest of the Dodgers, but not before studying him a bit, that he played a couple of seasons in Albuquerque (that was funny to me for some reason — practically all the Dodgers rolled through there), that he’d made his debut in 1992, and that he pitched eight innings over two games, including one start.
I also noticed that he had a strange, lanky contortion to his body. He seemed coiled, and I didn’t know what to make of the look on his face. His eyes are staring right into the batter’s box on a sunny day, a mix of naivete and determination. He wasn’t an All-Star, but he stood out from the other run-of-the-mill players in my collection.
I got another Pedro Martinez card the next summer, showing that he pitched almost exclusively out of the bullpen in 1993. By then, I’d realized that he was the little brother of Ramon Martinez (already an All-Star pitcher for Los Angeles) and that he’d been traded to the Montreal Expos. Intriguing as all this was, I had no idea what I had in my hands.
Neither did the Dodgers.