I keep a Pedro Martinez figure on my desk, depicting his days with the New York Mets, walking off a mound with his gloved left hand and his right index finger pointed to the same spot in the sky where his head has tilted. It’s impossible to say whether he’s stepping away from a win or a loss, if it’s tied or if he’s just given up a three-run homer and is being lifted for a lefty.
I have other figures around me — my girlfriend calls them “your little people” — of varying shapes and sizes. Late 1980s Starting Lineup renditions of Mike Greenwell and Wade Boggs anchor the two external harddrives I keep, with a miniature Ichiro atop them. Cam Neely and Tim Thomas represent different and concurrent eras of Boston Bruins history. Two Red Sox figures, of Jason Varitek and Pedro Martinez, are here, too, but they’re usually obscured by my laptop screen.
I found Pedro, circa 2005, online for $4 a few years ago, and I keep him in a key spot, not far from my right hand and usually just behind where I’ll rest a glass. Pedro was among my favorite athletes ever, because he was the single most brilliant force on a baseball diamond I’ve ever seen, for sure. But also because that otherworldly talent abandoned him midway through his career, yet he didn’t fold or succumb to time immediately. He kept pitching, and he was good much more often than he was bad. And because he’s painted in his Mets uniform, it’s a reminder that he had an interesting life and career after he won a World Series and left Boston.
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The Detroit Tigers sent Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers for Ian Kinsler; a likely overpaid and struggling slugger goes one way and a sturdy second baseman the other. They each fill a void on their new teams and it makes sense in baseball terms. And as trades go, it’s a stunner.
The Rangers are taking on a huge risk, obviously. Financially, even with the $30 million that Detroit is picking up in Fielder’s salary, the first baseman is still making a lot of money for a first baseman who doesn’t field his position well and hasn’t been at his full offensive potential for some time. But they needed a first basemen, they have middle infielders to spare and they’re looking to get back to the World Series after two years out.
But I was thinking about Kinsler more, about how he’s been the default face of his team and one of the more under-appreciated players in the league since he’s been up. He fought Dustin Pedroia for the starting shortstop’s job at Arizona State more than a decade ago and both have settled into being among the best second basemen in the American League since. He hits well, he’s been to All-Star Games, and now he’ll have to change teams and numbers and maybe even positions.
And mostly, I was thinking about the fans that have followed him and whether or not they’ll keep paying attention to an already under-the-radar type of player as he wears a new uniform and keeps trying to hit for a new city and a new set of fans. When he went to sleep last night he probably didn’t think about having to find a new home for the summer. The fans who own his jersey or just like rooting for him weren’t thinking about the next chapter of their fandom, either. Baseball decisions like this just don’t float around.
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I like keeping the Pedro doll nearby because it’s a reminder that everything is temporary. In 2004 the Red Sox won the World Series and let their best pitcher walk away to Queens. In 2013, the Red Sox kept the Tigers from winning the American League pennant, and the Tigers, in turn, traded their well-paid first baseman to Texas, who missed October in a one-game playoff.
Next season, Fielder will settle into a new lineup and the same expectations he didn’t meet in his last job. Kinsler will trot out to the infield and keep quietly plying his trade. All year long, Pedro will be walking off the mound, head held high, and it’ll still be impossible to know what just happened or what’s coming.