Aspirations for greatness, via Pedro Martinez

Pedro Martinez, in the midst of doing what he did.

Pedro Martinez, in the midst of doing what he did.

If I glance to my left from my desk at work, I can see various things taped up: concert setlists, band photos, album covers, little trinkets to keep me motivated and feeling like I’m at home. One of them is a Pedro Martinez baseball card, circa 2003. He’s pumping his fist, probably after another strikeout.

Thanks to a quick decline in baseball card quality the past couple of seasons, the collecting bug that I rekindled around 2010 has flamed out again, leading me back to the occasional, nostalgic purchase. I still seek out individual Red Sox each year, and I pick up stray cards of players I like on the cheap. In terms of space and money spent, it’s a much more affordable existence.

This weekend, I was tooling around again for the first time in a few months, and sort of instinctively started looking for Pedro cards. Soon enough, I found a 10-card lot of ones I mostly didn’t have, priced around $3 total, and took the plunge. The entire exercise probably took around 10 minutes.

Tomorrow afternoon, there’s a very good chance that Pedro is going to be announced as a 2015 Hall of Fame inductee, along with Randy Johnson, Craig Biggio and maybe a couple of others (John Smoltz? Mike Piazza?). It’s a feather in the cap of an incredible career, and it feels nice to know that he’s being acknowledged for his work. But that’s not what I was thinking about when I went searching for those cards, because I don’t think much about the Hall of Fame anymore.

★ ★ ★

Discussions and dissections around Baseball Hall of Fame worthiness have become a cottage industry of their own that I don’t have the time or willingness to wade through them anymore. Mention Tim Raines and baseball people start screaming from either side — the same goes for Jim Rice, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, for different reasons by writers and fans with differing but fiery opinions on who is and isn’t Hall worthy, and why.

For what would be an abstract existence save for the building itself in Cooperstown, New York, it’s tiring to read all the articles and thinkpieces. It’s not for me. But I never get tired of Pedro. I can watch highlights of his strikeouts — the ones that came on 79 mph changeups and 99 mph fastballs up in the zone alike — for hours. I can return to his Baseball-Reference page at basically any point and start drooling at his 1997-2004 run.

More often, I can pull out my Red Sox binder on the bookshelf and flip to Pedro land, about 10 pages of baseball cards that run from his ultra-skinny days on the Dodgers to his final turn with the Phillies 17 years later. The middle is the best — and deepest — part, about 40 cards pulled from his seven seasons in Boston, all in various stages of pitching, about to pitch or celebrating, with a finger raised in the air. I have favorites, but they’re all somewhat repetitious, replicating the feeling of watching him those seven seasons. Except for the second half of 2001, he was pretty dependable, clocking in every five days ready to do something that hadn’t been seen before, or simply do what he always did, which was unseen anywhere else.

And then, suddenly, he’s wearing a Mets hat for a full page, then one in a Dominican Republic hat for the 2009 World Baseball Classic, then a solitary Phillies card, and it’s over. The career ends, but his body of work is laid out, to be relived as often as needed.

★ ★ ★

I’m playing blues harmonica in a band these days, something I hadn’t done since Pedro was still the ace of the Sox staff. We played our first show this past Saturday. I keep a briefcase near my feet and the monitors, loaded with about 15 harps, a notebook, a binder with setlists and song notes and anything else I might need over three hours of screaming into a green bullet mic.

On the day before the show, I taped the Donruss card shown above to the inside of the lid as a reminder of greatness. It’s not a particularly valuable or rare card, just one of the many I’ve picked up over the years in these moments of trading card self indulgence. But it does the job, depicting him mid-delivery right in the middle of his Red Sox run.

In doing this thing again, it’s nice to have little links back to when I was first really excited about music. And since an LP cover of the Black Crowes’ Lions or Ryan Adams’ Gold would be more than a little conspicuous, this will do for now. It’s a different stage with fewer bright lights, but I could do worse for a quick jolt than a reminder of the greatest pitcher I’ll likely ever see. The Hall of Fame is for him; the memories do the trick for me.

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