Pedro Martinez was — and is — worth it

When he was on the mound, nothing else mattered.

When he was on the mound, nothing else mattered.

To illustrate why most Bostonians would have rather been willing to submit to a daily full-cavity search than to host the Olympics, consider the scene at Park Street Station yesterday afternoon around 5:30 p.m.

With hundreds (thousands?) of fans packed onto the Green Line platform on a day approaching 90 degrees with about 4,000 percent humidity trying desperately to climb onto one of the few B, C or D trolleys to Kenmore Square (never E, of course), there’s a mad rush whenever the appropriate train pulls up and the threat of collapsing due to dehydration grows with every closed door packed with three more helpless people stuffed alongside it as they shut.

It’s a nightmare. It’s not news, just an inevitable part of trying to get to Fenway Park on a weeknight. The crush has been a little better lately, thanks to the Red Sox’ decision to give everyone a breather for another season, but it was back yesterday, a reminder that this city exists on the edge every day anyway, and that people will put up with a lot if they think it’s worth it.

The desperation’s slight uptick was thanks to Pedro Martinez, who was due to have his number retired at Fenway Park. The crowds and sweat and inefficiency would be dealt with. Nothing else mattered. This was actually important.

This was a ridiculous day for more than just the traffic hurdles and crush of human bodies trying to work their way to another charmingly cramped stadium. That this day even happened seemed so unlikely just a few years ago, when Martinez balked at the Red Sox’ contract extension offer in the winter of 2004 and made his way to Long Island. And before that, when Dan Duquette sent two pitching prospects to Montreal to bring Pedro to Boston, he was reluctant to sign a contract extension in a cold, American League city.

Even after he signed what would become a seven-year pact, there was the shrill, non-stop shriek of sports radio trying to knock down this newest New England star, as is their way. It’s how it is here. No one escapes it; everyone feels the fangs of a bored media base eventually.

But it never seemed to mean much more than a minor annoyance to Pedro. For his seven years here, he was brash, confident and commanding, and it showed on the mound, in the dugout and off the field. He was always himself, features among which also included being blindingly amazing at throwing a baseball.

He was so towering and impressive that I actually didn’t realize for a few years how remarkable it was that he was able to do all this as a physically small player. If had to, I could have recited his height and weight (5’11”, 170 lbs) on the spot, thanks to the constant indoctrination of baseball cards and my own ridiculous recall for the mundane. But the context of that didn’t come until later. Later, I realized how undersized this was in comparison to his peers, and the increasingly bloated batters he was facing in that most bloated of eras.

And again, it meant nothing to him. He worked harder, he knew what mattered and he did his job. He was a giant, towering over the competition and the inconvenient hurdles sent along his path. That he was able to accomplish so much with so many obstacles in the way, and do it all with such joy, rekindled a love of the game itself in the city, and it all funneled through him.

On Tuesday night, I waited my turn and pushed through the human crush of public transportation. I sat in one of the worst vantage points in Fenway Park and I watched as former coaches and teammates — Felipe Alou, Tommy Harper, Trot Nixon, Orlando Cabrera, Tim Wakefield, David Ortiz and Jason Varitek among them — came on to the field to honor the electrifying personality who made Boston his own, first in 1998 and then thereafter.

Now his number 45 is on the right-field façade, the first pitcher to be so honored at Fenway Park. His 216 appearances for the Red Sox (including the playoffs) are all memorable in their own way, some more than others. He was a flash of light and he proved that the old way of doing things didn’t have to be that way. Where there’s desire, anything is possible.

So we put up with the inconveniences we choose. We deal with the snow and say no to giant cost-inefficient events when we can. When Pedro’s around, everything’s on the table. It’s always worth it.


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