We’ve been down this road before, of course, and it has become clear that excellence in any particular field doesn’t necessarily naturally translate into any semblance of superiority into the role of mentor. Take Michael Jordan’s disastrous post-career resume or Ted Williams’ bumpy stint as a manager in Washington. An athlete’s greatness is left on the field, and very few can summon the smarts and know-how to teach and build.
Still, it’s awfully difficult not to look at the following and get a little geeked up.
It was easy to be dubious about the timing of the Red Sox announcing that the best pitcher in franchise history – Pedro Martinez - was coming on board as an assistant to the general manager. Even though Martinez had hinted in December that such a role was in his future, the team waited until late last month to make the announcement, clearly hoping to take some steam away from former manager Terry Francona’s explosive memoir. (“A good piece of fiction,” as summed up by CEO Tom Werner, who would know about such things, having helped perpetrate the farcical sellout streak for years.) And yes, his role is transparent, giving fans a nostalgic presence that, in some ways, takes the place of any delusions that the front office has put together a championship-caliber squad.
I don’t care. Give me Pedro any time.
‘‘Sharing his experiences and much of the mindset a starting pitcher has to go not only in spring training but also how to manage a full season,” manager John Farrell said. “The biggest thing is the way he was able to adapt throughout his career. Even when his physical power started to tail off at times, he made adjustments and learned to pitch.’’
The Red Sox could put Pedro’s name on a carton of rotten produce and I’m buying in. Never has this city seen a more dynamic athlete who handled his public persona almost as well as his athletic achievements. Seeing the man back in a Red Sox uniform gives me – to use a technical term – warm fuzzies, and I’m not ashamed to admit that.
What’s he doing here? Who cares? Pedro.
I suppose the same can be said for Jason Varitek, who is also back at spring training in Fort Myers in a similar role. But, and this is no disrespect to Varitek, the former catcher’s name doesn’t exactly have the cache of his one-time batterymate. Both may be rookies in their new roles, but is there really any doubt about which baseball retiree is more suited to his new position?
Maybe Varitek has the right amount of smarts to work with the team’s young pitchers and catchers. But does anyone really doubt the massive amount of influence Martinez can have on a pitching staff?
If you’re 22-year-old Rubby De La Rosa, who, by the way, was eight the night Martinez defied all logic at Jacobs Field in Cleveland during the 1999 ALDS, can you imagine the impact of having your idol mentor you? For a writer, it would like learning the craft from a gruff Hemingway, who would probably leave us all crying and running to our mommies for a more positive affirmation, but that’s another matter. Martinez is like a god in his home of the Dominican Republic, where his words and advice go a long way. Think of the recruiting skills attached to his new role with the Red Sox.
Danny Ainge and Cam Neely have both enjoyed the ultimate success since returning to their former clubs in front office roles. While we don’t expect Martinez to be pushing pencils and fiddling with Carmine anytime soon, it’s easy to see that his presence could mean the world to a franchise trying to once again find its way.
‘‘It’s an empty feeling that you get inside of you because there’s nothing you can do from the front of TV,’’ Martinez said. ‘‘The few games that I stopped to watch at Fenway it was painful to see the chemistry wasn’t there, the team wasn’t doing what they were supposed to.’’
What better medicine is there than Pedro?
Marketing ploy, bridge to the future, or a little bit of both; it doesn’t matter. Pedro Martinez is in Fort Myers, and that just makes everything a little bit better.