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Q&A with Pedro Martinez

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  September 25, 2013 07:08 PM

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I've always thought that Pedro Martinez -- nuanced, articulate, opinionated, and dryly funny in his second language -- would excel as a color or studio analyst on a baseball broadcast.

We got small confirmations when Martinez, the legendary pitcher who now is a special assistant to Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, popped by the NESN booth a couple of times this season.

He was excellent with Don Orsillo and Dennis Eckersley in May, and just as engaging during a recent visit in Tampa Bay with Orsillo and former teammate Derek Lowe.

With the recent news, reported here a couple of weeks ago and confirmed by TBS this week, that he will join the network's studio broadcast team for the postseason, we're going to get an even better sense of Martinez's repertoire as an analyst. It certainly strikes me as an inspired choice.

Wednesday, I talked with Pedro about joining the TBS studio program, the pressures of Boston, his thoughts on the 2013 Red Sox, and much more. Here's the conversation:

What made you decide to give the TV thing a shot now? Was it something you've considered for a while, something you were recently approached about?

Martinez: "I've seen a lot of ex-teammates and former ballplayers who have taken into that role to keep busy. Also, someone reached out to my agent, someone who had seen me commenting on other stuff like NESN, and he thought that I have the abilities to do that. So we considered it and we went along with the idea of an audition [which occurred a few weeks ago while the Red Sox were in New York] and we just went with it.

"I've seen Kevin Millar do it, and of course I'm not going to do it like Millar [laughs], but I've seen Dennis Eckersley, I've seen John Smoltz, I've seen Barry Larkin, I've seen how well they've taken to the role, and I figure I could consider it."

Does your competitiveness come out with something like this? Do you see someone like Millar and say, "Man, if he can do this, I can"?

Martinez: "Oh, no, no, no, no. [Laughs] Well, maybe with D-Lowe -- no, no, I'm kidding. This is the first time I'm ever trying to go on TV. I was actually a person who wanted to stay away from the TV. But now that I'm involved with baseball and have had several chances to go up in the booth with the broadcasters, I came to find that it's not that difficult if you're working with the right guys. It's something new, it's something I'm going to learn, and I'm looking forward to something new and extra."

You were in the booth with Eckersley on NESN back in May, I believe, and you guys seemed to be having a great time providing insight into a pitcher's mind-set. Then you were with Lowe down in Tampa, also in the booth. Yet you'll be doing studio work for TBS, which is new to you. Will you take a different approach since studio work doesn't require the instant analysis that is necessary in the booth?

Martinez: "Yeah, it will be a little different, but in the stadium or in the studio, I get the chance to see what goes on. In the studio you get to think about it a little bit longer, and I think that will be the best part of what I bring -- I will be able to look at a pitch or a play a couple of different ways and have a second chance to look at things before commenting. It will be a little easier in the studio, I think."

But do you even need that second chance? In the few times we've heard you in the booth, it was apparent you could break down what a pitcher or batter was trying to do very quickly and accurately, in a matter of a couple of pitches.

Martinez: "You know, I don't think I really need that extra time, but I'll take it. [Laughs] Honestly, I do like that I have a little time to make sure that I know what I'm watching. I don't want to give people the first information that comes up in my mind until I am certain it is correct. Like a call from an umpire; sometimes you will see it one way, but when you slow it down, you see it was actually another. I don't want to be the one who is wrong by reacting too quickly."

As a player, you were candid, often blunt, and spoke from the heart. Will that translate to broadcasting? Some former players, especially ones whose contemporaries are still playing, have a difficult time being critical even when the situation calls for it. Yet a guy like Eck, he's a great, entertaining analyst, but he's so blunt that some of the players don't like him because they think he's breaking some kind of code.

Martinez: "I don't know about the things that Eck says and why he says them, but I know it comes from a deep love of the game, as it does for me. I have a lot of respect for the game, for the players, and for the effort it takes. You know what, if you're a normal person, you know that no player -- and I'm telling you from my own experience -- no player wants to go out there in front of 50,000 people and look bad.

"So you can't look at it like a fan -- you have to look at the pressure of those situations like you would as a coach, a player, or a family member. No one wants to out there and fail in front of all those thousands of people, make a joke out of yourself.

"It's that kind of understanding that I expect to have towards the players, towards the game, and at the same time, have fun. Have fun, but say it the right way. When someone doesn't execute a play that they should, I'll point it out. But I won't be disrespecting anybody. I know how hard this game is."

So you'll be able to offer criticism without being blunt in a way that might offend who you're talking about?

Martinez: "Exactly. My criticism will be constructive. I'm hoping to do it that way."

When you're at the ballpark nowadays and you're watching the game, do you still view it as a participant? Meaning, when, say, Clay Buchholz is getting ready to throw a 1-2 pitch, are you always thinking about what you'd throw in such a situation, are you thinking about what he should throw, or are you more disengaged than that and just watching as a fan would do?

Martinez: "I can see the whole, still see the whole. I can see where I would have slowed down, changed the tempo a little bit, maybe thrown a different pitch or to a different location. But at the same time, there's nothing I can do. All I can do now is smile and hope the person that's doing it will do it in a way that works out for him.

"But it's never the same way, you know? As a pitcher, you have your own approach, your own experiences that go into your approach, and how you do the things that you do. But none of us are the same, and for other people, it might be impossible to approach it the way I would. Nobody is the same. Everyone in this game has their own way of doing their own thing, and that's why they're special."

You have great familiarity with this year's Sox team, having worked with some of the young pitchers, among other duties. Are you reminded of any teams you played on when you watch this group? The easy comparison is 2004, especially in terms of chemistry.

Martinez: "This team and the '04 team are very, very similar, but with one difference: We were a lot louder than these guys. We were the crazy bunch. But the unity they have on that team, it reminds me a lot of the one in '04. We had that same situation where there were a lot of former players around, in the clubhouse, and management and everybody got along and there was community. Jim Lonborg would come in, Dewey, Carlton Fisk, Johnny Pesky was always with us when we were home. We had the same atmosphere that they have now. It was happy. As far as the character of the team, the only thing different I see is that they don't have the long hair, they have the long beards."

Is it essential to have that connection among teammates, that chemistry, in a market like Boston? The '04 team is the best example of a team that just clicked, and yet they won another World Series three years later with a team that was considerably less raucous, excluding Papelbon dancing around with a Bud Light case on his head.

Martinez: "I think so, I think so. Based on that the season is so long, for one thing. Good relationships never affect anything. Bad relationships do. To handle the amount of attention that you get in Boston, you need to be in it together. To handle the pressure situations that they go through, and the behind-the-scenes stuff fans don't see, it's so much easier and fulfilling if there is community and unity, if everyone has fun together and had each others' backs.

"And there's another thing: Family matters. A lot of people just see and judge what a player does on the field, but they don't know what's happening in his life. You don't know what's affecting the player, and it's hard, because sometimes you want to tell the media just to get people to understand. You have a life, and there are problems in life. Sometimes your only refuge is a teammate, a coach, or two or three of your teammates who are helping you get through the long process of whatever is going on.

"I remember I lost my dad during a season while I was with the Mets. My dad was battling cancer, and I couldn't tell the media exactly what was going on, but I had a huge amount of pressure in my head to go out there and pitch, even not being healthy 100 percent. And at the same time, I'm losing my dad, and I'm pitching, and he's trying to look at you and watch while he's dying.

"It's tough that people don't realize sometimes. I hope that from the top, from the studio, wherever I am, I can sense a lot of the stuff about the players and explain what might be happening with those players. Compassion is a very important thing no matter what you are doing in life."

So you're not going to allow soulless, cold-hearted jerks like me to forget that the guy who gives up the winning run in the ninth is an actual human being? That's no fun.

Martinez: [Laughs] "Exactly! These are people, not giant pieces of metal out there. I don't know if you ever noticed, but when I was pitching, I was one person. When I took my uniform off, I was a completely different person. I took the game seriously every time I took the mound. But at the same time, when I wasn't in my uniform, I felt like every other human being. And that's how it should be. I'm a regular human being who got to play a beautiful game.''

The contrast with your approach on the mound and your approach every other day of the week was as drastic as I've seen with any athlete I can recall. You really did look like two different people. Your game face could be menacing, and yet the other four days you were smiling and had as much fun as anyone.

Martinez: "Yeah, I had an attitude of refusing to give away the ball. My teammates will tell you I would do anything, anything pretty much, to beat you. And at the same time, it was a commitment with God to do it the best way possible that day because that was my duty. That was a job that God gave me. So I took it as serious as I could, and I refused to let it go."

That's an effective way to live a life without regrets -- do what you can to the best of your ability the way you believe it should be done.

Martinez: "Yes, yes. Baseball was beautiful, the best job ever. But everything has to end. My end came right on time. I feel great, I don't feel like I miss much. I miss competing, and I miss being with my teammates. And the use of time -- it's something that drove me nuts right after I retired, all that free time. But now I've found refuge in fishing, I'm going to start picking up golf, working with the Red Sox in what they ask me to do. And broadcasting is a part of it. This is part of it. Having the opportunity to stay watching baseball and talking about baseball, that is what I love. I'm very lucky."

But you can admit it, right? If John Farrell needed you to come in in the seventh to get a tough righty out as the bridge to Koji Uehara over these next couple of weeks, you've got a couple of bullets left and the guile to still do it, right?

Martinez: [Laughs] "No, no, John has plenty of much younger guys out there who can come in and do it, you'll see. Plenty of good arms, exciting arms. I'm the old man to them. This is their time now."

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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