COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. (CBS) — The beauty of Cooperstown, New York is time. It’s “Throwback Thursday” every day in this slice of small-town America.
This past weekend was no different.READ MORE: Which Towns Got At Least 1 Inch Of Snow During First Winter Storm Of The Season?
Everywhere you go in this small village that bursts through the seams this time of year from a population explosion of 1,500 to 45,000, you feel the game of baseball. Every shop seemingly has a baseball theme, as does every conversation. It was the perfect backdrop for Pedro Martinez.
When I think of Pedro I think of passion, and he had an endless amount of that. His love for his craft, his family, his country, his friends, his teammates and his fans always shined through.
We sat down with Pedro on Friday to get his thoughts on the Hall of Fame weekend. We drove to a private house that the Hall had for him, a beautiful compound high atop the rolling Cooperstown hills. It featured a swimming pool and a tennis court. When we arrived we saw family, Pedro’s family. He estimated that he had close to a hundred family members with him and many of them were at the house. They all seemed happy and bursting with pride.
Pedro walked around, soaking it all in. He had that grin: A grin of content and satisfaction. All his family (except for one brother and his late father) were with him and you could see the joy shining through. He took many of them on a fishing excursion on nearby Lake Otsego on Thursday and said it was great. Yeah, they caught a few fish, but you could tell he didn’t care. Just having them all together was all he cared about.
He was a bit on edge about his speech, wanting it to be as perfect as his pitching. He wanted to thank so many people who helped him along the way, and he also wanted to show off his country since he is only the second Dominican-born player to go be enshrined. He also knew his country was coming to Cooperstown; he was over-the-top excited by the thought that his Dominican fans were making the trip from the D.R. itself as well as New York City and Boston. He knew they would be loud, which they were.
He also told us that when he saw his plaque that he would not think about individual accomplishments. He would think of hope. He wanted it to represent hope for Dominicans. Hope that anyone from his country could achieve greatness and success. They could live the dream, too.
We asked him about his favorite game in a Red Sox uniform. Was it the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway? Game 5 of the ’99 ALDS when he tossed six shutout innings out of the bullpen with a shoulder injury? Or, how about the 17-strikeout gem against the Yankees in New York? Or even Game 3 of the World Series sweep of the Cardinals when he was gutting through a torn labrum? Or, any of the big games he pitched while wearing the Boston jersey? Nope. It was an August night in Kansas City in 2000. He couldn’t recall the actual date, but we believe it was August 24th, 2000. Why? Because it was the first time in his career that a manager came up to him before the game and told him that he needed eight innings from him. He needed to save an exhausted bullpen. Pedro took that as a huge responsibility — and honor. He didn’t get off to a great start, allowing five first-inning runs. However, he settled down and allowed just one run on two hits the rest of the way. He pitched eight innings as his team rallied for a 9-7 victory.READ MORE: One Dead After Violent Dorchester Crash That Ripped Bed Off Pickup Truck
On Saturday, Pedro was part of a Hall of Famers parade that was a much-anticipated event for the fans. All of the 50 or so HOFers that were in town for the ceremony sat in the back of a pickup truck as they were paraded from historic Doubleday Field down Main Street to the Hall of Fame as thousands of fans lined up to get a glimpse. As you might imagine, Pedro loved every second of it as he danced, pointed, and yelled to his admirers along the route.
Saturday night, the Red Sox held a party in honor of Martinez and it was a wonderful night. Pedro was there the entire time, surrounded by his friends and family. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred stopped by to pay his respects while Dr. Charles Steinberg of the Sox honored Pedro with a group toast. I had an interesting conversation with former Red Sox and now Orioles GM Dan Duquette about how he traded for Pedro, twice (he also acquired him while in charge of the Expos), and how it took a three-hour dinner (as well as a call from fellow Dominican HOFer Juan Marichal) to convince Pedro to sign a long-term deal to stay in Boston.
I also enjoyed talking with Fern Cuza, Pedro’s longtime agent. An interesting story he told was how Pedro had a part in David Ortiz coming to Boston. Cuza said Pedro called Larry Lucchino in the 2002 offseason to recommend acquiring David, who had been with the Twins. Larry said it was the first time the player himself had actually called him on another player’s behalf. Larry said he would let Theo Epstein know, and Epstein ended up signing him. Ortiz was thrilled, but began the season on the bench with Jeremy Giambi slotted in as Boston’s starting first baseman. After 20 games or so Ortiz called Cuza, frustrated because he wasn’t getting any at-bats. Fern called Theo about it and Theo said to sit tight and be patient. Two days later, Giambi was released and the rest was history. Shows you how the little things can alter baseball history.
As for induction day, it was tremendous from start to finish. Just masses of baseball fans watching their heroes say their thank yous to all the people who made them Hall of Famers. I got emotional every time each player mentioned family. That’s what it’s all about, those sacrifices and relationships. Pedro’s speech was perfect in both English and Spanish. He showed his love for both the U.S. and Dominican Republic and their people.
With Sunday’s ceremony now behind him, Pedro has another exciting event coming up this week. He cannot wait for the Red Sox to retire his number at Fenway Park on Tuesday night. He told us he’s as comfortable in Boston as he is in his own backyard, and he hopes that fans will understand and feel his love for Boston every time they look up and see his No. 45.
His number will soon hang from Fenway, as does his plaque in the Gallery room at the Hall of Fame. Putting that plaque in place capped off the perfect weekend.
Now I can’t wait to come back to see Curt Schilling or David Ortiz go in one day. Nothing is better than Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame.
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Follow WBZ-TV’s Dan Roche on Twitter @RochieWBZ.