Here is my piece on Pedro Martinez that ran a few weeks ago on Slate.com.
When I was 15-years-old I had a wallet that carried, outside of whatever few dollars I could wrangle from my parents, one thing: a small piece of paper torn from the pages of a Sports Illustrated. It was a quote from Pedro Martinez that appeared in a March 2000 cover story, a story I read probably a dozen times before I carefully removed a small confetti-sized block of text from the magazine and folded it neatly into my empty Velcro wallet. This is what it read:
“There are days when I first get out to the mound and it feels just like this, like the
plate is closer than it’s supposed to be. Then I know right away. It’s over. You are f—–. F—–.”
To a high school freshman in central Maine, Pedro Martinez was the baddest, coolest motherfucker on the planet. I was a freshman attending a high school a town away from the tiny K-8 I had attended, and I was usually overwhelmed with trying to fit in, trying to have an actual human conversation with girls at school, and trying to carve out some playing time on the horrible varsity baseball team I rode the bench for. I used to take that quote out of my wallet and read it, even though I had it memorized, and for a moment use Pedro’s boundless confidence to ground myself in the relentless waves of hormonal anxiety that most of us remember from those years.
Pedro was 5’10 and skinny, like me, but he dug in and made hulking, ‘roided up goliaths look silly with four filthy pitches, and not only that, but he made them back off the plate with chin music when they leaned in, and he did it while putting up some of the greatest pitching statistics ever in a period when baseball’s competitive balance was tilted further toward the hitter than any other time. Pedro Martinez, defiant, funny, fiercely intelligent and not afraid of anyone, was who I wanted to be. He was excellence multiplied by personality in way that we really haven’t seen in baseball since.
It’s over. You are f—–. F—–. What I wouldn’t have given to feel that kind of confidence, on the mound or anywhere else. Every time I read that quote I got goose bumps. I still do.
I took Spanish for the first time that year. All my assignments were signed “Pedro Keefe.”