It is late on a January Sunday afternoon in Manoguayabo, Dominican Republic, and from every doorway and stoop on the streets that weave up the hill, there is music. Life to the merengue beat. An older woman stands on her porch, dancing. Across the street, a man shreds a pineapple with a machete. Four other men sit around a table playing Parcheesi, only in this game, each home is a baseball. Three turns-left, right, left-and one street straight up the hillside, there is a closed gate, the entrance to the finca. The gate opens on this night to an outdoor party. There must be four dozen people, laughing and talking, some dressed in blue softball uniforms, some milling around the lawn, some dancing to the dit-dit-dit-dit of music pulsating from a bandstand. In the driveway, seated at tables, are Pedro Martinez, older brothers Ramon and Nelson, younger brother Jesus, members of their families, some friends. Up to the right are a couple of wooden buildings, and an area with a playhouse and something that looks like a McDonald's Playland.
"Welcome to God's country," says Pedro. "Welcome to the Martinez family." The occasion is a postgame celebration following a victory by Ramon's softball team over Juan Guzman's team. Several years ago, when their U.S. employers decided they didn't want them risking their rotator cuffs in the Dominican Winter League, the pitchers formed softball teams to barnstorm the country towns so that people could see their major leaguers. The usual Martinez lineup: Jesus in center, Ramon at first, Pedro as DH.
The Martinez brothers hadn't played that afternoon. They had been across the island where Pedro was being saluted as an honorary colonel in the air force. But even without them, there are always plenty of relatives available to play. Cousin Angel Jaime is in Double A with the Mets, cousin Francis Martinez is in the Pirates' system, and brother-in-law Ruben Santana plays in Japan. "I count 16 relatives that play in the majors, the minors, in Taiwan, Japan, the Dominican Summer League or for our Olympic team," says Pedro. "They're all here."
Paolino Martinez, Pedro's 62-year-old father, was a teammate of Felipe and Matty Alou in the '60s, a pitcher with a hard sinker who, Felipe says, could have pitched in the major leagues. "I was too poor to leave the country," Paolino says. "When the Giants invited me for a tryout, I didn't have cleats. So I couldn't go to the tryout. But look at all this. Look what I started."
Besides a baseball dynasty, Paolino may have begun the ending of Boston's longest nightmare. The Red Sox, having acquired Pedro Martinez in a trade with the penniless Expos, were perfectly willing to make him the highest-paid player in baseball, signing him to a six-year, $75M contract. It wasn't just the arm of this slim 5'11" righthander that attracted the Red Sox. It was also the heart. When he won the NL Cy Young Award last year, Martinez promised it to his hero, Juan Marichal. Unlike certain overpaid louts, he gives something back. And he cares so much about the game that the raw emotions of Fenway Park won't faze him.
"Pedro is from the most passionate baseball place in the world," says Boston and former Montreal pitching coach Joe Kerrigan. "That is pure baseball fire he grew up with. He's going to love the atmosphere in Boston. He has never known anything in Montreal comparable to what he'll feel in Fenway."
Red Sox fans-not the ones who stay home and lament the eternal Boston curse, but the ones who actually buy tickets and sit in the stands-crave flair, celebrate style, revere duende: Luis Tiant packed Fenway Park in the '70s, and so, to a slightly lesser degree, did Bill Lee. But in the '90s, the Red Sox averaged only 1,100 more fans for Roger Clemens' starts than for their other home games. The Rocket was a Hall of Fame pitcher, sure. But he had the glare, not the flair.
Pedro Martinez has the fire and work ethic of Clemens, the infectious happiness of Lee and the magnetism of Tiant. He also has four legitimate strikeout pitches-the game's best change-up, a paralyzing curve, a mid-90s fastball with movement and a zipping cutter. At 26, he is the whole package.
On this January evening, the package is very much at home on the two-acre finca (farm) of his family, about 40 minutes from Santo Domingo. "Many times when I've finished my workouts, I'll drive here, drink coconut milk and crawl up into my mango tree and just sleep," Pedro says. "I have been blessed with success and a lot of money, but this is where I am comfortable."
The three-room house where he and his three brothers and two sisters grew up is gone, replaced by the bandstand (complete with kitchen and bar), a garage, the playground, a satellite dish. Every time either Pedro or Ramon pitches during the season, the family gathers at the farm to watch the game. Win or lose, it's the occasion for a fiesta. Ramon repurchased the land a few years ago for just that purpose. To bring the brothers back to where they are happiest.
"I'll tell you why this is God's country," Pedro says. "Here you don't have to have money to have fun. Here there is no difference between me and Ramon, who make millions of dollars, and all our friends. We grew up poor, very poor, but I am very proud of where I come from. This a great fiesta, but we could fiesta like this before we had money."
The Family Martinez is to the Dominican today what the Family Alou-Felipe, Matty and Jesus-was to the country in the '60s. Ramon is 30. Nelson, who injured his knee a week before a tryout with the Pirates, is 28. Pedro is 26. Jesus, who was traded this winter to the Marlins, is 24. Eighteen years ago, when their parents divorced, Ramon-then 12-took on a major role in his siblings' lives. "Our parents cared for us and did a great job instilling values in us," Pedro says. "But Ramon is the biggest reason I have gotten where I am. He is the great one in this family. I am still Ramon's little brother."
Ramon guided his more flamboyant younger brother on the baseball field, as well. At the end of spring training in 1992, Pedro thought he had pitched well enough to make the Dodgers. He was on the bus, his Walkman blocking out the world, when he saw general manager Fred Claire talking to Ramon. "Fred wanted me to tell Pedro that he was going back to the minor leagues," Ramon says. "I told him that he would have to tell him, not me." Pedro was called off the bus, and Claire explained that he had to return to Albuquerque. Pedro burst into tears, rushed into the clubhouse and tore off his uniform. "I called home and told my daddy that I was coming home," says Pedro. "I couldn't take this."
As Pedro poured out his heart to his father, Ramon came into the clubhouse. "I'm not going to tell you what to do," Ramon said. "But back in 1988, I pitched a shutout in Atlanta and was sent down as soon as the game was over. I was upset. I thought it was unfair. I wanted to go home. But I knew that the family needed the money I was sending so that everyone could go to school or play ball or pursue their dreams." Ramon turned, walked out of the clubhouse and boarded the bus. The next morning, Pedro reported to Albuquerque. A week later, Pedro was in his third inning of the season opener when pitching coach Dave Wallace went to the mound. "Pretend your arm hurts," Wallace said. "I've got to get you out of this game. You're going to L.A."
When he got there, Pedro joined a trio of other young Dominican players-Raul Mondesi, Henry Rodriguez and Rafael Bournigal-whom Ramon took under his wing. Last season, in Montreal, it was Pedro's turn. He became the guardian angel of rookie outfielder Vladimir Guerrero. He insisted Guerrero move into his apartment and bought him meals and clothes. "I could afford it, he couldn't, and he'll do the same for someone else," Pedro says.
On the road that weaves up into the hills above Monoguayabo, there is a new stone church built by Pedro. "The church everyone always went to was a long walk, especially hard on the older people," he says. A mile away, Pedro, Ramon and Juan Guzman are building a community sports complex in a former cane field. This fall, construction begins on a school and daycare center. The week before Christmas, the Martinezes and Guzman distributed presents to more than a thousand children in Monoguayabo. That same week, Pedro purchased a parcel of land on which he will build a new school.
During the winter, the Martinez brothers drive to the Olympic Training Center in Santo Domingo to work out with about 50 other players in sessions run by a former Olympic trainer named Angel Presinol, known as "Nao." A lot of American ballplayers talk about their conditioning programs and how hard they work, but if many of them tried to get through Presinol's drills, they'd drop.
Basically, it's a program lifted from the East German Olympic teams. There's a four- to five-mile run to warm up, followed by complex stretching, agility, strength and aerobic exercises similar to Radu. Two hours of hell, six days a week. After each session, Pedro and his brothers go home to eat, rest-and work out again. This time, they'll spend another 90 minutes in Ramon's gym. Funny, there's not much talk about tee times in the Martinez household.
"Six days a week we work, one day we relax," Pedro says. "Stop working and you go right back to where you came from-nothing. But when I'm through working, I can always go back to the finca and climb up in that mango tree. I cannot be happier than I am there, and it doesn't cost money to sleep in the mango tree."
Aqui Se Habla Beisbol
You know dingers, taters and going yard. You can correctly identify dying quails, Texas Leaguers and duck farts. You're not fazed by heat, cheese or aspirins. You even have your very own bootleg tape of Tommy Lasorda's richly textured mound soliloquy in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series. You can talk baseball.
Or can you? If your knowledge of Latino sports lingo is limited to "Gooooooaaal!" you need help. Wake up and smell the tocino. Here is an Abridged Lexicon of Baseball/Beisbol Terminology. One cautionary note: Terms vary from one diamond to another in the Spanish-speaking baseball world. One man's intermedista (middle man) is another's camarero (waiter)-and both are second basemen.
first baseman| incialista
third baseman| antesalista (end of the line)
shortstop| torpedero (torpedo man); jardinero corto (short gardener)
outfielder| guardabosque (forest ranger); patrullero
ground ball| machucon, roleta, rolin
hard grounder| roletazo
fly ball| bombo (Puerto Rico); palomita (Mexican for "little dove")
strikeout| ponche (Puerto Rico); ponchado (Dominican Republic); ponchete (Mexico)
double| doble; tubay (Cuba, Spanglish for "two base hit")
triple| triple (pronounced tree-play)
home run| cuadrangular, jonron (Spanglish for "home run")
inning| entrada, episodio
bases loaded| cuatro pescados en una sarten ("four fish in a frying pan")
one-two-three| al paso de conga (move on the conga beat)