Pedro Week: Spring Training Portraits, 1998-2004

With Pedro Martinez set to be inducted into the Hall of Fame next weekend, Fenway Pastoral takes a look back at some of the moments and images of a baseball icon’s career in Boston.

The seven-year progression of the “first day of school”-style spring training portraits provides an interesting visual evolution of the dynamics that belied Pedro Martinez’s Boston career.

1998

Pedro shows up in Fort Myers in February 1998 and dons the Red Sox uniform for the first time. He is a signature talent, representing a true rarity in the modern game–a non-homegrown ace changing teams on the cusp of his prime. Still, for all that talent, he wallows in relative obscurity because he had been pitching for the Montreal Expos in the waning days of the franchise’s existence. It may have been unjust, but it isn’t until he arrives in Boston that he will become a household name.

We see a solemn Pedro overwhelming the shadows at his back. There is a hardness, a guile. There is that ruthless intensity even before he’s thrown a meaningful pitch. There is a greatness restrained. It’s maybe easier to see now, in retrospect and with the benefit of knowing what he would do on the mound – particularly in the few years immediately following the taking of this photo. This is the young man coming into his own even as a lingering fear can be detected in his eyes.

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1999

Pedro aced his first year in Boston, at the helm of a pitching staff for a team that returned to the playoffs the prior autumn thanks to the newly instituted Wild Card format. The team heads into the ’99 season with glimmering hope and genuine optimism. The city and the fans are on their feet, taking Pedro’s cue. That pesky stool is kicked away and basically nobody will sit down for six-plus months. Things have changed. Fenway hosts the All-Star Game. The team wins a playoff series against the team that had twice dispatched it with ease. Out of the darkness and into the light. The fear evident only a year earlier has struck out. Pedro looks cocky enough to already know what’s ahead.

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2000

The Year After. How could any season follow Pedro’s 1999? The ’99 All-Star Game patch on the left sleeve is fittingly in full view. Nobody is quite ready to move on. Every start remains an unequivocal event. Pedro is again seated and there is now a visible weight on his shoulders. An earnest look in his eyes tell it all; they speak out to all those now looking on, paying the utmost attention. They plead, ask us for space. It’s not easy coming to realize you’ve been chosen to be a god.

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2001

Slightly apprehensive excitement as Pedro begins what would ultimately be a lost season for the team and by what is now astronomical individual standards, disappointing in its brevity. Even in his 116 innings, he electrifies to the tune of the second-best K/9 rate of his career (12.6, behind only the 13.2 rate in 1999). By this time, he knows the evolution of his brand. The fans, the media, the league expect that his snarl on the mound will be balanced by a good-natured grin off the field. There is a bit less of Pedro to go around. Reservations are setting in.

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2002

Pedro returns to form with a cool 199 innings. By this time at odds with various media and division foes, Pedro is still as charismatic as ever. He even bumps heads with his old pitching coach and (briefly) manager and comes out virtually unscathed. His name and popularity at this point are now in another stratosphere.

He shows a two-seam grip on the baseball in the shot, almost as though by default. Like it’s just easier to walk around this way so he can merely lift his arm when he is next asked to demonstrate it–a favorite go-to visual for countless unimaginative reporters during interviews.

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2003

Pedro Martinez, prior to the final season when he was truly jaw-dropping (his ERA and home runs allowed totals would make their way north in 2004). On an individual level, this is the final year when it could be All About Pedro for any length of time. There was already Manny and, soon enough, there is also Ortiz. He is still the head honcho of the pitching staff and that is undisputed. But even that would change within a year. We were all better off for the evolution of it. As it turned out, Pedro couldn’t do it all himself even though he gave it about as noble an effort as he possibly could. This is his brightest, most polished look yet.

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2004

Apprehension lurks behind the grin. Things are infinitely more complicated. Pedro’s legacy is even beginning to come into question by some looking for cheap bursts of attention. The naysayers come out, predictably in sync with his obvious mortality on the mound. He would finish fourth in the Cy Young voting–second fiddle even on his own team with Cy runner-up Curt Schilling now in the picture. His departure at the end of this year would be bittersweet for everyone.

He has the look here of someone who knows there are end points on the horizon. But it is not a look of unrest. He is at peace with his place. World Series title or not, Pedro’s status in Red Sox lore has already more or less been decided even if nobody can truly say that for sure.

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