COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Long before Thursday, when former ESPN radio host Colin Cowherd made disparaging remarks questioning the intelligence of Dominican baseball players, Pedro Martinez wanted to be a role model for Latin America.
If there will be a point of emphasis Sunday at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Clark Sports Center, it will be that he views himself as a positive example and a vehicle of hope for Dominican and Latin American players. He will be the second Dominican inducted into the Hall of Fame, 32 years after Juan Marichal was bestowed the same honor.
Martinez will deliver his speech in Spanish and English, and asks people to bear with him because speaking Spanish at the ceremony is very important to him.
“I think it’s a commitment to Latin America,” he said. “I feel the commitment more than anything as to what I represent. I think it’s important to go out there and show the level of education that I have. I’m going to be speaking in two languages, which is a little bit more difficult than people think. I’m going to be able to showcase who we are and how our people feel. I hope I can express, within the moment, how much I love and respect and treasure everything I did in baseball, America, the fan base, the teams, the organizations. I hope I can project the right image by the time I get to [the] podium. Hopefully emotions won’t catch me off guard and make me cut it short.”
Martinez didn’t specifically address Cowherd’s comments, which resulted in ESPN firing him Friday, but he did discuss in a broader sense what the comments represented.
Cowherd said, “I’ve never bought into that ‘baseball is too complex.’ Really? A third of the sport is from the Dominican Republic.”
Martinez responded, “It’s only going to be an insult to those who fall to that level. I’m dealing with educated people, I’m dealing here with polite people, people who understand human rights, who understand who we are and these are the people I’m paying attention to.
“That person [Cowherd], I don’t even know him, I’ve never heard of him, I don’t want to know him. I want to know people who mean something to us. The people who understand how we can get better.
“Yes, we are a Third World country. Yes, we don’t have the resources to be more educated. But you know what? Every once in a while you’re going to get someone like me, who’s not afraid to face you guys, tell you how educated or uneducated I am, how proud I am of becoming who I am, and we’re not gonna stop and go back to the Third World country that we were 30 years ago.
“We want to go forward. We don’t want to look down to where he is. We want to look to you guys, the voters, the seniors that are here, the Hall of Famers, and hopefully set the bar high like Roberto Clemente did. I want to set the bar high for other players coming from my country, and not only that, the human beings coming over. I hope we get people in the government, I hope we’re on the road to being a power. Thirty percent of the Dominican people are in the government and in industries.”
Martinez is trying to position himself as someone who is more than a baseball player, someone who can help change the world. He certainly brought change to Boston during his seven-year tenure, when the Red Sox fan base became more integrated with people of color. There were sections of Dominican fans waving their nation’s flag. There was more emphasis on Latin America from the front office. The organization started a Spanish radio station during Martinez’s time and the Boston Globe published game stories in Spanish.
“I think it was a great step in our understanding about our culture,” Martinez said. “I think Boston changed. The franchise is totally changed now. I think we have great communication between Latinos and Bostonians and African-Americans . . .
“Those are the positive things baseball can lead you to do. I appreciate that so much. I appreciate America. I appreciate the opportunity. I am grateful for every opportunity a Latino has been given. I am happy with the way things have gone. Yes, you have to come over and work. Nobody is gonna hand anything to you. Go get it. But fight your way through like I did. [I’m a] small man, yes, but if you’re 6-7 don’t charge the mound because you’re gonna have a fight.”
Even though there are only two Dominicans in the Hall of Fame, Martinez agrees with the number.
‘That person [Colin Cowherd], I don’t even know him, I’ve never heard of him, I don’t want to know him. I want to know people who mean something to us. The people who understand how we can get better.’Pedro Martinez
“What we got is what we deserve. There’s no crying in baseball is what we always say, right? We did not have the numbers. We have not had the numbers we needed or the qualifications to have another one. Juan Marichal was the Dominican Dandy, the one who represented DR for a long time. Now after 32 years, I showed up. I don’t think we’re going to wait 32 years more to get another representative. I think Vlad Guerrero is on the edge of becoming the next Hall of Famer. Guys who are still playing and posting numbers are going to be in Hall of Fame, especially on the first ballot.”
Martinez acknowledged he is outspoken but also a “very regular human being.” He described himself as “lovely, I am a joker. I’m a gardener. I’m a fisherman. I’m a father, a very dedicated father. I love my mom. I love gardening with her. I don’t know if I should tell you my hobby, but before I went to pitch, I was clipping my flowers. Go figure.”
He once said, “I don’t believe in damned curses. Wake up the damned Bambino and have me face him. Maybe I’ll drill him in the ass.” He has since visited the Babe Ruth statue at the Hall of Fame.
“We are teammates now,” he said. “I had the opportunity to go over and see his statue and I apologized for the comments I made that day. I said those things because I didn’t believe in curses, but I know after that moment I got to appreciate who the Bambino was and how good he was to the people and society and baseball.”
Overall, Martinez didn’t want to dwell on his baseball exploits.
“I just feel blessed to be counted as one that actually made it this far and to represent what I represent,” he said. “If you guys ask me how I want to be remembered, don’t remember me by the plate, or by the numbers I posted. Don’t remember me as being part of an elite class. I want to be a sign of hope for society. It doesn’t matter where — the United States, Africa, Latin America, everywhere.
“I want to be remembered as a sign of hope. So the people understand that they have a way out. All they have to do is go work and dedicate themselves. I want to represent that.”
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.