Pedro returns to Fenway for first pitch
Red Sox turn to former ace as 2010 season gets under way
BOSTON -- Pedro Martinez took the ball, wound up and fired a high pitch toward the plate.
It was a scene that could repeat itself many times this summer.
Martinez, one of the most successful Red Sox pitchers of all time, threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park on Sunday in front of an appreciative and adoring partisan crowd. Dressed in his old No. 45 Red Sox jersey and a pair of gray dress pants, Martinez returned to the site of some of his greatest triumphs.
"He's a legend here," said Red Sox outfielder Mike Cameron, who played with Martinez in 2005 with the Mets. "He was with that squad that was able to overcome so much. Pedro's one of the best, man. One of the best."
Also present Sunday were rapper Dr. Dre, who took batting practice with the Red Sox, and basketball star LeBron James, whose Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the hometown Celtics earlier in the day. Prior to Keri Hilson's rendition of the national anthem, there was a flyover of two F-16 Fighting Falcon jets from the Vermont Air National Guard. And 5-year-old Joshua Sacco of Spring Hill, Tenn., delivered an original Red Sox version of the pregame speech that has made him an Internet sensation.
But the star of Boston's Opening Night festivities was Martinez, who last pitched Game 6 of the World Series for the Phillies in New York. Currently a free agent, the 38-year-old Martinez is best known for his years with the Red Sox from 1998-2004. Compiling a 117-37 record with a 2.52 ERA over that span, Martinez won two American League Cy Young Awards and led the Sox to their first World Series title in 86 years.
His .687 career winning percentage ranks second in Major League history behind Whitey Ford, and he is one of only 15 players to strike out at least 3,000 batters. Martinez's 1999 season, in which he finished 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts, is widely considered one of the greatest of all time.
"You just know you're in good company -- [he's] a very intelligent, real smart guy," Cameron said. "To have someone like that come out and throw the first pitch, that's kind of cool."
Martinez, in a ceremony that the Red Sox did not announce prior to the game, saluted the crowd and received a standing ovation as he walked from the Green Monster to the mound. Chants of "PED-RO! PED-RO!" rocked Fenway Park as he warmed up his right arm, went into his windup and delivered a pitch to his longtime catcher, Jason Varitek.
After the pitch, Martinez jogged over to Johnny Pesky, shaking Pesky's hand and spending several moments speaking with the Red Sox legend.
In a similar sentimental gesture last month, the Red Sox signed former All-Star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra to a one-day contract, allowing him to retire with the team.
Unlike Garciaparra, however, Martinez may not be done with baseball. Last season, he did not sign with the Phillies until July, making just nine regular-season starts and posting a 5-1 record. He pitched seven shutout innings against the Dodgers in the National League Division Series, before losing Games 2 and 6 of the World Series to the Yankees.
Later that month, Martinez's agent, Fernando Cuza, said that his client "absolutely" wanted to pitch again in 2010. Martinez did not speak to the media following his Fenway Park appearance, but it is certainly possible that he may sign with a big league team in the coming months.
Until then, Sunday night's snapshot of the future Hall of Famer will have to do.
"It's good for the game," Cameron said. "It's good to have a guy like that come out and take part in this whole thing."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.