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Monday, July 23, 2001

An Interview With Pedro Mart?nez

The game?s greatest pitcher talks about the struggles Latino players face when they leave home to play in the United States.

When you were starting out in the minor leagues, what   was the most difficult part of coming to play in the United States?

Overcoming the odds of all the people saying I was too small to play in the   big leagues.

What about the language barrier? How quickly did you learn English?

I wasn?t fluently speaking in English, but I was pretty much ahead of the pack   because I had taken English classes in school, and also at the Dodgers? academy.   So I understood pretty good what I was doing before I came over.

And after you came over, how did you improve that?

Doing the same things: studying, speaking to people, and trying not to be afraid   ? and making a lot of mistakes. We still had English teachers when I came over   to the states for the first time, so I took advantage of it, and then my pitching   coach in the minor leagues would give me a couple of words daily, and I?d try   to spell them. They were difficult words each day. Some of them were new, and   some of them I knew. But he had to just make something up, anything.

Aside from the language, what other difficulties did you   have because you weren?t from the United States?

Well, I was advised pretty good by my brother, who went through a lot of different   things that I didn?t have to experience because of what he went through. But   I think eating was also a big factor. The food is very different, and I didn?t   adjust well in the first two years.

What sorts of things did Ram?n have to go through that you didn?t?

If we start counting, we?ll be here all day. But I had to go through my a lot   of things on my own, too ? being misjudged a lot because of having a different   culture. Also, having a brother in the big leagues, the expectations were very   hard for me to overcome, because he was always great in the minor leagues and   the big leagues. By the time he was starting in the big leagues, playing in   the All-Star game, I was pitching in Great Falls my first year, and they were   expecting almost the same from me. So it was hard to overcome all those things.

Can you give me an example of a way in which you were misjudged?

No. You don?t need to know those things.

How about the food? How was it different in the United   States, and how did you deal with it?

We were used to rice, beans, vegetables, salads, that kind of stuff. Here,   for your main food, you?d probably have a steak. We have a lot of seafood in   our country, which is cooked differently, completely differently than it?s cooked   over here. Also, I cannot stand to see any pink on my meat, and that?s something   I had to adjust to. Because of the variety of food that was here, I didn?t understand   that you could have the food cooked the same way as I was used to. Where I was,   there weren?t too many Spanish-speaking people, so I couldn?t find the food   cooked the way it should have been. And being so small made it more difficult.

Some guys take quite a bit longer to learn English when   they first come over. How important do you think it is for the players to learn   English quickly like you did?

It?s very important, first of all because it gives them an opportunity to express   themselves, and at times that?s a big factor. If I wasn?t able to speak to people,   I think it would have been a lot worse. But I was able to communicate and say,   ?Hey, this bothers me,? or ?I?m feeling like this,? and somebody was there to   listen to me. That was very important, because my brother wasn?t there for me   all the time. There were times when I wanted to talk to my brother when I was   on the road, and I didn?t know how to find the number to his hotel, and I might   have been in some little town playing baseball, and it was very difficult. So   I had to communicate with Guy Conti, my pitching coach, and I had a couple of   teammates who were from the Dominican also. But it?s not the same as talking   to somebody who really understands about life, not only on the field, but also   off the field.

Do you think it?s important for teams to hire Latino coaches   to help with some of these problems?

I don?t know. I don?t know about that. I would say it?s important to hire Latinos   because if you have a lot of Latino players on the club, you want to help them   develop sooner. But the system is there, we?re in America, and we?re the ones   that I think have the necessity of learning English.

What kinds of things did the Dodgers do to help you?

They had a really good minor league system. They teach well, they find a way   to teach you and make you feel more comfortable. They do pretty much everything.   They used to help you with the housing ? I mean they?d help you find it, you   do have to pay eventually. But they help you find it, they have people to go   pick you up at the airport and stuff so you?re not on your own.

I heard that when you in Montr?al, you tried to learn French. Is that   true?

I picked up a little bit, yeah. I don?t know as much French as I know English,   not even close. But I just picked up a lot of words on the street, like from   the security guards, the batboys who were there, they talked to me a lot. Those   were my friends, those were the people I hung out with. So they taught me a   little bit, and friends in Montr?al would give me words, and I would try to   repeat them, and try to pick them up when I heard them somewhere else. I picked   up a little bit, but not much. You have to practice a lot to be able to speak   it properly.

I know you admire Juan Marichal very much. How much time   have you been able to spend with him?

A lot.

How much difference is there between what you went through,   and what he experienced 30 years earlier?

From the earth to the sky. It?s just huge. At that time, from my understanding,   they had to eat outside the restaurants where there were white people. I never   had to go through that. I never had to come over to the States when nobody knew   that the Dominican existed. What we are today, we owe to Marichal, Felipe [Alou],   those guys that played the game before us. Because nobody knew where the Dominican   was until those guys showed up in the United States to play baseball. I think   for them to overcome not only the food and the language barrier, but overcoming   discrimination and all of those things ? having to eat in different places,   having to go to the back of the bus, not being able to talk to any of the guys   off the field, and pretty much watching where you walk ? I imagine it had to   be a lot more difficult than the things we?ve been through.

Eric Enders is a freelance writer and baseball historian in Cooperstown,   New York. He is the founder of Triple E Productions, a baseball   research and consulting company.


Fadeaway: The Baseball History Podcast Posted: July 23, 2001 at 06:00 AM | 4 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Tangotiger Posted: July 23, 2001 at 12:10 AM (#604017)
I agree with David. I'm from Montreal, and I learnt more about Pedro from the daily papers and even Felipe talking about him than any "interview with Pedro". Pedro's love for Felipe shows no bounds, even coming to Montreal ahead of his RedSox teammates the year he was traded so that he could meet with Felipe and give him a gift (Rolex I believe). Pedro is a highly intelligent and sensitive man. Unfortunately, we know more about "Joey" Belle's life.
   2. Michael Posted: July 24, 2001 at 12:10 AM (#604019)
This is going off on a tangent, but I was in Cleveland last week for business travel and heard a half hour long radio interview of Albert Belle. The interviewers were jerks, asking four times whether something "pissed him off" trying to create an incident. Belle came across as intelligent and level-headed and slightly prickly. You're right, I learned more about Albert Belle than I could learn about Martinez in the above interview.
   3. David Jones Posted: July 24, 2001 at 12:10 AM (#604020)
I think I actually learned more about Martinez from his abrupt answer "You don't need to know about those things," then I would have learned had he actually answered the question.

David Jones
   4. Fadeaway: The Baseball History Podcast Posted: July 24, 2001 at 12:10 AM (#604022)
There is no difference between the italicized questions and the others. It's a formatting mistake.

There was no prior agreement between myself and the Martinez camp as to what types of questions would be asked. In fact, there was no Martinez "camp" at all -- the only person I dealt with was Pedro himself.

I agree with the previous comments that Pedro is probably the most thoughtful and articulate player in major league baseball, and that this is clearly not the best interview he's ever given. This interview was done in the clubhouse before a game, and I got the impression that, because he was itching to get out on the field, he gave shorter answers to some questions than he otherwise might. If he had been in the right mood, with a little coaxing, I think he might have been more forthright in answering the question about being misjudged.

But in Pedro's defense, I've interviewed many major league players on this particular topic, and Pedro answered the questions more fully and interestingly than any of the others.

Eric Enders

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