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More K's, less cries, please

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© St. Petersburg Times, published May 12, 2001

Athletes can say the dumbest things, whether it's Charlie Ward defaming Jews or John Rocker bringing New York's melting pot to a belligerent boil or Shaquille O'Neal, who is a jokester, carrying it too far with mutterings about conquests of Cindy Crawford and Venus Williams.

Stupidity is not a felony, no matter how disgusting, distorted or degrading.

We so pamper, enrich and aggrandize jocks, some get to feeling immortal, akin to untouchable, feeling somehow qualified to utter commentary that is outrageous or unappreciative or well beyond their human capacities.

Pedro Martinez is baseball's best pitcher. Beyond a Randy Johnson. Greg Maddux is an artist with dazzling consistency but is surpassed by Boston's hero with abilities and ballpark mentality that mesmerize.

With a couple more Martinez seasons of astonishingly low ERAs with remarkably high strikeouts, leading to heroic records, I will consider moving the Dominican right-hander to the same hallowed chamber of my sporting mind as Sandy Koufax.

That's as high as I go.

We, as observers, constantly gush at Pedro's mastery of three pitches -- fastball, curve, change -- plus his dynamic control and competitive heart. This is a little bloke, especially for a pitcher, shy of 6 feet tall, weighing barely beyond 170.

Historically special.

But now, a Red Sox icon on the verge of Williams-Bird-Orr eternal reverence in sports-berserk Boston, the 29-year-old Martinez nonsensically opens his mouth. His erupting steam, while not near Ward/Rocker insensitivity, does come off as petty whining from a jock who is treated, and paid, as royalty.

Good for athletes, making tens of millions, especially those squeezing for every droplet of emotion and talent while working at being good human beings, but I flinch when a Martinez whimpers about being badgered and/or shortchanged.

Not long ago, a Martinez pitch conked the helmet of Seattle bat wizard Edgar Martinez. Joe Brinkman, who has been umpiring since Jack Buck was a boy broadcaster, sprang from behind the plate with a warning for Pedro.

"Do it again, you're gone!"

It was a Pedro breaking ball -- hardly the prescription for a headhunter, something the ump should have considered, but Pedro's reaction was a silly, sophomoric tirade, including a post-game declaration of, "I wish I could go home and leave baseball alone."

Yeah, right.

Pedro the Innocent began a Tropicana Field game last season by plunking Tampa Bay's first batter, Gerald Williams, triggering a brawl. "Who me?" asked the Boston darling. "Me throw at hitters?"

Yeah, baby.

Martinez's control is peerless. His arm has laser precision, walking maybe one batter every four or five innings. Hey, stud, it's fine to throw inside. Advisable, really. Keeps batters honest. But let's not overdo the "Who me?" pleas.

Picked on? Yeah, right.

Purpose pitches are a vital part of Pedro's repertoire. Making hitters less comfortable with digging in, crowding the plate, aiming for more efficient bat coverage of the outside corner.

But, my idolized sir, do not come uncorked when an umpire or rival player suggests you use brushbacks. Umps are like cops. Most tolerate 5 or 10 miles per hour over the speed limit, but if you buzz to 15 or 20, hold the explosions if a blue light occasionally flashes in your rear-view mirror.

Swallow hard, Pedro. Never, never be so shallow, so unappreciative, as to go suggest after a game, "I wish I could go home." Airplanes leave Logan Airport every day for Santo Domingo.

I'm sure, Pedro, you wouldn't miss cheering Fenway Park multitudes, so heavily on your side in magical pursuit of Koufax-like pitching accomplishments. Surely you would not miss those seven-figure paychecks you get on the first and 15th of every baseball month.

Yeah, right.

If an ump or an enemy riles you, Pedro, breathe deeply, like you do so well before firing a critical pitch. Think of how you've been graced with talent so monumental; think what you're doing for a monstrously compensated living. Before it gets out of hand, harness the attitude.

Understand your gifts. On the human barometer, Pedro, it's difficult for many people to mention the name of an athlete in the same sentence with that of a chemist who strains daily and anonymously in search of cancer cures, or a $30,000-a-year school teacher who does valiant if uncelebrated and lightly compensated work in tough settings.

Get my drift?

Don't feel picked on, Pedro. You're not the first jock to show a major shortage of appreciation for the straight-flush hand that destiny has dealt you. Roger Clemens, the previous Red Sox pitching phenom, once griped aloud about players having to carry their own luggage.

Pedro, don't go there. Care about the reputation consequences. Care about those who cheer you. Get over the nagging little bumps. They do not compare to what a majority of families face just about every day.

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