SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — Thousands of people in the Dominican Republic greeted new baseball Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez after he landed Jan. 10 in his homeland aboard a private plane bearing his country’s flag.
A caravan greeted the former Boston Red Sox pitcher at the airport and took him to a public park in Santo Domingo, where a crowd lined a 19-mile stretch of highway to catch a glimpse of him.
Once at the park, Martinez went on stage accompanied by players David Ortiz and Robinson Cano as merengue music played and fireworks lit up the sky.
“This is only the beginning,” he said. “I now pass the torch to those behind me, to Sammy Sosa, to Vladimir Guerrero, to David Ortiz, to the younger generation.”
The 43-year-old Martinez was voted into the Hall of Fame on Jan. 6, becoming only the second Dominican to receive that honor. Former San Francisco Giants pitcher Juan Marichal was elected in 1983.
“I want to dedicate this to the Dominican people,” Martinez said with a wide smile as he spoke at a news conference shortly after arriving.
His mother was among the dozens of people who greeted him at the airport. “I’m so grateful to God,” Leopoldina Martinez said.
She recalled a conversation they once had after her son injured his shoulder, with her telling him, “If you can’t handle the pain, bear it, but you need to end your career clean,” she said, referring to concerns she had about banned substances.
“Thank God my son recognized that money isn’t everything, and that he thought of himself and he thought of me,” she said.
The slightly built Martinez said he remained clean throughout his career despite several teammates being sanctioned for steroid use.
“I’m not going to deny that I maybe could have earned an extra $20 or $30 million,” he said, adding, “No one in the major leagues can buy the name Martinez off my back. That’s why I didn’t choose any shortcuts.”
Among the thousands of fans who greeted Martinez was Dave Hagman, a retired U.S. citizen from Minnesota who was in the Dominican Republic for charity work. He arrived with three other friends, even though he’s a Minnesota Twins fan.
“We like Martinez’s style,” he said.
“This is the most generous Three Kings Day that our country has had,” wrote President Danilo Medina in a letter he sent to Martinez after calling to congratulate him.
Martinez finished with a 219-100 record and a 2.93 ERA. He struck out 3,154 batters, twice surpassing 300 in a season. He was an eight-time All-Star, and five times led the majors in ERA. He also won a Cy Young Award with the Montreal Expos.
(EZEQUIEL ABIU LOPEZ)