FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Pedro Martinez barreled through the double doors and hopped onto the elevated bench to meet the media.
“When is this going to end?” he asked. “You guys still think I’m a ballplayer, huh?”
He said it boisterously, with his trademark smile and not a hint of sarcasm. He looked like he had just found out that he was the Powerball winner.
And in a sense, he was. This is Pedro’s Powerball. Mingling with the fans? Sure. He did that for almost an hour after Wednesday’s workout, and he looked like he wanted to remain there even longer than his admirers did. More importantly, though, it’s his role as special assistant to general manager Ben Cherington.
Martinez, 43, is ecstatic to be doing it for the second year. He doesn’t want to just be a figurehead, an ambassador. He wants to get his hands dirty.
“It’s just that I think I have so much to offer,” said Martinez, who will be inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame later this year along with Roger Clemens, Nomar Garciaparra and broadcaster Joe Castiglione. “It’s stuff that I’m not going to put into use anymore, so I might as well pass it along, and I’m trying to do that. I’m trying to get more involved in baseball, more with young players and veteran players -- whoever needs me. I would just love to pass everything I know -- all my knowledge, all my experience -- to some of those guys and hopefully get some good results out of every one of them.”
The transformation of Drake Britton was a testament to Martinez’s effectiveness.
Britton, enjoying his first big-league camp last spring as a 23-year-old, was arrested March 2 in Fort Myers on misdemeanor charges of reckless driving, driving under the influence, and property damage after his 2008 Chevrolet Silverado was clocked at 111 mph in a 45-mph zone. The next day, he was humiliated when the Red Sox sent him to minor-league camp.
Briton was scuffling at Double-A Portland when he got a surprise visit from Martinez. This was more of a case of Martinez being a father figure than a mechanical pitching coach. The heart-to-heart seemed to ignite Britton, who was called up to the Red Sox on July 20 and pitched well as a reliever (a 3.86 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 21 innings).
“I was honest to him,” Martinez said. “And I will always be. I went straightforward to him and told him exactly what I probably would love to hear if I was in the same situation. I talked about his stuff, trusting his stuff, about his personal life, how he should treat some of the things that were happening, and how much of a battle he wanted to put up after things like that happen.
“I’m extremely proud of him, extremely proud to see him overcome all of that and actually pay me back. Pay me back. Because that’s all I wanted -- to see him have success. And to see him at the end of the year pitching so well and doing so well and helping the team so much, it really made me like a proud father.”
Martinez described himself as an “old goat” who’s not inclined to hang out with 23-year-old kids. But when he looked in Britton’s eyes, he saw he was having an impact.
“He was very receptive,” Martinez said. “I have to tip my hat to him. He took it with maturity. Not only that, he took the right approach toward it. He was dedicated to what I kind of wanted to help him with. And he did great. The credit doesn’t go to me. It goes to him for doing what he was supposed to do.”
Why did he take such an interest in Britton? Because when he saw him in spring training, he thought he was headed directly for the big leagues in a few weeks. If Cherington had asked him, Martinez would have told him, “Take that lefty with you.”
“If they asked me my opinion, I would have said, ‘He’s big-league ready,’ ” Martinez said. “When I saw him struggling in Double-A, I chose myself to go and see him and let him know that everything he had before was still there. It was just a matter of putting his mind, his heart, his desire, where it had to be. He took it graciously.”
Said manager John Farrell, “There’s a lot of wisdom and knowledge he can give to young pitchers, and it’s not just here in camp. In the case of Drake Britton, it had a huge impact on him.”
Martinez said his approach is to empower young players to have confidence and reach a comfort level so they “have no fear.”
It might be intimidating for a young player to be in the presence of a three-time Cy Young Award winner with a 2.93 career ERA and more strikeouts (3,154) than innings pitched (2,827). But Martinez has a way to solve that.
“I run around like they are my teammates,” he said. “I know that some of them might be a little shy, but they know I’m open and I’m flexible to do anything. I don’t treat (Jon) Lester like I wouldn’t treat Britton. They are all the same. They’re my teammates. They’re my friends. They can talk to me anytime.”
It’s hard to believe, but four years have already passed since Martinez last threw a pitch in the major leagues. Next year, he’ll be eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Cooperstown beckons. But the way he talks, it’s anything but a lock.
“I think I should have a shot, but it’s not up to me,” he said.
Let’s call it a really good shot.