As Mets And Minaya Look Ahead...

<b>NEW YORK-</b>Back in September, Curt Schilling lashed out at those who theorized he had a poor relationship with fellow Sox ace Pedro Martinez. "We get along awesome," Schilling said during an appearance on WEEI radio. "Because you don't see us playing grab-ass on the field doesn't mean a thing."

Maybe not, but as Martinez donned a Mets hat and uniform for the first time Thursday afternoon, he didn't sound broken up over the concept of leaving Schilling behind.

Martinez' brilliant seven-year run in a Red Sox uniform officially ended Thursday morning, when he agreed to terms on a four-year, $56 million deal with the Mets and met the media during a bizarre press conference at Shea Stadium. And while Mets general manager Omar Minaya gushed over his newest acquisition and what it meant to the future of the Mets, Martinez spent much of his time on the podium looking back at what was clearly a bitter departure from the Red Sox.

Martinez and his agent, Fernando Cuza, said they were disappointed by the slow pace of negotiations with the Sox, whose top bid was believed to be worth $40.5 million over three years. "I know Pedro told them early in the process, after the World Series was over, that he wanted to get a deal done with them and his first choice was to stay there and work something out," Cuza said. "And unfortunately, their timing took a lot longer to develop, which left the door open for free agency."

Meanwhile, Minaya-who, like Martinez, is a native of the Dominican Republic-lunched with Martinez at the latter's Dominican home Thanksgiving Day. Martinez lauded Minaya's aggressiveness, accountability and willingness to visit Martinez alone, the latter of which may have been a dig at the Sox' ownership team of John Henry and Larry Lucchino, each of whom visited Martinez in the Dominican Republic last week.

"Omar really [built] momentum and [the Mets] were putting offers out there to try convince him, yet we really didn't have anything solid we could bring to Pedro from the Red Sox," Cuza said. "So it made Pedro's decision [a matter of] 'Even though I want to stay here, I don't feel it, and I'm basically going to go [to the Mets].'"

Martinez said he'd wanted to negotiate a contract extension with the Sox as far back as 2002. "There was no need for Boston to let anybody get in between us," said Martinez, who used the term "computer geek" in talking about the Sox' front office. "Why wait? They saw me pitch, they saw me do my things. I think I earned my money in [the] seven years I was in Boston. And if anybody in Boston [has anything to] say about how I went about my job, they can say it publicly."

During his appearance on WEEI Wednesday, Schilling didn't seem to be criticizing Martinez for his well-chronicled individuality. "Those were his own rules," Schilling said. "They had been established and in place before I got here, before Terry got here. He was allowed to do those kind of things and that was something that…yeah, that is different than other players. But what are you going to do? There was a precedent established before we got here, and it was OK with everybody and hey, the media didn't have a problem with it. So I guess as players it was not up to us to have a problem with it."

Asked about the perception he operates by his own rules Thursday, Martinez said "Well, first of all, Schilling is not on my program. Schilling doesn't run [with him]. Schilling didn't do rehab in 2001 [as Martinez did for a rotator cuff injury]. I have a very strict way of working. It takes a lot more time than people think."

Martinez then said he stayed in Boston for Game Six of the ALCS instead of traveling to New York with the Sox because he thought he might need to pitch Game Seven and he preferred to prepare at Fenway Park instead of in the cramped Yankee Stadium visitors' weight room.

"I have a very strict way of working-[Mets manager] Willie [Randolph is] aware of it, Omar's aware of it," Martinez said. "Whatever Schilling has to say, he can say it. I don't have anything to say about that. He only knows me for one season. He doesn't really know what I'm all about and how I work. He doesn't show up [for] my work regiment."

As for the player he's closest to on the Sox, Martinez said David Ortiz is "…really upset" over Martinez' departure, adding "…especially knowing that now Manny [Ramirez] is on the trading block. We were very close, all three of us-very, very close."

Martinez said he also spoke to fellow free agents Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek and basically confirmed what everyone knows: Lowe is a goner.

"Derek Lowe is really, extremely happy for me [and] very unhappy with Boston," Martinez said. "Jason Varitek is actually a little disappointed that I [won't] be his teammate."

Perhaps looking back on a bitterly severed relationship was better than the alternative, which was looking into the giant morass that is the Mets, who have suffered through three losing seasons, three managers, three general managers and at least three rebuilding plans since they lost to the Yankees in the 2000 World Series.

As Martinez prepared to pose for pictures with Minaya and Randolph at the start of the press conference, a riot nearly broke out among the photographers jockeying for position. The photographers yelled for the Mets' PR staff to take down the podium, and Minaya and Randolph ended up among those taking away the podium as Martinez stood there alone with a bemused look on his face.

During the press conference, a non-journalistic midget asked Martinez if he needed a mascot in New York, a la the 2-foot-4 actor Nelson de La Rosa. Martinez laughed and said no, to which the midget replied with "GO PEDRO!!"

Wacky press conference aside, Minaya hopes Martinez' presence injects the Mets with some much-needed relevancy, both with their fans and with ballplayers of all ages. "Today we made a statement in the marketplace," Minaya said. "Major league players have called me since the signing [and] said 'Hey, I want to be a Met. I want to be a Met.' Other superstar players that are free agents with other clubs.

"But it's also important [for a] kid that we don't know about, that Pedro Martinez [doesn't know about], that you don't know about, [that] I don't know about," Minaya said. "Down in the Dominican Republic or Venezuela, that kid's father and that kid-you know what he wants to be today? He wants to be a Met. That's the value of Pedro Martinez, in my opinion. I can think of no other free agent in the marketplace [who] had that value with pitching but also transcending what he means to us five years from now, 10 years from now."

On this day, though, Martinez seemed more consumed with the transcendent legacy he left behind.


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