Port St. Pedro

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – Pedro Martinez continues to savor the newfound spotlight around Mets camp, sporting a jovial attitude as he laughs, grins and signs autographs to fill the hours of sunlight. <P> It's almost a surprise, but a pleasant one. So far, Martinez has been nearly nothing like the grumbling, standoffish diva that Boston sports personalities warned about. (Premium Content)

Indeed, as the New York media proceeds warily toward Martinez, the 33-year-old right-hander seems to be looking at his first year as a Met as a second chance – an opportunity to bury the turmoil that became a trademark of his Red Sox years, and to start fresh in the Big Apple.

"I feel more comfortable," Martinez admitted Tuesday. "But I'm always happy. I'm a happy camper."

Yet another day turned the Mets' spring training grounds into Port St. Pedro, as even the most mundane of preseason activities – the dreaded 30-pitch bullpen session, Martinez's fifth of the spring and fourth in Florida – became the hot topic of the day.

It became even more so because Martinez, later answering questions about his relationship with catcher Mike Piazza (who received the bullpen session), jokingly threatened the life of a New York television reporter.

That's right. Remember Bobby Bonilla threatening to show a newspaper reporter 'The Bronx' all those years ago? Not the same thing – only Pedro can get away with stuff like this.

"There was never bad blood," Martinez insisted, referring to a 1998 incident in which Piazza was sent to the hospital by a brushback pitch. "There was just stuff that happened, and you guys [the media] need to feed off that. I understand that. What I did back then was professional. What he did was professional, and we kept on top of it. It was gone.

"... Right now, he's my teammate. And I'll blow your head off for him."

Later, Piazza laughed off the comment. After all, the ex-bachelor doesn't have much need for putting out hits on media men, though he might have appreciated the offer anyway.

"He's a fun guy," Piazza said. "Great teammate. ... He's a special guy and I have a lot of respect for him. The success he's had while not being physically blessed like a Randy Johnson, it's impressive."

And as far as any leftover animosity? It appears, publicly at least, that bygones are bygones. Though Piazza made some comments regarding Martinez's lack of class years ago, both players appear content to leave the history in the past and remain professional between the white lines.

After all, Piazza reflected, he's just glad Martinez is on his side once again.

"He's a real S.O.B. on the mound," Piazza said. "That's a trait that gives a team confidence behind him. He's the first to tell you that, and that's what makes him so great."

Indeed, in or around those white lines, wherever Martinez goes, he draws a crowd. The publicity is helping to boost the Mets' season ticket sales, but it's also assisting to lift the spotlight off young stars like David Wright and Jose Reyes and even nearly banishing players like Carlos Beltran and Piazza to the backdrop.

It's an incredible sight to see, the masses of humanity following Martinez, begging and clamoring for his acknowledgement and a moment of his time.

It becomes clear relatively quickly that these aren't just your ordinary, run-of-the-mill 'Sign this and it'll be on eBay in 15 minutes' autograph hounds: these are idol worshippers mimicking Pedro's footsteps around the paved pathways of the complex.

"Pedro's a leader," manager Willie Randolph said. "He's been like the Pied Piper."


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