Pedro Martinez Is Mingling with Fans at His Upcoming Food Fest
No. 45 might be permanently affixed above right field, but the real No. 45 doesn’t get to hang out at Fenway Park as much as he’d like these days. That’s one of the reasons why the Pedro Martinez Charity is hosting its first-ever food festival at the ballpark next month.
Along with his wife, Carolina, Martinez started the foundation in Boston in 1998 to improve the lives of children and teenagers in his native Dominican Republic. Now, their center in Santo Domingo serves more than 400 kids every day in a variety of ways.
The greatest Major League Baseball pitcher of all time, three-time Cy Young Award-winner, and all-around legend splits his time these days between Santo Domingo and Miami, while also contributing to the Red Sox as a special assistant and commentating on MLB TV. But in May, he’ll be back in Boston, with chefs like Tony Maws (Craigie on Main, Kirkland Tap & Trotter), Joanne Chang (Flour, Myers + Chang), Andy Husbands (the Smoke Shop BBQ), and dozens more at the first-ever Feast with 45.
Ahead of the food fest, we caught up with the Hall of Famer about his favorite restaurants in Boston, his goals for the charity, and that time Manny made the clubhouse sip a little Viagra.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Thank you so much for taking the time, and also for hosting this awesome event in Boston. How often do you get back here?
Probably twice a month, when the team really needs it. Once the season starts, sometimes we find ourselves needing help in the minor league system, and also evaluating guys that could probably be available—that’s when I start going to Boston a little bit more. Sometimes I find the team on the road and stuff like that.
I have read things here and there—I’m a huge fan, actually—about your life growing up in the Dominican Republic, like that you used to pitch with oranges.
I went to extremes with that. I remember my sisters used to have dolls that look like babies, we used to [use their heads]—it sounds mean! But at the time, we would swing at anything, and also throw anything that was round. I remember picking up little oranges when they dropped from the trees, and making gloves out of milk cartons. We had a beautiful childhood. I’m pretty sure my sisters don’t mind I took the little dolls anymore. It turned out pretty well.
It sounds beautiful, and it sounds like the impetus for the charity you run with your wife, Carolina. What is some of the stuff you’ve got going on right now?
Summer’s approaching, and the camps are always, always a big deal in the community. The kids love to travel. When I was 12, 13 years old, I was a Little Leaguer, and I was about to represent the Dominican Republic in Puerto Rico. Both times I was selected to go, I couldn’t because I couldn’t afford it. As a kid, especially when you’re looking forward to baseball, you want to have the opportunity to show yourself, especially internationally. And I wasn’t able to do that.
I had to wait until the second World Baseball Classic  to put on the Dominican Republic uniform. That’s pretty much the drive that put me to this foundation. I know it’s not going to be through baseball all the time, it could be through music, it could be through art, being a chef, or an engineer. I want to open those doors for the kids that are less fortunate. I can really identify. That’s why I’m asking people of Boston to open more doors for more kids who probably desperately need it.
And this is the first time you’re doing it with a food festival?
Chef Nick Calais, who was [Massachusetts Restaurant Association] Chef of the Year, at Brasserie Jo, came up with this idea. We became really close friends once I stayed for a little while at the Colonnade. Our relationship with Boston has been great throughout the years, but I never had the opportunity, not even when I won the World Series in 2004, to interact with my true fans like I would like to. Every time I was coming back, I was doing something with the team. That’s going to be the day I can mingle, go eat, grab a glass of wine or beer, and be the Pedro I always want to be with the fans.
I definitely want to ask what your go-to Boston restaurants are. So, Brasserie Jo?
Believe it or not, as many good restaurants as you have in Boston, they work as a pack. It doesn’t matter what kind of restaurant you have, you could be competing, and they’re here to help. [Calias’] relationship with all the chefs in Boston is really great, which I appreciate. He’s been here, in the Dominican, so he knows why we’re asking for help. And it’s not just the Dominican, we’re looking to have more of an impact in any place.
Speaking of good friends, what did you think of David Ortiz getting the Saturday Night Live treatment during his retirement season?
[Laughs] Well, Big Papi can eat. Don’t let him fool you. He behaves, because he has the tendency to get a little bigger. But Big Papi can eat with the best of us. I hope he’s around and is able to join us and taste all the great food that’s going to be there. But I know he’s extremely busy, he recently retired, he wants to go different places, and I can’t blame him. But don’t be surprised if you find him with me. I’m more of a light eater, seafood and fish. But Big Papi will eat anything.
What about mofongo? Does David really eat it?
Oh yeah, he does! All of us do! Chef Nick was learning how to make us mofongo, and tostones, rice and beans. I’m a spoiled little brat when I’m at the Colonnade.
That’s awesome. Did you find any good Dominican restaurants when you were in Boston?
The first thing I did on my first day off, I went off to Jamaica Plain and I found the Dominican population there. Lawrence, Lynn, Providence, I found all kind of Dominican food, and all kinds of people willing to cook it, too. They knew I was missing a bit of my food. And I was really skinny then, so they all wanted to feed me. I can’t complain. I had everything I wanted in Boston, from Maine lobster, [to] rice and beans in Jamaica Plain. I have eaten in pretty much every [Dominican] restaurant. Merengue, El Embajador in Jamaica Plain, by the park.
What did you eat before big games?
The night before would be pasta. I had my sister cook it for me most of the time. I was educated about carbohydrates, but I was just a bad eater. I couldn’t eat much. I was very picky.
Speaking of pre-game snacks, I have to ask—that Manny Ramirez-spiking-shots of mama juana with Viagra story is infamous.
That is Dominican rum with roots that are made for medicine. That day, Manny was messing around and crushed one of [the Viagra pills] and threw it in there. We had lost three games in a row. I remember Ellis Burks, who wasn’t in the roster, was the first one that tasted it, and we didn’t know Manny did that. Manny goes, ‘You’re going to feel it later!’ [Laughs] I didn’t really jump into it, none of the starting pitchers would do it. Whoever wasn’t active that day, those guys would do a little bit. [Kevin] Millar was crazy enough to say, ‘If we win today, we’re doing it tomorrow!’ And we ended up winning, so [laughs]. It wasn’t anything that would come up as use of alcohol in baseball or anything. It was minimum, but we had to keep it going until we ended up losing a game, and we didn’t.
Those guys, they were fearless when it came to being loose and crazy. Jonny Damon, Millar, Manny, David and I, even Ellis Burks was such a good sport when it came to unity. That’s what made it seem great. We just knew how to enjoy the moment without really thinking about much of what people would think.
Yeah, it was awesome. What do you think of the team we’re fielding this year?
To be honest, since the chicken and beer incident, Boston has been probably the greatest group of people together. What I saw, when it comes to talent, so far we’re the best team on paper. The camaraderie that there is in the clubhouse, in my own experience, I believe is the best in baseball. All we need to do is stay healthy and go out there and play.
It’s been fun to watch—especially Chris Sale. I know you’re a fan. Did you give him any advice while you were down in Fort Myers?
No. Any advice I have to give him, he’s doing it himself. The guy looks great. He reminds me a lot of myself, except I wasn’t as tall and good-looking, and I wasn’t a lefty [laughs]. But everything else we do pretty much the same. He’s aggressive, fearless, he’s intimidating out there, he looks confident, he’s on a mission.
$35-$500, Feast with 45, Saturday, May 6, 6-10 p.m., Fenway Park, 20 Yawkey Way, Boston, Eventbrite.