Classic on mind of Pedro, Mets

Classic on mind of Pedro, Mets

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- More evident than his ability to throw without pain or restriction this spring has been the stance Pedro Martinez has taken vis-a-vis the possibility of an extension of his contract with the Mets. He will not broach the topic with the Mets or the media. Period.

And how could he, anyway? As strong and physically uncompromised as he feels, he can't know how his repaired body will react to a return to the grind of pitching. So when he speaks of 2009, he does so conditionally -- "If I play," he says.

And if he doesn't, if 2008 is his final season in the big leagues, there could be an extension of a different sort, one that would have him in a different camp next spring, though hardly under contract. The return of the World Baseball Classic could prompt Martinez to return to pitching even if he has decided to retire from his current position.

Major League Baseball announced the venues for the first-round games of the second Classic on Sunday, renewing the sense of intrigue among those players who did and didn't participate in the inaugural event two years ago. And Martinez, an interested/injured bystander in 2006, is one of those quite intrigued by the prospect of representing his native country, the Dominican. And his interest is heightened by his absence two years ago.

"If I can, I will," he said Monday morning. "I would love to be in one if I'm healthy.

"I took so much heat last time because I didn't play. That disappointed me so much. My own people, the media in the Dominican, the reporters there, they came after me."

While others, including many among his Mets teammates, were involved in the Classic during the spring of 2006, Martinez was dealing with problems caused by the large toe in his right foot. The specially designed shoes he wears now were new then. The manufacturer was still in the process of remodeling and refining the shoe when the Dominican team was playing. Martinez has long since excused himself, even as he encouraged his countrymen in the big leagues to participate.

"If I had the right cleats," Martinez said, "I could have been there, pitching for the Dominican."

The missed opportunity picked at a childhood scab. When Martinez was 12 and 13 years old, he was chosen to be a part of the team that would represent his country in international Little League competition.

"You had to get a passport and other things," he says now. "But my family couldn't afford it. They had two national teams, then they'd take the elite players. But you had to pay, and I couldn't."

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The event was quite popular with the Mets players who participated in 2006. They hope to return next year.

"It was one of the best experiences of my career," said Duaner Sanchez, who served as the closer for the Dominican team. "I was really excited to be there with the great players. Everything was good about it."

The Carlos Brothers -- Beltran and Delgado -- were teammates for the Puerto Rican team before they played as Mets teammates, though Delgado was limited to one at-bat because of a wrist injury. Delgado wants his chance to play in what he characterized as "winter ball, but better."

And Beltran recalled how family members and friends who never had seen him play in the big leagues got to watch him.

"It was like the World Series, crazy," Beltran said.

Jose Reyes hopes to be more involved next year than he was in 2006. At that time, Miguel Tejada was the Dominican shortstop. Things have changed since then.

"Right then," Sanchez said, "Jose was about to explode. Tejada was the star. Now it has to be Jose."

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.