The ritual after such high-profile sports surgeries is to issue a statement declaring the operation “successful.” True in a medical sense; meaningless in the athletic reality. “The surgical techniques today are much better than when I played,” Darling says. “But they still tell you you’re going to be as good as new. And they don’t know.”
Martinez has been fighting for his baseball life in lonely Port St. Lucie, Florida, the site of the Mets’ minor-league headquarters, for more than six months. Most days he’s stretched, run, lifted, and thrown for seven grueling, often boring hours, under the supervision of his personal trainer, Chris Correnti. But it’s the emotional strain that’s been the most arduous. He’s haunted by the example of his older brother and idol, Ramon, a star with the Dodgers who never fully recovered from rotator-cuff surgery. The uncertainty drove Martinez to “dark days” where he seriously considered retirement. In July, he went home to the Dominican Republic for a weeklong vacation but instead stayed seventeen days. He turned to Ramon for counsel, but remains apprehensive. “I’m wondering right now, just like the fans,” Martinez said after returning to Florida. “What is it going to be like when I pitch? I don’t really know. Nobody knows what’s going to happen.”
Two recent starts against minor leaguers have been inconclusive. A Mets executive who has closely monitored Martinez’s recovery rates his velocity as poor, his pitching in general as decent—and his chances of returning to the big leagues this season as 50-50.
“From the day he started rehab to the day he steps on that mound in Shea Stadium in front of 60,000 people, he will have worked harder than any person in the game to get back,” says Guy Conti, a Mets coach who has known Martinez since he was a skinny teenager pitching minor-league ball in Montana. For Mets fans, it’s their 2007 World Series hopes that are on the line. For Pedro Martinez, the stakes are higher. “This is a one-time shot,” Conti says. “If it doesn’t work, that’s it. He’s done.”